Broken Ex-Bully by Victoria Pinder
A five-day trip to Hawaii for a wedding wasn’t something I’d ever thought I would do. Mirabelle, the bride, had been my lab and study partner, but when I started working at a hospital and she became engaged to a billionaire, our lives diverged. I’d cringed when the invitation came, because I knew the last name of the groom very well.
The memories were irksome. In school, I’d been the scholarship-winning fat girl with glasses who slipped on her French fries when confronted by Renzo, the groom’s brother. After graduating from high school, I’d flown to Arizona for the summer and headed straight to fat camp. When I came out of camp, I looked like a completely different person. I studied to be a nurse at community college and stayed a healthy weight.
I was not that same four-eyed fat girl I’d been in high school, but when I stepped into the hotel in Hawaii, I glanced around, expecting someone from my past to throw soda at my head. My eyes landed on Mirabelle, who was greeting her wedding guests. When no soda or insults came my way, I walked over to the front desk, checked in, and waited my turn to say hello.
“Thank you for flying me out,” I said, accepting her bejeweled hand.
I quickly scanned the room. Renzo was nowhere in sight. If I could manage to stay away from him, this would be a dream vacation. I smiled and squeezed her hand.
She said, “No problem, my friend. I’m glad you’re here.”
A free trip to paradise would have been hard to turn down. I stepped back and tugged on the bottom of the purple day dress I’d traveled in. “I’m so happy for you.” I looked around the room again. My muscles felt tight.
Mirabelle put her hand on her hip and gazed at me. “You seem nervous.”
Damn.I didn’t want to upset the bride. My face heated, and I glanced down as I said in a low voice, “I don’t want to worry you on the day before your wedding.”
She bounced on her toes. “With what?”
I swallowed and rubbed the back of my head. High school was three years in the past, but it seemed like just yesterday that I’d sat in the bathroom to avoid the bully with dark-brown eyes. I sighed. I had to tell her the truth. “It’s nothing. I just knew Renzo when we were in high school. He was kind of a bully. Don’t worry about it—I’m just a little nervous about running into him. It’s nothing. I’m here to celebrate you and that ring, Mirabelle.”
We giggled. She glanced at the elevators as they opened. A man slightly older than us stepped out. He looked just like Renzo.
Mirabelle lit up like fireworks across the bay. “I understand. We’re having a welcome party at the beach. Join us.”
I nodded and turned to the check-in line. “Let me slip on some beach clothes, and I’ll be right down.”
My room was high and overlooked a vast beach, some greenery, and a beautiful sunny sky that almost melted into the endless ocean. I jumped into the shower and lathered on a coconut-vanilla body cream I’d found in the room. Then I shimmied into my purple bikini and put on my yellow cover that floated like a dress.
As I finished, I glanced in the mirror and nodded at myself. I was beautiful, the opposite of the ugly four-eyed porker Renzo had known. I lifted my chin and headed out.
The hotel was cream colored and trimmed in bamboo, with a huge roof that made the whole place seem breezy. It overwhelmed my senses. I headed outside and followed the signs for the Dawes wedding.
Soon, I was standing near a white fountain overlooking the ocean, with canopies set all around for people to have some privacy. To my right was a buffet, but I wasn’t hungry. The blue of the ocean with the island surrounding a bay was gorgeous. These days, I was usually surrounded by white walls and patients in beds, so the marble fountain, tropical breezes, and outside palace were breathtakingly different.
A tap on my shoulder sent a familiar awareness down my spine that was either fear or longing. I glanced behind me and lost the ability to breathe. Renzo had apparently spent the past three years working out, because he was all muscle. He was shirtless and damn near perfect, rippling in the sun. I swallowed and inhaled, reminding myself I was not the same fat girl he used to push around.
He winked at me. “Hey, beautiful.”
I glanced behind me and didn’t see another woman nearby. I held my hands to my chest. “Were you talking to me?”
He traced my arm and smiled. I wasn’t sure I’d ever seen him happy before. “No one else here has your natural presence. What’s your name?”
I cringed inwardly, and my teeth stuck together. I half wondered if this was some trick. Was he going to pretend to be nice and then dump out the trash can over my head so his friends could laugh at me when they jumped out from behind umbrellas and bushes?
I let my hands fall to my sides. “Chloe. You’re…?”
The warmth of his brown eyes captivated me. “Renzo. Do you want to get a drink?”
Maybe it was a bad idea, but I nodded. “Sure.” We took a few steps toward the bartender, and my heart beat wildly as I asked, “So, Renzo, what do you do?”
He motioned to the bartender, and I ordered a pinot grigio. He ordered himself a Coconut Hiwa Porter from the beer menu. Then he turned toward me. “I’m running a tech company that clones voices.”
The bartender gave us our drinks, and Renzo sipped his beer. I could have sworn he was checking me out. “People lose their abilities. People want to record audio faster, or companies want their spokesperson to tweak something without recording a whole new commercial for one word. Stuff like that.”
A hot feeling rushed through me, and it wasn’t hate. My lips tingled. I sipped my drink and hoped the sensation would go away. “Interesting and not what I expected of you.”
He leaned on the bar behind us. “Expected? Did you make a fast assumption, sweetheart?”
My pulse raced. Damn. I lowered my glass and stared at the water fountain to avoid his gaze. “I guess I did. I saw your muscles and thought you’d do something more… physical, like knocking a girl down.”
Technically, he hadn’t hit me in high school. I’d slipped—but he was the reason. And then he’d pointed and laughed in my face. I’d run away as fast as I could.
Renzo tugged his ear, and I looked at him, waiting for him to recognize me. He stared at me and then held his beer to his mouth. “Chloe, I would never knock a girl down. That’s not who I am.”
Right.I shrugged. It was time to go, so I patted his hard shoulder and pushed away the feeling that I wanted Renzo, the hottest man I’d ever seen, between my thighs. I could only imagine how that might feel. “I’ll leave you alone.”
He grabbed my wrist. “Don’t go. Let’s get to know each other.”
The words reverberated in my ears. There was no way the boy from my memory would ever have said that. I swallowed. “I feel like we already do.”
He nodded and folded his hands in front of him as he stared at the ocean and then looked back at me. “Yeah, it does feel like that—like we’ve known each other before. But you’d remember me. I used to be an asshole. I owe some people apologies out there. If we’d met before, damn, I know I’d remember you. Enough about that. I want us to get back to the more pleasant discoveries of getting to know each other.”
My chest tightened. He hadn’t realized I was the same Chloe. I’d never thought this would be how we would talk to each other. I put down my mostly full glass and decided to come clean.
However, everyone started clapping just then, and I realized now wasn’t a good time—or maybe I was just a coward. I quickly said, “Seems like the bride and groom are coming. Tell you what, stud—we can talk later at tonight’s happy hour.”
“Stud…” He winked at me. “I’ll be waiting.”
I waved and headed off. I’d tour the beach and go back to my room. That night, I needed to shine if I was going to tell the boy who used to toss food at me that I wasn’t that girl anymore.
We would never satisfy my itch to have him, though. I wasn’t that stupid.