Authors: Ellie Danes,Lily Knight
“This jerk lied to you,” he started as I tried to go around him. “He’s loaded, ridiculous amounts of money, I tell you.”
“Oh, like you lied to me?” I challenged, knowing what he was trying to do. “Even if it were true, it’s not like what you did. Omission isn’t a flat out lie. Nice try, but I’m not coming back to you, Tim. There is no part of me that wants to be involved with a liar.”
“Oh, well, then you need to read this,” Tim replied, reaching into his car for something, only to emerge with a piece of paper he then shoved in my face. I snatched it from his outstretched hand and scanned its contents, a ball of dread forming in my stomach.
Local man hits Sizzler Jackpot
, it started out.
Lotto officials confirm that twenty-six-year-old Cooper Randall is the sole winner of the Sizzler Jackpot, a three-billion-dollar plus jackpot that has gone a record number of months without a winner. Mr. Randall turned in the winning ticket to officials yesterday with his mother at his side. Mr. Randall declined to comment on what he was going to do with the money. The jackpot winnings were the highest ever and the lump sum payout, if Mr. Randall decides to take it, would be over two billion dollars.
“This can’t be true,” I muttered to myself, thinking that there had to be a dozen Cooper Randalls out there. It wasn’t my Cooper. Sure, he was visiting from that side of the country and his mom had also come with him, but if he was a billionaire, why would he be working in some crummy bar and grille?
“Oh, babe, it is true,” Tim said smugly as I shoved the paper back at him. “So, I guess this means you didn’t know your new boyfriend is loaded.”
I walked around Tim, my head spinning as I fumbled with my keys. No. That was not the same Cooper Randall. Tim was just trying to get under my skin; he had to be grasping at straws.
“I followed him a few times, you know,” he continued as I stuck the key in the lock and opened car door, tossing the medication over onto the passenger seat. “To see what he was up to and who I was up against. Did you know he purchased a Corvette the other day with cash money? The former owner said he hadn’t seen someone use so much cash in a long time.”
I thought about the Corvette that had been in the parking lot briefly. That couldn’t have been Cooper’s. He was nowhere around. But if Tim was right and it was, why was it in the parking lot and why did he not tell me about this? It wouldn’t have made me like him any less. I was more than capable of handling something of that nature. But Cooper hadn’t trusted me enough to tell me his secret. That was what hurt most of all. I had practically told him my entire life story, laid it all on the table and asked if I could trust him!
“You’re lying,” I finally said, pushing at his chest to get him to step back. “Get out of my sight, Tim. We are over. Through. How hard is that for you to understand?”
Tim started to step forward just as the door to the pharmacy opened and Jimmy stepped out, a small can in his hand. “I’m going to have to ask you to leave the lady alone, sir. I’ve got mace and I’m not afraid to use it.”
Tim’s jaw flexed indignantly as he looked down at me. “And you thought
lied to you. You’ll come to your senses, Emma, and when you finally do, I will be waiting.”
“Don’t hold your breath,” I muttered. “No, wait. On second thought, feel free to hold your breath, Tim.”
Tim smirked as if he were amused by my attitude, holding his hands up as he backed away. “Have it your way. You’ll find out soon enough from lover boy that he has been playing you all along.”
“Go on, get out of here!” Jimmy shouted, pointing the can in Tim’s direction and shooing at him like he was a stray dog. He gave Jimmy the middle finger but, to my relief, he climbed into his car and peeled out of the parking lot.
“Are you okay, Emma?” Jimmy asked, lowering his weapon.
“I think I am,” I replied, my hands shaking from rage. I couldn’t believe Tim had approached me once again. Then there was the article that I couldn’t readily ignore, at least not just yet. It made sense, which was what bothered me the most. I didn’t want to believe it, but in my gut, I knew I was going to have to face the reality of it eventually. I stared at the can in Jimmy’s hand. “Were you really going to spray him?”
Jimmy grinned sheepishly and held up the can, allowing me to read the contents.
“Bug spray?” I asked with a smile.
“Hey, it was the first thing I saw,” Jimmy replied with a shrug. “You don’t look so good, Emma. Do you need to sit down inside?”
“No, no, I’m fine,” I replied, Tim’s words still echoing in my head. “Thank you for coming to my rescue, Jimmy.”
“Who was that guy?” Jimmy asked, crossing his arms over his chest. “Has he been stalking you?”
“Probably. He’s an ex,” I said with a nervous laugh, thinking of how Tim’s timing had been more than just perfect. And he had just admitted to stalking Cooper. If I so inclined, I could file a police report on him. But it wouldn’t help. Tim’s family was so deep in the pockets of the city that they would no doubt lose the paperwork as soon as I could file it.
“Should I call the police?” Jimmy asked hesitantly, glancing around as to see if Tim was going to make a return trip. I knew he wouldn’t. He had seen Cooper as a threat and his goal had been to tear away the carefully constructed shield that Cooper had been hiding behind. He had accomplished what he had set out to do.
“It wouldn’t do any good if you did.”
I admit, I felt slightly nauseous thinking about what Tim had revealed to me about Cooper. I even felt a little betrayed. I had trusted Cooper, opened up to him, I was even starting to fall for him — hard. And he had done this to me? I sat behind the wheel of my car for a moment, my heart tying itself in knots at the thought of it all. It all made sense now, though. The money had to have come from him. It wasn’t such a coincidence, after all.
Looking over at the package that had given me such a wonderful feeling earlier, I now felt polluted and ashamed. Though I was sure Cooper’s intentions were honorable, he had still crossed a line. This wasn’t a friend helping out a friend. This was more personal. This felt like someone delving into my private life and making their own assumptions about what I needed. He had inserted himself into the one area I couldn’t afford to say no in and, for that, I wasn’t so sure I could forgive him — honorable intentions or not.
I wiped the tears away angrily and started the car, pulling out of the parking lot. Well, I would be damned if I was going to keep the money. I couldn’t very well ask Jimmy for a refund on Dad’s medication, but Cooper was getting every penny of the ten thousand back, even if it took me a month of double shifts to make it happen.
* * * * *
The drive back to my apartment gave me a chance to stew — and think — about what I had learned regarding Cooper and the halo money I’d received. There was a slim chance I was jumping to conclusions. I couldn’t say one hundred percent for certain that he had given me the money, but the odds were very, very good that he had been the one behind it. After all, who had ten thousand dollars just lying around to give to a stranger?
My frenzy hadn’t subsided by the time I arrived at my apartment. Part of me wanted to wait and confront him face to face, but I wasn’t so sure seeing him was a good idea. I also couldn’t hold it in any longer. I wanted an answer, and I wanted it right then. I picked up my cell phone, tears blurring the screen as I scrolled to his contact and pressed send. I was going to find out whether or not the story was true and if he had lied to me… well, that simply wasn’t something I tolerated. I had ended things with Tim for lying to me. I wasn’t interested in keeping company with people who couldn’t tell me the truth.
“Hey, Emma. I was just about to call you.”
Ignoring the happiness in his voice and the way it made me feel inside, I cleared my throat. “Cooper, we need to talk. I need to ask you a very important question.”
“Okay,” he said, a hitch in his voice. “Would you like to talk over dinner?”
“This can’t wait. It’s important,” I replied sternly, my tone more than enough to let him know I wasn’t a happy camper.
“What’s wrong, Emma? Has something happened? Are you okay?” he asked immediately like any concerned boyfriend would do. The gesture hit me like a ton of bricks. Had I really considered him a boyfriend? The pain of discovering the secret he’d kept from me told me that I had. Cooper had become someone special in my life and now I was doubting everything about him. I inhaled slowly to calm myself. “Cooper, did you give me that money?”
He didn’t say anything for a moment, and I closed my eyes against the onslaught of tears. His silence was enough for me to garner the truth. “Emma, I know what you’re thinking.”
“I don’t think you do. How could you do this, Cooper?” I asked softly, the hurt radiating from my voice. “I trusted you. I told you about my past with people who have lied to me. Why didn’t you just tell me that the money was from you? Are you really the guy who won that huge ass lottery last month?”
“Emma, I don’t want to talk about this over the phone. Can we meet somewhere?”
I ignored his request, the despair of being betrayed once more welling up inside. “How could you withhold this from me? Do you not care about me at all?”
“Of course, I do,” he replied, his voice on the edge of desperation. “More than you know. Please, just let me meet you somewhere and explain everything to you.”
“I don’t think I want to hear it,” I replied, my heart breaking. “I can’t believe after everything I shared with you about my life that you would push this money onto me! Do you know how that makes me feel, Cooper? I am taking care of my dad just fine. I don’t need your assistance to do so.”
“I know, Emma,” he pleaded. “Please, just let me explain. I’m an asshole and I didn’t think it through.”
I thought for a split second that maybe I should listen to him, but then I would be going against everything I have stood for. I’d be compromising the rules I’d put in place to protect me. If Cooper was keeping this from me, what else could he be keeping from me? “Maybe next time you will think it through, Cooper, but it will be with someone else,” I finally said, my voice cracking at the last words. “Goodbye, Cooper.”
“No, wait, Emma,” he started to say as I pressed the button to end the call and threw the phone onto my bed, tears rolling down my cheeks. I sank to the bed and put my head in my hands, fighting the urge to scream and punch something. What had I done so wrong in my life to always have these kinds of issues with men? Didn’t I deserve to find a guy who would just be open and honest with me?
My phone started ringing, but I ignored it, assuming it was no doubt Cooper trying to get me to listen to his reasoning. As I sat there, crying into my pillow, I was thankful I hadn’t brought him to my place yet. At least I didn’t have to worry about him showing up on my doorstep begging me to listen . . . or giving me no choice but to listen as he pled his case through my closed door. I didn’t want to see him nor did I care to talk to him. I couldn’t. Ever again.
I would need to talk to Chris about switching my schedule so I wouldn’t cross paths with Cooper, which Chris would gladly do once I told him why. Hell, why was Cooper even working at Keefer’s to begin with if he was worth so much money? Did he enjoy being someone he wasn’t? How much of Cooper Randall had been the truth from the start?
My phone quit ringing but proceeded to ding incessantly, indicating a voicemail, which I also ignored. Eventually, Cooper would get the point and realize he had screwed up big time. I just hoped he would stay out of my way and, if I was really lucky, he’d go back to wherever he had come from. I couldn’t take two guys following me around.
I drove down the road toward Keefer’s, a lump in my throat, my nerves entirely on edge. Emma wouldn’t answer my calls and she sure as hell wasn’t going to return them considering how she felt. And I’d called what I felt was non-stop for the eighteen hours since she’d told me goodbye and hung up on me. Even after I’d left countless voicemails practically begging her to call me so I could explain. I got the point. She was ignoring anything that had to do with me. But her talking to me wasn’t even my main concern. Her safety was. After Felix’s phone call and the threats he and his thug friend had made, I just needed to know that Emma was safe. And since I didn’t know where she lived, there was no way I could attempt to see her in person and make sure she was.
The only thing I wanted more than to try to explain my reasons for what I had done, was to protect her. I should have just been upfront with her from the beginning, but I let my fears get the better of me. Once she opened up and told me about her trust issues with her last boyfriend, I should have laid it all out on the table then and there. God knows I didn’t do myself any favors by keeping it from her. I could tell her all day long that I just wanted her to see me as some normal guy and not the billionaire this money created, but it wouldn’t matter. In her eyes, I wasn’t honest with her. And now she was gone.
My fingers hammered nervously along the steering wheel as I pulled into the parking lot of Keefer’s, maneuvering my corvette around back. We were supposed to work the same shift and then we’d had a standing date to go surfing after work. I doubted we’d be doing so unless my level of groveling climbed to expert and worked extremely well. Then again, she might want to keep that surf date just so she could drown me. I couldn’t blame her. I had essentially done what Tim had done to her, just in a different manner, and I couldn’t begin to explain how ashamed I was to even be in the same category as that prick. I wanted her to trust me. Hell, I wanted her to love me. My feelings for her hadn’t changed.
As I pulled into an empty parking space, my heart sank when I didn’t see her car. It was only ten minutes before the start of our shift. Maybe she was running late. There had been an accident on the highway right above where I entered so I hinged a little hope on the possibility that maybe she got held up in traffic waiting for it to clear. I climbed out of the car and walked inside, nodding toward Chris as I put my things up and prepared the bar for the lunch time rush.