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A Deal With The Devil by Elizabeth O'Roark


A Deal With The Devil

by Elizabeth O'Roark

Self-Published

Book 1 in The Devil's Series


He might not be the devil, but working under him for six weeks is my idea of hell.


Hayes Flynn is an arrogant jerk known best for his scotch habit and the way he spreads his British “charm” all over Hollywood, never with the same woman twice.


He’s the last person I want to work for, except he has a face I can’t look away from, and the longer we’re together, the harder he is to hate. Because under that smug exterior is a heart he doesn’t want to show—one that was badly broken a decade earlier.


A part of me wants to fix it for him before I leave…but can I do it without breaking my own in the process?

Genre:

 

After reading an arc by Elizabeth O'Roark, I fell so in love with her writing, I decided to binge some of her work, and when I saw A Deal With the Devil, I was drawn in.


First of all, I think Elizabeth did a good job with the whole enemies to lovers trope. I find sometimes it just doesn't work with the setting, but I enjoyed it in this one.

I felt their distain for one another. Through the banter, and the body language described, it came off really well, and I loved that.

Enemies to lovers is my favorite trope after all. The dislike needs to feel believable, but it can't be so intense that there is no coming back from it. Elizabeth did it perfectly in this book.

Seriously.

The banter? Chef's kiss.

The chemistry? On fire.

The story itself isn't overly unique, but despite that, I devoured this book.

I didn't care if this was yet another an enemies to lovers in the workplace book.

I didn't care that Hayes was another stereotypical rich, playboy doctor.

I didn't care that Tali was another down on her lucky protagonist that needed the job, despite Hayes being her enemy.

I didn't need a completely original story because Elizabeth turns all those used plot devices and makes them her own. The undercurrent of tension between these characters - from dislike, to emotional and sexual tension - had me from page one to the end.

The humor was also excellent. I love it when an author can write witty dialogue, and Elizabeth O'Roark is one of the best.


Listen - every one of her books I have read so far has been a HIT. So it's no surprise that I am heavily encouraging you to read this book.





Hayes’s coffee is placed on the counter with the sugar already added.

Wouldn’t want him to tear and stir it on his own, like an asshole. Hayes: “Are you...are you wearing my date’s dress?”

he asks, horrified. The silver lining to having nothing left to lose is that...I have nothing left to lose.

Tali: “Do you like it?”

I whisper, raising nervous, hopeful eyes to him.

Tali: “I disposed of her, just like you asked.”

He’s frozen. There’s confusion in his gaze, and the tiniest seed of dawning terror.

Hayes: “What?”

he barks. I bite my lip and clasp my hands together like a penitent child.

Tali: “I thought you’d like it. Now we can be together forever.” Tali: “So, what will I be doing?”

I ask as he pulls into the driveway.

Tali: “I watched a doctor on ER perform a tracheotomy using only a ballpoint pen and a kitchen knife. I feel like I could pull it off.”

Hayes: “Perfect.”

He shuts off the engine.

Hayes: “Any tracheotomies are yours. Your job here, however, is to stay put. Tali: “Someone named Piper texted,”

I tell him.

Tali: “She said she wanted to see for herself ‘if it’s as big as everyone says’.”

Hayes: “My dick,”

he says, as if this was unclear.

Hayes: “And it is.”

Tali: “I’ll let you inform her yourself,”

I reply, sliding him the phone. Tali: “Why can’t I just want to be an assistant? Or a bartender?”

Hayes: “Because you seem like someone destined for more,” Tali: “I came out of the womb wanting to bartend. Which makes us well-suited, since you probably came out of the womb asking for a good scotch.”

Hayes: “Macallan,”

he agrees pleasantly.

Hayes: “It was my first word, actually. Coffee was second.”

I grin.

Tali: “I’ve got a few guesses what the third word was. It starts with a p.”

He laughs as he rises from his chair, the sound low and warm and unexpected. It makes me feel like I’ve won something. He’s taken two steps toward the door when he stops and turns back toward me.

Hayes: “Whatever it is you really wanted to do...you’re a little young to have already given up on it. And it seems unlike you to go down without a fight.”

Tali: “You’ve known me for a week. How would you know if I fight for things or not?”

Hayes: “Well, you’re fighting with me now, aren’t you?”

Hayes: Are you awake?

Tali: Let me guess…unresponsive female in your home and you need me to come dig a shallow grave.

Hayes: No, that’s more of a 3 AM text. The bartender here is a twat. What’s the most irritating drink we can order?

Tali: It’s called The Hayes. At least that’s what irritates me personally.

Hayes: Always so sharp-tongued.

Tali: Yes. Like a snake. And you’re Satan, so it’s perfect for you.

Hayes: Your tongue is perfect for me? Say more. He presses his fingers to his temples.

Tali: “Take your daily vitamins,”

I say, pushing Advil toward him.

Hayes: “You’re judging me again.”

Tali: “Not at all,”

I reply pleasantly, leaning both elbows on the counter to face him as he slides onto a stool.

Tali: “Though the text you sent in the middle of the night saying ‘send these girls Florida’ was unclear. Did you want me to send them to Florida or somehow gift them the state of Florida?”

Hayes: “Sorry,”

he groans.

Hayes: “Fucking autocorrect. That was probably supposed to be flowers. I don’t really remember.”

I take a sip of my coffee, looking over his schedule.

Tali: “So, I spent my entire shower trying to figure out how to gift them Florida for nothing.”

I smile and shove the schedule toward him.

Hayes: “You thought about me in the shower,”

he says, mouth barely twitching.

Hayes: “Does that happen a lot?”

Tali: “Sometimes I wonder if my soap is strong enough to kill off the bacteria from your home. Is that the kind of thing you mean?”

He winces, pressing his fingers to his temples.

Hayes: “Ouch. I’m too hungover for your mouth this morning.” He holds his forehead up with his hand.

Hayes: “Can you get the girls upstairs out of the house after I leave?”

he asks. Girls. Plural. Any sympathy I might have felt vanishes. My arms fold across my chest.

Tali: “What girls?”

Hayes: “The ones upstairs. I thought I made that clear. Three of them.”

Three women? That’s the stuff of pornography and letters to Penthouse, not real life. And I seriously doubt any human, even him, has the agility to service more than two women simultaneously.

Tali: “Can’t you just be content with a run-of-the-mill threesome like the rest of the world?”

His mouth lifts. I get a hint of a dimple.

Hayes: “Are you saying threesomes are run-of-the-mill for you? I don’t even see you having twosomes.”

He’s pretty much nailed it, not that I’d ever admit it to him.

Tali: “I would not be interested in a threesome because most men are barely capable of pleasing a single woman without doubling the workload.”

His eyes gleam.

Hayes: “Maybe you’ve been with the wrong men.”

Tali: “Maybe you’ve been with women who do a lot of faking.”

He laughs, so certain of his talents he isn’t even going to reply.

Hayes: “Don’t forget to send them flowers, yeah?”

I roll my eyes.

Tali: “Fine. Today’s note shall read: Sorry I came so fast and left you all unsatisfied.

Hayes: “You seem very certain of yourself for someone who is, in fact, having sex with no one. And don’t try to tell me I’m wrong. You’re far too chipper and well-rested to be doing anything interesting at night.”

Tali: “Maybe I’m just capable of enjoying my leisure time without letting it destroy me the next day.”

Hayes: “Tali,”

he says, rubbing his brow as he stands,

Hayes: “any man sleeping with you would keep you up all night long whether it was in his best interest or not. He wouldn’t be able to help himself.” Hayes: “Jonathan told me you’d had a rough year,”

he admits, looking away. I frown. Jonathan isn’t the type to go around spilling other people’s drama unnecessarily, so I can’t imagine what led him to spill mine.

Tali: “Well, I hope he didn’t tell you too much. I’d like to sustain the illusion of having my shit together a little longer.”

Hayes: “Have you seen the car you drive? I never thought you had your shit together.” I close the dishwasher and go to the Vitamix, pouring the contents into a glass, which I place before him. He stares at it.

Hayes: “This is the worst-looking daiquiri I’ve ever seen.”

Tali: “They’re called vegetables. I’m surprised you didn’t hear about them in medical school, but I guess that would have taken valuable time away from learning about breast implants.”

Hayes: “I was actually aware of vegetables before medical school,”

he says, lifting the glass and regarding it with suspicion.

Hayes:“I was precocious in that way. I just don’t know why you’re giving them to me.”

Tali: “Because you eat like shit, you drink like a fish, and you get almost no sunlight, You’re like a vampire, only one who’s ambivalent about his survival.”

I turn to rinse the blender.

Tali: “And speaking of bad habits, someone named Angela texted and asked if you’re still on for dinner.”

Hayes: "Angela?”

he repeats blankly. The name clearly does not ring a bell.

Hayes: “Go through the texts. Is there a photo of her? I need to know what I’m getting into.”

My eyes roll so hard I’m scared they’ll get stuck that way. I dry my hands but don’t reach for the phone.

Tali: “Do you actually want me to scroll through your exchange with Angela to find out? Because I’m worried there will be dick pics.”

Hayes: “I seriously doubt Angela sent me a dick pic, but if she did, you can go ahead and cancel.”

My mouth twitches.

Tali: “I meant your dick, Hayes.”

Hayes: “Mine? You should be so lucky.”

He reaches across the counter and grabs the phone for himself, thank God.

Tali: “You know,”

I say, wiping down the counter while he swipes through texts,

Tali: “a great deal of what you need me for could be solved by not drinking yourself into a stupor.”

Hayes: “Please, by all means, keep telling me ways to make your job easier.”

He stops swiping—I assume he’s found her picture—and then returns the phone to me with an especially weary sigh.

Hayes: “Get us a reservation at Perch at seven and let her know for me?”

I grab the phone and pretend to type.

Tali: “Top o’ the morning, Angela!”

I say aloud.

Tali: “Bloody good show, getting a free meal out of our exchange of bodily fluids. I normally just buy ladies a drink and wait for the roofies to kick in. Toodles, for now!”

I look up to see if he finds me as amusing as I find myself.

Hayes: “Honestly, the hangover is bad, but your British accent is now the most painful thing about my day.” Hayes: What was the expression you used the other day when you were pretending to be British but sounded like a chimney sweep from Mary Poppins? I’m telling the girls about it.

I roll my eyes. Girls, plural. I assume that means I’ll be taking them both to breakfast in the morning. And why is he texting me when he has what must be far more entertaining company?

Tali: Was it “go the fuck to sleep”?

Hayes: No. Keep trying.

Tali: Was it “this is inappropriate workplace behavior”?

Hayes: That line must be from the off-Broadway rendition of Mary Poppins. Definitely not from the movie. Also, someone didn’t read her employment contract carefully.

Tali: Yeah, that someone is your lawyer. There’s no way that contract would hold up in court.

Hayes: Ah. Always good to know an employee is *already* contemplating the feasibility of a lawsuit. Hayes: “If you have a sex webcam, I’d like to be made aware of it posthaste.”

His tone is entirely too casual for someone who practically asked to see me naked.

Tali: “No, I do not have a webcam. I was, uh, working on something.”

Something I do not want to discuss with him. Saying you’re writing a book is like saying you want to be a rock star. You can plainly see the other person’s desire to pat you on the head and tell you not to quit your day job. I turn on the blender, grateful the noise prevents meaningful conversation.

Hayes: “It’s worse than a webcam?”

he asks the moment I turn off the blender. I should have known he wouldn’t let it go.

Hayes: “There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone winds up getting fisted on Pornhub eventually.”

Tali: “Everyone? Your dating history may have skewed your ideas of normal sexual behavior.”

Hayes: “Ah,”

he says, leaning back in his seat.

Hayes: “God, it’s even worse, isn’t it? Was it sex with a family member?”

I give up, at last, because Hayes clearly doesn’t intend to—though I’m not sure how much lower he can drag this conversation.

Tali: “It’s a book,”

I reply. My face feels too warm.

Tali: “I’m writing a book.”

I set the smoothie in front of him, but he barely notices. He’s too fascinated by my humiliating admission.

Hayes: “If it’s a tell-all about a devastatingly handsome doctor, let me remind you of the NDA you signed. Although if he’s bringing all your sexual urges to the surface, I’d still like to read it.”

If he were anyone else, I’d almost think he was flirting with me. I fight the urge to encourage him, though my ego could do with a little stroking.

Tali: “Any tell-all about you would focus on why I decided to quit men altogether.”

Hayes: “My Life as a Lesbian by Natalia Bell. I’d definitely read that one.”

He flashes me his filthiest smile. It’s absolutely pathetic how that smile works on me, worming its way through my blood, replicating in every cell like a virus. I want to forget every principle I hold and start undressing when he looks at me that way. He tilts his head.

Hayes: “I’m not sure why you’re acting like writing a book is a mortal sin, however.”

I begin shoving fruit back into the freezer with unnecessary force.

Tali: “Because I signed a contract and spent the advance, and now I can’t seem to finish it. And I’m not good at anything else, so I don’t know what I’ll do if I can’t pull this off.”

Hayes: “I’m sure you’re good at plenty of other things. Consider the webcam, for instance. You’d be your own boss, at least.” Hayes: “No offense, but that sounds extremely dull. A good sex scene is essential to any meaningful work of fiction.”

Tali: “Ah, yes. I remember the blow job in Pride and Prejudice. Very tastefully done.” Tali: “Jesus, you’re like Voldemort. I say your name and you appear from the ether,”

I tell him, mouthing an apology to Drew.

Tali: “I’m out at coffee with a friend. What’s up?”

Hayes: “Working hard as always, I see. It’s a good thing I don’t have to pay you much.”

I laugh despite myself.

Tali: “Consider it comp time for all the hours I’ve spent awake because someone decided to text me in the middle of the night.”

Hayes: “You love my middle of the night texts. And it’s not like you have anything else to do.”

Tali:“I could sleep, Hayes. Text Miss It’s-So-Big if you need to chat at three AM. So did you want something?”

His chuckle is barely audible but I hear it. I’m glad my impatience amuses him.

Hayes: “I was wondering if you could make me a salad today. I have an opening at two.”

My teeth sink into my lip as I try not to grin. In a life with very few accomplishments of late, this feels like a huge win for me, as pathetic as that is.

Tali: “What I hear you saying is you now crave my salads.”

Hayes" “There are things I’d crave from you long before salad,” Drew: “What else are you assisting him with?”

Tali: “Shut up. It’s not like that. He just eats like shit, and I wanted him to get some vegetables.”

Drew: “I thought he was a pain in the ass?”

she challenges. I shrug.

Tali: “Sure, but if he dies of scurvy, I won’t have an income.”

She laughs and then she leans forward, her lashes lowering, smiling like a witch about to cast a spell.

Drew: “You are so much more interesting than I realized, Tali. So much more. Starting with the fact that at some point over the next few weeks, you are definitely going to fuck your boss. And I want every detail when it happens.” Tali: “Go sit outside.”

He glances at the terrace as if it’s an alien landscape.

Hayes: “Why?”

Tali: “Because while I find the idea of vampires exciting, you struggling with a vitamin D deficiency is less so.”

He folds his arms across his chest, frowning. Clearly, I’ve thrown a wrench in his plan to avoid sunlight forever.

Hayes: “Sit with me, then. I’ll be bored, and you’re marginally entertaining.”

Tali: “I’m extremely entertaining.”

Hayes: “You could be, certainly,” Hayes: “I’m having a little get-together Friday,”

Hayes announces as he takes his seat at the counter Monday morning.

Hayes: “I’ll need...stuff.”

Tali: “Could you be slightly more specific? Since I’ve never seen your parties, I don’t know if ‘stuff’ means a few six packs of Coors Light, or a kilogram of cocaine.”

Hayes: “Could you even get a kilogram of cocaine? Is that something I should have been hitting you up for all along?”

Tali: “I have no idea. I never learned the metric system.”

He rolls his eyes and mutters bloody Americans under his breath.

Hayes: “No, I don’t require cocaine. Just a bar and food. And music. And a valet, I guess. Two hundred people, maybe.”

I groan. A valet? Two hundred people?

Tali: “That’s not a ‘little get-together’. That’s a wedding. Did you finally find someone worthy of you? Just so we’re clear, I’m not sure you can legally wed your own reflection.”

He climbs to his feet.

Hayes: “I’m still hoping that law gets changed.” Hayes: “Have we changed the dress code, then?”

he asks, his voice lower than normal.

Tali: “I’m not running around here in heels all day. I have my dress for tonight in the car.”

Hayes: “I’m sure the workmen are enjoying this look.”

His mouth flattens.

Hayes: “I’ll barely need to tip when they’re done.” Hayes: “So, I guess there’s no smoothie today?”

I glance up.

Tali: “Do you want one?”

I feel like a Disney heroine who’s just discovered she’s got a secret power. He runs a hand through his hair, which is what Hayes does when he feels even the tiniest pinch of vulnerability.

Hayes: “Only if you have time.”

I don’t. But it’s an admission, even if he doesn’t realize it: He likes to feel cared for. He likes that someone in his life wants things for him aside from what he does for them in return.

Tali: “Of course,”

I say, placing his vitamin D next to his coffee with an additional supplement.

Tali: “But only if you take your vitamins like a good boy. And I’m not trying to poison you. The new one is zinc. It’s good for the immune system.”

He pops it into his mouth.

Hayes: “And sperm production,” Hayes: “I didn’t recognize you for a moment,”

he says, clearing his throat.

Hayes: “You made an effort for once.”

It’s not the most effusive praise I’ve ever received, but I shouldn’t have been hoping for praise in the first place.

Tali: “It’s going to be hard enough standing next to a bunch of actresses and models. I figured some makeup was necessary.”

His eyes flicker over my face.

Hayes: “You’re prettier than any of them even without makeup,” Tali: “I can only assume that means you’re busy thinking dark thoughts about the emptiness of your life.”

Hayes: “Is that what I’m doing?”

he asks, swirling the wine in his glass.

Tali: “I don’t know. Are you?”

Hayes: “Maybe.”

He glances at me with a rueful smile.

Hayes: “There’s nothing like inviting over every single person you know to make you realize you don’t like any of them much.” Hayes: “I’ll pay it. Your debt. I’ll pay it. If you ever make it big, you can pay me back. Otherwise, consider it a gift.”

My eyes sting, and suddenly I feel fragile and uncertain. Under that beautiful, careless exterior of his lies a heart far larger than anyone out back realizes, and it’s been a very long time since someone has offered to take care of me, hasn’t simply assumed I’d figure it out. I’m not sure why it makes me so happy and sad at once that he’s the exception.

Tali: “Thank you.”

It comes out as a whisper, barely audible around the lump in my throat. God, am I really about to cry over this?

Tali: “I can’t accept, but thank you.”

His nostrils flare.

Hayes: “Why the fuck not? I can make all your problems disappear in the blink of an eye, with very little effort. Why not let me?”

Why not indeed? That money is nothing to him. He could earn it back in a week, while it would take me years, if not for this job.

Tali: “Because,”

I say, unable to meet his eyes,

Tali: “everyone in your life seems to take something from you, and that’s not what friends do. I guess I’d rather be your friend.” Tali: “Maybe I have a date tonight,”

I say, though in truth, all I’ve got scheduled for the whole evening is a bowl of cereal and a phone call to my mom.

Tali: “I know it’s shocking, but I do have some small life outside of serving your every need.”

His tongue taps his lip.

Hayes: “I wouldn’t say you serve every one of my needs,”

he counters, his voice low and filthy. I squirm in my seat.

Hayes: “And you don’t have a date because you’re still mooning over Farm Boy.”

Tali: “I’m not mooning over anyone,”

I argue, squeezing the wedge of lime into my drink.

Tali: “I’m just licking my wounds, and please don’t make some gross joke about letting someone else lick my wounds…I know that’s where you were headed.”

He sets his drink down.

Hayes: “As a doctor, I doubt I’d suggest either option. But it’s time for your self-pity to stop. Let me make you a Tinder profile.”

He snatches up my phone and I snatch it back.

Tali: “I can make my own profile, thank you very much. Anything you did would probably reference how many working holes I have.”

His teeth sink into his lip as he tries not to laugh. I picture them sinking into my skin instead and feel goose bumps rise along the back of my arms.

Hayes: “Okay, well, let me help. How about ‘Argumentative redhead seeks—'”

Tali: “I’m not a redhead.”

He shakes his head.

Hayes: “Brown is too plain and I can’t believe you’re already arguing with me. As I was saying, ‘Argumentative redhead seeks extremely handsome male to nag. I have three working holes.’”

I smile against my will.

Tali: “Thanks, that’s perfect. I’ll definitely find Mr. Right with that.”

Hayes: “I can tell you’re going to be tedious about this. Fine.”

He looks over one shoulder and then the other, surveying the room.

Hayes: “Then who here do you find attractive? Aside from me, of course. Obviously, in a perfect world, I’d be your first choice.”

Tali: “Obviously,”

I say, my lips humming along the lip of my glass.

Tali: “It’s so hard to find a man who will buy me drinks, fuck me and never call again.”

His gaze sharpens, grows feral.

Hayes: “God, what a filthy little mouth you have,” Hayes: “I wonder, when I hear you say these things, how limited your life experience must actually be. But fine. We’ll go. You and me. Make the arrangements.”

I stare at him in dismay. Sure, I love amusement parks, but I didn’t intend to go with him.

Tali: “Why would you take me? You’ve got half the females in this city eating out of your hand.”

Hayes: “Because amusement parks are filthy, and I don’t want to be lured into having sex at one.”

He holds his empty glass up to the waitress.

Hayes:“What’s the problem? You seem like the sort of gal who would appreciate funnel cake and Simpsons-themed paraphernalia.”

Tali: “Wow. So, you want me there because I’m tacky and not attractive enough to fuck. You’ve crafted quite the persuasive argument.”

Hayes: “Are you denying you like funnel cake?”

he challenges, folding his arms across his chest.

Tali: “You’d have to be born without a soul to dislike funnel cake,”

I mutter.

Hayes: “Then it’s settled,”

he says. He’s smiling as if he’s won something. Tali: “Are you feeling bad about this at all?”

I ask, nodding toward their sad little faces. His brow furrows.

Hayes: “Bad about making the wisest decision of my life and avoiding parenthood? No, not at the moment.”

We watch as a kid old enough to know better gets mad at his father and throws a tray of nachos on the ground.

Tali: “I feel certain you’re missing out on something by not having children, though I can’t quite think what it is right now.” Hayes: “You’re nervous?”

he asks, grinning down at me. I narrow my eyes.

Tali: “Not in the least. I’m just trying to figure out how I can sacrifice you to save myself if this goes badly.” Tali: “I thought you hated people,”

I reply, slumping in the chair happily and pulling out my fries.

Tali: “Your receptionist wanted me to set the stuff outside your door.”

He spreads the paper wrapper out neatly on his desk and places a napkin in his lap, as if this is a proper meal.

Hayes: “I do hate people. I guess your constant nagging sets you apart somehow.”

I laugh despite myself.

Tali: “Your staff could learn something from me,”

I reply, shamelessly licking the grease from my fingers. He watches me, a flicker of interest in his eyes.

Tali: “Maybe I should offer an in-office training.”

Hayes: “Your smart little mouth is plenty,” Tali: “Tell me about these purported girlfriends of yours,”

I demand. There’s bound to be plenty of douchery there.

Tali: “I’m still having a hard time seeing it. Start at the beginning.”

Hayes: “The beginning?”

He wipes his mouth.

Hayes: “That would be Alice Cook. We were six. I gave her candy hearts for Valentine’s Day, and she told me her mum wouldn’t let her have sugar and threw them away.” Linda: “I wish my husband would look at me the way he looks at you. Like he could be completely content if he never had to look at anything else.” Tali: “What should I wear?”

I ask, my shoulders sagging. He glances at me, his eyes falling to my mouth, soft as a snowflake, before they jerk away.

Hayes: “Every eye will be on you, no matter what you wear.”

He sounds as if he regrets it. Tali: “So, what is it you need me to do tonight?”

I ask, glancing around us. He hands me a drink.

Hayes: “Relax, first of all. It’s a party. I’m not going to ask you to perform open-heart surgery. Just help me with scheduling and save me if I get trapped by someone.”

I roll my eyes.

Tali: “How will I know whether you’re trapped or talking her into something she’ll definitely regret?”

His gaze flickers over my dress once more. It feels as if we are the only people in the room.

Hayes: “I assure you, she wouldn’t regret it. But there won’t be any of that tonight.” Tali: "Can I just—can you just do something for me? Please?”

Hayes: “Fine, I’ll have sex with you,”

he says with a long sigh,

Hayes: “but only the one time, okay? And from behind, so it’s not awkward in the morning.” Hayes: “He was an idiot. Anyone who’s met the two of you already knows. Jonathan said, and I quote, ‘Matt’s the stupidest SOB who ever lived. He’s never going to do better than Tali.’”

I blink back tears. I wasn’t going to cry over Matt, but Jonathan’s loyalty is worth more than gold to me.

Tali: “Jonathan’s a good friend.”

Hayes: “It had nothing to do with being a good friend. It was just common sense. I’d never even met Matt”

— he says the name with a sneer—

Hayes: “and I knew he couldn’t do better than you.”

It’s sweet, but I know he’s just saying that to make me feel better.

Tali: “Did you see the girl he’s with? I’d say most people think she’s an upgrade.”

His hands cradle my jaw, forcing me to meet his eyes.

Hayes: “You have the purest face I’ve ever seen in my life,”

he says quietly.

Hayes: “A face I couldn’t possibly replicate, and if I could, she and every other female here would ask me to.” His eyes are nearly black under the bar’s dim light, his lips swollen.

Hayes: “He’s jealous as hell right now.”

It takes me a second to even remember Matt was here. I press my palm flat to the barstool beside me, trying to get a grip.

Tali: “You’re not even looking at him, so how could you possibly know that?”

Hayes: “Simple,”

he says, grabbing my hand. He begins fighting the crowd again, pushing toward the exit.

Hayes: “Because I’d be jealous as hell if I were him.” Hayes: “You’d look amazing in that,”

he says. Just on sight I know it’s something I could never afford.

Tali: “I could buy a year’s worth of ramen noodles for what it costs.”

Hayes: “Try it on,”

he urges, placing a hand at the small of my back.

Tali: “What would be the point? I’d have to sell my spleen to buy it.”

Hayes: “No one wants your spleen, so please don’t accept any offers. Your liver, possibly. I can even help remove it. Just try.”

I’m still carping about what a waste of time this is when I reach the dressing room. He leans against the door.

Hayes: “Make sure to let Uncle Hayes see,”

he whispers in an intentionally creepy voice, which makes me laugh and also, weirdly, turns me on. I really do need to get laid if I even find this exciting. I slip out of my clothes and pull on the dress…which is perfection. It skims my curves, the v-neck making my cleavage look ample without revealing all of it. My hair seems to gleam, my skin looks more golden, my lips rosy. After this long year of questioning myself, of wondering if everything I ever believed might have been wrong, I know this one thing for a fact: I look really good in this dress, like the sort of woman you’d expect to see on Hayes’s arm. When I open the dressing room door, I can’t help but wonder if he’ll think so too.

Tali: “Do you like it, Uncle Hayes?”

I ask in a baby voice, jutting out my hip. I meant it as a joke, a play on his creepiness, but he looks stricken in response.

Hayes: “Yes,”

he says gruffly, turning on his heel and looking at his phone.

Hayes: “You should get it.”

I huff in exasperation.

Tali: “You made me go through all this effort for a dress I can’t afford, and you didn’t even look.”

He sighs heavily, still facing away from me.

Hayes: “The dress and the voice had an unexpected consequence,”

he says through gritted teeth.

Hayes: “Will you please just get back in the fucking dressing room?”

It takes me a second to understand what he means by unexpected consequence. Shock is quickly erased by the mind-bending thought that I made him hard. Standing here in no makeup and bare feet. How is that even possible?

Tali: “Talking like a little girl does it for you, huh?”

I ask, leaning against the wall with a smug smile. I intend to relish his discomfort as long as possible.

Tali: “That doesn’t surprise me.”

Hayes: “You didn’t sound like a little girl,”

he growls.

Hayes: “That’s the problem. You sounded like a very big girl in need of a...Jesus Christ. I’m waiting outside.” Tali: “I don’t need you buying me clothes. I’m not poor.”

Hayes: “You’re pretty poor,” Hayes: “You really are very quiet today. I don’t think you’ve nagged me once in the past fifteen minutes, which is certainly a record. What did you do last night?”

My eyes fall closed. God, what I would give to lie down right now.

Tali: “I vigorously masturbated while watching Jane Austen movies.”

Hayes: “Well done. I’ve never gotten an erection and had it killed in the space of one sentence before.” Tali: “Put me down,”

I whisper.

Tali: “S’embarrassing.”

Hayes: “Yes, I know. And you’re absolutely fine and just need to sit. I’d like to put you over my knee right now.” Tali: “Sorry about, um, every single thing I did and said over the past twenty-four hours.”

Hayes: “You’re pretty cute when you’re sick,”

he says, perching on the edge of the bed.

Hayes: “And I do have all the photos of you stripped down to your bra and panties, so it’s not like I got nothing out of the deal.”

I laugh.

Tali: “You earned them. I’m just glad I don’t remember most of it.”

He bites down on a smile.

Hayes: “You were your normal prickly self for the most part, although you did at one point suggest I smell like heaven. And then you carped at me for calling the trash can a bin and said I need to ‘stop speaking British all the time’ because I’ve been here too long for that.”

I struggle to sit up. He’s got me cocooned in approximately a hundred blankets.

Tali: “Well, it is sort of ridiculous. You’ve been here nearly a decade.” Tali: “I love this bed,”

I murmur as he takes a seat again.

Tali: “Would you allow it to marry me? You can take the cost out of my salary.”

He gives me a small smile.

Hayes: “Only if you let me watch the honeymoon.”

Tali: “This is the honeymoon, right here.”

I pull the covers to my chin.

Tali: “A perfect one, where I sleep and it cuddles me and doesn’t talk.”

Hayes: “Once again confirming your boyfriend’s decision to stray was not completely unwarranted.” Tali: “Don’t act as if you’ve never done it. You’re a walking sexual proposition.”

His tongue goes to his cheek, amused.

Hayes: “You’re saying, then, that my mere existence makes you long for sex?”

He leans forward, a seductive tone to his voice. Smirk in place.

Hayes: “That I walk through a room and make you think of all the itches you’d like to scratch?”

Yes.

Tali: “No, although occasionally the sight of you makes me wonder if STDs itch, which I suppose is sort of similar.” Hayes: “Tell me about teenage Tali,”

says Hayes, jovial once more.

Hayes: “I understand she had a bit of a Thomas Hardy obsession.”

My jaw falls open.

Tali: “Jonathan has a big fucking mouth, apparently.”

Sam looks at me.

Sam: “How did I not know this?”

Hayes: “Yes,”

says Hayes, eyes twinkling at my discomfort,

Hayes: “that’s how she and Jonathan bonded as teens, at some writing camp.”

He turns to me.

Hayes: “You were quite the catch back then it would seem, writing your Thomas Hardy fan fiction. I’m not sure how you kept the boys away.”

I’m seriously killing Jonathan. It will be sad for his daughter, I know. I’ll find her a better dad. One who can keep secrets. Hayes: “You like him, then.”

His mouth is pressed into a flat line.

Tali: “How can I even know when you hovered all night like a third party on our dinner?”

My eyes narrow.

Tali: “And please don’t make a joke about threesomes.”

His gaze holds mine.

Hayes: “If it were an option,”

he says, suddenly fierce,

Hayes: “I’d never be willing to share you.” Hayes: “I need you to act like you’re my girlfriend. I did it for you with your ex, and now I need the same.”

My eyes go wide. So wide I probably look like a comic book character, but I can’t seem to stop.

Tali: “What?”

Hayes: “We should run a hearing test on you at some point. I. Need. You. To—”

I wave a dismissive hand.

Tali: “Yes, I heard that part. I just can’t begin to imagine why you need me when you have half the women in LA begging for your attention.”

Hayes: “I can’t ask just anyone to pretend to be my girlfriend.”

He toys with the lid of his coffee cup.

Hayes: “I need someone they’d actually believe, someone...impressive.”

This I find even more difficult to grasp.

Tali: “I’m a failed writer who dropped out of grad school, can’t pay back an advance and now works for you, which is—no offense—sort of hitting rock bottom. How am I impressive?”

Hayes: “You’re attractive and smart, which is a rarer combination than you might think. Though it would help if you wouldn’t describe anything involving me as ‘rock bottom’ when you meet my family.” Tali: “What do I wear?”

His tongue glides over his lower lip. He’s looking at me, but his mind is far away at the same time.

Hayes: “The beige dress,”

he says, nostrils flaring a little.

Hayes: “Ella will fucking hate that.”

Tali: “What’s wrong with the beige dress?”

He shoves his hands in his pockets.

Hayes: “Nothing. That’s why she’ll hate it. When you’re in the beige dress, there’s nothing wrong in the entire world.” Tali: "Lipliner or no lipliner?”

She leans back in her chair, tapping her fingers over her chest like a vaudeville villain.

Drew: “Oh, Tali, you’re in so deep if you’re finally gonna call attention to those yummy lips of yours.”

I groan.

Tali: “I’m not. I just hate this woman, and she kind of fucked him up, you know? I want to do my best to twist the knife.”

Drew: “Wear the lipliner, then. I bet you a hundred bucks it winds up on his dick by the end of the party.” The house itself looks like an English castle, massive and stone-fronted. It even has ivy growing up the sides.

Tali: “Oooh,”

I say delightedly, smiling wide.

Tali: “I see why she chose him now.”

He levels me with a stare.

Hayes: “Yet you call me Satan.” Grandmother: “And how did you manage to find this fine young specimen?”

I smirk at him. This isn’t a Cosmo interview, my ass. I’ll let him solve this on his own.

Hayes: “She sat on my doorstep and refused to leave. Eventually I figured I might as well allow her inside.”

She smacks his arm.

Grandmother: “You’re not as amusing as you think. The truth now, please.”

Hayes’s eyes flicker over my face.

Hayes: “I saw her photo on Jonathan’s desk and started looking for her all the time, because she worked at this bar I’d pass on my way home,”

he says. Weirdly…it doesn’t sound like a lie.

Hayes: “I saw her reading while she was walking in, even though it was raining. And I thought she was the loveliest thing I’d ever seen in my life, so I followed her.” Hayes: “This sounds like an elaborate excuse to make me take care of myself, something that doesn’t interest me in the least.”

My smile is weak. I suppose I am asking him to take care of himself, and it’s something I have to think through for a moment before I can explain it to him.

Tali: “It’s not. But here’s the thing: I don’t like going to Starbucks either. But when I step outside and the sun warms my skin and I take that first sip of my latte, just before I spit in yours, it suddenly feels as if the world is a decent place. You don’t get that. Or any of the other moments like it, so you look for your happiness in things that do more harm than good.”


Hayes: “I really hope Starbucks isn’t the extent of today’s plans.”

I roll my eyes.

Tali: “You know this is supposed to be my weekend off. Maybe I figured you’d entertain yourself.”

Hayes: “I did that last night in the shower. Now I want you to entertain me.” Tali: "We’re going surfing. I know you’ll claim you’re not interested, but Matt and I went a few times and I think you’ll like it.”

Hayes: “I suppose Matt was extremely good at surfing,”

he says, his lip curling.

Tali: “He was kind of good at everything,”

I reply as I head to the door. Except it no longer feels true. I’m mostly saying it to annoy Hayes…which it does.

Hayes: “I can think of one or two things he wasn’t so good at,” Hayes: “I’m having fun, Tali,”

he says softly.

Hayes: “For some reason complaining to you about things I don’t actually mind is just my favorite thing to do.”

It’s not an apology, but it’s close enough and something inside me warms a little.

Tali: “Better than banging three girls at once?”

I nudge him with my shoulder. He looks around.

Hayes: “Is that an option at the moment? Is that what you meant when you said we’re surfing? Because if so, I’m one hundred percent in.”

Tali: “Sadly, no,”

Hayes: “Alas. But yes, this will be fun too.”

Hayes: “Since someone ate all the pie.”

His mouth slips into a smile.

Tali: “I believe that someone is you.”

Hayes: “I’m just pointing out that pie is no longer an option,”

I say, lips twitching.

Hayes: “I’m sorry you feel the need to assign blame.” Tali: “In a perfect world, I’d stay in this house and never leave,”

I tell him. I see a flash of his dimple.

Hayes: “Would I be here with you? Before you answer, let me remind you I’m good at buying pie.”

Tali: “Hmmm, true,”

I agree.

Tali: “And Pop-Tarts. I suppose you’d have to stay.”

Tali: “The things I miss are pretty stupid. I miss having someone to eat with, someone to talk to while I brush my teeth at night. I miss having someone who will listen to the stupid stuff that happens each day, the stories that don’t really have a point.”

Hayes: “I feel like much of what you say is pointless, if that helps?”

he asks, and I kick him. Hayes: “Lots of women don’t come through intercourse. Why didn’t he just go down on you?”

The ease with which he suggests it, as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world, plucks a string in my core. I picture it. I picture Hayes like that...how open and shameless he’d be. God.

Hayes: “What? You can’t come that way?”

Tali: “I have no idea,”

I groan, as I cover my face with my hand, humiliated.

Tali: “And I can’t believe we’re discussing this. I’ve only slept with two people, and neither of them tried. It doesn’t matter. It probably wouldn’t work anyway.”

Hayes: “It would work,”

he says. His voice is low and raspy. I shiver at the sound of it.

Hayes: “I could make you come in two minutes flat.” Tali: “Aren’t you the early bird?”

I ask. My good cheer sounds as forced as it feels.

Tali: “Sex with me transformed you into a new man. I assumed it would.”

His jaw tightens.

Hayes: “I didn’t figure you for the type to be so...uncomplicated the morning after.”

I go to the kitchen and start unloading the dishwasher, clanging flatware and pans as if I don’t have a care.

Tali: “Best just to put it out there. Otherwise, it turns into The Thing That Shall Not Be Named.”

He comes to the other side of the counter.

Hayes: “I did figure you for the type to work a Harry Potter reference into any given conversation, so that lines up.”

I can tell he’s watching me. I continue to focus on the dishes, as if the task requires all my attention. If our eyes meet, he’ll see every single thing I’m feeling. He’ll see I’m the stupid girl who wants more when she should know better.

Tali: “Now I just have to decide what I should say on the flowers I send myself.”

Hayes: “And you’ll want breakfast, too, I imagine. Will Starbucks suffice?”

he asks, tying off the trash bag.

Hayes: “Probably not. I’ll get you a gift card. Applebees? That seems like a place a person from Kansas would enjoy.”

I started this, but I’m a little stung that he’s replying in kind. The dumb teenage girl inside me wanted him to hold my face lovingly and explain how much it all meant to him. And maybe if I stopped being so offhanded about it, he would. But I feel too raw for that. I just can’t. I need to protect my heart.

Tali: “I’m deeply impressed by your thoughtfulness. I’ll frame it as a permanent reminder. Although testing positive for syphilis in a few weeks will probably be permanent enough.”

He sets the trash by the front door and returns.

Hayes: “As far as I can recall, we were careful. And I’m clean.”

Tali: “That you just referenced a sexual encounter with ‘as far as I can recall’,”

I reply tartly,

Tali: “indicates my concern is valid.”

The kitchen is spotless. I’m forced to meet his gaze at last. His eyes are dark, and his face is drawn. I wonder if he ever went to sleep at all.

Hayes: “I remember, Tali,”

he says, his voice quieter, more earnest, than normal. I swallow.

Tali: “Yeah, me too,”

I whisper, reaching for my bag. Tali: “Thanks for bringing me,”

I say, swinging my bag over my shoulder.

Tali: “It was fun.”

Hayes: “I’m glad you came,”

he replies. Our eyes meet.

Hayes: “That wasn’t meant to be a double entendre.”

I laugh. He beat me to the joke. Matt: “I didn’t come here to fight. I miss you.”

Tali: “I don’t miss you,”

I reply. I’m not even saying it to hurt him. It’s simply the truth. I missed the idea of Matt and the security of having someone, but I’m not sure I ever actually missed him. And I’m certainly not missing him now. This conversation is just making me ashamed I stayed with him as long as I did. He laughs, incredulous. The arrogance that seemed to take hold in New York has clearly flourished here.

Matt: “I don’t believe you. What could this guy have that I don’t?”

Tali: “Brains. And morals.”

Height and a big dick, too, but I manage to keep those to myself. Tali: “Here,”

I say, placing my hands on his shoulders, which are...so fucking nice. Broad and rounded muscle, perfect for anatomy drawings and Men’s Health covers. I begin to rub.

Hayes: “Tali,”

he says, a warning in his voice. And then he groans.

Hayes: “My God. How are you so good at this? I’d have had you do this every day if I’d known.”

Tali: “It’s not a standard thing I offer employers, oddly enough. But I guess that argument no longer applies given that I don’t usually blow my employers either.”

He lurches forward, out of my grasp, elbows on his knees and his head in his hands.

Hayes: “Jesus Christ. You need a warning bell on your mouth sometimes.” Tali: “Should I joke about ordering my own flowers, or do you already expect that?”

His mouth nuzzles my neck, nipping at the skin.

Hayes: “After last weekend, post-coital awkwardness on your part is kind of a given.”

Tali: “On my part?”

I pull up, elbow in the bed, to look at him.

Tali: “You’ve been the one with a stick up your ass all week. Today especially.”

Hayes: “Because I was trying to fucking behave,”

he growls.

Hayes: “And then you drove me off the edge, talking about blow jobs whilst rubbing my shoulders.” The point was never whether or not I could trust again, because love isn’t an exchange. It’s not something you hand out only if it can be returned in equal measure. Love is handing your fragile heart to someone else because you want him to have it, no matter what he’ll do in response. You do it because you love him more than you love yourself. Tali: “Yes,”

I finally whisper. His face breaks into a wide, relieved smile, and he tugs me against him.

Hayes: “You’re sure? You haven’t even seen the ring yet.”

Tali: “It doesn’t matter what the ring looks like,”

Hayes: “Jonathan said the diamond was too big. I suggested you quite like big things.”

I laugh shakily.

Tali: “Did you really just allude to your dick in a marriage proposal?”

Hayes: “You already said yes,”

he says with a quick grin, as he pulls my mouth to his.

Hayes: “You can’t take it back.”

 


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