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Between Love and Loathing: Chapter 23


He never mentioned Natya again, but I still thought about it every single day when he came to sit in my bakery the next week.

Especially when my sister’s text came through.

Anastasia: I’ve been calling you. You didn’t tell me you were dating him. Are you really? Call me back. Please.

Was it sad that I wanted to actually do it? To bridge the gap between us somehow. And I gave into it, dialing her number with a shaky hand and a heart full of hope.

“Clara.” Her voice sounded cheery. “Is it true? I was on socials and got a million DMs this week about you two.”

“Yeah, well, they’re making it bigger than it is.”

“Did he really get in a fight for you?” she whispered like we were conspiring together, two sisters just sharing gossip, and I smiled.

“It was mostly my fault.”

“Then, it’s totally true,” she exclaimed, and I heard the excitement in her voice. “We have to come visit you. It’d be so fun.”

I sighed. We’d gone over this before. “I know. It’s just—”

“I’ll visit soon. Don’t worry about Mom. I know how that’s hard for you.” She said it with emotion. “Everything’s been so crazy lately. It’s no wonder you felt all this stress, and I’m sorry because I’ve been stressed too.”

When the weight that’s been suffocating you gets lifted by a sibling, the feeling of relief is euphoric. Someone who loves you took the burden and removed it, hurried to help you get rid of it. It’s that feeling of being loved that blinds you.

“Thank you,” I whispered.

She went on and on about how she wanted to come visit, how she wouldn’t talk to our mother about it, and how it’d be wonderful. She didn’t give me dates, but I felt connected to her again, felt happy, carefree.

It was a dangerous place to be. Then she said she was handing over the phone to Mom and to be prepared because she was on some sort of new mission. I smiled. With Anastasia on my side, Mother was manageable. Even though, my mother had already texted me to try harder to look better in magazines, especially if I was going to be compared to someone like Natya. The insult was there, I just chose to ignore it.

Dominic seemed to ignore all the magazines and news about us. He just worked quietly every morning, and every time I asked him if he wanted to taste test anything of mine, he said no. I’d nearly perfected the menu and was excited to have anyone try anything. “Want a poppy cupcake again? I’ll make them special for you.”

“No poppy cupcakes, cupcake,” he responded and went on drinking his black coffee with his black soul that never ate any sweets.

Every day, I tried to rush to work before he’d arrive. I’d purchased a secondhand bike and was making an effort to bicycle in rather than Uber to save on costs.

Of course, he got there before me nearly every day, but I set my bike around the corner, rearranged my dress, and walked through the lobby. Unfortunately, on that fine morning, Dominic arrived at exactly the same time. “You’re bicycling into work from where you live?”

I sighed, “Just trying to stay in shape.”

I said it as I started massaging a part of my neck that had been giving me pain over the last few days. He stepped close and immediately started rubbing there for me. “You’re a terrible liar.”

I moaned at how good his hands felt, allowing myself a minute of it before waving us on to get to work. He didn’t say much about it until we were about to leave for the day. “I’ll give you a ride,” he announced. “It’s dark.”

“Oh … that’s okay.” I scrambled for an excuse. The longer I was near him, the more I wanted him, the more I thought about his hands on me, the more I wished I could invite him into my bed again. “I’m not sure my bicycle will fit in your car. I’ll need it to get to work in the morning.”

That was believable, right?

“If you don’t take the ride, I’ll follow you home instead. My sisters have made it quite clear how dangerous it is for a woman alone at night.”

Another angle. “I can take care of myself.”

“Even so, at night, I take care of you too.”

“You’re not going to do this every night, Dominic,” I pointed out.

“I’m very aware of that, Clara.” He grabbed my waist as I turned out the lights, spun on his heels, and pulled me along with him, not dropping his arm from me for one second. I hated how much I enjoyed the feeling.

And I doubly hated how flattered I was that he went directly to my bike like he knew exactly where I parked it that day. “You should get a lock for your bike.”

“Why? You think the construction workers want it?” I threw out. I knew I was being catty, and I didn’t really care. It was a used one that I’d found at the Goodwill. I highly doubted anyone would want it.

He hoisted it up with one arm as we made our way to the parking garage. “I’m actually more concerned about the well-being of the person stealing it and you seeing them on the street, little fighter.”

The drive back to my apartment was filled with silence. So much silence as he stared at his phone texting away that my mind drifted to Natya again.

Was he texting her? Should I have cared?

Tension bounced back and forth between us so much that I opened a window in hopes to dissipate some of it. Finally, I did the stupid thing and asked the question. “Did Natya reach out to you specifically about us a week ago?” I asked quietly. Would it be rude to ask what she texted? To want to know?

He nodded without elaborating, continuing to text away like he had a million things to handle now. “Want food?” he asked halfway home.

Thinking of eating anything after my stomach had been in knots felt ridiculous, so I shook my head no. “I ate at the bakery.” Which was true. I ate way too much when I worked.

His jaw clenched but he didn’t push any further. It occurred to me why he’d driven me home as we pulled up slowly to my apartment building. Huge-ass construction machines were everywhere. Caution tape was all around. Posted across the lobby door was a No Entry sign.

“What the hell?” I murmured.

Dominic glanced up from his phone and rubbed at the scruff on his face. “Maybe you should call that landlord of yours.”

No shit. I grabbed my phone from my purse and looked up the number. He answered on the first ring. “Clara. So happy you called. I can’t thank you enough for your help with this problem.”

“This problem?”

“Well, your request for that mold removal was, I will say, a bit concerning, as I didn’t have the means to accommodate you. I’m happy Dominic Hardy and his team were able to aid us in getting a team out here so fast and at his expense.”

“I’m sorry. What exactly are you—”

“I believe most everyone has been relocated by the movers he brought in today.”

“I haven’t!” I screeched. “My cats are—”

“I had a team get Sugar and Spice this morning, along with most of your belongings,” Dominic murmured before I could jump out of the car.

I glared at him but continued with my landlord. “So, I’ve been relocated? For how long?”

“Yes, well … most everyone has been moved to Hardy Tower West but Mr. Hardy explained you will be staying with him. Our residents are very appreciative to stay in the new apartment space at the same rental price as in their agreements here. We didn’t realize the health concern, but we are more than happy to take care of the problem.”

“Right. Thank you,” I said like a freaking robot, and then he said goodbye and hung up.

Something in my blood curdled, something in my heart pounded, and something mean, ugly, and angry flew out. “You asshole! Where exactly did you take my kittens?”

“They’ve been delivered to my house,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest. Was he fucking smirking?

“Without my permission?”

“Well, they had to be moved.” One brow lifted. He wanted a fight, and I was ready to give him one. “You want them to die from mold inhalation?”

“I’m not staying at your fucking house, Dominic Hardy.” Jesus, the mold inhalation couldn’t have been good for anyone. I’d ignored it the first time I’d seen it, and now I felt guilty for doing so, especially because of the kittens. Because of my health. Because of trying so hard to give myself a fighting chance. Even still, what he’d done wasn’t acceptable. “We can barely agree on what we want in a damn bakery, let alone in a home.”

“Your apartment is unlivable. So, you either stay with me or you rent another place.” He waited a second. “Unless for some reason, you can’t do that?” Silence filled the car before he said, “Callihan, take us to my place.”

His driver pulled away from my apartment building immediately. “Callihan,” I shouted, “do not take us to his place. Take me back to the Pacific.”

His stupid driver looked at him for the okay, and Dominic smirked and nodded like he had all the time in the world.

I just kept going. “You can also have my things sent to—”

“Where, Clara? They’re starting demo on that apartment, and I’m not relocating you to another one. So, stay with me a few days, see how you like it, and look for a new one if you want.” He waited again. “If you can afford it.”

“I …” My mouth snapped shut, and then my eyes narrowed. Every time he’d looked at his phone today, that man had been working. Not on his actual job. He’d been researching me. “Did you break into my bank accounts or something?”

“You should have told me your mother cut you off.”

“For what reason?”

“So, I could have made sure you were living somewhere suitable.”

“Like you cared!” I fumed and threw my body back into the seat.

He didn’t say another word to me as I flung the door open as soon as we were in front of the resort. I heard him murmur to Callihan to wait. He could wait all he wanted, but I wasn’t getting back in that car with him.

Instead, I stormed through the lobby and swiped my key fob before hurrying to the back of my kitchen. I was going to fury bake and think before I said words I regretted.

The man ambled in a few seconds later and plopped down on the bar to work, like he freaking belonged there.

“You can leave, Dominic.”

“Well, I figured I’d just wait for my girlfriend to be done baking so we could leave together since we live at the same place.”

I was chopping some fruit and pointed the knife at him. “You can give me the penthouse here again until I find a place since this is your fault.”

He hummed. “I think that’s technically against some rule in the HR handbook.”

“You mean your handbook? Considering it’s your fucking resort.”

“Right. Better not risk it.” He pulled his glasses from the bag he’d carried in with him and opened his laptop.

No. I literally couldn’t deal with him right now. I stomped out in front of the counter between us to slam the laptop shut on his hands. He was quick enough to pull them back.

I got a smile from him right then and there. It was brilliant, and I hated how my heart reacted.

“Don’t come in here and work. I’m too mad at you right now. You upended my life more than once, and you’re not thinking right when you say I should live with you for a while. It’s preposterous considering you can’t even stand the design of my bakery.”

He chewed his cheek. “You’re right. We don’t have the same taste. And your additions are—”

“Are what?” I narrowed my eyes at him. Would he dare?

He pointed to the pink seating. “This is too soft. If you want to go bold, do it. The leather should probably have been velvet. And the glass countertops looking in at your bakery items will probably add more color that doesn’t flow with the balance of white and black in here, most likely clashing with the pink wall you’re so insistent on keeping.”

This is why I couldn’t be around him or live with him or probably even fake date him. Dominic Hardy threw out honesty like sharp darts coming for your soul. He knew this meant something to me. And he pinched the bridge of his nose when he saw my chin wobble. “That being said—”

He was cut off by his phone ringing, and he stood, mumbling he had to take it.

I spun around to go back into the kitchen.

Everything was falling apart. And I didn’t know what to do about it other than try not to cry and unload some of my frustration on Evie when she called. I was furiously telling her how Dominic had just ripped apart my whole bakery and looked disgusted with me for almost crying when I heard him come back in. I told her I had to go and straightened my spine.

If I was going to be here, I was going to get through this. I just had to figure out how. I took a deep breath and walked out with my arms crossed, a shield now up to ward off any stupid feelings I had toward the man who was so hot when he fake dated me and then ruthless when he worked with me. “Dominic, I don’t want to fight with you.”

“Sure you do, little fighter. We like fighting, and we like fucking around too. It’s probably what we do best together.”

“We actually haven’t even fucked,” I said, irritated all over again for continuing down this petty path. “And we won’t. I’ll stay with you a couple nights while I figure out another living situation—”

“I have a whole wing you can stay in, Clara. It won’t be that bad.” He said it softly, consoling, like suddenly he was remorseful for his actions. “Plus, it will look good for our fake relationship.”

Ah, there it was. I took a deep breath, trying to will back the tears that were hot behind my eyes. “I get that I’m an asset to you. That this fake relationship is benefitting the both of us. But”—I held up a hand when he started to say something—“don’t treat me like a toy you can fuck around with. I’ve been a toy and a damn accessory for most of my life. I won’t be that here. Not again.”

“Clara,” he frowned, and I knew he didn’t understand. How could he? “I didn’t mean for you to feel—”

“I don’t care how you meant it. You didn’t think about it.” I crossed my arms over my chest. “You ruined what was mine. My mother and sister ruled my damn life, Dominic. You might not understand it, and I’m not going to sit here and cry about it with you, but I left so I could have something that was mine. Just mine! I bought the stuff that went in that apartment, I made it a home, I made it what I wanted, and you fucking destroyed it.”

“Clara.” He whispered out my name as an apology, but when he reached out to wipe my tears, I stepped back. “Fuck, baby. I didn’t know it would hurt you.”

“No. Because you didn’t ask.” I shook my head. “It doesn’t matter.” I took a deep breath. “I’m changing that right here and right now by telling you that you’d better ask in the future if you want this dumb fake relationship to go over like it should. This won’t happen with me again. Give me your word.” I stuck out my hand for him to shake.

His jaw worked up and down, up and down. “I don’t shake hands with you, cupcake.”

“Don’t you even dare—”

He came for my mouth, and he wouldn’t be denied. I enjoyed the kiss from him too much even if it was filled with hate.


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