Read Blown away Online

Authors: Cheryl Douglas

Blown away (page 5)

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Brent lookedinto his father’s pale blue eyes, trying to understand how he couldhave let the love of his life fall for another man. Why hadn’t hetried harder to keep her where she’d belonged, with her family?“I’m never going to let that happen to me.”

“It alreadyhappened with Jamie.”

“That wasdifferent.”

“Why? Becauseyou didn’t really love her?”

“Dad, that’snot fair.” It was accurate, but it wasn’t fair of his father tocall him out on it. His ex-fiancée had cheated on him, not theother way around.

“Is that whyyou’ve never let yourself fall in love? You’re afraid she’ll leaveyou, just like your mama left us?” He and his father had neverdiscussed his mother’s betrayal. They just accepted it because theyknew they didn’t have a choice. The moment she left, Brent decidedhe would be the one calling the shots, dictating what happened inhis life. “Are you afraid this woman will leave you if you let herin?” his father asked.

Brentremembered the cold fear gripping him when Ava had told him itwould never work between them. He could only imagine how much itwould hurt in several years when they shared kids and memories.What if he gave her his heart and she left him? How would hesurvive?

His fatherdidn’t need verbal confirmation. The truth was in Brent’s eyes.“You are. You can’t ask this young lady to pay for your mother’ssins, son.”

Was that whathe was doing? “She’s going out with another man tonight. She saysit’s just business.” He covered his face with his hands.

“Maybe itis.”

“But what ifit’s not?” He looked his father in the eye. “What if she likes him?What if she…” He couldn’t say it, but that didn’t erase the visualof Ava ending the night in another man’s bed.

“You have totrust her, Brent. If you can’t, maybe you don’t deserve her.”

 

***

 

Ava listenedintently as her client told her why the women she’d set him up withdidn’t have the intangible quality he was looking for.

“Sometimes youjust know, Ava. It’s not something you can explain. It’s somethingyou feel. You know what I mean?”

She knewexactly what he meant. She’d felt it the first time she saw BrentArmstrong. She’d almost convinced herself she’d been imagining it,but last night, it came back with a vengeance. “I do.”

“Have you everfelt that way?” he asked, picking up his glass of red wine. Heswirled the contents before asking, “Have you ever met a man youdidn’t think you could live without?”

Her clientsfrequently asked whether she’d had similar experiences. Knowing sheunderstood their journey helped them, so she was usuallyforthcoming. That night, she felt too raw to be honest. She wasstill trying to process her feelings for Brent, and defining themfor a virtual stranger seemed impossible. “I think everyone’s feltthat way at one time or another, Steven.”

He sighed. “Ijust want to move on to the next phase of my life. I’m ready to getmarried and have kids, but I don’t want to settle.”

“You shouldn’thave to.” Ava firmly believed in holding out until the right personcame along, no matter how long that took. She would never try toconvince one of her clients they’d found the right person simplybecause they seemed like a good match on paper. “We’ll help youfind the person you’re looking for. It’ll just take some time.”

He smiledbefore taking a sip of his wine. “How do you know you’re not thewoman I’ve been waiting for?”

“Because she’salready spoken for, Banks.”

Ava closed hereyes. Brent’s hand came down on her shoulder. How dare he interrupta business meeting! She should be furious, not getting a littleflutter in her stomach.

Steven rose toshake Brent’s hand, a small smile on his face. “Brent Armstrong,you son of a gun. I haven’t seen you in ages. What have you been upto?”

Brent tippedhis head toward Ava. “A little bit of this, a little bit of that.You know how it is.”

Ava wasn’tsurprised Brent was acquainted with her high profile client. StevenBanks was a criminal attorney who routinely handled celebrityclients. His demanding career and notoriety made finding the timeand energy to hand-pick suitable partners difficult, whichexplained why he was a forty-five-year-old bachelor. He routinelyrubbed shoulders with everyone who was anyone in Tennessee.

“How did youknow where to find me?” she asked, glaring at Brent.

Brent lookedlike a boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar when heresponded. “I stopped by your office. Tara and I had a nice chat.She may have mentioned this restaurant in passing.”

Ava would killher best friend tomorrow. She had to conclude her business meetingso she could kill her lover first. “Steven and I just orderedappetizers. Perhaps you can call me later.”

“Oh, I didn’tmean to intrude. I’m just meeting a friend for drinks.”

A voluptuousredhead in an emerald dress sauntered up. “There you are.” Shekissed Brent’s cheek.

Ava stared atthe other woman in disbelief. He was on a date? And he brought herto the same restaurant where he knew she would be dining with aclient?

Brent said,“Ava Cooper, Steven Banks, I’d like you to meet a friend of mine,Kelly Warner.”

“Nice to meetyou,” Kelly said, barely acknowledging them. She threaded her armthrough Brent’s. “Our table is ready.”

“If you’llexcuse us,” Brent said.

Ava tossed hernapkin on the table and stared at Brent with contempt. “If youdon’t mind, I’d like to have a word with you… in private.” Avasmiled at Steven, not caring that her professional mask wasslipping. “I’ll be right back.”

“Take yourtime,” Steven said, waving his hand. “I have to respond to a fewemails anyway.”

Brent caressedKelly’s upper arm. “Just give me a minute to have a word with myfriend.”

Friend?Ava’d been relegated to friend status when just that morning he’dbeen making love to her as though he’d never be able to get enough?Was he just saying that to get under her skin or was he so ficklehe’d already decided to discard her? Either way, she intended tofind out.

Ava led him upto the V.I.P. lounge. She was a regular customer, so when sheoffered the attendant a tight smile, he opened the velvet barrier.Once she and Brent were in the lounge, she turned on him. “What thehell do you think you’re doing?”

“I plan to havedinner with a friend, same as you. Is there a problem?”

“Steven isn’tmy friend. He’s my client, and he doesn’t look like an underwearmodel!”

Brent smirked.“So you recognized Kelly?”

“You pompousass!” She pushed his chest, barely moving him.

“Would youstop?” He chuckled, seizing her wrists as he lowered his head towhisper in her ear. “You’re making a scene, baby.”

As far as Avacould tell, his date was the only one watching them. “I don’t carewhat that little twit thinks.”

“That’s not avery attractive shade of green on you, sweetness.”

Sweetness.He used to call her that back in college. Sheshould have trusted her instincts about him back then. “You thinkI’m jealous?”

He laughed.“Aren’t you?”

Yes.“No. I have no reason to be.” She shook free of his grip. “I’m notyour girlfriend. I’m not even your lover anymore. Enjoy theunderwear model. It was nice catching up.” She smiled. “Maybe wecan do it again in another ten years? No, wait, we can’t. I’ll bemarried to the love of my life by then, and you’ll still be…pathetic.”

ChapterFive

“Just ask Ava to helpyou find a wife,” Keith said, scanning his emails.

It had beenseven nights and six days since Brent’s argument with Ava. Dozensof emails and texts, three dozen roses, and half a dozen calls, andshe still hadn’t agreed to speak to him. “Don’t be an ass,” Brentsaid, aiming a pencil at Keith’s head. Brent smiled briefly whenthe lead tip grazed his brother’s forehead. It was his firstgenuine smile in days.

“That could’vetaken my eye out, shithead,” Keith said, scowling while he rubbedhis forehead.

Brent rolledhis eyes as he kicked his feet up on the corner of his desk.“You’re such a girl. If you don’t have anything useful to add, getout.”

“I’m tellingyou, asking her to hook you up is the best shot you’ve got.”

“That’s thestupidest idea I’ve ever heard.”

Keith laughedand slipped his phone into the front pocket of his dress shirt.“This coming from the guy who had a private investigator stalk herafter y’all had a one-night stand?”

“Get out!”Brent was tired and cranky and running out of ideas. The last thinghe needed was someone reminding him of all the reasons Ava didn’twant to see him again.

“I’m trying tohelp you, if you’d just shut up and listen.”

His brother andfather were the only people who could get away with talking toBrent like that. They routinely took advantage of their untouchablestatus to give him a reality check.

“Fine, say whatyou have to say and get the hell out. I’ve got work to do.”

“Ava only knowsone side of you. She sees you as this control-freak egomaniac whowants to tell her what to do, where to go, and who to go with. Shedoesn’t understand why you are the way you are,” Keith said.

“If you’regoing to talk aboutheragain, don’t bother. I’m not in themood.” His mother was the last person Brent wanted to talkabout.

“Ava doesn’trealize family comes first to you. She doesn’t know that the firstthing you did when you started making money was pay off Dad’smortgage and my student loans.”

“Why should sheknow?” Taking care of his family didn’t deserve honorary mention.He was doing what any good son and brother would have done. Justbecause he was a ruthless businessman who would stop at nothing toget what he wanted didn’t mean he didn’t have another side. Hewould shower Ava with attention, affection, and trinkets until herheart was content, but if she ever betrayed him… she would see howvicious he could become.

“You want herto fall in love with you, don’t you?”

Brent stared athis brother, trying to process the question. Was that what hewanted? Was he trying to win Ava, to convince her he was the manshe’d been saving herself for? “I don’t know.”

“Yes, you do.”Keith sighed. “No one goes to the lengths you’ve gone unless youknow damn well she’s the one. You knew it back in college. You werejust too damn stubborn to admit it.”

“You thinkso?”

“You’ve neverpursued a woman like that before or since. You used to wait outsideof our English Lit class just to give her a ride home.Remember?”

He rememberedevery moment he spent with Ava. “Yeah.”

“You were likea man possessed when she took off to Europe after y’all hooked up.It took me a week to convince you not to hop on a plane and trackher down.” Keith’s eyes shifted and regret crossed his face. “Imade a mistake. I should’ve let you go.”

“What?” Brentset his feet on the floor and leaned forward. “What’re you talkingabout?”

“Maybe if I’dlet you go, she would’ve realized how much you cared about her. Shemight have come home instead of staying in Germany. Maybe y’allwould be married with a couple of kids by now.”

Brent’s heartclenched at the thought of how different his life could have beenif he’d gone after Ava ten years ago. He couldn’t change the past,but he would be damned if he let her walk out of his life without afight again. “You have nothing to feel guilty about, Keith. I madethe decision not to get on the plane.”

“Only because Iconvinced you that you’d seem desperate and pathetic.” Keith restedhis elbows on his knees and leaned forward. “That’s why I had totry to make it up to you.”

“What are youtalking about?” Brent narrowed his eyes when Keith didn’t respond.“What the hell did you do?”

“I didn’t runinto Ava by chance like I said. I looked her up.”

“You did?” IfBrent hadn’t been so preoccupied making his millions, he may havethought to do the same.

“I found outshe would be at that party, so I got an invite. I wanted to talk toher, to find out if she was single.”

Brent smiled.Sometimes his kid brother surprised him. “So, running into Ava atthat benefit wasn’t a coincidence?”

He chuckled.“No. I called the benefit organizer and told her our company wouldlike four tickets. I said we’d make a sizeable donation to hercause, but we didn’t want your name attached to the event since Ididn’t think you’d be able to make it. Then I called Leslie andtold her I had a couple of extra tickets. I told her she should askyou.”

“I can’tbelieve you did all this on the q.t.”

“It worked,didn’t it?” Keith gave him a disparaging look. “Or it almost workeduntil you pulled that dumbass stunt. What the hell were youthinking? You had the girl back in your bed, so you show upsomewhere you know she’ll be with another woman? If that doesn’tredefine stupid, I don’t know what does.”

Brent knew itwasn’t one of his finer moments. “Kelly’s just a friend, you knowthat.”

“You think thatmattered to Ava? You were sending her a clear message that youdidn’t trust her and she couldn’t trust you.”

“I would nevercheat on Ava.” Given what his mother and Jamie did, infidelity wasan unforgiveable sin in Brent’s opinion.

“I know thatand you know that, but she doesn’t.” Keith sank back in his chair.“You need to let her get to know you, no pressure.”

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