An aggravated sigh slipped free and she pulled into the nearest parking lot, knowing she needed to take a few minutes to gather herself. For one thing, she needed to figure out where she was actually going. It was pushing eleven o’clock on a weekday; she would feel terrible for dropping in on someone. That pretty much left her with needing a hotel, which only barely justified driving out of the city. Darien had several hotel choices, but so did the city she’d just left.
“Ugh,” she grumbled, shutting off her engine and letting her head fall back against the headrest. “What now?” Now she needed a tissue, that was what. So she turned, slipped her hand into the purse resting in the passenger seat, and dug around until she found the small pack of tissues that she always carried with her.
She was wiping her nose, still sniffling, when the lights in the building she was parked in front of blinked out and her surroundings suddenly darkened. The unexpected difference startled her out of her head, catching her attention, and Angela pulled the tissue from her face as her gaze focused. Apparently she’d parked in the small parking lot of Darien’s lone video rental store, and a part of her was oddly amazed that it was even still in business. And how does it matter? It really didn’t, so she shook her head and wiped once more at her stuffed nose before extracting a makeshift garbage bag from the glove compartment.
Angela started when someone knocked on her window seconds later, a muffled male voice calling to her from the other side of the door. Her heart leapt into her throat, choking her more, and for a long, panicked second she was convinced that she’d managed to get cornered by Eric or his brother, Jacob. Two years of silence surely didn’t mean they were actually gone, after all.
Seconds ticked by before she fully processed the familiar, intelligent blue eyes frowning back at her through the glass. Blue eyes that were set above a strong, smooth jaw and below a head of thick, blond hair. It was a face she knew, and though an immediate pang of sadness shot through her, the sight also brought a smile to her lips. That face belonged to Vaughn Prescott, one of her few true friends. A friend she hadn’t been a good enough friend to lately. And she couldn’t believe she’d forgotten, if only for a minute, that he worked there.
He stepped back, giving her room to get out of the car, and she obliged him as soon as she’d slipped free of her seatbelt.
“What’re you doing out here?” Vaughn asked by way of greeting as she eased her door shut once more. He was already frowning with either mild concern or confusion, and she found herself glad for the darkness around them. He was less likely to see that she’d been crying.
She tried to offer him a light laugh, but the sound failed somewhere in her throat. “Ah, well,” she hedged, suddenly self-conscious. Their friendship had gotten rocky over the last year, mostly because they just never saw each other. They were in entirely different fields of study, and after the first semester they’d only seen each other in passing a couple of times on campus. It didn’t help that they lived in separate cities, and it helped even less that she’d been strangely awkward about hanging out with him once she’d started dating Geoff. She didn’t think she’d communicated with him at all in over a month. “I’m, uh, that is, I just needed a little quiet thinking time, you know?”
He arched a pointed brow, slipped his hands into his pockets, and asked, “So you thought you’d pull into the video store parking lot?”
This time she did laugh, a little, and leaned back into her car as she honestly admitted, “I wasn’t paying that much attention, actually. I just knew it was a parking lot.”
His frown returned, brow furrowing faintly as an evening breeze toyed with his hair, and he pushed, “Is everything okay?” This time the concern was undeniable, and it warmed her heart a bit to know that the distance that had formed between them wasn’t enough to pull him completely away. She really owed it to them both to put more effort into keeping in touch with him. He’d been an incredibly good friend to her right from the start, he deserved the effort.
Her smile was easier, if not also sadder, when she replied, “I guess that depends on your definition. It’s nothing crazy.” She paused, suddenly finding herself uncomfortable and fighting the urge to fidget, before adding, “Geoff and I broke up is all.” It had always been awkward talking about Geoff with him, or even around him.
Vaughn had inclined his head, acknowledging her assurance that her current state had nothing to do with the seemingly-dead war between her family and the Matthews family. A war he knew about first-hand, since he was the one who’d saved her from Eric on the day she’d learned the truth about everything. It was possibly ironic, then, that she would run into him now, on the day she’d broken up with her next cheating boyfriend. And his frown deepened into a genuine scowl as the rest of her words sunk in. “What happened?” he asked.