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Between Love and Loathing: Chapter 9

CLARA

“How’s it going?” I whispered over to Paloma, trying to act like I hadn’t just had my boss serve me the best orgasm of my life mere minutes ago.

“You missed Ed Sheeran. I can’t even … They brought Ed Sheeran here just for us, Clara.” So, Dominic had spent some money on making his employees feel welcome after all. “And there were dancers, and I think there might be fireworks later, I kid you not.”

“That’s amazing.” I glanced around and saw the buzz across the hundred people here. Laughter and smiles in the moonlight.

I found myself searching for him, wanting to see his reaction to the joy he’d brought people that night, but didn’t see him anywhere. It was a reminder he didn’t want to witness that with them, didn’t want to mingle at all.

“So, did you do it?”

“Do what?” I whipped around, eyes wide as I smoothed my hair in front of Paloma. Did I look like I’d screwed around with him?

“Did you paint an accent wall in your bakery?” she whisper-yelled at me. “Did Mr. Hardy see? Is he mad?”

I let out a breath of anxiety and looked down at my heels in the sand. I probably should have worn something other than stilettos. I slid one foot out and then another, went to toss them over by my purse, and considered if it was a bad look.

Yet, no one was there for me to look good for or bad for except myself. Tonight was about me. I was on my own, and this was my chance to live just for me. “Yes, I painted it, and honestly, I don’t care if he is mad.”

I think my eyes got just as wide as Paloma’s once the words left my mouth, but the ones that were knocking around in my head were Dominic’s. He’d told me to take what I wanted, and tonight I was going to. Tonight was about making new friends, seeing how we would all work as a team, and having a bit of fun.

Paloma whooped and pulled me around to talk with everyone. I shook hands with Eddie, whose beach bar was the perfect addition on the strip for the nightlife. I hugged Paloma’s store neighbor, Courtney, who was adorned with the beautiful jewelry she would be selling in a month to our guests. Garrett owned the vineyard to the east of the resort and offered me a glass of his finest. And when we came to Valentino, I think my breath caught in my throat at how attractive he was up close. His dirty-blond hair was naturally highlighted from the sun, his blue eyes twinkled like we had an inside joke already, and his strong biceps showcased that he worked out.

Paloma pointed between us. “You two are going to love each other. She makes the best desserts, Valentino. It’s like Christmas and your birthday in your mouth at the same time, I swear.”

“Christmas and my birthday, huh?” He held his hand out, and I knew I was blushing.

“Probably not both. Maybe one.”

“And she’s humble.” He chuckled and I practically melted like the chocolate I’d made earlier with Dominic. “I’m sorry we haven’t met sooner.”

I finished shaking his hand and wondered why that comment didn’t sit quite well with me. Why hadn’t we met earlier? He knew I was there, knew I was a new bakery owner, and knew I’d dropped off chocolates at his restaurant. “Yes. Sorry. I stopped by and left a note with chocolates …”

“Ah, my team probably gobbled them right up.” He shrugged, and that definitely explained it. He was insanely busy with a whole restaurant as opposed to just my bakery. “Don’t be sorry, though, love. I’m happy we’re meeting now. We’ll have to get together soon, sample one another’s plates, no?”

“That sounds great.” My heart fluttered. Should I have told him how much I admired his work? That I’d followed his career?

Paloma pulled me along and then whispered, “Okay, down girl. You have stars in your eyes. Let’s keep him wanting more. Time for us to have fun now.”

Admittedly, I listened and had too much fun with too many margaritas, dancing well into the night with Paloma by my side. When she and Eddie started talking more, I leaned in to tell her that I was going to go walk on the beach for a minute just to enjoy the air. As I strolled down through the sand, the sound of the music got quieter, the lights faded in the distance a bit and the moon shined bright.

The water washed up to shore fast over the sand, and then pulled back like it was breathing in and out. In and out.

“You had enough of mingling with the team?” His voice rumbled out from the shadows, and I screeched before I lurched forward, losing my balance and stumbling straight into him.

Dominic’s reflexes were faster than mine because he caught me against his chest, not letting me bounce off him into the water.

I looked up to thank him, and my body instantly reacted, and not in a way that I would have liked. The way I melted for Valentino didn’t compare at all to the electricity that coursed through my blood now. The butterflies in my stomach were free-falling, and heat flew over my cheeks as I turned to face him.

“Might be time for you to go home?” he said softly.

I shook my head no. “Oh. I’m fine.”

“You fall into people all the time when you’re fine?”

“You know what?” I poked him in the chest. “You scared me because you sneaked up on me.”

“I don’t sneak up on people.”

“Yes, you’ve been lurking around all night instead of just going to the party.”

“Oh I was at the party.” He crossed his arms and continued. “I was at the party fucking around with the baker—”

I felt my eyes widen. “Be quiet.” I threw my hands up. We might have been fifty feet away from everyone else, but I didn’t want the chance of someone knowing what I’d just done. “I’m going back to the party.”

But of course, when I started to walk back up to my friends, I stumbled. And he freaking caught me again. He sighed before he ground out, “We’re going home.”

My response was way too laid back as I covered my mouth to keep from laughing in his face. “God, you’re way too good looking to be such bad company.”

His jaw might have clenched at how candid I was being with him now, but I was a nervous talker, and the alcohol was flowing. “Come have a drink, Dominic.”

“Remember what I told you about my name?”

“Um …” The answer to that was no. The wheels were not turning perfectly in my brain since the margaritas froze them all up, apparently. I did remember how his cock felt against my pussy, though, and I smiled lazily at him. “No, but I do remember how you felt—”

“Go say goodnight to your friends,” he commanded before I could finish my sentence. Then he leaned in to whisper, “I’m taking you home.”

That had me sobering. “Don’t ruin the party.”

He eyed the beach like he had all the authority in the world to do just that. “Don’t want me to? Then, let me take you home, or I’m shutting the whole damn thing down.”

“Is that so?”

“Don’t play with me, Clara.”

“I’m not playing with you anymore. We already did that, and we barely even got started.” I scoffed and pushed past him, done dealing with him popping up out of nowhere and demanding something from me.

It only took about two minutes for the music to cut out and Rita to announce, “Party’s over, everyone. We’ll be cleaning the beach, so please file out immediately. Fireworks have been rescheduled and …”

I didn’t hear anything else. Everything in me froze so my blood could boil as I felt the anger fly through me.

He wouldn’t have.

Of course he would.

I pivoted around to find him standing there in the moonlight, glowing green eyes on me, his backdrop the ocean. He looked powerful. Cruel. And invincible.

Instead of filing off the beach with everyone, I murmured to Paloma that I’d call her when I got home. Then I stomped—or wobbled— right up to his selfish ass. “You’re a complete dick, you know that?”

“I didn’t claim to be anything else. Let’s go.” He started walking toward the resort, but I squinted out in the water.

“Are those my shoes?” There they both were, red-bottom heels, floating away. “And my bag?”

Crap. And of course, Dominic was no knight in shining armor. As I ran for them, he responded by yelling to hurry up or something.

“I have to get my purse,” I screeched in determination. Those heels were my favorites too. I stepped into the water, but it was much colder than I thought it’d be. “Shit. Shit. Shit.”

Waves rolled in and then receded back out. The water went back and forth, back and forth, and I felt my stomach lurch with it as I looked down.

“Jesus, Clara.” I felt his big, calloused hands scoop me up then. “You’re swaying, little fighter. You drink the whole bar tonight?”

“My purse, Dominic. And my shoes. Oh my God, I need my freaking shoes at least.”

“I’ll get you new shoes, cupcake.”

“No. Those are Christian Louboutins. My only ones. And that bag …” My stomach rolled at how much money was floating out to sea. “It was so expensive.”

“Oh really?” He smiled down at me genuinely. A huge smile. I think it was the biggest one I’d ever seen on him. “How much?”

“God, you’re disgustingly beautiful,” I blurted out as I stared at his eyes twinkling down at me with mirth.

“That right?”

“It’s very annoying.” I pouted in his arms as he carried me like a baby through the sand. Everyone must have scattered and left, because I didn’t hear a single sound except his heartbeat and mine.

He hummed, “What size shoe do you wear, Clara?”

“An eight but who freaking cares? Those were one of a kind. And so was the purse.” I groaned.

“I highly doubt it.” His voice was smooth, low, and hot. I felt the vibration of it all the way down to my sex. Wiggling, I tried to push the thought out of my mind but instead, I felt his muscles shifting to keep me from going anywhere.

“You have no idea.” I pouted, glancing behind us, as if I could grab one last glance. “That Birkin bag was at least $50,000.”

He laughed then. “So not expensive then?”

“Ew. Don’t brag.” I shoved him as he walked me through the resort again, laughing at how I curled my lip at him. “Honestly, my mother got it for me …” I didn’t continue because thinking of the time we had when she wasn’t cruel to me brought tears to my eyes.

He frowned down at me. “How is she? You never called, so I assumed you two mended things.”

I didn’t understand this Dominic—one who might care underneath his hard exterior, the one who’d protected me against Hank and my mother, the one who gave Paloma her sign, the one who asked me things. I wrung my hands against my stomach and looked out into the dark night. “Sometimes mending things with certain people means you break yourself.”

He hummed without agreeing or disagreeing. “How far is home, cupcake? I’ll drive you.”

He’d drive me home even though he had no idea where I lived. And how ridiculous was that, because Dominic had moments of compassion but at the end of the day, he hadn’t even taken the time to meet me once outside of work. “Of course you will. Ditch me after not even fucking me, and then send me right on home.” I was grumbling nonsense at this point. “Thank God my phone and my keys are in my bra or I would have had to call my landlord.”

He said something like I should forget it and that it didn’t matter.

“Where are we going?”

Of course he didn’t answer. He wove in and out of hallways, not going toward the parking lot at all. Instead, he swiped a card on the elevator and took me to the top floor.

“My apartment isn’t up here, Dominic,” I singsonged to him.

“Guess you’re not going to call me Mr. Hardy anymore?” he asked.

“Not when you’re carrying me off into the night like you’re a dream instead of my nightmare.”

“Am I your nightmare, Ms. Milton?”

I didn’t know how to answer as he swiped his fob over the penthouse entry keypad and carried me in.

Dominic Hardy was an enigma of a man, and I didn’t think he wanted me to figure him out.


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