But after that—-
He remembered calling his driver to let him know he was no longer needed, remembered getting inside Daniela’s car. He remembered the two of them talking, and when they realized that they could be putting his own family in danger by taking her home with him, they had mutually decided that it was better for her to check in at a hotel instead.
He remembered having dinner in her suite, followed by drinks—-
And then nothing.
His lips tightened.
Daniela’s smile faded at the look on his face. “What is it?”
He said tautly, “I don’t remember anything happening between us.” Daniela fell silent, and he cursed under his breath. “I know that came out wrong, and—-”
“Vassi. I’m five-foot-five, and I weigh one hundred and ten. Do you really think I could have carried you all the way to the bedroom and have my wicked way with you?”
Vassi had no answer to that.
“We had some drinks last night, and clearly it was more than what was right for you, if you can’t remember anything that happened—-” She broke off all of a sudden, and when he saw hurt flashing in her eyes, he knew he only had himself to blame.
“I’m sorry,” he forced himself to say. “None of this is your fault—-”
She said in a small voice, “I didn’t ever think it was.”
“I’ve always liked you, Vassi. I just didn’t let you know because I thought I never had a chance, and it’s why I keep dating bad boys. I was trying to look for someone like you.”
Vassi forced his face to stay expressionless even as her words made him feel sick inside. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Looking at her now, he knew every word she spoke was true, just as he knew that all these years, he had only deliberately blinded himself to it.
“Last night…you kissed me, and it was the happiest moment of my life.”
She raised her gaze to his, saying sadly, “But it’s not the same for you, is it? You still love Seri, don’t you?”
“Vassi, it’s just the two of us in the car. There’s no need to lie.” Her voice shook as she said, “You don’t love me. You can’t because it’s Seri you love—-”
“Daniela.” She was right. It was just the two of them in the car, and seeing how much it had cost Daniela to say the words, guilt made Vassi say, “It’s not what you think.” Inhaling sharply, he forced himself to continue, saying, “You’re right. I don’t love you. But I don’t love her either.”
“I don’t believe you—-”
“Have I ever lied to you?”
Her gaze turned uncertain. “No.”
“Then believe me when I say I don’t love her. I might have thought I had, but I no longer do.”
“But I’ve seen the way you stare at her when you think she’s not looking—-”
“If you’ve seen me staring at her,” he grated out, “it was because I couldn’t understand why I could fall for someone like her. That’s all.”
Daniela looked down. “I see.”
Vassi tightened his hands on the steering wheel. “I’m sorry I didn’t notice all these years, D.”
Lifting her gaze to meet his, she said with a strained smile, “T-that’s not your fault either.”
Silence reigned, tense and painful, for the remainder of the ride. When they made it to the hotel, Vassi went around to open the car door for her, but he was too late.
Daniela had already stepped out, and she was smiling brightly at him. “No need,” she told him with false cheer. “You never used to open doors for me before.”
Feeling even guiltier at the way she was obviously forcing herself, he said curtly, “Nothing happened between us then.”
She waited for him to finish signing the slip for valet service before muttering fiercely, “I just want you to stop giving me unnecessary hope. Okay?”
He said with a sigh, “I’m sorry, D.” It was unlike him to commit one mistake after another.
As they walked inside the lobby, members of the media tried to rush towards them before being quickly held back by security.
He pulled her close to him immediately, not wanting Daniela accidentally jostled or shoved.
As she burrowed into his chest, he heard her say, “Can I ask a favor?”
“Another one?” he managed to say lightly as he led them towards the function hall where the press conference was being held.
“Don’t treat me differently. Please. I know you can’t ever love me, but we can at least stay friends, right?”
His arm around her shoulders tightened at the request. “Right.”
They entered the function hall through the back door then, and waiting production assistants immediately escorted them up the stage. The rest of the cast was already seated, together with the sound and art directors.
After pulling a chair for Daniela, he forced himself to turn to Seri and ruffled her hair, knowing it was what was expected of him. “Hey.”