Beautiful (Beautiful Bastard #5)

by Christina Lauren

One

Pippa

I’ve tried not to be too bitter about the close friendship between clarity and hindsight.

Such as, only once you’re sitting for your final exams do you register that you might have studied a bit more.

Or perhaps, staring down the barrel of a gun held in your face, you think, Gosh, I really was quite a wanker.

Or maybe you’ve just happened upon the white, thrusting bum of your idiot boyfriend as he shags another woman in your bed, and you muse with a touch of sarcasm, Ah, so that’s why he never fixed the squeaky stair. It was the Pippa alarm.

I threw my purse at him mid-thrust, hitting him squarely in the back. It sounded like a hundred tubes of lipstick hitting a brick wall.

For a cheating, lying, dickhead forty-year-old man, Mark really was quite fit.

“You asshole,” I hissed as he attempted—rather gracelessly—to climb off her. The sheets were stripped from the bed—add lazy to his list of attributes, obviously he didn’t want to have to carry the bedding to the laundrette on the corner before I got home—and his cock bounced against his stomach.

He covered it with his hand. “Pippa!”

To her credit, the woman hid her face behind her hands in mortification. “Mark,” she choked out, “you didn’t tell me you had a girlfriend.”

“Funny,” I answered for him. “He didn’t tell me he had two of them.”

Mark let out a few abbreviated sounds of terror.

“Go on, then,” I said to him, lifting my chin. “Get your things. Get out.”

“Pippa,” he managed. “I didn’t know—”

“That I’d be coming by at lunchtime?” I asked. “Yeah, I figured that out, love.”

The woman stood, scrambling in humiliation for her clothes. I suppose the decent thing to do would have been to turn away and let them dress in their shameful silence. But actually, if I was being fair, the decent thing to do would not be to claim she didn’t know that Mark had a girlfriend when everything in the bloody bedroom was a delicate turquoise hue and the bedside lamps had lace-covered shades.

Did she think she was visiting his mum’s flat? Give me a fucking break.

Mark pulled on his pants, coming at me with his hands up as if approaching a lion.

I laughed. Right then, I was much more dangerous than a lion.

“Pippa, dearest, I’m so sorry.” He let the words sit in the space between us, as if they might actually be enough to diffuse my anger.

An entire speech filled my head in an instant, fully formed and articulate. It was about how I worked fifteen-hour days to support his start-up, it was about how he lived and worked in my flat but hadn’t washed a dish in four months, it was about how he seemed to be putting a lot more focus into giving this woman a bit of fun than he’d put into making me happy in the past six months. But I didn’t think he deserved even that much of my energy, glorious as the speech would have been.

Besides, his discomfort—increasing with every second that passed without a word from me—was too delicious. It didn’t hurt to look at him. You’d have thought it would, in this type of situation. But instead, it set something inside me on fire. I imagined it was my love for him, maybe, igniting like newspaper held over a match.

He took one step closer. “I can’t imagine how this feels right now for you, but—”

Tilting my head and feeling the anger boil up inside, I cut him off: “Can’t you? Shannon left you for another man. In fact, I imagine you know exactly how this feels right now for me.”

Once I said it, memories of those early days bubbled up, when we’d met at the pub, when it was just friends between us and we’d enjoy long conversations about my dating adventures and his relationship failures. I remembered how I could tell that he’d truly loved his wife from how devastated he was without her. I tried to keep from falling for him—with his dry sense of humor, curly dark hair, and luminous brown eyes—but failed. And then, to my utter glee, one night it turned into more.

Three months later he’d moved in.

Six months after that, I’d asked him to fix the squeaky board on the stairs.

Two months after that, I’d given up and fixed it myself.

That was yesterday.

“Get your things out of the closet and leave.”

The woman scurried past us without looking up. Would I even remember her face? Or would I forever remember only the thrusting of Mark’s backside over her and the way his cock bobbed wildly as he flipped over in a panic?

I heard the front door slam a few seconds later, but Mark still hadn’t moved.

“Pippa, she’s only a friend. She’s a sister of Arnold’s, from football, her name—”

“Don’t give me her bleeding name,” I said, laughing incredulously. “I don’t give a fuck what her name is!”

“What—?”

“What if it’s a beautiful name?” I cut in. “What if, someday in the future, I’m married to a really nice bloke, and we have a baby, and my husband suggests that name, and I say, ‘Oh, lovely one, that. Unfortunately, Mark shagged a girl with that name in my bed, with the sheets pulled off because he’s a lazy wanker, so no, we can’t use that for our daughter.’ ” I glared at him. “You’ve already ruined my day. Maybe my week.” I tilted my head, considering. “Definitely haven’t ruined my month, because that new Prada bag I got last week is bloody amazing—and not even you or your unfaithful pale arse can hamper that.”

He smiled, trying not to laugh. “Even now,” he said quietly, with adoration, “even after I’ve betrayed you like this, you’re such a funny girl, Pippa.”

I set my jaw. “Mark. Get the hell out of my flat.”

He winced apologetically. “It’s only that I’ve got a telecon at four with the Italians, you see, and I was hoping to be able to make it from the—”

This time it was my hand across his cheek that interrupted him.

Coco set down a mug of tea in front of me and ran a soothing hand through my hair.

“Fuck him.” She whispered this, for Lele’s benefit.

Lele loved motorcycles, women, rugby, and Martin Scorsese. But she did not, we’d learned, like her wife to swear in the house.

I buried my face in my folded arms. “Why are men such wankers, Mum?”