Bet Me: Episode 5
Old Rivalries Die Hard
“Are you still pissed with me about prom night?”
It’s the first thing that pops out of my mouth as Reese and I stare at each other. Ten years have passed, yet it’s like I’m eighteen years old all over again as my rival narrows her eyes at me. God, I’ve missed that look. Even when she’s glaring at me, she’s still breath-takingly beautiful.
Once upon a time, I mistook that beauty for kindness. I thought Reese was perfect. She was smart, stunning, and I thought she liked me the way I liked her. Then I learned it was all an act – that I was her little charity project and she didn’t care about me at all. I felt like the biggest fool in the world, and I set out to take revenge.
“Ten years was a long time ago, Knox. I’m over what happened.”
Judging by the slightly pinched expression my old rival is wearing on her beautiful face, she’s lying. And since I took her to prom with the express purpose of humiliating her, I owe her an apology.
“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry for using our bet to ditch you at Prom.”
The stunt I pulled was stupid and immature, and I don’t need a therapist or anyone to tell me that I took the resentment I felt towards my father and the town out on her.
More than once, I’ve looked back and winced at how well I misdirected my anger, but I’d feel a lot worse about what happened that night if Reese wanted to go to prom with me. She still spent the night dancing with Gabe, just as she planned to. All I did was derail her night a little.
“Thank you,” she says stiffly.
“I actually flew up on Saturday, hoping to have this conversation with you then.”
I nod. “I thought that since what happened was personal, we should keep it separate from work.”
I made two trips to her place, one on Saturday and one yesterday, but she wasn’t there. Subsequently, I came here early this morning hoping I’d get lucky and run into her before work started. I thought I’d hit pay dirt when I saw Reese sitting in her car – a silver beamer.
“Sorry, I was…out for the weekend.”
“With Max Theroux?” I ask.
The question tastes slightly bitter and I despise myself for asking it. I don’t care who she dates, it’s just that out of all the guys for her to wind up with, of course she’s dating Max. The guy went to the private school with my brother. He’s another Magpie Grove heir born and bred for success. No doubt Reese’s dad approves of her choice of partner in a way he never would have approved of me.
She raises an eyebrow. “You know who I’m dating?”
“Max and Brendan are friends. He mentioned you two are seeing each other.”
“I didn’t realise that you and Brendan still speak.”
Now it’s my turn to raise my eyebrow. “You know how much I speak with my brother?”
“I…” she shakes her head. “No. I just…you two were never on good terms. I mean, you hated him a lot when you first moved to Magpie Grove.”
“I hated him for a long time, but time has made me wiser. Anyway,” I say, trying to pull the conversation back on track. “Again, I’m sorry.”
Reese offers me a forced smile. “Consider it water under the bridge.”
“I hope you mean that because we’ll be working together for the next month,” I say.
“Knox, I don’t think about the prom, or you, at all.”
Her comment needles me and throws me back ten years, to when I heard her tell Bex that I was her charity project, dismissing everything I thought we had. Not in so many words, but I read between the lines.
I’m not that angry, resentful boy anymore, though. I’m a successful and well-known journalist, on the fast track to becoming the youngest editor at The Melbourne Tribune. I don’t need anyone’s approval anymore. Not Reese’s or her father’s. Not this town’s. And certainly not my father’s.
Though, proving to my father that some bat-shit-crazy marriage therapist duped him is something I’m very much looking forward to.
“I’m heading inside, are you coming?” she asks, sidestepping me and heading towards the unremarkable grey concrete office building.
I pick up the laptop bag I dropped at my feet when Reese stumbled, about to follow her when the sight of the familiar logo on the papers cluttering up her backseat of her car catches my eyes. I peer into her back window for a moment before chuckling to myself and jogging to catch up with her.
“I thought you said you haven’t thought about me, but you’ve been keeping tabs on me, Cameron.”
“What?” she asks, not glancing at me as she continues marching towards the office building.
“Your backseat is full of Tribune papers.”
She nearly missteps and I cup her elbow to make sure she doesn’t faceplant.
“They’re not…” Her face flushes as she stops to glare at me, causing me to keep grinning like a fool. “I was researching your style. I thought it was a good idea since we’re going to be working together.”
She’s known about us working together since when? Thursday? Friday? She had at least ten papers in her backseat.
“Don’t be embarrassed about it,” I tell her, loving the fact she’s been reading my work. “I’ve kept tabs on you, too.”
She starts to deny she’s been tracking my progress before her brows draw together. “You have?”
“Sure,” my grin widens. “I’ve missed our rivalry. No one gives me as good a run for my money as you once did.”
After prom, Reese refused to speak to me. I expected her to hate me after the stunt I pulled, but I wasn’t ready for her to pretend I no longer existed. Instead of our back and forth, and our bets, and her glares, she iced me out. And when she stopped competing with me…well, I missed it. More than I expected to. Even winning the internship felt hollow without Reese to bet against. To taunt.
I’ve never found another rival worthy of my time over the past decade, and from time to time curiosity dictated I look her up to see what she was up to. It pleased me when she took a job here – that she didn’t let the fact I won the internship stop her from working here.
“Ditto,” she says quietly, as if it pains her. “But we aren’t rivals for the next month.”
“If it’s all water under the bridge, you’re not going to have any issue putting what happened behind us?” I ask, studying her carefully.
“None at all.”
“Good,” she repeats.
“I’m glad you’re able to be so professional about this.”
She rolls her eyes and begins marching towards the office again. “Are you coming or not?”
For a moment, I’m spellbound by the sway of her hips and the way her pencil skirt hugs her arse before my brain kicks in and I catch up, falling into step beside her.
Reese is with Max, and even if she wasn’t, I’m here to deliver on the promises I made my boss. That means keeping my eyes on the prize, not reminiscing and rehashing history with my old rival.
After walking into the building foyer, Reese presses the up arrow next to the lift and we wait in silence for the elevator. Once the car reaches the ground floor, we step in. She keeps her eyes locked on the doors as we ride up to level three, and though I know I shouldn’t indulge my curiosity, I take advantage of the moment to let my gaze slide over her.
Her curves are a little fuller than they were ten years ago, and her dark hair is longer, hanging in soft waves to her waist. But everything else is the same, the long and shapely legs, dark and expressive eyes, the high cheek bones, button nose and full luscious mouth.
Desire punches me in the gut, heat hitting the pit of my stomach as I remember the way her lips felt against mine. Kissing her hadn’t been part of my plan on prom night, but the girl was pure temptation, and I’d fantasized about her for too long to deny myself the privilege. It was just a soft and innocent kiss to start with, but the cherry lip gloss and the alcohol she’d consumed made me feel drunk. She kissed me back as if she wanted me as much as I wanted her, as if she craved me the way I craved her. I’d been lost in the moment, lost in her tentative and teasing kiss; I never wanted it to end.
When Taya appeared to remind me that I was supposed to be taking her to prom, I wanted to deny it. I would have done anything to turn back the clock and take back my stupid plan, make Taya’s words untrue. But I was too late. And Reese didn’t want my apology, she wanted Gabe.
Wrestling my gaze from her mouth, I force myself to stop reliving the hottest kiss of my high school days.
“I’m sure you remember where everything is,” Reese says as the elevator dings, letting us know we’ve reached our level.
Stepping out, we walk up to the large glass door that leads into The Sun’s office, and Reese scans her pass, letting us in.
It’s almost exactly as I remember it, a large open-plan space with plush dark grey carpet and light grey chairs at each desk. The desks are newer and there are more pot plants for the cleaners to water, but not much else has changed.
Reese points to the left. “The Men’s Room is that way, in case you’ve forgotten. I have no idea where you’ll be sitting, so you’ll have to ask Bob when he comes in.”
“Bob.” I repeat. “What’s he like as a boss?”
She turns to face me. “Bob’s a great guy. I know you used to work under Jensen when…”
She trails off and I can’t help but smirk. “When I won the internship.”
Her eyes narrow and she crosses her arms. “Because popularity won over quality.”
I chuckle. “You’re still banging that drum, I see.”
“Now and forever.”
I can’t stop smiling, and when I see her lips quirk up at the corners and she begins to return my smile, I feel my stomach dip the same way it does when I get good lead on a story.
“Did you know they asked me to be the end of the year speaker?” I ask her.
I hadn’t planned to tell her that. Beyond apologizing for the past, I had no intention of referencing the past or bringing up our old rivalry, but Reese is sharp as a whip and being around her has always brought out my super-competitive side. Seeing those papers in her backseat poured fuel on the flames of the competitive spirit that burns inside me. Knowing that she’s been reading my work and keeping tabs on me makes me want to challenge her and compete with her.
Her small smile turns into a frown. “They did?”
“They did. Do you think two rival seniors debated the pros and cons of who should be the end of year guest speaker?”
“If they did, I hope neither were stupid enough to make a bet about it,” she mutters, looking away.
“Nothing wrong with a good bet, Cameron. As long as it’s not made by an idiot like me who took things too far.”
Dark brown eyes lock with mine and I glimpse an emotion I can’t read flash in her eyes before she turns away from me again.
I should probably tread more carefully. No matter how much she brings out the desire to challenge myself by provoking her, reigniting our old rivalry isn’t the best idea. We’re supposed to be working together; I need to control the urge to compete.
She starts moving again through the maze of desks. “My desk is over here.”
Reese parks her bag on her desk, throws her jacket over her chair, then walks away. For lack of anything better to do, I put my laptop down on her desk and follow her into the staff kitchen.
“Mugs are in the cupboard to your right,” she says. “Sugar is on the bench. Milk is in the fridge. Would you like coffee?” she asks politely.
“Coffee would be great, thanks,” I tell her, taking two mugs out of the cupboard she just pointed to.
“So, how long have you been working on this story?” she asks, taking one of the mugs I hand her and sliding it under the machine before pressing the button that causes the machine to whir to life.
“A couple of weeks,” I say. “What about you?”
She frowns. “A couple of months.”
I wince inwardly. She’s been looking into Von Gruber for longer than I have, and right now she’s probably wondering whether I’ll have anything of value to add to her months of research.
She hands me a mug of coffee that smells pretty good I hand her the second mug so that she can make hers.
“Can I look at what you’ve got so far?” I ask once she’s finished making coffee.
After a curt nod, we walk back to her desk, coffees in hand, and she boots up her laptop. I grab the back of the seat from the desk behind hers, swinging it around so that I can sit next to her. I watch as she unlocks one of her drawers, pulling out a bulky manila folder.
As soon as she hands it to me, I open the folder.
The moment I look down and see the face on the papers staring up at me, I look at Reese. “This is-”
“My brother. But I don’t want you to think this is just…personal for me. I mean it is personal, but there’s so much more to this story.”
“Don’t sweat it, Cameron. My father went to the retreat a month ago and my brother asked me to look into the place when Dad got back.”
“I didn’t know that,” she says.
“Now you do.” I put the papers down on the desk and take my USB drive out of my laptop bag, handing it to her. “And the details are on here. I doubt I have the same depth to my research yet, but I might have a couple of things you missed.”
She thanks me, sits down, and plugs the drive into her laptop.
We spend the next few minutes wading through each other’s research. When I’m done with her file, I put it on her desk and she hands my USB stick back to me.
“Well?” I ask.
Crossing her arms, she says, “You’ve managed to compile a lot of information in a couple of weeks.”
I can’t help but smile at how much she hates to tell me I’ve done a good job. “You’re impressed,” I tell her. “It’s okay, Reese. You can admit it.”
“I wouldn’t use the word impressed.”
I chuckle. “Then neither will I.”
Her research is more than thorough. She works logically and methodically; the interviews she’s taken, her notes and her clippings are all perfectly ordered.
“That’s Bob,” Reese says as the door to the office open.
The man walking into the office is tall, maybe six-five, in his early fifties. His dark hair is streaked with grey, and he looks like he hasn’t slept in a decade. Fortunately his arrival stops me from continuing the conversation with Reese. It’s too easy to spar with her, too easy to try and provoke a reaction from her – too easy to go back to the way we used to do things and the way we used to be together, and I need to stop that behaviour. Because we’re not high schoolers. Not anymore.
I stand up as he walks towards us.
Serious grey eyes appraise me as he holds out his hand. “You must be Knox.”.
“Mr Kates,” I say, shaking his hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Call me Bob, everyone else does. I’ve heard great things about you, son.”
I look down at Reese, who is still sitting down, and she shakes her head. “Not from me.”
The older man’s eyes widen at her response.
“Knox and I went to high school together,” Reese explains. “He was my competition for the internship here. Obviously, he won.”
Something seems to click for Bob who nods and looks at me a little differently. “Why don’t you come into my office and we can get better acquainted,” he suggests. “You can tell me how you managed to beat Reese for the internship.”
“Make sure you tell him that popularity won over quality,” Reese tells me.
Her voice is cool, but her lips quirk up at the corner, and a small amount of mirth dances in her eyes, making me feel sucker punched by how beautiful she looks when she’s smiling. Before I can think better of it, I lean in.
Her cheeks flush and her eyes darken, and her lips part on a surprised breath. A stroke of lightning hits the pit of my stomach, causing me to swell behind the zipper of my slacks. She’s so damn beautiful and she always has been. Beautiful and unobtainable.
Not that I want to obtain her. The girl was very good at putting on an act and I’ve no doubt the woman is the same.
I ignore the crackle in the air around us. “Quit banging that drum, Reese.”
My gaze drops to her lips again before I force myself to pull back and walk into Bob’s office.
“So, you and Reese have a history?” Bob asks as I sit down opposite him.
“As Reese said, we were in competition for the internship here ten years ago.”
He leans forward slightly. “But your history is a little more complicated than that.”
“What makes you say that?”
The way he’s scrutinizing me makes me wonder how he knows that.
“Let’s just say that Reese’s reaction was not what I expected when I gave her the news that she would be going to the retreat. At the time, I believed she was simply overwhelmed with relief because I’d finally agreed to her request, now I’m not so sure that’s what it was.”
“What was her reaction?” I ask, curiosity getting the better of me.
“Let’s just say that it wasn’t what I expected.”
His words leave me more curious than before.
Bob continues to study me, his frown deepening. “Did you make John aware of your history when he told you that you would be going with Reese?”
When I found out that Reese was going to be my partner for the retreat, I’d been shocked. Then amused because I couldn’t stop thinking that great minds think alike. But after the shock and the amusement passed, I worried that Reese would still be holding a grudge and that our history might be insurmountable. It’s one thing to share an assignment and quite another to go undercover at a marriage retreat with someone.
Whittleman, however, made it clear I didn’t have much choice about who I worked with when I hinted that I’d prefer to pick my partner for the assignment. Which was why I decided to come to Magpie Grove early to apologise to Reese and deal with our personal history before we started working together.
“Both papers are putting up a lot of money for this story, Knox. I’m sure I speak for John when I say we’re expecting big things from both of you. Will your history be a problem for either of you?”
“Not for me,” I say.
“Good,” he nods. “Reese won’t cause any problems. She’s one of the best journalists I’ve met.”
“She always did work hard,” I say.
My comment seems to garner Bob’s approval and he smiles. “Right then, now that that’s sorted, let’s move onto the business of your few weeks with us.”
Bob begins to expand on the agreement he and John worked out, giving me a list of article options for my first week at the Sun before walking me out of the office and introducing me to everyone in the office.
There’s only one person in the place I remember working with a decade ago. Everyone else I meet for the first time, and they all seem pleasant enough. The office is a nice blend of the old, young and the middle-aged. And then there’s Cecelia, or CeCe as she instructs me to call her.
The statuesque blonde with the short black skirt, sparkly red top and killer legs is forward. She flirts with me, even as Bob tries to drag me away to introduce me to someone else.
Once I’ve finished making the rounds with Bob, I go back to Reese’s desk and sit in the chair I vacated when Bob came in. She gives me a quick sideways glance before turning her attention back to her computer.
“Does anyone sit at the desk behind you?” I ask.
Since I haven’t been allocated a space, I’m assuming I can choose where I want to work. It makes sense to work as closely together as possible under the circumstances.
Reese sits back and looks at me. “Bob just forwarded me a few emails from the retreat. Ready to take a look?”
I scoot my chair closer to hers, inhaling the soft and sweet scent of her perfume before I can tell myself not to. She always did smell good.
Reese opens the first email, the booking confirmation, and we scan through the details. The reservation was made on Friday. The two of us are attending as Mr and Mrs Reynolds, wealthy socialites from the Gold Coast, and the deposit has been paid.
Reese clicks on the file. “Questionnaire one – Sex survey,” she mutters, causing a landslide of apprehension to slide through me.
The document opens and both of us start reading.
On a scale of 1 – 10, how would you rate your sex life?
On a scale of 1 – 10, how would you rate your satisfaction with the frequency of your sexual encounters?
How often do you share sexual encounters?
How often do you fly solo with your sexual encounters?
Reese clears her throat. “Does that mean…?”
“How often do you click the mouse when I’m not around.”
It’s worth the stab of heat and the tightening in my groin to see her flush and hear her breath hitch.
“Shall we see what the other questionnaires are about?” she asks breathily, closing the sex survey.
It’s on the tip of my tongue to tell her we’re going to have to get used to talking about sex if we’re going to a couple’s retreat together, but I need a moment to cool down. And the problem with talking about sex with Reese? Well, it’s kind of hard not to think about having sex with Reese. It’s not as if I’m sex deprived, but something about sitting next to the girl I once fantasized about so often in high school is definitely doing something for me.
For the second time I wonder how we’re going to get through a couples retreat together, especially if she blushes like that every time I bring up sex and I get horny just from seeing her get all affected.
Reese clicks on the next link, and I’d like to say the next questionnaire is nowhere near as intense, but I’d be lying. He wants the details of our fights, our insecurities, our finances. This guy wants us to lay ourselves bare for him, and a lot of it will require Reese and I collaborating on some fairly intimate and intense subjects.
There are also three more sex surveys to fill in. I only get as far as reading the first two questions on the third survey before she shuts it quickly.
What is your favourite sex position?
On a scale of 1-10, how much does your partner enjoy this position.
“Should we take a break first?” Reese asks, looking a little flushed and not meeting my gaze as she begins printing out the current survey she has open.
I take off my jacket, also feeling hot. “Let’s break for a bit,” I agree.
Fifteen minutes later, I return to our desk ready to get down to work. However, CeCe is standing at Reese’s desk, talking to her. When CeCe sees me approaching, her blue eyes lighten, her smile widens and she blatantly checks me out.
“Bob never mentioned how long you’re in town for, Knox,” she says as I reach them.
“Ah, around a month.”
CeCe looks up at me under heavy lidded eyes. “Long enough to have some fun then.”
“I’m sure Knox will be too busy for that kind of fun,” Reese says sharply.
I look at Reese and our eyes lock, and I’m thrown back ten years to when I told her we’d have fun when I convinced her I wanted to take her to prom.
“That’s my kind of fun, too,” CeCe tells me, oblivious to the sudden tension between Reese and me.
Reese looks at me, her eyes as cool as her voice. “We should get on with this, Knox.”
“Maybe we could double,” CeCe suggests to Reese, ignoring the comment about work. “You and Max and Knox and I.”
Reese looks like she’d rather do anything else. “I’m not sure that’s…”
“Going to work this week,” I say, having no desire to double with Max and Reese. “I have a lot of work to get through and I want to settle in.”
Far from being put off, CeCe leans in, putting a hand on my chest. “Maybe some other time.”
“Maybe,” I say suggestively, smiling.
As much as she’s a looker and I like the fact she’s forward, starting something with someone in the office is a pretty dumb idea. Besides, I’m married to my job. It’s been that ways since I realized women don’t like coming second to my career.
CeCe gives me one more suggestive look. “I’ll make sure you have my number, you know, for when you have time.”
“Bob isn’t a fan of office romances,” Reese says abruptly as I sit down next to her, not looking at me.
“This is only my temporarily office, and I’m not looking for romance, I’m only interested in-”
“Fun. I remember. That was your M.O. back in high school.”
“Nothing wrong with fun, Cameron,” I say, bristling at what sounds like criticism. “Besides, it was a bit of harmless flirting. I didn’t say I’d take her on a date.”
“You hinted at it, and your flirting isn’t always harmless. Sometimes you lead a girl on and then humiliate her.”
Her eyes flash fire, and I want to point out she was never into me, thus I never led her on. The humiliation, though… “I’ve apologized for prom already, and I thought high school was water under the bridge.”
“Then quit reverting to your judgmental and holier-than-thou self.”
The comment flies out of my mouth before I can stop it. Her face takes on the same pinched expression it did when I apologized for my past behavior earlier.
“You were the judgmental one back in high school, Knox,” she snaps, standing up. “Calling me a stuck-up bitch to everyone else but never having the guts to tell me what you thought about me, just dumping me as a friend without any word as to why.”
Our eyes lock and hold, neither of us speaking. The hurt in her eyes though, it both surprises and slays me.
“I’m going out for some air. I’ll be back in a bit.”
“Reese,” I call after her when she starts walking away.
I look down at the list of questions the two of us need to answer together and then at her retreating back. I don’t know what to say to her, but it seems as if I’m not done apologizing today.
And no matter what she says, she’s not as over the past as she wants me to believe.
A/N: There you have it guys, Part 5. The first chapter from Knox’ POV. Back when I started seriously writing ten years ago, I used to head hop from paragraph to paragraph. Now I prefer to keep it in POV for a chapter. Though occasionally I need 2 POVs to tell the story.
Buckle up, this will be one wild ride!