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Between Love and Loathing: Chapter 15


Other managers got curious enough that Dominic kept coming around. Paloma’s texts ended with a lot of exclamation points about the boss being in my bakery.

Then, she finally stopped in one day and just wide-eyed us both and then mouthed to me, ‘You owe me an explanation.” When Dominic looked up, she smiled and backed away fast.

“They’re all scared of you,” I announced.

“Rightfully so.”

“No,” I countered. “You’re supposed to be helping the team come together in the final days before we open so we have a cohesive brand, look, and flow.”

He sighed but didn’t say anything. When I offered him a truffle later, he glared at it for three seconds before turning it down.

The next day, Paloma was there again. This time, he asked her if they figured out the front displays. “We went with green apparel in the front like you wanted.” She plopped down right next to him and said, “Oh, let me show you. Green or burnt red earrings for the front display?”

She held out her phone, but he didn’t even look before he answered, “Burnt red.”


He pushed up his stupid perfect glasses that weren’t even falling down his face. “It works with the aesthetic.”

“Fine. You’re right.” Again, my new friend mouthed, “I want answers,” then she was out of there.

Every day after that, she was there, blabbering our ears off. She asked if we were a thing and he answered, “yes,” she glared at me some more, but I was too nervous to say anything further.

And then one day, Dominic wasn’t there, and I got a text from him.

Dominic: I’ll be gone for the rest of the week. When I get back, we should go out. Be seen.

Me: I’m ready when you are.

Dominic: Rita said you’re requesting paint colors. What happened to keeping your wall?

I scoffed at his text message. There was no way I was admitting I was wrong.

Me: I’m going for a softer hue and then fading into red.

Dominic: Technically, that’s a change.

Me: No it isn’t. Screw you, Dominic.

Dominic: Little fighter, if you’re talking dirty, feel free to call me.

Me: Goodbye.

Dominic: Did you hire a team to paint?

Me: I’m capable of doing it myself.

Dominic: Hold off until I’m back.

Me: Do you think I can’t? We have a month and a half until we open, Dominic.

Dominic: I’m aware. I’ll help you when I get back, then you can fuck me to thank me.

Jesus. I thought about that text all week. Even when Paloma was sitting there asking for all the dirty details of our relationship. I explained it had come on fast, but we’d had a history. She bought the whole thing, and now I had to make sure Dominic knew it too.

Still, I didn’t make an effort to text the man. He hadn’t made an effort to tell me where he was going, why he’d gone, or anything of the sort. We weren’t really dating. Honestly, Dominic Hardy was a terrible fake boyfriend and would be a catastrophic real one. Not one I’d ever actually want in my life.

Instead, I worked. All day, every day without any news from him.

“I’m sorry. So, you’re telling me that coffee bean isn’t available to be shipped here?” I gnashed my teeth together, pacing up and down the lobby.

I didn’t have enough space to dissipate the frustration in the air from phone calls this morning.

The resort’s food distributor continued to list off different types of beans just like he’d done for my cacao, my fruits, and some of my herbs. Setting a bakery apart from others meant we needed fresh produce, top-of-the-line ingredients, and fast shipping.

“I’m sorry, ma’am. Like I said, it’s just not doable.”

Trying not to feel defeat, I ended the call only to look up and see familiar, deep forest-green eyes that pulled me in even when I fought them. His black suit, as always, made me feel underdressed in the coral sundress I’d chosen that morning.

“Clara,” he murmured as he walked right up to me, wrapped an arm around my waist and lowered his head to kiss my cheek. “Miss me?”

“Want the fake girlfriend answer or the real one?”

He waited a beat and pulled back to catch my glare. His eyes scanned my face, and it took every ounce of control not to turn away from him. I knew I was makeup free. No one showed up to my bakery during the day with the resort still being closed, and I’d been baking in peace.

The sound that he made vibrated so low and deep through my whole body that I felt it in my bones. “Is it the real Clara I’m looking at today?” He murmured it softly as his hand went to my chin to tip my face up to him. He dragged a thumb across my cheek where I knew freckles dotted my face. “If so, I’ll take real. Always.”

I licked my lips and his eyes zeroed in on them. “Dominic,” I whispered and stepped back. Being in his arms with his eyes looking hungry like that was dangerous. “You need to hear the fake girlfriend version though.” I emphasized the word to make sure we both stepped back into reality.

One side of his mouth kicked up. “Go on then, fighter.” It’s like he knew what was coming.

“Well, since my boyfriend went somewhere all week and I haven’t seen or heard from him, I don’t miss him. I loathe him. Especially considering your distributor is giving me hell, and Rita is still pushing back on my next change.” I’d requested hanging floral decor that would match the soft pink wall. She’d emailed back that it wasn’t an option.

“I’ll remind Rita that you’ve been allotted five changes at your discretion.” He was smirking at me. The man, who never cracked a smile had the audacity to think all this was funny.

At least we were on talking terms and making headway with the bakery though. I stepped back, trying to distance myself from him. “You have fun on your little vacation?”

He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Honestly?” He then pulled at the back of his neck and looked toward the high ceilings. “A design of mine is going to shit, so I needed to be there.”

“Oh.” What do you say when a man that never makes mistakes admits to one? “Want to talk about it?”

“The glass bridge is of architectural brilliance, but it’s outside, and when it rains—”

“People slip and fall?”

“Right. It’s been taken care of though. So, now we take care of getting you in magazines with me so the reopening of this resort doesn’t turn into a PR disaster.” He threaded his hand through mine and started to pull me toward the revolving doors.

“Where are we going? I’m work—”

“You need a dress for the reopening or just a dress so we can be seen out. It’ll solidify that we’re serious.”

I wrinkled my nose at the idea. Dresses were expensive. Thousands upon thousands of dollars that I didn’t have. And why did the idea of doing anything with him make me utterly nervous? I combed a hand through the hair I hadn’t even curled this morning because I thought no one would be seeing me. “Maybe we should do it tomorrow.” I glanced back at my bakery. I wasn’t doing much food prep today and would be busier tomorrow but … “I need to get ready. I can’t be seen like—”

“Like what?” he scoffed and then pulled me towards the entrance again.

“People are going to look at us together, and I didn’t do my hair or put makeup on—”

“And without the makeup, I see the imperfections that make you perfect.” He said it so easily, in that decisive tone that was meant to propel everything forward without emotion.


“With nothing to define you, you’re just like everyone else, Clara. Your freckles, the way you blush, the way your lashes are a hint of red is what defines you. You’re painting over a perfect canvas.”

“I …” What did you say when an artist described your imperfections as perfect and pointed out your flaws as flawless? I tried to ignore the fluttering in my heart, the lurch into this relationship being real when it wasn’t. I huffed. “I need lashes and concealer and my hair curled. Did you know my mother—”

He opened a black SUV’s door for me without letting me finish my sentence. “Clara, I don’t give a fuck what someone else has said. You’re beautiful. Stop worrying about stupidity from your mother, who, if I recall, wields her beauty as a weapon quite a lot.”

“You think that of my mother?” I almost tripped getting into the car. “But she’s—”

“An elitist who probably taught you all the rules of high society?” He followed me in. “Am I correct?”

Why his take-no-shit attitude worked for me, I didn’t know. It felt straightforward without any twists and turns, no passive aggressive comments, no smoke and mirrors.

“Probably too correct,” I grumbled. I figured I wouldn’t fight him on going back to the house but when he tried to direct his driver, Callihan, to a small boutique, I stopped him. “Oh, Callihan, I’d like to try the department store over at the Promenade.”

Dominic eyed me curiously, and my heart beat fast as he did. I’d been creative in hiding the fact that I didn’t have much more than pennies to my name at this point. Shopping at a haute couture boutique wasn’t a luxury of mine at this point.

When he didn’t pry, I breathed a sigh of relief and changed the subject. “So, how did you fix it?”

“Fix what?”

“The flooring?” I asked, because I was curious how he navigated those things he didn’t plan for, how I would handle them.

“Why?” He scratched his head, trying to figure out my angle. We were only fake dating. I didn’t need to know so much about his life, right? Still, I wanted to know everything.

“If we’re gonna sell this whole fake dating thing, we need to make everyone believe it. I need to know what you’re doing. Why you are frustrated one day, why you’re proud the next. And by the way, I told Paloma how we’ve always had tension between us and when I came here, it all sort of combusted. So, that’s our story.”

“Combusted?” he asked, his tone suggestive.

“Seriously, Dominic. Relationships deal with your emotions, and your emotions seem to always deal with your job. I need to know about you. We don’t even know anything about each other.”

“You think I don’t know anything about you?” He frowned at me and then slowly his lush lips lifted. “I know how you sound when I lick your pussy and you moan my name, cupcake. We definitely know something about one another.”

Jesus, his mouth was filthy sometimes, and my thighs clenched together trying to not be turned on by it. When I bit my lip, his thumb was there pulling it out of my mouth.

“Stop chewing your lip, baby. I’ll tell you whatever you want to know, okay?” He rubbed over my bite mark once before he pulled back, and I missed his touch immediately. “We added raindrop pebbles onto the bridge outside that are a sort of rubber material, which allows for much more traction.”

“Still maintained your vision with the transparent drops, I’m assuming?” I couldn’t help but be impressed. “Owning that your design was still perfect.”

“With a few alterations, yes. I’ll always own that.” Dominic Hardy, completely and utterly arrogant without any apology was a sight to see.

When we pulled up to the department store, I tried to hop out fast. “You can wait—”

“I’m coming in.” He eyed me curiously but followed as I hurried through the store, trying to find a dress that would work. I still winced at most of the prices.

“Why are we shopping here?” he finally asked as if it was a complete waste of our time.

“This place has great deals and beautiful dresses, Dominic.”

“Do we need a deal all of a sudden?” he asked, incredulous. “We don’t have time to be looking for sales, Clara. Do that with Paloma.” He didn’t wait for me to respond. Instead, he scoffed and pulled me from the store and then demanded that Callihan take us to a boutique up the road.

When he walked me into the boutique, he waved a saleswoman over. “Mr. Hardy, to what do I owe the pleasure?” She was my age, perfectly manicured and fluffed in a way I would have tried to be once while standing with my sister and mother. Now, my hair was all frizzy natural waves, and my freckles were on display with no makeup covering them whatsoever.

Dominic didn’t even glance at her. His hand was on the small of my back as he looked down at me. “Get my girlfriend whatever she wants. We have a gala type event, so make sure it’s appropriate for that.”

“Oh, sure.” She threw a glance my way and then ushered me into a fitting room. She wasn’t deterred at all by my title as his girlfriend as she directed one of her employees to pull dresses for me. She asked how his career was going, offered him champagne, and had the audacity to offer her number, too, in case he needed to have anyone else fitted for an event in the future.

“I have a lot of great designers that give us exclusive products and—”

“I’m sure my girlfriend has most of your contacts,” I heard him mumble.

When I came out of the dressing room, even though I’d no intention to do so before, he was looking down at his phone. It was as if he wasn’t at all influenced by the fact that the woman was shamelessly flirting with him.

When she turned to me and literally rolled her eyes, I felt like shrinking back into my dressing room. My mother and sister had always critiqued me ruthlessly, and I didn’t expect anything less from this woman. “Probably should try a different fit. This one isn’t flattering. And what’s your budget?” She lifted a brow, like she was challenging me.

“Oh, probably not more than this dress.” Which, at a couple thousand, was more than I could afford.

“That’s only five thousand. So, we won’t be able to find many others that can—”

“Pull every dress in her size, Miranda. And don’t tell my girlfriend what’s flattering and what’s not. She decides that. Not you.” Miranda blushed as she backed away. “Cupcake,” Dominic breathed out my name as his eyes raked over my body. “Turn around. Give me a full view?”

The way his eyes scanned me, how I saw him rearrange himself in his seat, and then how he flexed his hands, I couldn’t deny him his request. Before I’d made a full spin, he was up out of his chair to stand right against my back as we faced the fitting room door mirror. “This dress accentuates every curve on your body. It’s mine, and only mine.” I felt his length against my ass as he continued, “I don’t need other men enjoying the curves of my woman too much.”

I chuckled as his hands danced over me, giving me a confidence I should have had the moment I walked in. “Scared of a little competition, Dominic? They’re only looking.”

“Looking at what’s mine is disrespectful. I can either go out and knock heads around all night or enjoy you in my bed. I’ll do either if that’s what you want.” He turned to Miranda, whose mouth was hanging open, and repeated, “All the dresses to her fitting room. Now.”

After that, she backed off, and I didn’t come out with too many other dresses to show. He didn’t need a fashion show, and I didn’t need to be tempted to drag him into the fitting room with me.

There was just one last dress to try on, and I knew it was the one I’d love but also the one I shouldn’t have even considered with its price tag. I chewed my cheek and tried to figure out what to do right as I heard the old-fashioned bell over the boutique’s door jingle.

My heart sank when I heard the saleswoman squeal, “Oh my God. Natya Fitch. Weren’t you two just an item?”

“Just?” A soft laugh sounded on the other side of my curtain. “We’ve always been more than that, right, Dom?”

Her voice sounded like a kitten’s purr, purely sexual when she said his name, almost like it could lull you into a trance. And wow, had the saleswoman’s tone changed. She sounded like Natya was royalty and she wanted to cater to them both as a couple.

My heart raced in the fitting room as I listened to that woman’s voice, soft and calm, tell Dominic how she’d so missed seeing him.

We were supposed to see her at the reopening together. Now wasn’t the time for a show. Yet, I shook in that fitting room, contemplating what to do. She might have been his ex, but she needed to know who I was. Fake or not, it was time to make an introduction. It could have been his words before to own it, it could have been the saleswoman already making me feel less than, or it could have been my heart suddenly feeling tired of being walked on over and over.

I was going to lay down a boundary. He’d asked for this, and now he was going to get it. I grabbed the dress I was saving to try on. I might have loved color, but I understood how nudes and black lace swirling strategically over fabric could be used to somebody’s advantage. I slid the skintight fabric up my body and felt the weight of it. With rhinestones and beads threaded through the lace, the Valentino dress reminded me of red carpet showstoppers. The plunging neckline and high thigh slit hinted at the confidence in a woman who wore it too.

I took a deep breath, trying to channel that confidence. Then I opened the door and looked at my fake boyfriend, staring at his beautiful ex. She was so beautiful she was almost statuesque. She wore black and white, exactly how he would have wanted, and the lines on her pantsuit sculpted lethally around her to demand respect for her beauty.

Every angle of her face was precisely in the right spot, her high cheekbones, her straight chestnut-brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, and her dark eyes shadowed perfectly to add a sort of mystery. Her gaze caught mine, and we stared at one another. No part of me ever really stood up to people unless it was Dominic and me fighting over my bakery. Here though, I didn’t break eye contact, and I didn’t look away as I cleared my throat, hoping Dominic would turn to face me, hoping that I wouldn’t be made a fool of.

When he did, I didn’t break eye contact with her. I just asked, “Dominic, could you zip my dress?”

Natya narrowed her eyes and the hand on her small designer clutch clenched as the other that was on Dominic’s arm tightened. She leaned in to say softly to him, “To think I was missing you and then you showed up to our favorite boutique. Destiny, my love, or the universe is trying to tell us something, no?”

A small gasp escaped my lips. He’d brought me here knowing it was her favorite place? Was I the fool? Or had he made me one by not even telling me that?

“Natya.” Dominic shook his head, his muscles coiled even when he shrugged her hand off him. “The universe doesn’t speak. So, excuse me, my girlfriend needs a bit of help.”

She clucked her tongue and then gave me a tight-lipped smile. “The universe always speaks, Dom. But I’m glad you’ve found someone new. Your name?”

She stepped toward me and held out a hand. I took it even as Dominic walked up to me and put his arm around my shoulders. “I’m Clara.”

“Ah, Clara. Be good to him. He and I … Well, I still love the fool.” She chuckled like this was some small girl talk. “And we’ll always have something between us, right, Dom?”

He didn’t answer her or say goodbye as she walked off to shop and he steered me into the fitting room.

He might have been my fake boyfriend, he might have been a man I was supposed to hate, but the pain of seeing him standing there with his ex and the look on his face when she said they’ll always share something … that was very, very real.


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