“Jesus, Ashlyn, I’m not a fucking drug addict!” I couldn’t hold my anger back anymore, and my voice bellowed across the kitchen. “That’s a rumor started by an asshole who is trying to steal my company from me!”
“And I’m supposed to believe that?” she asked. “After all the other lies. You told me you were just some entrepreneur, not a fucking billionaire!”
“I said an entrepreneur of sorts.”
“Stop it!” she screamed. “Stop playing with your words to get yourself out of this!”
“Out of what?” I shouted back. “I didn’t do anything wrong!”
“You call this not doing anything wrong?” she shot back, pointing at the screen. The networks were having a field day. There was video of me drunk off my ass leaving a late-night party. The banner beneath the video read Billionaire Entrepreneur Drug Addict… Jesus freakin’ Christ.
I sighed and threw my hands in the air. “It’s all a lie. You have to believe me.”
“I should have seen this coming,” she said, talking to herself rather than to me, shaking her head and burying her hands in her hair. “I always choose the crazy ones. Always. Why would this be any different?”
“Ashlyn, please.” I reached out for her.
“Don’t!” she screamed, pointing at me angrily to keep my distance. “Don’t you fucking come near me, you lying son of a bitch!”
“Listen, most of what I said was true,” I tried to reason with her. “My name is Chance Ridder, as you can see from the fucking TV. A week ago, my doctor told me that if I didn’t tone down the stress and every other crazy thing in my life, I’d die of a heart attack before I was forty. So I really am on a sabbatical. I was on my way home to see my mother in Booth. I was just trying to stay anonymous, that’s all. Okay? I didn’t want anyone to know who I was.”
“You should have told me,” she hissed, her eyes drenched. “After everything I told you yesterday, you should have told me. I fucking opened up to you, Chance! I laid my entire life at your feet. And you trampled all over it!” She stopped suddenly, her eyes wide. “I let you into my bed. I trusted you and let you in my bed.”
She grabbed a plate and threw it at me, the ceramic shattering against the wall over my head. “You fucking asshole!” she screamed.
“Ashlyn, goddammit!” I yelled.
“Get out!” she screamed, running to me and slamming her fists against my chest, pushing me out the kitchen and towards the door. “Get out, get out, get out, get out!”
She shoved me out the front door, and I let her. I didn’t have it in me to fight her, let alone make her angrier. Right now, I needed her to calm down, and if letting her throw me out of the house would do that, then so be it.
“You can walk to the fucking motel,” she shouted, ripping off my shirt, revealing her naked body underneath. My eyes couldn’t help but stare at her tits. She threw my shirt in my face and slammed the door. “I don’t ever want to see you again.”
I sighed, taking in a deep breath before I knocked on the door. There was no reply, but I could hear her on the other side, crying. I slid down to a sitting position with my back to the door, the blood hammering in my head as my mind raced with a hurdle of emotions. My chest was clenching like a son of a bitch. I could hear my pulse pounding in my ears. First Dennis, and now this. Yet, all I gave a shit about was making Ashlyn see the real me.
“My name is Chance Ridder,” I started loud enough to be heard through the door. “I’m thirty-two years old, born and raised in Booth, Texas. My father was an abusive alcoholic, but my mother loved him, and on the good days, I actually felt like I had a family. I went to college at Texas A&M, where I met the man who would eventually stab me in the back and try to take my company.”
There was no reply from her, but the crying had stopped.
“I am the CEO of Ridder Technology, founded it fresh out of college and worked my ass off to make it what it is today. I’m not married, I don’t have kids, and for the past five years my life has only revolved around work, parties and women. I’m an only child. Pauline isn’t my sister, she’s my maid. Alice really is my secretary, and the Chevy in Hank’s garage belonged to my father.”
I sighed and waited. Still no reply.
“I am rich. Filthy rich. I have more money than I know what to do with, and then some. I spend my money on alcohol, cigarettes and cars, but definitely not drugs. I live in a penthouse in one of the most expensive areas in Austin in a building I own.
ay to Houston. I was going back to Booth, to get away from it all. When you’re in a position like mine, at one point or the other, you feel like you’re invincible, like you would never die. That maybe you can bribe death to leave you alone. But that’s just a lie I tell myself to kind of validate my lifestyle.”
I took a long drag from my cigarette, looked at the thing that was slowly eating away at my life expectancy, and let the smoke out with a sigh.
“I panicked when the doctor told me I was headed for a heart attack. I took the old Chevy, told only a few people where I was going, and left. I wanted a break, Ashlyn. A break from the parties, the stress, everything. I wanted to go where no one knew me, where no one expected anything from me.”
I thumped the back of my head against the door. “I didn’t expect the truck to break down near here. I didn’t expect to spend a couple of days in Ludwig. And I definitely didn’t expect to meet you. Being with you, Ashlyn, the past couple of days, it’s like nothing I’ve ever felt before. It’s new to me, scary even, but in a good way. I didn’t want to lie to you. I really didn’t. And I especially didn’t want you to find out this way. But these past couple of days, and last night, they were incredible, and I didn’t want to ruin it.”