Ryke’s jaw hardens. “I’m the captain of the track team,” he says. “I can’t leave practice first.”
“No, I wouldn’t expect you to do anything first,” Connor retorts.
Lo and I exchange hesitation. Something tells me that Connor is not Ryke Meadows’ number one fan. And normally, I’d be suspicious that maybe Connor knows Ryke is behind all of this—that Lo’s brother is the one we should be wary of. But their little heated looks began around the time Ryke dissed Connor in public. It wasn’t one sole event. It was many things. Like Ryke calling Connor an ass kisser in front of his track buddies. Ryke can say those things in private, in front of us, and Connor just shrugs, but hurting his reputation in public crossed a line.
Ryke looks about ready to push through the doorway.
But Connor leads him in before Lo’s brother becomes physical. Connor sits on a buttoned leatherette chair across from us, but Ryke plops right next to Lo on the couch. And I’m reminded that my sister isn’t here to be on my team. Her schedule is too hectic to make the drive to Philly, so unfortunately, I’ll have to carry on without her.
I didn’t realize how much I relied on her support until I felt that uncomfortable dread when she told me she couldn’t come.
Sadie circles the coffee table, but her harsh gaze never deters from me. “Connor,” I say, “I think your cat hates me.”
Connor picks her up in his arms. “She doesn’t hate you.”
Oh good. That’s one less enemy.
“She just hates women.”
Or maybe not.
Ryke lets out an incensed snort. “I thought Rose was making that f**king shit up.”
“When you string together curse words, I go deaf a little in my right ear,” Connor tells him. “What was that?”
Lo is trying really hard not to laugh, and I bite my lip to suppress a smile. It’s too easy to pick on Ryke, especially since the guy takes very little to heart.
Ryke flips him off, mutters more swear words under his breath, and slouches in his chair. “Let’s get on with this.”
Connor strokes Sadie, and even though she purrs, she still wears a mask of evilness—directed right at me.
“I have bad news,” Connor says, confirming that he is indeed the cat-stroking-villain in this scenario. “My PI tracked down the phone number. It was a disposable, so we have no way of knowing the identity of the person on the other line.”
Lo groans into his hands, hunching forward with his elbows on his legs.
I go the opposite route, leaning back into the couch like a tidal wave just struck my chest. What do we do now? “So should I prepare to be in the tabloids soon?” My voice comes out way too soft. Even the thought sends my heart into a dive pattern. I can’t think about it without tears brimming. The shame that I’ll bring to my family…
Lo straightens up and laces his fingers with mine. “There has to be something else we can do.”
“Sure,” Connor says. “But I need both of you to open up about things you haven’t been willing to share. I need your top suspects that you believe could be threatening you. I can give those to my investigator, and he’ll check them out.”
“That can’t be too hard,” Ryke says.
Lo glares at the rug. Yeah, it took me hours just to go through our yearbook and circle faces—only to decide that over half of the student body hated Lo. And that was just prep school. We haven’t even factored college into the equation.
“Seriously?” Ryke’s brows rise. “How many f**king people did you piss off, Lo?”
“I wasn’t well liked,” he retorts. “We all can’t be the captain of sports teams.”
Ryke rolls his eyes.
“You can’t be that surprised,” I chime in. “You met us when Lo was being cornered by four guys wanting to beat his ass.”
“People get upset over the stupidest things,” Lo says, defending himself.
Connor tilts his head. “Didn’t you steal a bottle of alcohol that cost forty grand?”
“I didn’t steal,” Lo says. “I drank from the bottle and set it back. And it was my birthday.”
“How does your birthday strengthen your argument?” Connor asks. “Unless they knew it was your birthday. Did they?” He knows they didn’t.
Lo glares. “Shut the f**k up.” His words come out lightly and they actually make Connor smile.
“What about those guys at the Halloween party?” I ask Ryke. “Do you think they could still be mad at Lo?”
“Yeah, what’s the name of the guy who was really pissed?” Lo asks.
“Matt,” Ryke says. We all stay silent, recalling the moment where Matt ordered his cousins to chase Connor’s limousine down the street as we sped away. He’s also on the track team with Ryke. “I don’t know if he’s still angry or not.”
“How could you not know?” Lo snaps. “You’re the captain. You see them almost every day. Fuck, you just ran little loops with them.”
Connor tries really hard not to grin, but if he wanted to hide his smile fully, I’m pretty sure he could. He’s definitely gloating in Ryke’s misery. I kind of like it.
“You run little loops with me,” Ryke retorts, dodging the accusation.
“Only at your request. If it was up to me, I’d be running down the street, alone.” But there are bars along the sidewalk, and Ryke worries that he’ll be tempted to run inside.
Lo’s narrowed gaze pierces Ryke, and both speak through their hard features. Lo is egging Ryke to say the worst things to him—to bring up his addiction. But Ryke is not willing to go there.
“Look,” Ryke says, “the guys on the team aren’t going to tell me if they despise my half-brother who just spent three months in rehab.”
Oh. He has a point.
“Should I put him on the list?” Connor asks, scrolling through his electronic tablet. Sadie tries to sit on it, not liking his attention divided, but he moves the tablet to the armrest and she curls back onto his lap.
Lo pries his gaze from Ryke. “Yeah, sure.” I think he wants someone to blame him again for that mistake—to yell and make him feel that pain, as though he deserves the assault. His father would do just that. But Lo needs to realize that’s not the right way to deal with things. He shouldn’t be punished every day for something that happened months ago. No one died. No one got hurt.
“Let’s start with the people who have the biggest grudge against both of you and go from there,” Connor advises.
Lo is staring at the floor again, his mind wandering in a thousand different places. I’m the one who poured over the yearbook, so I know better than him at this point.
“Aaron Wells,” I start out. Both Ryke and Lo stiffen. They did something to Aaron, clearly, but I try not to think about it. “And maybe Mason Nix…” After the parking lot fiasco, I think there’s a lot more resentment there than we realized.
“I have to give my PI motives to put with the names. So you’re going to have to give me some details.”
Lo sighs heavily. And then he turns to me, his hand rising on my thigh. It’s a little distracting, and I can tell the movement is a subconscious reflex. He doesn’t realize how fixated I am on the way his fingers press into my jeans, only a moment’s breath from the spot between my legs.
“You want to tell the stories?” Lo asks me. “I can if you’re not up to it.” But by his sharp jaw, I can tell he wants to share about as much as I do.
“How about equal opportunity,” I say. “I call Wells.”
Lo has lost a little color in his cheeks. He nods again, and now I regret my choice.
“Never mind, I can talk about Mason—”
“No you take Wells.”
I pause. “Okay,” I say in a small voice. I feel bad. Like I could ooze into the couch and not come back out.
“Aaron Wells,” Connor says, his eyes lighting up in recognition of the name. “He attended the Fizzle event in January?”
“Yep,” I say. Without Lo to accompany me, my mother called Aaron Wells to be my escort (not the prostitute kind). She didn’t know that he hated Lo or that he was hell-bent on making my time at the party miserable.
Lo turns to stone by my side, no longer huggable. He’s upset that he wasn’t there for me, but I would never want him to leave rehab on my account.
I begin the story as best I can.
Aaron Wells. Tall, brown-haired (almost blond), blue-eyed god of the Dalton Academy lacrosse team. He bled blue and shit gold. Even in ninth grade, he was held in high-esteem, a natural athlete that would grace our school with its first Lacrosse State Championship. Guys wanted to be him and girls wanted to f**k him. But Lo was the one guy who didn’t care about being swathed in Aaron’s circle of popularity.
In ninth grade, Lo and I denied our problems to ourselves and each other. Even after we had sex together for the first time, we just pretended it never happened. We were fourteen—naïve and lost and trying to make ourselves feel better.
I remember the day after really well. I stuffed my books into my locker, and Lo’s nearness caused my chest to tighten. That part was normal. He would wait for me with a strong arm against the dark blue locker, loosening the collar of his tie on his white button-down. He hated that prep school uniform, even if he looked sexy in it. He would linger by my side, wanting to walk me to class. He reeked of bourbon, and he wore sunglasses indoors to help with his tender eyes. Back then, before college, he felt more of the effects from a night of binging.
“Did you do that poetry assignment for Lit?” Lo asked.
“What?” My eyes widened. I must have forgotten. Not uncommon. Though, the teachers usually took pity on me. After being graced with Rose’s supreme brain, they thought I was the stupid Calloway girl.
“It’s fine, I have you covered,” Lo said. I narrowed my eyes at him, skeptical. No way. “Roses are red. Violets are blue…” Just great. I’m going to fail. “…and if a jock asks, don’t let him f**k you.” He finished off the poem as his eyes wandered ahead. A group of lacrosse players passed us, Aaron leading the pack.
“Advice in a poem?” I said with a smile. “You’re outdoing yourself, Loren Hale.” My amusement was short lived though. Aaron detached from his pack and approached us. Lo stiffened and I tried to ignore the guy as he towered over me.
“You must be Loren,” Aaron said. “We haven’t met, but I’ve heard about you.”
“It’s Lo,” he clarified.
Aaron barely blinked and continued talking as if Lo hadn’t uttered a word. “I’m hosting a pre-season bash at my place.”
“That’s cute,” Lo said with a wry smile, “not many people throw parties to celebrate spring.”
“The lacrosse season,” Aaron deadpanned, eyes cold.
“The meteorologists are inventing new seasons now? That’s impressive.”