“And she told Joy.”
For the first time since opening the door, his mask slipped, giving Monique a brief look at the hurt in his eyes. It moved her off the chair and to the couch.
“Niko, I’m sorry. You’re right. I heard Independent Citizens and immediately found you guilty. I was too angry to listen, too hurt at the thought that you could betray me.”
“So you can imagine how your accusations made me feel.”
“Yes.” She reached out to touch him.
He stayed her hand. “Don’t.” He stood and increased the distance between them.
“Like I said earlier, you had every right to be upset. Unfortunately, words once spoken cannot be unsaid.
“With everything we’ve shared—the days of conversation and nights making love—how could you flip the switch so quickly and believe me to be the type of man who’d ruin your reputation?”
She stood. He tensed. She did not walk toward him. “I should have considered how great of a man you are and listened the first time you called. But I misread the fact that I couldn’t reach you. By the time you called, I’d made up my mind. You did it. End of story. I overreacted, spoke without thinking and made terrible accusations. Niko, I’m sorry. Can you forgive me?”
“I can forgive you but I won’t forget.”
“You and I have shared amazing times together. I’d hate to lose our friendship.”
“I can’t make any promises on that front. What I can do is share my thoughts on the matter and voice my outrage. Short of endorsing you, that’s about it.”
She was the only one who smiled.
“I appreciate that, Niko. Tomorrow I’m taping my response to that horrible ad. Hopefully, it will air tomorrow night.”
“I’ll be watching.”
Two seconds passed.
Niko stood feet away, arms crossed, his expression once again unreadable. “It’s late, and we both have busy days tomorrow.”
“You’re right.” Monique reached for her purse. “Thanks for seeing me, Niko.”
“Teresa’s call was right on time.” He walked to the door and opened it. “See you later, Monique.”
She paused, uncertain. He did not look at her. “Okay, then. Good night.”
Monique walked to the car with a heavy heart. For a moment she just sat there, as regret mixed with sadness and filled her soul. As an attorney, she’d always prided herself on being meticulous in her fact gathering, diligent in her research. Where had that discipline been when she’d seen the ad?
There was not one thing Niko had said that hadn’t been accurate. She should have known that he’d never do anything like this to her. At the very least, he should have been given the benefit of the doubt. But that hadn’t happened. And now, Monique realized as she started the car and headed back to her condo, it may be too late to get back what they had.
The next day went by in a blur: meetings, the taping, more meetings, an appearance at the local grocery store and still more meetings. Monique welcomed the nonstop pace. It helped her forget how sexy Niko had looked in that towel last night, how much she’d wanted to feel his embrace and, most of all, the hurt she’d seen in his soulful brown eyes. By the time she joined her staff for dinner at the Cove Café, she’d almost put last night out of her mind. What couldn’t be forgotten, however, was that almost everyone in P.C. had seen the negative ad, evidenced by the myriad of looks she now received. She forged ahead, greeted everyone with a smile and invited them to hear the other side of the story, airing tonight on their local news.
“What time is it?” her volunteer coordinator asked.
Lance looked at his watch. “Almost eight o’clock.” He looked at Monique. “Are you sure you don’t want to watch it? We can make it to my house in time.”
Monique shook her head. “I’ve watched it a dozen times already. I did my best and told the truth. It’s now up to the citizens to decide who they’ll believe.”
The first response came about fifteen minutes later, as they were finishing their meal. A middle-aged woman who Monique remembered worked at the grocery store walked up to their table.