Home > Meet Cute(8)

Meet Cute(8)
Author: Helena Hunting

“They were killed in a car accident last week.”

It’s like being slammed in the chest with a bowling ball and doused in an acid bath of guilt. “Oh my God.” I reach out on instinct and cover his hand with mine. It sends an unexpected jolt through my body, so I draw back immediately. “I’m so sorry, Daxton.”

His eyes drift closed and a weak smile touches his lips before it falls again. “I don’t know when it’s going to get easier to say that out loud.” He rubs his hands together, as if he’s trying to rid himself of that staticky feeling, too, before he lifts his head. “Uh, anyway”—he pushes a set of papers toward me—“I need to review the trust you set up for my sister, and all I can find is the draft form of the contract.”

I almost feel bad for assuming the absolute worst about him, but our history doesn’t really allow for warm feelings or thoughts. Then I remember that his sister is only thirteen. I press my hand to my heart, as if it will stop the pang that melts a little of my hatred toward this man. My father passed the year after I graduated law school, and I was devastated. I walked around in a fog of grief for months. I can’t even fathom how painful this must be for his sister. “She’s so young. This must be so hard for you both.”

His face crumples and he runs his hands up and down his thighs, as if he’s struggling to control his emotions. “It’s been a shock, and it’s a lot of change very fast.”

“Who’s caring for her now?” I know what it’s like to be orphaned; I’ve gone through it twice now.

“My parents granted me custody.”

I glance at his hands. There’s no ring on his finger. He’s close to the same age as me. Maybe a year or two older, so thirty at best. What kind of background does he have in raising a child, let alone a teenage girl? “I see. That’s a lot of responsibility.”

“Well, the alternative is going to live with our aunt, and that’s not what Emme wants.”

“And what about you? What do you want?”

“I want what’s best for Emme.”

“And that’s you?” I shouldn’t be asking such personal, almost needling questions. This kind of antagonism isn’t acceptable for someone in a state of grieving. And yet, he’s just lost his parents and he’s here about a trust, which sends up a red flag— or maybe I’m looking for reasons to doubt his integrity.

He taps his lips, pensive instead of affronted. “Honestly? I don’t know. But it’s what Emme wants, and my parents seemed to think it would be best for her, so I’m going to try.”

He’s either being noble or delusional. Taking care of a teenager is no easy task. “And you need my help for what, exactly?”

“I need to make sure Emme’s trust documents are up to date. My aunt was supposed to be the custodial guardian when the trust was drafted, and since that’s changed, I want to ensure there’s no conflict. I’m not sure at this point what that shift in custody means, and if there are any issues with the change that could impact Emme’s trust.” He rubs the space between his eyes. “Makes me wish I’d gone into family law instead of entertainment law so I’d know what’s what. Anyway, I was hoping I could get a copy of the most recent trust documents, and maybe we could set up a meeting to review it, preferably soon.”

I flip through the draft in silence. He’s also attached a copy of the will stating Emme is in his care, the power of attorney, and the most recent bank statement with the trust funds. His sister will have access to obscene funds when she’s an adult. As long as the money stays safe and out of the hands of people looking to cash in on her. And I’m unsure whether Daxton is one of those people or not.

“I’ll need to have my assistant pull the original files. She can email you a copy, and in the meantime I can review them and then we can set something up. I have meetings this afternoon, though, so it won’t be immediate.” I don’t know what his angle is. Is he worried about the money disappearing? Has he frittered all of his away on an excessive lifestyle and expensive cars and now he’s looking to cash in? I need time to look over everything and do some research.

He gives me an apologetic smile. “I know I just showed up here today, and to be honest, it’s been a tough week. I tried to call early this morning, and then just figured you’d need all this documentation anyway.” He motions to the papers spread out between us. “I know you can’t drop everything to deal with this, but I’m a little overwhelmed, so if we can meet early next week sometime, that would be great.”

Despite my suspicions and questions, I take pity on him. He’s lost his parents and is suddenly responsible for a thirteen-year-old. “Why don’t you leave your number with my assistant and we can set something up on Monday or Tuesday, when things are a bit more settled?”

“That would be great. Do you have someone here I can talk to about the custody paperwork? My firm doesn’t do family law, so I’m at a bit of a disadvantage. Would it be you?” I don’t understand why he looks so hopeful about that, maybe because I’m a familiar face?

“I don’t work with custody cases, but I’ll speak with Beverly and we’ll figure that out, as well. Can I keep these, or do you need me to make copies?” I tap the documents under my fingers.

“Those are yours. If you need anything else, let me know. I just want to make sure my sister’s future is protected.”

He pushes slowly out of the chair, and I rise as well. Even with my heels, the top of my head barely reaches his shoulder.

I hold out a hand but he ignores it, stepping closer until the tips of his polished shoes nearly touch mine. And then he wraps his arms around me.

I’m shocked by the affection, when all I anticipated was a handshake. He’s solid muscle, all hard ridges encased in an expensive suit. Even in his slightly disheveled state he smells divine. I’m annoyed that I notice any of these things. And at how nice it feels to be wrapped up in his strong, warm embrace.

It takes me longer than it should to react—to either extract myself or return the comforting gesture. I’m stunned, frozen because the boy I crushed on as a kid is now a man and hugging me, almost exactly like I did to him eight years ago. Except he’s not telling me he loves me. Or fangirling all over me like an idiot. I choke back the ancient embarrassment and tentatively pat him on the back.

His shoulders curl forward, arms tightening. A low tremor runs through him and he makes a soft, pained sound. I don’t know what to make of this, whether it’s authentic or contrived. Against my better judgment, I return the soft squeeze.

He drops his arms and takes a step back, creating distance as he bumps into the chair behind him. “Fuck.” He drags a hand through his hair, sending it into further disarray, face turning a bright shade of red, eyes glassy. “I’m so sorry. I’m on autopilot. I think I’ve hugged five hundred people in the last forty-eight hours.”

Right. Of course, he’s not thinking clearly. I put on what I hope is an understanding smile. “You’re fine. Totally understandable, considering what you’ve been through this week.”

I motion to the door of the conference room. I need some space from this man. I might loathe him, but his situation pulls at my heartstrings, and he’s still hot as sin, which is something I should probably feel bad about noticing considering why he’s here.

Daxton shoves his hands in his pockets and walks beside me down the hall, shoulders still hunched, eyes on the floor.

Cara’s eyes go wide when she sees him, and she starts to fiddle with the buttons on her blouse and then with her hair. She looks like she’s trying not to hyperventilate by the time we reach her desk.

“Cara, this is Mr. Hughes. Can you please take down his contact information? I need all the files pulled on this trust.” I hand her the papers. “And I’d like to set up a meeting early next week to go over everything and make sure all the details are clear and in order.”

“Yes. Of course.” She takes off her glasses and folds them on her desk, then fumbles with her pen. I’ll forgive her the nervousness since I can relate. My palms are sweaty. I surreptitiously wipe them on my skirt, in preparation for his departure.

I offer my hand again, along with a polite smile. “I’ll speak with you soon.”

This time he takes it with a slow nod. His nails are ragged, but his hand is soft and warm, his grip firm. He covers our clasped hands with his free one, holding me captive. I meet his intense gaze; his tired eyes search my face. “Thank you again, Kailyn. I appreciate it. Everything.”

“You’re very welcome. And I’m so sorry about your parents. We’ll make sure your sister’s trust is safe and secure, and so is her future.” I can be professional and civil with this man.

His smile holds the kind of tension I’m familiar with—full of sadness, each condolence a reminder of the loss and pain that won’t dissipate anytime soon. “Thank you.”

“I’ll be in touch soon.” I squeeze his hand and withdraw mine, lest he hugs me again, and in front of an audience this time.

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