“What exactly do you want from me, Noelle?” Aiden shifted forward, his tone hardening, the patrician lines of his face sharpening.
Noelle inhaled a deep breath…a big mistake. His clean, fresh, rain-and-earth scent filled her until she could practically taste it. Taste him.
The hell? Where had that thought come from? Whatever feelings she’d once had for him had been ground under the heel of humiliation, rejection, and pain.
“I need you to pay my graduate-school tuition.” She paused. “For Boston University.”
“Boston University,” he repeated, ice dripping from each syllable. “You’re applying to Boston University.”
“Have applied,” she corrected, voice soft. Wary. “And have been accepted with a partial scholarship. I start in January. I can cover all of my other expenses. Only the rest of the tuition has to be paid.”
“What are you playing at, Noelle?” he growled. Anger seemed to radiate from him, beating at her. “Of all the cities and colleges, you choose here? Do you think I’m stupid? I’m not one of your father’s marks. You can’t con me. What else aren’t you telling me?”
“Nothing,” she insisted, insulted. “I have an apartment and a job. I arranged those before I left Chicago. I’ve been providing for myself and others for years without your assistance, and I really don’t want it now, but I have no choice.”
Screw this. Yes, her father hadn’t been a model citizen—unless it was a citizen of the Cook County DOC. But she wasn’t him. Damn if she’d let him—him—make her feel…dirty. Unworthy.
She stalked forward, allowing anger and hurt—yes, damn it, hurt—to propel her forward when caution would’ve been prudent…safer.
“Look, believe what you want. I could quote the damn Bible from Joseph to Jesus, and it wouldn’t change your opinion or erase your suspicions. But if you think coming to you and asking for help was easy, then all those millions have made you soft in the head.” She snorted, shaking her head. “At this moment, though, I need you to keep your promise to Caroline more than I care about offending your tender sensibilities with my presence. She wanted me to have the money. So how about this? Send the tuition payment directly to the university, and you don’t have to worry about seeing me again. You can go on pretending I don’t exist, and I can forego the pleasure of you staring at me like I’m something you scraped off the bottom of your shoe.”
Giving him a tight smile, she pivoted and marched for the door, desperate to escape the room before she did something stupid…like allow the tears stinging her eyes to fall. Damn it! She’d been teased, bullied, and sneered at more times than she could remember, much less count. Yet none of those mean girls or leering guys who assumed she was an easy fuck just because of her last name had been able to drag one tear from her.
Only Aiden possessed that power.
“Noelle, we’re not finished. Don’t you walk out that door.”
Like hell she wouldn’t. She was a grown-ass woman. Self-sufficient. Mature.
So she did the only thing a grown-ass, self-sufficient, mature woman could do in her situation…
She flipped him off and walked out.