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Good Girl Complex: Chapter 29

COOPER

Mac’s got yet another inspection at the hotel today, so I take the afternoon off to go there with her. She says it’s so I can translate for her, but I think she’s nervous about what she’s gotten herself into. Can’t blame her. Even if I had boatloads of family money, jumping into something as complex as renovating a hotel—not to mention running the damn thing—would make me a whole lot of anxious too. So as the inspector does his thing, Mac and I hang out on the boardwalk waiting for the verdict.

“I’m starting to think one does not simply buy a condemned hotel,” she says glumly.

I can’t help a smile. “That so?”

“Yup.” She bends to pet Daisy, who’s sitting at her feet. That dog doesn’t leave me alone for a second when we’re home, and then as soon as Mac comes around, she doesn’t know me.

“You can walk away.” From what I understand, the final sale of the property is still pending the completion of this last inspection. Crossing t’s and all that.

“No, I’m committed. It’s just overwhelming, you know? Thinking about everything there is to do. How much I don’t know.”

“So you’ll figure it out.”

She bites her lip. “Right.” Then she nods. Swiftly, decisively. “You’re right. I will figure it out.”

This is what I dig about her. Her confidence. The courage. She had an idea and some gumption and went for it. Most people spend their whole lives talking themselves out of their dreams. Point out all the reasons it’s too hard or farfetched. Not Mac.

“When you look at this place, do you still feel the same way as you did when you put the offer in?” I ask.

She smiles, the gleam of ambition fresh in her eyes as she stares at the crumbling building. “Yes.”

“Pull the trigger. Can’t win if you don’t play.”

“That’s the lottery,” she says, nudging my shoulder.

“Same difference.”

To be honest, I’m glad she asked me here. Even if only for moral support. There isn’t much I can give a girl like Mackenzie Cabot. Nothing she doesn’t already have or can’t get on her own. We all want to feel useful, though. I don’t know when it happened, but somewhere along the way, I started needing her to need me.

After a couple hours, the inspector comes out with his clipboard and runs down the list with Mac. Most of it we expected, some we didn’t. All of it carries a price tag.

“What’s the bottom line?” Mac asks him after he’s gone over every bullet item line by line.

“It’ll cost ya,” the man says through his overgrown mustache. “That said, there’s no reason this place can’t be operational again. I wish you luck.”

After a handshake, he gives her the paperwork and walks off to his car.

“So?” I prompt, taking Daisy’s leash from her.

She hesitates. Only for a second. Then she smiles wryly. “Guess I better call the bank.”

Gotta admit, it’s kind of hot that she can just call up a few million like placing a bet on the Panthers. She wears it well.

After she gets off the phone, we take a walk on the beach and let Daisy run around a little.

“So listen.” Mac sifts through the sand with her toes, picking out shells that catch her eye. She scoops one up, admires it, then drops it back in the sand. “I know I’m out of my depth here. I’m better at writing checks than rewiring a building.”

“That’s no sweat. I know everyone in ten square miles who does this kind of work.”

“That’s what I mean. You know the area, the people.”

There’s an ask coming, and I can’t imagine what it could be that has her dancing around the subject.

“Spit it out, Cabot.”

She rounds on me, arching an eyebrow. “I want to hire your uncle Levi to do the work.”

I furrow my brow. “What part?”

“All of it. As much as he can handle. Whatever he can’t, I want him to sub-contract out to people he trusts. The guys he’d get to do his mother’s house. Keep it in the family, so to speak.”

“Wow. Okay…” I mean, I’d expected her to pick his brain, maybe. Get some references. Maybe toss him a project or two.

This is … a lot.

“You seem unsure,” Mac observes.

“No, no. I’m not. It’s, uhh…”

“A big commitment?” She’s smiling. Grinning, actually. I think this chick is laughing at me.

“I’m not afraid of commitment, if that’s what you’re suggesting.”

“Uh-huh,” she says.

“I’ll commit the shit out of you.”

“Good.” Thinking she’s already won, she spins on her toes and resumes walking. “Then we have a deal. You’ll set up a meeting with Levi so we can discuss scope and an equitable price.”

“Hang on, princess. He’s got other jobs on the books already. I don’t know what kind of time he has. Don’t get ahead of yourself.”

“Details.” She waves her hand at me. “All can be negotiated. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

“Okay, I’ll put the offer to him if you keep the cheesy platitudes to yourself.”

Mac picks up a piece of driftwood and tosses it for Daisy. “I make no promises.”

I roll my eyes at her back. This woman is kind of insufferable, but I love it. Somehow, she got under my skin. Even when she’s being obnoxious, I’m still into it.

“Be honest,” I say before I can stop myself. “Does this whole thing even put a dent in the trust fund?”

I hesitate to even guess at a number. At a certain point, all the zeros start to run together. The difference between a hundred million and five hundred million is the difference between swimming to China and New Zealand to a drowning man.

She goes quiet for a second. Then another. An apparent unease steals the humor from her face. “Actually, I can’t touch my trust fund until I’m twenty-five.”

That gives me pause, because how did she buy a hotel, then? I know her parents aren’t giving her the money. She’s been vocal about their lack of approval for her ambitions.

“Unless you’ve been a drug kingpin this whole time—I’d be totally sympathetic if you were—where the hell does a twenty-year-old get that kind of cash?”

“You’re going to think it’s silly,” she says, stopping to stare at the ground.

I’m getting a little nervous. Suddenly, I’m wondering if I’d be okay if she told me she was a camgirl or something. Or worse, if she asked me to join her essential oils pyramid scheme.

Fortunately, she works up the nerve to spit it out before my imagination really takes off.

“You remember that time you showed me the funny boyfriend story? The one where the girl was looking for tampons in her date’s mom’s bathroom?”

My eyebrows fly up. What does that have to do with anything?

“Yeah…”

“I built that website. BoyfriendFails. Which spun off to GirlfriendFails.”

“Wait, for real?”

She shrugs. “Yeah.”

Holy shit. “And you made all this money from that?”

Another embarrassed shrug. It confuses me, because what is she so shy about?

“Mackenzie, that’s badass,” I inform her.

“You don’t think it’s stupid?” She looks at me with these big, hopeful green eyes. I’m not sure if I should feel like a dick that she thought I’d judge her for this.

“Hell no. I’m impressed. When I was twenty, I was still burning mac and cheese.” I mean, I’m still burning mac and cheese.

“My parents hate it.” Her voice grows sour. As it does every time the subject comes up, but more so lately. “You’d think I got a tattoo on my forehead or something. They keep waiting for me to ‘grow out of it.’” She makes angry air quotes, kicking sand. “They don’t get it.”

“What’s not to get? Their daughter can’t even rent a car yet but she’s already a self-made millionaire.”

“They’re embarrassed. They think it’s crass and silly high school nonsense. And, whatever, maybe it is. But what’s so wrong with that if it makes people laugh, you know? Far as they’re concerned, my business is a distraction. All they want for me is to frame a respectable degree and marry rich, so I can be like Mom and sit on charity boards. It’s about appearances. It’s all fashion to them.”

“See, that sounds dumb as hell.” I shake my head, because I truly don’t get it. Rich people buying status symbols to impress other rich people who bought the same status symbols to impress them. A vicious cycle of waste and pretension. “Hundreds of thousands of dollars to a university just for looks? Fuck that noise.”

“I didn’t even want to go to Garnet—it was the only way they’d support my gap year so I could have the time to build my apps and expand the business. But since I got here, all I’ve been thinking about is tackling a new challenge, finding a new business venture that excites me as much as my websites did when I was first launching them.”

“Well, you know what I think? Do you, and to hell what everyone else thinks.”

“Easier said than done,” she says with that familiar tone of trepidation.

Daisy brings us a small hermit crab hiding in its shell, which Mac takes and sets back in the sand before finding another stick to throw instead.

“Yeah, so what?” Where she’s concerned, her parents have always been a daunting obstacle to realizing what she really wants out of life. For someone with every advantage, that’s bullshit. She’s stronger than that. “If you want it bad enough, fight for it. Take the bruises. What’s the worst they can do, cut you off? If you’re honest with them about how much this all means to you and they still don’t support your dreams, how much are you really going to miss them?”

She lets out a soft sigh. “Honestly, sometimes I wonder if they love me at all. Most of the time, I’m a prop or a piece on a board in their larger game of strategy. I’m plastic to them.”

“I could bore the hell out of you with crappy family stories,” I tell her. “So I get that. It’s not the same, but trust me, I get feeling alone and unloved. Always trying to fill that void with something, anything else. I can almost forgive my dad for being a mean bastard, you know? He had an addiction. It turned everything he touched to shit. Eventually killed him. I wasn’t even that sad about it, except then all we had left was our mom. For a while, anyway, but then she split too. The two of them couldn’t get away from us fast enough.” My throat closes up. “I’ve spent so much time scared that I’ll turn into one of them. Afraid no matter what I do, I’m fighting against the current and I’ll end up dead or a deadbeat.”

Fuck.

I’ve never said those words out loud before.

It’s terrifying how much Mac brings out of me. How much I want her to know me. It’s terrifying how I don’t feel in control of my heart that’s racing to catch her. To keep her. Worried that at any moment she might come to her senses and ditch my ass.

“Hey.” Then she takes my hand, and all I can think is that I’d stand in traffic for this girl. “Let’s make a pact: We won’t let each other become our parents. The buddy system never fails.”

“Deal.” It’s so corny I half manage a laugh. “Seriously, though. Don’t waste this moment. If your heart’s telling you to follow something—go for it. Don’t let anyone hold you back, because life is too damn short. Build your empire. Slay dragons.”

“You should put that on a T-shirt.”

Daisy comes back, curling around Mac’s feet. Guess she finally ran herself ragged. I put her on the leash as Mac and I sit in the sand. A comfortable silence falls between us. I don’t understand how she manages to instill equal parts chaos and peace inside me. When we’re arguing, sometimes I want to throttle her. She drives me mad. She does crazy shit like climbing metal ladders during lightning storms. And then suddenly we have moments like this, where we’re sitting side by side, quiet, lost in our own thoughts yet completely in tune. Connected. I don’t know what it means. Why we can yell at each other one second, and be totally at peace the next. Maybe it just means we’re both nuts.

Or maybe it means I’m falling for her.


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