“Honestly? I’m not sure.”
“I know you needed me and I wasn’t there. Do you think you can forgive me?”
I sighed, wondering whether it mattered.
So he hadn’t been there for me. I resented that. But he’d had to work, and in his defense he dealt with runaways all the time. From his perspective, this was probably a pretty good outcome. She was with a family member, not kidnapped and murdered by a serial killer.
That wasn’t even the real issue, though. I’d been hot as hell for Reese Hayes, whether I liked to admit it or not. Nate and I had decided to make things exclusive—then I crawled all over another man.
What kind of person does that?
Not a woman who’s in love. Or even infatuated … And if I’d fallen out of infatuation in less than two months, that was pretty much it for me and Nate. Both of us deserved better, although I hadn’t decided what that should look like. It’d been fourteen years since I lived on my own. Was that why I’d been so eager to hook up with Nate? Fear of being alone?
Why was I falling into that trap?
I kind of liked the idea of doing what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. Maybe I should try eating ice cream for breakfast for a while, or color my hair bright red. Maybe I should buy a car that didn’t have a cleaning service logo on the side of it.
A red Miata. I’d always wanted one of those.
Now came the hard part.
“I don’t think it’s going to work out,” I said slowly. Nate frowned, his hand covered mine, squeezing it tightly.
“Babe, I think you’re overreacting.”
“No, it’s not—” I started to say, but then stopped myself. It’s not you, it’s me. Such a cliche, but in this case painfully true. Nate might not be perfect, but he was pretty great. He just wasn’t the man I wanted. All I could think about was Reese and how he’d felt between my legs.
I wanted to feel that again. Alive and awake.
Was I actually going to sleep with him? I really hadn’t decided … The thought definitely appealed. He wasn’t relationship material, but maybe I didn’t need a relationship just yet.
Maybe I just needed to get laid.
Yup. Ice cream for breakfast, color hair, get laid, buy Miata. Then more ice cream. I had a plan.
I focused on Nate again, blinking rapidly. His face was so earnest, so full of concern.
“I think we should stop seeing each other,” I said firmly, and the words felt right. Slightly painful, but liberating, too.
“You’re breaking up with me?” he asked slowly, as if he couldn’t believe what I’d just said. “Jesus, Loni. I get that I fucked up, but this seems kind of harsh.”
“It’s not that,” I said. “I’ve just realized that what I feel for you isn’t strong enough. I’m sorry. I wish I could change things—”
“It’s about Reese Hayes, isn’t it?”
I shook my head, although part of me knew I was lying.
“It’s about us,” I told him. “We just aren’t going to work, so it’s best to end it now.”
“I asked you to sleep with me, not marry me,” he snapped. “God, what the hell is wrong with you?”
Good question. I swallowed, because he was starting to look angry and I couldn’t blame him for that. But I couldn’t date someone out of guilt, either. Nope. A clean break was the only decent course of action.
“It doesn’t matter,” I said carefully. “There’s no future here and I respect you too much to lead you on.”
Nate threw his napkin on the table and leaned forward, eyes narrowed. His face was getting red and I realized I’d never seen him upset before. What Reese had told me about him ran through my mind, but I pushed it away. This was Nate. Sweet Nate. He was hurt, and no wonder. None of this was fair to him.
“What the fuck, Loni? You don’t want to lead me on? What the hell do you think you’ve been doing the last eight weeks? Is your cunt made of gold? Because I swear to God, women don’t pull this shit with me and get away with it.”
My mouth dropped open and I gasped. Nate didn’t talk like that. What on earth had happened here?
“We’re over.” He stood, glaring at me. “I can’t believe how much time I wasted on you.”
Then he turned and walked away stiffly, rage all but radiating through the air around him.
Well. That was special.
I glanced around, hoping nobody had noticed our little scene. Amazingly they hadn’t, despite the fact that it’d felt pretty dramatic and spectacular to me. I’d just gotten publicly dumped and it sort of hurt. Why it hurt, I had no idea. He’d done to me what I’d planned to do to him, so what right did I have to feel anything but relief?
Just be glad it’s over.
The waiter walked over carrying two enormous platters of Mexican food, and I realized that not only had Nate dumped me, he’d stuck me with the bill, too. Always look on the bright side. Without Jess to feed, I wouldn’t have to cook for the next week. I’d just work my way through Nate’s jumbo carne asada entree.
“Can you wrap those up to go?” I asked the waiter. He cocked a brow, but wisely kept his mouth shut. I decided to give him a thirty percent tip, because someone should get something out of this date.
Then I took my overpriced takeout and swung by the grocery store, because I had ice cream to buy.
Ice cream and hair dye.
Two hours later I swirled in front of my bathroom mirror, a new woman.
I looked like Christina Hendricks on acid (okay, not quite as statuesque, and my boobs were smaller … but still very curvy!). The new hair was gorgeous. Crazy. Fun. I wondered if Reese would like it, and then decided I didn’t care, because I liked it.
That’s when it hit me.
For the first time in forever, I was doing something for myself.
It felt good.
The high lasted until about noon the next day, when I carefully sorted through my finances. Counting all my savings, the business emergency funds, and the secret vacation stash, I was still broke. Okay. So no new Miatas just yet. But if I got the contract for The Line, maybe I could revisit the idea in a year or two. Assuming Reese didn’t fire me.
I’d just have to get that contract no matter what. So what if I had to sleep with him to do it … I’d just call it a bonus and roll with it.