Copyright 2014 © Rosesareforever

Crossing Paths

Chapter 1

The Enemy

Sometimes in life, you have to make choices. There are always two choices. Two paths to take. One is easy. And its only reward is that it's easy. If you limit your choices only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is a compromised version of your life. The hardest thing about the road not taken is that you never know where it might lead.

Jade has made a lot of difficult choices over the years, the hardest one undoubtedly was leaving behind her one true love. Some things simply aren't meant to be. Her relationship with Sedric Miller never had any chance of survival, yet the romantic inside of her had demanded she give him a fair chance. Its only reward had been an incurable broken heart, shattered to pieces. Scars craved into her memory, still haunted her in times of crises.

Leaving Sedric had been the right choice, yet it felt wrong. Their love had been unexpected. She'd fallen for him in a heartbeat, in spite of all the warnings she'd received. Everyone had known the eventual outcome before they even crossed paths. It was inventible.

The early morning hour had her mind drifting to maudlin thoughts. An emergency meeting, had Jade leave much earlier in the morning for work. She usually didn't start until eight o'clock, but her sister - aka her boss - had called her in the middle of the night to inform her she was expected for a confidential board meeting. Something bad must have happened, otherwise Alex wouldn't have called.

Alex didn't provide any information, besides the fact that an abrupt problem had arisen which could cause a lot of damage for the Henderson Empire Hotel Group in the long term. Alexis had sounded scared and perplexed, which only happened on rare occasions, like the time their father had been trying to execute his own daughter.

It made Jade more anxious than ever before, certainly because of her close bond with her eldest sister. They were practically inseparable. She clearly could feel something was drastically wrong. Call it female instinct.

"Jade," someone suddenly called out from behind her, making her turn around and look up in surprise. She had been making herself a cup of highly needed coffee. She'd been too busy getting herself ready to make one at home and there was no way she would survive an early morning business meeting without caffeine in her system. She needed her latte to keep her sane.

"Good morning, Lexie," she smiled, happy to see her sister. Her happiness was quickly abolished by concern at seeing the dark circles underneath Alexis' eyes, clear evidence of a bad night's rest. Her sister had been through enough the past year, she didn't need any more trouble than she'd already received.

It had been a rough year. Between their father, who had tried to take the empire away from the sisters, and Marcus' lies and betrayal. Alexis' life had been turned upside down. The couple seemed happy now, though they had been through a lot. The secrets Marcus kept from Alexis almost caused the lovers to separate, luckily their love had been strong enough to survive. They were happily married now. Everything happened suddenly, but Jade had never seen her sister looking better than the moment she declared she was going to marry her former enemy.

Jade had never been a fan of Marcus, his censurable reputation and track record of being a heartbreaker surely had something to do with that fact. One of her best friends, Stephanie, had fallen into the claws of Marcus back when he was still an incorrigible jerk. It hadn't ended well, that's for sure. Nowadays, she could tolerate being around him, but only because he made her sister happy.

She probably would never truly like him, still didn't understand how her sister could forgive him for the cruelty he brought up on her. Marriage. Children. It wasn't meant to be, not for Jade anyway. She didn't think she'd ever want to marry, to commit herself to one man and belong to him.

Alexis curtly nodded in salutation, no further words left her mouth. She seemed totally blown away, far from the usual confident woman she was. Marcus appeared only seconds after her, his gaze deadly and angry. His rage wasn't directed at Jade, but whoever ruined their day.

"What happened?" Jade questioned worriedly, confused about what could possibly be wrong. Alexis stayed silent while Marcus informed her what was going on. He decided to keep working for the HEHG after he married Alex and became co-executive officer.

"Some lawyer is filling a case of fraud against the HEHG. He believes it's impossible we reached such a high profit ranking after Alexis took over the company from Juliet and wants to bring us down. They believe we changed our numbers to make the company look profitable."

"That's ridiculous! Mother had been having trouble with the company the last few years she reined over the empire. Alexis needed to make some drastic changes to turn things around. After all that hard work, how could anyone think we would doctor our numbers?" Jade almost screamed out in frustration. She didn't understand why people kept trying to bring their company down. Heavy is the head that wears the crown. Such a simple saying, yet so true.

"We know that, but either way, this case would mean bad publicity. After everything that happened the past year, we can't afford for this misunderstanding to bring shame upon the company once again. Many of our clients will feel wary about the situation, our most valuable guests won't be happy. Losing them would mean reducing our budget, in other words massive structural changes and lay-offs."

Jade understood the gravity of the situation and knew they had to prevent that report from ever seeing the light of day. It could be the possible end of their years as one of the leading companies in the world. Jade might not be a workaholic like her eldest sister, but that didn't mean she loved their empire any less.

"Who's the bastard that's trying to bring us down?" Jade questioned, her voice filled with venom and lacking its usual politeness.

"You don't want to know," Alexis interfered before Marcus could speak up, shaking her head in disappointment. The reaction of her sister only made Jade even more curious as for who was trying to harm their company.

"Don't beat around the bush, Lexie, tell me already. You're freaking me out even more," Jade retorted. As head of the Public Relations department for the enterprise, Jade usually stayed in the background during boarding meetings, though today would be an exception. She needed to know the name of the person who was dumb enough to file a false report against them before they would enter the meeting room.

"Sedric Miller," Alexis breathed out, almost inaudibly. Jade's eyes went wide as saucers before they turned to slits, rage coursing through her veins at the sound of her former lover's name. Her heartbeat sped up as she looked conflicted. Sed was involved? What the hell?

"You've got to be kidding me," Jade stated, frowning. Why on earth would Sedric want to cause harm to their family corporation? They hadn't seen each other in years, six years to be exact. The last time she'd seen him was still imprinted into her memory.

It was almost eight in the evening when Jade finally arrived home from college. Shortly after she turned eighteen and finished high school, she moved in with her four years older boyfriend. Her mother had been furious to say the least, had threatened to take away her trust fund, but Jade had gone through with it. In the end, Juliet never stopped paying for school; she simply felt disappointed because she knew her daughter made a grave mistake. Probably the biggest one of her life.

Juliet had known all along, Sedric wouldn't stay faithful to Jade, no matter if he loved her or not. He simply wasn't the kind of guy that stayed with one girl. He was a heartbreaker, seemingly a prince charming, though deep down he was the devil in disguise. He was still young and immature, not ready to have a serious relationship.

They lived at his two-story apartment in the middle of Manhattan. Sedric came from money, just like Jade, though he always had been a rebel, which didn't sit well with her mother or his parents. He didn't listen to his parents, didn't become a doctor like his father, but wanted to be a lawyer instead. You would think his father would be happy since it was a highly rated profession as well, but Harold Miller had never been one to be satisfied with anything less than the path he planned for his son and being a lawyer was not part that grand plan.

Jade had just put her school bag down in the living room, when she suddenly heard loud moans coming from upstairs. Startled, she stopped in the middle of the room, frozen to the ground. No, she must have heard wrong. But when she heard another noise, she quickly ran upstairs, shaking her head furiously. This couldn't be happening, Sed would never do such thing, her ears must be deceiving her. There was no other explanation.

Another sound echoed through the house and her heart sank. "Oh god, yes, Sedric, Baby! More!" she heard a female scream from their bedroom. Tears started to roll down her cheeks and her heart shattered into a million pieces when she stepped into the room. There he was, Sedric on his back, a brunette riding him, her nails digging in her boyfriend's skin. When he looked over the woman's shoulder their eyes met.

Shock appeared across his features and he immediately threw the woman aside, begging Jade not to leave him. "It's not what it looks like." Yes, the clichéd words left his lips, making her even angrier. How could he say such a thing while she walked in on him fucking some slut? It hurt, plain and simple.

Jade stood there, broken. With all the courage she could muster she dragged herself out the room, one foot in front of the other, moving automatically without thinking. She ignored Sed's pathetic attempts and pleas at convincing her to stay as she ran outside, tears streaming incessantly down her cheeks.

She didn't get it, couldn't understand what the hell was going on. This morning everything had been fine, they had shared a passionate kiss before she left for school and he'd told her just how much he loved her. Not even twelve hours later, he tore her heart to pieces for no particular reason and without an explanation.

How could she have been so blind? How did she not see she was nothing but another play toy to him? It was ridiculous and she felt utterly used. She should've listened to Alexis and her mother when they told her Sedric Miller was nothing but bad news. She should've taken their advice instead of foolishly following her heart and not using her head.

She still remembered the day vividly, the moment she'd said goodbye to the love of her life. Once she stepped outside their apartment, she'd never returned. She felt foolish for not listening to her mother and was ashamed when she had to ring her mother's door bell and ask if she could move back. Juliet had welcomed her return lovingly and made sure Sedric dropped off all her belongings without coming eye to eye with Jade. It had been a relief.

He tried to contact her in the beginning, but gave up rather quickly after she'd turned down all his attempts. What could he possibly have to say besides that he was sorry? Nothing would make his betrayal hurt any less. He'd fucked a girl, in their apartment, in their bedroom in their fucking bed. What was left to explain? Nothing.

"Cancel the board meeting," Jade suddenly exclaimed, making her sister look up at her in wonder.

"What do you mean: 'cancel the board meeting'? Why would I do that? Our team needs to know what's going on and find a way to stop Miller," Alexis replied, not understanding why on earth her sister thought it would be a good idea to keep their employees in the dark about this horrible news. They deserved to know what was coming at them.

"I'll make an appointment with Miller. I'll arrange everything, you don't have to worry," Jade explained shortly. If Sedric thought he could bring them down easily, he was mistaken. She would figure out why he was targeting the HEHG, even if it was the last thing she did. Her mind simply didn't understand why he would want to harass them.

"Jade, what the hell? You can't solve this on your own. We need our entire team!" Alexis fired back, furiously shaking her head back and forth. Jade understood her sister was trying to look out for her, but she didn't need Alex to worry about her. The poor woman didn't need any extra stress.

"I can and I will. Don't stress, I'll take care of Sedric. I will figure out whatever he wants to achieve by bringing our company down and make sure he's stopped." It sounded easy, but Jade had this weird feeling it would be far more difficult than she anticipated.

Sedric could be a sneaky bastard if he wanted to be, but she knew his methods. He wanted to take her down? He sought out the wrong girl. She might have been young and naïve in the past, but Jade Johnson had changed and became a real fighter. She was no longer a sweet little kitten, but a sly tiger that was ready for battle.

Twelve thirty, exactly half an hour late, Jade arrived at the Chinese restaurant where she made a reservation for her meeting with Sedric. She still remembered clearly how much Sedric hated being kept waiting. Taunting him might not have been her brightest idea so far, but it certainly was funny as hell. She wasn't going to show him weakness or vulnerability. Sedric Miller needed to know his place, disgracing a woman with Henderson blood in her system was not a great move.

After her conversation with Alexis and Marcus earlier that morning, she'd called Sedric' assistant and convinced the girl to set up a meeting. She needed to talk to him face to face if she wanted to get the valuable information she was searching for. He wouldn't tell her the truth over the phone, she knew him well enough.

A waiter greeted her and informed her that her company was waiting. She couldn't help but smile slyly. Jade Bitchy Johnson was ready for action. However, her confident self quickly disappeared once her cheating boyfriend came into sight. Heartbreaker or not, he still looked as devilishly handsome as he used to. His dark grey suit fitting him like a second skin, showing off his perfectly sculptured body and toned legs.

The moment their eyes met, she could feel her heart start to beat faster, her cheeks flushing bright red. Even after this time she still turned to mush around him. How could she possibly believe it was a good idea to take Sedric down herself? She should have listened to Alexis and call a board meeting to solve the problem professionally instead of trying to solve it on her own. There was no way she could stay professional and cool while he still affected her so deeply.

Her heart was beating so hard, she was sure Sedric could hear it. He would read her like a book and use it to his advantage. This situation screamed failure and she could feel her heart sink, it was a lost cause. There was no way she would be able to change his mind without offering him anything in return. She knew him, knew how ruthless and utterly selfish Sedric could be when he wanted something. He was up to no good and she couldn't change what was about to happen. He had full control over the situation and he probably knew it.

Sedric wouldn't feel sorry for her, wouldn't mind if she and her sisters lost the company they had worked so hard for or not. He didn't care about anyone but himself. She braced herself, knowing full well what was about to come would only make her feel worse.

"You're late," he stated once she arrived at their table, giving her a disapproving look. He didn't seem happy to see her in the least. "Better not let that happen again," he ordered in the same cold tone, making her shiver slightly. She wasn't used to him acting so unattached towards her, he used to be quite a charmer. From the moment she'd laid eyes on him they'd been continuously flirting and soon after she landed in his bed.

"I'm a busy woman," she told him monotone, not even bothering to look up into his eyes. She wasn't going to let him break her down in front of dozens of people. He was a fool if he thought he could damage her control that easily. Her posture was fierce and confident, the exact opposite of how she felt on the inside.

"You wanted a meeting, you got one. What's your problem?" he questioned, straight to the point. No time for chatting, business only. The determination in his voice told her she shouldn't mess around, not now. It would only make their problems worse.

"What's my problem? Are you even being serious? This is no joke to me, Sed. You know we're an honest company that would never commit fraud, yet you're trying to take us to court. It would bring down the entire firm if you go through with this ridiculous plan," she exclaimed, her eyes spitting fire. How could he be so callous? This was not the Sedric she fell in love with.

"First of all, it's Mr. Miller to you. I don't recall giving you permission to call me by my given name. We're not friends, Johnson. Secondly, who cares about you and your precious little business? You're a pathetic company, ask your sister to manage your company better and maybe it wouldn't get so close to going bankrupt," he accused, his eyes cold and murderous.

"What the hell do you want from me? Why bring my family's company into it?" She had no clue why he was acting the way he was. She hadn't heard from him in years. After their incident, she'd completely ignored him. Not that she had to do much, he gave up calling her after less than a week. In all the years since, he had not once tried to contact her besides those few ridiculous voicemails he left after she found him in the arms of that skank. He didn't apologize, simply went on with his life like she never even existed.

"I need you to do me a favor," he stated like it wasn't obvious already. She simply rolled her eyes at his comment. She had been expecting that one, of course he needed a favor, otherwise he wouldn't be trying to sabotage her company. He probably never meant to harm the HEHG in the first place, but simply needed a reason to blackmail her into doing whatever he wanted from her.

"What do you want, Sedric?" she repeated, ignoring his huff when she used his first name again instead of his family name. She wasn't here to play games, she wanted to know what he was up to and make sure his plan wouldn't succeed. She wasn't a puppet whose strings he could pull.

"You are going to do exactly as I tell you to and I'll consider letting go of this misfortune," he demanded, his eerily calm voice making her shiver. What the hell? She wasn't going to let him dictate what she could and could not do. Who did he think he was?

"I need you to play my girlfriend when I go to my brother's wedding," he added finally, making her eyes almost pop out of their sockets. Had he gone crazy?

"What? I'm sure there are a dozen of girls out there that want to be your date willingly, but I'm not one of them. Why on earth would you try to blackmail me into agreeing to this madness?" she questioned, totally confused. He'd be a fool if he thought for one second she would agree to this utterly ridiculous plan.

"My mother wants me to settle down and you know how bad she can get when she wants something. I don't plan on fulfilling her dream of giving her a grandchild, but it's not something she will let go. So I'll just have to make sure she's under the impression I found someone. You're the only girl I know that hates me enough not to fall in love with me and is familiar with my family. I'll simply have to tell them we got back together and no one will dare make any assumptions. They don't know the reason for our breakup and they'll never know," he explained, a cold look in his eyes. In the five minutes she'd seen him now, he had not once shown any kind of emotion.

Sedric stared at the girl he once loved, the woman that had captured his heart and never returned it. He couldn't bring himself to smile at her, her betrayal still too raw and lucid in his mind. She looked absolutely breathtaking, just like he remembered her. Those long and golden waves of hair covering her back as her blue doe eyes looked up at him in confusion.

She had been the only woman he could think of who he loathed enough never to fall in love with again. He didn't have to worry about his feelings around her, knowing he hated her as much as he did. In return, she probably felt nothing but hatred towards him as well. She was the perfect candidate to play his girlfriend, their relationship would never be anything more than entirely 'fake'.

He still cursed himself every waking moment for making the mistake of betraying her. No matter what people said, he had truly loved her at the time. He'd made a terrible error he would never be able to erase. His pathetic pubescent hormones had caused him to let down the one person that truly cared about him. The moment he'd seen that horrified look in Jade's eyes when she walked in on him, his world had fallen apart.

He regretted sleeping with the girl from the moment reality crashed down on him. He felt awful, like the true jerk he was. He never meant to cause Jade harm, didn't want to see her hurting. Yet, he broke her heart like the failure he was. He had known she was too good for him, too perfect and pure. He simply ignored all the alarm bells that went off inside his head when he laid eyes on her. Mesmerized by her appearance, he'd walked up to her and asked her out on a date.

She had been surprised by his bold behavior, but appreciated his courage nevertheless. He had been twenty-two, Jade still in high school, though he didn't know that at the time. They were over four years apart, though the age difference never bothered them. They didn't make their relationship public until she turned eighteen and became a legal adult. Shortly thereafter, she moved in with him in his apartment. Everything had been perfect, until the day he ruined it all.

He tried to call her numerous times the week that followed his reckless and idiotic behavior, but she never picked up her phone. Exactly one week after their breakup he realized what she had done to avenge him and he immediately stopped trying to contact her. He hadn't thought she could possibly sink that low. She had almost ruined his entire career. He knew he had been wrong, still regretted what he had done, but he hadn't deserved what she did to him.

He had been a true asshole and gladly admitted he fucked up, but even he didn't deserve such treatment. Jade could have easily ruined his life for good if he hadn't been able to put his dreams back on track by working his ass off. He had to work twice as hard to show he was capable of being a good lawyer. All thanks to the little bitch.

"That's a ridiculous plan, Sedric, one I am not willing to go through with," Jade simply stated, shaking her head. He gave her a sly smile. Little Miss Perfect still thought she had the upper hand in the situation. She thought terribly wrong. He wasn't giving her much of a choice.

"I'm giving you an ultimatum, not a proposal, Johnson. Choose wisely. You agree to act as if you are my girlfriend for the duration of my brother's wedding, or I will do everything in my power to bring your precious family empire down. Fair warning…I never lose. It's your decision," he grinned evilly.

He could see the wheels turning in her head, the obvious battle she was having with herself. Conflicted emotions flashed across her features, though she stayed calm and in control. He always admired her strength. Jade never had been one to start crying over small things, she was a tough girl.

"I will agree to this ridiculous offer on one condition," Jade replied, giving him a blank stare. Smart girl. He would have stayed true to his promise of harming her company if she hadn't consented to his proposition. Sedric could be called a lot of bad things, but not a liar. He never backed down on his promises, once he made a pledge he would do as he said.

"After all of this is over, you will leave my family and me alone. You will destroy the false report you made and won't ever bother me again. The only reason I'm agreeing to this nonsense is because I won't put any more stress on my sister's shoulders. Alexis doesn't deserve this, she worked hard to make that company a success," Jade demanded.

"Condition agreed. I will leave all of you alone after you have fulfilled your duty. You've made the right decision, Johnson," he said, applauding as he smirked wickedly.

"You didn't leave me any choice and you damn well know it," she roared, her eyes spitting fire. If looks could kill he'd be six feet under by now. She was right, though. He hadn't left her much of a choice. He couldn't have her refusing his offer. He needed her, whether he wanted to or not. She was the only woman that acquired everything his fake girlfriend needed to have. She wouldn't try to manipulate him into a relationship, he would have no problem leaving her behind after all of this was over and she would make a believable girlfriend. What more did he need? His mother had always loved Jade and thought she was the perfect match for him. The relationship Jade had with his mother became quite wretched after the breakup, but he didn't doubt they could reconcile.

Mad as hell and defeated, Jade stood up and left the restaurant. Part of him wanted to go after her and apologize for being such a dick, but he reminded himself of the horror she put him through. Jade didn't deserve his kindness, she was one selfish and deceiving bitch. His brother's wedding was going to be so much fun. Sarcasm intended.

Crossing Paths is the second book in the Henderson Empire Series, but can be read as a stand-alone novel. Thank you for reading. Please let me know what you think!