Like anyone gave a shit. Katie and Mom just wanted her to feel like they were looking forward to something other than her royal presence. Her ability to tolerate me mystified them. They weren’t actually looking forward to the banana bread. In fact, they weren’t looking forward to consuming anything that wasn’t wine or bad reality TV shows.
“It wasn’t a dance-off,” I pointed out.
“It was,” she insisted. “And you lost. Metaphorically speaking, you dance like everyone’s drunk uncle.”
“I do not dance like ev—” I closed my eyes, massaging my temples. I was not going to reduce myself to the intellect of a woman who could distinguish everyone in the Kardashian clan by name. Willingly. “They’ll manage without the banana bread.”
“But it’s dessert.”
“Hate to break it to you, but no one was counting on your banana bread. Julian and Amber probably had three catering companies and Gordon Ramsay himself working the kitchen since last night.”
“Well, I promised!”
Is it even legal to fantasize about doing things to her? I pondered at this point. She is mentally fifteen.
“They probably forgot.”
“I texted with Katie and Lori all week. They definitely haven’t.”
They were texting all week? Was that why Mom had gotten out of bed and Katie had actually showed up to work? A twinge of something ridiculous and unwarranted squeezed my chest. I ignored it, keeping my expression carefully blank.
“There’s a bakery around the corner.” I inhaled through my nostrils. “Do you want to buy a replacement, or is Martyr Maddie above tricking people?”
“A bit late to pretend I’m above that.” She waved her hand between us. Right. I’d made her tell a much bigger lie.
I realized Madison was the whole package. I should be acknowledged somehow for my stupidity. I’d thrown away a supreme fuck just because I was afraid she . . . what, exactly? Would trick me into marrying her somehow? That was never going to happen.
Tell that to the engagement ring she is wearing right now, which you gave her.
I suddenly remembered exactly why I’d stayed with Madison for longer than a week, even though I hadn’t had one serious conversation with her the entire time:
The sex was out of this world.
The baking was sinful.
She treated my family like, well . . . family.
In return, I’d cheated on her—that was what she thought, anyway—and never had met her father while he’d visited the city. Chances were, getting in her pants wasn’t in the future for me. It was best to get this over with as soon as possible.
I bought two loaves of banana bread from Levain Bakery while Mad dashed into a supermarket to get a baking tray. We met at an intersection just in front of Julian’s building. She took the banana bread from my hand, still wrapped in a brown paper bag, held the bag by the tip, and began to batter the bread against a building violently. I stared at her, as did the rest of the street.
“May I ask what in the goddamn world are you doing?” My voice came out more cordial than I thought was necessary. She was assaulting a baked good, after all. Very publicly, if I might add.
“No homemade banana bread looks as perfect as the ones from bakeries. I’m just making it look authentic,” came her swift reply, as she poured the distressed loaves into the tray she’d bought and covered them in plastic wrap. She was panting, her tits rising and falling in her tight dress.
I looked away, not thinking about how perfect her breasts felt in my palms.
“You should put more of that effort into trying to look like you can tolerate me,” I noted sourly.
“That’s above my pay grade.”
“I don’t pay you.”
We crossed the street, glaring at each other. Another one of our unspoken staring contests.
“You know,” I started, “I could—”
“Nope. Please don’t try to bribe me with apartments and cars and golden helicopters. God, you’re predictable. I’m so glad I met Ethan.”
A man who wore tights and a PAW Patrol tie was besting me. Now was a good time to off myself.
In the elevator, I ducked my head toward her. I didn’t know why. She just looked . . . Mad-like. Sexy in a cute, retro-chic kind of way. The kind teenagers liked masturbating to. Or, you know, thirty-two-year-old tycoons too.
“Did you just sniff me?” She turned around, eyes wide.
“No.” Yes. Dammit.
“You’re like a feral animal.”
“Better than a PAW Patrol–collared Chihuahua.”
She rolled her eyes like I was a one-trick pony, took my hand, and put it over her bare collarbone. I resisted the need to gulp. Her skin was hot, silky, and perfect; there was nothing sexual about what she did when she rubbed her delicate neck with my big palm, but I was pretty sure a pearl of precome graced the crown of my cock by the time she was done.
“There.” She pushed my hand away. “That’ll give you a good portion of my smell until tomorrow morning, and you’ll smell like me when we get in there. Happy?”
“With you? Never,” I spat out.
The elevator slid open, and we both stepped out.
It was going to be a long fucking night.
Julian lived in an Upper West Side five-bedroom penthouse overlooking the city that held an uncanny resemblance to a brothel, including red-upholstered furniture, dripping chandeliers, and an extensive wet bar. The minute we entered the premises, I ushered Dad to Clementine’s room for some privacy. His cheeks were sunken. Life leaked out of him in slow motion. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, exactly. I knew there wasn’t a treatment for his level billion of cancer. Grant said putting him through chemo—if his blood tests would even allow for him to go through chemo—was a waste of time and effort and would only make him feel even sicker. At this point, it was about keeping him comfortable.
Only he wasn’t looking anywhere near comfortable to me.
“Chase.” Dad frowned. “Why are we in here?” He looked around Booger Face’s room. It was the only space in the apartment that didn’t look like you might catch an STD if you sat on a piece of furniture. All pink-hued walls and ceilings and white fixtures.
“Because you’re not taking care of yourself,” I spat out. “You need to take your meds.”