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Between Love and Loathing: Chapter 13

DOMINIC

Damn, she was mad. The crimson over her chest rose up her neck to mingle with her freckles. I fucking loved seeing it.

I’d get her mad every day from now on just to witness her body’s reaction. I’d also be coming here every day to watch her talk about her desserts because I couldn’t see past anything when she did. Except for myself, I’d never seen anyone half as excited about their job. Clara sold me with her dream the second she said something about strawberries and mint in the truffle and looked about ready to cry with pride.

So, I was about to push our relationship and the boundaries I normally had with women. In more ways than one.

Valentino sauntered over as he waved to a few of the store owners and waltzed in like he owned the room. I’d liked the guy before last night. He was hardworking, had made a name for himself from nothing, and didn’t cut corners. It’s why I gave him the top restaurant in my resort. His food was divine, and he’d never given me a reason to dislike his character.

But when I saw Clara stare at that man, jealousy slithered through my veins, potent and vicious in its pursuit to suddenly want to claim her as mine.

“How’s it going, Mr. Hardy?” He shook my hand hard and then combed it through his dirty-blond hair before he turned to Clara. I saw him take her in, saw his eyes register her dress and how different she looked without makeup.

Clara put a beautiful mask on every day, covered the freckles, painted her lips deep red, and flared out her reddish lashes with dark black. Without all that, she was cute, like you wanted to fold her up and put her in your chest pocket to keep her close to your heart.

Valentino’s eyes narrowed and ping-ponged between us. He was putting together a story in his head, and it’s the exact one I wanted him to go with. “Nice to finally see your bakery, Clara.”

“Right.” She took a deep breath and stepped forward to set the tray on the counter again. “Sorry about the mess. I didn’t really plan on having anyone but Paloma come in and taste today.”

He hummed. “No worries. We’re all working hard to get our places up to Hardy standards, huh?” He slapped a hand on my shoulder.

She nodded and played with a corner of the tray. “Your restaurant looks absolutely fantastic. I think the kitchen is laid out well for utilization, and the ambience is one in a million with the floor-to-ceiling panoramic window views.”

“Thanks. Rita and Dom played a big part.” Clara’s gaze cut to me, and she lifted a brow as if to question whether I’d correct him using my abbreviated name.

I wouldn’t. I didn’t give a shit about the formality except with her. It was mostly to piss her off because she got a damn bakery here when I didn’t want her to have one.

“And sorry I haven’t been in to see your bakery. It’s been a busy month. You’ve settled in quite well, no? And the accent wall, huh? Pink is soft but bold.”

Valentino hadn’t stopped by to see hers? Fucking idiot. She ate up his apology though. I saw how she practically melted at the sound of his freaking voice.

“The pink is still to be determined. We’re undecided on whether or not we’re keeping it.” I announced and walked in between them to point at her truffles. “Which would you like to try first?”

“Pink, I think.” He smiled slowly at her before he reached out and grabbed one. Then the fucker stared at her as he slid the chocolate into his mouth and moaned. I regretted my decision about bringing him in here immediately, especially when I glanced at her and saw how she was practically leaning in to get closer to him.

And did he just glance down at her cleavage? “It’s … Wow. The flavors, Clara.” He looked fucking surprised. “Dom, have you tried this? I’m quite stunned actually. I’d love to have this on the restaurant’s menu, Clara, for guests to order through the night if possible. I think—”

“You know what?” Shit. I needed to stop him right then and there. “I’ve got to get Clara home actually.”

He glanced between us, confused. When I put my arm around her shoulders, though, he scanned her outfit, and I think it dawned on him officially then. “Oh, of course.”

“I’m happy you approve of the truffles. Makes Clara’s job easier. Let’s make sure we all get together again before the resort opens.”

“Of course, of course. Clara, we should do lunch. I talk with all the distributors. Did you get your mint from them?”

“Yes. But—”

“Ah. There’s better mint around the corner. They sell it every weekend.” His gaze flicked to mine. “Just local additions that help keep the food fresh. You understand?”

I nodded. “If we need them for distribution here, we’ll adjust.” It’s why we had a team regulating imports.

“I’d love to check it out sometime,” Clara confirmed.

“Yes, yes. Of course.” Valentino hesitated though and looked at me. He knew better. “You’ll come too, yeah?”

That’s right. He was aware of his place. At least for now. I saw him trying to encroach on my territory already. But, fuck, I knew Clara wasn’t really mine.

Maybe it was my stare that got him to back up, but he still waved before he said, “Let’s chat soon.”

And then he was gone, and she turned to glare those blazing green eyes at me as she shrugged my arm off her shoulder. “What in the actual fuck was that? He thinks we’re sleeping together now.”

“Yeah, although he probably thought that the moment he walked in and saw you wearing the same dress from last night.” I leaned against the counter to watch her run through the ten emotions she was probably about to have.

“I …” She hesitated, narrowed her eyes, then paced back and forth through the bakery. Then she shoved the tray so it slid a bit on the counter. “I don’t think so.”

“You know so. He wants to be the best man in the room, and you just became the best prize that isn’t available.”

“Well, that’s stupid,” she said and then stomped her foot like a mad little child. “I don’t want a man like that.”

“All men are like that. It’s a pissing contest, but he respects you more now at least. You showed you know how to bake.”

“Of course I do.” She glanced at her chocolates and a small smile played on her lips. “I … You know, I hate to admit it, and I know it’s idiotic, but it feels good to know a guy with a Michelin star wants my food in his restaurant.”

I grabbed a chocolate off the tray and took a bite because I wasn’t about to resist either. They tasted almost as good as she did, and knowing she baked it gave me some sick satisfaction eating it too. “It’s not idiotic. I sought approval of my superiors for years.”

“And now?” she asked.

“Well, I’m the most superior now, Clara. So, I don’t need anyone’s approval anymore.”

She rolled her eyes and then waved me toward the door. “Of course you don’t. Anyway, I’m going home now that you’ve made a fool of me.”

“Still want to pass on dating me? You might get the boyfriend of your dreams …”

She wiggled one of the tips of her new heels into the ground as she thought about it. I wanted to hear yes and no at the same time, the feelings warring with each other in me. I could have her close, on my arm, maybe fuck around a time or two with her. But then she’d only be doing it for him, and I should have only been doing it to keep Natya away.

“You really need this girl to stay away from the resort? Will it hurt the bakery too?”

I sighed. “I’ll handle her either way.”

“But having me with you would be easier?”

“Probably.” I nodded, hoping it was true. Natya had never seen me with another woman, but my siblings were right that she never wanted to look like a fool.

Clara stood there, fussing with her dress before she admitted, “I don’t care so much about Valentino.” Thank fuck. “But can we discuss changes to the bakery? And actually agree on them?”

“Of course my little fighter wants to raise the stakes. Fine. Give Rita three changes. Nothing big. No discussion necessary.”

“You don’t want a say?” she questioned, like she couldn’t believe it. Yet, in the past twenty-four hours, I’d seen her love and drive and now understood she cared for the bakery in a way I thought she hadn’t. This wasn’t a business her mommy and daddy gave her. She wanted this like I wanted what I worked for.

“My say is you get three changes, and I’ll approve them as long as Rita can deal with it.”

“Only three? How long am I dating you for?”

“Five months gives us a bit of time for the resort to be up and running. It needs to be public. You need to tell your friends and family about us. My ex—”

“Are we talking about Natya Fitch?”

“So you read the tabloids?”

“Like a fiend.” She shrugged and when I scoffed, she just chuckled. “It’s fun and relaxing, okay? So how much of that is true?”

“Enough of it.” I cracked my neck, not wanting to go into details. “We need it to be public enough that she doesn’t mention our resort anymore. We have partnerships that would disintegrate if she’s involved. So, tell your friends, family. Even Noah.” His name sounded like acid on my lips.

“Well, three changes seems a bit light if I have to fake it with everyone. Plus, people at work are going to think I’m getting favorable treatment.”

“Well, you already are.” I shrugged. “I don’t let people change designs here.”

“Five changes. One a month.” Her voice was small but firm. Why was I bargaining with this woman? She was going to give me hell for five months, and even so, my damn dick was hardening just thinking about it. “And I get to keep the wall.” Her smile was saccharine.

“Pushing your limits, baby. The edges of it have to be cleaned up and we might need to pull the color just a bit.”

“Deal.” She stuck her hand out to shake mine, but I slid my fingers through her hair and pulled her close.

“I don’t shake hands with my girlfriend.”

Then I took her mouth. I devoured those bare pink lips in the way I’d been wanting to all morning. She opened up with a whimper as soon as my tongue swiped over her bottom pout. She tasted of strawberries and chocolate, maybe a hint of that mint just like the truffle she had. I was going to crave chocolate for the rest of my life after this woman, I already knew it. Still, I kissed her without reservation, because I wanted to explore every taste she might have been hiding.

When I pulled back, she was staring up at me in question, and then she peered behind me to check to see if people were outside. “You said you don’t kiss women, Dominic.”

She was right. I’d never wanted to be involved with anyone since Natya, but I found myself wanting to now. “I kiss my girlfriend.”

“Fake girlfriend,” she corrected and then said, “And no one’s watching.”

“Sure they are,” I said and ducked down to taste her again. We might have been fake dating, but I was going to kiss her for real every fucking time.


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