Dirty Scoundrel(7)

By: Jessica Clare

I stare, unable to believe what I’m hearing. My Clay said this? “I . . . know that he was going to take a job with his father this summer,” I say, though it’s hard to speak around the knot in my throat. “But I thought . . .”

“Oh, he said he’d marry you, but he made it quite clear that if you went to college, it would be over.”

What the hell? Does Clay really want me sitting around twiddling my thumbs, waiting to have his babies? I did want to go to college but wanted to discuss where with Clay first, hoping it could be someplace near where he’d be. How could Clay make me choose? Crap, it was even worse than that—he chose for me!

When my father nudges the envelope toward me again, I pick it up. I feel numb. I don’t even recall applying to Stanford, so one of his assistants must have done this. Not surprising, given that my dad has a crew to run everything in his life. He doesn’t like to be alone. I gaze down at the letter, the words blurring before my eyes.

Everything feels like it’s dying. All the things I’d hoped for, all the joyful dreams I’d made—they’d all involved Clay. Surely . . . surely I have more ambition than that? More than just being some guy’s wife?

Or is that all that I truly want? I’m so confused. I don’t know what to think anymore. “He’s never said . . .”

“My darling, why would he? I learned this the hard way in Hollywood—the more options you give someone, the less likely they are to take the one that you want them to take. The best way to get someone to do what you want is to give them as few options as possible. You never offer your leading man four scripts. You offer him the one you want him to take and go from there.”

“This isn’t Hollywood, Dad,” I say bitterly.

“That’s where you’re wrong. Everything in this world is run like Hollywood. It’s a game of who you know and what face you wear.”

I bite back my retort and clutch the Stanford letter desperately in my hand. Is he right? Is this what Clay wanted? To trap me into a marriage so I’d stay at home and have kids and just . . . hang around and cook him dinners? Yesterday, I wouldn’t have even minded if he’d said that! But to give me no other options, like I can’t make my own mind up? That hurts me deeply. “I need some time to think, Dad.”

“Of course. Take all the time you need, and then when you’re ready, we’ll talk Stanford.” As I stand, he turns his chair a little and holds a hand out to me. That’s what Dad does—he doesn’t hug—he just takes my hand and squeezes it. I know my Dad loves me in his weird, eccentric way, but right now I really, really need a hug.

Clay would hug me.

The thought hurts so much that I break into a sob.

“Now, now,” my father says in a soothing voice. “Trust your daddy to know what’s good for you.”

I nod through my tears. Dad may want us all to dance to his weird little tune, but I know he’d want what’s best for me. I give him a teary-eyed smile, and then when I can’t hold it in any longer, I rush up to my room, tears blurring my vision. I can’t bear it. It hurts too much. I curl up on my bed and bawl my eyes out, and I don’t even get up when Jenny, the maid, slips in and places my phone on my desk. What do I need a phone for anymore? Clay’s the only person I ever want to talk to. He’s my only friend and my boyfriend—everyone else in this stupid town hates me.

And now it seems that Clay—my sweet, loving, handsome Clay—thinks I should just stay home and be his little woman.

Maybe . . . maybe I should go to Stanford.

I cry until someone comes and knocks on my door an hour later. “Miss Natalie?” It’s Jenny, the maid. “There’s someone at the front door for you.”

“Tell them to go away,” I call out, sniffing.

“I told him you were unavailable but he says he won’t leave.” Her muffled voice is worried. “Should I call the police?”

I fling myself off the bed, suddenly furious. I know exactly who’s waiting at the door, and how dare he think he can come over here and just try to smooth things over after dropping that bomb in a conversation with my father? Stay home with him? What about what I want? Did he never stop and think that maybe he should ask me how I feel? I storm past a bewildered Jenny and down the stairs, heading for the carved double doors that lead to our covered front porch.

When I fling them open, sure enough, Clay Price is standing there.

His hands are stuffed in his pockets and he’s wearing an oversized dress shirt that’s now wrinkled, and his hair—always a bit wild and unkempt—flies about his head. “We need to talk,” he says in a flat voice. His face is blank. That’s the thing with Clay Price. He never shows you what he’s really thinking.

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