We continue our Round Robin Short Story series, "A Delicious Dalliance," with another section from Chrissy Szarek.
“No.” Whether whispered or shouted, it didn’t matter. Brad was crushed. From his expression, crestfallen didn’t even begin to cover it. Seven gulped. Shattered might be a good, guilty start. “I mean, no. Brad…I’m sorry. I…can’t, I just can’t.”
She scrambled to her feet, taking a step back and wanting to run.
The sweet tempranillo sloshed in her stomach and guilt threatened to overcome her. She was breaking his heart. But, it was hers or his. This time, hers had to win out. There was no other way to her happiness. God, she’d never wanted to end things this way.
Brad gasped. “What?” He waivered from his position on one knee. His shoulders, then his body, wobbled. Maybe he was going to pass out after all. But then again, that didn’t sound like such a bad idea.
The double doors of the kitchen whooshed again as they passed each other. People came and went, but the most important one was already—
Seven looked up, her heart thundering in her ears. Her head swam.
How long had Alex been standing there? Had he heard Brad’s proposal?
His formal chef’s hat made him even more handsome. His white jacket pristine despite the dinner rush. The naughty contemplations she’d kept herself busy with during her wait surged forward and her cheeks heated. Perhaps the third glass of wine had been a bit much.
She looked from Alex to Brad and then back again. Dark from light, one she wanted, one she wanted to be rid of.
“Seven?” They both said her name at the same time. Even their voices marked them as different, one weak, one strong.
What the hell is going on? was written on both their faces before Brad’s brow furrowed and he gripped the edge table with white knuckles. Seven stood frozen as Brad struggled to his feet.
Alex took a step closer, his eyes locked onto her. His Adam’s apple bobbed as he gave her a once over. The dress had done the trick. Too bad it came with drama.
Her would-be fiancé looked at her chef and made a fist—which may have been amusing at another time. “Seven? What’s going on here?”
“I’d say that’s a fair question,” Alex said, arms crossed over his broad chest.
Seven swallowed hard, the pleasant buzz from the wine evaporating. She cleared her throat and licked her lips. Nothing helped.
“Why does this…guy…know your name?” His tone held disdain as Brad glanced at Alex.
Alex’s gaze never left her and Seven’s heart picked up speed. The chef took a step closer, moving between her and Brad.
He reached for her hand. “Seven, you look like you need to sit down—”
“Get your hands off my fiancé,” Brad barked. Seven bit back a gasp. Brad forceful?
She glanced at the banker she’d shared the last three years of her life with. She didn’t love him. Brad, supportive but at the same time, dependant on her. The steady, dependable man that he was, even with health problems. They’d been though a lot together and maybe there was a flame of passion at one time, but it was long since banked.
“Fiancée?” Alex pulled his hand back and took a step away, his eyes wide.
Looking from blue eyes to brown, she nodded to herself and stood her ground, taking a deep, cleansing breath.
“Brad, I’m sorry but it’s over.” His face reddened. “I can’t marry you. I can’t be with you anymore. It’s not fair to you or me. I’m not happy, and honestly, I don’t think you are, either.”
Fists clenched at his sides, the fair haired man that had truly never made her heart race looked torn between crying and punching something—or someone.
“Because of this guy?” His tone was wrought with pain as his thumb jabbed in Alex’s direction.
“No.” Seven shook her head. That was true.
Yes, she wanted Alex. Yes, he made her heart gallop with only a look and had given her the best sex of her life in just one short night, but it was more than that. She’d been going through the motions with Brad for far too long. Alex aside, Seven needed to end things with Brad. For herself.
“I’m sorry you feel that way,” Brad’s tone was stronger and Seven was proud of him for that.
“I’m sorry I hurt you.”
Brad’s blue eyes slipped closed, but he squared his shoulders and stood taller. He met her eyes. “I’ll get my things from your apartment and leave my key in your mail slot.”
“Thank you.” Seven bit her bottom lip. What else could she say?
Without a word, Alex stood beside her as she watched Brad turn and go, the velvet box in his hand. His limp was barely noticeable and Seven was proud of him for that, too. Hopefully, he wouldn’t hate her forever.
Alex grabbed her hand and electricity shot up her arm. Her gaze locked with his and one corner of his mouth lifted. She tried not to stare at his full lips.
“ Now what?” he asked.