Cheater's Regret (Curious Liaisons 2) - Page 28

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“Glad to hear it.” He winked and then did the usual glance around the restaurant. He lived off the looks he got when out in public; you’d think being the mayor meant he was a local celebrity. “So, I kind of have a job for you.”

“A job?” Great, the last time he had a job for me, I was manning the hot dog stand during his last run for office. “What kind of job?”

He and Mom shared a look before my mom placed a hand on mine. “You remember Bill Sipher’s son?”

“No.” I shook my head. I purposefully forgot him because he gave me the creeps and transported me back to a time when I was so insecure, I was willing to do anything just because a cute boy said he liked me.

“Yes you do!” Mom laughed and waved at me like I was the most hilarious thing she’d heard all day. “The one with the braces?”

“Mom, when I was a teenager, we all had braces.”

“About this tall.” Dad held up his hand above the table. Four feet. He had braces and was four feet tall—no, guys, don’t remember, can we get some bread? “He was your first kiss!”

My mouth went dry.

My first kiss.

I had a lot of firsts with him. Just talking about him gave me the creeps.

“Braden!” I yelled. I hadn’t meant to yell.

Heads turned and then my dad, swear I do love him most days, stood and said, “Well I’ll be damned, look who just walked in!”

Setup! It was a setup. Red alert. Abort! Must. Find. Exit. Oh no, he was walking toward us, escape route, escape route. “BRADEN!” I grinned like a maniac. “How long has it been? A year? Two?”

“Five,” he said in a really pissed-off tone. “Give or take a few weeks when you refused to answer my phone calls, texts, and emails. But really, who’s keeping track, right?” He flashed a smile.

I tried to match everyone else’s enthusiasm—tried and failed. “I was busy . . . school, you know.”

He eyed me up and down. “Still eating MoonPies like they’re going to stop making them, Austin?”

Oh hell no.

No body shaming.

If he said one more thing about my body the way he used to, I was going to rip his face off and feed it to him intravenously through his asshole.

“Charming. As always,” I said through clenched teeth. “So, what are you doing in town?” At this restaurant, at my table.

Of course, Dad had to pull out a chair for him.

I was in hell.

“I just graduated from Stanford Law and moved back into the area, and I caught up with your dad a few weeks back when we saw each other at the Everett Country Club.” God, save me from that place. All of my bad family memories included that place, and it was also where Braden and I first hooked up. “And well, one thing led to another, and he mentioned you were still single.”

I was going to kill my dad.

After.

After the horrible lunch.

Because my dad was all about appearances, and if I didn’t grin and bear it, I would hear about it later, and the last thing I wanted was to get yelled at for not being the proper mayor’s daughter.

Even if the guy he invited to lunch was a complete psychopath.

“So, law, that sounds fun. You always were really good at talking at people.” I smiled and reached for my water, wishing a miracle from heaven would occur and the water would turn into wine, very strong, endless wine from God.

“Thank you, how sweet.” His eyes narrowed. Shit, he knew something I didn’t. What did he know?

“Austin . . .” Dad grinned wide. Oh no, here it comes. “You know the annual fund-raising dinner. It’s coming up, and Braden here has agreed to be your date!”

“Has he,” I said through clenched teeth. “How wonderful, but, Dad, remember, I told you I may not be able to go?”

He laughed. “But of course you’ll go. How would it look if my one and only daughter didn’t show up?”

“But—”

“You’ll go,” he said tersely.

“I’ll go.” I felt my entire body slouch into the chair, like my skin wanted to melt into the cloth so I could camouflage myself. Maybe then Braden would stop giving me the eye.

Braden and I had dated at the insistence of both of our parents. It was a good match.

Really.

That’s what both my parents had said.

Like we lived in a historical novel and it was my one and only duty to marry into a family of money so that we could have even more money and take over the world.

A sickness started to spread from my stomach down my limbs; just sitting across from Braden brought back all the painful memories of our time together.

His constant remarks about my body.

And my junk food habits.

I used to cry myself to sleep because of that boy.

And the worst part? When I broke up with him, I got in trouble.

My dad actually grounded me.

At sixteen.

And later on, when it seemed like Braden had actually grown up into a nice young man—my mom’s words—we saw each other at the club and started dating again.

He had complimented me—I hadn’t realized how starved I was for positive attention, but soon after trying again, he turned on me.

And each compliment was backhanded, or followed by a negative remark, from my hair to the fact that I’d gained weight.

I was afraid to eat bread around him.

That’s how bad it got.

Thank God for Avery. She finally helped me see that it wasn’t normal or natural to be in a relationship where you’re afraid to eat carbs or wear the wrong color on a date.

And ever since then—I told myself I would never get into a committed relationship again.

Sex.

One-night stands.

I was doomed to be single.

And I was okay with it.

Until Thatch.

I held in the tears.

I would not cry over him.

Or over the fact that I was in his arms last night and abandoned this morning and then thrown into a den of wolves.

Daddy reached across the table and held my hand briefly. “So, what do you think?”

Crap. They’d been talking about something important while I was taking a trip down memory lane.

Great.

“Uh, good.” I nodded and smiled. That was really all I needed to do around my dad, since my opinion wasn’t one he wanted or needed—I was there to agree with him. My mom knew her part well. She winked.

I loved them.

I did.

I just had days where I wished it were more about us as a family than about my father’s job or his dreams of going to the White House—no joke, he actually told me when I was six that he wanted to run for president.

He’d been running for an office of some sort my entire life.

“Great.” Dad dropped his napkin on the empty plate and checked his watch. “I’ll see you two later.” He kissed me on the top of the head before my mom stood, gathered her things, and trailed after him.

“Classic setup,” I grumbled, crossing my arms.

Braden eyed me up and down and then reached for his water. “So—”

“No.” I interrupted him.

“We aren’t doing this. Not now, not ever.”

“But it’s what your dad wants, and don’t you want him to be happy? How would it look if you abandoned me, after agreeing to keep me company during lunch?”

Shoot. That’s what I’d agreed to?

“Besides, your dad wanted us to talk about the benefit.”

“No.” I shook my head again and stared at my reflection in my spoon. My lips looked slightly swollen from last night, and my skin was flushed. It was like even my body couldn’t get rid of Thatch, no matter how many times my brain told it to stop responding.

Stop caring.

My heart thumped wildly in my chest. “You know,” I said, standing and pushing my chair back, “we’ll catch up later.”

“Austin.” Braden’s jaw clenched. “Sit. Down.”

It was horrible, how my body immediately responded, because it was so ingrained in me to listen, to be a good girl.

The minute my butt hit the chair, I popped right back up, grabbed my purse, and left.

I ran.

Away from him.

Away from the man who’d emotionally abused me.

And away from the memories that always made me feel like less of a person.

The really sad part?

I’d replaced Braden with someone just as bad.

Thatch was no better.

Braden wanted me, but he was like a poison to my heart and soul; I would be miserable with him.

Thatch wanted sex—not me—and yet I was drawn to him, to all of him. He wanted me probably about as much as he wanted to catch a cold—he proved that much this morning.

Shoulders slumping, I walked slowly to my car, got in, and banged my head against the steering wheel.

The only positive in my day came later when I discovered a few more people following my blog.

I needed to finish my assignment and get the hell away from Thatch before our relationship turned into a situation where I lost myself again.

Chapter Twenty-Five

THATCH

I didn’t text.

I didn’t call.

I didn’t chase.

Not because I didn’t want to do all of those things—but because I knew that it wouldn’t be enough. Austin had woken up to an empty apartment and assumed the worst—who wouldn’t? But it wasn’t like I wanted to tell her about my alcoholic father.


Tags: Rachel Van Dyken Curious Liaisons Romance
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