The Calloway girls made a goal to drink and dance tonight, which I translated as: We’re getting drunk.
Connor, Ryke, and I promised them that they could go crazy and we’d be the responsible ones, fit to take care of them. For once, I’m on the other side of things. And it feels pretty good.
I like knowing that I have the power to keep Lily safe. Before, all of that seeped away with each whiskey I downed. So yeah, this is new. But it’s a good new.
The crowds aren’t as large as the concert yesterday, and Connor bought a balcony table so we can keep an eye on the girls. We’re seated on the highest level, and the psychedelic lights strobe around us—well, around Connor and me. Ryke is still in the bathroom.
I have a clear view of the three Calloway girls, all of them hovering around the square bar. Rose carries two glasses of some pink concoction, handing one to Daisy.
“Have you ever seen Rose drunk?” I ask Connor. The event has to be like a lunar eclipse or something.
“I don’t think she’d allow herself to exceed her limits.”
I nod in agreement. I’ve never even seen her beyond tipsy. “She’s probably too afraid she’ll get wasted and lose her virginity to a guy with an IQ less than hers.”
Connor breaks his usual placid expression, his mouth opening in slight surprise.
Oh shit. “What did I say?”
He takes a small sip of his wine and his face resumes its normal composed regime. “I didn’t know she was a virgin.”
Shit. Fuck. Shit. Lily is going to kill me. Hell, Rose is going to have my balls first. I should have known better than to open my goddamn mouth.
“I’m sorry,” I say slowly. “I thought you knew.” I scratch the back of my neck.
He stares at his glass and shakes his head. I can’t even begin to guess what he’s thinking. So I have to ask. “Is this a bad thing?” My heart crushes instantly at the thought. As much as Rose and I bicker and fight, I’d never want to ruin her relationship. Especially not with Connor, a guy who is pretty damn perfect for the girl.
He doesn’t say anything, and all my guilt suddenly morphs into anger.
“Hey, she’s a virgin, not a f**king leper.” I point a finger at him. “And if you dump her because of this then you’re a f**king prick. There are a million guys who would gladly be with Rose. For whatever reason, you met her incredibly high standards, and if you hurt her because she’s not experienced, I swear to God, Connor, you are going to wish you never met me.” I finish my rant, surprising myself as much as Connor.
I’ve learned a lot about myself being sober.
I guess I’m kind of protective of Lily, Daisy, and even Rose.
“Lo,” he says my name like I’m five years old and just threw a tantrum. “I don’t care that she’s a virgin. I care that we’ve been dating for six months and she hasn’t told me. Obviously, I’ve overestimated the progress in our relationship.” His eyes flicker down to Rose as she sways to the music beside Lily, and then he looks back to me. “And while I appreciate the sentiments behind that threat, it’s really unnecessary. I have no intention of hurting Rose.”
He pacifies me with a few sentences as if his words are liquid morph**e, but I still feel obligated to defend Rose since I divulged her secret. “She likes you,” I say quickly. “She’s just...” She’s Rose. I don’t know how else to explain it.
Of course he does. He knows everything.
“When she was twenty, I had a suspicion that she lost her virginity to someone on her Academic Bowl team,” he opens up, sharing information that he usually keeps to himself. “She used to slide out of hugs, but she let him rest an arm around her shoulder. I even saw him kiss her in a hallway. She didn’t recoil.” He shakes his head, staring at Rose from faraway. “Turns out she was playing me.”
“What do you mean?”
“She knew I was watching. She knew that I could tell how inexperienced she was, so she stomached whatever revulsion she had towards male contact—just so I would form the idea that she was no longer a virgin.” He sips his wine. “I shouldn’t be surprised. She was never ashamed of it as a teenager, but whenever her virginity was brought up in front of me, she’d get defensive. I think she assumed I’d use it against her.”
He sounds more genuine than usual. I wonder if this is the real Connor Cobalt, a guy not saving face for investors or future contacts. Just him. “You knew Rose when she was a teenager?” I ask.
Connor sets down his empty wine glass. “Since she was fourteen. We’d both attend the circuit of academic conferences with our schools, Model UN, Beta Club, National Honor’s Society.” I feel like I hardly know him. We’ve been friends for months now. How could I not know this? “I’m a year older than her, by the way.”
“Wait, what?” I frown. “I thought you’re twenty-two.”
“Were you held back as a kid or something?”
“Fifth year senior,” he says. “I triple majored, so I had to stay an extra year at Penn to finish my courses.” He keeps his gaze on Rose.
“Why haven’t you told me this before?”
“You never asked. And really, is it that important?” I’m beginning to think that Connor Cobalt only lets people into his life halfway. Maybe he’s more like us than I believed.
We drop the subject as Ryke returns from the bathroom. Melissa rejoins the girls on the dance floor, which she wasn’t willing to do when we first arrived. She was clinging to Ryke pretty fiercely, so I assume Ryke went down on her in the toilet stall. She seems appeased at least.
I want to change the topic off of Rose’s sex life, so I say the first thing that comes to mind. “What kind of a name is Ryke?”
He sinks into the seat beside mine, a can of Fizz Life in his hand that I’m pretty positive doesn’t have any alcohol in it.
“It’s a middle name,” he says like I don’t know. But last year at the Christmas Charity Gala, when he admitted to being my brother, I made him show me his driver’s license. Jonathan Ryke Meadows.
“What kind of a middle name is Ryke?” I clarify.
He lets out an aggravated noise. “What the f**k did Jonathan give you as a middle name?”
“I don’t have one. I think he realized sticking me with Loren was torture enough.” My name was the target for teasing in elementary school, despite the guy-version spelling.
“Ryke,” Connor muses. “From Middle English, a variant of the word would mean power or empire. Though, your spelling is a little off.”
“Yeah, my father is an egotistical douchebag,” he says roughly. “My name literally means Jonathan empire.”
I can’t help but laugh into my next sip of water. For the first time, mine doesn’t seem so bad.
“I don’t know why you’re f**king laughing. You have a girl’s name and no middle name.”
I flip him off.
“Speaking of names,” Connor says casually, and yet, I sense his mischief as his eyes set on Ryke. “You realize if you ever married one of the Calloways, she’d have a p*rn star name.”
“And which Calloway would that be?” I snap. “Poppy is married, I’m dating Lily, you’re dating Rose, and Daisy is sixteen.”
I don’t like hypothetically, but maybe this will deter Ryke from even thinking about a possible future. So I play into it. “Daisy Meadows,” I say, inwardly cringing at the idea. “Sounds like someone who knows her way around a—”
“Don’t even finish that sentence.” Ryke glares.
“I was going to say camera. Why? What were you thinking?” My voice remains edged and cold.
The lights flicker as the show begins to start and we both sit back, trying to calm down. We know how to push each other’s buttons, and I wonder if that’s a brother-thing or just because we’re both products of Jonathan Hale.
The room darkens except for the stage and the servers—the latter of which walk around with flashlights to take drink orders. An Elvis impersonator struts on stage and starts singing with dancers gyrating beside him. The oldies song is remixed so it beats with the hypnotic atmosphere.
I sit a little straighter, watching Lily who dances in a small space with her sisters and Melissa. The lights flash brightly, illuminating the dance floor in a wave of colors.
It doesn’t take long for some guy to approach Lily from behind. I stiffen but stay in my seat, trusting her as I should. His hands slide along her hips, and all these memories of seeing her dance with strange guys flood me cold. I would settle at the bar, keeping a trained eye on Lil so she wouldn’t get hurt, watching as she led some half-witted man to the bathroom. And I’d drown my misery in Maker’s Mark.
As soon as his hands plant on her, his fingers slipping underneath the hem of her blouse and another falling to her skirt, she flinches and darts right into Daisy’s chest. I can’t help but smile. Some months ago, she would have played into his advances. Finally, she’s chosen me.
But my happiness is popped when the guy approaches her, not taking the clear hint. His half-lidded, droopy gaze drives worry into my gut. He is drunk and definitely prepared to dance right on Lily’s ass again.
I’m about to rise and descend to the dance floor, but Daisy shoves his arm hard and points a finger in his face—a Rose move that I wouldn’t think possible from the youngest Calloway.
I glance at Ryke, and he rubs his lips, curiosity swimming in his eyes. She intrigues him as much as her actions concern him. The mix is not good, and I don’t need to remind him of that. He’s heard me shout it in brutal warning.
Lily slinks behind Daisy’s body and then spins around, looking up and meeting my gaze. She gives me a small wave and then turns back to her sister. Daisy physically moves him out of their area. He has his hands up in peace, but he’s staring at her br**sts that are pushed up in a short strapless dress. He licks his bottom lip.
“This is killing me,” Ryke says under his breath.
“You can’t play hero to her,” I remind him. “If she was in trouble, I’d go down there. You can’t.”
He runs his hands through his hair and sits forward with his hands on his legs, watching carefully.
Daisy thrusts the guy back again, and then she gestures to a group of girls in bandage dresses about ten feet away. She breaks from Rose and Lily’s side to bring him over to the girls who bounce up and down. He’s too obliterated to protest, and it’s not long before he’s mesmerized by four more sets of tits.
He forgets about Daisy, and she leaves him to return to her sisters easily.
Lily hugs Daisy in thanks and whispers something in her ear. Both girls smile wide before they laugh.
“Do you trust her?” Connor asks me. I’m sure I look ready to spring down there and glare at any guy who so much as hits on Lily. But I don’t want to be that guy, the one who is so insanely overprotective that he suffocates a woman. There’s a happy medium somewhere. And it does come with trusting her.