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Chasing Love: Chapter 15

CHARLIE

Gorgeous, when do I get to make you my wife?”

Julian breaks my thoughts, and unknowingly, I need the reality check more than ever. We haven’t spoken about the actual wedding planning, given he only proposed days ago, but deep down inside I question whether he senses my hesitation and is trying to steer me back in the right direction.

“That depends. Are you going to whisk me away to your bat cave now?”

He grins, pulling me closer toward his body. “For you, anything.”

Lost in this moment, filled with promises of a new life together, I smile as I hold onto him. I need, more than anything, to feel wanted, to feel loved. My eyes meet with Lex’s across the room. He’s never broke from my gaze. The guilt is rushing through me, torn in ways I never imagined would happen again.

But this time, the tables have turned and I have someone to call my own. I’m not the person looking in from the outside, racking my brain as to what went on behind closed doors.

Finally, I’m happy, my world no longer broken. Looking at Lex, I know I can’t go back there. Every happy memory I have of him is overshadowed by the tragic ending. I can’t look at him without dragging up our past. What we had isn’t some high school crush, no matter how much I tried to sell that story to myself.

“Charlie?”

I turn and see Adriana standing next to me. The one person who meant so much to me but again, she hurt me, leaving me to clean up my mess. Judging me when she only knew half the truth.

“It’s y-you.” Her voice quivers, the emotion building up as she attempts to get her words out. “Charlie… I’m so, so sorry.” Tears trickle down her beautiful face, her eyes clouded with tears. She was young at the time and had done what most girls would do. Yet, I couldn’t ignore the hurt of her betrayal for leaving me behind without allowing me even to explain myself.

But I was the one who had played with fire, or should I say her brother.

I let go of Julian, wrapping my arms around her into a tight embrace, willing to forgive her so we can resurrect our friendship. Everything about her feels familiar, and for a second, I wonder if this is what it would feel like to be inside Lex’s arms.

“Adriana, please stop crying. You’ll ruin your mascara and mine.” I chuckle as a tear slides down my cheek.

Her smile radiates. Adriana has always had beautiful classic features with almond-shaped green eyes, not quite as bright as Lex’s yet similar since they are related. The last time I’d seen her, the color of her hair had been natural mocha. True to her always-changing style, she had changed it to honey blonde with ombre running through it.

“I’d say wipe it on your dress, but wow, Charlie, what the hell has happened to you?” She beams through her tears. “You look stunning. Dolce & Gabbana? I’m in love with this dress.”

Just like that, the old Adriana I knew and loved is back. It’s easy to forgive her. She had been my best friend since I was eight, and some things were never meant to be broken.

“The moment I saw it, I knew we were soulmates.

As I speak about the dress, I notice Julian and the rest of the gang standing there, obviously waiting for an introduction.

“Oh, sorry. Adriana, please meet Rocky and Nikki. We’ve known each other since college. Nikki and I are partners in our own firm,” I say proudly.

“Firm? As in lawyer?”

I nod, grinning. “This is Eric, my assistant, and Emma is Nikki’s assistant. This handsome man here is my fiancé, Julian.”

Adriana extends her hand toward Julian, shaking it in a very professional manner, but I can tell by the way she bit the corner of her lip this is anything but professional.

“Okay, so has anyone ever told you that you look like Christian Bale?” Adriana doesn’t hold back, asking in her flirtatious tone as she fixates on him. Oh, how I remember that voice.

“Who, me? Never,” he sarcastically responds.

I swat his arm as he laughs along with the rest of the group.

“So, from what I hear, you and Elijah are still together. Married, right?”

“Ah, yes and no.” She lowers her voice. I knew something wasn’t right, but I’m not going to pry in front of everyone. “It’s kind of a long story we’ll have plenty of time to catch up on later.”

I nod my head, knowing we need to talk in private. “Do you guys mind if Adriana and I grab a drink from the bar?”

“Go ahead, I’ve got Eric here to keep me company,” Julian says. Eric is beside him and he’s already drunk on champagne.

As we walk toward the bar, Adriana links her arm in mine just like we had done a thousand times over inside the hallways of our school.

“He looked for you,” she reveals, the second we get to the bar.

“Adriana, look… the past is the past.”

“Charlie, Lex isn’t the same. Not since you. You have to understand he was under a lot of pressure back then.”

“I know he isn’t the same. I’ve run into him twice now, and everything about him has changed,” I tell her, not oblivious to the stranger who claims to be Alex, or Lex, or whatever. “He isn’t the Alex I once loved.”

“I know he comes across cold, but deep down he still has something for you, Charlie. You were the love of his life.”

“But what about his kid, Adriana? Do you know what it was like for me to find out from the town skank that his wife was pregnant?” The resentment lingers in my rising tone, my expression hardening at this trip down memory lane. “He promised me they stopped having sex, and then to find out his wife was pregnant… Adriana, you just don’t understand.”

“It wasn’t his baby, Charlie. They never had sex. Samantha lied about everything. When he found out, he went ballistic and took the next flight to Cuba to find you, thinking you left to live with your mom.”

“But I wasn’t there.”

Bringing my shaky hand toward my forehead, the revelation shocks me. So, it wasn’t his baby? I bow my head, questioning my decisions. Was I wrong? But no, I remember he still chose her first. He believed it was his baby, and he chose to honor his marriage over what we had.

I was second best. He had made sure of that.

“I know, but your mom told us you had moved elsewhere and were happy with someone else. She begged us to leave you alone, said you found a great guy and had moved in together. She said you were studying hard, and that if we found you, she thought your life would go backward.” Adriana stops to take a breath, desperate to unleash what she must have been holding in for all this time. “It was my fault as well. I told Lex you deserved the best, and that he needed to let you be.”

All of this is too much to process. My chest caves in, and holding onto the bar, I use it to keep my balance from my shaking legs collapsing beneath me. Beside me, there’s a tray of champagne. I down a glass in one go, ignoring the bubbles tickling my throat. It doesn’t erase the overwhelming feeling of this moment, and without hesitation, I take another repeating my actions.

“Adriana, I don’t know what to say. I went to Connecticut to live with my grandmother. After she died, I just wanted to move on and do her proud, so I went to Yale. There wasn’t another guy. How could there be after him?” I beg the question, but no answer will satisfy me or erase the past. “How could he doubt my love for him? Did he really think I’d move on straight away?”

“Your mom was very convincing. I’m sorry, you’re right, but you really need to talk to Lex.”

“It’s just too much. There’s more to this than—” I stop mid-sentence. Now isn’t the time to get into the painful semantics of it all. I pull a business card out of my purse and hand it to her. “Let’s catch up for lunch soon and talk about this, but for right now, I need time. It’s a lot to take in.”

She kisses me on the cheek, understanding I need my space.

Julian comes over, asking me if I want to dance some more. I gladly welcome the return to reality, reminding Adriana to call me.

As we dance away, Lex does the same a few feet away from me with his date. Every so often, his eyes wander my way, watching me watch him. He leans into the woman’s neck, kissing her gently, closing his eyes as he does so.

My stare is fixated on them as the fury builds inside me. Why is he touching her like that? He slowly opens his eyes, directing them at me again. I can’t bear to watch anymore, it’s all too painful. I need a moment of clarity, so I excuse myself to use the restroom, blaming the champagne I drank earlier.

I exit the ballroom, clutching the bottom of my dress to avoid falling over in my rush. Inside the long corridor, I scan the surroundings looking for the restroom sign. Breathe, only a few more feet. My mind is scattered with thoughts, my stomach crashing with waves of nausea.

What if he had come after me?

Would everything have worked out for us?

My heart is sinking deeper as the thought crosses my mind with too many ‘what if’s’ in a world full of painful memories.

My arm is yanked into a different direction, and without a moment to think, Lex has pulled me through the double doors to an empty conference room. He lets go of my arm, pacing the area between us in frustration. “Do you love him?”

He doesn’t deserve an answer. We are no longer together.

“I see the way you look at him. It is the way you used to look at me.”

“Used to Al… Lex. Y-You walked away, not me,” I stammer.

“I had no choice,” he yells, wild eyes boring into me. “I looked for you. I didn’t give up on us!”

“The moment you chose her, you gave up on us.”

My heart is pumping so hard, remembering the ache which longed for him since the day he left. Once, a heart so full and content had experienced the ultimate break, torn apart, shredded into a million pieces with no remnants left and beyond repair.

His eyes are on fire, burning so bright and torturing me with its violent flames. With a pained stare, I’m unable to turn away until he grabs my face, pressing his lips against mine.

The force is so strong, crippling any emotion but the one which makes me focus on how perfect his lips taste. His tongue entangles with mine, the familiarity clouding any rational thought which wants to push him away.

My hands move toward his chest as I let out a small moan, dragging my lips away to break free as guilt consumes me whole. As if he knows the anguish he’s putting me through, he locks me into an embrace, trapping me as he sucks hard on my lips.

The pain turns me on, traveling to forbidden places which only existed when we were together. From the moment he left, I wondered what it would be like to taste his lips again, and no matter how much I thought about it, the reality is far off.

I missed how he tasted.

How he would kiss me passionately, every time, like it was our first kiss.

My head is screaming for him to let me go, but I can’t stop. My body begins to tremble as he stiffens against my stomach. I can’t let it go any further, terrified by how much I want him and how easily my heart has forgotten the pain he caused.

With his palm flat against my chest, I’m scared he can feel how rapidly my heart is beating, but I remind myself that it no longer beats for him.

Julian.

I pull away, out of breath.

“Lex, we can’t. Please, you don’t understand… I can’t go down this path again—”

“I’m sorry I hurt you,” he begs, placing his hands on my neck to try and drag me in, but I step back. “I’d give everything I own to erase it. It’s something I’ll always regret, but I’m standing here now, Charlotte. Please just let me explain everything.”

“That’s the thing, Lex. You just don’t know—”

“What, Charlotte? Talk to me, please!”

I say the words I’ve been wanting to say since I ran into him—I have moved on.

It’s time to accept that.

Walking toward the exit, I touch my lips before grabbing the handle of the door. Closure, it’s time to live my life with a man who loves me.

Now, I have to walk back into the ballroom and face Julian and my friends, pretending nothing’s happened. I give myself a few minutes to calm down, taking deep breaths. A waiter scurries past, and I stop him, begging for a glass of champagne. Taking it kindly, I drink it in one go, discarding the empty glass on a table near the entrance.

“Gorgeous, there you are.” Julian finds me as soon as I walk in. “Listen, something has come up, and I need to cover a story in Chicago first thing in the morning. My flight leaves in an hour. I’m sorry… I have to leave.”

“What? But you can’t leave,” I plead, desperate to spend the night with him. “We had a whole night planned out. You, me… your bat cave.” I need him here, so no other mistakes are made tonight, and more importantly, to protect me from the big bad wolf.

“Charlie… I, um… are you okay?” he questions, placing his hands on my shoulders.

I force a smile and wrap my arms around his waist clearing my throat. “Sorry, I just… call me the second you’re back, okay?”

He pulls me in, kissing me deeply. As I kiss him back, I try to erase the guilt of the last twenty minutes. Trying not to show just how uncomfortable I am.

I can’t help thinking it just isn’t the same as Lex.

Don’t do this, Charlie. The comparison game is nothing but a sick mind-fuck, destined to screw you up even more.

We walk back to our table so Julian can say goodbye to everyone, and moments later, he hurries out of the building.

Eric sits beside me, hugging me tightly. “I know you’re upset he has to leave, but I know something that will cheer you up.”

I don’t tell Eric I’m not upset over Julian leaving. I’m still shell-shocked that I had actually kissed the ghost of my past, and how I let that happen—stupid move. I blame the champagne.

“Let’s go to After Dark tonight. Dirty drinks, dirty men, and even dirtier dancing. We need to let loose after this stiff shindig, Charlie.”

“Agreed. But only if we get to do shots,” I tease, knowing Eric doesn’t handle shots very well. Well, that’s an understatement—three shots of tequila sees him dancing on a bar half-naked, five shots sees him head-down, ass-up over the toilet crying to God.

“Aw… shit, Charlie, you know what happens when I do shots. I get so loose,” he whines.

“How is that any different from now?”

He laughs and does that snap-hand gesture he always does. Eric heads off to find Emma, leaving me to stand here by myself.

Why did I let it happen?

I touch my mouth, running my fingers against my swollen lips. This kiss was intense, but it was always like that between us.

Yet there are so many questions I want to ask, but even if he answers them, will it change things? I can’t let go of the fact that he chose her.

Not me—her.

Samantha Benson.

“Okay, bitches, let’s get a cab and get this party started.”

Eric does his mini dance—the dance he always does before we go out to a club with music. He pulls on his jacket while I grab my purse. I don’t know what compels me to do it, but I glance over at Lex one last time. He’s staring directly at me with a smug look on his face. I can’t say goodbye, not now. My emotions are all over the place, and nothing good comes within his presence.

I need tequila—STAT.

“First round of shots is on me,” I cheer as we head out of the ballroom, ready to let loose and drown out tonight’s sorrows.


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