London’s voice now shook with anger. “Don’t think everybody who smells good and looks nice has lived perfect, trouble-free lives. I’ve gone through things, okay?”
London stepped to him, lowered her voice to a whisper, her eyes shining. “Like being violated, physically, against my will. Don’t be so quick to judge, Ace. Some people carry scars the world can’t see.”
London’s cell phone pinged. She snatched it up along with her clutch and ran out the door.
But she didn’t. She ran from Ace, and her past, to a dinner party where laughter and loud music would make her forget. Just as they always had.
Ace felt worse than horrible. He felt numb. Just after midnight London had sent a text. I’m safe, it began. Typed with sarcasm, Ace imagined. Followed by the news that she wouldn’t be returning to the house. That she’d meet them at the venue. He’d gone to bed then. But unable to sleep, he’d spent the night tossing and turning.
London’s parting words echoed on a loop in his head. No, not London. It was Clarisse who’d spoke the truth last night. Who’d looked at him with quivering lips, whose eyes had watered with vulnerability and unresolved pain. Don’t think everybody who smells good and looks nice has lived perfect, trouble-free lives…lives…lives. I’ve gone through things, okay? Like being violated…violated…violated. Don’t be so quick to judge…judge…judge. Some people carry scars the world can’t see. The world can’t see. The world can’t see.
He’d instructed Frida to let him know the moment London arrived. He found her in hair and makeup. “Can I have a word with you?”
“Sure. What’s up?”
The armor was on. The guard was up. London had returned.
“In private, please. Just a couple minutes.”
“Okay, but that’s all I’ve got.”
She got up from the chair and followed Ace into the hallway. She stood there, arms crossed, looking away.
“About last night… I’m sorry.”
“Please, I understand the tough-girl thing.”
London gave him the side eye.
His hands raised in defense. “Okay, appreciate would be a better way to say it. I appreciate you being defensive. After how I acted last night, you have every right. I was way out of line. Judging, like you said. Inserting myself where I didn’t belong. I didn’t know…”
He watched her jaw ripple as she clenched and unclenched it. “Nobody does.”
“Nobody? Not even your family?”
“I don’t want to talk about it. We’ve got a show to do. I need to get ready.”
Over. Done. She walked away.
There was a saying in entertainment—the show must go on. It did. And again, London was everything. Like life was perfect. Like she didn’t have a care in the world. After a finale that garnered a two-minute standing ovation, she walked off the stage, changed clothes and left the building. London was done with Europe. Ace left the country believing she might also be done with OTB Her…and him.
Back home, OTB remained closed for the rest of the week, to give those who’d managed the four-week fashion jaunt some well-deserved time off. Ace spent time with his parents, Christine and Hank, and was happy when an old college buddy invited him to Vegas for a weekend with the boys. Gave him a chance to escape his thoughts and not think about the unreturned phone calls he’d placed to London. And what that meant. She ignored him, yet he was reminded of her every waking moment. Ads, the OTB website, catalogs and press. As if that wasn’t enough, she’d invaded his dreams, as well. Turned them into nightmares. Last night he’d dreamed someone had snatched her backstage at a fashion show. He woke up trying to sprint with legs entangled in sheets.
Monday finally arrived and along with it the fashion-week wrap-up, a recap and brainstorming meeting held twice a year. As much as he wanted to get back to work, he wasn’t necessarily thrilled about this meeting and what he had to share with the team. But after wading through a slew of emails, returning a couple urgent phone calls and plotting out the week’s to-do list, Ace walked into the company break room for a fortifying cup of joe. Tyler was there already, eating empty calories covered in glaze.