"What about that guy?" Suzanna Watson pointed at a guy across the room.
"That one?" She tried hopefully, pointing at someone else.
"No, Zanna" Alyssa Denton repeated blandly. She wasn't even paying much attention to her friend, concentrating instead on the notepad she had in her hand and checking through the evening's itinerary once again. The pair worked for a small public relations company that specialised in organising events for publicity, such as the party they had presently organized for the launch of the new line of hybrid cars from Lexus. They had both joined the company about a year ago and quickly grew from just colleagues to good friends. Unfortunately, that also meant that Zanna had taken it upon herself to find Alyssa a soul mate at every opportunity.
"Yeah, he's too blond. Not your type," Zanna mused, almost to herself. Her eyes were still trained at the crowded room, scanning all of the men in search of a viable candidate to set her friend up with. It didn't matter to her that Alyssa was far from interested.
"Ooh wait," she was suddenly excited. "How about that guy?"
Alyssa looked up from her notepad and glanced in the direction Zanna was staring at. A tall guy with ginger hair was talking animatedly to three girls who were hanging on to his every word.
"Oh come on, you barely looked at him," Zanna exclaimed, turning towards her auburn-haired friend. "He's good looking and a conversationalist; exactly your type."
"Zee, I have a boyfriend, remember? Lucas?" Alyssa said loudly, hoping that the name would ring a bell in her friend's head.
Zanna wrinkled her nose. "I thought you were just dating him casually?"
Alyssa dropped her gaze back to her notebook. "We had that exclusivity talk a couple of nights ago. We are officially together now."
"What is he, in high school?" Zanna commented sarcastically. "I can't believe you agreed!"
"Well why not?" Alyssa threw back. She'd been seeing Lucas Kincaid for almost a month now and Zanna had not said anything against it before. "Besides, with you and Terry constantly badgering me about having too high standards and being single forever, I thought maybe I should give Lucas a real chance."
"He just doesn't seem right for you," Zanna shrugged. "Isn't he an accountant or something?"
"He's a perfectly nice guy," Alyssa defended. "I'm not going find a superficial reason just to dump him."
Beside her, she heard Zanna sigh before slumping against the table that Alyssa was working on. "Seriously Lyss, you need to get out there. How are you going to find Mr. Right if you don't even try?"
"As touched as I am that you care so much about my future, I'm really not interested. And besides, we're supposed to be working," Alyssa chided playfully.
"Which is what I am paying you to do," followed a voice from behind them. Linda Carrington, their boss and the owner of the company they worked for, was approaching them looking panicked. "Which one of you was in charge of catering?"
Suzanna and Alyssa exchanged glances. Linda was in a mood and clearly looking to chew one of them out. Alyssa wasn't about to throw her friend under the bus so she spoke up. "What's the problem?"
"Did you know that the Lexus CEO is a strict vegan? We better have enough food for him."
Alyssa bit back a sigh. Of course they knew this. They had tried to tell Linda but she had waved them away when making the catering decision. They only had ordered two vegetarian dishes on the buffet menu and they both had eggs in them.
Zanna shook her head. "I thought you'd cleared the chosen menu with the Lexus team. Didn't they point this out?"
"My sentiments exactly," Linda said. "But we'll have to deal with them later. Right now we need to get more vegan options on the buffet. I need you to urgently compile a list of delis in the area that might be able to help us and I'll help you with calling each of them. We need to fix this."
"I'm on it," Zanna gave a curt nod, turned on her walkie-talkie headset and put the earpiece in her left ear before heading towards where the buffet lines were being set up. Alyssa knew that they already had a deli on stand by and it was only a matter of giving them a ring to deliver the food.
Turning to her other assistant, Linda said, "Alyssa, I need you to make sure everything else continues to run on schedule while I deal with this crisis. How are we doing with the goody bags?"
"All prepped and ready; there's one on every seat and the extras are by the door," she reported. They'd been ready weeks in advance, seeing as there had been no need to embellish them whatsoever, according to Linda. The ugly brown bags stuffed with brochures and a few token gifts were perfunctory, but not luxurious as Alyssa would have thought the client wanted. But Linda was the boss and had the final say.
"Good," Linda acknowledged. "Be on your comm. You'll need to make the announcement for people to get to their seats in about ten minutes." And with that, she too hurried off to the buffet lines.
Alyssa pulled out her own walkie-talkie and switched on the headset. "This is Lyss," she announced softly.
"Linda looks like she's having a meltdown," came Zanna's voice in her ear.
"The joys of working in PR and events huh?" she teased.
"Gotta love it and the psycho boss that comes with," Zanna returned in a bemused tone. "So where is your man then? Isn't he coming tonight?"
"He'll be here," Alyssa confirmed. "He texted to say that he got off work late though. He should be here soon."
They worked in silence for the next few minutes at their respective stations when Zanna suddenly hissed, "Lyss, look over by the silver car! Tall guy, dark brown hair in a blue shirt. He's smoking hot! What do you say?"
Alyssa couldn't help but chuckle as she worked. "Not interested Zee."
"No, seriously Lyss, this guy is totally your type: tall, dark and gorgeous. If I wasn't already married, I'd go for him myself," Zanna proclaimed. "He's talking to that Lexus rep now."
The excitement in her voice was contagious and Alyssa was intrigued. She glanced up to have a look herself at the person Zanna had described. At first she saw only his back, as he was examining the interiors of one of the cars. Admittedly, the man did have incredibly sexy broad shoulders, a feature that Alyssa found particularly appealing in the male form. She was suddenly eager to see what he looked like from the front and craned her neck to get a good look of him as he turned around to face the rep from Lexus that he had been talking to. And what she saw almost knocked the wind out of her.
"Isn't he hot?" she heard Zanna say gleefully. "I can see you gaping."
Alyssa realised that she was and immediately snapped her mouth shut. She turned away, trying to catch her breath. It couldn't be, she told herself. She had to be seeing things. But there was no denying it. He looked exactly as she remembered.
"It's Troy," she finally gasped.
"That guy, Zanna. His name is Troy," she bit out.
"You know him?"
"We used to date," Alyssa informed her friend. She stole a peak back in Troy's direction, wondering if he'd seen her. He was still talking to the Lexus rep and she assumed he hadn't. If she was lucky, she'd be able to avoid him altogether tonight.
"Are you serious? When?"
"Years ago," she responded vaguely. Nine and a half to be precise.
Zanna laughed. "I was so right about him being your type then. Aren't you going to go say hi?"
"No," Alyssa said, a little too quickly. She hadn't seen or heard from him since their break up and seeing him now, after all this time, was surreal. She had no idea when and why he had moved back to her city, if he had moved back at all and she wanted to believe that she didn't care.
"Was it a bad break up?"
"You could say that."
Zanna was curious now. "So how long did you guys date?"
"Just over a year," Alyssa told her.
"Wow," Zanna breathed. "That's really long for you. I've never known you to last more than a few months."
"Okay, you'll have to fill me in later," Zanna said. "Linda's gotten off the phone and she's looking relieved."
Not a moment later, Alyssa's walkie-talkie crackled as Linda switched on her headset. "Good news ladies, the food situation in under control. Suzanna, be on stand by for a delivery from Prima Deli. They should be here within an hour. Alyssa, we can go ahead with the presentation now."
Alyssa gulped involuntarily, realising that getting on stage to make an announcement for people to take their seats would invariably draw attention to herself. Troy would spot her for sure. But she didn't have much choice. She prayed that he would be too distracted talking to the Lexus rep to pay any attention to her announcement.
Reluctantly, she made her way on stage and made the announcement quickly, wanting to get it over with. As she encouraged the guests to take their seats for the presentation, her light brown eyes swept briefly over the crowd and spotted Lucas near the back of the room, probably having just arrived. He caught her gaze and sent a small wave before pointing to the left, indicating that he would wait for her there after she was done. Subconsciously, she followed the direction he was pointing in and found herself staring directly at Troy who was looking back at her with a half grin on his face. Crap.
Alyssa rushed through the introduction of the speaker of the presentation and bounded off the stage, hoping she could make herself disappear before Troy came looking for her. After cuing the technician to start the video for the presentation, she headed straight for the buffet lines to see if she could be useful in helping Zanna set up the food when it arrived from the deli.
Lucas must have caught on to her direction as he was at the buffet line before Alyssa got there. "Hey you," he said, leaning in to capture her lips with a quick peck. "Sorry I'm late."
"It's okay, we're just starting," Alyssa smiled.
"So we'll grab a bite after-" Lucas started but trailed off as something behind Alyssa caught his attention. Turning around to see what it was, Alyssa was faced by the very person she'd been trying to avoid.
She looked up to see Troy standing before her, handsome as he'd always been but somehow better with age. His black hair was cut shorter than she remembered it and had been styled back. Stubble dusted his jaw and his luscious lips were quirked into his infamous smirk. For a moment the two just stood there, staring at each other. She watched as his coffee coloured eyes roamed her face, as if looking out for differences in her own appearance.
Finally, he spoke first. "Alyssa Denton."
"Hello Troy," she returned slowly.
"How's it going?" he asked, his gaze never leaving her.
"I'm great," Alyssa said, a little too loudly. "And you?"
"What are you doing here?" she asked bluntly, folding her arms across her chest.
"I'd been thinking about buying a new car and Gabe mentioned that Lexus was launching a new range of hybrids so I thought I'd check it out," he said, gesturing towards the silver car he had been looking at earlier. "You remember Gabe right?"
"Of course," Alyssa replied simply, hiding her shock that Gabe hadn't mentioned to her that Troy was back in town. Even though Gabriel Salinger was Troy's best friend in college, he and Alyssa had remained close even after she'd broken up with Troy.
She had to admit, this was not how she had envisioned their first meeting after so many years. She, in fact, had had a speech prepared. Almost ten years ago, she had gone to visit Troy one weekend while he was at law school only to find a skimpily dressed red head attached to his arm at a party. She walked away right then, never having been one to handle confrontations well and crossed him out of her life for good. She had wanted to tell him what an asshole she thought he was but as they stood there, her mind seemed to have difficulty forming the words she had practiced saying in front of the mirror.
"I didn't expect to run into you here," Troy said, interrupting her thoughts.
"Uh, yea, I'm working with the PR company that is running this event," Alyssa explained.
"Oh." His eyebrows betrayed his surprise. "I always thought you were going to open your own image consultancy business."
"Well, plans change," she shrugged. In fact, a lot had changed since college.
"I can imagine," he muttered, his coffee brown eyes locked on to hers.
Lucas cleared his throat loudly next her, reminding her at once that he had been there all along. Quickly, Alyssa turned to face him, "I'm sorry Luke, this is Troy. We went to college together."
"Right," Lucas nodded as he held his hand out to shake Troy's.
Turning back to Troy, Alyssa continued with the introductions. "Troy, this is Lucas."
"Her boyfriend," Lucas added in a firm tone that suggested a warning and Alyssa couldn't help noticing the tension in his arm as he griped Troy's hand.
"Pleasure to meet you," Troy replied coolly.
"So I should get back to work," Alyssa announced, feeling more awkward and embarrassed by the moment as the men continued to size each other up. It was completely unnecessary and childish, in Alyssa's opinion.
"We should get together sometime for a coffee. It'd be nice to catch up with you properly." Troy said turning to her.
Alyssa was slightly stunned by the invitation and her initial instinct was to say that she was busy. However, she found herself nodding in acceptance before she even realised what she was doing.
"Great," Troy grinned and his smile warmed his entire face. It was easy to remember why she had been so attracted to him all those years ago and she couldn't help the small smile that had crept unto her own lips.
"See you around," she said and started to turn away.
"Lyssa," he called, using the nickname that only he ever used and making her stop short.
"It was really good to see you again." he said before stepping back and joining the rest of the crowd who were still listening to the presentation.
"Who was that?" Lucas demanded as soon a Troy was out of ear shot.
"Troy Matthews. We dated for awhile back when we were in college," Alyssa explained with a casual wave of her hand. She could sense that her boyfriend was still riled up and wanted to reassure him that Troy bore no significance whatsoever. "I had no idea that he was back in town."
"Did he always come across as a jerk?" Lucas wanted to know.
Alyssa laughed. "I hated him too when I first met him."
"Good to know that it wasn't love at first sight then," Lucas sniffed, making Alyssa laugh more.
"Forget about him, babe. He's someone from the past," she said, taking his hand and giving him a squeeze. "Look, I really have to get back to work or Linda will probably fire my ass. We'll grab a bite afterwards okay?"
"Sure," Lucas smiled and Alyssa was satisfied that he had calmed down from his encounter with her ex. At least for the time being.
Hurrying over to Zanna, who would no doubt have a thousand questions for her, Alyssa had a bad feeling that this wasn't going to be the last time she'd be seeing Troy.