Home > Collide (Off-Limits, #2)(7)

Collide (Off-Limits, #2)(7)
Author: Piper Lawson

I’m still turning that over as she looks past my shoulder.

“One more. Disgraced royalty, kicked out of the castle for subversive philosophy and sleeping with too many nannies.”

I turn and spot the familiar tall frame and slightly rounded shoulders down the row of auction tables. His hair is pulled back from his face, the profile sharp even in boredom as he talks to a man I don’t know.

Sawyer.

My stomach knots. The lump rises up my throat until I can’t breathe.

“Wait, do I know him?” Emma’s words echo in my ears.

Every man in here is wearing a tux, but he’s the only one who has this effect on me.

“He’s my professor,” I manage. “From Russell.”

“The one from the basketball game? No way.” Emma grabs one of the bidding sheets off the table and fans herself with it. “You look like you could use one too.”

I wish I could question why he’s here, except of course he is. I’m thinking of him and trying not to, and there’s no corner of my life he can’t touch with his reckless confidence.

A hand grabs my shoulder.

“Don’t do anything,” Dad mutters, nodding to the slip of paper in my hand.

“I wasn’t going to buy you an island. But”—I take a breath, smiling—“I do want to talk to you about school. Tuition for next semester.”

“Unless things change radically, there won’t be any next semester.”

I blink. “What do you mean? You bought this table for ten thousand dollars.”

His smile clicks back into place. “The only reason we’re here is to show face and remind everyone we’re not bankrupt and hanging our heads in shame.”

My face burns.

Things aren’t going better. He’s clinging to hope by his fingernails.

This isn’t a comforting night with family, it’s a reminder of how fucked up all of this is.

I force myself to follow my father to our table.

On the way, my gaze lands on the turtle again. This time it’s not pity I feel.

It’s understanding.

 

 

4

 

 

Sawyer

 

 

I came tonight to rub shoulders with people who could help my new venture with Tate, but also because of promises I made to this charity months ago.

It’s a reminder to myself of who I am. My annual gift to this charity has grown every year.

But the second I walked in the door, disdain rose up. Money drips from the chandeliers and every person in this room.

“Take the things you want, Sawyer,” my mother used to say with a smile. “No one will offer them to you, even if you’re owed them.”

When I spot Olivia, I think I’m hallucinating.

But it’s not a product of my messed-up head.

Her hair is pinned off one side of her face, sending all those waves tumbling over the opposite shoulder. She’s half done up, half wild. She wears a nearly white dress, like a damned angel.

And I’m the devil who made her fall.

When her father grabs her arm and speaks urgently at her ear, every muscle in my body stiffens.

“Tell me you’re not having a heart attack,” says the tall blond man next to me, his dry tone perfectly matched to the crisp British accent. “You’re too young and you don’t drink enough.”

When Olivia turns to head for her table, I force my attention to my friend. “I should change at least one of those things.”

Harrison King might be worth billions but his life was anything but easy. He’s an old school friend, like Daniel yet nothing like him at once.

Daniel grew up in a loving home that continues to support him to this day. Harrison had everything, until it was ripped away.

Yet somehow, he’s rebuilt himself and his life.

The waiter assigned to our table brings me a gin. We’re in the front row near the center and I’ve chosen a seat on the side of my table.

Harrison takes his seat between me and a twenty-something woman with straight dark hair and full lips. She’s wearing a gold dress, but it’s her that shimmers.

“Sawyer, this is my fiancée, Raegan.”

“The DJ,” I say.

“I’m a lot of things, Professor.” She leans across Harrison to offer a hand, her eyebrow lifting in amusement. “I’m sure you are, too.”

The enormous yellow diamond sparkling on her hand is worn as casually as the clothes.

“Do you always stare at people that intensely?”

She doesn’t blink. “I meet a lot of people.”

“I’m Harrison’s friend with the long hair.”

Raegan plays with a fork from her place setting. “I don’t remember people by the way they look. I remember them by who they are. We’ve all got our damage. Might not be easy to see from the outside, but that’s what makes someone worth knowing.”

I shift in my seat, the hairs lifting on my arms under the tux.

I’ve been wondering who could’ve gotten my old friend, the target of every upwardly aspirational woman in the world for a decade, to pledge himself to her.

I get it.

“She’s not who I pictured,” I murmur to my friend when Raegan turns to speak with the woman on her other side.

“I don’t know what I like more. The ways we’re similar or the ways we’re different.”

He slides a hand across the table and flips her wrist over, threading his fingers through hers without her so much as looking up.

I was prepared to judge her. Instead, I’m envying him.

Fuck. Am I actually jealous of them?

Impossible.

I don’t have that kind of faith in love.

But as I shift in my seat and scan the room, I spot Olivia and her family in the next row back.

She looks beautiful and miserable, and if I’m the one who caused that by my actions in my office, I regret it.

But no matter what shit is between her and her parents, it’s not my problem.

One of the organizers appears at my arm. “Dr. Redmond. We appreciate your support.”

“Is there a change to the introduction?”

“We’re not sure it’s best for you to speak.”

“Because…”

She flinches.

Because I’m a pariah.

I shouldn’t care. But there is a lifetime of mistakes that weren’t even mine. Strange how society asks us to pay for them.

When I look up, Olivia’s watching.

Our gazes lock, and it’s like lightning in my brain, thunder in my chest. I didn’t expect to see her but it feels inevitable that she’s here, witnessing my slow unraveling.

What would it be like to have her sit next to me, like Harrison’s fiancée is next to him? To have not only the audacity to be in public together, no matter who cares, but that familiarity?

“I will be making the introductory remarks,” I decide, pushing out my chair.

Her eyes fly wide in alarm. “But Dr. Redmond—”

I rise from my seat and head toward the microphone.

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the annual fundraiser for this important charity.”

Polite applause fills the room.

“I’m here to introduce the speaker and in a moment I will. But I want to ask how many of you grew up without your biological parents.”

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