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The Way I Hate Him: Chapter 2


I forgot how quiet it was here.

I’ve been on the go for the last goddamn year with the tour, interviews, and promotions with all my sponsors that I forgot what it meant to sit in a quiet spot and listen to nature around me.

I arrived back in Almond Bay yesterday and stopped by to see my grandma first thing. As expected, she was as happy as she ever is. Just as I thought, she’d lured me back to Almond Bay, knowing damn well I was done with my tour. I probably would have come back anyway. I enjoy the calm, and I need calm right now with my label breathing down my neck.

When I arrived, she gave me her signature hug and kiss, and then we sat down on her balcony that overlooks the town while her aide brought us tea. I offered to grab it, but she told me to sit down—and I listened to Gran bitch to me about the Peach Society for two solid hours.

Gran has NEVER gotten along with Ethel O’Donnell-Kerr. Something about stealing her man back in the day. She won’t go into it because it makes her too upset, and Gran makes it a point not to rage—she says it brings on too many wrinkles. She also doesn’t like how Ethel claims the top celebrity card in Almond Bay because, as Gran says, I’m more of a household name than Ethel could ever dream.

I made sure Gran was comfortable, spoke to her aide, Roseanne, and then headed back to my place, about ten minutes up the coast. Just far enough away from Almond Bay to offer me my sought-after privacy.

I purchased the coastal home a few years ago and renovated the entire thing, swapping out the bright white palette for deep grays, blacks, and greens, along with concrete floors and sophisticated leather furniture. I designed the entire renovation, focusing on bringing darkness to the tall windows and nature inside with fresh plants that I pay my buddy Abel once a week to water. At first, he wouldn’t take payment, but after a month of heading to my place, he changed his mind. Not like the man needs money as the doctor and owner of the pharmacy in town. He’s sitting pretty. But he’s not a fool. He’s not going to perform a task for free for over a year.

He also keeps a close eye on my grandma while I’m gone and makes biweekly checkups to make sure she’s doing okay.

A light wind blows through the tall bushes surrounding my porch as I lean against my black Adirondack chair. It feels good to take a break for a second, step away from the tour, and be back in Almond Bay, even though more tragic than good things have happened here. My childhood wasn’t anything a child should experience.


Emotional abuse.


I had to grow up sooner than any child should, and I truly believe I’m where I am today because of the one person who wouldn’t give up on me, my gran. It’s why I bought a house here, so when I was taking a break from the fast life, I could come back, visit with her, and have a place just outside of Almond Bay to relax. So why did I need to be persuaded to return this time?

Probably because I’m so fucking lost, I don’t even know what I need in my life to be happy—but let’s not get into that.

Even though I’m here to write some songs, there’s a household full of boxes and mailings that have to be sifted through, organized, and dealt with. A task my assistant would have taken care of, but unfortunately for me, I fired him this morning for stealing. He tried to claim I needed to keep him on because he had to support his girlfriend, who had just failed out of school and didn’t have a job, but I told him to take his sob story somewhere else.

Which has put me in a tough situation.

My phone chimes, and I glance down at the screen. Ruben.

Fucking hell, I can’t escape it. Not even for a morning.

“Hello?” I answer.

“Hayes, I just received a complaint from Matt that you fired him. Is this true?”

“He did not fucking call you.” The balls on that guy.

“He did. Begged me to put in a good word for you. Claims he has to support his girlfriend or something? What’s going on?”

“Said the same bullshit to me,” I say. “And the answer is no. The fuck was stealing from me.”

“Do you know that for sure?”

“Ninety-nine percent positive,” I say. “I have camera footage of him and a girl leaving my house one night. I noticed my Grammy was missing after that. I didn’t want to assume it was Matt, but he was the only one with access to my house. I decided to watch him carefully, and that’s when I noticed things going missing. Tequila, shirts, hats. Pretty sure he was collecting the shit to sell and make more money.”

“Do you want me to press charges?” Ruben asks.

“No, but tell the fuck that I will if he keeps bothering us. Tell him he’s fucking lucky it’s me he’s dealing with and not someone else.”

“I’ll take care of this, don’t worry.” Ruben clears his throat. “Are you in Almond Bay now?”

“Yeah, saw Gran yesterday. She’s looking good. Plan on catching up with Abel later.”

“And maybe there’s some writing going on as well?” Ruben not so nonchalantly presses.

“Dude, I’m going to fire you if you keep pressuring me.”

“We just need something. A scrap of something. Anything to hold over the label.”

“I know.” I drag my hand over my face as a red car pulls into my driveway. “I’ll work on it. Hey, someone is here. I have to go.”

“Okay, keep me updated, and I’ll take care of Matt. Want me to look for his replacement?”

“No,” I answer right before hanging up.

I set my phone down on the armrest and remain seated as I watch the car door open. Because of the bushes lining my sidewalk, I can’t get a good look at who it is until a box is hoisted in front of the person, and they start walking toward me.

Her tan, toned legs come into view first.

Pristinely white sneakers.

Olive-green spandex shorts.

An oversized sweatshirt.

Her face is blocked, but I do notice a long, honey-blond ponytail swishing back and forth.

I stay seated, observing as she sets the box in front of my door . . . and that’s when I get the first look at her.

Holy shit.

Fucking Hattie Rowley.

What the hell is she doing here?

Pretty sure her brother would have a goddamn heart attack if he knew she was at my doorstep.

Can’t remember the last time I saw her, but hell, she’s grown up, that’s for damn sure. Filled out in all the right places, her hair slicked back into a tight ponytail, an effortless glow to her cheeks, and long, black lashes framing what I know are intense green eyes. All the Rowley kids have them.

She reaches into the box and pulls up a piece of paper and a pen. She faces away from me, giving me the perfect view of her ass as she writes something on the paper. Wasn’t she going to school in San Francisco?

Wonder if she still is or if she moved back here after Cassidy passed?

She was dearly loved by the town and by her siblings, and her passing rocked the town. From what Gran told me in one of our weekly talks, Ryland was given custody of Cassidy’s four-year-old daughter, MacKenzie, and Aubree, their sister, took over The Almond Store and Cassidy’s farm. Both of them have been struggling with the new responsibilities.

Maybe Hattie’s back here to help.

When she’s done writing, she sticks the paper in the box, and I take that moment to ask, “What did you write?”

She leaps about a foot in the air before falling to the right, up against the house, hand clutching her chest.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” she breathes out, her shoulders nearly kissing her ears from shock. When she spots me in my chair, she says, “Have you been sitting there the whole time?”

“Yup,” I answer as I stand. Her eyes fall to my bare chest for a moment before they pop back up to my face.

“You’ve just been sitting there, watching me?”

“Wanted to know what you were doing before I made you aware of my presence.”

“That’s some freaky shit,” she says, pointing her finger at me.

Tilting my head to the side and studying her, I say, “It’s Hailey, right?”

I know damn well it’s Hattie, but I pretend I don’t know to hold the upper hand, especially against a Rowley.

Her eyes narrow as she corrects me. “Hattie.”

“That’s right, Ryland’s sister.” I give her a quick once-over. “Does your brother know you’ve crossed over into enemy territory?”

“He doesn’t, not that I’d need his permission.” She sticks her chin up. I get it. You’re not intimidated. Never have been.

“What’s with the box?” I ask, nodding toward it.

“Some things I thought you might want. My ex-boyfriend, Matt, your assistant, stole them from you.”

Matt was dating Hattie Rowley? How the hell did he manage that? Sorry to say, but she’s way out of his league. And why didn’t I know they were dating? Probably because the tool has never spoken about her or even let on that he had a girlfriend.

Wait . . . was she the one he was talking about? Failed out of college, doesn’t have a job? Is that why she’s back here in Almond Bay? I thought it was because of her sister, but this is a new development. And the fucker lied to me, saying they were still together when clearly, they’re not.

Lying and stealing. Thank God I fired him.

I glance at the box, taking in the contents. “I never owned puzzles.”

“Oh, those are mine.” She snags the boxes and holds them close to her chest. “So anyway, if you want to fire him, I highly suggest it.”

I glance down at the box and then back up at her. Almond Bay was a weird place to grow up. There were always odd things happening around town. Like one day, a naked man rode down Almond Ave on a unicycle, and no one blinked an eye. Or the time The Talkies—our drive-in theater—showed a porn film for precisely one minute and thirteen seconds. Everyone just laughed about it. It wouldn’t be abnormal for someone to drop off a box of stuff and request their boyfriend be fired. I’m just surprised it’s coming from a Rowley, the least eccentric family in town.

Then again, from what I’ve observed, Hattie has always been different.

“Why would I fire him over a few T-shirts?”

Her eyes fall to the box. “Shit, those are mine too.” She picks them up, and what I see underneath makes my teeth clench.

My Grammy.

I knew the fucker stole it.

Keeping it cool, I bring my attention back to her. “How long have you dated Matt?”

“Since high school, and if you’re going to judge me about being with him, he wasn’t an anus back then. He took over that title just recently.”

“I see.” I glance back at the box. “You know, I have video footage of the night my Grammy was stolen.” I bring my gaze back to her and catch the widening of her eyes and the clench of her mouth. Just what I thought. Fucking guilty. “And Matt wasn’t alone.”

“It wasn’t me. Whatever you’re thinking, I had nothing to do with it.” Hell, is she bad at lying.

“Funny, my cameras tell me differently.” They actually don’t, but I love watching her squirm.

Her mouth falls open, appalled, but she quickly closes it. Her eyes study me, gauging her next move. A few seconds go by, silence falling between us, and then in a flash, she turns on her heel and bolts to her car.

She’s not going to get away that easily. Not on my fucking watch.

“Run all you want, but the sheriff will know where to find you.”

That makes her pause and slowly turn back toward me. “You wouldn’t.”

“Wouldn’t I?” I ask. “You’re a Rowley. Pretty sure we’re supposed to hate each other. What would stop me from calling the police and reporting this? I have cameras all over this goddamn house currently recording this conversation. You’re caught.”

The color drains from her face, and the bravado she had only a few minutes ago has vanished. “Don’t call the sheriff,” she says, looking scared for a moment. “My family has been through a lot lately, and I don’t think my brother could take well, needing to bail me out of anything.”

I don’t think he could, either. Does he even know about her school—if it’s even true? I know Ryland well enough to understand he wouldn’t take failing out of school lightly, especially one of his sisters.

I nod toward the house. “Why don’t you come in, and we can discuss our options?”

“Options?” she asks, her eyebrow raised.

“Yeah, options.” I bend down and pick up the box of stolen items and then open the front door. “I suggest you follow me. I’m not opposed to calling the sheriff. He’s a huge fan.” I smile broadly, which makes her lips flatten in disgust.

Grumbling under her breath, she follows me into my house, puzzles and shirts in hand, and I kick the door shut when she’s fully in. I set the box of contraband on the entryway floor and head toward my kitchen, but when she doesn’t move, I say, “Come in. I won’t bite . . . at least not yet.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” She’s about to approach me when she stops and adds, “If that’s some sexual innuendo, I’m going to tell you right now, I don’t even like to be bit when having sex. I think it’s weird, also . . . if you think I’m going to be some concubine for you, you better think of something else.”

I turn on my coffee machine and say, “You clearly haven’t been bitten by the right person. That much is true when we think about who you just dated.” I choose a coffee pod—donut shop—and I put it in the machine and start it up. I lean against the counter and face her. “And I could do better when it comes to concubines.”

That makes her anger rear up, her mouth twitching with irritation. “You would be so lucky to have me in your bed.”

I give her a smooth once-over, my hand running along my jaw, and reply, “Debatable.”

“Ugh, you’re such an asshole. No wonder no one likes you.”

“Interesting. I have a fan club of over three million people who would challenge you on that statement.”

“They’re fans. They don’t count.”

I take in my home and then say, “I’m pretty sure they do, since they’re the ones who funded this house you’re standing in and helped me earn the Grammy you stole.”

“Matt stole it, not me. I was just . . . there.”

“Is that the story you’re going to tell the cops?”

“I thought you weren’t going to tell the cops,” she says.

“Never promised that. Said we had to talk about options.”

“Well, what are these stupid options you speak of?” she impatiently replies.

“Why don’t you come in farther, set your shirts and puzzles down, and take a seat? Want some coffee?”

“No,” she answers. “You might poison it.”

“With you watching me make it?”

“I don’t know what you have in those coffee pods. They could be pre-poisoned.”

“I see that we’re acting rational. Good to know,” I reply, full of sarcasm. I pick up my coffee and grab some almond creamer from the fridge—yeah, I live in Almond Bay and drink almond creamer. It’s good.

“Never would have seen you as a creamer kind of guy.”

“Oh, I cream a lot,” I say as she takes a seat on an island chair right across from me.

She sets her puzzles and T-shirts down and rolls her eyes. “You’re disgusting.”

“Or honest?”

“Disgusting.” She folds her arms and says, “Now tell me these options so I can get the hell out of here and never return. My skin is starting to feel itchy.”

Can we say dramatic?

But despite that, what are the options? Because right now, I have no idea what I’m doing other than not letting her slip away just yet. Call it the feud with her brother, but having one of Ryland’s sisters in my clutches feels nice . . . like I have a momentary upper hand over this battle I’ve been unwillingly fighting for over a decade. Not to mention, given my lack of an assistant, I feel like I could use her. I have a room full of boxes and letters from fans that need to be answered. It might work out perfectly.

“You want options?” I ask.

“Yes, Jesus, that’s why I’m sitting here.”

Short-tempered. I like it.

I also like the light freckles that dot around her button nose and naturally blushed cheeks.

“Your options are as follows.” I hold up one finger. “I can call the police and turn you in, press full charges, thanks to your confession . . .”

“Going with the scare tactic first. Great. What’s the second option I’ll clearly have to take?”

I hold up a second finger. “You work for me.”

She snorts loud enough for it to echo through my kitchen. “Work for you? Okay. Yeah, that’s going to happen.” She shakes her head. “What’s option three?”

I set my coffee on the counter and place my hands on the marble, my eyes matching up with hers. “There is no option three. That’s it. You get turned in, or you work for me. Take your pick.”

“You can’t do that,” she protests. “I have . . . I have school.”

“Do you? Because last I heard, you failed out this semester, and I was also informed you don’t have a job.”

Her expression falls flat. “Who told you that? Was it Matt?” Muttering to herself, she says, “I’m going to kill him.”

“That’s the reason you’re here, in Almond Bay. No school. No job. No money . . . according to Matt. Seems like you’re in a tough spot.” I take a sip of my coffee before setting it back on the counter, playing the cocky asshole, a role I know very well.

“Yeah, and being the antihero you are, you’re taking full advantage of it.”

“I wouldn’t be in a feud with the Rowleys if I didn’t, would I?” I smile at her, a smile made from sins and tequila.

Her lips twist to the side as she glances away. “What exactly do you want me to do for you? If you say sexual favors, the answer is no. I’d rather bury my head in the jail toilet bowl than get inches within your crotch.”

“Nice visual, but like I said, I could do better. Your pussy is not worth my time.”

“I have a great pussy,” she defends. “You’re not worth my pussy’s time.”

I stare at her, unmoving. She is hot, I’ll give her that. Like I thought earlier, she is way out of Matt’s league. But between her being a Rowley and mouthier than I could be bothered with, it’s a no from me. “Glad you got that off your chest? Are you cheering for yourself on the inside for sticking up for yourself?”

“You’re an asshole.”

“I know,” I reply, then move away from the island and down the hall.

“Where are you going?” she calls after me.

“Showing you what I need help with. Follow me if you don’t want to go to jail.”

I feel her hesitate before she grumbles again and traipses down the hallway after me. When I reach my office, I turn toward her, grip the doorknob, and then fling the door open, revealing the disaster.

“What the hell is this?” she asks, taking it all in. Boxes upon boxes are piled up as high as the ceiling while several large, protruding blue mailbags have been dumped along the floor. Files, manila folders, and binders are stacked as tall as me on my desk that all need to be copied, saved to my cloud, and filed. New merchandise is scattered across the floor, waiting for approval. Pictures framing my platinum records lean against the wall, and handwritten lyrics are stacked on my chair, waiting to be copied and saved as well. Not to mention, the computer and printer I purchased that haven’t been opened yet.

“This is just half of it. There’s more in the garage.”

“Jesus,” she mutters, moving forward but stepping on an empty protein wrapper, the crunch causing her to lift her foot to see what she stepped on. “Are you a hoarder?”

“Does the rest of my house look like this?”

“There’s always the one room people don’t know about.” She picks up a red lace bra with her finger and raises her brow at me. I just smirk.

“This happens when you’ve been on tour for a year. Things stack up. Matt was supposed to tackle it all after the tour but was fired before getting his sticky hands on it. Best he didn’t, given the box you brought me.”

“Which, by the way, I don’t think I’m getting enough credit for. I could have stolen those items from Matt and sold them on the black market.”

“Do you even know what the black market is?”

“No . . .” She pauses and flicks the bra to the ground. “But a healthy search on Google would probably help steer me in the right direction.”

“Yeah, that Google search wouldn’t be flagged,” I sarcastically reply. “Also, I am giving you credit for bringing back the Grammy. I gave you two options.”

“You gave me one option, knowing damn well I wasn’t going to turn myself in to the police.”

“Doesn’t mean I didn’t give you options.”

Arms crossed at her chest, she turns toward me, irritation on her face. “So what, you want me to clear this out for you, and you’ll pay me?”

“That’s usually how a job works.”

“For how long? Because, you know, I have better things to do than clean up your mess.”

“Do you?” I ask as I lean against the doorframe. “Please enlighten me.”

Her lips purse as she narrows her eyes. “Uh, like . . .” She pauses as she tries to come up with something more important, but I think we both know at this point, she’s mine for the taking. “You know what? It’s none of your business.”

“That’s what I thought.” I push off the doorframe and head down the hallway back to the kitchen. “I’ll pay you one thousand dollars a week in cash.”

“One thousand dollars?” she shouts after me. “Matt was making way more than that, and he was the one who stole the Grammy.”

I pick up my coffee and take a sip. “Matt was doing a lot more than just cleaning up my shit as you like to put it, so unless you want to field the pussy that comes knocking on my door, take my phone calls, schedule my life, and deal with all my brands, you’ll take one thousand dollars a week and be happy with it, or else I can just call it community service and leave it at that.”

“Is this how you’re going to be the entire time? An unrelenting ass?”

I turn toward her as she approaches, her young face both irritated and scared at the same time. I can’t remember the age difference between her and Ryland, but I do know she’s the youngest in her family, and there’s a big gap. It’s evident in her naive eyes.

I sip my coffee and meet her gaze. “Yes.”

“Great.” She tosses her hands as if she gives up.

“You can start tomorrow. Seven in the morning, sharp.”

“Seven?” Her eyes nearly bug out. “Have you lost your mind? I’m not arriving at seven.”

“If you arrive at seven, you can make my morning coffee for me.”

She glances at the mug in my hand and then back at me. “You can fuck off with that. Make your own damn coffee. Unless you want to pay me fifteen hundred dollars, then sure, I’ll be here at seven.”

“That’s a one-hundred-dollar cup of coffee a day.”

“That’s what I’m worth.”

“Fine,” I say, calling her bluff. “Fifteen hundred a week, you’re here at seven making me my coffee . . . and protein shake.” I hold my hand out to her. “Deal?”


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