Beyond the Pines (Part 2)

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Diego and I walked in silence. I had no idea what to say now that the truth was out - rather, some of the truth. Because there were still things I wanted to know, things I’d wondered over and over again, things I was terrified to say, terrified to hear, terrified to get the answers for.

When we reached the entrance to my apartment building, we stopped and faced each other. Diego looked at me with an impenetrable look that made it clear talking time was truly over. I, too, felt it was redundant to speak of anything else. He’d come clean about the things that were most important for me to know - the abrupt disappearance, the whole underworld people, the night I found him in the alley - and so nothing else actually mattered.

If there had been a possibility between Diego and me once upon a time, it was long gone. This right here… It was the closure I needed for that chapter of my life. And I got it.

“Thanks again, for explaining everything,” I said now, looking at him with a carefully clear face that showed nothing but my gratitude. “I appreciate it.”

“Thank you for hearing me out,” he replied, his voice toneless.

I remembered, then, what he said when I’d found him waiting here hours ago. He said he’d missed me. He asked if I still had feelings for him. He’d…

But it didn’t matter, did it? He didn’t look like he was going to initiate a conversation about any of that, and I wasn’t exactly in a mood to do that, either. Not now, not ever.

Chapter closed.

Giving him a somewhat formal nod, I turned and entered the building. Once inside, the urge to look back took over me, but when I turned, just slightly, to look over my shoulder, Diego was already gone.

It was the week before Christmas, and Larsen Walker’s birthday party was to take place tonight.

During the time that had passed since my talk with Diego, I hadn’t seen or heard from him. Whenever there was any planning that needed to happen for the Workeen event, Elijah, the CEO, was the one who made contact with the office, not either of the founders. Nola didn’t speak about him with me again, too, which was a relief, considering I didn’t know what to think of him anymore. Not after he’d explained his reasoning for what had happened the last time we saw each other, and then when I rescued him from that alley.

I would see him tonight, though. Orlando had invited him, along with Marco and Elijah to Larsen’s party, after all.

I’d been let off work earlier than usual thanks to Nola, who knew I would need time to get ready. Back at home, I had already put on my emerald-green dress, paired it with flat black heels, and a pair of long silver earrings. I pulled my hair into a half-up-half-down do, and applied black eyeliner to my eyes, mascara that made my lashes seem thicker, and dark red lipstick. Looking in the mirror, I thought I looked good, and it made me feel good about the whole thing.

“Damn, sis,” Peter said, whistling as I walked out of the room to show him and Patrick, who’d come to have some bonding time with Peter while I was gone, my posh look. “Lookin’ good.”

Patrick nodded his approval. “Though I do wish you picked a less revealing dress,” he said, pointing at my cleavage.

I rolled my eyes. “This isn’t the sixties, Pat.”

“Still,” he murmured, “who’s that man you’re going with, again?”

“Orlando Walker,” I said, picking up my black purse. “He’s the son of the man who’s celebrating the birthday.” Never mind that he’d blackmailed me without actually blackmailing me into coming with him. But what my brothers didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them.

Like they didn’t know about my encounter with Diego at the wine shop, or the conversation we’d had.

“Sounds like a prick,” Peter said, and Patrick hummed in agreement.

Choosing not to confront them that they were acting like chauvinistic pigs because I didn’t want my mood ruined, I grabbed myself a glass of water and just then, got a text from said prick. ‘I’m here.’

‘Be right there’ I responded and turned to my brothers. “Have a great evening,” I said shortly, gave them a small wave, and left before they could throw another comment my way that would make me want to thump them over the head.

Orlando was driving a Maserati, which came as no surprise. He was also waiting for me outside the car, wearing an impeccable light blue suit paired with sleek navy-blue shoes. His dark blonde hair was glistening from the amount of cream he must’ve poured into it to make it seem naturally pushed back, and he was as clean-shaven as always. All in all, he looked as if he’d spent much more time getting ready than me.

He grinned widely when he saw me, his electric blue eyes raking over my body slowly. “Damn, Paige,” he said, softly when I stopped before him, “you look gorgeous.”

I didn’t reply to that, and simply said, “Let’s go.”

He opened the passenger door for me and I entered. He closed it, entered the driver seat, and made the engine roar to life, driving out of the street and toward the events hall, where the party would take place.

“So I’ve been wondering,” he said as he drove, “what does a woman like you do as a PA when you’ve had far better options.”

There was a part of me that hoped he wouldn’t try to make conversation about this particular topic. But I guess it was redundant of me to hope, considering he’d found that damn article. “Each person leads their life as they see fit,” I said vaguely, hoping that, at least, he would get the hint and drop it.

But he seemed to ignore the warning undertone of my voice, because he smiled. “You know what I’m talking about. You were a pro - “

“If you don’t want me to get out of the car,” I cut him off flatly, “you would change the subject.”

His smile grew. “You’re a very interesting woman.”

“I’m not,” I said bluntly.

“Alright,” he said, glancing at me, “keep your secrets. I can expose them all if I want to, anyway.”

I gave him a sharp grin. “Money won’t make me speak, Walker.”

“Not you, perhaps,” his grin turned arrogant, “but others are a different story.”

And this, I didn’t get. Of all the women he could’ve harassed, why me? “I’m sure you have better things to do than snoop into some woman’s life,” I said coolly.

“Oh, darlin’,” he shook his head. “If you only knew...”

The rest of the drive, Orlando tried to make me talk. I gave him the silent treatment, and so he was basically talking to himself until he parked next to the hotel, where the events hall was. I got out of the car the moment he pressed the brakes, needing the fresh air before I would have to spend the time with his condescending ass.

We walked to the hall, him relaxed and me rigid, since he had his hand on the small of my back. I wanted to rip his hand off me, but we were already at the hall and I knew it would just draw us unwanted attention.

The hall was huge, and people were crowding it. And those were the kind of people I’d never actually spend time with in real life; they were all high society, elitist, wearing expensive designer brands like Prada and Gucci, and I felt almost like a kid in my emerald dress. The women here, ranging in age, all looked spectacular, like Hollywood stars, wearing beautiful gowns, their faces masked with makeup and their hair professional done. The men, too, cleaned up nicely for the event, although the women were obviously the ones meant to draw the eye.

It was like a scene from a movie. Orlando took me to greet many people, introducing me as his “company” for the night. When we found his father, the birthday man, I saw that attached to his heep was a stunning woman who was at most twenty-one, and who looked like a Victoria Secret’s model, with large boobs, shapely ass, a figure to die for, and long, gold locks matched with brilliant gray eyes. She was terribly beautiful, and she had Larsen Walker’s, a man who was celebrating him turning seventy, arm around her waist.

“Orlando!” Larsen now called, and there was a slight slur to his voice, indicating he was already tipsy. Despite his age, Larsen kept himself in good shape, and could’ve easily passed for ten years younger than he was. He had dark hair that must’ve been dyed, and the same blue eyes as his son. He was tall, and while there was a softness to him as most eldery had, he was still obviously working out, which was quite an accomplishment.

“Dad,” Orlando said, smiling as he hugged his father. He then turned to the supermodel and his smile turned a little sharp. “Ella.”

The supermodel, Ella, nodded to him with a polite smile and a knowing look in her eyes. “Orlando. It’s so good to see you.”

When the two of them hugged, it was obvious to me that this Ella wasn’t just Larsen’s fling, but she was his girlfriend, and by the way she hugged Orlando, I would bet my entire savings that she had slept with him at some point, too. It was a disgusting thought, and I tried to push it away and not flinch when Orlando’s hand returned to the small of my back.

“And who’s this here with you?” Larsen asked, and his eyes turned to me. He then gave me a once-over that was so inappropriate, my hands began shaking with barely-contained disgust.

“Dad, meet Paige,” Orlando said, grinning at me. “She’s Nola’s PA at Wayla.”

Larsen and I shook hands, and when I felt him reluctantly let go, while Ella the supermodel was right there, I felt the urge to get as far as possible from both Walker Senior and Junior. “It’s very nice to meet you,” Larsen said, his eyes on my cleavage.

I nodded curtly and kept my mouth shut.

Orlando chatted with his Dad. I turned to look at Ella, and realized we would probably be at the same height, if she didn’t wear eight-inch heels, towering over both Orlando and Larsen easily. She also didn’t seem like she was eager to talk at all; she was content just standing there, looking stunning, causing heads to turn.

Then a familiar voice said, “Mr. Walker!” and I turned, relieved, to see Nola coming over. As the event manager, she had to be on site, and she was dressed immaculately in her special-events office clothes, which included a black pencil skirt matched with a white blouse, and high black heels. She looked fresh and happy, and she gave me a big smile before returning to Larsen. “I hope everything is to your taste.”

“Ah, Nola, dear,” Larsen said, clasping Nola’s hands and kissing their knuckles. “Everything is excellent, as I knew it would be under your care. Orlando here did good by hiring you.”

Nola beamed. “Thank you, Mr. Walker!”

Just then, an older woman, along with a man who could only be her husband, came by and stood next to Larsen. “Larsen,” she murmured, “I have just passed by the most handsome man in attendance - besides yourself and your son, of course,” her face split into a fake mollifying smile. “But I do not recognize him or his company. They don’t seem to be… a part of us.”

I at once had an idea who she was talking about. Larsen seemed to think so, too, because he said, “Oh, Marlene, I believe it’s - “

Before he could finish, silence fell on the people around us. I turned, along with the rest, to see what it was about, when I saw the man I’d suspected the woman was talking about.

I would’ve said he stuck out like a sore thumb, but Diego Rivero was no sore thumb; he did something to his hair that it was no longer the wild mess of curls it usually was, and instead was pulled into a smooth, gleaming ponytail at the back of his head. He shaved most of his bristles, and now had only a faint shadow decorating his strong jaw. That, added by the fact his hair was pulled back, cleared his face from any interruption, showing the natural, masculine beauty of it, full of sharp lines and almond shaped dark brown eyes. He wore a tailored suit with black pants that were buckled at the waist, a white buttoned shirt that was tucked in the pants, and a black blazer that made his broad shoulders and defined arms even more prominent than usual, in addition to the fact that because his skin was so naturally tanned, thanks to those Hispanic origins he’d once upon a time accused me of being racist of, made his obvious pecs almost visible.

I’m not gonna lie; it was the hottest I’d ever seen Diego Rivero look like.

But then my eyes went to the woman who was at his side, and it made me feel like a little girl playing pretend all over again, because she was at Ella’s league of devastatingly gorgeous; she had lush chestnut-brown hair full of natural highlights that was pulled into a complicated updo, the tail resting elegantly over her shoulder. She had sexy reddish-brown eyes that were decorated by thick eyelashes that couldn’t possibly be real, but made her eyes appear sexy and smoky nonetheless; and her skin was like molten gold, complemented by the dark red gown she wore.

They looked like superstars, and they reeked of money just like all the other guests. But there was something very different about them, too. They had an air of authenticity no one in the crowd had. Not even me.

And it made me want to crawl into a hole and never come out until this party was over.

“Rios!” said Larsen walking toward Diego and the woman. “I’m so glad you could make it!”

“Thank you for the invitation, Mr. Walker,” Diego said, smiling politely at him as they shook hands, and I heard sighs from nearby girls at the sight. The woman next to him was staring at him with an adoring look, and suddenly, a jolt of familiarity made me do a double take.

I knew this woman, I realized. She’d been there, at Marco’s place, on that damned New Year’s Eve. She was the one who was in love with Diego…

And she still was, if her expression was anything to go by.

“I thought Suarez and Manning would come, too,” Larsen said, looking at Diego.

“They had urgent business to attend to, so I came as their representative,” Diego smiled amicably, then turned to the woman. “Please meet Luna, an old friend of mine…”

Old friend my foot. Luna’s expression became a little tight at the term ‘old friend’ but she shook Larsen’s hand and smiled as if she wasn’t bothered.

“Well, this is interesting,” Orlando suddenly murmured into my ear, and I tensed. “I thought I imagined it at the wine shop, but I guess it was true after all…”

My heart was in my ears, it was so loud. “I’m hungry,” I said crispily, “I’m going to get some food.”

“Not so fast,” Orlando murmured, grabbed my hand and, to my horror, made me follow him to Larsen and Diego. “Rios, my guy,” he said jovially, shaking Diego’s hand. “It’s so good to see you.”

“You, too, Walker,” Diego said with a friendly smile. Then his eyes went to me and they stopped there. Any and all warmth seemed to disappear from his gaze, and his expression turned fixed, unreadable. “Nice to see you again, Harper,” he said, and his voice was a little tighter than before.

I had no idea what evoked this reaction in him, but I gave him a simple nod. “You too, Riv - Rios.”

His eyes scrutinized my face, but then Nola interrupted by saying, “This is going to be a great party. Primal is doing an amazing job, isn’t he, Mr. Rios?”

And that was just about enough for me. “I’m going to get some food,” I exclaimed loudly, so Orlando wouldn’t make me do something against my will again.

“After you, m’lady,” Orlando said, smiling, his hand on the low of my back, but his eyes on someone else.

But I couldn’t handle this right now. Without looking at anyone in particular, I strode away from the group, Orlando in toe, to get some of that food and hope my heart would fucking stop try to jump out of my chest.

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