Home > Off the Record (Record #1)(7)

Off the Record (Record #1)(7)
K.A. Linde

“Where did you run off to?” Hayden asked, jumping up from his seat as she drew near.

“Uh…I went to look for you.” She wished she had a drink or something in hand. She didn’t want to tell Hayden about meeting Brady. That would bring about a whole slew of questions she didn’t want to answer with his enticing stare still burned into her mind.

“I only left for a second,” he said a bit defensively.

Before she had met Brady, she would have taken all of this personally. After all, Hayden was the one who had run off with Calleigh, leaving her alone with people she didn’t know. But now she wasn’t focused enough to care. The card was burning a hole in her jacket.

“So did I,” she said with a shrug. “Where did Calleigh go?”

“She’s still talking to Tracey. I came back for you, but Trent said you ran off.”

“Just came to find you is all,” she told him again. “I think I’m ready to get out of here.”

Earlier she would have stayed here with him all night, but now the mixed signals from Hayden were irritating her. Was he interested in her or not? Brady had been so up-front with her. Liz knew very few people had the self-confidence to pull off that attitude, but it wasn’t like Hayden was lacking in that department. At least Brady had told her what he wanted…even if that situation had its own complications.

“Yeah, I’m ready to get back,” Hayden agreed. “We have an article to write. I feel a long night ahead of me.” He cracked that smile that she was so fond of, and she tried not to compare it to Brady’s. That comparison wasn’t even fair. “Let me just say good-bye.”

A few minutes later they were walking toward the door of the bar when Calleigh appeared out of nowhere. Her burgundy hair seemed to have gained even more volume with the pressing heat in the room, and it only made her look more beautiful. Her bangs were falling haphazardly into her eyes, and she did nothing to push them aside as she latched onto Hayden’s arm. “You guys aren’t leaving, are you?” she asked, pressing into Hayden’s side.

Liz watched Hayden disentangle himself from Calleigh’s wandering arms and take a step away from her. At least this time she could actually tell that Calleigh was drunk.

“Yeah, we’re heading out. It’s late,” Hayden told her. Liz didn’t actually know what time it was, but it felt early.

“Hayden, you should stay here with me,” she said, the coy smile wiped off her face and replaced with blatant desire. Hayden actually looked uncomfortable. Liz could live with that.

“Appreciate it, Calleigh, but we have to get back to Chapel Hill,” he said.

“Thanks for the invitation, Calleigh,” Liz said. “Really had a great time.”

Calleigh looked at her blankly before returning her gaze to Hayden. “You’re leaving with her?”

Oh, this wasn’t looking good.

“Calleigh, let’s not do this,” Hayden warned with a sigh.

“I mean, after everything, and I haven’t seen you. I just thought…” She trailed off. Calleigh actually looked affronted. She clearly hadn’t thought the night was going to end like this, and Liz could only guess why by her comments.

Liz didn’t want to think about it, but the visual kept coming back to her. Calleigh and Hayden. Hayden and Calleigh. Of course, it made sense. They were perfect for each other. She felt like a fly on the wall as they stared at each other.

“We have to go,” Hayden said finally, ending the staring match. “I don’t know what you thought you were going to accomplish tonight, but it’s not like that. You know that. You’ve known that for a long time. I don’t know how much more obvious I can be. What more do you want me to say?”

Calleigh looked at the floor, clearly hurt by his words. When she met his eyes again, hers were steely. Liz didn’t want to know what she was thinking in that moment. “Fine. It’s not like she’s even a challenge,” Calleigh said, tossing her hand in Liz’s direction and talking about her as if she weren’t standing right there.

“Calleigh,” he said in a threatening tone, “keep it together. You’re embarrassing yourself. Now, we’re going to go. Good night.”

Hayden gripped Liz’s elbow softly and tugged her away from the ticking time bomb. She got one last glance from Calleigh, and she saw only a promise in Calleigh’s eyes…a promise that Calleigh wouldn’t forget tonight.

Liz stumbled out onto the blacktop parking lot. She felt the oppressive summer heat press against her suit, and she stripped her jacket off. Her mind was buzzing with the confrontation she had witnessed. Her body was still reeling. She couldn’t believe what Calleigh had said. Liz didn’t even really know Calleigh. She certainly wasn’t a threat to her. Whatever had happened between Calleigh and Hayden was something Liz wanted to forget…and knew she never would.

She stalked across the parking lot to his car. She hadn’t even realized how furious she was until she started walking. How dared she say those things! Calleigh had power and prestige, but that did not give her the right to treat Liz like this.

“Hey,” Hayden called, jogging to catch up to her long strides, “are you all right?”

“Fine,” she muttered, walking faster.

He latched on to her elbow and pulled her up short. “Are you really all right?”

“What do you think?” she asked, sneering at him.

“I’d say no.” He didn’t let go of her elbow. “I’m really sorry about…all that.”

“What was all that?” Liz asked.

“Calleigh and I were together last year before she took the job in Charlotte. It wasn’t anything serious.”

“She seems to think it’s still something,” Liz pointed out.

He shrugged. “I can’t control how she feels. It’s not whatever she thinks it is.”

“Well, maybe next time you shouldn’t go running off alone with her and then she won’t think it’s something,” Liz said calmly. She couldn’t believe that had come out of her mouth. It was what she was thinking, but never something she would normally say. Maybe Brady’s frankness had gotten into her system.

Hayden dipped his head in surrender. “You’re right. I didn’t mean for it to come off that way.”

“Intentions only go so far.”

“True,” he said, looking up into her eyes. She could see he wanted to say more, do more. But he didn’t. She wasn’t sure what was holding him back.

He was standing only inches away from her, and she knew she would give in to him if he made a move. Even with Brady’s words still ingrained in her head and Calleigh’s stinging words ringing in her ears. She was mad at him, but it didn’t hold back the crush that had been brewing inside of her for the past two years.

Hayden took a step in, and Liz’s breath caught, her heart fluttering at a rapid pace. He was so close. She took a small step forward until their clothes brushed against each other and tilted her head up to look at him. He smiled at her and she sighed softly, waiting for the kiss she knew was coming.

His mouth quirked up at the side and then he backed up. She was so confused. She had given him an open invitation, and he had backed down.

Liz quickly turned toward the car, her face burning.

Hayden cleared his throat awkwardly. “We should get back.”

She didn’t even have the strength to respond, just walked to the passenger-side door and waited for him to unlock it. She didn’t want to know what he was thinking. He had turned down Calleigh, only to reject Liz as well.

She would have been better off staying up in VIP. At least Brady had made his intentions clear. The hot and cold with Hayden was confusing at best.

Liz tossed her jacket inside and slid into the passenger seat of the Audi. The forty-minute drive back to Chapel Hill was quieter than the ride there had been. The radio was playing some hipster music that she wasn’t really into, but it was better than the silence.

He parked outside of the small run-down house she rented on the north side of campus. The neighborhood wasn’t all that great, but it was a short walk to the journalism school and was better than trying to find parking on campus. Luckily Victoria didn’t care about the decrepit nature of the building, because it was so close to the bars on Franklin Street.

“Thanks for the ride,” she murmured, grabbing her jacket and popping the door open. “I’ll start working on the article.”

She was all the way around the car when Hayden stepped out. “Liz,” he called, stopping her from walking up the grassy path to her house. “I’m sorry about earlier.”

Which part? she wanted to ask him. Was he sorry that he had run off with Calleigh? Was he sorry that Calleigh had been a bitch to her? Was he sorry for not kissing her when she had been expecting it?

Instead she just said, “It’s all right.” She didn’t even know what she was saying all right to.

“It’s not. Calleigh shouldn’t take out her anger about me on you,” he said.

Oh.

“Yeah, probably not,” Liz muttered. “Night, Hayden.”

“Liz,” he called again as she walked away. She turned around reluctantly. “I am sorry.”

She sighed and nodded. Please be over quicker. “I know you are. Don’t worry about what Calleigh said.”

“I just…don’t want this to affect our…erm…relationship.” Her ears perked up at that statement. “You’re a great reporter. I wouldn’t want you to think I’m using my authority or anything to come on to you. I would hate to lose you at the paper.”

Liz’s mouth dropped open. He didn’t want to lose her at the paper? Like that was even an option. The paper was all she wanted. Was that why he hadn’t kissed her? Was he afraid that starting something with her would be bad for the paper?

“Would you say you’re coming on to me?” She hadn’t thought that he was…not compared to Brady back at the club.

Hayden looked flustered, and she was glad. She had liked him for a long time and then after one evening together he was crushing it all. “I worry about how you took Calleigh’s comment. I don’t…”

“Just leave it, Hayden,” she said wearily. “It’s too late for this conversation. I’m tired.”

“Right. Sorry. I thought I was clarifying, but it seems like I’m only more jumbled. I’ll see you at the paper tomorrow.” He stepped forward and grasped her hand unexpectedly. Despite everything, she was still glad that he was touching her. She was angry about the way he was acting this evening, but she couldn’t hold back her feelings for him.

She saw him swallow as he stepped toward her again. She wasn’t expecting a kiss, not after the incident in the parking lot. In fact, she didn’t know why he was touching her at all, but she wasn’t stopping him. And she didn’t stop him when he pulled her into his arms.

They were strong arms, not particularly big but definitely not small. They fit well around her waist, and she could feel their definition as they circled her. Liz automatically wrapped her arms around his neck as he drew her into his chest. The hug was brief, but still, it was Hayden.

He broke away and looked as calm as before. She wished she knew what he was thinking, but unlike Brady, who broadcast his feelings all too clearly, Hayden was too much of a mystery. Maybe she wasn’t supposed to know.

But she damn well wanted to.

Chapter 6

REPRINT

The article hadn’t been as easy to write as Liz had thought. Each time she put pen to paper, the words got all jumbled. She wasn’t saying quite what she wanted to say, and at first she couldn’t figure out why. She had never had this problem before. Her writing was natural, flowing out of her like a river running downstream. But this one article had left her stuck.

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