Tricking Astrid

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Chapter 24

* One Week Later*

Astrid huffed and puffed her way up the hilltop. Her entire body ached. The air in her lungs burned, but she did not quit.

Did not stop to take in the glorious city view as she continued to run, now downhill. She was miles from her house, not even caring. The burn of her muscles the only thing she focused on so her anger and the constant pain of rejection would fade away.

She stumbled.

Cursing, needing a breather, she stopped at the small playground at the bottom of the hill. It was a neighborhood park with metal benches, a teeter-totter, Merry-Go-Round, and old swings. She leaned over a bench, gasping for air.

She tilted her head towards the clear blue sky, enjoying the heat of the afternoon on her bare shoulders. Her sports bra and shorts left little to the imagination, and sweat dripped from her arms and face. After catching her breath, looked around while re-tie her hair.

That’s when she spotted Remy’s sleek car parked outside of one of the Victorian homes along the avenue. To be sure she wasn’t wrong, crossed the street for a better look.

It was him!

She bit her lip, wondering what he was doing in the house. The quietness made her antsy. Here she stood, a sweaty, half-dressed mess pacing in front of his Mercedes, stalker style, and he had not rung her once. She hadn’t spotted him lurking anywhere either. She blinked back the sudden tears filling her eyes.

Last week when Calder insisted on sleeping on her couch, he took off in the middle of the night without a word. When she called, he didn’t pick up or answer her text. To say his desertion confused her, a huge understatement, especially after his impassioned speech about not walking away. Hadn’t he said they were buddies? She tried to get hold of him after downing a bottle of wine until realizing he purposely avoided her.

Calder vowed empty promises and used her.

Then she considered maybe she angered him, or her drama with Remy not worth the hassle or his time. Whatever the excuse, she felt abandoned. They always leave! She reminded herself.

She distracted herself by dusting off her resume and her ancient laptop broke after hours of work, and she ended up throwing the device against the wall in a fit of rage. Exercising helped keep her depression in check, although she lost a few pounds, unable to eat at the thought she might have overreacted when Remy offered her ecstasy. Had it been his intention for his friends to come on to her, or did she misread the situation?

Astrid heard the door of the home slam when her back was turned. Squeaking in surprise, she swiveled, panicked.

Remy paused halfway down the steps. She froze like a doe caught in his headlights. She didn’t know what to do or say. Why did she linger instead of continuing to run? She really, really wanted to test how fast her feet could fly at that moment.

He carried a large black leather satchel in his right hand, the other clutching his keys. She watched his jaw flex as he descended the stairs at a casual pace, his hazel orbs trained on her.

“Thought that was your whip,” she nervously chuckled, “I’m just out running.”

He hit the fob on the keys, placing his bag inside the trunk, glancing at her with an unreadable expression. She expected Remy to behave differently. He’d been distraught during their last conversation, claiming he loved her.

His stare was empty now as if he’d didn’t recognize her.

Astrid swallowed hard when he slammed the rear closed, walking the opposite direction to the drivers’ side instead of passing her. Was he seriously giving her the silent treatment?

When he opened the door, she took off running as fast as she could. The short break allowed her to endure the pounding she gave the pavement, lungs burning, heart hammering in her ears. Tears fell, blurring her vision. She stopped and bent, crossing her arms across her chest, heaving through the turmoil.

She ran the wrong way, now far from home.

Why did Remy act so cold! The love triangle she’d somehow weaved, insane! Remy was her impetuous lover, Calder the rich lawyer who doted on her, but she hadn’t a clue if they cared for her anymore. Words were easy on the lips, but Astrid trusted no one, not even herself when it came to men. Did they sense her doubt, choosing to leave first? Why had she thought the cycle of shithead boyfriends over?

Hearing a car approach, she sniffed and straightened.

Remy. He followed me! She gaped at the ground, pulling herself together.

The window slid down, and he seemed hesitant, catching sight of her tear-stained face.

What?” she yelled, embarrassed she was crying on the sidewalk in broad daylight.

“Get in,” he coolly said, “Astrid, come here.”

“Why were you at that house?” she demanded, wiping her cheeks as she closed the distance.

He remained impassive, but his jaw clenched.

She didn’t want to go anywhere with him when he looked at her with disdain. They hadn’t planned to run into each other, but he couldn’t drive away. Why? Sure, she pissed him off, but she had a valid reason asking for time apart. Relationships were prone to arguments.

“I’m working,” he growled when she raised a brow, “Last chance.”

She circled the vehicle, getting in knowing she shouldn’t. She was lonely. Remy knew. He understood her better than she did him. A one-way street and it frustrated the hell out of her. Still, she drank in his profile, thirsty for attention after long days and nights of solitude.

He drove off, and she fidgeted, dripping sweat onto the seat. His fingers flexed around the wheel, lips pinched, refusing to acknowledge her. What would defuse the tension? Make him smile that sexy smirk and return the sparkle in those gorgeous eyes?

He headed toward her neighborhood, and she waited for him to say something, anything, but he ignored her. When he parked the car, he shut it off and climbed out, much to her surprise. She scrambled to retrieve her hide-a-key and unlocked the front door. When she turned, Remy pushed her inside.

He cupped her face with both hands and began kissing her. Not hard, not fast, but slowly and gently. He sighed against her mouth when she stepped closer, hooking her waist to embrace her with his strong arms. No idea why, but his actions all she needed instead of honeyed declarations. By tenderly applying kisses, she felt Remy’s compassion and love.

She bit her tongue when he whispered, “Nothing will keep me from you. You’re mine.”

Once more they were together when she knew Remy would hurt her.

Again.

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