What you’re about to read is the CENSORED version of my romance novel entitled “The Rival.” If you like to access the complete version of the chapters, visit this link: https://books2read.com/u/ba6616/M. Gaspary, Author of “The Rival”
Chapter 1 – Chen
“Have you ever loved someone, sir?” Mr. Arman asked, pursing his lips and threading his fingers, leaning in my direction as if he expected me to answer his trivial question.
I flipped through the pages of the reports filed in the folders. My eyebrows and lips twitched, and my shaking hands gripped the pen, pressing my fingers onto it until the black ink blotted the printed sheets. I pulled my hand off the page with my widened eyes. Fuck. Why didn’t I see it coming? I blinked when I noticed the round black mark that stained the signature area. “Why did you ask?”
He flicked his head down. “I wondered why you remained single all these years when you had everything a woman wanted. Unlike you, I don’t have the face, money, and fame, but I found my true love. How about you?”
I glanced at him and noticed his fingers threaded and pressed onto his stomach. I let out a soft chuckle and a loud sigh, pushing my back deeper against the chair. Yes, I did. “What do you think? Do I look like someone has hitched me?”
“Me, too.” I smiled and looked at the papers again.
He cleared his throat and walked in baby steps toward my desk. Then, he lowered his body and glanced at the surroundings, checking if anybody was around. “I didn’t mean to meddle in your private life, sir. It’s just that everyone in this company has been talking about it, only to find ourselves guessing. Some of them were even betting on your love life.”
“Is that so?” I scoffed, shaking my head and placing the sheets back in their folders. If you only knew how fucked I was, Mr. Arman. When I leaned against the back of the chair, I planted my elbows on the armrest, draping my hands. Then, I looked at him.
“Yes, sir,” Mr. Arman said while he grabbed the folders, wrapping his arms around them.
“Why do you have to carry all the reports at once? Are you in a rush?” I arched an eyebrow.
“No, sir. It’s just that I’m a bit late for something important.”
“What is it?”
His face began to flush, pursing his lips. “It’s Valentine’s Day and our wedding anniversary today, sir.”
I smiled and nodded. “Fine. I understand.” Fuck. I forgot today’s Valentine’s Day.
“Anyway, we are almost prepared for the upcoming meeting this week,” Mr. Arman said.
“Are you good?”
He nodded. “Yes, I’ll go ahead after you sign the papers today and continue working on it.”
“Sure, you can leave now.”
“Yes, sir,” he nodded and left the office.
When I heard the doors close, I rose and faced the large windows, taking in the city’s beauty and relishing in the deafening silence of my office. “Wedding anniversary,” I whispered and sighed. “I don’t think I would get to experience that shit.”
Then, I heard the creaking sound of the door and the soft echoing thuds from a woman’s heels.
I turned to see Anna Lee coming toward me. My eyes widened, and my heart pounded as my chest swelled with anger and disappointment. “What are you doing here?”
She grinned, moved to the couch, crossed her legs, and raised an eyebrow before casting an insulting gaze. “We haven’t seen each other in how long?” she paused and gasped, “Ten years. So how are you doing?”
I took a deep breath and tucked my hands in the pockets of my slacks. My eyes met hers briefly without interest before I turned, facing the vast windows featuring an enormous urban landscape as if watching the towering skyscrapers was a delightful view.
“Oh my gosh, ten years, Chen!” Anna answered louder, leaping out of her seat with a burst of boisterous laughter and clapping her hands.
I stood there with my arms folded, looking down at her with an arched eyebrow. “I know it’s not why you’re here.”
She shrugged and exhaled a loud sigh. “If that’s how you express your hospitality, I don’t mind a menacing gaze from you the whole day. That is much appreciated.” She leaned against the plush couch with her hands interlaced. “Honestly, I’d rather have that look at night if we fuck,” she said, giggling and looking at me suspiciously. “You can’t imagine how much I missed it.”
I scoffed and rolled my eyes. “Why are you here?” I checked my wristwatch and glared at her. “You’re wasting my time.”
She laughed. “Nothing significant here, Chen. All I want to do is see my friend.”
“Friend?” I repeated with a touch of sarcasm as I turned my head to hear the pleasing cracking sounds of my joints. “Let’s not get lost in the woods, Anna. What are you looking for this time? Haven’t you had enough?”
Anna stood and strolled toward me with her chin up to see my face. She chuckled and reached for my necktie, pulling it in her direction.
When my face was close enough to hear her whisper, she rubbed it with her other palm with her head tilted. “I’m here because I want to see my ex, Alex Yoon.” She stretched her neck up and looked at me, smirking. “I like that reaction, Chen.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I like it when you look at me like that. Confused. Angry. I guess that bastard’s name sounds familiar to you. Doesn’t it?”
My throat felt constricted, and my body shuddered, leaving me gulping. Although my eyes remained on her, I was desperate to find a way to escape this conversation. “Do you think you would find him in my office?” I sputtered and averted my gaze with my hands planted on my waist, easing myself while a familiar sense of panic welled in my throat.
“Alex will be here soon. I know your desperation to see him and fuck.”
My heart throbbed while my throat felt more parched. So, I gulped once more. “Why are you telling me this?”
“I thought you would be interested in it.”
“What the fuck, Anna? Aren’t you going to stop your bullshit? Anyway, our relationship is over.”
“Is that so?” She asked, raising her eyebrow.
I nodded. “I have moved on, and my life has never been so calm and enjoyable. Without the women harassing me and—”
“And?” She raised her eyebrow once again. “Sorry, go on.” She gestured.
My head shook. “Nothing.” I took a deep breath and turned, heading to the cabinet that contained bottles of wine and glasses. I have them in my office for guests and family who would come to have discussions. It’s nice to have something to warm me up while enduring the boring conversations I have with these people.
“Let’s pretend you’ve already moved on, Chen. Have you forgotten about Alex already? Seriously, after everything you’ve done for him?”
I refused to answer her and tilted my head, hiding my agitation, walking away from her. I was about to collect the glasses in the cabinet when Anna persisted.
“Are you no longer interested in him? So, Chen, where’s the love you’ve been mentioning before?”
“What are your true intentions, Anna? As I said before, our relationship is over.” I closed the cabinet and turned, facing her.
“What happened? I thought you guys were doing fine.” She stood with her arms crossed and raised her brows. “But if you insist, I won’t mind shutting my mouth up for you. If that’s what you want me to do.”
“Have you met him?” What a stupid question. I shut my eyes while pressing my lips and sucking much air within this room to keep myself composed and not look weak, especially in front of this woman.
With a broad smile, she tilted her body backward and crossed her arms. Then, in a mocking tone, she laughed. She covered her lips. “Oh. I see you’re still interested.”
“Is there something wrong with wanting to hear news about a friend? Come on. It’s been ten years, Anna. Perhaps, he also has moved on and has a new life. I don’t know.”
“Yes, he has moved on and has a new life. You’re right about that,” she said, which made my chest feel like having a heart attack. She leaned very close to my face. “I understand you won’t believe me this time. But, I’ve got to tell you he’s in love with someone else and married.”
Did I hear it right? Married? My brows twitched and furrowed, and my chest began to throb rapidly. I closed my eyes for a prolonged blink as if taking a moment to process what Anna had just said and chose my words carefully. “Oh, I see.” Why the fuck am I feeling this way?
“Why would I care about him coming here? And why would he be here in the first place?” I walked past her to keep a distance, and breathing the air in the room felt less close. When I looked at Anna standing before me, I noticed a very familiar expression on her face—a mix of awe, disbelief, and confusion. “How did you know he was here?”
I squeezed my lips together and gulped to quench my parched throat. I shook my head, attempting to maintain my calm. Despite my immediate eagerness to affirm it, I tried not to stammer in front of her.
Anna smiled and stared at me with her bloodshot eyes. “If you like, let’s play a game and pretend you’ve already moved on. Let’s imagine that you accept your father’s deal. You marry me and make me a lot of babies.” She walked in short strides before turning and staring at me again.
“I knew you were going to say that, Chen.” She shook her head and grimaced. “I’m not a fool to believe you have forgotten about Alex after everything you’ve done to him,” she sputtered and hissed, widening her tearful eyes. “Where’s the love you’ve been bragging to me about before?”
“Why do you feel the need to tell me this?”
She shrugged. “I suppose you wanted to hear news about Alex.”
“For what? Are you trying to be friendly with me when you don’t have to?”
She averted her gaze after hearing the question and released an exasperated sigh. “What’s wrong? I’m just doing you a favor.”
I scoffed. “You’ve done enough damage in my life, and I think that’s enough,” I sputtered as I stood and walked away, heading toward the desk. “But I admire your diligence. You’re quite an extraordinary woman. So, spend it on something better than chasing me like a fly.”
“Look, I know I did many stupid things in the past. But I tried to change to become better, Chen. Why won’t you give me a chance to redeem myself?”
“It’s funny that someone like you is asking for redemption. Meeting you was the biggest mistake I’ve ever made in my life, Anna, and I will never ask that from you.” I sputtered and turned my back on her.
She grabbed my arm and held it so tight that her nails dug into my skin. “How about leaving Alex? Wasn’t that your biggest mistake, too?”
I didn’t answer and looked away instead.
“I know I can get anything I want, but still, my life is fucked. I’m a miserable woman whose husband abandoned for a younger woman.”
I shoved her hand away, releasing myself from the sting of her grip. “My father may like you for a potential mate, but that doesn’t mean you can control me as he does.”
“You’ll be sorry, Chen, if you won’t believe me this time,” Anna muttered while gathering her belongings.
“Why? Why do you have to involve me in your life, and why would I even trust you?”
She looked at me with tears in her eyes.
“Aren’t you the mastermind of my miserable life?”
“Sorry, I’m a bitch.” When she had her stuff draped around her arm, she looked at me for the last time before she walked away and slammed the door shut.
After she left the office, it didn’t take long before I turned to leave the room. But then, when I turned the knob, someone from the other side of the door pushed me to the side.
I gasped and crept behind the door with pounding heartbeats, standing like a fool with my mouth open. Fuck. I saw Alex walking in.
“Alex, why are you here?” I stammered when my throat closed around a sound and tried to hide my half-slushing smile.
Alex looked at me with utter disinterest when he handed me the earlier folders Mr. Arman had brought. It felt like I was somebody he never knew. I thought, Yeah, a lot of things happen within ten years. Right?
Yet, before he spoke a word, I noticed the nuance he always makes when he feels nervous, despite showing a stoic face.
Alex licked and bit his lower lips.
I scoffed and tried not to stretch my lips that wide. It wasn’t appropriate.
“Mr. Arman said you forgot to sign these papers, so he asked me to come and ask you to do it on his behalf,” he said monotonously, almost robotic.
When he flicked his head in the opposite direction and I saw his red ears, I couldn’t help but smirk, though I felt like collapsing. “Yes, sure. Let me take it,” I said and averted my gaze as I reached for them and accidentally touched his hands. “Sorry, I didn’t mean it,” I said before walking in significant strides, heading to my desk and slamming the documents on the table.
“It’s okay. I don’t mind,” he said.
When I sat on my chair, I wanted to examine him, tracing every inch of him with my eyes began to entice me. Despite my embarrassment earlier, I still wanted to glance at his figure from his hip up with my eyes crawling up to his face, only to discover him gazing at me.
“Is there any problem, Mr. Lau?” He gazed at me.
“Nothing. But why are you looking at me like that? Is something the matter?” Despite the uneasiness, I admired his courage in keeping his eyes on me the entire time, while I was a coward who couldn’t stand a second in his gaze. I thought I had moved on. But why does my heart still throb as it did ten years ago?
“Nothing special,” he said and smiled.
I chuckled. “Nothing special?”
He sighed. “Yeah, it’s nice to see you again.”
At this point, I mustered enough balls to force myself to look at him and smile. “Yeah, me, too. It’s been a while.” I scoffed and rolled my eyes.