“That’s incredibly rude,” I tell him as he opens my text.
He lets out a laugh. “Marilyn Monroe, Paul Newman, James Dean. Your boyfriend is so f**king weird.” He tosses the phone back to me, and I just barely catch it without dropping my chopsticks.
“Sometimes weird is better than normal,” I say. “Normal can be boring.”
He touches his chest. “I’m not boring, honey.”
Why does he have to say everything so condescendingly? “I fell asleep every time you wanted to have sex. What do you call that?”
“A personal problem.”
I roll my eyes and quickly text Connor back. Fuck. Marry. Kill. I’m more comfortable with the idea of hav**g s*x with a woman than I am with a man, as strange as that may seem. Connor will most likely pick up on this, but I don’t care. I hit send and set my phone back safely on the desk, away from Scott’s grabby f**king hands.
“I saw your mother yesterday,” he says.
“You did?” I try not to act surprised, but my heart has lodged in my throat for a second. Why would he visit my mother?
“We ate lunch and caught up. It was like old times.” He passes me a water bottle and then takes a swig of his Cherry Fizz. “She said she wished Daisy was around, that the house was too quiet without all of you girls there.”
“Stop,” I tell him, standing up and setting the sushi on the desk. It feels like fool’s food, a trap, something you give a three-headed dog before sneaking into a treasure cove.
He frowns. And I can’t tell whether it’s real or fake. Honest or deceitful. “What’s wrong?”
“You don’t know me,” I refute. I return to my tubs of clothes, but I don’t want to squat down in front of him.
“I do know you,” he lies.
I spin around and realize he’s casually leaning against the front of my desk. “Can you please leave?”
“I don’t get it. I say one thing about your mother and you throw a tantrum.”
I glance at the camera. I don’t want to vilify my mother to the nation. I don’t want to cause her that pain. She’s a good woman even if she does bad things sometimes. But the more he pokes me, the more these thoughts and feelings resurface, the more I can’t bite my tongue. That’s Connor’s specialty. He’s the river that idly passes between mountains. I’m the volcano that destroys a village.
“What is it?” he taunts, his voice anything but kind. He wears an antagonistic smile. “She didn’t buy you a diamond necklace? She forgot your eighteenth birthday?”
“My mother would never forget my birthday,” I tell him. “She’s always been there for me.”
Scott shrugs like I’m insane. Maybe I am. Maybe my feelings are irrational. Maybe I’m losing my mind with all the stresses in my life. “She was upset that she was an empty-nester. It’s normal, Rose.”
“I don’t want her to take Daisy back,” I suddenly blurt out.
Scott frowns again. “Why not? Do you have some perverse fantasy about raising her, becoming a mother because Connor won’t have kids with you?”
“Fuck you,” I curse. I grab my handbag and lift one of the tubs awkwardly in my arms. Scott doesn’t offer to carry it for me (not that I would let him). “You can see yourself out.”
I struggle to open the door with one hand. This time, I don’t have Connor behind me to scoop up the box and help. I manage fine at first. I breeze through the door and head down the hall, breathing sporadic breaths that slide down my throat like brittle knives.
The tub drops out of my hands by the elevator. The lid cracks, and I hurriedly fold each article of clothing before placing them back inside.
I don’t want to float inside my head, but the longer I take, the more I feel the past whisper against my neck like a cold, familiar ghost. I see my oldest sister, Poppy, who grew tall before the rest of us, who was out the door, married and pregnant in practically no time at all.
When she left, my mother focused her excess attention on me, pressuring me to continue ballet, attending every practice and recital, filling my schedule with dinner dates and functions. And I wanted to make her proud. How else can you give thanks to someone who gives you everything you desire? Who showers you with things that glitter? You become someone they can gloat over; you become their greatest prize.
Connor is right. He talks of monetary values. Of benefits. Opportunity cost. There is a price that you pay growing up in luxury. You feel so undeserving of everything around you. So you find a way to be deserving of it—by being smart, by being talented and successful.
By building your own company.
With Calloway Couture, I could make my father proud—to show him that I could follow his entrepreneurial footsteps. The failure of my company feels not only like a failure of my dream, but a failure of my place in the family. Of my right to have these beautiful things.
But I have to remember what else my company means to me. What it has been. How it’s saved me. It was an outlet where I could be creative despite my mother’s constant nagging. I used to come home, rub my abused toes from pointe shoes, and sketch on my bed, in private. I was twelve. I was thirteen. Fourteen. I found solace in fashion. I found peace and happiness.
It was something for me. My mother couldn’t take my designs. She couldn’t make them hers. I created each dress, each blouse and skirt. They were the clay that I could mold, even if she continued to try and mold me.
And then I left for Princeton when I turned eighteen. My mother lost me, the daughter who she fought the most with, but only because I was the daughter she turned to, the one she talked to, the one who spent nights listening to her prattle, who heard her advice, even if I chose not to take it. I love that she loves me. I just wish she let me breathe for a moment in my life.
My mother still had Lily after I left. But she brushed over her, believing she was set for life with Loren Hale, the heir of a multi-billion dollar company almost as lucrative as Fizzle.
So that left Daisy.
I knew exactly what would happen to her the moment I went to college. I knew she’d take my place as consummate daughter, ready to say yes to my mother the moment I shut the door. But as a teenager, I fought my mom each step of the way. I was bitchy and obstinate.
My sister is none of those things.
I cried when I finished unpacking my dorm room. I was smart enough to see what would happen. And I couldn’t do anything about it. Daisy would bend to my mother’s desires, to her selfish ways. She would sign Daisy up for so many classes to where she couldn’t see straight. She would make her date whoever she chose. She would dress her in fancy ball gowns with too much frill and lace. And she’d parade her around like a toy doll with no voice and no brain. No matter how much I called Daisy to check in, to listen to her words crack before she layered on the false optimism, I couldn’t change the course of things.
I thought for sure Daisy would turn to drugs.
I thought for sure she’d party too hard to try to reach the air that my mother always sucked dry.
I coped by scribbling in a sketch book at that house. I couldn’t see that as a path for Daisy. I only saw blackness. And I’ll never forgive myself for what happened, how blind I was.
I was focusing on the wrong sister.
Lily was heading down that dark road, feeding an addiction that not many people understand.
Daisy wasn’t even close to that yet.
But I fear making the same mistake—not helping Daisy like I was too late for Lily. I don’t want my mom to exploit Daisy with her modeling career just so she can brag to her tennis club friends. I want my sister to watch late night movie marathons, have slumber parties and eat too much ice cream. But her childhood already consists of stumbling home with tired eyes from a midnight photo shoot, from going on go-see after go-see where people pinch her waist and call her fat.
This is my price I pay for my wealth.
I’m sure of it.
No matter how much I want to save my sisters and just keep them close, I feel as if I’m destined to watch them fall.
[ 13 ]
I check my watch. 4 a.m. The stationary cameras in the kitchen rafters film me, but there’s no possibility anyone would want to watch me, alone, right now. I just take pleasure in the idea that Scott will have to sift through hours of footage of me doing monotonous tasks, like studying. I find time to give the cameras the finger too, even if it’s childish.
Ryke would definitely do it.
And if I can tell Scott to f**k off at four in the morning, then I’ll gladly take the opportunity. The benefit is just too f**king good.
I pour black coffee into a larger mug and fit the pot back. As soon as I turn around, I flinch and almost spill the hot liquid on my button-down and slacks. “Dammit, Rose.”
She wears her black silk robe, but I focus on her hands that fix firmly on her hips. “You never came to bed.”
I take a sip of my coffee and pass her easily, heading to the kitchen table, papers spread around my open laptop. “I have business reports due tomorrow. I don’t have time to sleep.” She follows me, and just as I near my chair, she kicks the legs, and it overturns and clatters to the floor.
My brows jump as I look from Rose, her arms crossed, and the chair on the floor. “Are you trying to start something?” I would smile if my eyes didn’t feel like lead. My temples pound as though someone repeatedly swung a bat at my face. She has more leverage on me when I’m this exhausted.
“Let me help you with the report,” she says.
“No.” I set my mug down on the table so I don’t burn her or me. Her vexed stance and piercing yellow-green eyes tell me what she may do next. And it’s not going to be delicate.
“Richard, you can’t live off two hours of sleep a day. So either I help you or you’re going to turn your report in late and try to get an extension.”
The latter is not an option, and while I think Rose is fully capable of helping me, she needs the sleep as much as I do. There’s no point in both of us suffering while I try to get my MBA.
“Go back to bed,” I say flatly.
“I’m determined,” I refute. I layer on a complacent smile, which causes her chest to rise in irritation.
She shoves me hard, and I sway at the force, already predicting it enough to brace myself. But she catches me off guard, darting to the table and gathering my papers. She scans the words quickly.
“Rose,” I warn. “You’re not helping me.” I try to collect the papers from her, but she holds them above her head, as though that’ll work. I easily snatch a couple, having the height advantage.
“I can calculate these numbers,” she says, glancing at the computer screen.
“I have no doubt that you can. But you’re not going to.” She tries to reach for my laptop, but there’s no way I’m letting her touch it—tired or not, I block her with my body and shove her back with enough force that she stumbles into the wall.
She gapes and then her lips tighten. “You always talk about how I need to accept help once in a while. You’re becoming a—”
“Think hard before you finish that sentence, darling.”
Her eyes brighten at the challenge. “A hypocrite.”
That’s it. I grab her around the waist, and she starts hitting my chest with closed fists. “Set me down right now, Richard!”
I carry her towards the kitchen sink, my hand gripping her ass, while she thrashes against me. When she bites my arm, I grimace into a laugh. “You want to play rough?” I set her feet on the ground, and before she can orient herself, I push her hard against the kitchen island.
I lose my hand in her hair and yank forcefully. She gasps, but she blinks quickly. “Let me help you.”
Her nose flares. And she slams the heels of her palms into my chest, forcing me back. “I’m doing half of your report.” She’s about to storm over to the kitchen table, but I seize her again. My lips find her ear as I draw her ass towards my cock.
“No,” I force, “the only thing you’re going to do is sleep.” My hot breath hits her skin as I lower my head. Her perfume smells like white roses and ivy—a scent that dizzies me in an intoxicating lull. I love every inhale. My lips skim her neck before I suck deeply.
She lets out an audible noise of pleasure before spinning on me again, her gaze flickering to my laptop.
“No,” I tell her.
When we disagree, we usually don’t speak for a couple days until one of us concedes. I don’t want that to happen tonight, not with Scott upstairs trying to encroach on my territory. I watch her shift in anger, her black robe stopping mid-thigh. Adrenaline pumps into my veins as her blazing eyes dance over me.
I rub my sensitive lips, and I make a calculated decision. I shove her into the island again, and she lets out a sharp noise. She tries to fight me at first, but I pin her to this place with my pelvis, her spine curving against the counter.