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Between Love and Loathing: Chapter 38


“Of course I used her. She was a perfect girlfriend for the press. Wouldn’t you say so?”

And he’d actually waited for her response.

More silence.

“She agreed to it, Natya. Agreed to move in with me too. She agreed to everything.”

He still had such emotion, such anger, such a feeling toward her that it hurt to listen anymore.

“Nothing. I told you I’d never love like that again.”

I backed away. The reinforcement of his statement, the doubling down of his emotions, the fact that he contacted her in the middle of the night. This all left no room for me.

I packed quietly, sent emails off quickly, and texted Evie early that next morning for Dex’s number.

She called immediately. “What’s wrong?”

“I just need a place to stay. I can’t be here with Dominic after what happened with Natya last night.”

She waited in silence, but I wasn’t giving any more right now. “Well, we have an apartment building in LA that Declan and I are staying at. Come here. I’ll make sure the doorman lets you up.”

“No. I need to find my own apartment and …” I took a deep breath. I hated telling someone no, but this was survival. Survival didn’t have formalities or expectations attached to it.

“I get it. I’ll get you a furnished place. The doorman will have your apartment number when you get here. You realize, though, you own shares now, Clara. You get that right? All this is yours too,” Evie explained to me.

I hadn’t even looked over the paperwork Mrs. Johnson delivered well enough to understand. And the thought made me almost feel as if I couldn’t breathe. There were too many things changing, too many pieces of my life I still had to fit together, too much pain I had to comprehend to figure out my finances now. I cleared my throat. “I … Right.”

“We’ll figure it all out. Go to the apartment. Rest. Call me after, okay? Do you need—”

“I’m fine. I just need time alone and some sleep. I can’t think when I’m near him and—” I tried not to cry, tried to hold together my soul that was breaking.

“Oh, Clara. It’ll all be okay.”

I assured her it would. I tried to feel it too. But when I got to the apartment, it felt so empty even with its beautiful high ceilings, wall-to-wall windows overlooking the city, and the custom leather furnishings.

I didn’t want muted tones with cleanliness everywhere. I wanted my furballs running around while my rainbow accents clashed with Dominic’s black and white.

When a soul shatters from hitting the ground after falling in love, I don’t know if there’s a remedy other than surrounding yourself with the people you love. And family is supposed to be that. Familial bonds are comfortable, ingrained from childhood, and what we strive for in adulthood. It’s why when my sister texted to meet me for breakfast, I thought it would be fine. I thought inviting her to my apartment would maybe bridge a gap if I told her I’d broken up with Dominic.

When I laid in my bed to wait for her, his text came through.

Dominic: Where the hell are you?

Me: I got an apartment. I’ll be back to pick up all my other things soon and the kittens.

Dominic: You’re not picking up anything.

Dominic: Especially not the cats.

Me: You know Sugar and Spice are mine, Dominic.

Dominic: Those cats are ours. And you’re mine. Get your ass back here now.

Me: Dominic, we discussed this.

Dominic: No. You discussed it. I barely even fucking processed it.

Me: This is best for both of us.

Dominic: Speak for yourself. I’m left with a rainbow garden and bookshelf that’s not in the right order.

Instead of crying, I was growling in anger now.

Me: I didn’t leave your place a mess, Dominic. And you know it. Plus, I said I’m coming to get my things soon. If there’s something you need me to take care of, I will.

Dominic: You’re not taking a damn thing out of this house, Clara. Get back here so we can figure out everything. The media outlets are taken care of now. We just need to take care of us.

Me: No thank you. I’m tired, Dominic. And I’ve got to get all this moved. For me, it takes a lot of effort.

I was only affording him that honesty because he understood it and had been compassionate about it in the past. He’d let me feel comfortable sharing the aches and the pains before, and now, with the stress of knowing I wouldn’t have him in the near future, I felt my body bending to the will of my condition.

My phone rang immediately. When I answered, he didn’t even let me say hello. “Are you okay?”

“Fine,” I said softly, but my voice cracked. “I just need space.”

“That’s the one thing I won’t give you, Clara. I’m coming over. Text me your address.”

“No. It’s the one thing you have to give me.”

“For how long?”

“I don’t know.” I took a shaky breath. “Maybe an hour or maybe forever. We’ll see how strong I am.”

“You’re my little fighter. The question is are you fighting for us or against us?”

“You can’t honestly think we’d win this fight, Dominic. You haven’t gotten over her.”

“Her?” he growled. “It’s not about her.”

I murmured that I had to go and hung up on him.

I laid down to try to take a nap, to just forget all that was happening.

Time passed but my eyes never drifted shut. Sleeping without him near was much too hard already.

When the knock at the door sounded, I welcomed the distraction and went to open the door for Anastasia … and my mother. She sneered at me, “So he left you?”

“I’m leaving him,” I started, but I was looking at my sister, trying my best not to let the unshed tears roll down my cheeks. “You said it was just you coming.”

“So? Mom wanted to come too.” She shrugged and walked in, waving my mother in after her and leaving the door wide open like they had servants to take care of it. “Is he putting you up in this apartment to be gracious?” I wouldn’t tell them that I owned it now. The sliver of hope I’d had at finding resolution with them was gone. “I really thought you might be of some use to us, Clara. I honestly did, but you’re fucking useless.” My mother shook her head in disgust.

“What?” I murmured.

“Oh, don’t look like you’re going to cry. It’s obvious we want our HEAT membership back, and we were hoping you could get to Evie’s ridiculous status with Dominic maybe. Evie married Declan, and now she gets to act like she’s above us. If you married Dom … Well, that’s not happening, is it? You’ve ruined that too.”

“I … I guess so.” I shook my head, mad for even subjecting myself to them again, for falling for their act at the reopening.

“And what’s with this rash?” She poked a finger into my red cheek and then pushed it hard. “Go cover it up. No wonder he’s leaving you. If you’re not going to take care of yourself—”

“That’s what I’m trying to do!” I screeched and both of their eyes widened. “Why do you think I moved away from you? You’re triggering—”

She smacked me clean across the face with a lot more power than I imagined she had at this point in her life. When she wound back up to do it again her hand was yanked from behind.

Evie had my mother’s hand behind her back and her chest on the ground in one fluid move. I knew Evie practiced self-defense and could restrain most if need be. My mother was no match for her even though she tried. “I’m not letting you up, Mrs. Milton. Dominic, call security.” My stepsister’s knee pushed into my mother’s back as she squirmed further.

“I’ll press charges if you don’t let me up. I’m having a conversation with my daughter.”

“No. You hit your daughter, Melinda. And it’s illegal, even if she allowed you to do it,” Evie said, her eyes searching mine with sadness and then turning on Anastasia with malice. “What sort of sister are you?”

“Excuse me?” Anastasia scoffed. “I wasn’t doing anything—”

Exactly. You just stood there. You’re her older sister. You’re supposed to protect her—”

“Evie, it’s fine.” I shut my eyes for a second and then opened them to catch Anastasia’s gaze. “Actually, it’s not. Why did you bring her here?”

“Well, I …” She looked shocked that I wouldn’t let it go. “It’s not a big deal, Clara. You know how Mom is.”

“Yes, she’s like this with me. Not you. And you brought her here knowing that she’d be angry.”

“You’re useless,” my mother screeched. “Of course I’m mad. I have a daughter that can’t do anything right. She’s lost us the HEAT empire. She’s useless. Useless. Useless.”

“Mrs. Milton.” Dominic’s voice cut through the room and ended my mother’s whining. His eyes were on me, vivid green and full of so many emotions I couldn’t pin one of them down. Then, he walked right over to me and kneeled so he could lower his face into her view since Evie wasn’t letting her get up. “Do you know your daughter left me and I practically stalked her this morning to figure out where she was? That I showed up to be here for her? That I’ll always be here even if she doesn’t want me to?”

My mother tried to say something.

He cut her off. “Do you know she’ll be able to ask me for the rest of her life to jump, and I’ll ask how high? She could ask me to give someone a membership to HEAT although it’s an unbiased lottery and I’ll put the names through expedited just for her. Better yet, you know that your daughter already has that luxury, and do you know why?

My mother stopped squirming. “What?” Her big eyes widened as she glanced at me. “How?”

“Clara, would you like to tell your mother, or should I?”

I chewed my lip before shrugging and owning it. “I am officially a major shareholder.”

The paperwork I got still hadn’t completely sunk in from Mrs. Johnson.

“And that’s because she was able to design and run a world-renowned bakery within the resort. She’s not useless. She’s fucking priceless. And as a major shareholder, she also owns most of this apartment complex that you’re in. You’re on her fucking property.”

The security guards came to the door.

My mother whispered out, “That can’t be right. I mean, Clara, you know I didn’t mean what I said.”

“Mrs. Milton and Anastasia, I’m going to say this one time, and I want you to listen very carefully before you’re thrown out of our building. My future wife may allow you to treat her badly but let me be crystal fucking clear: won’t ever allow it again.”

“But you’re broken up—” Anastasia started.

“Doesn’t mean I’m not going to marry her, Anastasia. I am going to. And I’m going to spend the rest of my life protecting her from feeling the pain you delivered today. Do you understand?”

Neither of them answered because they probably were so embarrassed for being called out on their actions, they thought they could be silent in hopes it would disappear.

“I said, Do. You. Understand?” Dominic repeated pointedly this time. They muttered yes and Dominic turned to me. “Cupcake, would you like your security to escort this woman and her daughter off the premises?”

“Clara, be reasonable—” my mother whimpered.

Evie scoffed and I shook my head. Reasonable was finally seeing the truth and acting on it. “Yes. I’d like them escorted off the property and a record filed on their behavior.”

When they were waved toward the door, they went willingly and Evie followed. “I’m leaving you two to discuss this ‘future wife’ thing. And Clara”—she pulled me close and hugged me—“Sorry, I told Dom where you were when he called but I love you. Remember, I love you.”

When I tried to say thank you, she held up her hand. “There’s no thank yous in families.” And then she was gone too.

In their place was silence, heavy with questions and pain and echoes of what had just happened in that room. I tried to fill it with lies. “It doesn’t happen often that she—”

“You’re a shit liar, Clara. I’ve told you that time and time again.”

I took a breath and then one tear rolled over my reddened cheek. “Right.”

He was there within a second to pull me close. To let me break down and expel whatever pain I had. It was the pain of losing a mother and a sister, the idea of them that I thought I could create. “I guess you know what it means to love the idea of something,” I murmured.

He nodded over my head and smoothed my hair. He then whispered, “But sometimes the real thing becomes better than the idea ever was.”

I thought of Evie and me, of how she’d been my estranged stepsister for so long but still stepped into the line of fire for me in a way my sister never had. Sometimes choosing a family instead of keeping the one you were given was the right choice.

Yet, I didn’t know if he was talking about Evie and me. He might have been talking about me and him, but how could he when he wasn’t sure we were even made to be together? He wanted to believe it. That was all he’d said that night on the beach.

And then, his phone call with Natya solidified it. My heart lurched thinking about it. “I don’t want to talk about ideas today, Dominic. I just need space and time to think.”

I couldn’t.

“I’m staying over today.” He didn’t wait for me to invite him. “And we’re lying in bed for most of it. You need rest. Were you packing all night?”

“No … Well, maybe.” I sighed. “You used to never want to stay in your bed with a woman, Dominic.”

“Yeah, and now it’s only my bed if you’re in it.” He pulled at his neck and looked toward the ceiling. “Please, Clara. I don’t beg, but I will for you. Let me sleep here, and then I’ll leave you alone all week if you want. You have my word. One week for you to think.”

I chewed at my cheek and then rubbed away the tears but winced at the rash forming there.

“Fuck, baby. Let me take care of you. Just for today.”

“I don’t want to talk about us at all.” It was too much right now.

“Fine. If you agree that you’re going to go to a doctor about that rash.”

I nodded because it was all too much. I was so tired. Too tired to fight him on sleeping arrangements. I was too tired to fight against what my heart wanted when it was latched to him anyway. I fell back into my bed, “Stay on your side, Dominic Hardy.”

He got into the bed and even though I was on the edge of my side, he grabbed me and yanked me over to his so he could spoon me. “Only if you’re on my side with me.”

I slept like a baby, and the next morning, he’d made me breakfast with paprika in my eggs and a note on the counter.

Breakfast for my cupcake.

Don’t say I left before the sun came up unless you also

admit that you were going to kick me out anyway.

One week, cupcake. That’s it.

Trying to cover the rash on my cheeks and the joint pain through the workweek would probably have been impossible, so I didn’t really bother. Although I went to work as much as possible, my staff was there to pick up the slack when needed, which was most of the day considering how busy opening week was.

Every day, I settled more and more into my routine. Every day, my flare-up symptoms subsided a bit.

I knew lupus showcased itself differently and that I wouldn’t always be able to control my flare-ups. That sometimes they would appear even during the most relaxing day. Yet, I found contentment in controlling the parts of my life I could, that I’d been strong enough to do that. I could and had created a healthier life here without my mother and sister.

Even if I knew my ultimate heartbreak was near. Dominic wouldn’t always be around. He’d have other projects, more responsibilities outside of this resort.

I would be able to prosper here without him because I loved baking for people who appreciated the hint of spices I added into their specialty drinks and their chocolates. I enjoyed the children coming in from the waterpark begging for poppy cupcakes. And my heart melted when an older couple who bought the cupcakes for each other and told me they danced in the California poppies one night fifty years ago.

Good food created memories and reminded people of the ones they’d had in the past. I knew that. Yet, the memories of Dominic were all around me and I was still trying to forget.

So, on Friday, when Valentino came in to pout about how I’d not come to his restaurant yet, I told him I’d make my way there that night after I closed because I wanted to show him I was proud of all of us.

I wasn’t really thinking about how it would look. I didn’t think he would, as the head chef, sit down and dine with me.

I wasn’t thinking until I saw my ultimate heartbreak, green eyes blazing with fury, in the doorway of the restaurant.


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