He stares down at me, and I realize what could have happened today. I could have awkwardly fumbled around him. I could have embarrassed myself on national television. Instead, he made me feel desired and hot instead of mortified and cold.
My eyes blanket in gratitude, the thank you on the tip of my tongue.
But his thumb brushes against my cheek and he says, very softly, “You’re welcome, darling.”
I exhale, glad that I don’t have to struggle to produce the words anymore. The kitchen cupboards clatter loudly as Scott lumbers around.
“You f**ked with his plans,” I whisper.
“He’ll wipe his tears and get over it later.”
I’m not as optimistic. “Or he’s going to find something that you can’t screw up.”
[ 11 ]
It’s still dark outside when my phone buzzes on the nightstand. I rub my drowsy eyes and check the clock. 4:30 a.m. I reach perilously for my phone in the dark and knock off a bottle of aspirin. It clatters to the floor, and I look over my shoulder to make sure Connor hasn’t woken up.
He remains unmoving on his side of the bed.
We didn’t have sex. We’ve been amicably sleeping together without doing more than I want—which isn’t quite right. I’m not exactly sure what I want when it comes to sex anymore. But I hesitate to give him that part of me—the part that he may take in triumph and then disappear with.
Carefully, I turn on the phone and cup my hand around the screen, blocking the glow.
5 months and 12 days until the wedding – Mom
Thanks, Mom. I text back, knowing she won’t catch the thick sarcasm.
Yesterday, when she sent me the 5 months and 13 days update, Lily opened the text on my phone. She almost needed a paper bag to hyperventilate into. She wants to be married about as much as a dog wants to be hit by a car. Planning the wedding is like shoving her into traffic, which is why I offered my services.
Planning. Organizing. Preparing. These are things I excel in. I even mediate between my mother’s requests and Lily’s wishes. As far as our parents go, Lily has tried to have little contact with them. The guilt of hurting Fizzle is a wound she doesn’t like to reopen often. So I have become Lily Calloway’s middleman—always reassuring our parents that she’s not bingeing on cock.
Although if I said such a thing to my mother, she’d have a coronary.
But every time I ask my sister about invitations or music, she turns pale and mumbles something like you choose. So I’m no closer to planning the wedding than Lily is to wanting to get married. Which infuriates our mother. I’m sure I’ll receive a phone call and lecture about time management later this afternoon.
“Everything okay, hun?”
My heart jumps at Connor’s voice. I roll over to see him wide awake, head propped up by his hand.
“It’s just my mother,” I say in a whisper. “Sorry I woke you.” I’m about to roll back to the far end of the mattress when my phone buzzes again.
Send me the Calloway Couture sales reports from last week. I’d like to have a financial advisor look over them. – Mom
I let out an aggravated growl. “She knows I don’t want her involved in my company anymore,” I say more to myself than Connor. “Why can’t she just back off?”
I don’t reply to her in text again. From experience, I know it’s best not to start an argument over the phone. Especially one at four-thirty in the morning.
“So you do want to talk,” Connor says with the raise of his eyebrows.
“No.” I blink and shake my head. “Sorry. It’s too early…” I go to turn and Connor catches my arm.
“I have time for you,” he says. I watch him sit up, fluff his pillow and lean against the headboard. He waves me on. “Let’s hear it.”
I rise a little, my legs tucked in front of me, and I tug the hem of my royal-blue silk nightgown. “When I told her I wanted to do a reality show to help Fizzle and Calloway Couture, the first thing she said was, it’d better work, and if it doesn’t, then I have two daughters that have ruined the Calloway name.” I stare at the sheets and shake my head. “Who says that to their own daughter?”
Connor is quiet as he patiently lets me vent. Usually, I wait until therapy to unleash my aggravation. But at the end of those sessions, I’m always prescribed anti-anxieties, whereas Connor usually ends our conversations by calming most of my worries.
I continue as I think about her texts. “And even though I’ve reminded her a hundred times that I have Lily’s wedding under control, she insists on butting in. You can’t have red velvet cake, Rose. Make the color scheme gold, like Fizzle, Rose. That venue is too small, Rose. Oh, but that one is too large.” I throw up my hands after imitating her. “I can’t do anything right.”
“Have you tried ignoring her?” Connor asks.
He knows I haven’t. I crumble at my mother’s persistence. And even if she becomes overbearing and a little too much to handle, there is a part of me that loves that she cares. That she’d rather spend her time thinking about her daughters than worrying about mindless matters.
“I love her even if I hate her,” I say, not entirely responding to his question.
“A paradox,” Connor muses. “I like those. They make life interesting.”
My eyes flit to his. We don’t have these heart-to-hearts often. It’s much more fun to debate over Freud’s misogynistic theories. But we’ve spoken about Connor’s relationship with his own mother a couple times. She’s not cold or maternal. She just is. At least that’s how he’s always described Katarina Cobalt. As if she’s nothing more than his boss.
I’d love to meet her, but Connor has lied to me about her being busy for over a year. He doesn’t want me to see her for whatever asinine reason, and even if he won’t tell me why, I respect his opinion. So when she called me a couple days ago, I brushed her off with the same excuse Connor has been using. I’m too busy for coffee and definitely too busy for brunch. It was rude, but if she listens to gossip and socialite mutterings, she’d know I’m a bit of a bitch.
“Mothers are all slightly insane,” Connor says with a small smile. He just quoted J.D. Salinger, and he waits for me to say so. But I keep my lips tight like I lost him somewhere. His smile fades. “J.D. Salinger.”
“Really? Most mothers are instinctive philosophers,” I shoot back.
He grins again. “Harriet Beecher Stowe. And I couldn’t agree more.”
“I wasn’t trying to stump you, so don’t gloat.” I want to hear the truth, not someone else’s words. “Tell me something real.”
And in one swift motion, he tugs my ankle, pulling me flat on the mattress. My nightgown rises to my belly, revealing my black cotton panties. Before I can fix it, he startles me by placing his hands on either side of my body, hovering above me. There’s challenge in his eyes. To stay still. To not be afraid of him.
I inhale, fire brewing inside of me. I don’t shift my nightgown, and my eyes narrow, finding my combative side. “You didn’t answer me.”
His eyes dance over my features. “You’re not going to like what I have to say.”
“I don’t care. Just tell me anything.”
“As long as it’s real?”
He smiles. “Where do I even start?” His hand skims the bareness of my knee, up towards my thigh. “Besides what I’d love to do to you right now and tomorrow and for the rest of my life, I hope that someday, I’ll watch you grow big and round…” He kisses my belly, and his mouth trails a line to my hipbone, dangerously close to my panties. “…and I’ll hold you in my arms…every…” He traces the skin above the fabric. “…single…night.”
I become so absorbed by his words, and I react how he probably predicted. I put two firm hands on his chest and push him to a sitting position.
His eyebrow arches. “Yes?”
“You want children?” I gape. I wasn’t sure what he really wanted. But the fact that he’s not onboard with me—that we have diverged somewhere has my heart rate at a hundred-and-five. I thought Connor was the male-version of me. But I realize I’m not dating myself. I’m dating someone much different. Whether that’s better is to be seen.
“I told you, you weren’t going to like my answer. You said you weren’t going to care. One of us lied.”
I glower. “You want children.”
“Does saying it twice make it more real?” he asks, his fingers touching his jaw. He’s smiling, loving this way too much.
“Why would you want children? You’re…you.”
“You’re right. I am me. And me wants eight screaming kids, who will bounce on our bed in the morning, who will beg you to braid their hair, who have your beautiful eyes and your brilliant mind. I want it all, Rose. And one day, our children will have it all too.”
“Eight kids?!” I fixate on this. “I can’t even stomach having one kid and you want me to birth a lineage? I’m not the Queen of England procreating to secure our empire with an heir.”
He grins into a bright laugh, his teeth almost too gorgeous to stare at. He wrestles me back to the mattress, and he kisses my cheek. “But don’t you want a son and daughter to succeed you,” he asks, “to raise them as your own, to know that your legacy will still remain long, long after you’re gone?”
“It’s still all about you,” I say, understanding completely now. “Could you even love your children?”
His smile fades again, and he becomes impassive, poker-faced. “I’d love them.”
I wish, more than anything, he wouldn’t try to lie to me. That angers me more than hearing the truth. “You only love yourself.”
“I love you.” He’s practically mocking me.
I push him up again, and I rise to my knees. My lips find his ear, my voice hot and cold all at once. “I don’t believe you.” I scoot to the edge of the bed, to climb off. He catches my arm again.
“I meant what I said,” he tells me seriously, “before you brought love into the equation.”
“That’s the thing, Connor.” I untangle from him. “Love should always be in the equation when children are involved. You’re just lucky I don’t hold that stipulation.” I step off the bed and straighten my nightgown.
“Where are you going?” he asks, worry creasing his brows. We fight often. And we make up even more. It’s not as though my storming off is out of the ordinary.
“To take a shower.”
“It’s five in the morning. Come back to bed.”
“No,” I say. “I want to shower before anyone comes into the bathroom.” I head towards the door.
“Rose…” He starts but he stops himself before he gets that far.
I feel like I’m eighteen again.
And Connor’s that nineteen-year-old boy who lent me his college blazer.
I wait for him to speak, but like back then, he just stares at me with those deep austere eyes, with shadows of the truth hidden behind pools of blue.
So I say, “I don’t mind that you don’t love me the way I do you.” I tuck my hair behind my ear. “Thank you for at least trying.”
And I leave.
But he knows I’ll be back.
In nearly ten years of knowing Connor, we always seem to return to each other—even when we were thousands of miles apart, on two separate planes of existence—even when it seemed like our futures had strayed.
He may not believe in fate, but I do.
And I know I’m fated to be with him.
[ 12 ]
5 months and 10 days – Mom
I slip my cell in my purse, about to head to the Calloway Couture offices. Savannah stays close by my side with the camera hovering. As soon as I head towards the door, it whips open and Daisy walks in with her white motorcycle helmet beneath her arm.
“Hey, Rose.” She sets the helmet on the leather couch and twists her long blonde hair in a loose bun atop her head.
But she’s not alone. Brett enters with his steadicam, and Ryke shuts the door behind them, his black helmet dangling in his hand. Ryke slumps down on the couch and runs his fingers through his thick tousled hair.
“Good, I caught you,” I tell Daisy, deserting my plans for a second. “I want to give you something before I forget.” I should really get Lily in the living room too. But she’s much harder to wrangle. “Stay here.” I head to the hall closet and return with a shopping bag.
Before I pass her the bag, I notice the way Ryke and Daisy share furtive glances. She shakes her head at him, and he grits his teeth, his jaw locking into hard-cut lines.
“Is everything okay?” I ask with a little edge. I don’t like being out of the loop. If it involves my sisters, I want to be in the center f**king circle.