Blood roared in Reese’s ears, and he felt all the color drain out of his face. His heart lurched sickeningly in his chest. Audrey was in the hospital?
His Audrey was hurt?
He got to his feet. “Where’s she at? I have to see her.”
Gretchen gave him a puzzled look. “Daphne?”
“Audrey,” he growled, his fists clenched. He wanted to hit something, the rage burning through him. Audrey was hurt and he hadn’t been there to protect her. He should have never left. It took a moment to sink in and he looked at Gretchen, confused. “Wait. Daphne?”
The disheveled redhead gave him a curious look. “She overdosed a few days ago. Cade won’t leave her side.”
Relief staggered him and he collapsed in his chair, burying his face in his hands. “Ah, fuck. Thank God.”
The room was silent.
“Well,” said Gretchen after a moment. “That wasn’t my reaction to hearing my sister overdosed, but okay.”
“You feeling all right, Reese?” Logan nudged the scotch bottle toward him again.
He took it and didn’t bother to use the glass. He drank straight from the bottle, letting the amber liquid burn right to his gut. Audrey was all right. His Audrey.
And Cade wasn’t in a relationship with her. Good. The vicious thought startled him. Cade was his best friend. He should have been happy that his buddy hooked up with someone as intriguing and delicious as Audrey. It shouldn’t have been eating at him.
But it drove him fucking crazy. He thought about it every night when he went to sleep, picturing Audrey with her sexy hair down and tumbling around her shoulders, kissing Cade, pushing those lush breasts against him.
She should have been with him, damn it.
“Your sister overdosed?” Logan asked. “The problem one?”
“Yeah,” Gretchen said, her voice sounding a bit wobbly. As Reese looked up, he saw Hunter’s hand tighten on Gretchen’s shoulder, and she placed her hand against his, as if seeking comfort. “Been a rough week. At least for me, anyhow. I just keep crying.”
Logan grunted. “Audrey didn’t say anything. She’s been back to work for two days. I didn’t realize there was anything wrong.”
Reese sat up straighter, his attention captured. Audrey was back at work with Logan? So she wasn’t with Cade and Daphne?
“Yeah, that’s Audrey for you,” Gretchen said bitterly. “Audrey just smiles and takes things calmly and puts our lives back in order. She hasn’t cried a lick since Daphne went into the hospital, even though it has to be hurting her.”
Reese ached at that. His Audrey wouldn’t, no. She’d wear her hair in that tight little bun and starch her clothes within an inch of her life because she liked to hide all her fire and emotion behind that outer serenity. She must be raging on the inside.
And she had no outlet. Cade wouldn’t know how to act with her. He wouldn’t know how to draw all that emotion out of her, to make her human again, and to help her let all that pain out. She needed someone to goad her beyond her boundaries, to make her forget that she was trying to be so self-contained. So she could let loose and just be herself.
But no one would understand that about his Audrey but him, because no one saw past the surface but him.
And suddenly, he needed to be at her side. She would need comforting. A strong arm to lean on. Someone to irritate her out of that icy shell she always put on.
Reese jumped to his feet, but the room spun and he wobbled. “I need to see her.”
Logan braced an arm on Reese, steadying him. “You’re drunk, man. Sit down.”
“See Daphne? They’re not letting anyone see Daphne,” Gretchen said. “Once she’s released from the hospital, she’s going straight into rehab for God knows how long. Haven’t you seen the papers? They’re having a field day with this.”
“See Audrey,” he told them, trying to get to his feet again and ignoring Logan as he pushed him back down again. “Need to talk to her.” She had to be hurting, and she wouldn’t let anyone see it.
She always thought she had to be so strong and capable. She was the opposite of him in so many ways, but they were so alike, too. Here he was letting his business fall down around his ears simply because he had too much pride to ask his friends for help.
Ah, fuck. Reese sat down and slumped in his chair, rubbing his face. Damn. The realization hit him like a ton of bricks. He was a fucking fool sometimes. “I need to see Audrey. She has to be hurting.”
“Not tonight,” Logan said in that voice of authority. “And not while you’re drunk.”
Gretchen watched him with a curious gaze. “Why do you want to see my sister?”
It was on the tip of his tongue to tell her that it wasn’t any of her business, but judging from the stony look on Hunter’s face, he wouldn’t get very far if he told Gretchen off. So he ignored her and turned back to Logan. “You said she’s back at work?”
Logan’s jaw clenched as he considered Reese. “You’re not coming to my office to harass my personal assistant.”
“Fuck it, man. I just want to see her, all right?”
“Then come to the cocktail party on Thursday like you intended. She’ll be there in a professional capacity.”
“Good. That’s good.” Reese sighed and took another drink from the bottle.
“Wow, he’s a bit of a sloppy drunk,” Gretchen said in a mock whisper. “Now’s the time to clean him out if you’re really playing poker down here.”
“It’s business,” Griffin said in his stiff, aristocratic voice. “Something you clearly don’t know much about.”
“Watch it,” Hunter said in a warning voice.
“Speaking of business,” Reese said, setting the bottle down on the table and shoring up his courage. He rubbed his eyes and then regarded his friends. Audrey had told him to trust in his friends, and he’d been too blind to do it. No longer. “I need your help . . .”
“I’m not taking it,” Brontë said with a stubborn look on her face, arms crossed over her chest.
Audrey pushed the foot-long velvet box toward her again and wiggled it. “I’m not your assistant, I’m Logan’s. He said that the gentleman here tonight has an interest in antique jewelry, and it’ll reflect well on him if he has you kitted out properly.”
“He’s full of crap,” Brontë complained, but took the box from her. “You know he’s constantly coming up with new excuses just to be able to buy me jewelry.” She snapped open the case and groaned. “This even matches my dress. Did you pick this out?”
“Absolutely not,” Audrey said with a smile. “And your dress looks lovely.” She might have taken a picture of the green satin sheath so Logan could purchase the appropriate jewelry, but she wouldn’t have bought it and passed it off as Logan’s idea. Brontë was too good a friend for that. “Do you need help putting it on?”
“No, I’m fine,” Brontë grumbled, tying the waterfall of emeralds at her neck and then peering into a nearby mirror. “God, the man has expensive taste.”
“But good taste,” Audrey corrected, and then gestured at the double doors down the hall. “Shall we join the party, then?”
“If we must,” Brontë said cheerfully, straightening her skirt.
Audrey smoothed a hand over her tight, professional bun and adjusted the earpiece she wore over one ear, the microphone curved to her mouth. That small item, along with her plain beige business suit, would tell anyone who tried to talk to her that she was there in a strictly professional capacity. Not that it would be a problem, Audrey thought wryly. Strange men never tried to pick her up at these parties. The occasional one would try to headhunt to replace his assistant, but for the most part she was invisible unless someone needed her to dictate notes on a whim.
She followed Brontë into the party, scanning the crush of guests. The ballroom was owned by Hawkings Conglomerate, and they kept it reserved for the frequent parties that Logan threw for his business associates. This party was like many others, so things were running smoothly as usual. She kept an eye on the wait staff as they passed by with glasses of wine and champagne, then strolled past the hors d’oeuvres table, which was neat and still relatively clean. The rich didn’t eat much at these parties. They drank like fish, but most of the food went home with the staff that night.
The ice sculpture at the center of the table was a woman’s bust, the long, swan-like neck of the bust ornamented with a thick diamond choker that had its own security guard standing at hand. And the guests tonight glittered like stars, since it was a party celebrating the acquisition of one of the largest and oldest jewelry chains in America by Hawkings Conglomerate. The man had been trying to get Logan to buy his business for some time, but Audrey suspected that Logan had only had interest after acquiring a fiancée.
Which was kind of cute, really.
It made her wistful, too. Wistful that someone would look at her and think of her like that. That she would be at the forefront of someone else’s mind at all times.
And utterly wistful that that person was Reese Durham. Which was more than wishful thinking. Reese wasn’t the type to settle down with someone, especially not someone like her. Reese dated heiresses and movie stars and women who could do things for his career, not a nobody personal assistant who wore tweed and tight buns, no matter how compatible they were in the bedroom.
It just wasn’t meant to be. She’d known that all along, but it didn’t mean she didn’t wish it had been something different.
Audrey turned toward the kitchen, intending on checking out the wine stock to see if they needed to order more at the last moment. This crowd was drinking heavily and Logan wouldn’t like it if supplies ran out early. When people were a little tipsy, their tongues got looser. And when tongues got loose, a lot of interesting information was passed in conversation and Logan listened like a hawk.
As if her thoughts had conjured him from midair, a tall, handsome man stepped out of the crowd and began to head toward her. Reese.
Her heart thudded in her chest and her eyes widened. She stopped in mid-step and turned and headed the other way, pressing a hand to her earpiece as if she’d just gotten an important message. Look busy, she told herself. Look busy.
Her steps sped up, her cheeks burning, until she was practically running out the double doors of the ballroom and down the marble-tiled hall, doing her best to escape him. Damn it. She should have known he’d be here at a party that Logan threw. Of course he would be. She was foolish to think that just because he’d ditched her back at the cabin that she wouldn’t have to run into him again.
The footsteps got faster, and then a hand tugged at her arm. “Audrey, I said wait.”
She turned, jerking her arm out of his grasp, and gave him a scowl. Then she straightened her suit and smoothed a hand down the front of her beige jacket. “Do you mind?”
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