Built to Hate You: A Hate to Love Romance, page 1
Built to Hate You
A Hate to Love Romance
Copyright © 2019 by Kate Hunt
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Sneak Peek: Take Me
Also by Kate Hunt
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I’m driving home from a meeting with one of my freelance clients when my phone rings in the passenger seat. When I see that it’s my mom calling, I answer it and immediately put her on speaker. It’s been over a week since I’ve talked to her, and I’ve missed hearing her voice. She and my dad live over an hour away and I don’t get to see them as much as I’d like.
“Hey Mom,” I say. “How’s it going?”
“It sounds like you’re driving, Mia,” she says. “Should I call another time?”
“I am. But it’s fine. I promise I’ll be careful.” I pause. “Is everything okay?”
“Everything’s great,” says my mom. “Just calling to catch up.”
I smile. “It’s nice to hear your voice.”
“Yours too, honey,” she says. Then suddenly her voice gets higher. “Oh! Well, I guess I do have some kind of exciting news.”
“You and Dad are finally going to start the renovation?”
My mom laughs. Thanks to a myriad of setbacks, it’s been an ongoing joke in our family that the home renovation my parents have been talking about for years is never actually going to happen.
But now, my mom says, “Actually…yes.”
“Wait,” I say, slowing to take a right turn. I’m only a few minutes away from my apartment building now. “You’re just joking around, right?”
“Nope. We really are, Mia.”
“That’s great, Mom. That’s really exciting. When does construction start?”
“In just a few weeks,” she says. “This company we’re working with is amazing. They’re the only company we’ve talked to who have been able to figure out solutions for all the issues we were having. I’m very impressed with them already.”
I make one last turn. “Awesome. I’m glad you guys found them.”
“Actually,” says my mom, “I think you might know the owner of the company. His name is Axel Moreland. Didn’t he go to your high school? I didn’t make the connection until after our meeting with him, but—”
Reflexively, my foot presses down on the gas pedal and I almost rear-end the car in front of me. I slam on the brakes just in time.
“What?” I spit out.
“Sorry, did I cut out, honey?”
“No, you…” I try to collect myself. A car honks behind me and I pull my car over into an empty parking space. “What do you mean, you hired Axel Moreland?”
“He owns the construction company. Is something wrong, Mia?”
Axel. Even just hearing his name makes me feel ill. In high school, he made my life a living hell. And while I’ve recovered from that vicious time in my life, I’ve never forgiven him. After all, he’s never made any effort to redeem himself.
Not that I expected him to.
But the thought of him stepping foot into my childhood home…and the thought of him tearing down walls and putting his hands all over everything and invading the space…fuck. It fills me with revulsion.
“You shouldn’t work with him,” I tell my mom.
“We shouldn’t? Why not?”
“Because he…” I find myself incapable of telling her, though. Even though I know that none of that bullying was my fault, I hate people knowing about it, because it makes me sound weak. And even though I know my mom would never judge me like that…I just can’t tell her. Not like this, over a speakerphone conversation, at least.
“Can I call you back later?” I say. “I just got to my apartment.”
“Of course, honey,” says my mom. “Whenever’s convenient for you.”
Up in my apartment, I immediately pull out my laptop and Google Axel’s name. His company website is the top search result, but I keep scrolling down, hoping to find...well, I guess I don’t know what I’m hoping to find. Maybe an article about something unsavory that his company has done? Something bad about him personally?
I click on the Yelp page for his business, hopeful that there will be some dirt there. But it’s four-star and five-star reviews one after another. And the couple of three-star reviews aren’t even that negative in their complaints.
I go back to the page of search results and click on the name of his company. The website that loads is sleek and professionally designed, with bold lettering and pristine photographs of the projects they’ve worked on. And at first, I avoid looking at the About Us page, because I don’t want to see Axel’s face. But then it becomes so hard to not click it, and I give in.
And there he is. Staring back at me. With a stupid little smile on his face.
Worse, he’s handsome. I mean, I’m not attracted to him—I’ll never be attracted to Axel Moreland in my life—but I can objectively acknowledge that he’s handsome. And the fact that he’s handsome, and apparently successful, and loved by everyone…it really pisses me off. He doesn’t deserve it in the slightest.
I don’t know how I’m going to convince my parents to fire him. But I know I have to do it.
My secretary’s voice pipes through the speaker on my desk, breaking my concentration from the construction plans I’m in the middle of reviewing. Without looking up, I say, “Yes, Riley?”
“There’s a Miss Clark here to see you. Are you available?”
Clark. She must mean the woman I met with a few days ago. She and her husband were looking to renovate their home. They were a sweet couple.
“Of course,” I tell Riley. “Send her on in.”
I quickly tidy my desk, readying myself to greet Mrs. Clark. But when the door opens, it’s not the woman I met with earlier in the week. It’s a younger woman.
Holy shit. It’s Mia. From high school.
I suddenly feel stupid for not making the connection. I can’t believe I didn’t realize that the couple who came in this week were her parents. The thing is, I’d never met them before. And it’s not like I ever went over to Mia’s house when we were in high school.
I’m assuming they didn’t realize who I was, either, though—or I doubt they would have been so eager to hire me.
“Mia,” I say, the surprise evident in my voice. “Hello.”
“Please. Take a seat.”
“No. I’m fine.” She stops just inside my office, leaving the door ajar. She focuses on me and swallows. And I know this is the last thing I should be thinking about right now, but I can’t help but think: God, she’s beautiful.
“I only came here,” says Mia, “to tell you that I don’t want you or your company working on my parents’ house.”
I stare at her for a second. My admiration of her beauty shuffles to the back of my mind. There are far more important things at stake right now. “You want me to cancel the contract?”
“And what reason would I give them fo
“I don’t know. That’s not my problem.”
I sigh. I get where she’s coming from. She has every right to be bitter toward me. But I’m no longer the guy I was in high school. I’m fucking ashamed of who I was then. “Mia, if you would just—”
“I don’t just need to do anything.” She sets her jaw. “Do you know how cruel you were to me? Do you know how awful you made every day for me? I don’t want anything to do with you. And I don’t want you coming even close to anyone in my family. I might not have had the nerve to stand up to you in high school. But I do now. You’re a world-class asshole, Axel.” She gestures around my office. “You don’t deserve any of this. And I hope it all comes crashing down around you.”
Jesus. I know I’ve wronged her. But to walk into my office and rip me a new one like this? She didn’t even give me the decency of closing my office door. All of my employees can probably hear her. Fucking hell.
“I think you should leave,” I growl.
“Trust me,” she spits back, “I was on my way out.”
She turns on her heels and disappears out the door, pulling the door closed with such force that I feel the vibration under my feet. Anger bubbles up in my chest. It’s a complicated anger, though. It’s half aimed at her, half aimed at myself. Running my hands through my hair, I let out a long, hard breath. Fuck.
I sit back down in my chair and try to return to reviewing the construction plans I was looking at before Mia came in. But I’m too worked up to concentrate—it’s all just a mess of lines and gibberish to me now. And I’m too restless to sit here acting like nothing happened.
I get up and pace the room. What the hell do I even do? I’m not about to rip up the contract I have with her parents. She has the right to be pissed, but she doesn’t have the right to ask me to do something like that. Every contract I sign is a promise to do my best work for the client. And I’m a man of my word.
I’m not going to make excuses for the way I treated Mia back in high school—there’s no excusing what I did. But in hindsight, it’s pretty clear why I was the way I was.
I had an older brother when I was growing up. Sam. I admired him like nobody's business. He was generous and funny. He was equally smart and athletic. He always had girlfriends. He always knew what to say.
Then, when I was a freshman in high school, Sam was driving his girlfriend home from a party and crashed the car. His girlfriend survived; he didn’t.
After he died, his group of friends took me under their wing. They gave me something to hold onto when I felt like I was drowning in grief. They’d known Sam so well that being around them felt like being around my brother again. And hanging out with them was a whole lot better than hanging out with my old friends, who didn’t know how to act around me anymore.
Sam’s friends continued to be there for me for the rest of the year. But then, of course, they all graduated and moved on with their lives. And so I walked into school my first day of sophomore year without any friends. My brother’s friends were gone. My old friends felt like I’d abandoned them, rightly so.
Suddenly, I was a loner.
Not just a loner, though. I was an angry loner. And I didn’t think about it so clearly then, but in hindsight, I understand that I did the things I did because I wanted others to feel pain, too. Everyone else’s lives seemed so perfect. They all seemed so goddamn happy. And I tried to spread my pain in an effort to ease it.
I picked on a lot of people. Many of them fought back, though, and I backed off. But then Mia had the unfortunate luck of being one of my targets. And when I saw a flash of weakness in her, I pounced.
Now, years later, I feel sick to my stomach when I think back on everything I did. All the times I slammed her into the lockers. All the times I badmouthed her to other people. All the awful things I said to her face.
It shocks me how unrelentingly cruel a person can be.
Fortunately, though, I had a wake-up call. Near the end of my senior year, after coming back from three days of suspension, a teacher finally sat me down and gave me a serious talking to. And thanks to her, I got my act together after graduation. I went to community college, then transferred to a university, where I got a degree in construction management. I’d stepped onto that university campus without a clue about what I wanted to study, but after I thought about it a while, picking construction management just seemed fitting: I wanted to rebuild things.
I wanted to make up in some way for everything I’d torn down.
I stop pacing the room. I’m standing in front of my office’s single big window now, looking out across the water. I stare into the distance for a long time. Then I turn around, walk back over to my desk, and start to search for a way to contact Mia.
I don’t even want to open the email that pops up in my inbox from Axel. I just want to delete it, to purge him from my life again. But I know I have to open it. I know I have to deal with this if I want to keep him from moving forward with my parents’ renovation.
Can I talk to you again? Can we meet somewhere? How about a coffee shop—neutral ground?
Shit. I really don’t want to have to face Axel in person again. It was hard enough being in his office with him. I couldn’t even bring myself to close the door behind me, that’s how awful it felt to be around him. And I can’t imagine anything he could say to me that would make me change my mind about this.
We don’t need to meet again. Please just cancel the job. It doesn’t need to be more complicated than that.
Within half an hour, he’s written me back.
I’ll cancel the job. But only if you meet with me in person first.
I sigh. Fuck. Okay. I guess I don’t have a choice.
Fine. Tell me when and where. I can meet whenever.
Five minutes later, his reply appears.
The coffee shop we meet at is quiet but bustling. It’s located halfway between us, about a thirty minute drive away for each of us. I spot Axel sitting over by the wall as soon as I walk in. But I go up to the counter first to get coffee, taking the extra few minutes to try to calm myself down.
When he sees me walking over, he stands up—a gesture that seems so unlike him, and I don’t know what to make of it. Axel Moreland is not chivalrous. He’s not polite. And he shouldn’t pretend like he is.
“Hi, Mia,” he says.
“Hi,” I say, my voice cool. We both sit down. I fidget with the position of my chair.
“Thank you for meeting with me,” Axel says.
I nod. I finally look up at him. “Well?”
“Right,” he says. “So…I need to tell you that I’m sorry. Deeply sorry. The way I treated you in high school—” He pauses. “The way I bullied you in high school, it was beyond unacceptable. I’m not going to give you any excuses. I’m not going to expect that you forgive me. But I need you to know that I have such remorse about it. I feel horrible about it.”
He takes a breath and continues. “I even considered contacting you a few years ago to tell you all of this. And I probably should have. But…well, obviously I didn’t. It’s a cowardly excuse, but I didn’t want to hurt you anymore than I already had by rehashing the past. Anyway…I’m sorry, Mia. I’m so, so sorry. But like I said, I don’t expect you to forgive me. You can walk out of this coffee shop right now if you want. I’ll still cancel the contract. You have my word.”
I’m quiet for a while. I’m absorbing everything he just said. Processing it all. And I’m fighting off the part of me that wants to tell him that while apologies are nice, saying sorry doesn’t give me back what he took from me, and that I’ll never forgive him. Am I really that kind of person, though? Someone who clings to a grudge so stubbornly that she can’t give someone a second chance?
Axel really does seem genuinely sorry. I can see it in his eyes. I can see that he wishes he could undo all that shit in the past.
“Thank you for saying that,” I say.
“I shouldn’t have accosted you the way I did,” I continue. “I let my emotions get the best of me. I’m sorry if I caused any issues at your office.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he says.
I take a breath. “Look…you don’t have to cancel the contract. My parents are excited to work with you. And from what I’ve seen, your company looks like they do very good work.”
“We do. I see to it.” He gives me a careful smile. “Can we start over, Mia?”
Start over? Yeah, right. Like I’ll ever be able to forget the past. But…I get what he means. And now that I’ve spent a little bit more time with him, he does seem really different than his old self.
“We can try,” I say. And when he holds out his hand, I shake it.
I avoid thinking about him working on my parents’ house, though. And in the weeks that follow, when my mom gives me updates about how the renovation is going, I pretend that it’s just some random company that’s working for them. I pretend that Axel has never set foot in their house, has never touched a thing inside of it. I can deal with not holding a grudge against him. But I can’t deal with anything more than that.
One day, though, I drive up to my parents’ house to have dinner with them, and when I get there, there are several trucks still parked out on the street. And as I walk up to the house, I see Axel and another guy walking out from the side yard, both in hardhats and their work gear.
He sees me, too, and gives me a quick wave. I nod and continue up to the house. My mom answers the front door.
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