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Between Love and Loathing: Chapter 28

DOMINIC

So, she’d been serious. I really hadn’t believed her. What did she need him for?

Didn’t she know I was the damn designer? I was an architectural engineer. I’d studied at Cornell and had been awarded more than one Pritzker Prize.

I didn’t even consider texting back once she said he’d brought her flowers. Instead, I shoved away from my desk and stood. “Let’s reschedule this meeting.”

No one in the room waited for an excuse or reason because they knew I wouldn’t give one. “Of course,” Rita chirped, standing with me. “Please, everyone, stay while Mr. Hardy attends to this urgent matter, and I’ll work with you all on setting a new date.”

I was out of the room before anyone could even say goodbye. I’d never have told them what this urgent matter was. Admitting that my fiery redheaded fake girlfriend, located at the opposite side of the resort, was causing my heart to palpitate wasn’t something I was going to do.

I smelled the scent of her and the bakery before I even got there. Sweet, vanilla, sugar and spice. Immediately, my mouth watered, my cock twitched, and my heart lurched in a way it shouldn’t. Then I saw her right as I turned the corner. Outside the shop, positioning pink and purple peonies in huge flower pots.

“Clara.”

She pivoted around, still bent over the peonies. Her deep-red hair was loose and flowing today, and she hadn’t straightened the waves out of it. It fell over her shoulders and landed on her full breasts. That was a perfect indicator that she wasn’t wearing anything professional. The sundress dipped low enough that I could barely look at anything else, and even still, her smile looked innocent along with the sparkle in her eyes.

“Peonies, Dominic. Aren’t they beautiful? Valentino said he knew exactly the thing that would work here. And he found them so fast. I think the white planters are a nice touch, and they smell so good, don’t they?” She clapped her hands together and then looked lovingly down at flowers another man had given her.

The sentence didn’t even feel right in my head. Then, Valentino walked up behind her and draped his arm around her shoulders. Instantly, my hands fisted. Even if the man was just acting as a friend, the interaction was overstepping. I hadn’t approved him assisting anyone with designing one thing.

Still, Valentino stood tall in a collared white shirt, his maroon pants that hit just above the ankles showcasing that he spent too much time getting ready for this meeting and not enough time in his own damn restaurant. “Mr. Hardy! So good to see you. I hope you don’t mind. Clara wanted to brighten the atmosphere and the scent of florals always does that for me. A small but genius trick in designing, no? Rita approved.”

Of course she had. He’d probably been fucking her when he asked about it. What did I think of the flowers? They were going in the trash as soon as I could convince Clara of it. “Valentino, we don’t want flowers in this walkway as it obstructs the clean view from one end of the resort to the other where there are floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the ocean.”

Valentino immediately looked confused as he glanced back and forth before he snapped his fingers. “We will move them into the bakery.”

“The bakery?” I questioned and folded my arms over my chest. “Clara’s bakery will be busy. And we’re strategically placing as much seating as possible. If anything, we’ll hang the flowers from the ceiling so as not to take up space as I believe Clara was already working on.”

“Ah, but there’s no way to keep flowers alive up there.” He tipped Clara’s chin up to look at him and it took everything I had not to grab his hand and break every one of his fingers. “These flowerpots are perfect for you, Clara. Let’s keep them for now, huh?”

Clara’s frown was an indication that she didn’t know which way to go or what to do.

“This is your change, Clara?” I asked, waiting for her to stand up here, knowing it wasn’t the right move for her or her bakery.

She took a step back like she finally wanted out of this situation. Good, she understood another man helping her in front of me was a bad idea.

“Maybe we should wait on the flowers,” she said softly, frowning at Valentino. “Sorry.”

“No. You’re not sorry. Valentino, we’re never sorry about protecting what we’ve built,” I corrected her. “Now, Clara and I have something private we need to discuss. We’ll be back soon.”

“Great. I’ll be here.” He looked a little confused, but I didn’t wait to explain.

I pulled her through the lobby and down a hall to the elevators. When I saw Paloma waving to us from afar, I stabbed the elevator button and swiped my fob before she could get any closer. I wasn’t sharing an elevator with anyone else.

The doors closed, and I turned my gaze on her. “That imbecile has no taste.”

“You know that’s not true, Dominic.”

“Why is he really here?” She sighed and didn’t meet my eyes. Fine. My hand immediately went to her neck so I could bring her gaze up to mine as my thumb tipped her chin. “I want your eyes locked on mine when you try to lie this time, little fighter. Make sure you understand what the consequences of lying to your boyfriend will be before you answer.”

She bit her lip and then worked it in her mouth. Rock hard was the permanent state of my cock around her but watching that motion had me throbbing, wanting her mouth around me. “I’m sick of your assistant, so I got one too.”

“Really?” I lifted a brow.

“Really.”

“Liar,” I whispered, and then I kissed her hard, rough, and with teeth. I kissed her how I’d wanted to the last few nights I’d been avoiding her. “You lie to me, and I’m going to kiss the lies from your mouth, Clara.”

“Is that the only reason you’re kissing me?” She frowned and touched her lips.

I took her hand from them so I could taste her again, softer this time, slower, so I could relearn how she tasted. “That and I missed this mouth too much not to kiss it. You taste as sweet as your cupcakes, cupcake.”

“I’ve been literally living with you for—”

“You’ve been avoiding.”

“You’ve been doing that also,” she pointed out, and I couldn’t deny it.

When the elevator doors opened, we were greeted by a curved desk that would seat an administrative manager. The lobby was just a waiting area with luxurious leather seating and tables set up. I pulled Clara past it all as she asked, “Is this more office space?”

“Essentially yes. When we have shareholder meetings or meetings with managers, we’ll probably meet here most of the time in the future. The welcome to you all on the beach and in the lobby was purely that, a welcome.”

“It was fun.” She glanced around as we continued walking. “This is not fun.”

“Jesus, woman. Do you enjoy sharing your opinion of my resort?”

She scoffed. “You share your opinion of my bakery. And honestly, you know I never used to share it. You should be happy I do with you.”

“Mind sharing why you really wanted Valentino here today?” I wanted the truth. Clara hid what she thought people didn’t want to hear. I might have been fake dating her, but I still wanted the real, raw version of her, the one no one else got.

“Maybe we should go back to avoiding each other.” She worried her hands in front of me, and I caught one in mine, imploring her to stop. “You stress me out when you pry, Dominic.”

“I pry because you don’t offer information willingly when you should.”

“As opposed to you offering your every thought even if it’s negative to everyone around you?”

“I don’t offer every thought, Clara,” I ground out. I kept a lot to myself, probably too much.

She stopped in the hallway, staring at me for a minute before she said, “Give me one example.”

“Well, my brothers and sisters think we’re actually an item and—”

“You don’t tell your brothers and sisters everything like they think you do, do you?”

“I’m the eldest. I’ll always have secrets.”

Her emerald eyes narrowed. “Can I have one of your secrets?”

“If I can have one of yours,” I said softly, leaning against the wall of the hallway, hoping she’d give in.

She sighed and combed her small fingers through her hair before she admitted, “You didn’t meet me for our meeting and then my mother called to tell me my bakery was a frivolous decision and that I never really had any design taste. With both of you doing what you did, I started to believe it.”

Fuck. I’d forgotten our meeting only because I’d gotten an urgent call. I knew I owed her the explanation, but it hurt to rehash the story. “My turn for a secret?”

She shrugged, her big eyes glassy with unshed emotions welling up. I sighed. “Natya and I did most everything together years ago. I trusted her. Too much. She was partying a lot, coming to work hungover, not doing her job. I’d left my team in her hands for a week while I worked on another build and she’d assigned extra work to a former employee of mine, Susie. She’d been on my team for years, knew the job well and probably had Natya feeling threatened.”

“And?” Clara asked softly.

“Susie was supposed to look over blueprints, not go to a site when I was out of town one week, but Natya hadn’t paid attention to my notes. She’d been out late the night before and insisted Susie just go to the site.” I cleared my throat and combed a hand through my hair, hating to relive the story. “I should have made it more clear. Anyway, Susie tripped and fell on a loose stair, breaking her hip and arm. She pretty much had to learn to walk again. Today, she fell again and her family called.”

“Oh, Dominic.” There wasn’t disgust in her face like there should have been. I’d dropped the ball on my job and wouldn’t forgive myself for it. Yet, there was only sympathy in her eyes. “Is she okay?”

I waved off her concern. “Fine. She’s better than fine. She runs half marathons still at sixty. They just wanted me to know because I have her on my insurance. I pay those bills and always will. When I heard, I had to stop over there and make sure she was fine.”

“You were taking care of someone?” She chewed her lip and then whispered out, “I’m sorry all that happened to you.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t explain it better in a text but I don’t really intend to explain shit to anyone except you.”

She chuckled and slumped against the opposite hallway wall. “I wish you would, Dominic. It’d make things a lot easier. I probably would have dealt with my mother better too had I known you weren’t just ditching me.”

“I’m sure you dealt with that woman the way she deserved.”

She groaned. “I hung up on her after she told me she wants me home and dating someone of”—she waved at me—“social and financial wealth if not you. And I’m sure if she does that, I’ll be bored, again.”

“Again?”

“Most dates I go on, she plans. Minus Noah. And all of the guys are—” Her lips thinned, as if saying her next words would pain her.

“Go on, little fighter.”

“Terrible. Most of them have a passion for how they make their money but they always look at me with pure apathy. Probably a lot like …” She tilted her head and looked at me. “Well, probably like you have in the past.”

Her assessment caused a bark of a laugh to jump out of me. “Like me, cupcake? Do you think I look at you with apathy? Or like I want to fuck you against that wall?”

“Dominic,” she whispered out. “Okay, well now it’s different. And honestly, your mouth is filthy, which is not a good thing considering in a few minutes we have a meeting with colleagues.”

“What if your boss wants to be a few minutes late to the meeting?”

“My boss should only care about his resort reopening and I should only care about my bakery. Not screwing around. We need to get our minds out of the gutter.”

Was she trying to convince me or herself? “My mind went down the drain the moment your bakery became a part of this resort, and I knew I’d have to see you every day. Let alone date you every day.”

“Fake date,” she corrected and smiled. “For the good of your sterile resort. Remember?”

I fucking hated that word. Yet, gone was the frown on her face as she smiled so wide, and I thought that I didn’t hate it at all. “Clara, stop playing with me. Your fake boyfriend doesn’t like shots at his ego right before a meeting where I’m about to ask my employees what’s wrong with the resort.”

She glanced around with her wide eyes as I hovered over her. “So it’s really for that? You want feedback? Because I have it.”

“Do you?” I growled, not really giving a shit at this point. I’d stepped close and could smell some sweet dessert in her hair, something fruity in her lip gloss. All I wanted now was to taste her again. “Tell me then.”

Her eyes lit up as she gripped my shirt and pulled me close. “You could add tiny accents of color through the resort. Like all the rooms would have just a hint of blue here and there or gold or whatever color dependent on the floor they were on. Or you could name the sections of the resort and color them that way? Maybe the frames? Or the pictures. Just a tiny hint of something.” Then, instead of indulging in making out with me in that hallway, she shot off the wall and bounced with the same excitement she had when she baked.

“You want me to change everything in a few weeks’ time?”

“Don’t make it sound impossible.” She scoffed. “You built this from the ground up, right?”

Getting a compliment from her about this place shot through me like a damn hit of the most addictive drug. “Are you saying you’re impressed?”

“And definitely don’t make me stroke your ego, Dominic. You get that from everyone.” Didn’t she know I only wanted it from the people who wouldn’t give it to me?

Her. She was the only fucking person.

“Think about it. Different parts are different colors. Like the whole rainbow, Dominic. You wanted balance, right? White and black. But also, the rainbow signifies inclusion and hope and what would ultimately represent peace.” She wasn’t letting this go.

And my ridiculous ass was listening to her as I turned to open my office door.

She bounced by me and turned her body so she could keep her connection with me as she walked into my office. “The waterpark area could have hints of blue, the dining could have hints of pink and red.” I lifted a brow. “Okay, I’m biased to pink and red, but honestly, there wouldn’t be that many changes.”

“Why would I do that?” I asked her, already contemplating the idea. It was something different. Something that could work well and be achieved if we moved fast. I was under the gun, and I hated that it felt like the thing that was missing in the resort.

“Because it’s exactly what the resort needs!” She swung her arms around my office and then hopped up to sit her nice ass on the desk. “Do I look good on this white desk, Dominic?” Her smile was sly as her eyes dipped down to stare at the bulge in my trousers.

“You look good anywhere, Clara.”

Maybe she was surprised that I’d answered positively without hesitation, because her mouth opened and shut before she whispered “Thank you” like no man had ever fed her a compliment. I needed to do it more, a lot more. “But think about how I would look on this desk if it were full of color. No one would see me. I wouldn’t stand out, right?”

My little fighter didn’t really realize, I think, that I was already obsessed with her and her excitement, how her skin turned pink when she started talking a mile a minute, how her eyes twinkled, how she fiddled with her dress like she was right now when she was waiting for affirmation from me. I walked toward her slowly, grabbed her legs and dragged my hands up them roughly, raising the skirt of her dress to find lace underneath. “Clara Milton, don’t you know you could be in the middle of a crowd at a concert on the other side of the country, and I’d still find you, baby, because you always stand out.”

I kissed her then. Hard. Rough. Much more raw and violent than I had in the elevator. This time, I wanted her to understand that I wasn’t at all joking. My body gravitated toward her, was magnetized by her, and would always search for her, find her, and try to consume her. I picked her up and carried her over to my office door where I slammed it shut and pushed her back against it.

I looked at her with anything but apathy while I rubbed my cock over her entrance, and her hands gripped my shirt, shoving me back for a second. “You’re distracting me, but I won’t be deterred, Dominic Hardy. This is a good idea.”

“Good enough idea that you shared it with your other designer?” I asked her before I lowered my head and kissed my way to the edge of her dress. I pushed the fabric to the side so I could graze my teeth over her nipple.

She gasped and her hands flew into my hair as she arched toward me. Then, she yanked my hair so she could bring me up to her face where she could take her turn devouring my lips, her hips wiggling fast over my cock. “He’s just Valentino, Dominic.”

“No. He’s just the guy you wanted to date not too long ago.”

She didn’t deny it. “He’s also a guy that wants what’s best for the resort.” Then she sucked on my bottom lip, nipped it, and dragged her teeth across it. The pain shot through me as pleasure, right down to my cock that twitched against her pussy.

“Careful, cupcake. You bite me, and I’m going to bite back.”

Breathing faster, her hands were at my belt buckle. “Do it then.”

She never ever backed down from a challenge with me. Others, she’d let them walk all over her, but I swear she wanted to test her limits with me, like I was the one she trusted, like I was getting a special treatment and my cock rejoiced in it. I sucked on her neck and then her tits as her delicate fingers wrapped around my length, stroking up and down, up and down. “God, I want this,” she murmured as her thumb rolled over my tip, spreading my pre-cum around.

Just then, my phone rang, and Clara’s phone beeped.

We both glanced at the time. “Shit. The meeting’s in ten minutes.” She shoved me back and I let her do so as I picked up my phone.

“Sir, we’re calling to verify that you made a purchase for $216,700.64 today at Divine Floral Arrangements. And $286,801.10 online at La Cornue. If you cannot confirm it or it is fraudulent, we can cancel the transactions.”

“For $216K and $286K?” I said the numbers slowly as I dragged my eyes over to hers. They were wide, vivid green, and had a hint of a spark. A fight in them. “No, it’s not fraud. That’s just my future wife throwing a tantrum. Go ahead and run the bills through,” I grumbled and clicked off the phone.

Fuck me, was she trying to drive me to the edge? I knew something was wrong with me because even as my heart beat faster in fury, I allowed for it. I was even smiling about it, enjoying that she had the balls to do it.

I should have been thinking she wasn’t equipped to run a bakery or have any responsibility within my business whatsoever, and yet I was on the verge of letting her keep the credit card if she wanted it.

I slid my phone back into my trousers and took two steps toward her. She took two steps back. “Clara.”

“Yes?” I heard how that rasp in her voice trembled and, fuck, I wasn’t prepared to deal with reprimanding her as her boss either because my cock instantly reacted.

“Please tell me there’s an error on my credit card with the florist and La Cornue.”

“Oh, I’m not sure, Dom,” she hummed.

“Don’t call me that.”

“Everyone calls you that or Mr. Hardy.”

“You’re not everyone. You’re my future wife, remember? You’re the girl who gets to spend over a half a mil on fucking flowers. So, use the name you always do when you’re talking to your future husband, or I’ll punish you for that too.” My voice was low, vicious, and held a warning.

“No need to punish me when I’m just doing what you told me to do. The florists were very helpful in going over what they believed to be the best showcase of luxury to be hanging from the ceiling. I explained how I originally wanted pink-and-white blown glass twisting out from the corners of the bakery, too, giving a light, decadent Parisian feel. And they actually had a contact for that along with a contact for a La Cornue range.”

“So, is over a half a mil for the flowers, kitchen appliances, or blown glass? What are they? Encrusted in gold?”

“Well, actually, I know how much you hate color, so most of it is silver and diamonds within the lace that will be woven through the real flowers once a week for the first year along with my pink blown glass, of course. The bakery will smell delightful and also sparkle from above. As for the appliances, a La Cornue oven is a piece of art.”

“Are you out of your fucking mind?”

“You don’t like the idea?” She feigned shock. “I’m sorry, Dominic. I was just trying to make sure we showcased the elegance of the hotel, married our tastes, and, well, you weren’t there so …”

“That’s what this is about? That I didn’t show up to help? I just said before I had that urgent matter—”

“Okay, in my defense, you didn’t text me that when I was there. You just said to handle it.” She shot back. “And, sorry, but that’s rude to not give me a reason while I’m waiting, okay?”

“So what you’re saying is because someone was rude to you, you’re not competent enough to know how to pick out some—”

“Of course I’m competent enough, you asshole.” There she was. I knew it was coming. Her claws came out fast and without hesitation, just the way I liked her to approach me. “I just don’t like to wait a whole fucking hour with no explanation. I’m literally there twirling my thumbs apologizing for you. Like I’m some afterthought and like my bakery doesn’t matter. It might not matter to you or most people here or to my mother or—”

“I’m not your fucking mother or anyone else, Clara. I’ve spent more time on your bakery than any other space in this resort. You know that?” I bellowed. “And I listen to your ideas more than I would anyone else’s. I respect the hell out of your opinion. That should go without saying.”

She gasped at my confession and then chewed her bottom lip like she didn’t know what to say. “Do you mean that?”

“Of course I mean it.” I threw my hands up and paced away from her before I paced back. “We have a meeting in two minutes, otherwise I’d fuck some sense into you, honestly. After it though, I expect your ass back in my office so I can teach you a lesson about spending outrageous amounts of money.”

She smiled. “You know, Dominic? I’d probably rather not. We got done what we needed to accomplish for the day. I might need a nap after spending all that money.”

I clenched my teeth to keep from laughing at her as she started to walk by me. Instead, I smacked her ass hard and then grabbed it to stop her so I could lean in and whisper, “If you don’t come to my office after this meeting, I will punish you, Clara.”

She rolled her eyes. “You wouldn’t know how.”

“That so? How about stalling your side of the resort opening so I can fuck you into oblivion during the time you have off?”

She gasped. I knew our marketing team had been doing social media pushes, that there were viral posts and people excited to see her pink bakery. It was a genius marketing ploy, I had to admit, but I’d only admit it to myself. “You wouldn’t.”

There. She finally sounded scared.

“Be here when the meeting’s over. We’ll take into account your frivolous behavior then.”


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