Astrid woke early the next morning, deciding to take a swim before the household rose. The fact Cal Sr. thought so little of her made her want to flaunt her relationship instead of running scared. Who did that man think he was?
Calder cheered her up after arguing with Cal Sr., but he was also surprised she chose to spend the night. She meant what she’d said. Why give his uptight family her backside when watching them squirm in discomfort better revenge? Besides the mind-blowing sex, she’d made sure everyone knew what took place in his room, wanting Cal Sr. to see how strong Calder was by not leaving. Together, they could snub his shitty family into remembering not everything revolved around money.
The pool was exactly the exercise needed to clear her head. It was after nine when she dragged her pruned body out of the warm water, feeling invigorated. She closed her eyes after wrapping a towel around her torso, enjoying the peaceful sounds of nature, although being at an enormous mansion in the middle of nowhere kinda freaked her out.
A back deck slider opened, and Julia strolled out wearing a silky outfit. She sat in a chair beside the pool and Astrid ignored her, continuing to dry off.
“You have a strong form,” Julia tightly admitted, “I watched you swim.”
“That’s creepy. What do you want?” She asked, hiding her apprehension.
She toyed with her designer skirt, “Why are you with Junior? You realize Cal Sr. will drive you two apart, don’t you? He does it every time his sons bring home fresh meat.”
“Why do you care?” she retorted, “Why should I even talk to you? You’re having an affair with my ex-boyfriend.”
She frowned, and her forehead didn’t move, “Excuse me?”
“Remy? I know you’ve seen him. At your gym? At a damn hotel?” Astrid saw the confusion on the woman’s Botox face, “He’s tall with dirty blonde hair, hazel eyes, wicked in bed?”
“You’re referring to Mike,” Julia glanced at the house, “He told me his name is Mike.”
She knelt in front of the woman Remy conned. Julia’s expressions ranged from embarrassment to arrogance. She considered herself above Astrid.
“What else did Remy tell you?” She softly questioned, “It’s normal to be mad. He tricked you to get to me.”
“Why?” Julia tossed her pale locks, “What do you possess that I don’t have in abundance? Mike’s a terrific fuck. You must be too, having their attention. Calder’s acting like a fool over you.”
“He’s respectful,” she cried in frustration, “He and I care for each other! Did you not marry Chris for love?”
Julia leaned forward, ripping off her sunglasses to give Astrid a glare a snake couldn’t imitate, “My marriage is none of your business, little girl.”
“Fair enough, but what did Remy tell you?” Astrid had it with this woman, “What does he keep seeing you?”
She smirked, “He told me his girlfriend was cheating on him and needed help.”
“With what?” Astrid bit out.
“A few legal matters,” she shrugged coyly, “I introduced him to a lawyer. The rest is Mike being the best booty eater in the city.”
Astrid stood up, ignoring the pang of jealousy in her chest, “You should be careful, Julia. He has a mean streak.”
“So do I, little girl,” she coolly replied before sauntering into the house.
Astrid sat in the vacated chair, confused and pissed off. Julia was a bitch for sure, but why wasn’t the woman angry Remy used her? She didn’t understand the Lewises callous lifestyle or how they acted as if tearing each other down considered normal behavior.
The next person to come outside, to her dismay, was Cal Sr. who showed no outward animosity as he casually stopped in front of her. “Having a good morning?”
She pulled the towel up to cover her bikini-clad breast, “Yes?”
“It surprised me you stayed overnight.”
“Why? Did you hope I’d disappear, Mr. Lewis? Sorry to disappoint.”
“I doubt that. Especially from all the racket coming out of Calder’s bedroom last night,” he gave her a hard once over, and she shivered, “Junior finds diamonds in the rough, so to speak.”
“I don’t like the way you’re speaking,” she hurled back but refused to run inside even though every bone in her body screamed to escape the man’s leer.
Cal Sr. was an attractive man, she mused, positive he had plastic surgery or Botox treatments. Maybe he and Julia made a day out of it. His cold green eyes chilled her. They pierced her not sexually, but carnivorously. Smashing her spirit would only be the start of his power-hungry breakfast, she scornfully thought.
He put his hands in the air, “How am I speaking? You’re a very forward woman, Astrid. Is that why my son thinks he cares for you?”
She jumped out of the chair, “Mr. Lewis, stop playing word and head games with me. I know what you’re doing.”
His eyes roamed up and down her exposed legs. She seriously disliked this man. His creepy smirk made her feel like a whore. An unpaid one at that.
“I’m trying to save my son some fucking drama,” Cal Sr.’s voice dripped with a consequential warning, “Your involvement with that other fellow isn’t over, is it? Calder will never give you what I’m sure you’re after.”
“Do you hear yourself? You know nothing about me, or your son for that matter. Are you suggesting I’m after his money?” She laughed harshly when he rose a haughty eyebrow, “You’re a pathetic man who needs to take a long hard look at his life before you die alone.”
His cheeks stained bright red. She smirked at the surprise on his face while telling him off, certain no one ever put this arrogant ass in his place. Astrid was no longer an employee and sure as hell would not cower after everything Calder had done for her. His father didn’t understand how special he was.
“You’re just some girl that fucks around!” He sneered, body twitching as if he wanted to storm off or strike her, “An ugly piece of—”
Astrid spun on her heels as Calder stormed over, relieved and not at the same time for his interference. The argument was completely her fault. She should have walked away the second Cal Sr. came outside, knowing he had it out for her.
“Do you think treating Astrid like you are will make me want anything to do with this family?” he shouted, “You’re unbelievable! Why don’t you disown me already? I’ll get by just fine without being subjected to this type of blatant disrespect. Are you deliberately pushing me so I’ll leave the firm?”
Cal Sr. gaped at his sons’ outburst. “No,” he softly replied, shaking his head, “That’s not what this is.”
“Apologize to Astrid,” he huffed, “You owe us both one for acting as if you have a say in my personal life. Astrid’s an honest and good woman who I stand by. Father, you can’t mold me into what you want.”
The man glanced at Astrid who stood behind Calder clutching the towel tightly to her chest. She swallowed, angry not for the cheap shots Cal Sr. fired her way, but for Calder, never wanting to cause a rift in his family or job. She didn’t belong. Pure and simple. The Lewises would never accept her. Remy had been right. She was fooling herself. Even if his dad apologized, she would still be a pariah. He would constantly have to defend their relationship. It wasn’t fair.
“I want you to succeed,” Cal Sr. gruffly said, “To be who you can be, because as your parent I wish to see all my sons flourish. Hell, I have no misconceptions. Her problems distract you when you’ve only just begun your partnership. Am I wrong?”
Calder hesitated, and she knew his dad struck oil with his crude truth. He’d been afraid to leave her alone, fearing Remy would appear. Guilt gnawed her insides as she waited for his response. She was messing with his future and understood Cal Sr.’s point of view.
“I’ve worked hard and applied myself the best I can,” Calder snapped, “What would you know? What do you even know of Astrid’s problems?”
“Calder, I apologize,” his father blandly responded, “Astrid, I am sorry for our lousy reception.”
Calder grunted in a frustrated pout, turning away. He snatched Astrid’s hand, pulling her into the house. She ran to keep up as he stormed upstairs, wanting to comfort him but couldn’t find the words.
“Arrogant dick!” he muttered, shoving the door open, “We’re leaving.”
Astrid shook as she packed, forgoing a shower, throwing a dress over her bikini. He grumbled under his breath the entire time, taking the bags down to the Porsche with her following close behind.
“Hey!” Cody dashed outside, “Can you give me a ride into the city? Cameron’s staying and I made a date with a chick who claims she’ll let me do anything as long as we have a safe word.”
She giggled, “Safety first, right?”
“No,” Calder curtly answered, “Get in Astrid.”
She meekly smiled at Cody, who frowned in confusion. Calder shot out of the circular drive, and she wondered when his fury would simmer down enough to talk about what happened.
“I’m glad you stood up to my father,” he told her, “I heard what you said. He’ll never accept you, but who fucking cares? You’re all I need.”
“Calder,” she tentatively began, “Are you certain you want a relationship with me?”
He decreased the speed of the car looking befuddled, “What? Don’t tell me they got to you? That you bought his lies?”
“What if I am impeding your career?” she quietly asked, “My life is such a mess, and I’d hate to see you suffer the same. It would prove him right.”
“Astrid, you aren’t making sense!” he growled, “You will not be the reason I fail or succeed. It’s my mind and voice when in the courtroom. Remy’s lurking in the shadows and I won’t pretend he isn’t a threat to your well being.”
“He has nothing to do with this. I’m thinking of you,” she turned in the seat to gaze at his handsome profile, “I have no job. What you see in me will turn lackluster because I have no future.”
“Why don’t you?” he glared at the road, “Don’t short yourself. You have dreams, right?”
“Honestly… no!” she rubbed her temples, a tension headache forming, “I applied to the three C’s right out of college because it paid well and near my home. Also, I enjoyed the work. I planned on joining another firm as a research assistant, but figured Chris wouldn’t write me a favorable recommendation.”
“I’ll make them rehire you,” he suddenly beamed, “They can’t deny you did an excellent job.”
“Seriously? Your family hates me!” Astrid felt confused, like he wasn’t paying attention to the obvious, “Calder, you and I come from very different backgrounds. I mean, you’re terrific, but I’m not the classy woman who should be on your arm.”
He sighed, shoulders slumping, “You are the woman I choose, and there’s no changing my mind. Astrid, guys like me are a dime a dozen, not you though. You’re rare.”
She bit her lip, deciding to stop protesting. Calder made her feel loved, and she wanted to believe it could erase the fears and doubts circling inside her head, but when would it end? When would he tire of her casual lifestyle and become bored? She had no aspirations. No set goals in life.
Calder drove the same beautiful country roads, but she experienced none of the peaceful feelings of the day before. Saw nothing but a long drive with a guy determined to stand by her for reasons that may have everything to do with proving his father wrong.
Talk about daddy issues.
Cal Sr. had plotted and schemed, delivering sugary lines and smiles before slicing a perfect riff between them. What an asshole. Her conversation with Julia hadn’t been as enlightening as she hoped either. Why would Remy need a lawyer? She should tell Calder what she’d learned but felt it better suited for another time.
“I love you,” he interrupted her dreary thoughts, taking her hand, “When we get back, I want you to stay with me.”
She smiled tightly, “Calder… I can’t. I have a home and I’ve barely stayed there in weeks as it is.”
“Just come for a few days,” he begged, “I won’t take no for an answer, princess.”
She relented, “All right. I have to grab some stuff first.”
He grinned, “Fine. Did you know there’s an athletic track a few blocks from the building? Maybe I’ll run with you.”
She laughed, “You really need to be in shape to keep up with me.”
“Every man has to, sexy. I’m up for the challenge,” he chuckled.
She lost her smile, turning to the window, thinking once more of Remy and why her heart refused to let him go. Every man, indeed.