I stared at myself in the mirror and prepared to meet my first ever clients. This was my first ever project! I couldn’t fail on just the first impression. Dressed in a casual black top that offered a generous neckline and high-waisted tanned jeans, I figured that I was alright with the outfit. I applied very light makeup and slipped on black pumps before I finally left my flat and flagged a taxi to the penthouse.
Elias was already waiting for me at the reception when I got there.
“They are here,” was all he said. With a deep breath, I stepped into the elevator along with him and tried to calm my erratic heart.
“You’re going to be amazing,” Elias reassured, reaching out to pull me to his side just as the doors dinged open. “After all, I’m here with you.”
Shooting me a quick wink, he tugged us towards the front door and dutifully rang the bell. Barely a minute passed before the door swung open. I was busy rummaging in my bag for the designs I needed to show the clients and that must have been why I didn’t see him at first glance.
Hayden stood stock-still against the door, staring at me like he had seen a ghost from the past; which in my case, he had. The years we spent apart hadn't been rough on him, in fact, he looked even better than he had 4 years ago. His features had grown sharper and the faintest trace of a five o’clock shadow stubbled his chin. He was sporting on a sleeveless tee with shorts and his fully-fledged muscles on full-display urged me on, demanding attention. But his eyes were just as stormy as ever. I shivered from the heat of his gaze, a multitude of emotions running through me, raging from shock to pain to longing.
Elias cleared his throat, glancing between Hayden and me curiously. He held out a hand, the one that wasn’t wrapped around me towards Hayden. “I’m Elias. It’s nice to meet you, Mister...?”
“Henderson.” His deep voice sent shivers down my back. It was so akin to my imaginations that it almost sounded like one of my dreams.
“She’s—” Elias started to introduce before another voice broke him off. That which was very similar to his brother’s. His eyes that were glued to Elias’s arm around me, rose to meet mine.
“It’s actually Katherine Pierre—it’s them?” he whisper-shouted the last part of that sentence to me, eyes widened comically. I would have laughed had I not been so anxious. And then the memories washed over me. What they had said, how they had treated me and my eyes hardened.
I stepped forward, schooling my expression carefully so I didn’t give anything away. “Hi, I’ll be your interior designer for the next two weeks. Would you mind inviting us in so we could discuss some things?”
They stared at me like I was an alien from a different planet and they didn’t know what I was speaking of. Elias cleared his throat again and this time, it set Hunter into motion. He pushed aside his brother who was now almost openly gaping at me, his mouth slightly ajar, and pushed open the door. I walked past him and into the house, ignoring their eyes and just walking straight to the windows.
I took a deep breath to steady myself before turning back around. Plastering an amicable smile on my face, I stepped forward, the designs in my hand but before I could utter a word, Hayden, almost instinctively commented,
“Don’t give us that forced smile. You look constipated.”
I glared at him, teeth clenched as my long pent up rage bristled. How dare he try to insult me? At my reaction, a fraction of a smile quirked up his lips and that was when I noticed it. What I had said about the years not being rough on him? Well, I wasn’t entirely correct. Hayden looked...the simplest word would be drained. And it wasn’t just physically. He looked mentally exhausted, like he was an alive and walking zombie. His eyes had deep, dark bags beneath them and his forehead was creased with worry lines. Even his hair, which from what I remembered had never been left without tending, was sticking up in all directions like he had run his hand through the strands a million times and just didn’t care anymore. A faint, almost faded bruise marred his left cheek and I realized that the dark bags weren’t just because of lack of sleep. Hayden had been in a fight.
Hunter didn’t look much better. He was still gawking at me like he had never seen the female species. And I guess if someone who had left you looking more like a vagabond than an actual girl had suddenly transformed into something akin to a woman, it was guaranteed to shock you too. But that wasn’t it. He looked even worse than Hayden. While Hayden looked shattered with weariness, Hunter had the look of someone who had never stopped long enough to be tired. He looked...lost. Like someone had wrenched the compass out of his hands and now he was wandering in the woods, living with whatever he could get his hands on. His features had become harder, like they had been reconstructed with granite and his mouth was pressed in a thin line. He didn’t look too great on the food uptake area either. Actually, to be honest, he looked haggard. Like he hadn’t been taking care of himself. And had just left life to shape him as it wished.
I closed my eyes shut and counted to ten, praying that the pain hadn’t shown in my eyes. The pain for them. I had known them since I was 7 and not once had they veered off this far. And I realized I was afraid. Afraid to find out what had happened to them.
“Well,” I cleared my throat again, gesturing to the cardboard boxes that we had set yesterday to use as our temporary seating area. “Let’s get this over with, shall we?”
Elias, who I had forgotten was even in the room, followed and sat beside me, leaving the twins to sit across us. I noticed their glares now directed towards Elias and I quickly started talking to sidetrack their attention.
“We went over a few of the general designing that needed to be taken care of yesterday and I would just like to take you through it and get your opinion on it. Please feel free to interrupt if you have any changes you would like to make.” And with that, I jumped into it. The more I talked, the easier it got. I explained the changes that I had thought most appropriate to be made and not once, did they interrupt. I wasn’t even sure if they had heard anything that I had said. Elias piped in at intervals, mainly to elaborate on a few of the interior measurements that we had taken and what we thought would fit perfectly in there.
“Do you have any adjustments to make before we move on to the color theme?” I asked, ignoring their eyes which were fixated on me ever since I started talking. I squirmed a little, uncomfortable with the attention when Hayden abruptly spoke.
“Since when were you interested in interior designing?”
I blinked. “Since four years ago?” I asked, confused about why he was asking me that when he was supposed to be demanding the changes he wanted.
Elias must have noticed the tension in the air because he spoke...and suggested the most ridiculous suggestion ever.
“Why don’t we talk this over a few drinks? That way it’ll give you time to absorb everything we just dumped on you.” He glanced at me and by the mischievous glint in his eyes, I knew he was up to something. “I’m pretty sure KitKat—” at that name, Hayden flinched violently and his eyes narrowed on my idiotic friend who had a death wish, “—I mean Katherine, of course,” he didn’t sound like he had meant that at all, “can handle you two until I get the drinks. Anything to eat?” This time, he directed the question to all of us but he was looking at me, knowing I hadn’t had breakfast and was probably starving.
I sent him a look that was half grateful and half murderous and he smirked in return.
“Don’t worry, I’ll get you your usual. Anything from you two?” The twins shook their heads, now glaring daggers at Elias. He just whistled and made his way out of the door, leaving me all alone in the den of the lions’ lair.
I cleared my throat again and picked up my papers, pretending like I was going through them. In truth, I was panicking. Badly. I hadn’t prepared for this!
And that was my first big mistake.
I didn’t notice they had moved. Not until I had the plans literally snatched out of my hands. My eyes shot up to Hunter’s who looked at me so intensely that I nearly melted from the heat of his gaze alone. His arms were on either sides of the box I was seated on, trapping me.
“So...” he trailed off, holding my gaze as he leant forward. “Who’s that guy you have grown so chummy with?”
“He’s my partner,” the response automatically left my lips and I pursed them in disappointment. “Could you please move aside? You’re in my personal space.”
“No,” his voice came from behind me and with a jolt, I realized that they had cornered me. I refused to look back to give either of them the satisfaction and just gritted my teeth in annoyance.
I sucked in a breath and tried to calm myself. It’s okay. Another breath. You can do this. One more. Calm and nice. A deeper one. Solve this like an adult. I could feel Hayden’s breath on my neck. You don’t have to get angry. His fucking lips touched—It’s okay—
“I said fucking get away from me,” I growled out, shoving Hunter away with such a force that he actually stumbled. I got to my feet and moved backwards so I could keep them both within my sight and glared at each one in return. “You don’t fucking get to touch me.”
“KitKat,” Hayden started, moving towards me. “I’m sorry. I’m so—”
“No,” I said firmly, cutting him off. “You don’t have to apologize. Don’t worry. I forgave you two a long time ago. I couldn’t really move on if I didn’t, could I?”
They clenched their jaws in sync.
“With whom? That fucking cunt?” Hunter hurled back at me. “For fucks sake, Kat. He wouldn’t know the first thing about pleasuring a girl. Just look at him!”
I didn’t bother to correct his misunderstanding. “Shut the fuck up. He doesn’t have to do anything because he gives me the only thing I ask for. Trust. Something that you two don’t know the meaning of.”
“So what?” This time it was Hayden who snapped up to the defense. “You didn’t try correcting us either! And I fucking saw you in nothing hugging him on the couch that morning. What did you expect me to think!?”
I whirled around on him. “I FUCKING EXPECTED YOU TO TRUST ME. TRUST, HAYDEN. He was my friend and I needed someone that morning. My fucking mother called me a whore and a bitch so excuse me for wanting some comfort!”
“We were there! We were right there. You could have come to us,” Hunter pointed out hotly.
“You were asleep! Did you expect me to wake you up because I had a problem? If you did, I’m sorry to say that you had never really known me at all. I didn’t go to Ryder. He found me on the couch crying and he hugged me. I shouldn’t even have to explain this.”
At that moment, the door swung open again, revealing a guilty-looking Elias.
“I’m not doing this,” I muttered, stalking forward to push past him and out of the house. “I’ll tell Dad I can’t do it. I’m not dealing with this shit.”
“Kat, wait!” he called after me, hurrying to catch the lift with me before it shut on him. “What happened?”
“What do you think happened?” I snapped and then began feeling bad. It wasn’t his fault.
Oh wait, it was.
“Alright, I do have an idea. But you couldn’t run away from your past forever. Are you really going to tell your father you can’t do it? That you gave up because you couldn’t handle your past?” he asked, his voice growing softer at the end. He turned around and took my hands in his. “Listen. They are assholes for doing what they did to you. And they know it. You are strong, Katherine. You aren’t the same girl you used to be. Give yourself a chance. Stop running. You’ll regret this if you give it up. This is the one job your father has trusted you with. Show him what you’re worth. And in the process, show those two dicks what they gave up.”
My eyes flickered from his to my hands held in his. And I hesitated. Could I do it? Could I really bear the pain of seeing them again and being with them, knowing that things will never go back to how they used to be?
Was I strong enough?