I finish my rant and he full-on grins. But it’s different this time.
He smiles at me like every word I said was special. Like they belonged to him and me.
“What?” I snap, but my voice softens when I see the look in his eye that says I mean everything to him.
He intertwines his fingers with mine and draws me to his chest, “Nothing, darling.” His breath warms my ear as he leans down. “You look gorgeous in that dress. Is it yours?”
Is it yours? He’s asking if I designed it. I nod.
He brushes my hair off my shoulder as I inhale strongly. His fingers run across the black fabric with studs on the collar, and he skims my neck with an even lighter touch.
“As gorgeous as it is,” he says, “I’m going to love taking it off you tonight.” He kisses my cheek, and I have to look around the room at all the faces to remember we’re in public.
With hundreds of people.
My emotions have suddenly calmed, and as Connor squeezes my hand, I realize why.
Lo is right. He has a gift.
The countdown on the screen ticks down from ten.
That’s all it takes to decide whether this show will fail.
Ten stupid seconds.
* * *
Thirty minutes in, and it’s not looking so good.
Beside me at the screening party, Lily shields her eyes with her hand, peeking beneath as we watch the train wreck that is our lives. The six of us have congregated in solidarity by the f**king potted plant as the show continues playing. Scott chooses to stand beside my parents, whispering things to my mother, and she laughs with sincerity.
Connor’s eyes flicker from the television screens to Scott and my parents every so often. I can tell he’d like to go interject and break up Scott’s ploy to make nice with my mother and father, but he stays here. With me. And I appreciate that more than he knows.
We already watched the psychic disaster, and then I endured a five-minute clip where Daisy popped wheelies on her Ducati. She revved the bike too hard, and she slid off the back of the seat and ate it. Instead of crying, she picked up her motorcycle that rode off without her, and she tried again.
After watching that, our mother looked ready to storm over to us and scold her in front of everyone. The only thing that stopped her was the two-hundred onlookers.
I finish my second glass of champagne and snatch another one before the server darts away. The interview segments are the most interesting part of Princesses of Philly. None of us have seen each other’s tapes. Scott would stand behind Savannah’s camera, conducting the interviews in our study, the walls lined with books. And he’d dictate questions to her to ask us—just so his voice wouldn’t be recorded. God forbid anyone knows he’s orchestrating the show.
“Lily and Lo f**k a lot,” Ryke says, each f-bomb bleeped accordingly. He sits on a brown leather chair. “If we had to rank who’s getting the most, it’d be my brother, his girlfriend, then maybe Connor Cobalt and his hand.”
Beside me, Connor grins and sips his wine, finding Ryke’s comment more amusing than I would.
Ryke’s eyes float towards the door that opens.
Daisy peeks her head through, walking straight in. “I need you out front for a second,” she says. “What was the last question? If it’s important, I can come back later.”
Ryke stands. “No it’s fine.”
I don’t like where this is headed. Why would this be shown?
We hear Savannah’s voice but can’t see her. “He was ranking who has the most sex in the house. How would you rank everyone?” Savannah asks.
Daisy’s face lights up with a smile.
“Don’t answer her,” Ryke says.
“Lily and Lo,” Daisy ignores him with a playful grin. She bounces on her feet like she drank way too much caffeine. “They f**k a lot.”
Ryke rolls his eyes.
By the potted plant, Daisy apologies to Lily, “I’m so sorry.” And then her eyes flicker between Ryke and Lo. “Please don’t get upset.” She directs that mainly to Lo.
Lo turns to his brother and just gives him a deep glare. “How many shades of inappropriate are we about to see?”
“Fifty,” Ryke quips, his lips slowly rise and we all burst into laughter, despite the show still playing. People stare at us like they missed something on screen. They didn’t. But finding the humor in our lives is much better than reliving the bad parts.
“And then who?” Savannah asks Daisy.
Ryke stares down at Daisy with a hard glare. “Don’t answer her.”
“I didn’t get that far.”
Daisy grins like she’s excited to be the first to divulge the information. She spins around and stares right at the viewers [the camera] and Ryke grabs her around the waist to stop her from speaking. But she says, “I’m totally getting more ass than Ryke Meadows.”
She laughs as she squirms in his hold.
“She’s not getting more ass than me,” he says. He tries to pull her into his arms and turn her away from the camera. But she spins around quickly again and plants her hands on his chest.
“Oh yeah? I have a boyfriend. What do you have?”
“A six-pack and big f**king c*ck.”
The crowd breaks into loud talk at that. Loren’s eyes flash murderously at his brother. And Ryke just shakes his head at himself.
Connor can’t stop laughing.
Daisy tries to wrestle with him again, and her shirt rises on her waist, revealing a purplish bruise on her hip. Ryke goes incredibly still, and Daisy stops moving as her face falls.
“It’s nothing,” she says quickly. “Come on, I need you out front.”
We all turn on Daisy who has taken a seat on the floor, texting in solitude. She’s ignoring us on purpose. And I wonder…
When I gave Daisy pepper spray, it seemed like she was keeping a secret with Ryke. I completely forgot about that, and so I never badgered them for the information. I think I’m finally going to get some answers, and they’re just going to be handed to me. No work involved. Look, the show has another perk. Who would have thought?
“Hey.” Lo nudges Daisy’s back with his foot. “What the f**k is going on?”
“It’s taken care of,” she says noncommittally, fixed to her phone.
Lo glances at Ryke. “Why didn’t you say something?”
“Just f**king watch,” Ryke says. “It doesn’t matter now. They’re airing it.”
Connor sips his wine. “Clearly you hoped they wouldn’t.”
“A part of me did, actually. But I was protecting that one…” He leans behind his brother and points to Lily who has her head on Lo’s shoulder. “So give me a f**king break.”
“What? Me?” Lily points to her chest sheepishly. “I’m okay.” But her voice is small. She’s had to see herself make out with Lo, and all of us had a three-minute heated debate whether this was considered soft-core porn—which she’s not allowed to watch.
Then Daisy off-handedly admitted to being a porn-watcher—more to keep Lily from shrinking into herself in shame. And Lo made a face like someone stabbed ice picks in his ears.
I’m immediately brought back into the show after hearing one particular line from my sister:
“He threw something at me.”
Ryke breathes heavily. “It looks like he f**king grabbed you.”
She pauses. “Can you please come outside and I’ll explain.”
With locked shoulders, Ryke follows Daisy downstairs, into the living room, and out the front door. When they reach the street, she leads him to her parked Ducati on the curb. The taillights and headlights are busted. And the handlebars are bent out of shape.
“What the f**k? Mother ****ing, piece of sh*t **** **** ******* kidding me.” He glares. “Who f**king did this?”
“Some douchebag downtown. I came out of Lucky’s, and he was smashing my bike with his boot. He told me, and I quote, ‘Get out of here, you spoiled c*nt of Philly.’”
Ryke cringes at the one swear word I’ve never heard him use. “It wasn’t your boyfriend?”
“No,” she says. “He wouldn’t hurt me. I just…I was trying to get my bike back, and we had a bit of a confrontation, hence the bruise. It’s nothing really. I was just glad the paparazzi didn’t show up.”
Lily gapes. “They’re that angry at us for filming?” The fear blinks in her eyes. If Philly locals did this to Daisy—then what the hell are they going to do to my little sister whose sex addiction has been plastered on national news?
The heckling—it’s not something I really thought about before.
“It wasn’t that bad,” Daisy tells both of us.
But Ryke’s hardened jaw says differently. On screen and off.
Ryke inspects the damage on her bike, shaking his head more and more. “We need to press charges.”
“I didn’t get his name.”
“But you can describe him to the police.”
She stays quiet.
“He f**king assaulted you, Daisy. He’s not getting away with this sh*t.”
“I don’t want to cause more trouble, really. Let’s just forget about it.”
“You want me to f**king forget about it?” His eyes fall to her waist where he saw the bruise. And then he stands and tries to pull her shirt up.
Connor chokes on his wine. I rub his back with a mechanical hand. I really want to smack Ryke’s head, but I’m restraining myself—something Ryke clearly cannot do.
“I gave you way too much credit,” Connor tells him. “I thought you were smart enough not to do that on camera.”
“On camera?” Lo interjects. “How about not at all.”
Daisy waves her hand from the ground, still texting. “Right here, guys.”
Ryke extends his arms. “What do you want from me? She just told me she got mauled by some f**king angry idiot on the street, and she wouldn’t tell me how bad it was.”
“For the record, it wasn’t that bad.”
“It was f**king bad.” Ryke glares at her. “Your whole side was f**ked up.”
“What is f**ked up?” I say in worry. “Do you need to go to the doctor, Daisy?”
“I already went,” she says. “I’m fine. No internal bleeding—”
“I’m going to strangle you,” I tell Ryke. I step towards him, and Connor clutches my arm, pulling me back to his chest. My sister was that hurt and no one thought to inform me?!
“Why are you f**king yelling at me?” Ryke shouts. “I’m not the one who tossed her to the ground.”
“You should have told me!”
“Daisy didn’t want you to know,” Ryke retorts. “Is it that hard of a concept? You freak the f**k out, Rose. You’re about to hyperventilate right now.”
And then I realize that my chest rises and falls in a strange, uneven rhythm. Okay, maybe I’m not all there. But I hate that Daisy was hurt and I was purposefully left out of the secret. I should have remembered they were keeping something from me. I should have been by her side while she was at the doctor’s. This is my fault. If we didn’t have the reality show, she wouldn’t have met such a hostile pedestrian without a bodyguard.
“Were you alone at the doctor’s?” I ask Daisy.
“Ryke went with me.”
At least she wasn’t alone. But Lo glares at him, hardly thinking he’s a good replacement. He’s better than no one.
I glance back at the big screen. Ryke and Daisy stop fighting each other. He holds her arms while she stares up into his brown eyes.
“I’m fine,” she says.
“The more you keep saying that, Calloway, the less I believe you. What’d he do, body slam a hundred-twenty-pound girl on the f**king ground?”
“No, we wrestled. In the mud. There were cheerleaders in attendance too.”
“Shut the f**k up.”
She grins. “It’s funny.”
“You being hurt is the least funny thing in the entire f**king world.”
“And that’s the biggest exaggeration I’ve heard all day.”
They just stare at each other for three long seconds. Ryke tries to cut the tension by looking away first. He says, “I’ll take your bike to the shop. You can ride mine if you need to go to a modeling gig.”
People mutter again, and my mother’s bony collar juts out as she inhales, her frame too skinny. With the scandal, she’s eaten less and less. And it’s not long before her hateful gaze finds her target, landing on Ryke. Direct hit.
“Momma Calloway is going to ream your ass,” Lo tells him. He slaps his back and squeezes his shoulder hard. “Good luck, bro.” He smiles.
“You’re enjoying my distress way too f**king much.”
“It keeps my life bright.”