Home > Cherish Hard (Hard Play #1)(4)

Cherish Hard (Hard Play #1)(4)
Author: Nalini Singh


“Cody,” she said with a probably evil smile, her back pressed to the cold of the classroom wall and her eyes facing the window through which she’d ogled the hot gardener. “It’s been a long time.” Time she’d spent burying the memory of this ass and the night he’d humiliated her.

“Yeah,” Cody said with a warmth she’d once assumed was real. “I guess you wiped my number from your phone, huh?”

Ísa blinked, shook her head. Slimeballs were clearly deficient in the brain-cell department. Had he honestly expected her not to go nuclear on him after what he’d said and done?

“No job’s worth prostituting myself!” he’d said mockingly in the moments before that final, humiliating “tub of lard” comment. “You should’ve bought me a Ferrari, fatty. Then maybe I could’ve forced myself to do it.”

What a prize.

Not.

None of that even factored in the worst thing: the day after dumping her in the nastiest way possible, Cody had hooked up with the stunning blonde who’d made it her business to torment Ísa through their high school years. “Was there anything in particular you wanted, Cody?” Like a kick in the backside?

Her curt and businesslike tone seemed to startle him for a second.

When he finally spoke, he said, “Suzanne and I wanted to tell you before the news hits the world. I know we still have some of the same friends.”

That much was true. Though most of those people were shared acquaintances rather than true friends. The latter wouldn’t touch Cody with a ten-foot pole.

“Suzanne and I are pregnant!”

“I didn’t realize you had a uterus,” Ísa said, even as the meaning of his words filtered down to create a big fat lump of coal in her stomach.

“Huh?” A chuckle. “Oh, you’re being funny. You always were funny.”

Biting back further snarky remarks—Had he been this vacuous when they’d dated? Had she been that desperate?—Ísa said, “I hope the baby is healthy and that the pregnancy goes well.” It wasn’t the poor child’s fault it would have Slimeball Schumer and Suzanne for parents.

That you couldn’t choose your parents was a truth Ísa knew far too well.

“Thanks,” Cody said cheerfully. “We’re getting married too. I just… Anyway, Suzanne really wanted you to know.”

“I hope you two have the life you deserve.” She hung up before he could say anything further.

Then she just stood there, staring at the wall around the windows across from her. That wall had been painted by the art students who’d had her classroom before the school turned it into an English class—the art class had been moved to a location with much better light. Colorful and bright in its interpretative splashes of pigment, the wall suited an English class. Or that was what Ísa had always thought.

She could point to it—and did—to demonstrate how any piece of art, including poetry and novels, could be seen in many different ways depending on the eye of the beholder. At this instant, she saw it only as a smudge of color, Cody’s words reverberating inside her. Her cheeks flushed, her heart raced, and her knees, they threatened to shake.

Snark, it appeared, could only protect you for so long.

Even reminding herself that Suzanne was clearly clinging desperately to her past Queen Bitch status had zero impact.

“I don’t love him, not even a little bit,” she said, and it was true.

The hopeful, innocent thing she’d felt for Cody had died a final death that horrible night when he’d ripped her to pieces and laughed at her pain. She’d given him her battered, bruised heart and he’d kicked it.

Ísa wasn’t stupid enough to hold a torch for a man capable of such casual cruelty.

But marriage and children and a stable home base—not only for herself but for her much younger sister, Catie, and brother, Harlow—that had always been her dream. It was why she was putting herself through the hell of online dating with the precision of a business merger to end all business mergers.

With her students on vacation since the end of the previous week and Ísa having no real obligation to come into school until her night classes began, her diary currently looked like that of a hyperactive serial dater, one who was heavily overcaffeinated at this point.

 

* * *

 

Monday morning: Coffee with Manuel. Dark haired, dark eyed. Likes novels and poetry. Fingers crossed!

Postmortem: Did like books and poetry. Also liked the waitress, with whom he made a date while I was sitting in front of him. Then asked me if I was “open to exploring my sexuality without boundaries.”

 

* * *

 

Monday afternoon: Coffee with Beau. Five foot nine. Blond. Mechanic. Comes across non-douchey in online conversation.

Postmortem: Non-douchiness was a front.

 

* * *

 

Monday night:Coffee with Carl. Sweet guy who likes gaming. That’s okay—if he’s the one, I can read while he games.

Postmortem: His current game was so hot he couldn’t step away from the computer to come meet me. Didn’t message me until I’d been waiting for twenty minutes. Can never go back to that café.

 

* * *

 

Tuesday morning: Coffee with Henry. Five foot seven. Brown hair. Lawyer. Seems very practical and sensible and sweet.

Postmortem: Thank God I only ever agree to meet for coffee on the first date. The man spent the entire date on the phone, talking business. If he can’t even commit to a half-hour coffee date, I don’t think he’d be able to commit to a wife and child.

 

* * *

 

Tuesday evening: Coffee with Tana. Six foot one. Some kind of finance job. Doesn’t say much online, but some people aren’t good at online conversation. Doesn’t seem like a serial killer.

Postmortem: No chemistry. He gave me his business card in case I want to invest in the future.

 

* * *

 

Wednesday morning: Coffee with Wyatt. Thirty-three. Has a name like a cowboy. Wants to work on a farm.

Postmortem: Wyatt forgot to add forty years to his age when setting up his profile. Also forgot to state his photo was from a few decades back. Not ageist but would really like my future husband to have his own teeth.

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