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Between Love and Loathing: Chapter 12


“Don’t call me cupcake when I can’t even call you by your first name.” I tried to sound menacing, but it came out a whisper as I stared at the two bags he held out to me.

Then, I took a step back, and he frowned before snapping his arm out to grab my elbow and pull me forward. “Take the bags, Ms. Milton.”

Was I seriously fighting to get away from him and expensive gifts? What was wrong with me?

But then I heard chatter outside my bakery, and I panicked, ripping my arm away from him and rushing to close the door just as I saw colleagues approaching the lobby. “Shit.”

Dominic casually sat down on one of the barstools and eyed me warily, “What’s wrong now?”

I shoved him up. “What are you doing? Go to the back kitchen. They’ll see us.”

“So what if they see us?” He shrugged.

Oh my God. Didn’t he get it? I turned out the lights before grabbing the bags from him and pushing him into the back room. “I look like I got run over by a train, that’s what, Dominic. I’m wearing my dress from last night, my hair is a mess, I don’t have shoes or makeup on and—”

When we finally were through the back doors to the kitchen, he crossed his arms and looked down at me. “Check the bags.”

Narrowing my eyes, I took in his gaze that sparkled on me. Was he enjoying this? “Technically, this is your fault.”

“Is it now?”

“Yes. I could have gotten my shoes out of the ocean at least.”

“They were a hundred feet out to sea, cupcake. What were you going to do, swim in your already almost-see-through dress?”

“Are you that concerned, honestly? It would have dried.” I scoffed.

“Not before half the world saw your ass,” he pointed out without hesitation.

“It’s my ass to show off,” I threw back.

“Not if I have something to do with it.”

“Oh, shut up,” I said as I whipped the box out of the bag. When I lifted the cover, I murmured “Shut up” for a whole different reason. Beautiful new Christian Louboutin shoes sparkled up at me with what I’m sure were expensive diamonds. The next bag and orange box had something even more expensive. Beautiful leather, bright green and expertly crafted. I smoothed my hand over it as I murmured, “Shut the fuck up.”

“So, you’ve got a mouth when you’re impressed then?”

“What?” I whispered, still looking at the bag.

It seemed Dominic was making notes about me though because he said, “You swore last night when I tasted you and today when you got your Birkin. You must have been impressed that I can lick your pussy like—”

“Mr. Hardy!” I cut him off as my gaze ripped away from the beautiful purse to meet his and scold him. He was smiling again, and my heart lurched in his direction seeing him so openly happy in that moment. But then my heart dropped as I glanced back at the gifts. I couldn’t afford these.

“This is very nice but I—”

“I lost your shoes and purse didn’t I?”

“Well, yes.” I wasn’t going to back down from that, even if it was mostly my fault. “But I—”

“Then I owed you, so I got you new ones. Now, put them on.”

“The shoes and purse you lost were not—”

“You said they were like fifty thousand dollars.” He wrinkled his nose as he said it and mimicked my tone.

God, I’d made a fool of myself the night before. “That’s a lot of money.”

“Not for me.”

When I still didn’t reach for them, he sighed, set his phone down, and walked toward me. He grabbed my hips and lifted me onto the prep counter. His hand skirted down my calf, and I gulped, feeling his skin against mine again. “If your colleagues weren’t outside, I’d probably ask for another round right now.”

“You’d ask?” I blurted out, not sure I could imagine him doing that.

“You’re right. I’d take.” His hand brushed back up my calf and grazed over my thigh before his hand was where my panties had been. “Fuck me, little fighter. No underwear.”

“Threw them in the trash. Couldn’t wear them again this morning.” I shrugged.

“So, when I have that penthouse cleaned, someone’s getting your dirty lingerie?”

“Probably just garbage, Dominic.” I breathed fast as his fingers brushed over my pussy. I knew this couldn’t be happening again, but I spread my legs for him, and he chuckled into my neck.

“You’re sober now, and I deserve this pussy after the hell you put me through last night.” He sighed and rubbed my clit with his thumb before dragging his hand back down my legs back to my foot. “But I’ll wait.” I was dazed, confused, even a bit too disoriented to think of him slipping the shoes on my feet. “There. Now, you’re ready to work.”

Gripping the prep counter, I shook my head once, trying to clear the sexual fog in the back room. “I still need to go home.”

I hopped off the counter and stared down at the shoes. “You don’t need to go home. You look fine with your natural hair and freckles on your face.”

I brushed a hand over my freckles and blew out a breath before I stalked past him to see if everyone had left the lobby.

Instead, Valentino stood out there. He was one man that I respected, that could probably make me give up my ban on dating. He smiled down at Paloma and Rita. Then they laughed at something he’d said. I couldn’t help but smile too because Paloma had stars in her eyes as she gestured animatedly to him.

If the magazines and stories about him were true, he was a dream of a man. At just thirty-seven, he’d accomplished so much and was already giving back to charity by teaching kids how to enjoy healthy food and lifestyles. He’d been the head chef at numerous kitchens and every time someone was interviewed about working below him, they looked like they were in love with him. They all appreciated his laid-back style, his charisma, and his art.

“You aren’t his type.” I jumped at the rough voice behind me, against my neck.

“Huh?” I dropped my gaze and fiddled with the seam of my dress, stepping forward and turning around to play dumb. “Oh, I don’t … I’m not interested in him. Of course, I’d love to be mentored by him. I mean, he’s a world-renowned chef and—”

“You don’t lie well, Clara,” Dominic cut me off, and I swear there was a hint of jealousy there. “Your eyes were glued to him the moment he came into view. Plus, I think you mentioned something about him last night in the hotel room when—”

I winced and ran a hand through my frizzy hair. “Okay, so what if I think he’s attractive and a good catch? Can we not bring up last night ever again, please?”

“Why not, babe? Now, that Valentino’s outside, you don’t want him to know you enjoyed someone else’s kiss?”

I pursed my lips and set my hands on my hips. “We barely even kissed.”

“Oh, I’m not talking about kissing you here.” He stepped to drag his thumb across my bottom lip. “I don’t care to kiss a woman’s mouth ever.”

I couldn’t respond. My insides were all jumbled, feeling too much from his touch and jealousy from thinking about him with someone else.

Then his gaze dipped down to my sex. “But I’ll kiss your pussy and make sure you enjoy it every single time. I’m happy to inform Valentino of that—”

“Are you freaking kidding me?” I stopped him. Heat flowed through my body fast, turned on and pissed off at the same time. “Is there a reason you actually stopped by, Dominic?”

“Other than to save you from embarrassment by bringing you shoes?” His eyebrow lifted.

I think he enjoyed making me say thank you, but I ground it out anyway, because I would be polite even if it nearly killed me. “Thank you. I will pay you back.”

I don’t think he expected that response because he opened his mouth and then snapped it shut. He cracked his knuckles before he leaned close, his eyes darkening “You try to give me money for those shoes and that bag, fighter, I’ll enjoy making you regret it. Don’t disrespect me by acting like a few thousand dollars is worth shit to me or you.”

One day he’d probably figure out I’d left my fortune behind, but today I didn’t tell him because obviously I needed the money much more than him. “Whatever. Fine. We both need to get to work, so thank you, but now you can leave.”

He glared at me for a second longer, his eyes still hardened with anger, but then he spun on his heel right before I grabbed his arm.

“Sorry. You can leave … after everyone in the lobby leaves.”

His phone buzzed again, and he glanced down with a grumble.

Maybe I was actually keeping him from a meeting. “If you really do actually have to go …”

“No … it’s just my brothers and sisters trying to …” His gaze narrowed on me. Then he stepped back and studied me as if I was suddenly an exhibit on display. “You might actually work.”

“Um, work for what?”

“You want Valentino to mentor you and take notice of you?” He sneered the word because we both knew I wanted more than mentoring. “I know how to make him.”

I scoffed and then laughed, thinking he had to be joking. Honestly, Dominic could probably tell Valentino to mentor me and he would. It was like everyone were sheep, and Dominic was the shepherd of this resort.

I went around the counter to pour some coffee that was finally ready. When I looked up, Dominic wasn’t laughing with me. He’d simply folded his big arms over his chest and waited with such confidence, I knew he was actually very serious. He was giving me that look like he had a challenge ready to go, and suddenly I was hungry for what it might be. Why did I enjoy stepping up to the plate every time he threw a pitch my way? “I really don’t think you know what a man like Valentino wants, Dominic.”

We stared at one another as I took a sip of the coffee, not breaking my gaze from his.

“I do. He wants a trophy girlfriend. One that will take care of him and his restaurant, one that dotes on him, one that can share in his love for his career.” He walked around the counter and grabbed himself a plain white cup to pour his own coffee. “He wants a partner, but he doesn’t see that in any woman now, because he’s focused on his career. He needs a blatant representation, and then he needs a woman that’s so far out of his reach, he sees it as a challenge to get her on his arm.”

“Okay.” I dragged out the word. That was oddly specific, but I could probably be all those things, considering I loved his career, considering I was educated in exactly what he was and could clean up nice enough. “Well, maybe once the bakery is up and—”

“He’s already dating Rita.”

“Oh well, then, that ship has sailed.” My heart didn’t even feel that bad about it.

“No. You just need a few double dates with them to make him see you. His relationship with Rita is casual. It won’t go anywhere.”

“Why are you telling me all this?”

“Because I’ll be your date on that double date.” Then, his gaze flicked to the desserts I’d made a couple of nights before through the kitchen window. “You have anything to go with this coffee?”

The man had just dropped a ridiculous bomb in the bakery and expected me to go grab him a freaking cupcake?

“Wh–what? Did you just say we date? Are you still drunk from last night, Dominic?”

He chuckled as he stepped close before he whispered, “I was never drunk, baby. I remember every damn thing about last night, including you stripping down in front of me and begging to get your pussy fucked.”

Dominic Hardy with a filthy mouth in my bakery had my heart beating faster than Valentino probably ever could. I didn’t know if I was mad or turned-on.

“I asked you not to bring up last night.”

“And I won’t once you go on a few dates with me.”

“Why would I ever do that?”

“Other than to show your dream boy you’re the perfect girlfriend to me and could be the same to him?” He brushed a hand through my hair to push back some of the curls from my shoulder. Suddenly, my skin was extremely sensitive there and I shivered. I knew he caught the movement because he smiled at it. The man loved knowing he could affect my body in some way.

I rolled my eyes and crossed my arms over my chest. “Let’s just say that plan actually works—which it probably won’t. What’s in it for you?”

“I need an appearance or two with a woman. I have an annoying ex on my hands.”

“What does that have to do with me?” I wanted to ask more than one question. Was the annoying ex Natya? Most people knew of her, and she’d been linked to him and his family. And when I’d worked with the Hardy brothers, I’d read an article or two. Did he care about her?

“She’ll back off if she thinks I’ve moved on.”

“Have you?” I blurted out the question and saw how his whole body locked up, his barriers flew sky high, and he wasn’t letting anyone see past his mask as he played with the dress strap on my shoulder. “Does it matter if I haven’t?”

I wanted to scream that it did matter.

But it couldn’t. I didn’t have feelings for him, just maybe wanted to know a bit more about his past, that’s all. And I’d probably go into unhealthy stalking on my laptop later, trying to find news articles about them.

I cleared my throat as I also tried to clear away the thought of him with her. “I don’t think your whole date idea will work with Valentino.” And I didn’t need the complication in my life, not when I was trying to find my own footing here in a new city. “So, the answer is no.”

“You’re turning down a date with me then?”


He stepped back and let his hand fall away from my shoulder. Immediately, I missed the electricity of his touch, a perfect indication that this was for the best. He wasn’t the one I should be missing. Ever.

“So, any cupcakes left for my coffee?”

I chewed on my cheek before spinning on a heel and going to grab a few different sweets. I’d infused different flavors over the week, and they were still in the refrigerator. I’d also mastered adding chocolate flowers to the crème brûlée.

“Are those”—he narrowed his eyes at me when I came back around the corner—“orange and red poppies on that crème brûlée?”

I couldn’t help but wiggle a little with a squeal. “Yes. California poppies are the orange ones. Red ones because, well, they’ll match the pink accents. I’m going to try to make them my signature as long as they’re good enough. I’ll try other flowers too. But supposedly the fields here with them are gorgeous and—”

He sighed in disappointment. “We’re minimizing color throughout the resort.”

See, that’s when all the electricity between Dominic and I died. We were back to colleagues trying to make my bakery in his resort work and not seeing eye to eye on a damn thing. “Yes, but in my bakery …” I shrugged and set down the tray. He glared at all of them.

Next to the red velvet cupcakes were truffles that were coated in white chocolate that I’d infused with a strawberry syrup. The outcome was a light pink that I then topped with a single red heart. He wrinkled his nose at those too.

I didn’t know if he was impressed or disgusted. Probably disgusted, but I didn’t care.

Instead of hearing criticism I didn’t need today, I followed up with, “I’m not sure if these will all make the menu, but the pink ones were supposed to go with the seating, so we’ll see, and the flavors are delightful because”—I smiled at the mint leaf on top of one of the truffles as I pointed nervously now. I loved talking about my creations but was scared to share them too—“this one I actually ground and dried some fresh mint that blends well with the caramel I laced into the chocolate. Then when I added a hint of strawberry, it’s this perfect dance of all the flavors in your mouth but still leaves you with fresh breath after.”

He still didn’t say a thing as he watched me. His lips didn’t lift even a centimeter, and he didn’t move to grab anything off the tray.

I was making a fool of myself. It was like sitting with my mother and sister, trying to get them to try things when they were on a diet. I skirted around the counter and grabbed the tray to take back to the kitchen.

“Where are you going with those?” Did he lick his lips?

“I’m putting them away. Paloma and I are going to taste test later if you don’t want any and—”

“I’ll try them,” he announced, like I should be excited to have his expertise.

“Mr. Hardy, maybe we’ve reached our quota of hanging out for the day. I don’t think you have the knowledge of what is going to be good on my menu anyway.”

He clucked his tongue. “That’s a pity. But you know who does have the expertise?”

“Who?” I asked, sort of confused as I stood there with the tray.

The man didn’t even give me a second to prepare before he turned on his heels, opened the door to my bakery, and yelled Valentino’s name. “We’ve got a few truffles we’d like you to try if you got a minute.”

“Dominic Hardy, are you out of your fucking mind?”

He looked over his shoulder and shrugged, “Yeah, probably.”


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