“Hey!” she greeted. “How are you? How’s your week been?”
“My week’s been good. And you?”
She lifted a shoulder. “Can’t complain.”
“Would you like anything to drink? Perhaps a bite to eat?”
“I already ate, but I’ll take a mint tea,” she replied.
I nodded and went to the counter to put her order in before returning. My mouth grew dry as I retook my seat. “So,” I said, clasping my hands together. “I actually asked you to meet me today for a reason.”
Her eyebrows rose curiously. “Oh?”
I plastered what I hoped was an apologetic expression on my face. “I’m so sorry, Annabelle, but I can’t see you anymore.”
Now, she frowned. That clearly wasn’t what she’d expected me to say. She looked vaguely hurt, and guilt nipped at me. “Why? I thought we were getting on well,” she said.
I’m fairly certain I’m in love with someone else, my subconscious replied, but I sensed that wasn’t what Annabelle wanted to hear, and I didn’t want to discuss Afric with her. This thing between us was too new, too delicate to talk about with anyone else yet.
“We were getting on well, but it’s not going to work between us. I’m not right for you.”
She stared at me for a long moment, and just like that, the hurt expression vanished, replaced with a look of malice. “Well, that much is obvious.”
She gave a cruel scoff. “You pretended to be Callum Davidson to get with me. Obviously, I never would’ve looked twice at you if it weren’t for that.”
“Yes, but you did say you were willing to give things a shot anyway.”
Annabelle rolled her eyes, and I suddenly felt quite ill. It was like in the movies when a nice character reveals they’re the villain. It’s shocking, but on some level, it makes sense. You see their previous behaviour more clearly. Not that I didn’t already suspect she was using me.
“Come on, Neil, let’s be real here. I was never and could never be interested in you. You’re not hideous or anything, but I like alpha males, and you’re the most beta male I’ve ever laid eyes on. And to be perfectly honest, it’s kind of pathetic how you used your access to Callum’s accounts to chat up women.”
I gritted my teeth, gripping tightly to the handle of my coffee mug to keep from saying something unkind. “That wasn’t my intention, and you know it.”
“You say it wasn’t your intention, but how can I know you aren’t just some pervert taking advantage of his position to lure women in. For all I know, the polite nerd-boy thing is all an act.”
Her words struck like a blow, but I didn’t give her the satisfaction of responding to the putdown. “So, what was your plan? Use me until you got your chance to steal Callum from Leanne? Have you any idea of how in love they are?”
Annabelle’s eyes flashed with venom. “They think they’re in love, but it’s patently obvious they’re terrible for each other. They were on and off again for years, and now, they’re just settling.”
“That might be how things seem on the telly, but believe me, their love is real. I see it first-hand every day.”
Annabelle was shaking her head. “You’re wrong. They’re a terrible match. Callum will soon realise that. He just needs the chance to get to know me better, see that he has other options, and you’re going to help me with that.”
I folded my arms. “I hate to break it to you, but from here on out, I want absolutely nothing to do with you.”
Her smile was malicious. “If you want me to keep your catfishing a secret, then you’ll do whatever I say for as long as I say it.”
“Reveal my secret if that’s what you want, but I won’t be helping you,” I told her, my tone final.
A waiter arrived with Annabelle’s mint tea, and it was almost comical how she thanked him with an angelic smile before replacing it with a glower that she levelled directly at me.
She leaned in close, her voice little more than a whisper, low and threatening. “I have screenshots of every single one of our conversations, Neil. You might not care about me revealing what you did, but how would you feel if I posted them on the internet? They make it look like Callum Davidson was cheating on Leanne by messaging with a fan. His reputation would be in tatters, and it would be all your fault.”
My entire body drew taut at her threat. Annabelle was far cleverer and more manipulative than even Afric had given her credit for, and she’d seen through her act much earlier than I had. Somehow, Annabelle had realised that I cared about Callum. He wasn’t just my boss, he was my friend, and she knew I couldn’t live with myself if I were the reason his reputation was destroyed.