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Author’s note: Thank you all for the reactions to the previous chapter!
Hutchison12 – I’m glad you enjoyed so much the last chappie!
1moeannie – Ryan is in love 🙂 and much wishing to make a grand gesture! As for Adrian… this new chappie is all about him! (Jared’s conclusion will come a lil’ bit later)
LASFSEA – Adrian will follow the advice… in his own way, as you will see right away!
BlowPopJ – Your feeling is just right!
Baladeer – thank you for liking my story!
Anon – I’m sad to hear that, but I don’t think Jared would be the kind to move on quickly. He’s hung up on his hurt, and while that’s a flaw, I believe is in line with his character.
Chapter Twenty-Four – He Said …
He rarely drove, and his car was used to catch dust in the parking lot, but he had to do it for this particular quest. Adrian stood, his mind a haze, his hands resting still on the wheel, a few yards away from Edward’s house. He had rehearsed everything he wanted to say over and over, but his words became a mess the more he repeated them. Clasping the wheel tightly, he was about to get out of the car when the large gate to the mansion opened, and Edward’s limousine passed through. By the looks of it, the owner of the house was on the backseat.
Without overthinking, Adrian ignited the engine. What was he supposed to do now? Follow him? It sounded stalkerish, but Adrian didn’t care about nuances at this point. For the fourth night that week, he had caught almost no sleep. No matter how final Edward’s words from their last meeting had sounded, he needed one last explanation and definitive answer. He could only hope that Edward would be honest and tell him the truth. All that talk with the boys had convinced him that it was the most important thing he had to try.
The limousine didn’t hurry, whatever the destination was, and Adrian prayed silently that it wouldn’t be some fancy club where only members could enter. To his relief, the car stopped in front of a restaurant, and Edward was helped out of the backseat by his driver, who ceremoniously held the door.
From one side, someone walked over to Edward, and Adrian froze. Even from that distance, it appeared that the newcomer was a young man, no, probably a teenager, dressed in an expensive suit. Little else could be said about his features. There seemed to be affection between Edward and him as they shook hands and kissed each other on the cheeks before walking inside together.
The wave of jealousy clouding his judgment for a moment took him completely by surprise. So, it hadn’t taken Edward long to replace Adrian. Or, worse, he hadn’t had to do that; that thought brought a pang to his chest that stopped his breathing for a moment. He was a complete moron. Adrian pursed his lips. Well, if that was the truth, at least, now, he knew where he stood.
He walked into the restaurant with a nonchalant gait that was nothing but an act. He approached the maître d’ with a charming smile. “I’m with Mr. Hastings,” he explained, after greeting the man.
The maître d’ quirked a thin eyebrow and examined the log in front of him.
“If you could just point me to that table, that would be wonderful,” Adrian said as he quickly scanned the floor. He noticed Edward and his companion at a table in a corner. “Ah, I see them. Thank you for your assistance.”
The maître d’ stood nonplussed for just one second, and then he hurried from behind his desk. “Mr. Hastings is down with just one other person. Would you please let me check with him, first, sir?” the man said politely, but firmly.
Adrian was already walking toward Edward. He could see him just fine, but he couldn’t make of his companion anything else but the back of his head. The young man had blond hair, a bit on the rebellious side by how it was sticking everywhere, and Adrian thought, with petty satisfaction, that he didn’t fit Edward’s pretensions for a perfect presentation.
“Sir, sir?” The maître d’ sounded alarmed now and sauntered after Adrian.
The ruckus didn’t pass unnoticed, as a few people at the tables stopped their conversation to observe what was happening. Edward raised his eyes and met Adrian’s. For a second, he appeared surprised, but then his face schooled itself into a neutral demeanor. He stood up from his chair and gestured for Adrian.
Was Edward secretly taking acting classes? No one could suspect what he was thinking. Adrian felt a small chill down his back; it could be that he had never really known Edward, and he was simply delusional in his misplaced affection.
“Mr. Hastings, is this gentleman with you?” the maître d’ asked in a slightly annoyed tone.
“Yes. Apologies for not letting you know in advance. It simply slipped my mind.”
The maître d’ turned into a sycophant in an instant, murmuring apologies. “I will send another menu to your table right away.”
“Thank you, Mr. Garmont,” Edward said, inclining his head an inch. “Adrian, please have a seat.”
It was fucking surreal. The plan wasn’t to walk in and sit kaçak iddaa politely at the same table with Edward and his latest conquest, or whoever that young man was. Adrian pursed his lips hard, but Edward warned him with his eyes. He pulled the chair and sat, although his teeth were grinding at the moment.
Edward’s companion was examining him with curious eyes. Adrian stole a glance at him. Fuck, he was young and pretty. His big blue eyes were like taken from a commercial, and Adrian had to keep himself from staring. He couldn’t be older than eighteen, and even that was a bit of a stretch. Boy, Edward liked them young, he thought with spite.
“Well,” Edward started, once the maître d’ was out of earshot, “to what occasion do I owe the pleasure?”
“We still have things to talk about,” Adrian said, staring down stubbornly. He was afraid he would feel tempted to strangle someone, preferably Edward, if he looked up.
“You could have called.”
“And you could have turned down my calls.”
They spoke in low voices, and Edward smiled a few times perfunctorily until the interest around them died down. Adrian wasn’t that good an actor.
“All right. This is not the time, nor the place -” Edward started.
Adrian turned toward the teenager sitting at the table who took in everything with eyes big as saucers. “How about you go powder your nose or something, sugar?”
The blue eyes widened so much that it felt like they were bent on swallowing the young man’s entire face. “Sugar?” He snickered and looked at Edward. “Who’s this, Ed?”
“None of your business, plaything,” Adrian said through his teeth.
“Plaything?” The youngster didn’t appear offended, just surprised.
“Yeah,” Adrian said, now too worked up. “Edward, I had no idea you like your lovers this young. Barely legal,” he added, after throwing another condescending look in the direction of Edward’s companion. “You could have told me this is how you roll.”
Edward frowned. “Keep your voice down, Adrian. This is my cousin -“
“Is this Adrian?” The teenager was obviously excited. “O.M.G.” He grabbed Adrian’s arm and leaned over the table to have a good look at him. “He is so frigging sexy!”
“Christian, do I have to reprimand you, too?” Edward became a bit aggravated.
Christian’s eyes moved between Edward and Adrian, and then he nodded thoughtfully. “You two have matching dark circles.”
Adrian looked at Edward. His aristocratic face was drawn, and he appeared tired, which was unlike him. Tough day at work? What could make Edward, who always seemed sharp no matter the moment of the day, look like that? He was still elegant, his hair was still brushed to perfection, but his eyes were dull.
“Your cousin? This is your cousin?” Adrian asked.
“Edward is my fifth cousin, once removed,” Christian explained, although the question hadn’t been directed at him.
Adrian didn’t know what to say for a moment. Some of his righteous anger was gone, and he needed to regroup his thoughts. Somewhat intrigued, he turned toward Christian. “How do you know about me?” he asked directly.
Christian seemed to have barely waited to be asked that. “Are you kidding me? Ed told me all about you! And boy, you do live up to expectations. How was the test?”
“The test?” Adrian wanted to turn toward Edward for confirmation, but he was too interested in what Christian had to say.
“Don’t tell me he didn’t introduce you to the family,” Christian said, emphasizing the last word.
“What is your cousin talking about?” Adrian asked Edward this time.
Christian was about to say something again.
“Christian Marshall The Third,” Edward said in a voice that brooked no contradiction.
That appeared to have all of the unruly youth’s attention. “You didn’t, right?” Christian asked in a subdued voice. “But why?”
Edward worked his jaw.
“That’s what I would like to know, too,” Adrian said.
“You’re here to reproach me something,” Edward replied instead. “Go ahead and do your best. But please, don’t make a scene. I’d like to come back here.”
Adrian drew one deep breath. “Are we doing this in front of your cousin?”
“When you walked in here, with murder in your eyes, you didn’t appear to care. Do your worst,” Edward said. He seemed upset, and Adrian was a tad disconcerted by that. The tables had somewhat turned, and he had no idea how or why.
“You still came.” Adrian drew one deep breath. “Even if you thought all was over between us, you still came and met me. Why?”
Edward shrugged. “It was a whim.”
Christian intervened. “What are you guys talking about? It’s over between you two? When did that happen?”
Adrian wanted Christian to keep on talking, but Edward stared down his cousin, muting him.
“I don’t buy it,” Adrian said incisively.
“I’m sorry, but I have nothing else to sell,” Edward replied in kind.
“How did you two split up?” Christian intervened.
Adrian knew that very moment that he was a man with nothing to lose. His eyes never leaving kaçak bahis Edward, he gave Christian the answer he was waiting for. “I told Edward that I loved him, and he left.”
“Wow,” Christian whispered, aware of not talking too loud to attract attention. “So, you’re a coward, after all, Ed?”
“My thought exactly,” Adrian said, feeling vindicated a little by that confirmation.
“You two know nothing about me,” Edward spat. “Now, if everything is clear -“
“Nothing’s clear!” Adrian said the same thing as Christian almost at the same time.
“I will not tolerate the two of you making a scene here,” Edward warned.
“Then you must tell me about this test Christian is talking about, and explain why you didn’t think I should take it.”
“I thought you were done playing.”
“That’s not it.”
Christian intervened again, now in a conspiratorial voice. “Ed brings home to mom and dad only the potentials.”
“Potentials?” Adrian began whispering, too. “For what?”
“For marriage, of course,” Christian said in the most natural manner.
“Marriage?” Adrian couldn’t believe his ears.
“That’s it. I’m done with the two of you.” Edward threw his napkin he had been playing with for the last minutes on the table and stood up. “I’ll pretend to attend to certain needs in the hope that you, Adrian, won’t be here when I get back.”
Adrian stared at Edward’s retreating back and shook his head. He knew he had to hurry after him, but, once, he didn’t want to make a scene, and two, he wanted to hear more explanations from Christian.
“Christian, you seem like a swell guy,” Adrian started.
“You, too,” Christian replied and smiled. “You thought I was Ed’s boyfriend? Were you jealous?”
This one looked like he favorited gossip as a type of entertainment. But he seemed like a reliable source of information, and Adrian could see past that, especially since Christian appeared to be an ally, too.
“Yes, madly jealous,” Adrian admitted. “Now, tell me, what’s this talk about marriage? Edward told me clearly that he doesn’t believe in such things.”
Nor in love.
“Well, that’s an act,” Christian explained. “His parents are so afraid he might end up with a gold digger that they are willing to go out of their ways to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
“How, exactly?” Adrian was more puzzled by the second.
“They promised they will disown Edward the moment he finds a guy to marry.”
“Wow. So what’s the test?”
Christian smiled, happy to gossip away. “Edward takes home the potential husband, and then his parents let the guy know that not only he won’t see a dime, but that Edward won’t see one from them, ever again, either.”
“And?” Adrian didn’t sense any of the earlier puzzlement going away.
“And,” Christian sighed, “they kind of got it right because all the guys bailed out the moment they heard that.”
“No shit.” Adrian was surprised. “So, why the hell didn’t I get put to the test?”
Christian shrugged. “Beats me. Of all the others, it looked like Edward liked you the most.”
“For real?” Adrian felt his head buzzing with possibilities.
Christian nodded with conviction. “He talked so much about you. Truth be told,” he lowered his voice and looked around, “I thought I could hear the wedding bells this time around.”
“So, you have no idea why I didn’t get put to this test?” Adrian asked, just to make it sure.
Christian shook his head slowly. “None. I mean, I had no idea you two broke up. And Ed tells me everything.”
Seeing what a gossip Christian was, Adrian doubted that, but he hoped he was wrong. “I must go after him and confront him. Do you have any idea where the bathroom is in this place?”
Christian pointed him in the right direction. “I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you.”
“Thanks, man. Great meeting you.”
Adrian walked purposefully; he had another thing to make clear now.
The bathroom of a fancy restaurant was not the ideal backdrop for romantic conversation, but Adrian had a feeling whatever they had to share wouldn’t be that. His anger returned as he walked in and saw Edward resting his hands against the edge of a sink the size of a small apartment, while the water ran.
“Not caring about saving the planet and all that?” Adrian opened with a joke.
Edward looked at him and turned off the tap. “I can see that you’re not well trained, after all. I thought I was clear.”
Adrian couldn’t care an iota about whatever lies flew out of Edward’s mouth right now. He walked toward him until he forced Edward to stand upright so that they could stare at one another. “You left me with your cousin, knowing fully well that he would tell me everything about that weird family test.”
“And?” Edward looked up to a fight. He was no longer cool and collected, his usual self. And the dark circles under his eyes were proof that he was still human, after all.
“Why? Why didn’t I get put through the wringer, like everyone else?”
“Why? Are you sure you don’t know illegal bahis the answer already?”
“Enlighten me. I’m not that clever, as you said before.”
Edward bore his eyes into Adrian’s. “I suppose Christian explained that only men who I deem worthy of being introduced to the family are invited to meet my parents.”
“So? I’m not worthy? Why? Because of my humble origins?” Adrian parodied the words.
“Not at all. That’s not an issue. We two established from the get-go that we weren’t involved with some happily-ever-after in the cards. I thought you and I were on the same page.”
“You mean, you just tried to protect yourself. But if that were true, why would you approach me in the first place? After all, it appears that you are after a husband.”
“Maybe I’m not always after that.”
They were so close, Adrian could see tiny speckles of gold in Edward’s eyes. He could kiss him, right there, stop him from talking nonsense, but that wouldn’t be right. Some things had to be said.
“Bullshit,” Adrian said, getting dangerously close.
Edward didn’t waver. “Believe what you want. I played fair.”
“Like hell you did. Tell me, Edward, what are you afraid of, hmm?”
“Let me tell you if you’re so hard-headed that you don’t want to admit. You’re afraid of commitment. You want to have your cake and eat it. You’re not sure that you could give up on your parents’ wealth for the sake of love.” Adrian was getting worked up with each word. Good thing the restaurant wasn’t packed, and so far, there had been no interruptions from other patrons. He got into Edward’s face to deliver the final blow. “You told me to be the man because you’re afraid to be one.” With that, he took a step back. “I think I got my answer.”
“You got nothing. You talked and talked.” Edward had blanched during Adrian’s speech, to the point that now he looked alarmingly pale. “You have no idea what I’m afraid of.”
“Oh, really? Then why don’t you illuminate me, Your Majesty?”
Edward seemed to hesitate for a moment.
“Spit it out,” Adrian said abruptly. “I’ve already lost all my sleeping hours this week because of you.”
That appeared to surprise Edward, which was strange, seeing that Christian had pointed out loud that they both had matching dark circles. Could it be that Edward doubted his feelings? After Adrian had practically bitten a big fat bullet to say those cheesy words that, as lame as they were, told the truth and nothing but?
“I’m afraid,” Edward said slowly, punctuating every word, “that you’re like everyone else.”
Adrian remained dumbfounded for a moment, although he had suspected as much during their little conversation. “Pardon my French, Your Majesty, but are you fucking stupid?”
“Insulting me won’t get you anywhere. It is my right to maintain an illusion if that’s what it takes.”
Adrian moved and took Edward’s hand. It was cold and clammy. “Put me through that frigging test.”
“It’s not a test. Christian is talking nonsense. My family is looking out for me.”
“Which I can and am willing to do. Even better than them,” Adrian said, fully aware of the aggressiveness in his voice.
Edward appeared as if his determination succumbed under Adrian’s assault. But then, he shook his head. “I liked you, Adrian. Allow me to have that. And you talk like someone who has never been truly tempted. I apologize, but I will not let you go through it.”
“You must be kidding me,” Adrian said under his breath. “I want you. Isn’t it enough?”
Edward pulled his hand free and let out a coarse laugh. “You’re not the kind to marry. What are you even talking about?”
“I’d marry you,” Adrian said with nonchalance.
Edward sighed, and some of his usual control returned. “I don’t need you to mess up my life just so that you can prove a point. This is goodbye, Adrian, for real. Please leave me alone.”
Adrian wanted to argue some more, but someone came in. Edward warned him with his eyes. Well, he got some answers, and a new idea was taking root in his mind. He hurried out without saying another word to Edward.
Christian waved at him, the moment he saw him. “How did it go?” he asked excitedly.
“If I give you my number, will you call me?” Adrian interrupted him.
Christian nodded and stole a look behind Adrian. For his plan to be flawless, he didn’t need Edward to catch a whiff of what he was planning. He placed one card on the table, and Christian grabbed it swiftly. At least, there was someone in that family Adrian sensed he would like very much.
Without another word or look behind, he was out. When he had said that he would win the game for Edward, he had told the truth.
Some of what Edward had said about having his Sundays filled with obligations made sense now, Adrian thought after his conversation with Christian. The kid was fun, and Adrian had ended up spending a couple of hours talking to him on the phone. His plan had been received with a lot of enthusiasm, and Adrian felt comforted by the thought that he had an ally behind the enemy lines. Jared and Mike both had called to check on him, both careful about his feelings, but Adrian no longer felt like moping, and his best friends didn’t need to worry.
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