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Chapter Seven

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Melia’s POV.

I wear one of my favourite dresses for work on Friday. We have an important pitch today, and it’s my first time pitching with someone else beside me. I need it to go well. If it doesn’t, Braxton and I will have to go back to competing against one another. Strangely, I don’t want that.

Braxton arrives shortly after me, and I see that he has also dressed for the occasion. He’s rolled the sleeves on his shirt, revealing his expensive watch and sexy forearms.

How can someone have sexy forearms?

I don’t know, but Braxton King manages it. They’re just so tanned and tattooed and yummy. It’s only a short part of his arms showing, but fuck me, do they make my stomach flutter.

We work on our pitch in the morning. By lunchtime, it’s ready. We have everything sorted, the printing, the speech, the answers to pre-empted questions.

I order sandwiches to-go from Sally’s place and I meet Braxton outside it, in his car. He offered to drive us to the location of the client and walked back to our building to collect his car.

I climb in and hand him his sandwich. We eat on the way to the meeting. I’m extra careful with my sandwich, going so far as to eat over the takeout bag. Braxton’s car is very sleek and very expensive-looking.

It’s a forty-five-minute drive and we chat most of the way. Braxton is Braxton. He takes the opportunity to make sexual innuendos whenever possible and asks inappropriate questions, but they don’t bother me like they did on his first day. He wasn’t wrong about me warming up to him. We banter back and forth, and I find myself relaxing. I let go and make jokes back at him. It’s the most at ease I’ve felt in...well, years.

We both sober up as Braxton parks in front of the company’s building. He puts his hand on my wrist when I go to click off my seatbelt.

“Wait,” he commands.

I freeze and watch as he gets out of the car and walks around to my side. He opens the passenger door for me, stunning me into silence. I slowly undo my belt and take his offered hand to step out of the car.

“What just happened?” I ask him, surprise evident in my voice.

He smirks at me. “You just fell in love with me a little bit, Wynter, that’s what happened.”

I roll my eyes and grab my handbag. The two of us enter the foyer and approach the front desk. We inform the receptionist of our arrival and take a seat whilst she calls the boss.

I feel my usual nerves when the client comes down to meet us. Unsurprisingly, it’s less scary having Braxton by my side.

Together, we first meet with the client for our initial chat. Then, we move to the board room and give our pitch to the committee. It goes smoothly. Braxton and I flow perfectly together, picking up on each other’s cues and using each other’s words to add to the pitch.

I let out a breath of relief when they excuse themselves to discuss. Braxton turns to me and smiles.

He looks completely laid-back with his hands in his pockets. “I think that went well. They looked very interested,” he comments.

I nod and pace up and down the room. “Yeah, they seemed to like it.”

“Will you relax?” Braxton says with a laugh. “Your pacing is making me dizzy.”

I shoot him an apologetic smile. “Sorry.”

“Hey,” he says more softly, “you did great.”

“Thanks, so did you,” I reply.

The committee returns to the room. The client informs us that she would like to accept the proposed order, meaning she has just placed a £160,000 order with us. I act professional, until we get into Braxton’s car. Then I squeal and clap my hands like a child. Braxton rolls his eyes, but he can’t keep the happy grin off his face.

“Nice teamwork, Wynter,” he says and bumps his fist with mine.

Both of us are in great moods as he drives us back to the office. I text my boss with the good news, too eager to wait until we get back to the office. He’s waiting for us when we come up the stairs. Brad congratulates us and looks very pleased with himself for coming up with the idea of pairing us together.

He looks between us with a thoughtful smile on his face. “I think this is going to work,” he says, gesturing at the two of us.

Braxton and I share a smile.

My mood sours slightly as I realise that Mark is coming over. Today was beautifully distracting. I forgot that I’m going to break up with my boyfriend tonight.

I walk home slowly, feeling like someone has just popped my happy balloon. I change out of my work clothes and into something comfier. I sit on the sofa and think over what exactly I’m going to say. I need to work this out before Mark comes over.

A wave of nausea washes over me as Mark lets himself into the apartment. I’m surprised to see that he has a grim look on his face. He slides off his boots and walks over to where I am sat on the sofa. I frown when I realise he’s not meeting my eyes. He sits down on the armchair, on the opposite side of the living room to me. He rests his elbows on his knees and leans forwards.

Eventually, he musters the courage to look up at me. I furrow my brows further, silently asking him what’s wrong. He sighs and rubs his hand down his face. He looks back at me and winces.

“I need to tell you something,” he says slowly.

I swallow hard and lean back in the sofa. Something tells me I know where he is going with this. “About?” I ask quietly when he remains silent.

He inhales deeply and rubs his lips together.

Spit it out, man.

“I-I...recently, I’ve been having...feelings...for someone else,” he says, going pink with embarrassment.

“Oh,” I mumble.

He runs his hand down his face again. “It’s the owner of the Lennox estate,” he says guiltily. He barely looks me in the eye. “She and I have obviously been spending a lot of time together whilst I help her renovate her house and well, we’ve got to talking and...it’s just sort of happened. We haven’t even kissed, but I know that it is leading to something like that.”

I remain silent, completely stunned. I was not expecting this. I was expecting me to have to break up with him and him to cry and us to argue. Not this.

“I’m so sorry, Melia. I love you, but I don’t think I’m in love with you.” He looks up at me with pained eyes. “You know what I mean though, don’t you? I’ve seen the way you look at me recently. It’s not the same anymore. We’re not the same anymore.”

I decide to finally reply. “You’re right,” I tell him and quickly clear my throat. “We aren’t the same. We haven’t been for a while, I don’t think.”

Mark nods sombrely in agreement. “I think we’ve been trying to hold onto what we had for a long time now. We need to accept that we’ve changed and outgrown each other. We want different things, we’re in different places and we’re certainly different people,” Mark says, but I’m not offended.

I agree with everything he is saying. I can’t believe it. It’s like he’s taking the words straight from my mouth.

“I think it’s time we move on. We can’t keep going on like this, pretending like everything is the same, when it’s not. Meeting Julianne, the owner of the Lennox estate, it’s made me realise what I want now and I’m sorry, Mel, but this isn’t it.”

I let out a sigh of relief. “I agree with you, Mark,” I reply. “I’ve been thinking about us and you’re right. I don’t think this is working and I agree that we need to move on from this, from each other.”

He gives me a sad smile. “I’m so relieved. I thought I’d have to say a lot more than this,” he says.

I smile back at him. “No, it’s okay. I understand completely.”

He looks at me warmly and I remember why we first fell in love. We comforted each other in a time when we needed it. We don’t need it anymore.

“You stood by me through so much with my mother and my family. You’ve been my rock for so long that I came to rely on you for things. I’d like to think that I don’t need that co-dependency anymore,” he tells me.

“I want you to be free of me. So that you can do what you want to without me holding you back. You’ve stuck by me, and you’ve helped me, now, I want to help you.”

His sweet words make me tear up. “Mark, you helped me a lot, too. You helped me discover what I wanted to do in life. You supported me when I changed my entire lifestyle.” I look down at my hands, where I’m twisting my fingers together on my lap. “But I think we’ve been too comfortable. We’ve fallen out of love without realising it. We don’t need each other like we used to. I think we’re ready for something different.”

He nods. “Exactly. But you know, even though our relationship is ending, our friendship isn’t, right? You can still come to me if you ever need anything. I’ll always be here for you, Mel.”

We might not be right for each other, but he sure is a sweetheart.

“Of course. And the same goes for you, I’m always here for you.”

Mark stands up and opens his arms. “Hug?”

I step into them, and we squeeze each other.

“I’ll come and collect my things tomorrow if that’s okay? Right now, I’m exhausted and I’d really like a nap, to be honest.”

I laugh at his words and nod. “That’s fine, Mark. Come whenever.”

I walk him to the door, and we hug again. I feel a bit sad as I close the door behind him. I’m not sad that we’ve broken up. Truth be told, that’s the best break up I’ve ever had, I wish they all went that smoothly. I’m so lucky that we were on the same page. I’m sad because I feel like I’m finally saying goodbye to who I used to be. Mark represents the old me, a chapter of my life that no longer exists. It’s like finally closing a book you’ve been reading for years.

As the evening goes on, my sadness lifts and another feeling takes its place. Something relaxed and positive, that I haven’t felt in a long time.

I feel free.

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