Vanquished (The Encounter #3)(10)

Written By: Pamela Ann



“Isobel?”

For a moment, the fogginess temporarily vanished as I spun around to face her with a questioning look. “Yeah? What’s up?” I asked.

She pressed her lips together, looking as though she was trying in earnest not to send me a pitiful face. “I love you. I do. I deeply care about your well-being … and I know you’re going through a difficult time, but I believe it’s high time you wash your hair, my love.” She made a pained face. “If I let you carry on, ’you’ll have a bird’s nest in a day’s time.”

Her obvious concern took me aback a little before I snorted loudly. There was no doubt I was beyond flabbergasted, but somehow, I found myself hysterically laughing at my hideous physical state.

“Oh, dear. I’m looking like a fright, aren’t I?” My gurgled laughter began to produce hot tears. I couldn’t stop, realizing how ridiculous ’I had become. “I’m sorry. I truly am. Please accept my apology, and I promise you I will wash my hair after I have my coffee.”

Claire gave me the most endearing hug before bestowing a kiss on my forehead and telling me that Hugo was an idiot. I didn’t comment on her remark. Everything inside me felt too raw. I wasn’t ready to talk about it. I mean, how often did a woman place herself out in the open, unbarred, barefaced with her heart on her sleeve, willing to fight for the love she had thought she almost had, just to be warmly rejected in the most caring manner? I had the worst flashbacks of those last moments with him each time I shut my eyes.

I was thankful Claire didn’t often intrude on my personal process of mending my brokenness. She knew when to stay put and leave me alone and when to also chime in on her concerns.

Making a mental note to truly give myself a full-bodied wash-up, I brewed the coffee, waited for a bit until it was ready, and then savored it.

Retreating back to my room, I contemplated going to school. I sat on the edge of the mattress, looking about my cozy, plush surroundings, knowing everything this flat consisted of had been bought and paid for by Hugo Xavier. He most likely had hired someone to furnish the place before gifting it to me, too. It was another grand gesture.

Even though I was hurt by his rejection, I couldn’t bring myself to hate him. He didn’t deserve that, most especially since he had given and provided me with so much. He was unforgettable.

Amidst my chaotic thoughts, my phone rang, cutting through the mindless fog that had plagued me to no end. Without will, I decided to let the call go to voicemail. Nothing sparked my interest. Getting calls from friends, most especially from Damen, didn’t do much to lift my spirits.

I sighed the second the ringing stopped. That moment of relief lasted seconds until the caller blasted the phone once again. This process kept on, and when it was on the fifth call, I was so tired and annoyed by it all that I was ready to surrender and answer the damn call.

Reaching for my phone, I took a deep breath before answering with, “What do you want?”

“It’s great to know that you’ve finally managed to pick up one of my calls after leaving you, what, thirty voice messages?” Julien’s replied in that heavily familiar French accent, drawling into my ear.

I had been ignoring his calls on purpose. A part of it was due to the fact that I had made him my cowardly excuse to make Hugo jealous, which was, of course, poorly executed. Even after that heated conversation he’d had with Hugo, Julien had still remained persistent in being a friend to me. It was something to be grateful for. I knew that, and I was grateful … but I wasn’t ready to talk about my disastrous decisions, and given how he had been relentlessly trying to touch base ever since I had gotten back, I had the impression he was going to interrogate me. He probably wanted to hear my side of the story, which wasn’t much really. It was mortifying, yet I knew I had to get this over with sooner or later—well, right this instant, it seemed.

“It’s a moment of weakness. Don’t make me change my mind, Julien.”

He laughed throatily at my attempt to threaten him. “I’m guessing you haven’t listened to any of those messages by the way you’re responding to me. I have no desire to question your motives. I’m just calling to check in to see if you’re doing well.”

Julien was such a great friend, one with immense patience for my sporadic tendencies and Hugo’s temper.

“I’m like what one would expect—not great, but getting on with life, I suppose.” It was a far cry from that, but there was no point in letting the man know how dire my situation really was. He would more than likely relay the message to Hugo, and that would be the last thing I needed. Besides, I was going for a clean slate, and I might eventually have to cut my ties with Julien, as well—temporarily, of course.

“You’ve given me quite a colorful argument with Hugo. It didn’t help that the sadist part of me wanted the poor man to suffer with his own arrogance for a little bit longer than necessary. I suppose I should thank you for that. It truly gave me another chance to tease the jealous fool.”

“Any time.” I wasn’t sure what it was with Julien, but he sure loved to tease and mentally torture Hugo. Maybe it was how they showed they cared for one another … in the oddest ways imaginable. The love-hate dynamic was refreshing in a sense, but anyone who saw them interact could easily see how much they cared for each other. At the end of the day, that was what counted most—to have a friend who would be there through the laughter, nightmares, and tears.