Dirty Scoundrel(6)

By: Jessica Clare


“Why do you think I’m out here?” The smile he gives me is genuinely full of remorse. “She needed some way to break this to you easily. She knew what was coming and she didn’t know how to get out of it.” He gives me a rueful grin. “Dear ol’ Dad to the rescue.”

No way.

She sent her dad to break up with me? I know Natalie hates conflict, but this is fuckin’ ridiculous. “I need to talk to Natalie.” This doesn’t make sense. I thought . . . Just last night . . .

I thought we were going to marry. I even have a ring in my pocket. I’ve carried it every day since I bought it. Granted, it’s only from the pawnshop, but I thought we could joke about how I’d buy her a better one once we got on our feet. I thought Natalie would think it’s cute.

Maybe I don’t know her like I thought.

“I understand,” Mr. Weston says. “Of course you will. She’s a little upset tonight, so maybe hold off until tomorrow morning, hmm?”

“Sure,” I say dully. “Whatever.”



Natalie

“Dad, have you seen my phone?” I race down the stairs, flustered. We’re already late for my big evening with Clay, and I know he’s going to be frustrated. I can’t call him to tell him that my stepmother’s been locked up with her emotional-support cockatoo for the last hour, weeping and feeding the poor fat bird crackers.

Everything’s always drama with my family. Not surprising, I guess, given that Dad still treats everything like it’s Hollywood. But jeez, it can be exhausting.

I straighten my sundress, pulling my favorite white cardigan over my shoulders. Johanna—my stepmom—isn’t going to be able to make dinner but we can hopefully still meet Clay. I’m excited about tonight and what it might mean for Clay and me. Meeting the family—that’s step one along a more serious commitment, isn’t it? My heart flutters happily in my chest at the thought. I know I’m only seventeen, but I also know I won’t ever love someone as much as I love Clay Price. Just the thought of his boyish smile and the way his brown hair is always shaggy and slightly overgrown makes my heart hurt with all the intense emotion I feel.

Clay’s not rich, but he’s the best. I know if my dad gets to meet him, he’ll love him as much as I do and see how happy he makes me.

But when I get downstairs, my father’s walking back into the house and putting his hat on its normal peg. I frown to myself. It’s almost like he’s just returned. I’ve been so distracted with Johanna I didn’t notice he’d gone. “Did you leave? And have you seen my phone? I can’t find it anywhere and I need to let Clay know we’re going to be late. Johanna—”

“I went and talked to your young man,” Dad says in a stern voice. “Come sit down, Natalie.”

“You did?” Why does that sound so ominous? But I follow my father into his grand study quietly, a thousand questions buzzing in my mind. I watch as he sits at his desk, one that Marlon Brando sat at in one of his big movies. I sit in a chair opposite him, one from a John Wayne film. My dad loves props and has spent a fortune on buying set pieces from the movie lots. Our entire home is filled with things from famous movies, and as a result, the atmosphere is a little . . . well, “eclectic” is probably far too kind a word. “Scattershot” is more like it. But my dad is old Hollywood, and we’re not exactly a normal family anyhow, so I don’t mind. I smooth my skirt and try not to show my nervousness. “You saw Clay?” I ask again. “Is he going to wait for us a bit longer? Johanna—”

Dad shakes his head. “I’m afraid our dinner is canceled.”

“Canceled?” I echo. “But why?”

He pulls an envelope off his desk and pushes it toward me. “You got accepted to Stanford, by the way.”

I ignore it. Dad’s been pushing Stanford on me for all my life, because he went to college there for a brief time before heading to Hollywood. I haven’t made any decisions about college . . . well, because I wanted to know where Clay and I were going. “What about Clay, Dad?”

“He’s breaking up with you.”

My father delivers the words so casually, and yet they hit me with the force of a sledgehammer. I grip the carved wooden arms of the chair. “Wh-what?”

Dad nods. “You’re planning on going to college, right? He said he didn’t want to wait around. Said that he had better things to do with his time. I suspect his family is the type that likes their women barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.” My father shakes his head.

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