“I don’t care about the money!”
“In return, it would be best if you would immediately vacate the premises—”
“Didn’t you hear me? I said I don’t care about the money!”
But Slade’s face remained merciless. “You’re the one who isn’t listening.”
“I want you gone by today or I’ll have the authorities escort you out.”
“Bastard!”And she started to cry. “Bastard!”
She had shoved past him, her clothes clutched to her chest, and as soon as she entered the room, she frantically began shoving her things in her bag. Farica’s wake-up call began to play in the background – Gloria Estefan’s Words Get In The Way – just as she was zipping her bag shut, and the song made her start laughing and crying harder.
Words got in the way, alright, and they were words she would never, ever forget.
Farica tried to stop her from getting behind the wheel. “Let me find someone to drive you, please—”
“Stop pretending!” She pushed the other girl away. “I can see it in your face, and you’re wrong. Slade’s wrong. You’re all wrong. He loves me! And I’ll prove it! He’ll find himself missing me, and then you’ll all know! He loves me! I know he loves me—” She wanted to say it again. Again and again and again. But then she saw the look in Farica’s eyes…
And it was the same look Slade had on his face now, Penny realized sickly, and it had her crying out as all of the memories came rushing back. The pain. The emptiness. But most of all, the pity—
“Stop looking at me like that,” she screamed. “Do you think I still care?”
“I saw you. I saw you kiss another girl—”
Slade’s lips tightened.
“Was she why you didn’t want me?” she demanded wildly.
He shook his head.
“I didn’t even know her back then.”
“Who is she then? Your new wai—” She saw him stiffen, and it was like having her whole world crash all over again.
That girl…that girl…
“She succeeded where I didn’t—” Just the thought was unbearable, the pain making her feel like she was about to break into a million pieces, just like before.
“It’s not and never was a matter of succeeding or failing,” Slade said quietly, “and that you still think that way is why I knew your feelings for me aren’t what you think it is—”
“Don’t you dare—” Penny’s voice shook with rage. “Don’t you dare make it seem like you know my feelings. Because you don’t. You don’t—” And something in her snapped.
He saw her coming, had every chance to move and avoid her, but he did not.
She reached him. Slapped him again. Clawed at his face.
And he let her.
Because unlike all the other women that had thrown themselves at him, this girl hadn’t done the same thing because he was a billionaire. She had done so because he was Slade, just Slade.
And when her rage died, and she fell to her knees, sobbing, he could only look down at her.
Because she still left him without a choice, and he could only remain cruel to be kind.
“Please,” Penny whispered. “Please love me instead. Please.”
* * *
Baby Now That I’ve Found You
* * *
“Talk low, talk slow, and don’t say too much.” ~ John Wayne
* * *
Slade straightened off the truck the moment he saw Kady, the tension inside of him draining away at the first glimpse of her smile. But as she came closer, her smile started to fade, and then she was running. “Your face…” Her voice was tremulous and her gaze fearful as it skimmed over his face, which no doubt bore the small but noticeably red impressions of Penny’s clawing and slaps. And it wasn’t that he had even taken the time to check them on the mirror; he didn’t really have to, with the way those nicks and marks fucking stung.
“What happened?” Kady asked. “Have you called 911—”
He shook his head. “It’s fine—”
He hauled her close, and she instantly quieted, as if instinctively sensing this was what he needed: her soft, pliant body in his arms, her trusting silence filling the gaps inside of him, and her goodness…it healed him, the way no fucking E.R. visit ever could.
With Kady close, he found himself able to think of the things that he had purposely and stubbornly blocked out of his mind. Penny smiling up at him…shyly inviting him to dinner…Penny going to pieces because he couldn’t love her—
A small hand pressed against his chest, right over his heart, just as she whispered, “It’s going to be okay.”
His hold tightened as he sought to pull her closer. It might as well be like a pet reaching out to comfort its owner, but…
He tucked her chin under his head.
It did help.
Her just being there…
The way another girl once told him she wanted to be there for him…
It hadn’t worked with Penny, but it worked now.