Darius took another of the wedge fries, swiped it in the milkshake and popped it in his mouth.
It was something people over the age of twelve usually found repulsive. But today, he deserved to indulge himself.
“A bacon cheeseburger, fries and a strawberry shake. I was going to ask if it was a really good day or a really bad one, but then you dipped your fry into your shake, so I guess that answers that.”
Darius froze, then turned toward the familiar voice. His eyes widened.
“Audra Lee Covington?”
No, it isn’t possible.
What would his grad school girlfriend be doing in Royal, Texas?
“So you do remember me.” She folded her arms. “I wasn’t sure you would. After all, you never returned my calls.”
Remember? He couldn’t forget her if he tried. She’d been his biggest regret. The woman who still haunted his dreams.
He stared at her, blinking. Still not sure he could believe his eyes.
She was stunning, as always. Her dark wavy hair was tucked behind her ears and fell to her shoulders. Gold-and-diamond starburst ear climbers decorated the outer curve of each ear. She wore a cream-colored, chunky-knit sweater and distressed skinny jeans that hugged every curve. And there was a small, star-shaped diamond stud in one nostril.
“Audra.” He stood, wiping his hands on a napkin. He inhaled her sweet scent as they shared an awkward hug. “What on earth are you doing here?”
“Good to see you, too,” she said sarcastically as she stepped away, folding her arms again. Her lips pressed into a harsh line as she narrowed her gaze at him.
If looks could kill, he’d be laid out on the black-and-white tile floor with a chalk line around him.
“It’s good to see you, Audra, of course. I should’ve said I’m stunned to see you here in Royal, Texas.” He gestured toward the opposite side of the booth. “You look…amazing.” It was an egregious understatement. She was drop-dead gorgeous. “Join me?”
Audra’s sensual lips, shiny with lip gloss, quirked in a semi-frown as she studied him. Finally, she nodded and slid across from him in the booth.
“The new look—” she indicated his bald head, a look he’d transitioned to nearly three years ago “—I like it. It suits you.”
“Thanks.” He cleared his throat. “What did you order?”
“They make an incredible Cobb salad. It probably has as many calories as your burger and fries, but at least I feel like I’m making an effort.”
He’d always loved her refreshing honesty. Too bad he hadn’t afforded her the same. Their story still would’ve ended. But if he’d been honest with her then, at least he’d have no regrets where Audra was concerned.
“LA Fashion Week is just a few weeks away. I’d expect the great Audra Lee Covington to be in the design studio right now.”
Audra was a diamond heiress. She’d broken rank with her very traditional family and formed her own company that catered to a younger, trendier clientele. Her name got frequent mentions in fashion magazines when A-list actors, musicians and social influencers bragged that they were iced in Audra Lee Covington diamond earrings, necklaces, bracelets and tiaras.
“Royal isn’t my usual hangout. That’s for sure.” A deep smile lit Audra’s rich espresso-brown eyes, the same color as her shoulder-length hair. “I got an early start on the season this year. So when I received a lucrative request from a wealthy bride-to-be here in Royal, I couldn’t resist. I’m creating custom wedding jewelry for the couple and gifts for their bridal party. So I’m staying in town for a bit. Getting to know the area and the bride, who will be returning from New York tomorrow with her fiancé. I’d hardly expect to run into you here, either.” She clasped her hands on the table. “I hear Thr3d will be doing a runway show this year.”
“We are. My team is back in LA working tirelessly to prepare for it.”
She produced a gum-filled lollipop from her pocket, opened the wrapper and popped it in her mouth.
Was that a fucking tongue ring?
Darius was pretty sure his jaw hit the ground and another part of his body reached for the sky.
Good thing he’d returned to his seat.
Audra propped her elbows on the table and tilted her head as she studied him. “What brings you to Royal?”
“A business opportunity.” It wasn’t a lie. The opportunity to collaborate with Miranda had brought him to town.
She sucked on that damn lollipop, which had already stained her tongue red, and awaited further explanation.
“It’s too early to share details.” He picked up his burger. “But I’m hoping to create a clothing line for a major fitness brand.”
“Ah.” When she said it, he couldn’t help staring at her candy-red, pierced tongue. “Miranda Dupree. Scoring the clothing line for her Goddess brand would be a major coup.”
“It’s a small world, I guess.” She shrugged. “Miranda is my client’s ex-stepmother. My client is Sophie Blackwood. Do you know her?”
His half sister. Damn. It was a small world.
“Never met her.” He shrugged. “But I’ve heard the name.”
Less than an hour ago, in fact.
Audra’s mouth made a popping sound when she yanked the lollipop from between her lips. She stared at him, her brown eyes narrowed. Judging him. As if she didn’t believe him.
Darius bit a mouthful of the bacon cheeseburger.
He hadn’t seen Audra in five years. They weren’t together, and she had no right to know his personal business.
So why did he feel as guilty now for telling her a half-truth as he had when they were together?
Audra returned the sucker to her mouth and rose from the table. She didn’t believe him, but she obviously didn’t deem pursuing the truth worth her time.
Knowing she found him unworthy made his chest ache. Her wordless condemnation was exactly what he deserved.
“Looks like they’re done with my order.” Audra nodded toward where Amanda was packing a to-go bag. “Nice seeing you again, Darius. Good luck with Fashion Week.”
Darius groaned quietly as he swiped another French fry into his milkshake and took a bite.
Audra made a hasty escape, and he couldn’t blame her.
He was a liar. Apparently, it was hereditary.