I have a sick, twisted, fucked up mind. Hey, I’m Leo Maddox. All that comes with the territory. But I am who I am…and it’s not really who I want to be. I’ve been trying to break free from my own personal stereotype my entire life. Nothing ever seems to change. But I’ve come to my breaking point. Either change or give up.
And I will never give up.
So here goes…
* * *
I woke up in a cold sweat, gasping for a decent breath. One brutal image played on repeat in my mind. The girl I loved—the girl I’d loved my entire life—with her plump little lips circling another man’s…
Well, you get the idea.
And he wasn’t just any man. In the dream, the man was her husband. Somehow that made this vision even more brutal for me. He was a dorky husband too. Glasses. Not that there is anything wrong with glasses. On occasion I wear them myself. Polo Shirt—that he still wore during their horrific love-making act. Silver Prius parked outside in their moderately sized driveway. Why the Prius stood out in my mind? Who knows? Like I said, my mind can be a weird, strange place.
And Clara was happy. She was happily married to this dorky sap from my dream. They were trying to get pregnant. She wanted to start a family. Meanwhile, my life was exactly the same—boring, repetitive, and painfully empty. Painfully lonely.
But I guess, on the bright side, I still had tons and tons of money.
Ugh. I crawled out of bed—distraught, angry, and sick to my stomach—and I stumbled across the penthouse room, my bare feet on hardwood floor. I despised this floor. Hardwood was for dining rooms and entry ways, not bedrooms. It pissed me off, as many random things always tended to do. I reached the bar cart, but, fuck me, it was empty. Of course it was empty. I never kept liquor in my room because I couldn’t handle that sort of temptation. But in this moment, I regretted my personal rule. Well…maybe the ‘no alcohol thing’ was more of a personal guideline. Still, I never kept it where I slept.
I glanced out my window, scratching at an old scar on the underside of my arm. The shining lights of New York City were pretty damn amazing. Pouring myself a glass of water instead of the vodka I really craved, I stared at everything in miniature form. Looking at it all almost calmed me. Almost, but not really. The city was too fast paced and I always felt fast paced while here. I needed something slower before I snapped.
Reaching for my phone, I called my personal assistant, Regina.
It was late. (Or early?) But she answered after only one ring. “Morning, Mr. Maddox. What can I do for you?” her groggy but polite voice asked.
“I need the jet ready for Blue Creek.”
“Blue Creek?” she repeated as if I’d told her I wanted her to go to Jupiter. “But the reopening is Sunday,” she urged.
I didn’t bother responding. Frankly, it bothered the shit out of me that she even questioned me. After a moment, she must have understood why she was getting silence and she muttered, “I’ll make the arrangements, sir.”
“Thanks. Call me when we can leave.”
I clicked off my phone, tossing it on the bed. I needed to pack. But what do you pack to impress a girl who fucking hates your entire existence?
Suits. You pack suits.
Things move fast when you have money. Snap your fingers and people respond.
By the time I finished packing, the jet was fueled and ready. My driver sped Regina and I to JFK airport and the next thing I knew we were boarding my father’s private plane—leaving New York City behind for Blue Creek, Virginia. Regina didn’t usually come with me on my personal trips, but we were in a time crunch with the reopening happening in less than two days. I needed her with me as a way to kill two birds with one stone. This impromptu trip wasn’t like me either. Work always came first. But after this morning’s brutal yet enlightening dream, I realized that there were more important things than reopenings or my father’s dreams. Or even my grandfather’s dreams. My future was at stake. I could feel it in my bones. I had to be in Blue Creek tonight. I just had to be.
My driver’s license said I belonged to New York. And I suppose if you took one look at me, you’d agree. I lived in upper class, upper Manhattan where standards were high and people’s superiority complexes were even higher. That was my world. Well…that was my world ninety percent of the time. The other ten percent of the time I belonged to the little town of Blue Creek, Virginia. Blue Creek was a whole other planet, a lesser planet, but I loved it. I loved the fresh air, the slower pace of life, and the dewy smell of fresh cut grass on Reed Ryder’s perfectly manicured golf course. As far as appearances and pretenses go, I was a Manhattanite through and through. But I ached when I was away from Blue Creek—probably because Blue Creek was my only tie to the girl I loved.
Growing up, I spent summers in Virginia and the rest of my time in NYC. Reed Ryder (you know, that professional golfer famous in the late 90’s) was my father’s best friend. Way back in the day, my father helped Reed start a little resort/country club in the middle-of-no-where, southern Virginia. Beautiful country. Beautiful golf club. But after my mom, the gold-digging bitch that she was, decided to abandon us, my father and I spent less and less time in Virginia and more and more time everywhere else.
These days, Blue Creek meant absolutely nothing to my father. In fact, he loathed the small town. He still cared for his best friend, but other than our annual Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner with the Ryder family in Blue Creek, my old man never went back. And then this past Christmas, for the first time ever, we spent our holiday in Southern France, far far away from the Ryder family.
It was the worst fucking Christmas on record.
So when my father put his Blue Creek house up for sale, ready to write off Blue Creek once and for all, I bought the house. It was ten-thousand square feet sitting unused on the edge of Reed’s golf course and it was mine. Now all I needed to do was tear the place up and renovate.
The plane touched down, bringing my thoughts to the present. As we taxied across the small runaway, I considered how this evening might play out.
Reed was holding one of his parties. He always held plenty of these parties in his country club’s ballroom. And I loathe them. Which didn’t make much sense given the fact that I loved wearing a tailored, expensive-as-hell new suit. I loved the cusp between sober and drunk. I loved to dance. And I loved the Ryder family. Maybe my real problem with these parties wasn’t actually the party, but instead the fact that it was always sheer torture watching Clara talking to and dancing with anyone but me.
So, my grand plan tonight was to ask Clara to dance. I never had before. It would be new territory for us, and because of our family ties, I knew she’d feel obligated to say yes. Then—while she had her arms wrapped tightly around me—I’d whisper something special to her. I still need to figure out what that special something is. She’d suddenly see me in a brand new light. She’d see the real Leo buried underneath my designer suits and pretenses, and fall madly in love. Simple, right?
Shit. Not simple.
My plan sucked.
I needed to come up with a better one between now and then. Maybe Maggie could help me.
My whole life I’d been best friends with Maggie Ryder. Reed had two daughters. Maggie and Clara. Identical twins. Well, identical in looks alone. Maggie was the good twin. The safe twin. She was polite and kind. And she was extremely easy to be friends with. That said a lot, since I was extremely difficult to be friends with. Maggie could handle my different moods, take my bullshit, and at the end of the day still make me laugh. How easy life would be if I could simply love Maggie instead of Clara?
But I couldn’t. And I would never. Because I only saw Clara.
“What’s our schedule going to be like?” Regina asked. She always needed a schedule and she always needed us to stay on it exactly. Suddenly, I regretted bringing her along with me. It would have been better to have her eyes and ears back in New York City. I guess my brain hadn’t been functioning properly this morning when I insisted she come. Shit. Not to mention, my dad was going to have a stroke when he realized I’d just up and left.
I glanced at my watch. It was already almost noon. We’d lost half the day.
“I’ll have the car drop me at Reed’s house. You head on over to my place, get settled in the guest house, order us some lunch, and I’ll be there in an hour so we can start breaking down the schedule for Sunday.”
She didn’t look happy at the prospect of us being separated for an hour. Regina was needy and work obsessed. But she said nothing and simply nodded.
When the car dropped me in front of Reed’s house, I took the deepest breath of Virginia air that I could manage. Would Clara be home right now? Was she even living with Reed this summer? She, Maggie, and I were all the same age. I dropped out of college after my freshman year. But Maggie and Clara, both much better students than I, would have just finished their junior year at Virginia Tech. I knew that much, but not much more. I never asked about Clara because I was the only one who knew of my own personal, life-long, life-altering crush on the girl. I kept my feelings close to my heart and let no one else near that.
“Leonardo!” Reed roared when I knocked on the front door. He engulfed me in an immediate hug. “It’s been months. You look taller.”
“I feel like shit,” I muttered into his shoulder as he held onto me a second longer. “I didn’t sleep last night.”
The thing about Reed was…he was incredibly easy to be honest with. He didn’t judge or belittle the way my father did. He listened. “Is Leo Jr. working you too much?” he asked, concerned.
“Nah. I am working a lot, but it’s all my own doing. I came today for a small break. I leave tomorrow.”
He frowned. “I worry about you.”
“I’m okay. Just tired today.”
He gave me a look.
I returned his hard stare. “Seriously, I’m okay. I feel better just being here.”
Reed might not have known about my feelings for his daughter, but he knew everything else about me. He knew because he cared. He noticed when everyone else ignored my behavior. “Good,” he said, sighing. “That’s really good to hear. And I’m glad you came here for a break. You’re always welcome. Anyway, c’mon on in.”
I followed him inside, shrugging out of my suit jacket. I dropped it by the front door. It was too damn hot for all my usual layers. “Is Maggie home?” I asked.
He shook his head no as we entered the kitchen. It smelled like something delicious was cooking in the oven. Reed was an amazing cook. Being a single father meant he’d had to learn how on his own years ago. But instead of learning how to cook only simple, basic meals—the man took cooking to the extreme. The same way he mastered everything he did, Reed was a master chef.
“You missed Maggie by about two minutes. She got all dressed up for tonight’s party then left to get her hair done. She hasn’t taken this new ‘Clara and Andrew’ development very well.”
I cleared my throat. Had I heard him correctly?
“Did you just say Clara and Andrew? As in Andrew Wellington? Maggie’s Andrew?”
Andrew Wellington, aka Shit for Brains, was Maggie’s ex-boyfriend. I thought when they split up months ago, that was going to be the last time I’d ever have to hear his stupid name.
“Yes,” Reed clarified. “Sorry, did you not know? I figured Maggie would have told you by now. Clara is dating Andrew. They started seeing each other about a week ago, but they’ve been inseparable since. Clara’s bringing Andrew as her date this evening. And I have a feeling the shit’s going to hit the fan tonight.”
My heart plummeted to the floor. I was going to be sick.
No, the shit had already hit the fan. My nightmare had become reality.
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