Aleena

The wind cut into me as I bent over the railing of Bank Rock Bridge to stare into the water. It was cold, icy and sharp, but it was nothing compared to the misery I felt inside.

Sleeping with the help.

If I thought it would lessen the pain, I’d have made myself puke, just to get rid of all the poison that seemed to choke me. But it wouldn’t do any good. This kind of pain didn’t come from anything physical.

I could still see the look of disdain she’d given me—and the complete and utter withdrawal on Dominic’s face as he watched.

He hadn’t said anything.

Logically, I knew it was possible to hurt like this.

Logically, I should have already been prepared for something like this. I’d been in this position before after all.

Danny Holton hadn’t pretended to care about me the way Dominic had though. Dominic had made think he…

“What?” I muttered to myself. A few feet away, a couple with a camera looked at me oddly.

Tourists, no doubt about it. New Yorkers were used to people talking to themselves—or to a street post or the clear blue air. Then, to my surprise, I was able to laugh at myself, even if only inside my head. After a little more than six months, I was already feeling like a New Yorker.

Although sometimes, like now, I hated it here. My laughter faded away.

The couple was still watching me and I managed to give them a weak smile. They hurried off and I went back to staring down into the water. It rippled slightly in the wind, casting back a wavering reflection.

Made you think what? I asked my unsteady double down in the water. Made you think he cared?

Sure he did. He cared. In an abstract sort of way. He wasn’t a complete asshole like Gary. But he didn’t really care. He might like me on a casual level, but in the end, what mattered was the fact that I was handy. Easy access to a piece of ass. Easy access to an agreeable piece of ass too. My face flushed all the way to my ears. I’d been naïve. He liked to play kinky games and I’d been open to learning.

It was as simple as that.

I’d been stupid enough to think otherwise.

I’d wanted to think otherwise.

But if I’d mattered…

I sniffled and dashed at the tears on my face.

If I’d mattered, he wouldn’t have let her talk to me like that.

Exotic. Somehow, that word was worse than some of the derogatory insults I’d experienced.

“I should have told her to wait a few minutes and I’d go find my servant girl uniform and get her some tea and crumpets,” I muttered, dashing another tear away. “Just to see what she said.”

At least I’d stood up to her. At least I’d said something. I hadn’t been able to do that the last time people had torn me down.

And it was more than Dominic had done.

He’d just…sat there.

My heart twisted again and I shoved away from the railing. Starting to walk, I focused on the wide, winding sidewalks of Central Park. If I gazed up in a certain direction, I could see the penthouse, so I didn’t let myself look, not until the trees and paths hid it from view. Then it was almost like being back in Iowa, and right now, that was comforting.

It was cold and my legs had long since gone numb, but the last thing I wanted to do was go back to the penthouse. I didn’t feel comfortable calling it home.

It wasn’t home. I wasn’t even sure I wanted it to be home. Not now.

With a knot choking me, I swiped at the tears burning a path down my face. I ended up bumping into a woman—she was dressed for exercise and she waved off my apology, clearly into her power-walk. All around me, people moved with purposes, even those who were just out to get their calorie burn on. I was just here to…

I stopped in the middle of the path.

I didn’t know why I was here.

Other than to get away from Dominic.

He’d just sat there, staring at his mother. He’d barely even looked at me.

Sleeping with the help…

But that’s what I am.

Frustrated and hurting all over again, I stormed over to a bench and dropped down on it. She’d talked about me like I was next to nothing and he hadn’t said a word.

Yeah, I was his employee, but he could have said something. He hadn’t and that hurt was an ugly, vicious wound inside me. I didn’t know how to handle it, how to process it. Forcing myself to swallow past the knot in my throat, I leaned back and stared out across the park, watching the people without really seeing them.

I’d messed up.

Being attracted to Dominic as I’d been, I hadn’t let myself think things through and maybe that was understandable. It had put me where I was now and it wasn’t a good place.

I’d slept with my boss.

Worse, I cared about him.

The question now was, what was I going to do?

I had absolutely no idea.

***

I found myself at Molly’s.

Over the past few months, she’d become my best friend and there was little I couldn’t tell her, but after she’d ushered me inside and put a hot cup of coffee in my frozen hands, I just shook my head.

“I wish you’d tell me what’s wrong,” she said, snuggled up on her ragged couch next to me. “I mean…I can guess it’s about Dominic. We were just talking earlier, but now you look like he told you that fairytales aren’t real.”

“What?” I managed a wan smile in her direction. “You mean they’re not? My Prince Charming isn’t coming?” My heart gave a painful thump.

“He got lost on the way to the ball, that’s all.” She gave me an affectionate smile.

It was a familiar joke between us, but I couldn’t make myself smile back at her this time.

Lifting my coffee to my lips, I sipped it. Its warmth was slowly seeping into my frozen hands and I thought that maybe, in a few more hours, they’d thaw out. “I just need to not think about it for a little while, Mol.”

“I think you need to talk about it,” she said, shaking her head. “You look terrible.”

“Gee, thanks.” I made a face at her. After one more sip of coffee, I rested my head on the back of the couch and stared up at the ceiling. There was an old water stain that had been there since she’d moved in. It was vaguely Iowa-shaped and looking at it filled me with foreboding. “I’m just…tired.”

I wasn’t lying. My body ached in the best of ways and if it hadn’t been for the interruption, I wanted to think that I could, even now, be lying in bed with Dominic. Maybe we could have—

I shoved the thought away.

It was for the best that his mother had interrupted.

Now I knew what I was dealing with.

“I know that look on your face.”

I shot Molly a look and immediately wished I hadn’t. She had a shrewd, knowing look in her eyes and I could imagine her seeing straight through my skull, finding the memory of what had happened earlier…

And then hunting down Dominic Snow and punching him in the nose.

Molly wasn’t the sort of girl who had problems standing up to people. She could stand up for herself and her friends. It didn’t matter that he was more than a foot taller and she weighed about a hundred pounds dripping wet.

Abruptly, I stood up, moving so fast the coffee sloshed out and burned my hand. “Ouch!” Bobbling the cup to keep from spilling more, I headed over to the tiny kitchen area. Her apartment was even smaller than the one I’d shared with Emma, but in New York, that was to be expected. The eating, sleeping and living area was all in one area and if you’re having company in this place, it better be somebody you liked. I dumped the coffee down the drain and stood there, taking a minute to calm my breathing and make sure I wasn’t going to cry. It wouldn’t help. It definitely wouldn’t help.

“Do you mind if I just crash here for a while? I can sleep on the couch.”

I turned and gave her my best smile, hoping she couldn’t see how close I was to falling apart.

Molly was much better at being a friend than I was at acting. She gave me an easy smile and pretended not to notice how close I was to sobbing like a child. “Knock yourself out, Aleena. Just promise me you haven’t started snoring.”

 

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