"I checked your house but no answer. I figured you must be here... I hoped you were."

Jesus Christ, I'm not imagining this... right? "Yeah... I wanted to get some work done."

"I admire your work ethic... It's very attractive."

I smile, gesturing him forward. He does so awkwardly, holding up a brown bag.

"I really didn't know what to do so I brought pastries."

I smile as he sets them down on my desk. "You can never go wrong with pastries."

"I've always thought so."

I watch him as he sits down opposite me, awed by the fact that he's actually here before me.

"What are you doing here, Tristan? Isn't this dangerous?"

"Yes."

"You shouldn't be here."

"I know... I-I had to come."

I look down at my hands before I stand up swiftly. "Coffee?"

He blinks, nodding. "Please."

I walk to my kettle, pouring some into a mug. "You like it black, right?"

"Yes."

I walk it over to him and he stands, chuckling after a moment.

"What?"

He looks at me as we both take our seats again. "I'm sure you're wondering what I'm doing here."

"Yeah, I am. It must be big since you could get caught for coming here. She obviously knows where I work."

"My driver is currently driving around Chicago. I went out the back way and walked here."

"Really?"

"Yes."

"Okay, so what was so important you needed to do all that?"

"... Would you be upset if I said it was just to see you?"

I feel my heart pound- hard. I sit back, shaking my head. "Tristan, we- we talked about this-"

"And I can't accept it. I can't accept that this is over."

Neither can I. "I'm sorry."

He leans forward, grabbing my hand on the desk. I gasp as he entwines our fingers. "I will get out of this. I will find a way... You mean so much to me, Genevieve. You have to know that."

"How could I know that?" I utter, pulling my hand from his. "How could I possibly know that anything you're telling me is true?"

He stares at me for a moment before he nods. "... The only thing I can tell you is trust me."

"You're asking a lot considering the past couple of weeks."

"I know I am."

"What was that letter all about, anyway? Did you really have to do that after the fucking interview?"

"Well, I actually did. She literally sent that to you... She watched me as I wrote it and took it to the mail."

Dude... "She sounds like she needs help."

"I agree with you... Absolutely. It's not even the fact that she's cruel... She truly isn't. She's just... sick."

I stare at the lipstick mark on my coffee cup, inhaling a brave breath. "Have you slept with her?"

He looks up from the ground, eyes wide. "Absolutely not."

"How have you done that? I mean, she's this crazy about you and-"

"It's not like this is a normal relationship, Genevieve. She's blackmailing me. I can barely stand to look at her, so much as touch her and she knows that."

"... I don't know if I believe you, Tristan."

"I wish there were a way to show you what you mean to me... I've always been wealthy. I've always had- some type of power in a situation. I'm completely screwed here... My father. I don't know how to get him out of this."

"Did you know about- whatever it was that he's done?"

"Yes, I knew. I've been helping conceal it for almost a decade now. I thought I had all the evidence... I didn't."

"What has he said about all of this?"

"Not much. I haven't- I've told him someone is holding this over my head. I haven't said who."

"You should... Maybe he can fix things?"

"No, this is a clear crime. There is no maybe's- he'd go to jail if this came out."

As he drinks his coffee for the first time since he sat down, I'm unable to tear my gaze from him. How can I be so attracted to someone I can't trust? He clearly is being blackmailed; I don't believe I have any doubts about that now... And if that were the case... There is a good chance he never wanted to leave me. There is a good chance that he means it when he says he left because he was trying to protect me.

It's just hard to forget the hurt.

As I try to rationalize my thoughts, I don't even notice him standing up. He walks to the wall, pointing at a painting. It's a recreation of Monet's Reflections of Clouds on Water-Lily Pond- one of my favorite's in his Water Lily series.

"Monet?"

I nod, smiling. " Yes."

"It's very beautiful."

"Did you see the one that was at the exhibit?"

"Yeah, I did. I wish I had been able to get around to see them all."

"I'd say I could show you pictures but I don't think they'd do them justice."

His mouth turns up softly, showcasing the deep dimples on his stubbled cheeks. After a hesitant moment, I set down my coffee, remembering that our oil exhibit isn't officially open to the public until tomorrow.

"Do you have some time?"

He nods, walking back over to the desk, hands in his pockets. "Yeah, I have time."

"... Take a walk with me."

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