The Hating Game
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“I’ve been wondering since I met you—granted, only minutes ago—what you’ve got under this shirt. My goodness, your body. But I want you for your mind, and your heart. Not this impressive disguise.”
He looks at the ceiling. “I think I’ll paint my bedroom this weekend. I’ll probably feel annoyed the whole time I do it. And I’ll happily farewell my current girlfriend, a tall boring blonde called Mindy Thailis. She’s not you and it eats me up. It makes the fact I sleep alone and desperately celibate in this Lucy-blue room even more romantic when I eventually tell you.”
He slides me in between his sheets and spoons behind me. My cheek is pillowed on his bicep, and he kisses the side of my neck. I’m shivering.
“Sounds like a good plan. It’ll pay off. Desperately, huh? So, pray tell, what is the aim of the Starting Over Game?”
“The same as all the others. For you to love me.”
“Mine was to make you smile. How lame.”
“I laughed my ass off every day on the drive home from work, if it makes you feel any better.”
“I guess. But you’ve won. I’m going to have to know forever you’ve won all the games.” I’m sure my mouth probably has a sulky pout to it. He rolls me onto my stomach and begins to kiss up my spine.
“Do you trust me now that you know everything?”
For a moment we shimmer against each other; my skin trembling for the touch of his lips.
“Yes. And if you get the job, I will be happy for you.”
“I already resigned. My last day was Friday. Jeanette came in and did the paperwork. I’m on vacation now.”
“What the fuck?” I blurt into his bed.
“I don’t want anything that means I can’t have you. There’s nothing worth it.”
“But I didn’t have a chance to compete against you.” I don’t know whether to laugh or scream.
“You still have to do your interview against the other candidates. From what I’ve heard, one of them is a real contender. The independent panel might decide you’re completely incompetent.”
I elbow him and he laughs.
“But you’ll always know you could have gotten it. When we fight I’ll be worried you’ll bring it up.”
“I’ve worked out a solution. Something so Machiavellian even you will deem it a perfect solution. It retains all of the competitive bullshit we thrive on.”
“I’m scared to ask.”
“I’m the new divisional finance head of Sanderson Print. B and G’s most bitter rival.”
“Josh. What? No.”
“I know! I’m an evil mastermind!” He drops a kiss to my nape and I squirm away and roll over.
“How on earth did you manage that?” I feel faint.
“They’ve been pestering me for ages about coming over for a chat. So I did, and I told them I wanted to work on their completely fucked-up financial situation before they completely fold. They said okay. No one was more surprised than me, but I hid it well.”
“Is that why you took a day off?”
“Yeah. And I needed to buy you a Matchbox car. They took forever to give me my formal offer. That’s why I never needed help to beat you. I didn’t want to beat you.”
I smooth my hand over his shoulder, the glorious curve of his arm. “So that’s that.”
“I had to make a few conflict of interest statements.”
“Such as?” I watch his eyes crinkle in memory.
“I disclosed that I’ll be in love with the soon-to-be chief operating officer of B and G.”
I can just imagine him telling them, cool and calm.
“You didn’t. Were they okay with that?”
“My new boss seemed to think it was kind of sweet. Everyone’s a romantic. I had to sign some nondisclosure stuff. If I tell you anything, I will be sued. Luckily, I have a good poker face when it comes to you.”
“Oh man, how angry was Mr. Bexley? He’s not a romantic.”
“Furious. He was on the verge of calling security. Thankfully Helene came in and defused things. Once I told them my reasons for leaving, they were pretty understanding. Helene said she’s always known it.”
“I had one weekend left to make you love me.”
I gape in horror. “You didn’t tell them that.”
“Yes. You should have seen Jeanette’s face.”
“Pretty big gamble, Josh. Hell in a handbasket.”
“It paid off, thankfully.”
He’s pressing his mouth to my skin and sighing, breathing, like I’m a dream he never wants to wake from. He’s breathing me in like he’s a filthy addict.
“Can you be sure that you won’t resent me one day? You’ve given up a big chance, Josh.”
“I’ll be buried in numbers all day long. I can continue my crusade to save one publishing house from financial ruin at a time.”
“Please try not to make people cry anymore. It’s time for you to be your true self. You’re a Mr. Nice Guy.”
“I make no guarantees. But for me, this role at Sanderson is honestly a better fit. The best part is, it means I’ll be coming home to you on my couch every night. I couldn’t have gotten this decision more right if I tried.”
“Every night? Well, I can’t on the long weekend. I’m going to Sky Diamonds for the week. I don’t suppose you’re busy then.”
“Take me with you,” he says in between kisses on my shoulders. “I know the way. I’ve mapped the journey. Flights and hire cars. I’ll grovel to your dad. I know exactly what I’ll say.”
“I don’t get it with you and that place.”
“I need to go there so I can start at the beginning. So that I can know everything about you.”
“You sure do love strawberries.”
“I love you, Lucy Hutton. So much, you have no idea. Please be my best friend.”
I’m so ridiculously in love. I decide to try it out loud. “I’m in love with Joshua Templeman.”
His reply is a whisper in my ear. “Finally.”
I pull back. “I’m going to have to change my computer password.”