Home > Cherish Hard (Hard Play #1)(5)

Cherish Hard (Hard Play #1)(5)
Author: Nalini Singh


 

* * *

 

Wednesday afternoon: Coffee with Gareith with an i in there. Okay, parents gave him the name so can’t judge him on it. Manager at grocery store. Seems very normal. I am afraid.

Postmortem: He changed his name to Gareith Atlas Bonemaker on his eighteenth birthday and thinks the Great Bonemaker has PLANS for him to LEAD a REVOLUTION.

 

* * *

 

Wednesday night: Midweek sanity check with Nayna. Some best friend. Snorted wine out of her nose after hearing of Wyatt + Gareith situation. Then forced me to make more dates.

 

* * *

 

Thursday morning: Tea with Ken. No more coffee. Brown hair. Will wear rose in lapel so I recognize him. That’s kind of cute.

Postmortem: Am in shock. He was good-looking, articulate, and polite. Of course we had zero chemistry. Maybe I need to have my hormones checked.

 

* * *

 

Thursday afternoon: Tea with Stuart. Rocking a bald look. Sexy. Likes dogs.

Postmortem: Wore dog collar. Wanted me to walk him and call him Woofy. Am sure he will find right woman one day.

 

* * *

 

It was only Friday of her first full week of dating, and Ísa was already exhausted. Which was why she hadn’t made any further dates. But she would. Because sitting around and waiting for the right man to come along was a recipe for ending up without the life she’d always wanted.

Marriage by thirty. A child by thirty-two. All of it drenched in love.

That was Ísa’s timeline, and she was sticking to it. She had two years to make the first part of it happen. But while, after a lifetime of learning not to depend on anyone, she was still scrambling to find a man she trusted to stick around, Slimeball Schumer was about to have all those things with the girl who’d tortured Ísa for years.

It just seemed so deeply unfair.

Ísa barely restrained the urge to kick the nearest piece of furniture. Maybe, she thought hopefully, fate would throw her a bone and have it rain on Cody and Suzanne’s wedding day. Complete with hail. And flying toads. And a truck that sprayed mud on the bride’s conceited face.

The vengeful visual kept her company as she closed the door to her classroom. Her phone rang again right then, the sound echoing through the empty hallway. Wanting to bang her head against the wall as she recognized that ominous ringtone, Ísa briefly considered just getting on a plane and flying back to Iceland. She’d been happy there, spoke the language, and neither one of her parents currently used it as their home base.

Perfect. Except that she’d be abandoning Catie and Harlow to the Dragon. And that was the one thing Ísa would never do. Whatever road she took in life, she was bringing her siblings along with her.

The phone kept ringing.

Jacqueline Rain, CEO of Crafty Corners and various other enterprises, didn’t know the meaning of giving up.

“Hello, Mother.”

“Ísa, I wanted to make sure you remembered the board meeting today.”

Ísa did bang her forehead against the wall at that. “I have no reason to attend the board meeting.”

“You’re a thirty percent shareholder.”

Only because you forced the shares on me on my twenty-first birthday. “I’m sure you can represent my interests.”

“I have no time for this, Ísa. Make sure you’re present.” Jacqueline hung up.

Gritting her teeth, Ísa thought fiercely of the meditation technique she’ d learned at the Buddhist retreat Nayna had booked them into last year. Ísa’s best friend hadn’t realized the retreat was being held at a silent monastery until they’d arrived and been shown the rules.

They’d lasted four hours. Enough to learn the basics.

But it turned out you couldn’t mutter angrily under your breath about dragons and swords and still find your Zen.

The worst of it was that Jacqueline wasn’t simply being abrasive and aggravating. No, Ísa’s mother knew exactly what she was doing, knew she had Ísa over a barrel because of Harlow and Catie.

As if the thought had conjured her sister out of thin air, her phone beeped with an incoming message: Aren’t you seeing the Dragon today? Wear your fireproof armor.

Smiling despite herself, she messaged Catie. She didn’t know how her sister did it; despite not living in the same city as Ísa or Jacqueline, she was always up to date with the news and gossip. Part of it was Catie’s close bond with Harlow, but equally important was Catie’s ability to make friends wherever she went—including at Jacqueline’s company.

Message sent, she shoved her phone into her satchel and strode down the hallway; her footfalls echoed in the eerily empty space… and the niggling seed of righteous fury bloomed into full flower once more. Not just because of Jacqueline’s blatant manipulation but at the memory of Cody and Suzanne’s happiness.

As a bullied teen, Ísa had comforted herself with the thought of Suzanne becoming a sad, lonely woman with no friends—and no hair. Teenage Ísa had thought the latter the worst possible punishment for a girl who had the habit of flinging her waist-length blond locks around like she was in a shampoo commercial.

Fuming for her poor teenage self, she made sure to set the alarm system and lock up. Principal Cafferty had made it clear Ísa would be the last person in this building after the principal herself left just after five. Everyone else was already well into their summer vacation—even the other night-class teachers would only come in for their hours of teaching; the sole reason Ísa was here was because she hadn’t been able to work on her lesson plans at home.

Her upstairs neighbor was having repairs done to her bathroom that required banging and hammering.

Not all of it involved nails and wood.

Hopefully the repairs would be finished by now. There was only so much ecstatic orgasmic screaming that a single woman in online-dating purgatory could stand without being driven to violence.

She spotted the tan-colored gardening truck the instant she came down the front steps of the school’s imposing redbrick main building and turned left to head toward her car. The hot gardener had parked it right next to her zippy blue compact. The front of the truck had four doors with tinted windows while the large bed was piled with shovels and other manly tools as well as a huge sack of clippings.

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