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He’s probably just frustrated over this whole Seattle mess, so he overreacted, and maybe I did, too. As a result of my annoyance with Hardin’s rude comments and his ruining our . . . moment in the hot tub, I need a hot shower. Seconds later the water begins to work against my strained muscles, relaxing my nerves and clearing my head. We both overreacted, him more than me, and the argument was so unnecessary. I reach for the shampoo. And then realize I was so rattled while getting away from him that I forgot to grab my toiletry bag. Great.

“Hardin?” I call. I doubt he can hear me over the shower and hot tub, but I pull the floral shower curtain back and watch for him just in case. When he doesn’t appear in the doorway after a few seconds, I grab my towel and wrap it around my body. Trailing water into the bedroom, I reach the suitcases lying on the bed, when I hear Hardin’s voice.

I can’t quite hear what he’s saying, but I catch his tone of false niceness, which tells me he’s trying to be polite and not show his frustration. Which tells me that this conversation is something he deems important enough to not act like himself.

I pad quietly across the wooden floor, and since he’s on speaker, I hear someone say, “Because I’m a Realtor, and my job is to fill empty apartments.”

Hardin sighs. “Well, do you have any more empty apartments to fill?” he asks.

Wait, Hardin’s trying to get me an apartment? I’m as shocked as I am excited at the thought. He’s finally coming around to the idea of Seattle, and he’s actually trying to help me instead of push against me. For once.

The woman on the other end, who, I realize, has a very familiar voice, replies, “You gave me the impression that your friend Tessa was not someone I should be wasting my time giving an apartment to.”

What? Wait . . . is that . . . ?

He wouldn’t.

“Here’s the thing . . . she isn’t as bad as I made her out to be. She hasn’t actually trashed any apartments or left without paying,” he says, and my stomach turns.

He did.

I burst through the doors to the deck. “You sick, selfish bastard!” I scream, the first words that come to mind.

Hardin spins to me, face paling, mouth opening wide. His phone tumbles to the floor, and he just stares at me like I’m some terrible creature who’s come to destroy him.

“Hello?” Sandra’s voice says through the speaker, and he reaches down to grab his phone to silence her.

Anger courses through me. “How could you? How could you do that?”

“I—” he begins.

“No! Don’t even waste my time with an excuse! What the hell were you thinking?” I yell with one arm sweeping in his direction violently.

I storm back into the bedroom, and he follows me, pleading, “Tessa, listen to me.”

I turn around, feeling wounded, and strong, and hurt, and enraged. “No! You listen to me, Hardin,” I say through my teeth, trying to lower my voice. But I can’t. “I’m so sick of this, I’m sick of you trying to sabotage everything in my life that doesn’t revolve around you!” I scream, balling my fists tightly at my sides.

“That’s not what I—”

“Shut up! Shut the hell up! You are the most selfish, arrogant—you’re just . . . ugh!” I can’t think straight; angry words fly from my mouth, my hands moving through the air in front of me.

“I don’t know what I was thinking. I was trying to clear it up just now.”

I shouldn’t be so surprised, really. I should have known that Hardin was behind Sandra’s sudden disappearance. He doesn’t know when to stop meddling in my life, my career, and I’m sick of it.

“Exactly; this is exactly what I’m talking about. You’re always doing something. You’re always hiding something. You’re always finding new ways to try to control every single thing I do, and I can’t take it anymore! This is too much.” I can’t help but pace back and forth across the room, and Hardin watches me with cautious eyes. “I can handle you being a little overprotective, and I can handle you getting in a fight now and then. Hell, I can even handle you being a complete asshole half the time, because deep down I always knew you were doing what you thought was best for me. But not this. You’re trying to ruin my future—and I won’t fucking have it.”

“I’m sorry,” he says. And I know that he means it, but—

“You’re always fucking sorry! It’s always the same shit: you do something, hide something, say something, I cry, you say you’re sorry, and bam! All is forgiven.” I point a harsh finger at him. “But not this time.”

I have the urge to slap Hardin right across his face, but I look around for something to take my anger out on instead. I grab a frilly pillow from the bed and throw it onto the floor. Then I throw a second one. It doesn’t do much for the anger flaming inside me, but I’d feel even worse if I destroyed anything of Karen’s.

This is so exhausting. I don’t know how much more I can take before I break.

Fuck that, I won’t break. I’m sick of breaking—that’s all I ever do. I need to pick up my own pieces, put them back together neatly, and hide them away from Hardin to keep them from ending up in a pile at his feet again.

“I’m sick of the endless cycle. I’ve told you before, and you don’t listen. You find new ways to continue the cycle, and I’m done, I’m so fucking done!”

I don’t know if I’ve ever been this angry at him. Yes, he’s done worse things, but I’ve always moved on from that. We were never in a place like this before, a place where I thought he was done hiding things from me, and I thought he understood that he can’t mess with my career. This chance means everything to me. I’ve spent my life watching what happens to a woman who has nothing of her own. My mother never had anything that she herself earned, anything that was hers, and I need that. I need to do this. I need this chance to prove that even though I’m young, I can make a life for myself that my mother never could make for herself. I can’t let anyone take this from me, the way my mother let it slip from her.

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