The Publicist's Plight (Book I in The Harrison Inc. Series)

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Chapter 40

I can’t remember the last time I have been this nervous. But I can think of a few reasons why.

Firstly, I am not keen on the idea of making a fool out of myself as Sebastian tries to “teach” me how to dance. I don’t have the rhythm to ease this task upon myself, nor do I have the experience as I have stated before.

Secondly, the eyes of the band watching us as they serenade Sebastian and I with their jazz measure makes my feet shake. There’s only a modest number of them—about five people. But even if the number was five or five hundred, I would still be cowering in my heels

And finally, the third reason as to why I am dreading the thought of allowing Sebastian Harrison to carry me off into a dance through this vacant ballroom floor, is a simple nine letter word:

Proximity.

His left hand sits on my lower back without force, but pressuring enough to close much of the gap between our bodies. And as for his right hand, it clasps around my left palm, almost engulfing my hand in his. We haven’t even moved our legs yet and I can’t bear to look at him.

I’ve never been this close in this way before. Not only with him, but with any man.

“You’re nervous,” he says plainly. He doesn’t even phrase it into a question.

I shake my head down at the bright reflection on my black Jimmy Choo’s. “No, I’m not.”

“Then why are you avoiding my eyes?”

“Because I don’t want to mess up,” I answer. It isn’t completely the truth, nor is it completely a lie.

Sebastian laughs; I can almost feel the vibration radiating from his chest. “We haven’t moved yet.”

He isn’t wrong in that part.

“Just follow my lead,” he says, confident in his skill.

“Alright.”

“You can stand on my shoes if you want.”

I snort. “Why would I do that?”

He cocks his head to the side—again, like an intrigued puppy. “You’ve never heard of that before?”

Shaking my head, Sebastian ticks his tongue against the roof of his mouth at my ignorance. I don’t know whether I should laugh or feel embarrassed.

So instead, I assure him. “I’m positive I can keep up with your six-foot-two frame, Mr. Harrison.”

His eyebrow twitches up a bit. “I’m six-three, Leslie,” he corrects me.

Lord.

With this new information circulating my brain, I make a surprised face that generates a laugh from him again, louder than his laugh before.

I have to remember to scold Skippy and Mia for their delivery of false information on Sebastian’s height, all while I was conducting “research” on him a few weeks ago.

“Just follow my lead, then?” he asks, and for the first time since he’s held me close, I look up into his eyes and see a comforting amount of trust and sincerity in them—an amount so alarming, it gives me the impression that I’m about to dance with someone I’ve never met before.

“Okay,” I say. “I will.”

Immediately, we begin to dance. My nervousness doesn’t successfully go away, despite the rapid movement of my feet, but it only heightens when I accidentally step on his shoe and trip, falling onto his chest four steps into the waltz.

“I’m sorry, I-I didn’t mean to do that,” I stutter. God, I’m such a klutz.

“It’s fine,” he says. His encouraging tone makes me blush even harder. “It’s my fault for moving too fast.”

And with that, we try again.

“Back taut.”

“Back taut,” I repeat after him, lengthening my spine after he does.

“Eyes leveled?”

I’m looking at him again, only this time our eyes don’t break apart. There’s more gray in the green of his eyes when the lights hit his irises; they’re beautiful.

“Eyes leveled,” I croak, swallowing away the dryness in my throat.

At this point, the band has stopped playing and has focused their attention onto us and Sebastian’s attempt at teaching me the right position to waltz.

“I think we should play something a little more familiar,” the singer says into the mic. “You know, to soothe your nerves?”

Familiar? I’m not too familiar with jazz, so what could possibly be familiar to our ears?

There’s silence for a while before she sings deeply into the microphone:

“Baby, can’t you see? I’m calling. A guy like you should wear a warning. It’s dangerous; I’m falling.”

I gasp when I realize the cover they’ve chosen to play—Toxic by Britney Spears?

“I love this song!” I whisper excitedly. “I’ve loved it ever since it came out while I was in college.”

Sebastian chuckles down at my rise in mood. “Then this should be easier.”

And like clockwork, our feet are moving again. Only this time, it’s much easier for me to mimic his movements: step, halt. Back, halt. Turn—allow him to lead. Regardless of a few trips here and laughs there, slowly but surely I grasp the general concept of dancing. Even though my heart beat against my chest faster than the drums in the band, it’s more out of excitement and less out of nervousness.

“Better?” he asks me quietly, trying to allow the sound of the band to dominate the air.

I nod and avoid his eyes shyly, “Yes, much better. This is actually quite fun.”

Now, that in fact is the honest truth. It makes me sad when I think of how much I have missed out on these years, having never danced before.

None of us talk for a while, but it isn’t awkward silence. There is the occasional chuckle when I mess up, but other than that, we speak with our eyes.

If only I could understand what his are saying.

I notice his jaw clench along with his stare; holding a serious gaze abruptly. When our dance simmers down to a slow glide, I know something is wrong.

“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about something, Leslie.”

A million possibilities suddenly rush through my mind of what he is going to say.

“What’s wrong?”

He swallows hard; his Adam’s Apple quivers. “I know this is random. But I just…I wanted to apologize.”

Too high, can’t come down. Losin’ my head, spinnin’ ’round and ’round. Do you feel me now?

“A-apologize? For what?”

“For many things, really,” he teeters nervously. “But mainly, for pushing you away when you made it clear that you just want to help me. It’s been hard these past few weeks since the bathroom incident and... I guess what I’m trying to say is, I try to steer clear from being vulnerable like that with anyone, especially when I’m drunk. And I’m sure I told you things that I’ve never told anyone before.”

Oh, the taste of your lips, I’m on a ride.

I remember that early morning as if it’s ripe in my mind. The things he told me were most definitely from the dark, secret confines of his heart and mind. And that scares me; I feel responsible now, knowing that no one else knows these things.

“I’ve been problematic,” Sebastian continues. “I’ve been problematic, letting you in then rejecting your help again.”

“Sebastian—”

“Leslie,” he interrupts sternly. I suck in a sharp breath but let him proceed. “I’ve had a sucky life. And I’ve gone through some really…I’ve gone through some really fucked up shit. This is why I’ve taught myself not to trust anyone; to keep myself guarded so I wouldn’t go through more fucked up shit and keep getting hurt over and over again. This is why I was so difficult with you before. But now I realize that all you’ve wanted to do was help me. And I’m apologizing because I didn’t see that before, and you didn’t deserve to be shut out like that after the way you helped me.”

With a taste of a poison paradise, I’m addicted to you, don’t you know that you’re toxic?

During this moment, despite Sebastian’s shocking yet generous testament, I can’t help but feel like the most disgusting person in the world. But why? Why now, do I feel guilt for lying to a client? I’ve lied on Garrett’s behalf countless times, and I’ve formed relationships with people on Garrett’s behalf only to use them for his personal gain, too. So why is this different? Why is it, before, I could easily walk away without being fazed at the betrayal I had caused to someone who regarded me as a friend?

“Sebastian, I don’t deserve such kind words,” I say to him. There’s a lump forming in my throat, but I suppress it.

“Don’t be so modest, Leslie. I think half a day in the wilderness together has strengthened my case.”

I laugh, even though it hurts to. “I’m serious, Sebastian. There’s a reason why I don’t have a lot of friends. It’s because I’m not…likable. Especially with the job I do.”

He speeds up our dancing pace, but his facial expression is a little more serious again.

Tell him, Leslie, my mind scolds me. Tell him the truth!

“We all don’t have a lot of friends, when you think about it,” Sebastian says to lighten the mood.

I smile down at my shifting shoes. “Yes, well it’s different for you. I only have two friends…and my dog, who doesn’t even let me pet him. And I’m no longer in the year long relationship I was in because of the person I am.”

When I let the subject of Hudson slip out of my mouth, I instantly regret it. I’ve refused to let Hudson interfere with my work, hence the reason why I rarely think of him and never mention him. But now being so open and close, I’ve made the mistake of letting Sebastian know, and by the surprised and concerned look on his face, I won’t be able to make the subject go away with an innocent laugh.

“You had a boyfriend?” he asks. “When did you break up?”

“A couple of weeks ago,” I tell him in a small admitting voice, like I did something wrong; like I screwed his assistant for six months.

“What happened?”

A chuckle escapes my mouth like I remembered a funny joke. “Let’s just say, him and my former assistant are much more comfortable together now.”

Sebastian has the same pitiful look he had when I told him I’ve never danced before. But with the space between us being mere inches, he seems more invasive.

“B-but it doesn’t matter, anyway. It wasn’t working out, and the break up was quick and painless.”

“Heartbreak is never painless,” Sebastian disagrees.

“Maybe that’s true. But now that I think about it, he was such a disgusting human being. I was never truly attracted to him,” I shrug. “But I guess you get what you deserve.”

“Wait. What?”

Now we have stopped dancing. Why? I have no idea.

“Excuse me?”

“You’re telling me that you think you deserve an asshole who cheated on you with your assistant? Because I know for a goddamn fact that you deserve way more than that.”

“I appreciate your attempt at making me feel better, Sebastian, but come on?” I wait for him to cut the act, but he’s dead serious. “I-I mean, sorry to be so melodramatic, but look at me? Do you think I deserve some Calvin Klein model who would bring me flowers for no reason and take walks on the beach with me and sweet-talk my father until he’s like a son to him?”

It’s getting late to give you up. I took a sip, from my Devil’s cup.

“Is that really how you feel?”

Suddenly, I feel embarrassed under Sebastian’s scrutinizing stare. I’m never so revealing about myself, specifically in the fear of unraveling so much that can’t be wound back together. So I hope my silence is response enough.

“Do you want to know what I think?”

Sebastian sighs, pushes against the hold he has on my back until our bodies are touching, and stares at me for a while before saying:

“You’re beautiful, Leslie. And forgive me for repeatedly having this dumb, blank look on my face, but I’m trying as hard as I can to understand how you could believe any of the things you just told me about yourself.”

I’m speechless—robbed of the ability, for the first time, to think of something to respond to him with off the top of my head. Instead, I gape at him and register what he just said into my brain as the hairs on my arms rise and the room drops thirty degrees.

“You’ve said that to countless other girls,” I blurt out while looking out of the windows.

“True. But this is the very first time that I’ve actually meant it.”

I can tell that is the last thing Sebastian and I will say to each other during this dance. Sebastian’s reason being he wants to make an impression, most likely. And my reason being because I don’t know what else to say to that reply.

He spins me away from him during a gentle violin solo. My hand still in his, we’re stretched apart and creating one long arm until he pulls me back into him and spins me again in another direction. I can’t help but laugh, and it is then that we’re encased in laughter and outside of the normality of a waltz, spinning around together—my hands on his shoulders—and dancing whichever way we see fit.

The entire ballroom is a blur of joy and jazz, euphoric to a point that is indescribable. Sebastian takes my hand again, only this time he pulls my back into his chest. My eyes are forward at the windows of the ballroom as he stands behind me while the song lightens a bit. My breath is caught in my throat and my hands tremble with perspiration. But with my shaking hands, Sebastian takes them in his and slips his fingers through mine before wrapping his arms tightly around my waist, rocking me back and forth to the rhythm of the music. My body is stiff; I’ve never been held like this. However, from what I can gather with Sebastian’s arms around me and my back pressed hard into him, I can say that there’s a feeling of warmth and security in his embrace; I feel invincible.

I close my eyes when his chin rests on my shoulder.

“Have you ever been held like this?” he mutters askingly in my ear. I hate to admit it, but the baritone of his voice in my ear sends immediate sensations down between my legs.

I shake my head, my eyes closed. His hands travel away from my fingers and down to my hips; I don’t fight it. It feels forbidden yet incredible at the same time. And I’m almost in a trance, feeling him—

“Sebastian? You in here?”

My eyes snap open at the sound of Sarah’s voice at the entrance of the ballroom. Immediately, I step away from Sebastian as he removes his hands from around me, but it’s too late—she had already seen us, because her eyes are wide and her stance is stiff and immobile.

The band has stopped playing.

“Oh, I-I didn’t mean to intrude on your…activity,” she says.

Shit. What have I done? For a split moment, I forgot who I was to him and what he is to me—a client. Nothing more. How hypocritical of me to claim professionalism and then turn around a week later and let him feel me up? Let alone…enjoy it?

My face is hot like the room temperature is rising.

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to-I was just…oh God.”

“Leslie,” Sebastian says.

I don’t look at him. “I’m sorry.”

I rush out of the ballroom so quickly that everything is a blur again. But not the blur I saw while I was dancing; the blur that came from enjoyment. No, this blur is one resulted in trying to escape further embarrassment.

I walk as fast as I can through the hallway until I’m far enough away from the ballroom. I lean against the wall to catch my breath for a moment. The hall is empty as cold; I’m sweating as if it’s one hundred degrees.

But I’m also smiling. Because I have never felt that liberated.

Regardless of the fact that Sarah had walked in on us, the sensations of us dancing together was unlike anything I have ever felt before. There were pressing matters that we discussed when we danced, of course, but now that I think of it, it doesn’t matter. I know it’s a horrible thing to say; I’m lying to him yet I’m saying it doesn’t matter. But I can’t help it:

He thinks I’m beautiful.

I’m smiling so wide my cheeks are sore. I take a deep breath in, then a long breath out.

“Get a hold of yourself,” I mumble at the ceiling. “You’re a grown woman acting like a teenager, right now.”

I initiate the further game plan in my mind. Most likely, Sarah has escorted Sebastian out into the main ballroom, so from there I’ll make sure to find Sarah and talk to her about what she saw and try to convince her that it was a mistake.

But for some odd reason I’m smiling even harder than before, now.

I stand up from against the wall, straighten my suit jacket and start down the hallway. But at the end of the hall, a dark figure walking towards me makes my heart jump in my chest.

And it isn’t until I see their face that I have a reason for my heart to completely stop.

“Is…is this…is this real?” I mutter.

“Yes, Leslie,” Garrett says when he finally approaches me and stands in the light. “This is real.”

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