Conflict of Interest

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CHAPTER 66

Luke stared at the light shining from Grace’s office, willing it to turn off. If it turned off, he’d be able to fight the urge to walk in and tell her she’s being childish. Insane and foolish and childish.

He froze when he saw her shadow pause, then move back and forth across the room. He realized he wasn’t breathing as he stalked, and it only irked him more.

Now who’s being childish? he thought as his foot kicked, skimming the sidewalk.

“You probably won’t get her attention from down here.”

The slamming of his heart against his chest dulled, letting the embarrassment of being caught take over. He didn’t know if it was worse or better knowing it was Aimeé, Bistro owner and best friend to the woman he was staring at.

Well, shit.

“Yeah, I think she’s not interested in my attention at the moment.”

“You’re talking about Seth, then?” Aimeé said, amused.

“What?” He’d heard her, but he needed to hear it again. He wanted Aimeé to confirm it was true, to fuel the anger building inside of him.

“Seth, you must know him? He works with Grace.” Aimeé said casually, confirming his suspicion. Hoping she was pushing all the right buttons.

When Luke shook his fists in frustration, he realized he probably looked ridiculous, but not enough to try and control himself. When he swung around, he saw Aimeé standing patiently, not reacting to his tantrum. Simply stood, waiting for him to finish. He calmed and walked toward her.

“She loves me,” Luke said. It wasn’t a question, but it wasn’t the confident statement he was shooting for either. When did he get so damn wishy-washy?

That’s it, he determined. He knew he was right. They belonged together, and he’d be damned if he wasn’t going to give Grace a piece of his mind.

Date Seth? He scoffed, too irritated to remember he’d liked the poor guy who was now the brunt of his outburst.

“She loves me.” Luke said, this time with conviction and a finger pointing at Aimeé.

“Okay.”

He heard Aimeé agree before he skipped off into a run toward the building. His adrenaline was high. He took the stairs two at a time.

When he reached the third floor his breath and legs felt heavy, but continued, he’d made a commitment after all.

On the fifth floor, he swore and walked to the elevator to ride the rest of the way up. Adrenaline could only take you so far.

The quiet of night allowed the faint sound of Grace’s voice to travel down the halls of the office. He loved the sound of her voice. It was feminine and confident. She always spoke as if she knew what she wanted. The way his name had exclaimed from her mouth...No, he shook his head. He didn’t want to think about those memories or he’d get some unwanted desire pumping through his veins. He’d never be the same from those nights spent together. She’d ruined him.

“I will always love it here, nothing will change that.”

His heart sank as the words she spoke become more audible the closer he got. When he was at her door, he saw her on the phone, looking outside, saying she had to get going because there was a call she had to make. She was fiddling with a small piece of paper that looked like the one he’d seen on her desk – the day she told him she was going to start dating other people.

He saw the signs, they were there. He just hadn’t wanted to accept they were true. Grace was dating Seth. She really had moved on. That was just nauseating, he thought, as the sickness crept through him.

He watched her hang up and turn toward him. She must have heard his groan of disgust. He was miserable, and her eyes were smiling like all the weight in the world was lifted from her. She was happy. That was even worse. She was beautiful. But it was still the worst.

“Luke,” she said, her energetic tone bringing on a frustration he’d never felt before.

“Just no.” He held up a hand motioning for her to stop and followed it with a finger silently asking for a moment to gather himself.

He couldn’t. When he began to walk away, he heard feet behind him, and he whirled to see her take his place at the door. He spun back around, suddenly energized by his disbelief.

“I just – I’d like to – no. Is this really about Seth? Do you really like him? I mean, I guess he’s tall. Taller than me, if you’re into that sort of,” his finger made a line straight up and down, “thing.”

Grace’s smile wasn’t overly smug, but it was enough to allow him to make a fool of himself. So, he was going to go for it.

“You know what your problem is? You don’t know what you want. You think you want this company so badly. You think you want Seth,” he hissed, his tone bitter with irritation and dripping with a callow whine.

“You know what I think? I think you have no idea what you want. I think the entire time we spent together, starting this,” moving his finger back and forth between them, “this romance, you didn’t bring up the work once, except to tell me your company was being sought after. Do you want to know what you did talk about? Growing up with your dad and how great your parents were. You talked about your girlfriends like you were born to be in one another’s lives.”

The way Luke described her, and them – the girls – filled her with more love than she’d had before he started his rant. She’d let him finish. Besides, it was the most precious thing she’d ever seen and heard.

Luke continued, “You get all girl-looking at the idea of kids and a family that you want to have one day. You looked at me like I was the only man in the world that mattered, and if you weren’t losing your mind, I think you’d’ve realized I was looking at you in the same damn way. I still do. I bet you don’t tell Seth those things or look at him that way.”

Now he really was being childish. But it was the truth as far as he was concerned. He forged on.

“I’m going to go ahead and leave him out of this for now, even though I’m aware of what’s going on here.” Luke motioned to the piece of paper she was still holding, now under one of her crossed arms as she leaned in the door frame, her lips pursed in a smile, allowing him to get on with it.

“None of those things are about this company,” he continued, his voice cracking with the impassioned words. “None of them. All of what you love is out there, in life, while you’re living it. Do you honestly think your dad would tell you ‘No, don’t you dare be with a man who loves you so much he’d give up anything to be with you; you be sure to keep this pile of bricks running?’ Sorry.” He put up his hands in defense after the pile of bricks comment knowing she loved them. “The bricks are nice, you know, for bricks.”

Grace hid her grin with her fingers.

“You have all of these amazing things but haven’t taken two minutes to think about how damn lucky we are to have such – fucking – shit,” he felt exhausted. “I’m not swearing at you. But shit!”

Luke’s hands were in his hair as he paced away. Regaining what was left of his composure, he concluded, “We found each other. Can’t you see that? People live lifetimes looking for the feeling we have when we are together. I want that. I want you to want that. I can’t make you want it, but I want you to. I want you to want me.”

Luke finally shoved his hands in his pockets where he felt the small box he’d asked Edna to bring him when they’d met for lunch. It should have felt exhilarating. He should have been nauseous for a different reason. Instead, he was enervated and sick at the thought of a life without Grace in it.

“Jesus, Grace. I think I loved you from the first second I saw you.”

He was done. He’d said all he needed to say. Feeling the faintest sense of relief, his head fell back, and he sighed.

“I’ll leave you to your business tonight.” He said simply, pointing to the paper once more, then started toward the exit.

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