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Between Love and Loathing: Chapter 14

CLARA

He came to sit there every day in my bakery, not saying much of anything. I don’t know if Dominic Hardy was a man of few words or if we just didn’t have much in common. Still, either way, I found myself nervously blabbing to him half the time.

“I don’t know why the caramel isn’t folding into the chocolate well enough,” I scoffed.

He hummed but didn’t look up from his laptop.

I continued the one-sided conversation throughout the day. “And if the mint is going to be withered when it comes to my door, why even send it?” I continued on about how my macarons weren’t fluffing, how the coffee seemed to heat a bit too hot and then grounds tasted sort of burnt. I even offered him truffles and cupcakes.

He declined while he hummed along with my commentary the whole day.

Each day, I walked in at the same time, and every morning, he showed up like clockwork to find me fighting another recipe on my menu. One day, suddenly, he glanced up. “Do you have a final menu for opening week yet?”

I glared at him through my kitchen window. “Remind me why you’re here again?”

“All for show,” he replied and went back to his laptop.

Most days were the same. He didn’t say good morning or even a hello. He plopped his laptop down on the counter, opened it up, and put on freaking glasses with his stupid expensive black suit. Glasses with black rims that framed his beautiful eyes and accentuated the perfect features.

He had no business wearing them. It was criminal that the man I was supposed to hate looked this good as he rudely dialed a number on his phone and got to work.

Like he belonged in my bakery.

He had such an audacity to him. I knew he was like that with everyone here. Most of my colleagues talked about him like he was a freaking god that couldn’t be touched.

Still, a “good morning” in my bakery would have been welcomed and appreciated especially when I wasted my breath walking him through practically every recipe I made.

By the end of the week, I’d had enough. My heels clicked across the white floors as I found myself coming to stand right in front of him on the other side of the counter. Then, I watched my own hand, wide eyed as I closed his laptop.

His eyes bulged too like he couldn’t believe I had as much audacity as him.

This was my home. And weren’t we all supposed to feel relaxed in our homes? Plus, my joints had ached more that day and a rash had popped up on my arm. The tiredness ebbed and flowed but today it was there, strong, loud, and prominent.

I needed to get a doctor here in LA, but I needed this bakery to be a success first. And that meant if Dominic Hardy was going to be here, he was going to have to at least show me some respect.

I was building a world for myself and pushing for the things I needed. I had to, I reminded myself. This was for me. And if I couldn’t live for me, I couldn’t live at all.

I took a deep breath and glared at him. “When you walk into my bakery, you can say good morning or hello, Mr. Hardy.”

His eyes cut fast to me, lethal in their pursuit of who’d ruined his view of his work. Then, they twinkled as he held his phone away from his mouth. “Ah, the little fighter woke up bright and early this morning, huh?” He then spoke into the speaker, “I’ll call you back. My girlfriend wants me to properly greet her.”

He hung up and stood. “No more ‘Mr. Hardy’ now that people think we’re fucking, Clara.”

I chewed my cheek as I watched him stalk around the counter, predatory as if he was after his prey. “Right. Fine. Well, Dominic, a good morning will do,” I murmured as I backed up.

His smile was slow, and I knew immediately that man was looking for a way to antagonize me. “I don’t say good morning to anyone, Clara. But since we’re dating now,” he grabbed my waist and pulled me close, “might as well take advantage of the situation.”

When he kissed me in my black-and-white bakery, my eyes immediately drifted closed and colors burst everywhere. He tightened his hold on me and consumed everything I was. I felt his hands all over me, down my back, on my ass, gripping my hips and sliding up my breasts to my neck and then jaw where he held me at just the right angle. Dominic didn’t give away any power here, not when I whimpered or moaned even as his tongue explored my mouth.

I was dominated.

I was ravaged.

I was owned by him while he kissed me senseless.

And then, just like that, he stepped away.

Still wanting him in a way it shouldn’t, my body stumbled forward, as his body straightened like this was all business.

I brought my hand to my lips before murmuring, “What was that?”

“Your good morning. And practice for when we’re in public.” He shrugged.

“So, okay.” Was I gasping for air? “Warning me next time would probably be a good idea.”

“You scared of a little kiss, Clara?” He sized me up and then shrugged. Was I so inadequate that he’d brush off a kiss that had felt like finding water in the Sahara Desert? My lips still tingled from tasting his, my skin still felt electric, and my heart was thumping at double its normal rate.

“It’s just … not how I imagined a kiss from my boyfriend would be in the morning.”

His eyes were a darker green now than I’d ever seen. It was the only indication I’d affected him like he had me. He searched my gaze for more information before finally asking, “Did your last boyfriend not kiss you like that in the morning, Clara?”

I saw the way his jaw ticked, how he put his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels. Irritation looked good on Dominic Hardy as he waited for my answer. “I don’t know if my last boyfriend was really even a boyfriend.” I wrinkled my nose.

I was too worried about becoming my mother to fall in love when I went to culinary school, and back home, I had guy friends but we only hooked up occasionally. “I sort of like to leave before the sun comes up.”

He quirked his head. “Interesting.”

Then he walked back around the counter and sat down to work. He even put those ridiculously hot glasses back on.

That was it? “Why do you keep coming here?”

“Well, we need people to start talking before we’re seen out together.”

I sighed and figured I might as well use him while he was here. “Want to try a mocha?”

“No.” He typed away without looking up at me.

“Do you want to try a cappuccino instead?” He had to want something to drink.

“I’ll take coffee black if you have it.”

Of course he wanted something with no flavor in it. I wasn’t here to deliver him what he wanted though. What I handed him in his cup today was going to be what I was going to hand him with my bakery: something he never thought he needed.

I turned on the frother and let the rhythmic sound soothe my scattered thoughts of handling him here. It was difficult to feel his presence through my soul while I worked, and worry over him judging my every step. I fell into step when I knew that adding the syrup and chocolate and caramel at just the right time was necessary with the espresso and frothed milk. Within minutes, I smiled down at the cup. It was perfect, and I’d be damned if he thought less of it as I set it down in front of him.

When his eyes flicked over to the concoction, I saw his large hand tense into a fist and then his jaw muscle popped.

“You’ll love it, I promise,” I said before I went back to the kitchen and got to work. There were a million different things I had to bake. “If you’re going to keep coming here, you might as well try some things.”

I started with a breakfast sandwich, making sure to grab the paprika for my homemade hollandaise. “Everyone in Florida loves this sandwich, I swear.”

There went his humming again. When I brought out the sandwich and set it in front of him, I saw he’d finished half his drink.

No comment though. Next, I cooked up bacon but added cracked pepper and a dollop of honey. When I took that out to him, the sandwich was gone.

He still typed away, without any mention of the food.

We worked most of the day with me talking his ear off. And somehow, I felt lighter, like this worked, like we weren’t completely dysfunctional in my bakery. When I placed three truffles in front of him and he ate every single one in front of me, I waited for the verdict that time.

He didn’t take those eyes off me, and every bite he took bit into my resolve to avoid him. He was delighting in this, probably knew my mouth was watering as he licked his lips, that my sex was clenching as I watched him suck his fingers clean, and that my body heated while he hummed around the last bits of dessert. “I like the third one best. Reminds me of how sweet you taste.”

“Dominic,” I warned.

He leaned over the counter. “Your chocolate rivals how sweet your pussy is, baby. If I could marry the two flavors, I’d eat your truffles every day … and I don’t even like indulging in chocolate.”

My mind scrambled every which way at his freaking dirty mouth before it hooked on to one thing. “Wait. You don’t like chocolate at all?”

He chuckled before shoving away from the counter, closing his laptop and saying, “That’s not what I said. I said I don’t like to have it. Put everything you served me on the menu.”

“So it’s good enough?” I lifted an eyebrow, wanting to admit he liked something.

“It’ll do.” Of course he couldn’t say it. “I’ll see you tomorrow, little fighter. Same time, same place. Pick out the color of dishes you want and send the request to Rita.”

With that he was gone.


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