Troy trudged back to his office, the abrupt ending weighing on his mind. He couldn't believe that all these years, she'd thought he had cheated on her. He knew that he had something of a reputation when it came to women but cheating was never his style. Perhaps it was for some of the women he'd dated, but not a line that he would ever cross.
It continued to weigh on his mind, even as he settled into the board room with his colleagues. They were about to meet with an important client of the firm and Gordon had called on Randall's whole team to be present.
Avery sauntered in and seeing Troy, wriggled his eyebrows suggestively. Troy stifled a groan, bracing himself for what was coming next.
"I've got to hand it to you Matthews, your latest lay is a stunner. I wouldn't resist a lunch time quickie either with a girl like that," Avery said loudly, sliding into the seat across from Troy.
Anger simmered within Troy, threatening to boil over and unleash itself on the other man. Troy clenched his fists at his sides to keep from reaching across the narrow desk and punching Avery. Never mind that his bosses were present.
Shit, Troy caught the frown marring Mr Gordon's face and was immediately reminded of the conversation he'd overheard only hours before. He had to deal with this, quick. Both Avery and Mr Gordon.
"I really don't appreciate you speaking about my fiancé in that way Avery," Troy said coolly.
"Fiancee?" Avery sputtered then burst out laughing. "Nice try Matthews."
"What's funny Avery?" Troy challenged, desperate to take the other man down a peg. Or ten. So it was a little lie. Its not like they would ever know.
"You don't have a fiancee." Avery crossed his arms, his eyes darting to Randolph, as though the other man would confirm that Troy was lying. But Randolph's raised eyebrows suggested otherwise.
"You just met her."
"That doesn't prove she's your fiancee."
"I don't need to prove anything to you."
"When did you get engaged?"
"A couple of weeks ago."
"Was that before or after fucking Tracy from HR?"
"I've never had anything to do with Tracy," Troy feigned nonchalance and studied his notes. Gordon and Randall were silent, following their exchange like a tennis match.
"Sure buddy. So should I congratulate you on becoming a father soon?"
"Seriously?" Troy fought the urge to roll his eyes.
"She didn't look like she was showing just yet," Avery continued almost to himself. "Are you sure its yours?"
"Are you sure yours are?"
Avery's face turned purple but he was interrupted before the argument got any uglier.
"You brought it on yourself Avery," Mr Gordon said, eyebrow raised. "You should have just congratulated the man instead of insulting his wife to be. Now can we stop behaving like children before Mr Takashi fires all of us?"
Avery was silenced but the glower on his face spoke volumes. This was not over. As far as Troy was concerned though, it looked like Gordon had bought his story and believed he was engaged. Troy couldn't help but grin to himself at the thought of a possible promotion.
Thankfully the client was shown into the room then and the meeting got underway. For the next hour they discussed the strategy for the case going forward, preparing for the upcoming trial and delegating the work to be done before then.
"Great meeting everyone! Keep up the good work," Mr Takashi nodded at the group as the meeting wrapped up. "My wife and I would like to host you all for dinner on Saturday, I hope you will all be there with your wives too."
"We look forward to it," Randall said, shaking hands with Takashi and escorting him towards the door.
"Maybe we'll get to meet Troy's fiancee there too," Avery muttered, the challenge in his tone unmistakable. Troy shot him a murderous look but the grin did not fade on the smug bastard's face.
"Oh yes, do bring her Troy. I would love to meet the lucky lady you've decided to settle down with," Gordon said, adding further pressure.
"Of course sir," Troy said automatically but before he could retract his words or come up with an excuse of why his 'fiancee' couldn't make it to the dinner, Gordon exited the meeting room to talk further with Takashi.
"I'm looking forward to meeting her too," Avery said. "I think she and I could be good friends."
"Fuck off Stenton," Troy spat and left the room. He had no mood to engage further with his smarmy colleague, not when he had bigger problems to deal with. Like actually acquiring a fiancee before Saturday's dinner.
He was royally screwed.
What did she see?
Since their coffee date the day before, Troy's question repeated itself in her mind over and over. It had been so many years ago and her memory was fuzzy. Sometimes she imagined she saw them touching each other inappropriately even though they were in a public place but maybe that wouldn't have stopped them. Other times she remembered him talking a a pretty girl who was leaning much too close so as to brush her pert breasts on his arm. Was that his fault or hers? Looking back with the lens of hindsight, was it really that obvious that something was going on behind her back?
Maybe. Maybe not.
She could still feel the intensity in his brown eyes when he said he had never cheated on her. A part of her wanted to believe him. Could she?
Damn Troy and his questions, Alyssa thought furiously. Damn him for poking holes in the story she'd convinced herself of.
"Earth to Alyssa," a hand waved in front of her and Alyssa blinked twice before focusing. The hand belonged to a concerned looking Mandy who was sitting next to her. From across the table, Luke and Gabriel wore matching expressions with raised eyebrows.
"Sorry," Alyssa muttered, staring at her lap and realising that she had twisted her napkin into a tight knot. "Spaced out."
"You ok?" Luke asked.
"Yea, I'm fine," Alyssa forced a bright smile. "I started thinking about work. I've got a big event coming up and there's still a lot to do."
"You work too hard," Mandy tutted.
"Seriously, you should be running that place by now," Gabriel chimed in. "They wouldn't function without you."
Alyssa snorted. "My boss would fire me in a heartbeat if she thought I was that important. She would not tolerate a threat to her power," she said, mimicking her boss' high pitched voice.
"It's really a shame she thinks that way," Mandy shook her head. "How does she expect to hold on to her employees that way?"
"I guess she doesn't. No one really sticks around for more than a year or two at the most," Alyssa said.
"Its coming up to that mark for you, isn't it?" Gabriel pointed out. "Have you started looking around for another position?"
"Um, no," Alyssa admitted. "I've actually been thinking about starting something on my own."
"You should! That would be amazing," Mandy exclaimed.
"But we talked about it," Lucas spoke up. "Its just that the timing isn't great at the moment. Isn't that right sweetheart?"
"You're right," Alyssa conceded, forcing a smile. "Its more of a long term goal. It's just something I've been knocking around in my mind recently." Especially since Troy brought it up during coffee, she added mentally.
""Hey speaking of your events, I heard you had a blast from the past recently," Gabriel said jovially, changing the subject.
Alyssa looked up sharply, and gave Gabriel a stern look that said don't go there. While she didn't want to talk about her dismal career, she would have gladly continued to avoid talking about her ex.
But it was too late. Lucas groaned audibly. "Yeah, some ex-boyfriend. That guy was such a douchebag."
"Hey, he's a good friend of mine," Gabriel said with mild indignation. "He's not so bad when you get to know him."
"Well that must have taken a really long time," Lucas snorted. "You should have seen him eyeing my girlfriend right in front of me. It was so rude."
"Aw, come on, he and Alyssa go way back. Almost as long as Mandy and I have been together," Gabriel shrugged.
"It's ancient history," Alyssa interrupted loudly, directing a glare at Gabriel. She imagined burning lasers shooting out of her eyes as she gave him a hard stare.
"It was probably nothing," Mandy said soothingly. "He was just checking out what he'd lost out on."
"Can we talk about something else?" Alyssa groaned. "How are Connor and Christian?"
"Nice try at changing the subject," Mandy grinned knowingly but launched into a story about her sons all the same. It was one topic she usually could not stop talking about and Alyssa was glad to be able to use it to her advantage for once.
As the conversation got more animated with the twins' antics, a buzzing in her purse distracted Alyssa's attention. Checking it under the table, she saw that she'd received a message from Troy. Can we talk?
Seriously, Alyssa thought. She hadn't seen him for years and now he seemed to be occupying all her time.
Nothing to talk about, she replied discreetly from under the table.
Urgent. Where are you?
Alyssa fought to keep her face impassive in front of her friends but inside her anger simmered. He had a lot of nerve to expect her to drop everything to talk to him. Out with friends, she texted back.
Can I call you in an hour? Came a rapid reply.
She frowned, shoving her phone in her purse, resolute that she would ignore him. There was another pulse of vibration in her purse followed by another a minute later. Alyssa faltered. Maybe it was important.
No, she reminded herself sternly. They weren't friends, they weren't anything. It wasn't her problem, whatever it was. She forced herself to get back into the conversation, laughing loudly as Mandy finished her story about how the twins had realised they could gang up together against her.
Across the table, Gabriel had pulled out his phone, mouthing a 'sorry' to the others as he accepted an incoming call. "Hey buddy. Nah just having dinner with friends. Over at Cook & Brew. What's up?" Gabriel's gaze landed on Alyssa. "Er, sure, I'll let her know."
Everyone looked at Gabriel expectantly as he put his phone away. His Adam's apple bobbed as he looked directly at Alyssa again. "Your, um, brother said to call. Some emergency, he says he's been trying to reach you."
"I'll call him back after dinner," Alyssa said dismissively. "I'm sure its not that urgent. Anyway we're almost done."
"You sure, babe?" Lucas asked with concern. "What if someone's in hospital?"
"I doubt it, my brother is known for his theatrics." Alyssa looked across the table at Gabriel whose mouth was pressed into a hard line.
"It'll only take two minutes and it'll give you peace of mind," Lucas urged. "Go on, we'll wait for you before we order dessert."
"Fine," Alyssa said curtly, knowing that he wouldn't let it rest until she did and she just wanted to get this over with. "Excuse me."
Getting up, she made her way to the back of the restaurant so that she was out of earshot. She was positive that it wasn't her brother and was irritated that Troy had the gall to interrupt her evening, using Gabriel to get to her.
"What is it?" she barked, when he answered the phone.
"I really need to talk to you," he said.
"It would be better in person."
"Troy, I'm sorry I really don't have time for this," she started.
"Look, I'm sorry I have to bother you but this really is important to me," he cut in. "I know where you are and I can meet you there in an hour to speak to you if you'd prefer."
"No," she said abruptly. "What could possibly be so important Troy? I'm worried now."
"Please, let me explain properly. In person. Tell me when and where, the sooner the better," he implored.
"Fine. Tomorrow, at that coffee place we were at yesterday. One o'clock," she dictated.
"Thank you," he said, the rush of relief was so clear she could hear it over the phone. "I'll see you then."
AN: So this is a horrible filler chapter and I really just want to get to the good bits already. I'll try to rewrite this later when the whole thing is done. Just wanted to say a huge thank you to all those who took the time to drop me a review, it really means a lot to me that you're reading. An extra special thank you to all the folks who have been waiting patiently for me to update for so many years. Thank you for sticking by me, Alyssa and Troy for so long. I write this because of you.