o she was just…gone? Like Casper the sexy virgin ghost?”
Dean nodded. After weeks of Dean bailing on parties to walk alone on the beach, Keaton had dragged his ass to lunch at a place called The Grill. Several rounds of beer in it became apparent that his friend also wanted an explanation for his odd-ass behavior.
“I stepped away for literally less than a minute. When I came back, I couldn’t find her anywhere. And I looked, man. That’s what I’ve been doing. Looking. She’s nowhere to be found. If I didn’t know better, I’d think I imagined the whole fucking thing.”
Keaton took a long drink of his draft beer. “That’s seriously fucked up, man. And you’re sure she was a virgin?”
Dean gave his friend a pointed look. He’d felt the barrier break, been flooded with her heat the moment he pushed past it.
definitely wasn’t something he imagined.
“I’m just saying, it’s nuts. This is the Hamptons. It’s not exactly the kind of place random women appear and get busy with strangers on the beach.”
Keaton was quiet for a moment before a smirk lifted one side of his mouth. “You would be the lucky bastard that got to fuck a supermodel virgin mermaid. I swear, all the good stuff happens to you.”
Dean sighed while turning his bottle in his hands. “I know it sounds crazy…and you know me, one and done and I’m good. But there was just something about her…”
Keaton winked at a few women passing by before returning his attention to Dean.
“Yeah, you keep mentioning that part. So what was it about her? She have a magical mermaid pussy?”
“My fist and your mouth haven’t hung out in a while, Slade. Keep talking and they’ll get reacquainted in a hurry.”
“I love it when you talk dirty to me, baby.” Keaton grinned before taking another drink. “But seriously, the woman obviously has some issues if she’d just give it up to a stranger on the beach then vanish. Or maybe you just sucked at it and she’s traumatized for life.”
Dean stood from the barstool and threw a few bills down on the bar. “Fuck you, man. I’m going home.”
“Aw, come on. Don’t go. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings, princess.”
Dean was tired. He was tired of the constant booze and bullshit and empty-headed bimbos that had filled his beach house all summer. He just wanted to find that damn woman so she could explain why she’d left. He wanted to know her name. He wanted to know if he’d let her down somehow. Keaton didn’t know it, but he’d scratched the surface of something Dean was concerned about. It was her first time—he wanted it to have been good for her. He thought it had been, until she vanished.
More than anything, he wanted a chance at finishing what he felt like they’d started. While he’d been battling the sand, his mind had been mapping out the many ways he planned to take her when he didn’t have to struggle against the elements. The shower, the bed, the bathtub. But she disappeared into thin air, leaving him grasping at the memory and trying to make peace with the fact that his plans might never come to fruition.
“You didn’t hurt my feelings, bitch. I don’t have feelings,” he told his friend. “I’m going to walk around a bit, see if anyone’s seen a woman matching her description.”
“Uh huh. For a guy with no feelings, you sure are awfully fixated on this woman.” Keaton eyed him strangely while polishing off his beer. “Good luck to you.”
he second half of orientation was mostly about setting up email accounts and filling out life and health insurance preferences. Filling out her direct deposit information was almost as satisfying as the chicken pita wrap her new boss had bought her for lunch.
Gwen had to go back to her office after orientation ended, but she told Fate that she’d walk her to the correct train so she made it back to her place safely.
“I hate to ask, but why the East Village?”
Fate grimaced. “It was pretty much all I could afford.”
“Ah. Makes sense. So do you have a lease agreement or…”
“It’s a hotel—just something short term until I can save enough for a security deposit and first and last months’ rent.”
There was an awkward silence while they walked out of the building. Fate ached to fill it but had no idea what else to say. Her situation was far from ideal and not necessarily something she wanted to share with a brand-new coworker.
They’d both barely made it through the revolving glass doors when Fate saw him leaning against the building. Her heart sank into her stomach. Her feet acted on sheer self-preservation and instinct and began to retreat.
Then the man called out her name.
“You know him?” Gwen looked back and forth from the man to her.
Fate nodded. “I used to. Or I used to think I did, anyway.”
She froze where she stood and waited. Once Trevor Harris was in reaching distance, he pulled off his sunglasses and glared down at her.
“Jesus Christ, Fate. I’ve been worried sick about you. Why haven’t you answered your phone?”
Fate closed her eyes and counted to ten. Had he been worried? She couldn’t tell if the concern was genuine because it was diluted by his repugnant tone.
“Trevor. This is Gwen. We’ll be working together. Please do not act like an epic jackass right now.”
Trevor’s eyes darted to her new friend and then returned to hers. “Okay. We need to talk. Tell me where you’re staying.”
Fate’s hands clenched at her sides. “There is nothing left to say and it’s none of your business where I’m staying. Please feel free to move on with your life. I have.”
Trevor snorted and her body flushed hot with frustration. It was like being torn in two equal halves. One half hated him for what he’d done, and one half could remember how safe and secure he’d made her feel. She wished the sidewalk would open up and swallow her whole so she could escape his humiliating torture.
“I’m not going to let you play the martyr, Fate. What happened was both of our faults and I’ve accepted responsibility for my part in it. But it’s behind us now. Come to dinner tonight with me and we can talk.”
He was really going to try and place some of the blame for his cheating on her.
Fate shook her head. “No, thank you.”
She wondered why Gwen hadn’t made her great escape yet. Instead of ducking out of this excruciatingly uncomfortable confrontation, the woman seemed to be standing closer to Fate as if she were prepared to leap in front of her if necessary.
“You’ve made your point.” Trevor’s voice rose and he reached for her arm. “If you think I’m going to pay for your mother’s—”
“Stop. Just stop. Please.” She jerked out of his grasp and held her hands up. “I don’t want to go to dinner and I don’t want to talk. Just go. Please.”
The last thing she wanted was for her mother’s stint in rehab to be made public knowledge to the only friend she’d made so far. Not that Gwen seemed terribly judgmental, but it was private and Fate wanted to keep it that way.
Trevor’s jaw ticked and he narrowed his eyes at her. “I want to make sure we’re clear. What happened in the Hamptons will not ever happen again. I am ready to move past it, but if you can’t, then you’re right. We are done. And by done, I mean I won’t pay another penny for your mom’s medical care and you can both live in a crack den for all I care. You need to think long and hard about what you’re walking away from, Fate. You sure you’re prepared to do this?”
Eying him carefully, cataloguing every inch of him—from his narrow waist in tailored khaki pants and neatly tucked and pressed pale-blue oxford shirt—Fate tried to remember what she had ever seen in him. He went after what he wanted, and that had once been a quality she admired. Now, she realized that he believed himself entitled to what he wanted just because, and that was no longer an attractive character trait as far as she was concerned.
Everything had been handed to Trevor Harris and he’d never had to face a negative consequence a day in his life. Until now. He’d cheated and he’d gotten caught, and the price for that would be that they were done. She had absolutely no idea how she would continue paying for her mother’s stay at The Second Chance Ranch, but she knew that she’d figure it out somehow. And like everything else in her life from here on out, she’d be doing it without any help from Trevor.
“Have a nice life, Trevor. And I mean that.”
She did. Strangely, she wasn’t consumed by the fiery, passionate hatred she’d felt toward him a few weeks ago. She was just nursing wounds of hurt and disappointment. Wounds that were already beginning to heal. Wounds that had began to heal the night a stranger held her in his arms.
“Don’t do this. Give it some time. I think you’ll feel differently when you’ve had time to see past your anger.”
She would’ve smiled if the entire situation weren’t so horribly sad. He hadn’t expected her to really be done with him. He had no idea how to let it go because he’d never dealt with rejection or refusal.
He gaped at her for a moment before letting out a harsh noise of angered amusement. “You’ll change your mind, Fate. You will. I just hope that, when you do, it isn’t too late.”
Hell would freeze over and the devil would hand out snow cones before that happened.
She waited until he’d turned and strode away from them before turning to Gwen.
“I wish I could tell you we were actors rehearsing for a play.”
Gwen’s blue eyes were bright with interest. “What? No way. That was like a soap opera happening live before my eyes. I am definitely not going back to work just yet. You and I are getting coffee. I need details, lady.”
h God. Lord help me, I can feel it coming.” Gwen cringed while sipping her frothy latte and practically bouncing in the seat across from Fate in the small coffee shop just a block from where she had endured the public scene with her ex-fiancé.
Fate sipped her iced coffee and nodded. “I walked down the stairs and heard them. Then I saw them.”
“Gah! At your fucking rehearsal dinner! How did you keep from stabbing them? Or just going straight Carrie on them and burning the mother down?”
Fate shrugged. “I was too stunned to do much of anything other than run.”
“I would have lost my shit. All of my shit would have been lost. Seriously. One of them would probably still be on life support.”
Gwen was entertaining to be around. She had a flair for the dramatic and everything she felt showed plainly on her face. Fate appreciated that in a person after learning that her best friend had lied to her for the better part of a year.
“It’s certainly turned my life upside down. That’s for sure. We had all these plans. A seven-thousand-square-foot place to live. Now, I’m on my own and I’m not going to lie and say that it wasn’t tempting to take him up on his offer if only so I didn’t have to return to a tiny hotel room that reeks of sweet and sour chicken.”
“Fuck that. No way, Fate. Nothing is worth letting someone treat you like that. I would have tackled your ass if you had tried to leave with him. The things he said, the way he acted as if
some big favor by moving past what had happened—
. It was foul. All of it.” She exhaled loudly. “He made my skin crawl and I didn’t even know the details yet.”
Fate nodded in agreement. Gwen was right. But still…now her self-righteous breakup would cost her mom her medical care and that was a problem she didn’t currently have a solution for.