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Good Girl Complex: Chapter 18

MACKENZIE

The next morning, my media culture class is canceled. The professor sends a mass email that defies the laws of oversharing, informing us that his bowels had revolted against the meatloaf his wife prepared for dinner last night.

I feel your pain, bud. My stomach’s been in knots since I saw Cooper leave the Rip Tide with his arm slung around Sutton.

Did they have sex? I feel queasy at the thought. And a little angry. How could he fall into bed with some chick he’d known for 2.5 seconds? Or maybe they didn’t sleep together. Maybe she just blew him.

A red mist overtakes my field of vision at the thought of Sutton going down on Cooper. I want to rip his dick off for letting her touch it.

Hmm. Okay.

Maybe I’m more than a “little” angry.

But I’m not allowed to feel that way. Cooper is not my boyfriend. Preston is. I’m not allowed to have an opinion about who Cooper hooks up with, and I certainly shouldn’t be reaching for my phone right now and pulling up our chat thread and—

Me: You didn’t have to do that on my account. And by “do that,” I mean Sutton.

Damn it. What is wrong with me? I regret sending the text the moment it appears on the screen. I frantically tap at the screen in search of an unsend option, but that’s not how text messages work.

And now Cooper is typing a response.

Heart beating wildly, I sit up in bed and inwardly curse myself for my lack of self-control.

Cooper: Oh we’re talking again?

Me: No. We’re not.

Cooper: Cool. Later.

I stare at my phone in frustration. I’m more frustrated with myself than with him, though. I told him we couldn’t be friends. I literally said, “Goodbye, Cooper.” Last night I called him Evan and all but threw him at my single friends so that Melissa wouldn’t suspect anything and tell Benji. This is on me. Of course Cooper doesn’t want to talk to me.

And yet my stupid fingers have a mind of their own.

Me: I’m just saying. Thanks for playing along when I called you Evan, but you didn’t have to go full-on method acting.

Cooper: Hey princess? How about you worry more about your boyfriend’s dick and less about mine?

I want to scream. I wish I’d never met Cooper Hartley. Then I wouldn’t be feeling this way. All twisted up inside. Not to mention the jealousy eating at my throat like battery acid thanks to his reply. Is he saying his dick was a factor last night, then?

I’m three seconds away from asking Kate for Sutton’s number so I can confirm exactly what happened last night, when common sense settles in. If my goal last night was to ensure Melissa wouldn’t get suspicious, going batshit crazy on Sutton won’t help the cause.

Utilizing every iota of willpower I possess, I shove my phone aside and grab my laptop. No class means more time for work, which is always a great distraction.

I check my email, but there’s nothing pressing that needs to be addressed. The matter with Tad and his micropenis has blown over, thank God. And my mods and ad managers are reporting that September was our best month yet in term of revenue. It’s the kind of news any business owner should be thrilled to hear, and don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled. But as I spend the next couple hours doing basic business housekeeping, the frustration returns, rising in my throat. I have the sudden urge to get off campus for a walk. Sick of the same old scenery. Sick of my obsessive thoughts about Cooper.

Ten minutes later, I’m in a cab heading for Avalon Bay. I need the fresh air, the sunshine. The car drops me off near the pier, and I walk toward the boardwalk, shoving my hands in the pockets of my cutoff shorts. I can’t believe how balmy the temperature is for October, but I’m not complaining. The hot breeze feels like heaven against my face.

When my feet carry me all the way to the hotel, I suddenly realize what motivated me to come here today. The same thrill of possibility surges through my blood upon finding the hotel still sitting empty. Waiting.

It’s crazy, but as I stare at the derelict building, my body starts humming. Even my fingers are itching, like a metaphorical need to get my hands moving. Is this the challenge I’d been looking for? This condemned hotel I can’t quit fantasizing about?

It’s not even for sale, I remind myself. And yet that doesn’t seem to matter. The humming refuses to subside.

An idea forms in my mind as I make my way back through town, where I stop at a café for a drink. When the woman behind the counter hands me my juice spritzer, I hesitate for a moment. Avalon Bay is a small town. If we’re going by the small towns I’ve seen on TV shows like Gilmore Girls, that means everyone knows everything about everyone and everything.

So I take a wild guess and ask, “What do you know about the old abandoned hotel on the boardwalk? The Beacon? Any idea why the owner hasn’t done anything with it?”

“Ask her yourself.”

I blink. “Sorry, what?”

She nods toward a table by the window. “That’s the owner.”

I follow her gaze and spot an elderly woman wearing a wide-brim hat and huge black sunglasses that obscure most of her face. She’s dressed more like a beachcomber than a hotelier.

What are the odds? The humming intensifies, until my entire body feels wired with a live current. This has to mean something.

Carrying my drink, I slowly approach the table by the window. “Excuse me, I’m sorry to bother you. I wondered if I might talk to you about your hotel. May I sit down?”

The woman doesn’t look up from her coffee cake and cup of tea. “We’re closed.”

“Yes, I know.” I take a breath. “I hoped I might change that.”

She picks at her cake with brittle fingers. Pulls tiny crumbs, placing them slowly, gently, in her mouth.

“Ma’am? Your hotel. Can I ask you a few questions?”

“We’re closed.”

I can’t tell if she’s putting me on, or not all there. I don’t want to be rude or upset her, so I try one last time.

“I want to buy your hotel. Is that something that would interest you?”

Finally, she lifts her head to look at me. I can’t see her eyes because of the sunglasses, but the thoughtful purse of her lips confirms I’ve captured her interest. She takes a long sip of her tea. Then, setting down the cup, she pushes out a chair for me with her foot.

I sit, hoping I don’t appear too eager. “My name is Mackenzie. Cabot. I’m a student at Garnet College, but I’m sort of an entrepreneur too. I’m really interested in discussing your hotel.”

“Lydia Tanner.” After a long beat, she removes her sunglasses and places them on the tabletop. A pair of surprisingly shrewd eyes laser into mine. “What do you want to know?”

“Everything,” I answer with a smile.

For more than an hour, we discuss the hotel’s history. How she built it with her husband after the war. How it was practically demolished and rebuilt three times since then, before her husband died two years ago. Then after the last storm, she was too old and too tired to rebuild again. Her heart wasn’t in it, and her kids weren’t interested in salvaging the property.

“I’ve had offers,” she tells me, her voice sure and steady. Not at all the timid old lady she might appear. “Some generous. Some not. Developers who want to tear it down and build some hideous high-rise in its place. People have been trying to tear down the boardwalk for years, turn this place into Miami or something. All concrete and shiny glass.”

Her derisive sniff reveals exactly how she feels about all this. “This town will never be like Miami. It has too much charm,” I assure her.

“The developers don’t care about charm. They only see dollar signs.” Lydia picks up her teacup. “My only terms are that whoever buys my hotel has to preserve the intent. Maintain the character. I want to move closer to my grandkids, spend whatever time I have left with my family.” She sighs. “But I simply can’t bear to leave without knowing The Beacon is well cared for.”

“I can make you that promise,” I say honestly. “It’s the charm of the place that made me fall in love with it. I can commit to restoring everything as close to original as possible. Update the wiring and plumbing. Reinforce the bones. Make sure it survives another fifty years.”

Lydia examines me, as if gauging whether to take me seriously or write me off as a silly college girl who’s wasting her time.

Several seconds tick by before she gives a slow nod. “Well, then, young lady, write down a number.”

A number? I know nothing about the hotel real estate market, so I’m completely flying by the seat of my pants as I type a figure into the Notes app on my phone. It’s my best estimation of how much a property like this might cost, but also not enough to clean out my entire business account.

I slide the phone over. Lydia studies the screen, one eyebrow jerking up as if she’s surprised I have real money to offer.

For the next ten minutes, we go back and forth. It takes some haggling on my part. And I might have been suckered into overpaying by pictures of her grandkids, but eventually we come to a deal.

Just like that, I’m about to be the proud owner of my very own boardwalk hotel.


I feel high after closing my first successful business deal, giddy excitement coursing through my veins. Such a rush. At the same time, it’s insane. I’m twenty years old and I just bought a hotel. Despite how crazy it sounds, it feels so right. My mind immediately races with next steps. In an instant I see my future, my empire growing. I promised my parents I would focus on school, and I still plan to—I’ll just be focusing on my new role as hotel owner at the same time. I can juggle both.

Maybe.

Hopefully.

Even after Lydia and I shake on it and I call my lawyer to start the paperwork, it doesn’t feel real until I coax Preston to see the property the next day.

Rather than share in my excitement, however, he sticks a knife straight through my enthusiasm.

“What’s this?” He scowls at the gutted hotel with its crumbling walls and water-damaged furnishings spilling out.

“My new hotel.”

Eyes narrowed, Preston slants his head at me. As if to say, Explain yourself.

“I know it isn’t much now. You have to imagine it after a complete renovation.” I almost cringe at the note of desperation I hear in my voice. “I’m going to restore it entirely. Totally vintage. Postwar luxury all the way. Turn this place into a five-star resort.”

“You’re not serious.” His expression falls flat. Mouth presses into a hard line. Not exactly the reception I’d hoped for.

“Okay, I get that I don’t know anything about owning a hotel, but I’ll learn. I didn’t know anything about building a website or running a business either. But that didn’t stop me before, right? Maybe I’ll change majors to hospitality or something.”

He doesn’t answer.

Each second of silence slowly sucks away more of my joy.

“Preston. What’s wrong?” I ask weakly.

He shakes his head, tosses up his hands. “I’m really at a loss here, Mackenzie. This has got to be the most irresponsible, immature thing you’ve ever done.”

“What?”

“You heard me.”

He sounds like my dad, which I don’t appreciate in the least. Granted, I didn’t put a lot of thought into this venture before pulling the trigger—I tend to act more on gut instinct. Still, I thought he’d be a little happy for me.

“I’m very disappointed in you, frankly. I thought after our talk—after your little mistake—we were on the same page. About the plan. Our future.”

“Preston, that’s not fair.” Throwing the kiss back in my face is a low blow. One has nothing to do with the other.

He ignores me, finishing with, “That plan doesn’t include a hotel.” His lips twist into a disapproving frown.

“You don’t see the potential here? At all?” I ask unhappily.

“Potential? Look at this place. It’s a dump. A teardown at best. Maybe you can get something out of the land, but a renovation? You’re out of your mind. You don’t know the first thing about any of this. Did you even think for two seconds before leveraging your trust fund for this stupid distraction?”

Indignation shoots through me. “I’m more capable than you think. And I didn’t use my trust fund. I have the cash on hand, if you must know.”

“How?” he demands.

I jut my chin. “From my websites.”

Pres looks startled. “Your silly little tech thing?”

Now I’m pissed. I can feel the heat pouring out of my face as my nails dig into my palms. “Yes, my silly little tech thing,” I echo bitterly.

I’ve never elaborated on how much money my sites have generated, and he has never seemed particularly interested beyond poking fun at them. I thought it was a guy thing. Harmless teasing. Sometimes he’d come over when I was working on BoyfriendFails and tell me how cute I looked with my face all furrowed in concentration. He’d grin and call me his “sexy tycoon.” I thought he was proud of me, proud of all the work I was putting into the venture.

It isn’t until this very moment that I realize he wasn’t smiling out of pride. He wasn’t seeing me as a “tycoon.”

He was laughing at me.

“That was supposed to be a hobby,” he says flatly. “If I’d known you were earning an income from it, I would have—”

“You would have what?” I challenge. “Forced me to stop?”

“Guided you in the right direction,” he corrects, and his patronizing tone makes my blood boil. “We’ve spoken about this before. Many times. We’d go to college together. You’d have whatever hobbies you wanted during school. I’d graduate first, take over at my dad’s bank. You’d graduate, join the boards of your mom’s foundations.” Preston shakes his head at me. “You agreed I’d be the breadwinner in the relationship, while you focused on charity work and raising our family.”

My jaw falls open. Oh my God. Whenever he’d said stuff like that, he’d used a teasing voice. Made it sound like a joke.

He was actually being serious?

“You’re going to back out of the deal.” The finality with which he issues the order shakes something loose inside me. “You’re lucky I’m here to stop you before your parents find out. I don’t know what’s gotten into you lately, Mackenzie, but you need to get ahold of yourself.”

I stare at him. Stunned. I never imagined he would hate this idea with such ferocity. At the very, very least, I thought he would be supportive of my decision. The fact that he isn’t leaves me shaken.

If I could misjudge him on this to such an extent, what else have I been wrong about?


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