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Between Love and Loathing: Chapter 4

CLARA

He followed the track of my finger before he pulled his eyes up to meet mine. “How’s your welcome to the City of Angels been?”

The man had the audacity to ask me that now? “I’ve been here for a month, Dominic.”

“Right.” He wasn’t dumb, not by a long shot. And he wasn’t socially awkward either. So, that left me to believe he was just being rude.

How sad that my stepfather had handed over this resort to him. A man that couldn’t even greet me when I got off my flight or ask me to lunch or give me a walk-through of the place we’d both be working at. “The city is fine and so is your resort.”

He hummed and leaned against the counter, swiping a hand over imaginary dust so that he didn’t have to look at me. “You really don’t like the resort or the bakery, do you? It resembles a hospital to you?”

I turned to look around me. The pink dishes I’d requested were white; the linens folded in the back were, I knew, white when I’d asked for red. Over and over, my desires had been rejected.

I was to blame, though, ultimately. I’d been compliant, merely requesting rather than demanding.

I pushed the tip of my stiletto into the rug in front of the register. That was black, too. “My taste in the resort doesn’t really matter.”

“If you say it doesn’t, then it really doesn’t,” he concluded, agreeing with me.

“Well then.” I shrugged. “Why even ask me then?”

“Because if you’re going to work here, we need you to at least attempt to keep a leash on your ridiculously illogical opinions.”

“I wouldn’t say they’re illogical. Other than the strip, this place is—”

“Luxurious, elegant, what people want.”

“If you say so. No use arguing with you.” I wasn’t going to participate in such an exercise with an arrogant asshole who couldn’t take criticism.

“Because?”

I frowned. “Because I’ve read you don’t take constructive criticism well, and I’ve tried to argue my way into one speck of color in my own bakery to no avail.”

“You read about me?” He seemed surprised.

“Everyone has.” I tried to cover it up, not wanting to stroke his ego at all. “You’re an amazing architect and designer. You’ve completed numerous resorts and also have a knack for managing them. People don’t even know how you have time to sleep. You treat every design like your baby, and you’re overprotective of them all. I get it. That’s how I am with my bakery.” I took a deep breath and tried not to feel pain when I glanced at those seats again. “I know what I sent to Rita wasn’t perfect, but it was mine.”

He nodded. “You realize it’s a privilege to have Rita on the team, working on this with you. She’s an MFA1.” I blinked at him. “She has a Master of Fine Arts in Interior Design from the New York School of Interior Design.” I blinked again. “It’s one of the best schools in the nation”—he seemed slightly perturbed now—“and she knows how to capture the image of what we want.”

She hadn’t captured anything. “I don’t think so,” I blurted it out. Standing in that bakery was almost making me ill. I was going to have to work here, practically live here for the next year, and I had to make sure this bakery was profitable, that I could stomach my own backdrop, and that I could thrive here. My bank account depended on it. I took a deep breath before I murmured, “This wasn’t what I wanted for my bakery. Not at all. Can’t we consider changes?”

Dominic’s eyes widened just a millimeter, before they frowned at my question. “You keep asking but nothing needs changing, Clara.”

“Can you imagine someone coming in and destroying your whole architectural design of this resort?”

“It’s happened a time or two. I did have to include a bakery that—”

“The bakery was a blip on your radar. You have half a million square feet, and the bakery doesn’t even face the front of this building!” Snapping at him wasn’t the right thing to do, but I couldn’t snap at my stepfather since he was six feet under. “But my design, my brand’s aesthetic? You and Rita destroyed it.”

Dominic chuckled, then cracked his large knuckles. Even if I didn’t enjoy his presence, his intense eyes, strong jaw, and muscles in all the right places were nice to look at. “If you think we did that, I’m sorry, but I will tell you … fresh out of college, no one looked twice at my designs. My design pitches, site plan drawings, elevation drawings … all of them were ripped apart over and over before I got any say in the builds I worked on. I worked my ass off from the ground up on my own and fought for each project.”

There was the insinuation again, that I hadn’t made my way to the top, that I wouldn’t fight for any of it. “You do recognize that I also went to the best culinary schools, traveled the world to understand what works in the industry, and that my bakery in Florida was not a flop for a reason.”

“I know the reason.” He tapped a finger on the counter before he met my gaze with condescension.

“And what is it?”

“You and I both know that Carl handed you that bakery just like he’s handed you the one here. I’ve interviewed countless chefs and bakers and worked with restaurateurs for nearly a decade. There are others who should have had that space instead of you.”

I fisted my hand and put it over my heart that I knew would have broken or pounded out of my chest if I didn’t control myself now. “Carl may have helped, but my menu, recipes, and brand’s designs will speak for themselves. I guarantee it.” He stared at me, his gaze hard as granite and as cold as ice. “You may not believe me, Dominic. But I will prove it,” I whispered out.

I don’t think I knew right until that moment how badly I wanted his approval, how hard I was striving for his acceptance. Dominic Hardy wasn’t cruel. He simply knew what was the best. I think that’s what hurt the most. He knew I wasn’t it, that I hadn’t earned my place.

But that’s what I’d come to do. Not for him, but for myself. I’d decided to change my lifestyle and this was the first step.

He finally glanced away from me. “So what? You’re unhappy with the added seating.” He stood there with his arms crossed, a frown on his face.

“This isn’t just about the seating, Dominic.” Both of us knew that. “I’m trying to remain positive, and I would have at least given this a shot if Rita had given me one thing I’d asked for. One little thing after I sat with her and explained how much I wanted a few pink accents.”

Yet, she hadn’t even texted me to tell me she’d made the change. Instead, I got to find out on the tour today.

My desserts had bold color, at least. They’d pop against the stark white counter tops and shiny shelving encased in glass near the register. Not every appliance was in, I could probably brighten the place with those.

“But we’re going for polished and modern. That will attract guests and uphold the Pacific Coast Resort standard,” he said confidently. No amount of positivity would ease my frustration, though.

This felt like a last shot at my dream, and he was chipping away at it, tearing small pieces off and leaving me with a nightmare. He and Rita were setting me up for failure because I couldn’t thrive here.

His phone vibrated, and I waved at him to answer as I glanced around and took in the eight hundred square foot area. The wraparound counter with the register on the end would work well, especially with half of it being glass where people could view desserts. The tables and chairs along the floor-to-ceiling window that overlooked the lobby was a plus.

Still, after seeing no pink booths, the white tiling felt like a slap in the face the longer I glared at it while Dominic bickered with someone on the phone. “I don’t really care what they want. We did hardwood flooring to warm up the rooms when the sunlight hits. The end product is what they need for their brand. Let them know they will like it once it’s finished.”

He hung up and turned his attention back to me, his eyes full of vibrating energy I couldn’t quite pin down.

“Rita is happy to make design changes where you feel necessary. We’ve ordered the last of the appliances which should be here in the next day or two.”

I gnashed my teeth together and ground them back and forth. Even though tears pricked my eyes, I smiled through them. “Well, could I at least look at the appliances you ordered?”

He lifted a brow at my snark. I was beyond being polite though. “Is it a problem that I ordered those too?”

“I’d like to take a look at which models and brands specifically. I have certain tastes when it comes to the tools I use every day.”

“Clara, I assure you we’ve ordered the best.” He crossed his large arms over his chest. I tried not to glance down. I could list his accolades like most magazines did, but I would never repeat what they wrote about his appearance. They called him one of the most attractive men in the world next to Brad Pitt, and honestly, he’d probably beat him out. His dark hair had the perfect wave, his strong jaw had the perfect angle, and his large arms were perfect to have wrapped around a woman.

I took a step back so my body could distance itself. “Even so, if you happen to have a receipt for the appliances, I’ll look it over and confirm—”

He sighed and grabbed his phone from his pocket. Two seconds later, my phone pinged. I scanned the list from the picture he’d sent and couldn’t help but wrinkle my nose. Most of it was perfect, but none of it had a splash of color. Stainless steel, black, matte-black espresso machine.

“What’s wrong with it?” He was scanning my features when I glanced up. For anyone else I would have given in. I was used to rolling over and not causing waves. But not this time.

“I don’t like the colors of these appliances,” I blurted out and felt lighter immediately. I didn’t want to appease people here like I did in the past. So, I guess I was going to protect my new self at all costs.

“The color?” His question was asked in a higher pitch. “Jesus Christ.”

“It’s my bakery, Dominic.” I threw back. “I have to work here. Do you understand that? Once you and Rita leave and move on to your next venture, I still want to be here. And I didn’t pick the color scheme for any of this,” I pointed out and then turned to wave toward the walls and the tables that had been set up. “Although you have the structure of the blueprint spot on, the mock-ups that I approved had bursts of color. Rita’s changed every literal thing.”

“Well, Rita has a vision. And she fought for it.”

Was that a comment at how easily I’d given in to them? “Are you saying I should have fought more?” I narrowed my eyes at him. He knew the will’s stipulations just as well as I did and I’d been trying to accommodate them by giving in time and time again.

“I’m saying you and Rita handled it, and we’re here now.” He sighed like this was all below his pay grade.

“Okay.” I tried to pull back my feelings because lashing out wouldn’t solve anything. Yet it was another chip at my dream. I’d just heard him micromanaging someone’s flooring on the phone. There’s no way he hadn’t had a say in draining all the color from my bakery. “I’ll talk with her about it.”

“Keep in mind she’s handling the lobby design and suites this week. I’ll be covering some of the final construction and so we won’t have much more time to spend here. The grand reopening of the resort is in just a few months. You have the dates in your calendar, correct?”

I nodded slowly, trying not to nitpick at the way his question demeaned my intelligence. “I’ll be ready.”

“See that you have extra staff working with you during the grand reopening. Rita gave you the list of hires available?” I nodded. “A lot of people will be coming through just to see the place and try things out. Are you staying close to the resort?”

“Close enough.” I shrugged. If this was Dominic’s small talk and attempt at smoothing things over, he had a long way to go.

He hummed like he didn’t approve of my answer. I don’t think he approved of anything in regard to me. “Shall we get back to the group and continue with this ridiculous party tonight?”

“I’m excited about the party,” I told him, so he didn’t think the idea was stupid. Whoever had planned it and placed importance on us all getting to know each other was building a good team of workers. “We’ll all be much more helpful to one another if we hang out and are friends.”

“You would think that,” he grumbled and then waved me toward the door.

“It’s true, Dominic. Think about if you’d come to me about your resort designs and I came to you with my bakery designs. We could have maybe come up with a better outcome than—”

“Better?” He glared. “As in not a hospital setting? You do realize magazines have said this is a brilliant display of opposition balancing, the straight lines with the curves, the black with the white—”

“I really didn’t mean …” I glanced up at him to see the passion in his eyes when describing the place.

“Also”—a small smile suddenly played on his lips—“I don’t enjoy any sort of color. Not even on your dress.”

I instantly grabbed the fabric of my dress, completely affronted. I loved flowers on dresses, color, and light everywhere. Glancing down and then up again, he started to chuckle “You’re teasing me. That’s fine. Whatever. I think you know this resort is beautiful. You don’t need my approval.”

He rolled his eyes and opened the door for me so I could walk out into the lobby. “Oh good. We done throwing insults at me now?”

At you? I didn’t say anything about you. I just said your resort—”

“My resort is me. We’re one and the same, Clara.” He said it with such conviction that I actually felt like we could relate for a second.

“Then you must know that me and my bakery are one and the same too. You realize that you and Rita upending my design was an insult every single time, right? If you change my design, you insult my bakery. And I am my bakery.” I squared up to him, willing him to disagree.

He studied me for a few seconds before he stepped back, holding his hand out for me to walk out of the bakery with him. I grabbed my bag and brushed past him as he said, “Then own it and fight for it.”

Little did I know, he shook something loose with those words, the way he said them like they were a command, like I needed to listen to him, like it was the best advice he could give me. I knew that was wrong. He didn’t really want me to fight. No one did. It’s why I was pretty much the pushover of the century.

Yet, that night, our fight began.


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