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Between Love and Loathing: Chapter 19

CLARA

Yup, I’d just said that and then slapped my hand over my mouth.

“She gets paid very well, Clara. For a job that she takes pride in.” I swear he was egging me on in his stupid perfect suit saying all the logical things that weren’t supposed to be logical at all. Didn’t he know that I took pride in my freaking bakery too?

I looked down and stepped up on the curb so I could face him head-on.

No one deserved to stand over me now, not when it came to my business, and I was going to meet him at his level, his height, and tell him so. Even if I was still inches shorter than him, I felt more powerful up there as I poked him in his shoulder. “No one is as invested as I am, and how dare you give anyone the authority to override my decision after how hard you know I’ve worked on it. Have you completely lost your mind?”

“No. I’ve navigated this whole negotiation with a completely rational and sound mind, although I would have liked to have tantrums like you numerous times,” he said matter-of-factly.

“Of course. Because you’re a big baby when it comes to your resort. Wah-wah. Someone else has plans as good as yours and wants to implement them into a tiny bakery. You still get the massive resort exactly how you want it all around that bakery. Plus, this bakery is a damn good addition. I’ve agonized over every detail probably more than anyone else. You haven’t combed through Valentino’s restaurant like this. Nor has Rita. I swear she wants it to fail because I’ve changed her plans, and now she sees this as a way to point and say, ‘See, I told you so.’ Just like everyone in my life.”

I wobbled on the curb. The man kept glaring at me, but his arm immediately shot out to wrap around my waist.

I frowned and looked down. “What … what are you doing?”

“Making sure you don’t fall, cupcake. The ground could be slippery.”

I bit my lip because immediately I wanted to thank him and kiss him for protecting me even while I bit his head off. I didn’t though. Instead, I crossed my arms and huffed, “Fine.” He smirked. “I still want all my changes and we’re getting closer to the reopening which means flowers are next, Dominic.”

“Don’t I know it, babe. I’ll make it happen. Now, tell me, who’s saying I told you so?”

“I … what?”

“You said everyone does that to you? Your mom?”

“And Anastasia and probably Rita and I know you will too. That’s fine. I need to know I tried my best anyway. If it’s a failure, I want it to be my failure and no one else’s.”

“Why?”

“Because at least it’s my own then, right? And have you ever heard of someone successful not having any failures? If I don’t make it here, I’ll learn from it and make it somewhere else.” I meant it too. I’d found myself wanting this bakery more and more, wanting to prove myself. “I’m going to fight for my success, Dominic, and fight to belong somewhere.”

He hummed but didn’t say anything. How could he? He was always needed somewhere. He was the best of the best and also had family that loved him. His staff definitely didn’t, but they respected him. I didn’t have any of that. It was a sad realization, but his thumb rubbed up and down on my arm like he was trying to soothe me, and I focused on that instead.

“Clara, let’s go into the car, huh? You’re getting cold.”

“No. I’m not finished telling you everything I’m mad about.” I stomped my foot. I was on a roll.

He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Right.” Then he picked me up like I weighed nothing and threw me into the SUV.

I immediately started complaining, but he cut me off to ask for the address. In a fit, I blurted it out and kept going on my rant, but he stayed silent until I quieted down too.

Now, I sat there twisting my fingers, staring out the window. Why had I said my apartment again? My apartment from the outside didn’t appear to be old or under construction. Inside, though, the elevator was out of order, so we had to climb a flight of stairs, and the ventilation barely worked in the hallways, so the blazing summer heat of the day got trapped between the walls. It created a weird vortex of warmth even after the night and ocean breeze cooled everywhere else off.

“The lobby door always open without a key?” he asked behind me as I pulled it and turned to him before he walked in.

“They’re working on it.” I blocked the path into the building. “Thanks for dropping me off.”

He smiled down at me like I was truly ridiculous. “I’m coming up to your apartment, Clara. So get your ass moving.”

I groaned. “What for? I’m not sleeping with you!”

“Such different words from the last time you were drunk.” He chuckled.

“Shut up, Dominic. That was a colossal mistake.” I wrinkled my nose and then sighed when he wasn’t deterred at all.

“How’s it going to look if a pap trailed us home and you left me at the door? We should be making out right now, little fighter.” Was he serious? I looked over his shoulder and didn’t see anyone, but then again, I’d never been good at spotting cameramen the way my mother and sister had been.

“Fine. Come up for a minute until we think they’ve left.”

He hummed a sure, and I let him trail me to the stairs before he asked, “No elevator?”

“The landlord said they’re working on it.” I shrugged.

We didn’t say much of anything as he followed me. Stair after stair. He was most likely wondering what the hell I was doing climbing up and down them in heels daily. It was only one flight though. Not too bad for most people. For me, my joints ached every single day. That served as a reminder to call a doctor here … when I had time after the bakery opened.

We passed my neighbor, Martin, on the way in. He licked his lips as he mumbled a hello, but Dominic grabbed my waist and pulled me close, causing Martin’s hungry eyes to turn cowardly. He grumbled “Excuse me” right away and hurried down the steps.

“He live in the building?” Dominic asked as he watched him leave.

“Next door to me. Harmless, but a little slimy.” I shrugged and went to unlock my door. He leaned against the frame, eyeing me curiously. “A lot of the buildings are older around here, and I didn’t plan well for moving so—”

“You’re not telling me something.” He stated it casually, but I felt his scrutiny.

What could I say? I had no money and even this place wasn’t really affordable. Nothing in LA was. I swung open the door after fumbling way too much with it. “Do you think the paparazzi are gone?”

“No chance,” he said and walked right in without waiting for me.

Sugar and Spice ran toward us, and I bent down to greet them and give them all the love they usually gave me. They both defied me. Pure betrayal as they rubbed on Dominic’s legs instead of mine, meowing like he was the love of their lives. “Sugar and Spice!” I reprimanded them. “Your mother is home.”

They didn’t even look over at me. I frowned. Those kittens loved me more than anyone. Well, more than the outside, I guess, considering I never really had anyone over. And they’d hissed at Martin and the landlord when those men came to the door. Dominic knelt down to pet them both as I took off my shoes. Then, I watched them for much too long as his large hands glided over their fur.

“You like cats?”

“I don’t particularly like animals at all.” Still, he continued to pet them, rubbing their necks at the exact part I knew they loved.

“They like you.”

He let out that low sound before he stood, and then put his hands in his pockets as he glanced around. Magnified under his scrutiny now, I saw the scuffs on the floor, the worn furniture, the lightened wood of the table and chairs where people had gathered one too many times before me. Most of the living room was doused in deep colorful tones. The pillows were red and purple and blue, patches sewn together from a small art fair I’d been to weeks ago. Paloma had helped me find a rug that spanned most of the living room, woven color, too, used but still bright with life.

Dominic eyed the pictures I’d put on the counter and the tables. “Declan and Evie look happy with my nephew here, huh?”

“They’re so happy. Who wouldn’t be with a baby like that?”

Nodding, he set the picture back down and grabbed another. It was of Carl, my mom, and Anastasia, all of them smiling with hats on. “You like the Kentucky Derby?”

“Not so much.” I shrugged. “But they looked like they had so much fun, right?”

“You’re not in the picture. You’re not in any of your pictures.”

“I …” I looked around. “I guess I hadn’t noticed.” It wasn’t really something I was particularly concerned about. While he eyed a few other ones, I walked around as fast as I could, fluffing a few of the soft pillows and picking up some of my dirty laundry that was in the hall. When I caught him glancing at it, I blurted out, “Sorry, didn’t expect—”

One side of his mouth lifted. “Don’t apologize. I love seeing your lingerie whether it’s dirty or clean.”

I glanced down. “You’re ridiculous,” I snapped before storming down the hall to my bedroom as I yelled behind me, “You can leave now. I don’t think the paparazzi are still outside.”

Instead, he stomped after me. “I’m not leaving. We have things to discuss.”

“Like what?” I started to unbutton the back of my dress once in my bedroom, knowing I needed to shower and prepare for the early morning at the market with Valentino.

“We’re going to start getting questions. Dex asked me about you tonight, and Paloma seems to want every damn detail.” He leaned on the doorframe and watched me fiddle with the buttons before he stepped close to brush my hands away. Down the dress were about fifty small buttons, but I only need about ten of them undone. “Like what’s your favorite color and why you wear dresses that are so damn hard to get off when your boss and boyfriend likes easy access.”

His voice was low when he said the last part, and I shivered while I held my dress up as it loosened with each button. “I don’t care about how you want to answer questions. Just tell me what to say and I’ll say it,” I said over my shoulder and frowned at his eyes trailing down my body, my insides immediately heating at his perusal. “Turn around, Dominic.”

“What for?”

“I’m dropping my dress.”

“I’ve undressed you, Clara. And I told you in that fitting room, I won’t miss an opportunity ever again.”

“That’s not …” God, I wanted him, and that was bad. This was bad. Bad. Bad. Bad. “We need to stop what we’re doing.”

“Do we?”

“Yes. Lines are getting blurred. You’re supposed to hate me being in your resort, remember?”

“I don’t hate making you scream my name though. And a fake relationship can have benefits.” He smirked and his eyes scanned my body. “We can have a lot of fake benefits.”

“Get real.” I rolled my eyes and let go of my dress. I didn’t care if he saw me in my lingerie or naked for that matter. I wasn’t very modest when it came to my body as long as I wasn’t having a flare-up, which might be the case tomorrow. Tonight, well, there was something about knowing his eyes were on me that made me feel powerful.

And hungry.

And hot.

I dragged my teeth over my bottom lip as I watched him watch me. Then, I turned to slide the doors of my closet open to grab some pajamas. He continued his reasoning. “You know, if we’re not comfortable physically, we’ll never sell that this is real. People already will think it’s for publicity with the resort reopening.”

He was probably right. And as I heard his feet pad across the floor, I tensed up when his chest met my back.

“This.” He put his hands on my shoulders and massaged them, pushing his thumbs right into the pressure points. “The tension in your body when I’m against you, can’t be a thing.”

Resisting how his hand kneaded the muscles in my back with precision and strength would have been impossible. I normally didn’t even do it. Yet, here and now, with the emotions flooding every part of my mind, I froze. My heart wasn’t supposed to want love.

I moaned as I slumped against him, letting his large fingers spread over my shoulders to my collarbone, and then one of his hands drifted to the strap of my bra, sliding under it before nudging it off my shoulder.

I gasped when his calloused hand cupped my breast as he lowered his head to suck on my neck. He stepped us both back and turned us toward the door he’d closed behind him. The long narrow mirror on it showed how his body almost enveloped me. His eyes looked up, catching my gaze in the mirror as he bit into my sensitive skin. He penetrated my soul, held me captive, and snuffed out the embarrassment I would have normally felt from standing there with barely any clothes on next to a fully clothed man.

Still, I tried my best to hold out even though I’d thought about him all night, witnessed him lay a guy out for coming near me, and felt his green eyes follow me around that club like I belonged to him. Feeling wanted, feeling desired, and feeling like I could hold his attention was addicting, hypnotizing, and dangerous.

The hand that massaged my shoulder slid to my waist and then to my panty line. “We need you relaxed and ready to fuck me always, Clara. Is that how you’ve been all night?”

I wouldn’t admit that even if it was true. “Maybe it wasn’t you I was ready to fuck.”

His eyes darkened, and he swore before his hand dipped under the lace and slid over my pussy. “Right. So wet for a woman who barely glances at her boyfriend through the night. Was your pussy dripping like this at the club? Was it really for someone else?” When I didn’t answer him immediately, he growled. “Should I fuck you so good, you’ll never think of anyone else?”

I whimpered but didn’t answer him and bit my lip to keep the confession from bursting out of me.

He chuckled darkly as he watched me, pinching my nipple and my clit at the same time. “Clara, I want an answer.”

Giving him an answer would only serve to feed his ego, give him the upper hand, give him the edge he had on me already. How could I tell my fake boyfriend I’d wanted him to fuck me all night? That’s all I’d thought about when his cock was grinding against me as we danced for just a little while, I’d thought about his eyes latched onto me as I dragged my hands across my dress on the bar, I’d thought about his mouth on mine for much too long.

When I shook my head no and whimpered, he must have realized the challenge. Dominic Hardy was ruthless always. He strived for perfection, wanted everything of his to be desired, and needed to be the best even if this was a fake relationship. He’d make me feel wanted, he’d make me feel desired, he’d make me feel like I was his and he was mine. He’d make a relationship of perfection.

Even if it was fake. Even if I’d start to believe it was real.

Yet, my attempt to stop the train wreck I knew would occur after this was feeble at best. I moaned out, “I don’t think this is a good idea.” But my hips rolled back as I pressed my back further into him, his length so big against it that my pussy clenched at the thought of having him try to fit within me. Yep, my body screamed that it was a fantastic idea, but I ignored it. “Do you want a drink or something to eat?”

“I intend to eat, cupcake.” His hand massaged my breast, and I knew that look, knew as he leaned his head down that he would go right to my neck. When he did and sucked hard again, I moaned. “But I only want dessert, Clara. And all you have to do is sit on my face to serve it to me.”

“Things will get too complicated, Dominic,” I reminded him. “This is only for a few months and not at all real.”

He thrust against my back. “That feel real to you, baby?”

God, I wanted him. Wanted this. And why couldn’t I? What would it really hurt? The words left my mouth softly, “Only this once.”

“Once won’t be enough.” He stepped back to unbutton his shirt, then discarded it before he was back against me. “You need to look in love with me anyway. I need to look ravenous for you. It’s the only way people will believe it.”

“I don’t know what …” He slid one finger in me and watched me with those piercing green eyes as I whimpered out, “Oh, God.”

“That’s right. You only want one time? My pussy seems to be begging me for more than that, baby. My pussy loves when I take care of it,” he whispered against my ear as he curled his finger into me. Gasping, I bucked against his hand. “Tell me how you don’t want the orgasm I’m about to give you.”

No words left my mouth as I stared at him while he rolled my nipple between two fingers.

“That’s right,” he whispered darkly and then chuckled, “You can’t, can you? So say what you really want, cupcake. Say you want me to lick your pussy nice and slow, baby. Say you thought about it all fucking night.”

I shouldn’t have given in. I should have walked away before the destruction barreled through our lives and ruined us both. But I said, “I thought about your cock sliding into me all night.”


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