TWENTY-EIGHT

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 I was chewing on my lip, tapping nervously on the table in front of me.

This was really happening.

I glanced over to my dad sitting on my left, then to George sitting on my right. The ceiling fan went round and round and round, and I could hear ticking on the wall of the tiny room.

It had taken me a couple of days to come to a decision, but after mulling over my dad's words... I decided to settle after all.

I wasn't going to let LA Beauty get away with what they'd done though. I would find another way to bring them down for good. But for now... with the road trip planned (which Connor and Kurt had happily agreed to let me join them on) and my budding new career... I decided it would be for the best.

Brielle had agreed to step in as backup if the settlement didn't go to plan—so I was comforted knowing there was a Plan B to all of this.

At long last, the door opened—making me jolt. Audrey Bloom and Lana Fairbanks walked into the room, and it was as if an icy chill had settled over us. They were followed by a man who I assumed must be their lawyer. He exchanged only a polite nod with us as he sat down opposite us.

Audrey and Lana both glared at me, and I felt like shrinking back into my seat. But with my dad and my lawyer at my side, I was able to hold myself confidently as they took a seat.

"So... we hear you want to settle," the lawyer began, clearing his throat.

Audrey was barely acknowledging me now. Her focus was on her bag, rummaging until she pulled out a neat stack of paperwork and slid it over to us. "We have terms—we expect to be paid in full."

Lana folded her arms and smirked at me. I did my best to ignore her.

"I'm afraid that's not what's happening here," George replied smoothly. "My client has been through quite the ordeal. You left her stranded in a foreign country."

"She was sabotaging us from the inside," Audrey said slowly, cruelly. "We let her go."

"I see," George replied. "The same way you let Brielle Tanner go?"

Audrey stiffened slightly, but her expression never betrayed her.

"Brielle has nothing to do with this," her lawyer said.

George leaned in slowly.

"Brielle has agreed to share her testimony in court—if she does, it is quite certain that your company will be revealed for targeting multiple online personalities and brands with campaigns designed to slander them and turn the public against them. All of this will come out in court. My client may suffer some very light consequences but such negative attention would surely destroy your company's reputation."

Audrey seemed lost for words. She opened her mouth and closed it. Lana glanced at her warily, and I was almost certain there was fear in her eyes. The lawyer leaned over to whisper with the two ladies.

"You don't need the money, Miss. Bloom—and quite frankly, my client doesn't want anything more to do with you. So our proposal is this... you drop the charges, and we'll leave you alone for good. We won't bring Brielle into this, we won't bother you ever again."

I nearly protested but my dad nudged my leg before I could open my mouth. A feeling of panic shot through me—I had no intention of dropping this. But Audrey seemed to be truly considering the offer... so I bit my tongue. Perhaps I could find a quieter way to bring her down.

Finally, the lawyer cleared his throat and said,

"We accept."

I blinked. Just like that? Nothing more? I had expected this to be more difficult—but I guess it was clear as day they would lose. Audrey looked bitter and Lana looked a little shocked, but George got to work signing the agreement papers and soon it was all done. The three of them left with barely a farewell, and as soon as the door swung shut, my dad let out a sigh of relief.

He turned to me.

"You made the right choice, sweetheart," he said. I nodded slowly.

I hoped I had.

***

That evening, I was on the phone to Brielle as I packed. The boys were leaving in a couple of days for their trip, but I wanted to get a head start. I was super excited.

I hadn't told Wesley yet—I needed to do that ASAP.

"Well, I'm glad everything went well," Brielle said from the other end of the speakerphone as I folded a shirt. "Now we can put this behind us forever."

I paused mid-fold.

"I mean... I don't know if I'm done with it yet," I hinted. "But for now, yes. I'm just going to let things blow over and focus on getting away for a while."

"I think that could be good for you," Brielle said, and I could hear the smile in her voice. "Well... thanks for letting me know."

"Of course," I replied, and placed the last clothing item into my suitcase. "Thanks for helping us out."

I bid her goodnight and hung up, then zipped my bag up.

"Where are you going?" came a quiet voice. I spun around and saw Wesley hovering in the doorway. He wore a frown.

Guilt plunged through me.

"I... decided to go with Connor and Kurt on their road trip," I admitted carefully, gauging his reaction. "We're going to visit my mum while we're at it."

He seemed taken aback.

"You are, huh?" he asked.

Was he upset? Wait... had this been a bad idea?

"I—I just wanted to get away for a little while," I said quickly. "You know, the media and all. And it was a good opportunity. It's only for a couple of months. I'll be back before you know it!"

He nodded slowly, leaning against the doorframe.

"I get it," he said, nodding. "Yeah. You should go, it'll be good for you."

I winced.

"Are you okay?" I asked, stepping forward. "I didn't mean to upset you."

"I'm not upset," he said, taking a step back. "I mean—it's a little weird that you're going off with two of our housemates but...I trust you. And I don't want to hold you back. You've got to do what's right for you."

I stepped forward again, and this time he didn't back away. I gently took hold of his hands and looked him in the eyes. He looked back with a mix of longing and sadness.

"I promise I'll come right back to you," I said softly. "And when I do, it'll be a brand-new start for us both."

He smiled a little.

"Yeah...well, I'm looking forward to that," he replied. He leaned down and brushed his lips against mine.

A gasp made us both break away and glance right. Jade was standing on the landing, staring at us with her jaw dropped.

Shit!

"Ah!" I exclaimed, unable to process my thoughts. I looked wildly from Wesley to Jade, and my mouth opened and closed.

"This isn't—" Wesley began, but Jade cut him off with a laugh.

A laugh.

She was laughing at us?

"Hell, it's about time," she exclaimed. She waggled an eyebrow at us and added. "Are the rumours I've been hearing from the boys true? That you two hooked up in the hotel room shower in Japan?"

"What?" I squeaked. I flushed red and Wesley's arm went to the back of his head.

We couldn't exactly deny it but what on Earth had they been saying about us? And to whom?

Jade laughed again.

"You should see your faces right now," she chuckled, moving past us. "I'm happy for you!" she sang out, before heading into her room.

I turned back to Wesley.

"Do you think she's really happy for us?" I asked nervously. He smirked at me and let his hands wrap around my waist, which sent butterflies off in my stomach.

"Even if she wasn't," he murmured, pressing a kiss to my lips once more. "I really couldn't care less."

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