The Bachelor's Promise (Bachelor Auction)

By: Naima Simone

“Desperate?” he interrupted with a sharp crack of hard laughter. “Yeah, that’s what I’m afraid of.”

“Look, I’m crystal clear on how you feel about my family, about me. Your loathing has never been a state secret. So believe me when I say if I had another option, you would be the last person I approached. But Caroline asked you to…” She closed her eyes, hating that she was here, the equivalent of crawling to a man who had obliterated her heart and pride, then stepped on the pieces on his way out the door. No, correction: to stomp on the pieces, he would’ve had to notice them. And he hadn’t. He hadn’t cared and hadn’t looked back. Yet, here she stood, pushing ahead, determined. And, as he’d pointed out, desperate. “I need you to keep your promise.”

“I offered you a check once, and you turned me down,” he said, voice hard.

“Yes, I remember. How could I forget?” she asked flatly. It had been complete with more zeros than she’d ever seen in her life. But the money had been stained with hate, with resentment and disgust.

While Caroline’s body had been riddled with pain, the ovarian cancer ruthlessly and greedily eating away her life, she had made her son vow to take care of Noelle.

“She’s going to need someone, Aiden. She has dreams just like you did. I wanted to help her achieve them, but that’s not going to happen. Not now. Honey, my will. I didn’t have a chance to change it before this cancer consumed every waking moment, but I’ve left her money. She wants to attend graduate school, and I want to leave her enough to cover it. Please, for me, make sure she gets the money to be happy… She deserves so much more than she’s been given so far…”

Even though Noelle had been hovering outside Caroline’s bedroom when her son had come to visit, the other woman’s whispery, pain-laced voice had reached her. At the time, an overload of emotion had washed over her—gratefulness for Caroline’s heart and thoughtfulness even as she suffered; love for the amazing woman who had been more of a mother to her than her own; and mortification that she’d pleaded with Aiden to take care of Noelle like a charity case. Even though Noelle and Aiden had been close then, shame had crept through her because she’d so wanted Aiden to look at her as an equal.

Only two weeks after overhearing their conversation, Aiden had tried to fulfill his mother’s last request. Tried, because standing in Caroline’s house among the overturned furniture, emptied drawers, and mess her father and brother had left behind after ransacking the house of valuables they could carry out, Noelle had declined the money. In that moment, the check hadn’t been one of love from Caroline, but a get-the-hell-out-of-my-life payoff. And in case she’d had any doubt, Aiden had told her he never wanted to see her or her family again.

So call it pride, guilt, or maybe stupidity, but she’d turned her back on the check and the man. Her father and brother might have suffered from ergophobia—a fear of work—but she hadn’t. That afternoon, she’d walked out of Caroline’s house—her home since the age of thirteen—and into a tiny, one-bedroom apartment that she’d worked a full- and a part-time job to pay for while managing to finish college. But then, a few years later, her father had become ill, and the money she’d saved for graduate school had gone toward a different purpose…

“At the time, I didn’t need it.” Lie. She damn sure could’ve used his assistance. But her pride had been part and parcel of taking the money, and back then, losing any more of it to him hadn’t been worth it. “Now…” Well, now, pride didn’t grant her a future that didn’t include low-paying jobs and an apartment in a building that, by all rights, should be condemned. Pride didn’t cough up tuition money so she could finally get back on the path toward obtaining her dreams. Yet those words refused to come, fear of his skepticism, or worse, ridicule, lodging them in her throat.

“Now?” He arched a dark-blond brow.

“Now, I want to go back to school,” she blurted, crossing her arms. Briefly closing her eyes, she pushed the remainder of the explanation out. “I know I’m twenty-five, but it took me five years instead of four to finish undergrad, and then I had to put everything on hold to care for Dad.” She’d been there—carrying him to doctors’ appointments, purchasing and picking up medications, cleaning up after him, making him as comfortable as possible. And paying his expenses and completely depleting her grad school-tuition savings while waiting for the long Medicare process to go through and be approved. The weight of his care had been on her, as her brother had dodged any kind of responsibility. As always. She loved him, but Tony was a chip off the ol’ block. “After Dad…died, I didn’t have anything holding me back any longer. I wanted a fresh start,” she concluded, aware her of her defensive, almost defiant tone.

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