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The Way I Hate Him: Chapter 6


Her curious and impressed eyes snap up to mine, and I watch as she visibly gulps, her throat contracting.

Now this is what satisfaction is, knowing damn well I caught her staring when she said she’d rather bury herself in a jail toilet than admit she finds me attractive—well, something along those lines. I can’t remember verbatim what she said. The point is, she just had no problem looking me up and down.

“Get a good look?” I ask as her cheeks stain with pink.

“What?” she asks, her eyes wide. “I wasn’t looking. I mean, I looked, but I wasn’t looking. I was taking in my surroundings. There was no leering or ogling, if that’s what you’re implying. Because honestly, there’s nothing to look at.”

“You’re staring at my crotch right now.”

Her eyes snap up. “I was looking at the coffee. I didn’t want to spill it.”

“You were looking at my dick.”

“I was not . . .” She shakes her head, her eyes falling to my crotch, and when she realizes what she’s doing, she looks back up again. She clears her throat. “I was not looking at your dick. Also, don’t you think being in a towel in front of your employee is inappropriate?”

“My house. I can do what I want.”

“Ah, I see.” She nods. “So if you walk around the house naked in front of me, that will be okay since we’re under your roof?”

“I wouldn’t do that because clearly, you wouldn’t get any work done with your staring problem.”

Her eyes narrow. “I don’t have a staring problem. I was just caught off guard is all.” She closes the distance between us and holds out my mug of coffee. “Your majesty, your coffee.”

She bows her head and curtsies before lifting up and pushing the mug toward me.

I clasp my hand around hers around the mug, holding her in place. I take a step closer and watch as she inhales deeply and her eyes slowly move up from my chest to my face. She swallows again, clearly affected by me in a towel, which I find far too gratifying.

“You keep checking me out.”

“No, I don’t,” she says, her voice shaky as I hold her in place and move an inch closer.

“Then why are your eyes telling me a different story?”

“Don’t flatter yourself. You’re in a towel, and I wasn’t expecting that.”

“If that were the case, it would almost seem like you would want to avert your eyes. But that hasn’t happened, has it?”

Her lips twist to the side and she says, “If we’re done here, I’d like my hand back.”

“Where’s my protein drink?”

“I thought you might want your coffee first.”

“I want both at the same time,” I say as my thumb grazes the back of her hand.

Her eyes widen, but I pull away with the mug before she can say anything.

“You can leave now.” I turn away from her, grip my towel just as it starts to fall, and head back into the bathroom, completely satisfied.

“FUCK,” I mutter as I drag my hands over my face and stare down at where I’ve scribbled the start of a song in my notebook. I immediately reject the lyrics the minute I read them.


It’s all trash.

It’s never been this goddamn hard for me. I can usually come up with something, but it’s almost as if my life has been at a standstill for the past year, and nothing significant has happened to warrant a song.

Maybe I’ll write about how I feel like a goddamn empty sack of skin.

Nothing sounds more poetic in a song than sack of skin.

Fucking hell . . .

I lift from the couch and toss my pen on the coffee table in front of me. This is pointless.

Leaving my studio, I head out to the main living space only to find piles of letters surrounding Hattie as she listens to Blondie.

Another solid choice.

Instead of making my presence known right away, I pause for a moment, watching her.

She’s tied her hair up into a high ponytail and bobs her head around with the music, totally immersed in her sorting. Instead of wearing her crewneck sweatshirt, she’s now wearing a sports bra and her spandex shorts in a matching set of bright red. It’s hard to miss her today . . . or any day for that matter. She owns her presence and makes herself known despite her smaller stature. If I were interested in pursuing her, it wouldn’t be hard, not when she shows her true colors so unconsciously, something I really like. Being in the spotlight, I’m surrounded by people who aren’t always real and will do anything to appease me, so having Hattie around is refreshing. And her music choices, hell, that’s hot as well.

She stands from where she’s sitting and stares down at her piles, counting them with her finger. That’s when I take in her long, toned legs. For her height, it’s surprising to see long legs, but they extend a good portion of her body, leading up to a pair of grippable hips made for finger indents. Her narrow waist is accentuated by her hips and perky ass, and when my eyes work their way up to her tits, I notice just how small they are. Barely a palm full. Her athletic build means she has a great fucking body, but it’s those eyes—the ones staring at me right now—that I could see myself getting lost in.

“Can I help you?” A knowing smirk plays on her lips because she just caught me staring like I caught her staring at me this morning. Unlike her, I’ll own it. “Get a good look?” she mimics.

“Good is a stretch. Decent, sure.”

Her expression falls, hands now on her hips from the insult. “Did you come out here to snub me or is there a purpose for disrupting my peace?”

“You realize this is my house, and I can do what I want, right? I don’t need to tiptoe around you.”

“I’m aware.” She raises her arms above her head and stretches from side to side. My eyes fall to her stomach again, and I wonder if she’s ever pierced her belly button because there’s a small scar above it, but rather than ask—or get caught again for staring—I turn away and head into the kitchen.

I know I told her I have no interest in taking her clothes off, but hell, that doesn’t negate the fact that she’s hot. Under different circumstances, I could easily see myself making a move on her. I probably wouldn’t let her leave my sight without doing so, but I’ll never cross that line for many reasons.

One being she’s Ryland Rowley’s little sister.

Also, she’s far too innocent for someone like me. Hell, Matt had a hard time finding her clit. I’d not only locate it in a second, but I’d destroy it.

And last, she seems like the type who clings, who enjoys a relationship, and I’m not that guy. Not even close. I’m a loner, and I do my own thing.

Not to mention, I’m a complete and utter asshole, something drilled into me from a young age. She deserves more than someone who will take what he wants and leave her with nothing but the dust of him driving away.

I grab a glass from the cabinet and fill it with water before pulling out my drink drawer and grabbing an electrolyte tablet.

“What are those?” she asks from my side, startling me.

Jesus fuck. So lost in my thoughts, I didn’t even notice her step up.

“Electrolyte tablets,” I answer.

“Oh, I thought you were popping an Alka-Seltzer or something. Didn’t know if it was something you had to do because of your old age.”

I look her in the eyes. “Cute.”

She smiles. “I’m here to charm.” She moves over to the fridge and pulls out a jar of pickles. She pops the top off, leans against the counter, and picks a pickle, only to chomp down on it with a snapping crunch. She holds the jar out to me. “Want one?”

I shake my head. “No. I’m good.”

“Not a pickle fan?”

“Not really.”

“Snob,” she says as she takes another bite.

“Have you always loved pickles that much?” I lean against the opposite counter, my drink fizzing in its cup. I shouldn’t engage in conversation with her, but procrastination makes you do stupid things, like flirting with the line of getting to know someone and ignoring them for your sanity.

She glances up at me, skepticism in her eyes. “Are you asking me a personal question?”

See . . . exactly what I’m talking about. I’m just as surprised as she is.

“Is there a problem with that?”

“I didn’t think we did that. Then again, I didn’t think we bought pickles for each other, and you did that yesterday, so . . .” She pauses, thinking. “You’re not trying to pull me over to the dark side, are you?”

“The dark side being the enemy?” I ask.

“Yes, of course.”

“I have better things to do with my life than convince you that your brother is in the wrong with our feud, not me. I was just trying to be polite.” I push off the counter and start to move away when she shifts in front of me, pickle jar held close to her chest.

“What do you mean Ryland is in the wrong?”

I look down at her, her green eyes piercing. “Maybe something you should talk to him about.”

Her curious eyes study me. I can practically see hundreds of questions forming, but I move away before she pins me with a lengthy interlude of inquiries about the past.

I’m halfway to my hallway when she calls out, “Cassidy and I used to eat pickles together.” I pause and listen. “This brand, actually. It was our favorite. I haven’t had them in a while, and when I saw them yesterday at Coleman’s, I knew I had to get them. When I dropped them on the floor, I was devastated. So you bringing these to me, it was . . . it was nice. Unexpected.”

I rub my lips together. I knew she was so upset for a reason. I didn’t know it had anything to do with Cassidy, though. And now that I know why, I regret what I did because now . . . now, there’s an unspoken bond between us, and the last thing I want to do is bond with Ryland Rowley’s sister.

“Don’t look into it,” I say as I push my hand through my hair and glance at her. “If I knew it meant something to you, I never would have purchased them.”

Her expression drops. “Of course, because you obviously don’t want me thinking you have a heart in that black soul of yours, right?”

“Exactly,” I reply. “When I say there’s nothing in this chest but skeletons that still haunt me to this day, I mean it. It will be best for everyone if you stay the fuck away from me.”

ABEL: Want to meet at By the Slice for dinner?

Hayes: Sure, what time?

Abel: I’m starving. Twenty?

Hayes: See you there.

I check the time and notice it’s almost six, so I flip my empty notebook shut—another wasted day with nothing to show. I exit my studio, where I find Hattie lying on the floor. Her mess extends to the dining room table. What the hell is she doing?

She hasn’t organized one damn thing. She just made it worse.

It was simple instructions.

Open the letters, sift through them, keep the important ones, and shred the rest. Now there are at least two dozen piles and no shredding. Is she keeping everything?

“What are you doing?” I ask as she lies with a letter on her stomach.

She pops her head up. “Resting my eyes. They’re burning from all of the reading.”

“You’re reading all of the letters?”

“Yes,” she says, exasperated. “How else am I supposed to know if they’re important?”

“A quick scan would work.”

She shakes her head. “I’m not much of a scanner, and some of these letters have me invested. Like this one.” She waves a pink letter in the air like a white flag as she lays her head back down. “It’s all about how your song, The Reason, helped her realize that she needed to divorce her husband because he wasn’t treating her right. And how she got the courage to divorce him, and do you know what that bastard did? He took her dog in the divorce. She was the one who brought the dog to the relationship, and he went and took it. The freaking gall of that man. Anyway, she sent you a bracelet she made, and I thought I owed it to her to pass it along after everything that happened to her. She put her dog’s name on it.” She shakes her head. “Mitzy, poor, poor Mitzy, is with that motherfucker.” She flings the bracelet at me, and I catch it one-handed. I look at the homemade bracelet and back down at Hattie, who clutches the letter to her chest.

“You’re becoming too invested. You need to be more cutthroat because at this pace, you’re going to be working for me for the rest of the year.”

“I wouldn’t mind,” she says dreamily. “Reading letters in a nice house, stock full of pickles? You’re making it too comfortable for me. Frankly, this is on you.”

Shaking my head, I say, “You need to leave.”

She sits up. “Wait, like . . . you’re firing me?”

“No, but I like to see that worry. Maybe you’re not as comfortable as you think.”

“Ass,” she mutters.

“I have dinner plans, and it’s nearly six. So time for you to leave.”

She stands from the floor and lays her letter gently on a pile before picking up her crewneck that was draped over the couch. “Who are the plans with? A hot date?”

“None of your business,” I answer as I move toward my garage.

“Oh, it is a girl. I’m sure someone who you have interest in taking their clothes off, unlike present company?”

I turn toward her and say, “I’d rather stab myself in the eye than take off Abel’s clothes.”

Surprise falls across her face. “You’re going out with Abel? I haven’t seen him in a while.”

“If you’re fishing for an invitation, the answer is no.”

“Uh, I have to drive your car here to hide mine. Do you think I’m going to dinner with you and my brother’s best friend?”

I pocket my wallet. “You never know with you.”

“The answer is no. But please explain how I’m supposed to get back to my car if you’re leaving?”

“I’m taking my bike.”

“Aw,” she says. “You’re going to ride your bike there? That’s funny.”

I exhale sharply. “My motorcycle.”

“Oh.” She chuckles. “Sort of wish it was a bicycle. I’d pay money to watch you ride down the road on a cruiser, basket attached to the front, trying to gain speed to get to town.”

“You need to figure out a better way to spend your money,” I say. “Don’t worry about locking up. It will lock on its own.”


“See you tomorrow.” I look over my shoulder at her. “Don’t be late.”

“Lighten up, Farrow,” she replies before leaving the front door and heading to my car.

I move into the garage and open the door. I hop onto my bike, situate my helmet, and then start it up. Pulling out, I speed past Hattie as she tries to figure out how to put my car in drive.

She is something else.

I speed down the coast, the ocean and cliffs to my right. One thing I missed while on tour was the feel of the ocean below me. I’ve always found solace in the waves crashing onto the beach. Maybe I should head out to the beach tomorrow. Perhaps that will clear my head so I can finally start getting something down on paper.

It doesn’t take long to get into town and since By the Slice is one of the first restaurants I pass, I pull in just as Abel gets out of his car. I park next to him, and the first thing he says to me as I remove my helmet is, “Thank fuck, dude. If you weren’t here when I arrived, I was going to start eating without you.”

I tuck my helmet under my arm and move toward him, giving him a brief hug. Just a dude pat on the back since I haven’t seen him in a while. “Not eat anything today?” I ask.

“Just a protein bar. I haven’t had time to breathe. It’s been patient after patient.”

“Then let’s get you some food,” I say as I open the door for him.

By the Slice is easily the best pizza I’ve ever had. I know everyone says that about the pizza joints in their hometowns, but I’m not kidding. The crust is crisp on the bottom and the sides, the cheese is perfectly matched with the sauce, and they have the cooking time down to a science, eliminating any possibility of overbaking. Not to mention, the pepperoni they use is out of this world.

We walk up to the register to order, and the girl behind it does a double take when she sees me, but thankfully doesn’t fangirl. Instead, she pushes her hair behind her ear and straightens. “What can I get you?”

“Three slices of mushroom pizza,” Abel says, “with some honey for dipping and a water.”

She places a cup in front of Abel, and then she directs her attention to me. “And for you?”

“Three slices of pepperoni. No dips for me. And a water as well.”

“Not a problem.”

I reach for my wallet, but Abel stops me. “My treat, dude. I asked you to dinner.”

Even though I make more money than Abel, he’s still a pretty rich bastard. Since he’s sitting pretty, I allow him to pay.

We’re handed a number, and then we grab our waters. “Want to sit out on the deck?” he asks.

“Sure,” I answer. As we work our way through the restaurant, a few heads turn in our direction, but thankfully, no one bothers us. We head out to the back deck, and Abel finds a table in the corner, secluded from everyone else.

When we take a seat, he says, “You look old.”

“Wow.” I chuckle. “Way to fucking open the conversation.”

“You do. Like you’ve been pushing yourself too hard, and it’s catching up with you.”

“It is,” I say. “I’m fucking exhausted from the tour, and of course, my label now wants a new album, so I’ve been trying to work on that.”

“Don’t you want to take a break?”

“Yes, but I don’t have time.”

He lifts his water to his lips. “Haven’t I told you time and time again that you need breaks every once in a while to recharge?”

“You have,” I say. “Not sure I know how to do that.”

“Maybe just sit back and relax for a second. Hell, I saw you for what, a minute? And I knew you needed a break. Why can’t you look at yourself in the mirror and think the same thing?”

My brows lift in surprise. “Man, this conversation got deep real quick.”

He laughs. “Sorry, it’s the doctor in me. I assess and give my opinion.”

“Well, shut it off for a second.” I laugh. “Tell me, what’s been going on with you?”

“Nothing much,” Abel answers as he leans back in his chair. “You know what it’s like in a small town. The Peach Society argues about pretty much everything, the news spreads like wildfire, and the moment anyone tries to come into this town and make a ruckus, we all join forces and push them out.”

“So no girls in your life or anything like that?”

Abel raises his brow. “When have you ever cared about that?”

I shrug. “We’re getting older. I assumed that maybe you would settle down at some point.”

“With whom?” Abel asks. “Meghan down at the drive-in theater with a very unhealthy addiction to Harry Styles? She came into the office the other day because her thumb was hurting, and it’s because she’s been scrolling so much for her next fix of Harry in a glittery vest—her words, not mine—that she’s strained the muscles. And don’t worry, I’m not telling you anything the world doesn’t already know. She’s blasted it all over social media, making it seem like a trophy to rest on her shelf. Harry thumb is what she called it.”

I chuckle. “Meghan’s a good time.”

Abel shakes his head. “She’s changed, man. Trust me . . . she’s changed.”

“What about Aubree?” I ask.

“Aubree Rowley?” Abel lets out a large guffaw. “Yeah, and risk the chance of getting my dick chopped off by Ryland? No thanks. Also, she’s going through a rough time right now with having to take care of the store and the farm simultaneously. I also heard from Ryland that Cassidy’s brother-in-law is trying to come back into the picture with the farm, but that isn’t public knowledge.”

“What do you mean?” I ask just as the server delivers our pizza. We thank the server, and Abel picks up a slice and takes a huge bite before his eyes roll to the back of his head, and he moans. “Dude, can you not do that? You sound like you’re fucking coming.”

He chuckles. “Sorry, but fuck, I should have ordered four pieces.” He wipes his mouth with a napkin and says, “Half the farm was left to Wyatt, and they didn’t think he was interested, but all of a sudden, he sent an email saying he’s coming into town and wants to talk about his rights to the farm.”

“Oh shit,” I say, wondering if Hattie knows that, and then I realize what we’re doing. “Hell, we’re no better than the Peach Society with our gossiping.”

“It’s in our blood, dude. Nothing we can do about it.” He shrugs it off, and he’s right. Gossiping has been ingrained in us.

“True.” We both take a bite of our pizza, and when I wipe my mouth, I sense Abel studying me. “What?” I ask.

“There’s something you want to tell me, isn’t there?”

“What?” I shake my head. “No. Why would you say that?”

“For one, you don’t ever take your motorcycle out anymore because it requires gas. For another, you seem tense and uncomfortable, as if you’re hiding something.”

What the hell? Does he have a backstage pass to the inside business of my life that I don’t know about? How can he see that just from my outward appearance?

“Jesus, you’re annoying,” I say.

He chuckles. “I told you, I observe. Now what is it?”

I contemplate whether to tell him or not. The thing about Abel is that he’s the most trustworthy guy you’ll ever meet. Ryland and I can be best friends with him because, when everything went down, Abel said he wouldn’t take sides. He would be friends with both of us, and if either tried to sway him differently, our friendship was done. Ryland and I have both respected that. It’s why I’m even considering telling him what’s been going on.

“Must be good if you’re this silent,” Abel says.

Yeah, he’s not going to drop it. He never does.

I wipe my mouth again and say, “This has to be locked up between you and me, Abel. If this gets out, it won’t be pretty.”

“Dude, like you even have to say that.”

“I know, but I’m serious. This is . . . this could be damaging.”

He nods. “You have my word. What’s going on?”

I pull on the back of my neck, wondering why I’m going to say this out loud, but then again, I need to get it off my chest. Maybe it will help clear my mind.

I glance around the restaurant to make sure no one is listening in, and then, in a low voice, I say, “The other day, Hattie came to my house to drop off some shit her ex-boyfriend stole from me when he was working for me.”

Abel winces. “I don’t like this secret already.”

“Then tell me to stop if you don’t want to hear it.”

He shakes his head. “Nah, I can handle it.”

“Well, I knew she failed her semester, and that’s why she was back in town. I don’t know what came over me, but I basically blackmailed her into working for me.”

“Jesus Christ,” he says, leaning back, hands on the table, looking up to the sky. “Yup, I didn’t want to hear it.”

“I’m paying her under the table. She’s helping organize all my fan mail and a year’s worth of shit accumulated in my office. Ryland doesn’t know the real reason she’s in town. She told him she was doing some internship. But yeah, she’s coming to my house daily to work.”

“Ryland is going to lose his shit.” Abel presses his fingers into his forehead. “Are you trying to blow up the town? Because you know that’s what will happen when Ryland finds out.”

“I don’t know, man. She looked desperate, sad . . . and for some reason, I took pity on her. I mean, the feud has always been between me and Ryland. She’s just an innocent bystander, but for the life of me, I couldn’t stop myself.”

“Tell me this,” he says, leveling with me. “Are you fucking her?”

“No,” I reply. “It’s nothing like that.”

“Good.” He pinches his brow now. “I don’t think I could handle that kind of news.” He looks me dead in the eyes. “It’s just a job?”

“Yeah, just a job.” I fail to mention how I might have checked her out a few times, made mental notes about how I could twist and turn her body into submission, and fully thought about how her breasts would fit into my palms and into my mouth easily. “And for the record, she needed the help. Badly.”

“Are you trying to paint yourself as a saint?”

“Is it working?”

He laughs and shakes his head. “I mean, if I didn’t know about the other half, I wouldn’t see anything wrong with it, but given Ryland is my other best friend, my dick is quivering in fear as to what he might do if he finds out.”

“You think he’d be mad?”

“Are you kidding?” Abel asks, dumbfounded. “Dude, if he finds out about this, it won’t end pretty, guaranteed. Not only will he probably end your life for even talking to his baby sister, but his relationship with Hattie will suffer greatly. This is . . . this would be the ultimate betrayal in his eyes. I don’t think they’d recover.”

Fuck, he’s so right.

This isn’t just some simple agreement between me and Hattie. This is so much bigger than that. This is bad blood, and testing the strength and power of that bad blood can only lead to more trouble.

Trouble Hattie can’t afford. Trouble Ryland can’t either. The man is so fucking proud and a damn good big brother. He always stepped up more than I thought necessary when his mom died—looking after his little sisters with ferocity—but now . . . having Cassidy’s kid too?

I could take anything that comes my way, even if it’s a barrage of Ryland’s fists. I have no stake in the game. I have nothing to lose.

But Hattie, she has everything to lose. As much as I want to pretend I don’t care about anyone, a small piece of me does care. I was once very close with the Rowleys. With Ryland. With Cassidy. I know the bond they have, a bond I so desperately wanted to be a part of . . . that I was a part of before everything went down. I know what it feels like to be shunned by the Rowleys.

I wouldn’t want Hattie to have to go through that too.

“Don’t worry.” I pick up my water and take a sip. “We don’t plan on him finding out.”

“You better hope not. Your chances are slim, though. You know you can trust me, but one slip-up and the town will put the pieces together. You’re treading dangerous waters.”

“It’s not like I’m doing anything wrong,” I defend.

“Other than blackmailing Ryland’s sister into working for you?”

“That’s a minor detail.”

“Let’s hope it stays that way.”


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