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If only, p.4

If Only..., page 4


If Only...

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  He ignores me and lifts his camera again, pointing it into my face.

  “Don’t,” Evie says, tugging at my arm. “Don’t do anything stupid, Cole.”

  “You have two seconds,” I growl at him.

  “Is your boyfriend a thug, Miss Romano?” he asks.

  My hand shoots out, grabbing at his ID badge that’s hanging around his neck. With my other hand, I pull out my phone and call her Dad while the guy struggles to pull his badge out of my grip.

  “Hello?” her Dad says. “Cole, is everything okay?”

  “Mr Romano,” I say. “I have Sam Morrison here from the local gazette. He’s trying to take pictures of Evie while we’re at the parade.”

  “Put him on,” he demands.

  I smile at the guy and hand the phone over. “Evie’s father would like a word with you,” I tell him, releasing his badge.

  He rolls his eyes and steps away so I can’t hear him while he talks to Mr Romano. I hear Evie huff behind me.

  “You okay?” I ask.

  “I’m fine,” she says with a sigh. “I don’t understand why they would want a picture of me. Is this how it’s going to be from now on?”

  “I don’t think so,” I say, pulling her into a hug. “Nico has just been signed for the England under-seventeen squad. The press are hailing him as the next big thing, Evie. It’s just because he’s so young and he’s already on their radar. It’ll probably be mad until he makes his debut and starts scoring goals, but then it’ll all die down. I’m sure of it.”

  “I hope so,” she huffs.

  “Have you heard anything off Fabio?”

  Fabio is Evie and Nico’s older brother by ten years. He was a great footballer when he was younger, but he broke his leg when he was eighteen and hasn’t been able to play professionally since. He’s a coach at Chelsea now though, and he’s hoping to transfer to Nico’s team to help him with his training. By the sounds of it, Nico is going to be world famous if he carries on playing and scoring goals like he has done for the last six months.

  “No, not lately.”

  The photographer taps me on my shoulder and hands me my phone. “My apologies, Miss Romano,” he mumbles. “I won’t be bothering you again.”

  She nods and we both watch as he slumps away. I don’t know what Evie’s dad says to them, but they all end up walking away with their tail between their legs.

  “Thank you,” she says to me, linking her arm back through mine.

  “What for?”

  “For not going off your rocker.”


  I pick up my bagel and Philly from off the counter and take it to a table in the corner of the canteen. As I sit down, I check my watch to make sure I have enough time and then ring Steph.

  “What were you on about in that text?” she says, without even bothering to say hello.

  “It was from Clive,” I tell her. “He sent me a balloon and flowers to work.”

  “Saying what? Can I shag you?”

  I snort and spread my cream cheese onto my bagel. “It just said to have a nice day at work.”

  “What the actual fuck?” she shrieks. “I’m going to have words with him. What a bloody fanny.”

  “I know,” I say. “What am I going to do? He’s even too weird for me, and I hate to say it but Aiden was right.”

  “Ugh,” she groans. “Aiden’s never going to shut up about this one.”

  “Maybe we just don’t tell him. It’s only me and you that know about it so far.”

  “And Clive,” she adds. “Don’t forget bloody Clive.”

  I sigh, glancing at my watch again. “I’ve got to go to some secret meeting now, so I’ll see you later.”

  “Okay, babe. Luv ya.”

  I slip my phone back into my bag and take two big bites of my bagel. I’m just swallowing some coffee down as Lorna approaches me. Lorna used to be Gerard’s PA about six years ago, but she managed to get a job on the trading floor and has been working her way up ever since. She sits at the bank of desks that are closest to me, and when I hear her chattering away to clients or the other guys, I feel slightly intimidated by her bossy, controlling manner.

  “You coming to this meeting?”

  I look up at all six foot of her and nod.

  She tucks her long, blond hair behind her ear and smiles at me. “Do you know what it’s about?”

  I shake my head as I wipe my mouth with a serviette. “Gerard rang me to tell me it was happening, but he hasn’t put it in my calendar and I can’t find it in his either.”

  Lorna laughs. “Ooh, so you’ve tried to look?”

  I grin. “Of course.”

  She nods towards the lifts as I pick up my rubbish and throw it in the bin. “We’re getting a load of new jobs.”

  “In here?” I ask, wondering why anyone would move roles to London where they have to pay people a salary that’s almost double what it would be in a smaller city.

  “Yeah, and it’s happening as part of a transition so we’re getting some guy in who’s an expert at this sort of thing. This meeting is just a preliminary one where they tell us what the jobs are, expected time lines, etcetera.”

  “So why the big secret?” I push.

  She jabs the lift button and folds her arms across her chest. She’s wearing a tight-fitting black suit and a perfectly crease-free lemon blouse with killer black heels that she really doesn’t need because she’s tall enough already. “Wherever these jobs are coming from, people will be getting redundancy letters so it has to be hush-hush in case they haven’t been told yet.”

  “Why will they be getting a redundancy letter?”

  She shrugs. “Transitions on this sort of scale are usually moving jobs from one end of the country to the other. People don’t want to move miles, just for a job.”

  Oh. “I see.”

  “You’ll be kept busy anyway.”

  “Me? Why?”

  “Because you’ll be sorting all the travel and stuff out, not to mention all the new contracts and the employment of thirty new people.”

  Great. There goes my chance of sitting with the traders.

  We walk towards conference room two in silence. The glass door is ajar when we get there, and I immediately notice about twenty people already seated around the large oval table. All of them are men.

  “Where’s my lovely assistant?” Gerard mumbles. I turn towards him as he looks up from his papers. “Ah, there you are. Come and sit down here by me,” he says, patting the empty seat next to him.

  Some of the guys snigger and make jokes that I can’t quite hear as I shuffle past their chairs. Gerard is sitting at the head of the table near the oversized flat-screen television.

  “Just bullet point important info for me, please,” he whispers as I stand next to him, placing my notepad on the table.

  I nod to let him know I understand and start to lower myself into the chair at the exact same time a deep laugh floats into the room. Oh God, I know that laugh. My body responds to it as if the musical notes have fallen out of his mouth, danced into the room and slapped me in the face.

  Just as my bum touches the seat, my legs propel me back up to standing and I feel all the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. I need to leave. I can’t be in here when he walks in. I just can’t. I need to leave right now.

  My hands are shaking so much I drop the pen onto the table. Gerard’s head snaps up, and then I feel his hand in the crook of my elbow as he pulls at me until I’m seated again.

  “Sit down,” he hisses. “You were in the right seat.”

  “No,” I blurt, which makes Gerard click his tongue as he narrows his eyes at me.

  “What is it?” he asks.

  Lorna eyes me suspiciously from the other end of the table as panic slithers over my whole body. I quickly shake my head at Gerard.

  My eyes lift just as he enters the room.

  Shit, it’s really him. He’s here. In this room. With me.

  He stops laughing the mome
nt he notices me, and when our eyes connect, my whole body freezes and everyone else in the room instantly disappears. My heart gives one big thump in my chest and my breath catches in my throat as I take him in.

  Oh. My. God.

  He’s otherworldly beautiful. His dark brown hair is shorter at the sides and longer on top, and it’s pushed messily to the side of his head with bits of it falling across his tanned forehead. Almost amber-coloured eyes flash at me through some of the silky strands that drop down in front of them. His jaw is firm and strong, and there’s now a curve to his pink lips as if there’s something funny that only he knows about.

  What’s he doing here? Did he find me? Is this an accident? Coincidence?

  He’s wearing a dark grey suit that’s clearly been tailored to within an inch of its life and a flawless white shirt. He’s not wearing a tie, and instead the top button of his shirt is undone.

  He looks so different.

  I hear my boss stand up, and then he almost hits me in the head as he leans across me to hold out his hand. “Cole,” he says, “we’re so glad to have you on board.”

  Cole steps closer and I look up as he takes Gerard’s hand. He’s so near that I can smell him. He smells amazing, like the crisp, fresh wind on a cold winter’s morning.

  “I’m happy to be here,” says Cole confidently. “I’m really looking forward to working with everyone.”

  How is he able to act so normal?

  The sound of his voice rolls over me. It’s so familiar and mesmerising, and even though he might not look anything like the Cole I knew, he certainly sounds like the same Cole. I have to close my eyes and take a deep breath to stop myself from hyperventilating. I can’t think about his voice or how he looks. Not now. Not ever. And the old Cole is dead. Buried. Just like my brother.

  Let’s get the introductions started, shall we?” asks Gerard. “Guys, this is Cole Bennett and he’s going to be our transition expert.”

  I can’t stop myself from looking at him again now. He’s changed his surname, but it’s definitely him. Cole quickly glances at me as Gerard starts talking again.

  I hate him. I hate him. I hate him.

  I shake my head and feel my stomach turn as the realisation that he’s here, in my life again, finally hits me. I’m itching to get up and bolt from the room, but this is my place of work, these are my colleagues and I’ll be fucked if I make myself look unprofessional in front of them. I’ve worked too hard.

  I can still hear Cole muttering greetings to people as he’s being introduced to them, so I tune out and sit back with my head bowed. I can feel my chest rising and falling underneath my dress and I fold my shaking hands onto my lap.

  I thought I’d never have to see him again. That I’d never have to be close enough to realise how much my body still remembers and craves him.

  “And this is my PA, Evie Romano,” finishes Gerard.

  I nod towards him without looking up. It’s a little rude and not very professional—and I’m sure Gerard will have something to say about it afterwards—but I can’t bear to look at him.

  Gerard claps, which makes me jump, and says, “Let’s get this meeting started.”

  I hear Cole’s chair scrape across the floor as he sits down a few spaces away from me. I’m so glad that I have to take notes because it gives me an excuse to keep my eyes down while I try to refocus my thoughts. Even if I’m not making eye contact, I still have to listen to him and that’s enough torture on its own. The silky smooth words float out of his mouth with ease and a confidence that I’ve never heard from him before. What surprises me more than anything is that he clearly knows what he’s talking about. It’s obvious he has the technical knowledge to back up everything he’s saying, which makes me wonder how he’s come to know so much in such a short space of time.

  At the end of the meeting, everyone gets up to leave. Gerard leans over me, nodding down at my notes. “Did you get everything?”

  I nod and stand up while pulling my bag onto my shoulder at the same time Cole rises from his seat.

  “Did you want to ask Mr Bennett anything, Evie?”

  You mean like what the fuck is he doing here?

  “No,” I say instead, shaking my head and hating how my voice wobbles. “I don’t need anything at all from Mr Bennett.”

  Cole’s eyebrows quirk up when my eyes finally find him.

  “Cole, is there anything you need to ask while we’ve got Evie here?”

  “Not about the transition as such,” he replies quickly, “but I was wondering what you want me to do about the expenses. My wallet is full of receipts already and nothing has been pre-paid.”

  He’s asking about expenses. Really?

  “Just give them all to Evie each morning,” Gerard says. “She’ll reconcile them and make sure you’re paid before the end of that business day.”

  I will?

  “And tell her what hotel you’re staying at so she can sort it out for the remainder of your stay,” Gerard continues.

  Act normal. Act normal.

  “I sit just outside Gerard’s office, Mr Bennett,” I say as calmly as I can. “If I’m not at my desk, just leave them on a pile by my screen each morning and I’ll ensure I get them processed that day.”

  “Oh, and while it’s just the three of us,” says Gerard, “we can sort out the hierarchy.”

  I feel myself frowning. “I’m not following,” I say.

  “While Mr Bennett is working with us, he will require a PA, so I’ve told him you can line into him too. You’re very efficient and he won’t be too much trouble, but you need to change your managers in the system so it shows that you’re reporting to both me and Mr Bennett.”

  This just keep getting better and better.

  I’ve had enough. “Will that be all?”

  Gerard and Cole both nod, but I catch Gerard narrowing his eyes at me as I excuse myself and walk down the stairs in a daze. When I reach our room, I drop my notepad and pen onto my desk and walk as quickly as I can back across the trading floor. I dash down the corridor and burst into the toilets. Then I lock the door, lean back against the wall and listen to my panicked breaths that echo off the tiled walls.

  I can’t believe he’s here. Of all the offices in the whole fucking country, why did he have to walk into mine? I place my hand over my chest and feel my heart hammering against my rib cage.

  No man has ever made me feel this way. It’s only ever been Cole, but it’s a feeling I’ve been trying to avoid for the last eight years. A feeling that I already know can kill me.

  I look up and notice myself in the mirror. How, in just a short space of time, has Cole managed to make me cry and put the sparkle back in my eyes at the same time? My skin looks flushed too, and there’s a redness to my chest that makes it look like I’ve just been ravished by a man with a beard. My body has reacted to him, even when my heart and head were telling it not to.

  Traitorous body.


  I bend over and swing the sickle through the tall wheat and then wipe my sweaty forehead with the back of my hand. I’m annoyed that they’re making me do everything manually when I know there’s a perfectly good machine that will do exactly the same job. Joan and Simon reckon they’re just messing about with me because I’m a young lad and it’s my first job, but I’m getting blisters the size of strawberries on my hand. They’re not paying me enough to put up with this shit.

  “Cole,” calls Evie from the fence. I turn and smile at her as she waves some sandwiches at me. “I got you some dinner.”

  I throw the sickle down onto the ground and walk over to her. As soon as I reach her, I lift her over the fence and scoop her up into my arms.

  “Where are we going?” she asks as I walk towards the barn.

  “We’re going to have some privacy while we can,” I say. “The farmer and his son are at the cattle market, so I’m making the most of my break.”

  “Why are you working here, Cole?” she asks sincerely.

bsp; I’m working here because she’s sixteen in two months time, and I want to have the money to take her on a proper date and buy her a nice present. “It’s work experience, isn’t it? Looks good that I’ve done something useful, I guess.”

  She smiles and reaches up to catch a bead of sweat that’s trickling down my temple. “This heat wave is due to break today,” she tells me. “I heard the weatherman going on about a horrible thunderstorm tonight.”

  Evie has a weird obsession with the weather. “I like thunderstorms,” I say honestly.

  “It’s been the warmest June in the last twenty years,” she informs me. “Too bad you’ve been mauling your balls off the whole time.”

  I laugh and drop her onto a bale of hay. “Since when are my balls any of your concern?” I joke.

  She blinks at me and grins. “I happen to think your balls will come in very useful one day.”

  I wrinkle my face up. “Can we stop talking about my balls, please?”

  She giggles and pats the hay next to her. “Sit here and take your top off.”

  She doesn’t have to ask twice. I stride towards her as I peel my shirt over my head and lie down beside her. She traces her finger between the grooves of my newly toned muscles. “I like that you’ve got these lines here,” she says, tracing my six-pack. “And I especially like this line.” She trails her finger down my ribs until she gets to the slight bulge of muscle that runs from my hip to my crotch. Her barely-there touch makes my whole body shudder. “Do you like that?” she asks.

  I nod. “It tickles, but in a really, really good way,” I breathe.

  Before I know what’s happening, she undoes the button of my jeans and slides her hand inside.

  “Well, this is new,” I whisper.

  She leans over and kisses me, and then I slowly start to creep my hands underneath her shirt. “Do you want to feel them?” she asks. It’s the first time I’ve seen any hint of shyness from her.

  I swallow and nod. I’d like to do a lot more than feel them, but I’ll settle for whatever I can get.

  She sits up and pulls her top over her head, letting her chestnut hair to fall over her shoulders and all down her back. She’s wearing a white lace bra that pushes her breasts together to give her perfect cleavage. Her milky brown skin looks good enough to eat, but I resist. Instead, I let her take my hand in hers as she looks deep into my eyes before placing my hand on the soft curve of her breast. Without breaking eye contact, she slowly pushes her other hand back onto my crotch. I hear myself groan and instantly harden underneath her hand.

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