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Dee wasted no time in making herself comfortable and she unceremoniously dumped her things on the coffee table with the rest of the spread that Eli had brought. She looked him wickedly in the eye, understanding exactly why she had to let herself in.
“I see you know Kate well enough to know that you’d better bring food if you actually want to eat anything but ice cream. Kate, where have you been hiding this one?”
I glared at her, smile frozen in the request she was ignoring. She knew I wanted her to leave, and she had no intention of honoring my wish. I looked to Eli, pleading for him to excuse himself. He only smiled and brushed his fingers across my cheek as I leaned over to sip my cold coffee.
“Kate really is an open book, isn’t she?”
My eyes were popping out of their sockets. I sipped slowly on the coffee that was perfectly made. Of course it was. He had been following me for years. These two were the worst and I was stuck in the middle of whatever charade that was unfolding.
“If you mean that she’s a serial dater and you’ve had enough dates with her to realize she doesn’t go grocery shopping, then yes,” Dee laughed, pushing me closer to him and making herself comfortable in my secure corner of the couch.
“Excuse, her. She’s probably more than slightly mortified that I’m sitting here talking to you. I’m Dee.”
Eli reached across to shake her hand, leaning his arm across my breasts, never breaking eye contact with me, watching how I was going to handle the situation. I couldn’t tell if he was protecting me or pushing me through another one of his stupid tests.
“I’m starting to understand that you don’t often meet her dates. I should feel honored to be introduced to the famous best friend. I’m Eli. Kate speaks of you often,” he smiled and kissed my cheek before whispering in my ear. “I can go all day, Kate. Are you going to sell me out and tell her the truth or are you going to choose to create a new story for yourself?”
I was unwilling to give away any of my secrets. I was sitting between the only two people who knew how to push my buttons, and I was lighting up with thinly concealed irritation. Three could play at this game.
“It’s not that Dee doesn’t get to meet them. I suppose the others don’t just show up unannounced outside my window,” I smiled sweetly.
The intensity I had seen outside the restaurant last night lit his steely eyes and I swallowed. Of course this shit would turn him on. What I couldn’t understand was how it was doing the same to me. Dee coughed and I closed my eyes, breaking the exchange of lust between us. I looked over to her. Was she biting her lip? Oh my god. Even she was enamored with Eli. If she only knew the truth.
“So Eli, tell me about yourself,” she coaxed between taking bites of her scone.
“Eli was just leaving, Dee. I told him I was expecting you and he would hate to impose on our time to gossip.”
I was done. He needed to leave, I needed to stop. He was luring me into another trap and I couldn’t forget who he actually was. This fraudulent version was dripping too sweetly into my life. It had been a nice distraction, he’d brought some things to my attention. I was good. He was good to go. I looked back and forth between them, realizing they hadn’t even heard me. Apparently, I really wasn’t a participant in my life. I fell back against the couch and crossed my arms.
“I work in theater production at the ShadowBox, and live across town in a slightly stagnant suburban housing track. I only met Kate last night, to be honest, but I feel like I’ve known her for much longer. There is something about the sheen in her honey colored eyes that draws me towards memories we never shared. Do you believe in fate, Dee?”
My mouth fell open. Dee was drooling.
“You have got to be kidding me,” I growled, rolling my eyes to the very back of my head.
“Tell me about yourself, Dee,” he cooed with practiced interest. He was digging for things about me, and she was certainly going to give it all away. He slowly unfolded my arms and wrapped his fingers in mine. My palms grew warm. He squeezed gently. I knew it was a warning, and I wondered if it was a suggestion to try something new or a threat of exposure.
“I work with Kate at the office as an executive assistant. It’s a bunch of bullshit, but I can wear heels and pretend that I’m important. Plus, I’ve been told I have a sexy phone voice and who doesn’t want that on their resume,” she laughed sarcastically.
What the hell was happening? Eli rubbed his thumb up and down the side of my hand.
“I’m sure that you have all the men in the office hanging on every last word that falls from those full lips. Between you and Kate, I would think very little gets done around there.”
She was giggling and eating it up. I was going throw up. I never in a million years thought that Dee would fall for this shit.
“If Kate’s around, you can be assured that everything gets done. She’s a beast. Maybe the most important player we have. But she’ll never tell you. She’s too busy moping about this and that to realize how amazing she is. I have a feeling you can already see that in her.”
Dee’s dark eyes bore into me, daring me to shut her up. I said nothing. This was a war they waged against me and I wasn’t even going to bother.
“Well,” she said, standing reluctantly, “I’m satisfied, Kate. I’ll leave you to finish whatever fun I ruined.”
She laughed devilishly and gathered her coffee cup.
“Enjoy,” she chirped, winking on her way out.
The clouds had parted and by the grace of God, I had gotten rid of one. Now I only had to shove this strange pretender out the door. I looked at him, waiting for his own departure. He’d had his fun, now he could leave. But he sat there, looking at me. He said nothing. I swallowed. He was still holding my hand. The electrical pattern of his thought pulsed across his still expression. He was battling the healer and the instigator that lived within him. His eyes softened and he leaned closer to me.
“Kate, you’ve been strong for too long. Please let me have a shot.”
Before I could respond with something mean spirited, he kissed me. His mouth brushed so softly against mine. His breath tickled the nerves pulsing in my lips and goosebumps ran down my arms. His hands ran through my dirty blonde hair with such careful compassion, I could feel a very broken part inside of me shatter a little more. His tenderness was going to break me open. I leaned into him, and he kissed me more firmly, but not with the intensity I needed to numb what was happening. He left me to linger in the moment of gentility and affection. Slowly, Eli pulled himself away, studying my face, rubbing his thumb up the back of my neck. My eyes closed half way.
“Go to dinner with me tonight. A real date. We’ll have a fresh start, Kate. I want to show you who I can be.”