“Maybe I deserve to suffer for what I did.”

“That’s just your depression talking. You deserve peace. Will, I can help you with this. I want to see you get better.”

He turned his back on me. “Can we please, please stop talking about it?”

“Sure.” I sat behind him and wrapped my arms around his middle. It took a lot out of him to talk about what happened that night, and I wasn’t going to forget that. “Thank you for telling me.”

“I’ll understand if you want to bolt. I’m giving you an out.”

Am I willing to deal with years of being with an unhappy person? I hugged him tighter. I had hope for him. I could pull him out of the darkness. “No, I’m not going anywhere.”

What he did was horrible, but William wasn’t that person anymore. He wasn’t a lost cause. I wouldn’t abandon him.

He covered my hands with his and sighed in relief. “I need to leave this place,” he said suddenly. “I need to see my dad in Chicago. Will you come with me?”

My face burned. I wasn’t sure how I felt about meeting Will’s dad. “Well, sure—but what about the campaign?”

“Luke will be upset, but I’m only going to Chicago to help him.” He gently disengaged from my arms and began to dress himself. “I just think I need to do something.”

I picked at a spot in the bed sheets with my nail and glanced at him, only to look away when he met my eyes.

“Spit it out.”

“Why—why do you want me to go with you?”

He thought about it for a moment and gave me a weak smile. “I paid you for three weeks work and we’ve only had sex once.”

“You’re lucky that I have a sense of humor,” I groaned in frustration. “Be serious for once.”

“I like having you around.”

I stood up and took his body in my arms, nestling my head under his chin. His warmth was so comforting; I leaned into him and felt my chest expanding, like a balloon inflating inside my chest. I like being with you, too. “What will you tell your dad about me? I mean, technically, I’m working for you.”

“Technically, you’re not working directly under me. Natalie, what are you really trying to ask me?”

My face burned. The lilt in his voice suggested that he already knew what I wanted to ask him, but he was going to force it out of me anyways. I needed to know where this was headed. I wasn’t interested in a fling. “I want to know where this is headed, that’s all.”

He sighed. “Only a week ago, you were upset with me because I talked to your ex-fiancé.”

“You didn’t talk to him, you insulted him.”

“Still.” He pulled away from me, frowning slightly.

So, he still didn’t trust me. I guess I can understand that. “I really like you, Will. I want to be with you. I just don’t want to be used.”

“Me neither.”

I would never do that to you. I stood on my toes and kissed his mouth, feeling utterly giddy when he responded passionately, his arms circling my waist and tightening.

“Okay,” he said when we broke apart. “Let’s get ready. I need to charter a flight out of here.”

I was already mostly packed, so I walked to the bright lobby and decided to check my email. It was the crack of dawn. I ascended the stairs to the terrace with a plate of lemon cakes and coffee, and sighed at the magnificent sunrise. The dark blue sky was giving way to the stretch of bright orange on the horizon. Puffy, pink clouds hung in the rapidly lightening blue. The colors were slowly coming to life; the sun illuminated the brightly painted homes and the swirls of bright blue in the ocean. Such beauty just wasn’t possible. I took several pictures and attempted to sketch it, but stopped myself. It was more important to watch it. I felt an incredible sadness at the realization that I would soon leave this place. It was like going to paradise and being expected to return home to a world of concrete, and somehow be happy about that.

I wiped away the tears on my face and checked my email. There were several from Jessica and a couple from Ben. I drew a sharp, painful breath and clicked on his email.

Natalie,

I was really upset to find out that you were seeing someone else on a tabloid website and I apologize if I came off a bit angry. I know that I did the same thing to you after we broke up, but I was just trying to move on. I really don’t think it’s fair that you’re doing this. We should have a discussion before you make a rash decision. We’ve been together for six years. Why can’t I have any say in what happens to our relationship? I am really depressed without you and I’ve been in therapy these past few weeks. I can’t move on. I feel sick to my stomach at the thought of you being with another man. Please call me when you get the chance.

Love,

Ben

My heart hammered behind my chest. I didn’t like the guilty feelings swirling inside me.

“It’s a load of crap.”

I slammed down the cup of coffee and hissed as it spilled over the sides. Will stood next to me, as silent as a shadow, reading the email over my shoulder.

“Do you mind?”

He ignored me. “Click on the next one.”

Will looked at me stonily, refusing to move from his spot. Whatever, fine. I clicked the next one. The tone of his next email was a lot angrier.

Natalie, what the fuck?

I feel like absolute shit and you probably have no idea. It really hurts that you would ignore me after everything we’ve been through. I keep seeing photos of you with that asshole. I don’t understand why you like him. He sounds like a complete jerk.

Can you please tell me what I could have done differently? I tried to be a good boyfriend to you and I was always there when you needed me. I really don’t deserve to be treated this way. When you met me in the city, you made me believe that there was still hope for us. Now, I feel like you’re rubbing this in my face to hurt me. Maybe you’re only with this guy to piss me off. I really don’t appreciate being ignored and I expect a response from you.

-Ben

“He expects a response? What are you, his property?” He let out a bellyful of laughter. “This guy is such an entitled ass. Coming from me, that says a lot.”

The email made me feel cold all over. My eyes pricked with tears. “I don’t like it. I never wanted to hurt him.”

Will stared at me incredulously. “You realize he’s just manipulating you, right? You’re out in the world, living your life, and he thinks that it’s all about him. You must be doing this to hurt him, not because you’ve moved on. He’s a narcissist and he wants you to feel guilty.”


Tags: Vanessa Waltz Billionaire Young Adult
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