Perfect Illusion

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Chapter 29: Playing with Fire

I tell Nate everything. The entire truth, not the edited one that I’ve been feeding him.

I start by telling him about my parents, and how their company got bankrupt, which resulted in them having to borrow money from Daniel’s dad. Then, the condition that I was to be engaged to Daniel so he can step up as head of Kerrington Enterprises without a tarnished reputation. Then, the lies we have to tell in order to make out fake engagement believable.

After telling him everything, Nate just stares at me blankly, trying to digest everything in.

“Wow.” Is the first word he said. He places his hands over his head and blows out a long breath. “So, the engagement is fake, huh.”

“Yep.”

“And you and Daniel aren’t together ‘together’.”

“Um NOPE.”

“But you guys are engaged anyway. By force.”

“Well, yes.”

Nate runs his fingers through his hair. “Shit. That’s...”

“Fucked up? Yeah.” I say, “I totally get if you’re mad at me for lying to you. You can yell at me or tell me to piss off and never be in your life again. I mean, technically the whole time this was happening, you thought I was playing with your feelings.”

“Yes, that’s true but that’s not what I was going to say at all,” He shakes his head. “I don’t blame you for lying to me. I mean, I’m pissed as hell I was kept out of the loop about this but the both of you had your reasons.”

“So... what you’re saying is... you’re not going to hate me for it?” I ask with a glint of hope.

“I can never hate you, Alex,” Nate reaches forward, the pad of his thumb stroking my bottom lip, ”Never.”

I lean into his caress. “I don’t understand how you can be so calm about this.”

His face falls. “Well, I kind of suspected something like this would happen.” “You did?” I arch my eyebrows in confusion.

“I’m not stupid, Alex.” He laughs, “I’ve been rooming with Daniel for two years before this happened. I know how he acts, and how he behaves. Trust me, if he’s involved or engaged to some woman, its not because of love.” I throw my head back and laugh.

“And there’s the fact that I met you,” He strokes my cheek now, smiling. “From the way you looked at me, I knew you liked me.”

“Did I just detect a hint of arrogance right there-”

His soft chuckle cuts me off. “So yeah, it didn’t add up. I knew it didn’t add up. I was so confused for so long, but after a while, I learnt to let it go. If there was something you were keeping from me, I had to accept it and waited till you were ready to tell me.”

“I’m happy I told you,” I sigh. “I feel so relieved now.”

“Me too.”

“You sure you’re not mad?” I pout. “Please don’t say you’re not mad, because if I were in your position...”

“I’m not mad.” He shakes his head.

“Not even a little?”

“Well...”

“So you are mad.” I cross my arms.

“I’m not mad, Alex.” He chuckles. “But I do feel something else.”

“What?”

“I feel like this huge weight have been lifted off my shoulders.” His eyes lock with mine, and it takes my breath away.

“Why?”

“Because now I don’t have to feel guilty when I do this.”

And then, he wraps his arms around my waist and kisses me. Our lips meet, warm, gentle, his mouth soft against mine. Then, just as slowly, the moment pauses, and our lips part again.

Kissing Nate is warm and bubbly.

Simple.

I like simple.

Suddenly, an image of Daniel flashes through my mind in a blur, startling me for a moment. I gasp and pull away from Nate almost immediately, somehow feeling bad.

“Hey, you okay?” Nate looks at me, his hands sliding from my face to my hair, his fingers tangling in it.

“Yeah, I’m... fine.” I manage to croak out.

Why did I see Daniel’s face when I kissed Nate? God, I feel so horrible. Kissing a guy while thinking of another. What is wrong with me?

Get it together, Alex!

I put on a small smile on my face, and kiss Nate on the cheek, a light brush against his skin. “I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have to be sorry,” He says, “I think I should be sorry. I should have asked you if you wanted to be kissed-”

“It’s not that,” I interject. “I like the kiss.”

“Which one? The first one or the second one?”

Laughing, I say, “Both.”

His grin widens. “Really?”

My cheeks burn. “Really.”

“I feel like there’s a ‘but’ coming.” He groans.

“But...”

“There it is.” He chuckles lowly.

“Now that we know we like each other...” My voice trails off, “I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I’m still with Daniel. I can’t be with anyone else. The contract forbids me to.”

He frowns, deflated.

“What if we get caught?” I tell him, my hand sliding around his. “I will be screwed over. Daniel and I will be screwed over.”

“You’re right,” He shakes his head, “It’s selfish of me to think that there’s any chance for us.”

I close my eyes, pained that it has to end like this. I’ve been waiting for so long to be kissed by Nate, to be with him, and now that I have, it’s over. Just like that.

Somehow going back to Daniel seems like such an ugly option. I’ll go back to him and I will never know how it will be like to have an actual future with someone else, someone I really like.

And that thought scares me.

But what about my feelings for Daniel? Do I even have feelings for him? The way he has made me feel this few weeks have been... really good. I like spending time with him. He had changed ever since I met him. He’s different.

But how can I be so sure about that? When I saw him just now with those women, it took me straight back to the Daniel I saw three months ago. The Daniel who didn’t give a shit about anything. The Daniel who was mean, filled with hatred burning inside of him.

Getting involved with Nate is safe. Secure. Simple and carefree. Whereas getting involved with Daniel would be playing with fire.

Fire that will guarantee me getting burnt into a crisp.

“Alex...” Nate murmurs, his fingers tangling in my hair, “What if we do it in secret?”

I blink to make sure I heard him right. “You mean...”

“We can see where this goes,” He brushes his fingers down my cheek, staring into my eyes. “And Daniel nor anyone has to know about it.”

I am stunned by what Nate has just said. A secret... relationship?

“You’re okay with that?” I ask him, tilting my head sideways. “That’s a lot of sneaking around we have to do, you know.”

“I know,” He shrugs, “But I really like you, Alex. I want to make this work between us.”

I sigh heavily, leaning my head against his, “Yeah, me too.”

“And I don’t really care how we do this, as long as you want to be as much as involved with me as I want to be involved with you.”

His words haunt me. I do want to be with Nate. It’s been what I’ve wanted since the first time I saw him.

But since the first time I saw him, things have changed. Lots of things.

Maybe... just maybe... this thing with Nate can actually work. I mean, Daniel doesn’t have to know about it. And it’s not like Daniel and I are together anyway. No hard feelings, though.

Nate and I just have to be super careful where we meet, and what we’re doing.

It’s not easy, but we can make it work.

“Let’s just see how it goes,” I smile at him and he presses a kiss on my forehead. “We can do this.”

“We can do this.” He promises me.

I nod quietly, making myself believe those words. But a little part of me tells me that I’m believing a lie.


We were gone for an hour.

Nate and I decide to head back down to the party. He slides his arm around my shoulder, but the moment we entered Cara’s apartment, he immediately drops it. I cast him a sympathetic smile. I don’t know how but the music has gotten louder since we left, and now the speakers are blasting with techno music. I notice several people leaving already, but most of the freshmen are still here, pumping their fists into the air, synchronising their bodies to the rhythm of the music.

I spot Cara at the side, with a red cup in her hands. She’s laughing at something the guy next to her had said. When I edge closer to her, I realize the guy who she’s talking to is Simon.

“Oh hey guys,” I say when both of them spot me. Cara waves me over, and Simon gives me one of his infamous nods.

“Where the hell have you been?” Cara grabs my hand and yanks me towards

Simon’s direction. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere!”

“I was on the rooftop garden.” I tell her. “Did you even know we have a rooftop garden?”

“No,” She narrows her eyes at me. “You were up there? Alone?”

I bite my lip. “Well...”

She gasps and pulls me to the side, away from Simon. “You sneaky bitch. You were with someone! Spill the beans, Alex!”

Goddammit. “I was with Nate.”

She gasps dramatically and almost spills the liquid in her cup. “Holy mother of god- you and Nate?” Slowly, I nod.

“Shit!” She squeals, jumping up and down, “Shit, Alex! Details! I want details!”

“Shhhhh!” I smack my hand over her mouth. “There’s shit loads of people here! I can’t tell you now. When I get back, I’ll call you okay?”

Cara pouts. “But, Alex-” She protests, her voice muffled by my hand. Eventually, I let her talk.

“I need to find Daniel. Do you know where he is?”

She gives me a look. “Oh my god, you, Nate and Daniel? You little bitch! Keeping all the hot guys to yourselves?”

I roll my eyes. “No, you shithead. I need to find Daniel because he’s my ride home!”

Cara’s expression shifts. “Oh.”

I smack her on the shoulder. “Yeah ′oh.′ Now, where the hell is he?”

Her eyes drop, and her lips fall into a huge frown.

“Cara, what’s wrong?” I touch her shoulder.

“I don’t know how to tell you this, Alex.” She looks at me sympathetically. I cock my head sideways, and place my hand on my hips.

“Just spill it.”

She gestures to the front door. “Daniel left without you.” “WHAT?” I shriek.

“I’m sorry, Alex.” She shrugs. “He told me to tell you not to wait up.”

“Why the hell did he leave without me?”

She pauses for a while before answering. “Because... he didn’t leave alone. He left with two girls dangling on each arm.”

I grit my teeth, clenching my fists. “That motherfucking piece of-”

I stop midway through my curse. How can I be so hypocritical about this? Daniel left with two girls. I can’t call him a piece of shit for doing so, because that would mean I am a piece of shit too. After all, I was just upstairs kissing Nate, and telling him that I want to be with him.

I want to be mad at Daniel, but I can’t be. Because it’s both of our faults.

Don’t get involved with other people.

Daniel and I completely shattered that rule to pieces.

I shake my head, not wanting to dwell on it any further. It will only stir up some very intense emotions I’m not willing to feel right now.

“Can you take me home, Cara?” I ask her.

She looks around for a while before answering me. “Sure. I’ll send you back as soon as the party is over.”

I only manage to nod my head. She casts me a sad smile.

“I’m sorry this happened, Alex.” She pats on my shoulder.

“Yeah. Me too.” I croak out.

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