I cringed at her description, but only because she was right. I’d been the source of pain for most of the people I’d come into contact with, mostly because I didn’t care, but a small part of me enjoyed the temporary distraction from my own pain.
“Do you always have to remind me of my dysfunction?”
“No, not ick. He’s the elite. They deploy them like soldiers to the frontline.”
“He was refreshing … let me wipe him off and send him on his way without blinking an eye. And he was hot. So, so hot. Maybe a ten.”
“Mid-ten. He missed the trashcan when he tossed the condom, but he can fight. Like really fight. He beat a guy’s ass twice his size in the middle of the gallery last night. He’s built like David Beckham. Maybe a little thicker. He’s covered in tattoos, and he smells like Marlboro Reds and copper.”
“He had the other guy’s blood splattered on his clothes.”
“You let them fight in the gallery last night? Was anything broken?”
“The better question is what didn’t get broken.”
“Ellie.” Her tone turned serious. “Mother is going to flip.”
“Do not parent me from Brazil. I already have two absentee parents. I don’t need you.”
“Fine, it’s your funeral. Or rather, your trust fund’s funeral. I’m intrigued about the boy. I might get on a plane and cover up my wax and pedi with leggings and boots. Oh.” She paused. “Marco? I need flannel shirts!”
“He comes with me everywhere. His speaking Portuguese has made the trip here a breeze.”
“He’s not coming here. You’re different when he’s around.”
“What? Like helpless?” Finley was teasing, but we both knew she was whinier and needier when her ladysitter was around. Marco was hired to be more than an assistant. He didn’t just carry bags and keep her schedule; he was also her buyer, stylist, barista, bartender, nurse, waiter, designer, and constant travel companion.
“I hate Finley and Marco. I only like Finley.”
I could hear her pouting through the speakers. “I’ll get him a hotel room. If I need something, I can call.”
“Finley, Jesus Christ.” I pulled a stale pack of cigarettes out of my father’s console and dug around for a lighter. I flipped up the silver cap and pressed, promptly taking a drag.
“Where are you going?” she asked, frustrated.
“Just getting out of the way while the cleaning crew fixes Ground Zero.”
“It’s really that bad? And you’re lecturing me about Marco?” she asked.
“Hold on.” I focused long enough to parallel park, and then turned off the car, finishing my cigarette.
“Yeah,” I said, blowing out a puff of smoke. The white cloud slipped out through the top of the window I’d cracked just enough that I could tell my father I’d tried.
“You’ve got to stop this shit, Ellie. Everyone has a limit.”
“That’s what I’m counting on,” I said, taking one last drag before pushing the butt through the window. I stepped out, and then ground the cherry of the cigarette with the heel of my boot.
I bent over to pick it up and then tossed it into the nearest trashcan.
“You’re lucky,” a voice behind me said.
I turned around to see Tyler leaning against the brick veneer of an automotive parts store with his arms crossed, a US Forestry truck parked not far away.
“If you hadn’t picked up that cigarette butt, I might have had to arrest you.”
“Someone should inform you that you’re not a cop.”
“Bashed the fuck in. Good to see you,” I said, turning on my heels.
I heard his footsteps chasing after me. “I was just … kidding,” he said, finally at my side. He held up a black pack of Marlboros.
He chuckled and stuffed the pack into the side pocket of his standard issue blue coat. “Where are you headed?”
I stopped and turned to him, sighing. “You’re a douchebag.”
He blinked once, and then those beautiful creases in his forehead formed, and a smile spread across his face, revealing most of his perfectly white teeth. “What’s your point?”
“My point is you were supposed to fuck me and leave me alone.”
He watched me for a while with a disgusted look on his face. His boots were worn but shined, his blue cargo pants pressed but wrinkled from half a day’s wear, his shirt faded. Tyler was a hard worker and took pride in his job. He had probably never missed a day of work, but that was where his ability for commitment ended. Tyler Maddox had no doubt broken as many hearts as I had. He was exactly what I deserved, even though I had no intention of going anywhere near him.
“You’re talking to me. You said you wouldn’t.”
Tyler shoved his hands in his pants pockets and shrugged, smiling at me like he’d never had a one-night stand. That kind of charm couldn’t be learned. “I said I wouldn’t call.”
I crossed my arms and narrowed my eyes, looking up at him. Jesus, he was tall. “I have no interest in you.”
His dimple appeared, making my thighs tighten. “It didn’t seem that way last night.”
He squared his shoulders. “Do I seem like the running type to you?”
“Only when it comes to women, which is why I fucked you.”
He frowned. “Are you like … off your meds or something?”
“Yes. Yes, I am. Emotional trauma, past baggage, you name it. Keep talking to me and I might be your next overly attached girlfriend. Does that sound like a good time to you?”
“Okay, Ellie,” he said, holding up his hands. “I get it. I’ll pretend it never happened.”
“But it was pretty fucking amazing, and I wouldn’t mind a repeat.”
“Can’t we just be friends-with-benefits without being friends?”
He mulled over my words. “You’re kind of a mean bitch. It’s strangely appealing.”
“It never happened,” he said, opening the passenger door to his truck. He was the opposite of offended, which offended me. Most people were more sensitive to my abuse than that.
Zeke came out, pausing when he saw me. He waved, and then jogged around the front to the driver side. They traded a short conversation, and then Zeke started up the engine.