By Design – Chapter 10

Gracie walked out of her office building to find Jeff waiting for her just outside the door. Ever since she had told him about her encounter with Eli Walker, Jeff had become a bit overprotective. When she told him about Walker, she had hoped he would be able to calm her fears about the whole situation and assure her that she was just overacting and had nothing to worry about. However, she didn’t get the reaction she had been hoping for. Instead, he had expressed concern over the whole thing, thinking the encounter with Walker was a bit weird and stalker-ish. Since their chat, Jeff had made a point to get off work early so that he could meet Gracie at her office building when she left for the day. He just wanted to make sure she was safe, he informed her.

Though Gracie appreciated the gesture, she had assured him more than once that she was fine. Walker had never shown up again, and she had gotten over her nerves from his sudden appearance that day. Today, however, Gracie was kind of glad to see Jeff there waiting for her. Now she was just going to have to find a way to let him know what had happened to her at work during the day. She wondered how badly he would freak out when she told him.

She decided it wasn’t the best thing to lead the conversation with.

“Want to grab a bite to eat?” she asked instead as she approached Jeff.

“Sure,” he said with a shrug. They started walking. There were lots of places to choose from near Gracie’s workplace, so it wasn’t hard to find something small and convenient where they could sit and chat.

Once they were settled at the small bar they had chosen, Jeff turned to Gracie and brought up the same topic he did every day he came to walk her home. “Any word from Walker?” Though he tried to act nonchalant about it, Gracie could tell that Walker’s presence in her life really bothered him.

“Relax,” Gracie said, trying to shrug off the whole affair. “He hasn’t shown up again. Maybe it was just a chance meeting after all.” Though, they all knew that wasn’t true.

“Fine,” Jeff said, giving up on the topic. Gracie hadn’t bitten that line of conversation all week, and Jeff didn’t push it. He took a drink. “Just be careful, OK. There’s something about that guy that just rubs me the wrong way.”

“You seemed fine with him when you were mooching at his party,” Gracie reminded him.

“That was different,” Jeff said. “He hadn’t taken a personal interest in you at that point.”

Gracie felt her face grow red and she had a hard time meeting Jeff’s gaze. She turned away from him and took a sip of her drink. She had known this was part of the problem. This had always been part of the problem, ever since they had met in college. Gracie had always hoped Jeff would grow past this, but it was starting to look like it would always be something hanging over their friendship.

“So how was work today?” Jeff asked, obviously trying to change the topic.

“It was fine,” Gracie responded. “Pretty standard.”

“Any new assignments?”

“Mhm,” Gracie said as she took another drink. Though she had initially intended on telling Jeff about the assignment, now she wasn’t so sure she wanted to get into it.

“What’s the assignment?” Jeff asked.

“Um… It’s a private interview luncheon,” Gracie said, hoping that would sound boring enough for him to lose interest and prevent her from having to go into any more details.

So much for hope.

“That’s cool. Who’s the interview with?” Jeff asked.

“Eli Walker,” Gracie said into her glass. She braced herself for Jeff’s response.

“Have someone else do it,” he said in a cold, level tone.

“I can’t,” Gracie informed him. “The invitation was sent to me personally. Apparently Walker got it in his head to hold an event with a handful of media representatives, and I was one of the ones he chose.”

Jeff was scouring at her from across the table. “I don’t like this,” he said.

But there wasn’t anything he could do about it. When it came right down to it, this was something for work. It wasn’t like he could request her to give up her job because he didn’t like the people she was reporting on.

“Just be careful when you’re around him,” Jeff warned her for the umpteenth time. “There’s something about that guy I just don’t like.”

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