“Mainly I was trying to be around some of the people I knew my father was close to. He went to Yale and so did a lot of the people he chose to work with.”
“You hate him, too.” Just like Paige, but he doesn’t seem as angry as she does.
“Since I was eighteen and my mother told me all the horrible things he’d done to her.” His jaw clenches and I wonder what his father did to his mother. He’d killed Paige’s. “I wanted to be like him. He was so smart and seemed like he knew what he was doing in the business world. I was intrigued and I always tried to make him proud. I wasn’t seeing what was right in front of my face. How could I have not noticed how he’d treated my mother? She sobbed when she told me what he’d done to her. And there was nothing I could do that day to make the tears stop. I never knew about how he abused her. I hadn’t seen it before then, or maybe I could have done something sooner. But I sat there and listened to her tell me about their years together and that she was leaving him. And then I found out what he was truly capable of.” He shakes his head like he still can’t believe it. “There’s so much about him you don’t know. And I don’t know if I can tell you. I don’t want his dirt to get on you, Mallory. I promised myself I’d never be that man, and even talking about it makes me fear I’m pulling you into that world.” His eyes close, and I think about him listening to me cry. How close to home that must have felt for him. How he listened to his mother cry, feeling helpless.
“Oz.” I reach up, placing my hands on his chest. “It’s not the same. You know that, right?” I can tell by the look in his eyes he doesn’t believe that.
“I told myself I’d never be like him. I’d never hurt the people I love. I’d be better. I’d give my mom a better life than he ever did, then I’d make him regret ever making her cry even one of those tears, and that’s what I did. I took my trust fund and poured my life into making sure he never hurt anyone again.” His mouth turns up at one corner, like he’s remembering. “Then you walked into my world.”
He reaches out, tucking a piece of stray hair behind my ear.
“Revenge wasn’t the only thing I wanted anymore. For the first time I felt like I’d come alive watching you. But you were so young, so I told myself I’d stay away. I found out who you were, and then I wanted to make sure you’d get into a good school. Then I wanted to learn more and more about you. The more I found out, the deeper I kept falling into you. It was one thing after another. I kept sliding down this hill. I couldn’t stop thinking about you. Every time I’d go to a dark place, I’d think of you and it always pulled me back. That’s when I knew I couldn’t let you go, because you were the only thing that really shone light in my life. You were a part of me that wasn’t fueled by revenge, so I told myself it was okay. That I’d be good for you. That I wouldn’t be like my father. I’d give you everything and build a perfect life for you. That I would be the one for you when the time was right. That I’d never make you cry.”
His words rain down on me, and I try to take it all in.
“You paid someone to be my friend,” I remind him.
“I’m not saying what I did wasn’t a little much, but I was going insane worrying about you. Without knowing someone was watching you, I don’t think I could have stayed away from you for as long as I did. I would have cracked, I know it. Paige kept me sane. At least then I knew you were okay. She was making sure nothing could hurt you at a time when I wasn’t there to do it myself.”
“No one is trying to hurt me,” I try to tell him, but he doesn’t really hear me.
“Mallory.” He says my name with so much emotion it makes my heart clench. I don’t think anyone has ever said it with so much tender need. “I know I’m a little crazy when it comes to you. Trust me. I know I’m not great with reason, but I can’t control it. I’ve tried. I’ve fucking tried, but it is what it is.”
“What if I don’t like it?” I ask, shifting under him. His eyes roam over me as he moves in a little more.