Beauty from Pain, Page 36Georgia Cates
“I’ll worry until I see you come out of that building safe and sound. ” What did Lachlan tell him?
“I’ll be ten minutes max,” I promise.
“Make it five. ” He sounds irritated.
I knock on the door and Ben answers. He gives me a crooked grin, but he’s embarrassed. He should be. “Hi, Laurelyn. Please, come in. ”
I walk into the apartment and I can’t remember a more uncomfortable moment in my life. I stand there trying to think of polite conversation, but I can’t come up with anything I want to say to the man who called me a whore after he tried to kiss me.
“I’m gonna walk back and check on Addison. ”
He touches my arm as I walk by and I go stiff. “Can I please have just a minute?”
I pull my arm from him. I don’t want to do this, but I feel like I have to because he’s my best friend’s brother. “I’ll give you one minute. ”
“I’m not saying it’s any kind of excuse for what I did, but I was really drunk New Year’s Eve. I never would’ve acted that way otherwise. I just wanted to tell you that I’m sorry. ”
“Apology accepted. ” That’s all he’s getting from me.
I walk to the bedroom I once shared with my best friend and she’s sitting on the bed, ready to go. She jolts when she sees me in the doorway. I knew this was a total set-up. “Don’t be mad, Laurie. He wanted to see you so he could apologize and I knew this was the only way. ”
“You lied to me. ” As I accuse her, I think of all the half-truths I’ve told her about Lachlan and decide it might be a good idea if I’m not too quick to call the kettle black. “But it’s okay. I understand why you did it. ”
“I had to, Laurie. He’s been so sick with himself since it happened. ”
“Well, it’s over now. I told him I accepted his apology. ”
“Thank you, Laurie. ”
Addison and I haven’t seen each other since I moved out, so we have a lot of catching up to do. We decide it’s best to do it over cheeseburgers and shakes at the fifties diner on the square.
“So, how’s it going with the suit?”
That name is all wrong for him now. I’ve rarely seen him in a suit since those first few days. He’s all sexy, rugged wear these days, but I choose to not debate it with her. “He works a lot of hours, but things are good now. ”
“What does ‘now’ mean?”
Do I really want to discuss Audrey with her? Yes, I think I do. She’s my best friend. I need to get this out and tell someone about it. “One of his bat-shit crazy exes came to see me last night while he was out of town. ”
Addison sits up straighter, ready to hear the juicy details. She loves a good catfight. “What happened? Did you have to whip her ass?”
“She walked in the house like she owned the place and told me she was his wife and mother of his children. ”
I suspect she’s seeing the same red flag I saw. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Right? “And is she?”
“No, but of course I believed her. You know how I am when it comes to men. I don’t trust them. ”
“Laurie, how do you know she’s not telling the truth?”
I’m playing with the napkin in my lap, tearing off small pieces and rolling them into little balls. “I packed my stuff and had it by the door so I could get out of there first thing this morning. He came home early and then the shit got real when he saw I was leaving. Addison, he called his mother and woke her at three o’clock this morning so she would vouch that he isn’t married. ”
“That’s good, right?”
“The part about being single is good, but what happened afterwards was unexpected. ” I’m not sure this uncomplicated relationship thing is going to stay that way.
“Chillax, Laurie. Sex is sex. Roll with it and have fun. Stop trying to make it complex. ”
I’m not trying to make sex with Lachlan complicated. “We didn’t have sex. ”
She narrows her eyes at me. “Did he tell you he loved you or some bullshit like that?”
“No, we didn’t talk. ”
“If you didn’t talk and you didn’t have sex, what did you do?”
“He just held me all night. ”
“Psst. That sounds boring as hell. ”
“But it wasn’t. I liked it. ”
“You need counseling. ” Addison can be such a dude sometimes.
“You’re my best friend. You’re supposed to counsel me when I lose my way. ”
“Honey, you lost me on this deal back when you said you didn’t have sex. ” She shrugs her shoulders. “I got nothing for you. ”
“He’s taking me to New Zealand next week. ”
She punches me in the shoulder. “Shut the hell up. No way. ”
“Yeah, he is. ” I reach into my purse and hold up the money he gave me. “We’re staying at a house on a private beach and he wants me to buy new clothes and swimsuits for the trip. ”
Addison’s eyes widen. “Shit! How much money is that?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t count it. ”
She reaches over and takes it from my hand to thumb through it. “The suit gave you a grand to buy bikinis and flip-flops. ”
I remind myself of what Lachlan said. When I buy for myself, I’m buying for him because he wants me in nice things. “I feel guilty taking his money, but I can’t afford to buy the things he wants me to have for the trip. ”
She waves the money in front of me. “He promised to show you the time of your life. This is one of things he was talking about. You have two months left with him. Have fun while you can. ”
She’s right. I’m making too much of this. We discussed what he wanted from this relationship in the beginning, and he told me he wanted to pamper me and make us feel genuine. This is him following through with his part of the bargain, so I should keep mine too. If he wants us to feel real, I can give him real—every day and twice on Sunday.
After takeoff in our small private plane to Auckland, New Zealand, I check my watch to see if we’re on schedule. I notice the date—February 1st—and I’m struck by the memory of a conversation Laurelyn and I had on our second date. She told me she would turn twenty-three on Groundhog’s Day. That’s tomorrow. I can’t believe I didn’t remember until just now.
She hasn’t mentioned it. I think she would tell me if I asked her, but I decide I want to surprise her with something special. I just don’t know what it will be.
Our flight lands and I usually have a driver waiting, but not today. Instead, I rent a convertible for the twenty-minute drive to the house so Laurelyn and I can have this experience alone and at our own pace.
After pulling off the road several times for Laurelyn to admire the coastline, we arrive at the house in Auckland. She hasn’t traveled much outside her small world at home and her eyes are wide with elation. I love seeing her like this. Her expression makes me want to show her the world.
“It’s amazing. ”
“Wait until you see the beachfront. ”
I carry our bags from the car into the house. I give her the tour, purposely making the bedroom our last stop. I’m proud of this room, even if I can’t take credit for how lovely it is since the house was furnished when I purchased it last year. The previous owner did a fantastic job making this bedroom romantic.
Laurelyn walks over and runs her fingers down the sheer fabric draped over the canopy. “I can’t think of a word to describe this room. Romantic isn’t enough to do it justice. ”
“I know. ”
“You’ve stayed here before?”
“Many times. ” I feel the question she doesn’t ask and I answer it. “But always alone. You’re the only one I’ve brought here. ” I want her to know she’s the first and only.
She sits on the bed and falls back across the mattress. “Your boss has great taste. ”
I look at the beautiful woman sprawled across my bed. “I agree. ”
“What are we going to do first?”
Now is the only time I have to go into town for Laurelyn’s gift before tomorrow. “I have to go out to the vineyard for a quick visit. I should only be gone a couple of hours. ” She frowns at my news. “This is still a business trip for me, but don’t worry. We’ll have plenty of time for fun. ”
“I’m ready to hit the beach. ”
“You can go while I’m gone, but I don’t want you to go into the water while you’re alone. ”
She pokes her bottom lip out. “Boo. ”
“I know you’re a big girl, but it’s still the ocean. Sometimes unexpected things happen and I’d feel better about you not going in by yourself. ”
“I get it. ”
She sits up and I kiss her. “I’ll be back before you know it. Don’t forget to wear sunscreen. I don’t need you burned for what we’re going to be doing while we’re here. ”
I don’t find Laurelyn’s gift right away, so I’m gone longer than I anticipate. When I return to the house, I leave her gift in the car’s glove box. I want her to think I’m clueless about her birthday since she hasn’t mentioned it.
I walk around to the beach and see Laurelyn’s towel on the lounger where she was lying, but no sign of her. I call her name several times without a response. Where is she?
Deciding she is probably inside, I open the front door and shout her name several times without a reply.
Would she have gone into the water after I asked her not to? I know the answer. Yes, she would. The moment I answer my own question, I dash toward the beach and shout her name. I hear panic in my voice and feel it in my chest as I search the water. I don’t see a sign of her anywhere.
I hear my name in the distance and I turn to see her walking along the beach’s edge. She’s wearing a bright red bikini. How did I miss that? I’m flooded with instant relief and that’s when I notice my hands trembling. She lifts her hand to wave and I lift my shaky one to return the greeting. I sit on the lounger to wait on her because my knees are threatening to buckle beneath me.