“Fuck you.” There it is. I smile while he goes back to his brooding self, not masking his concern.
When I read both numbers side by side, the bottom of my stomach falls.
“Now who’s wearing their emotions?” Ryke retorts. “It’s the same f**king number.” He shakes his head. “I should have beat the f**k out of him last night.”
“Lower your voice,” I whisper. “Ben is right here.”
Ryke glances out of the door frame and spots Ben hanging in the hallway. He eases back inside and says, “What are we going to f**king do?”
“What’s wrong?” Daisy slides between us. She’s about to go into the hall, but both Ryke and I stick out our arms to stop her here.
Rose, Lily and Lo bicker behind us, deeper inside the room. I ignore their voices as best I can. But I hear Lo say, “Go vomit in your Gucci handbag, you’ll feel better. And maybe you’ll expel some of that bitch inside of you.”
“Says the guy who’s more sloth than human. Go hug a tree and eat an ant.”
I tune out the rest. Ryke and I exchange a look before staring back down at Daisy.
She rubs her temple, her long hair tangled at her waist. “I feel really short when you guys do that whole towering over me thing.” She swallows. “I think I need some water.” She tries to leave again, but we block her. “Okay, really, what’s going on?”
I hand Ryke’s phone to Daisy. We both know that she can handle this information. Lo and Lily don’t need to hear it, which is why Ryke has kept this to himself.
“Wait…” Daisy frowns, her brows scrunching. “…this has to be a wrong number.”
“It’s not,” I say. “We just checked.”
She shakes her head. “He wouldn’t say this to me. He’s not that crude.”
“He didn’t say it to you,” Ryke tells her. “He sent the text to me. He’s a f**king guy, Dais—he’s going to be cruder to me, not his girlfriend.”
She stares at the ground in thought. “What…what happened last night? Did I do something…?”
“Fuck,” Ryke curses and he glares at me. “She can’t remember anything.”
Well, if it had to be either Rose or Daisy, I’m selfishly glad it was this one who blacked out. “It’s fine. You didn’t do anything out of your nature, Daisy.”
Her worry doesn’t dissipate with that fact, which is why I said it. I want her to break up with Julian. We all do. And somewhere in her head, she does too. She’s just too frightened to do so.
“Okay…” She hands me Ryke’s phone. And she tries to run her fingers through her hair, but it catches on a giant knot. She clears her throat. “Okay, I’m going to think about this—”
“What is there to f**king think about?” Ryke growls.
She stares up at him, and her eyes expand a little more than usual. She’s scared. “I have a shoot with him soon, a jeans campaign. I can’t…I can’t afford for there to be weird tension between us. He may…” She shakes her head. “…he might complain to the designer about me. And I’ll be the one sacked. They really like him, and Mom will be…” She struggles to breathe fully.
And then across the hall, the door to Julian’s room slowly opens.
Daisy’s eyes widen, and she mutters, “I have to…run.” And she dashes out of the doorway and down the flight of stairs.
“Fuck,” Ryke curses before sprinting after her.
As soon as they’re gone, I shut the door behind me, concealing Rose, Lily and Lo inside so they don’t see what’s about to happen.
Julian comes out, nodding to me with tired eyes. “Is there any hot water left?”
“Yeah,” I say. “Hey, man.” I put a hand on his shoulder to stop him. “I have to ask you something.” He thinks we’re cool. It makes getting the truth that much easier from him, but my muscles constrict the longer I have to withstand Julian. I see the text and the threat of gangbanging Rose’s little sister in my brain—like a warning of who he really is.
He groans. “If this is about your friend, Ryke, you can save it. I’ve had to deal with a lot of bullshit being with Daisy, but that was ridiculous. She’s my girlfriend, and I had to put up with him grabbing at her.”
I can’t defend Ryke right now even though I want so much to do so. He grabbed Daisy once to keep her safe from him, at her wish.
I blink. “I thought she wasn’t your girlfriend.”
He runs a hand through his messy hair. “Friends with benefits, whatever. We’re dating.”
He glares. “Yeah, that’s what I said.” No it’s not, you asshat.
I hold up my hands. “I’m just trying to get things straight here.”
“Well get this straight,” he says. “Your friend isn’t going to be with her. He needs to go find another girl and stop staring at mine.”
“Okay,” I say. “Did you text him last night though? He said you did…”
Julian frowns. “What are you talking about?”
“At four this morning—”
“I was asleep.”
I hand him Ryke’s phone so he can verify.
“What the hell is this?” He shakes his head and pushes the phone into my chest. “I didn’t send this.”
I want to believe him because he appears confused. But if all models are like Daisy, then they’re really good actors.
“Right,” I say, pocketing Ryke’s phone. “I’ll let him know. It must have been a prank.”
Julian just shakes his head again. “Everyone here is f**king crazy.” He nudges my arm. “At least we’re the two normal ones.”
“Yeah, man.” I nod with a smile and he heads to the shower without another word. I rub my jaw that hurts after concealing a scowl. I don’t know who to believe, but I think we all want Daisy far away from Julian until her photo shoot—when she can actually break up with him without fearing being fired and subsequently her mother’s disappointment.
I head downstairs to make breakfast. Ben follows me. Before I go to the kitchen, I peek out the living room window.
Daisy runs through the snow. Barefoot. Without a jacket.
Ryke catches up to her easily, and he wraps his large coat around her body. He picks her up before she can protest, holding her beneath her legs and her back. Her feet are reddened and frostbitten, and she buries her head into Ryke’s bare chest while he talks to her, to calm her down.
I back away.
For as much as I give Ryke a hard time, I can’t imagine another person with a kinder soul.
[ 28 ]
Rose and I spend three days teaching Loren and Lily how to ski. They admitted to never learning during family trips. They’d ditch lessons to goof around, and when they reached a certain age, they replaced normal adolescent behavior with more dangerous activities. Lo would stay at a bar all day, drinking until he passed out, while Lily would sleep with anyone willing.
Daisy opted to snowboard, and even when she chose the black diamond slopes, both Ryke and Julian went with her. Savannah was the only one skilled enough to film them. I can only imagine Ryke and Julian at each other’s throats. That episode is going to draw millions of viewers.
Scott’s the only one who stayed back at the cabin. A rarity. He usually loves tagging along, which means his tactics are changing. I don’t know what he plans to do yet, but I’m constantly on guard.
Everyone changes out of their wet and puffy clothes by the front door. I make it into the living room first to start a fire. Lily is by my side next. I glance back and notice Rose removing her third sweater and brushing her hair off her reddened cheeks. Lo bickers by her side as he stumbles to take off his boots.
Lily clears her throat.
Obviously she wants to talk. “Yes?” I ask.
She raises her hands to the stone fireplace to warm them.
“You really don’t love her?” Lily blurts out.
I let out a breath. This is why I don’t tell anyone my beliefs. I have to explain myself for weeks and months just to be understood.
“It’s complicated, Lily,” I try.
She opens her mouth to refute, but her phone jingles in her pocket. I squat and turn over a log in the flames with an iron poker.
She answers her phone after checking the caller ID. “This is Lily.” She frowns and then taps my shoulder quickly. “Can you talk to my lawyer?”
I stand, and she hands me the phone, a more distressed look coating her face.
Brett’s boots thud against the floor, now changed out of his winter gear to film us from the corner.
I press Lily’s phone to my ear. “Hello?”
“Hi, this is Mark Cole from Red Hot Films. We want to make Lily Calloway an offer to star in one of our productions.”
This isn’t the first time she’s been offered a role, but it’s the first time someone has called her personal phone. Usually they go through her father’s lawyers and managers.
“How did you get this number, Mark?”
“We had a contact,” he says, “we’re prepared to offer two million if she stars. One million if she directs, and that would be behind the scenes business. She doesn’t even have to appear on screen.” But her name would be.
“She’s not interested,” I say calmly.
Lily gives me a thumbs-up and an encouraging smile.
“She’s the daughter of a multi-billion dollar mogul. No amount of money or exposure will sway her. Stop calling.” I hang up at that.
“Thanks,” she says as I hand her the phone. “Whenever I try to say no people usually cut me off.”
“They shouldn’t be calling you anyway.”
She nods like she knows this too. “I think my number was leaked. I might get a new one and give it to only…” She counts in her head. “Six people.”
“Lo, your sisters, and your parents?” I ask.
She shakes her head “Not my parents. You and Ryke. If that’s okay. I just don’t really trust my parents to keep the number to themselves.”
It’s strange to be included in someone’s close personal contacts. I’m used to being on the outskirts of a network, a connection that people use if they really need one. To be so closely tied to Lily and the Calloways makes me truly realize what I’ve gained by being with Rose.
I have a family. A real family. It’s not something you can win. I didn’t manipulate a soul to get here. I have it because they like me for me.
Each day, I’m more thankful for them. And I’m more aware of how much I can lose.
“Perfect,” I tell her, “so I can call and remind you to study for your tests.”
Her eyes grow big. “When is my next test?” Studying, school (even online school) seems to be last on Lily Calloway’s priority list, whereas academics have always ranked high on mine.
“Two weeks,” I say, having memorized her schedule when she showed it to me. I admit, it’s not completely selfless, even though I do care about Lily. I know the way to Rose’s heart is through her sisters.
Her shoulders slacken, probably glad it’s not in a couple of days.
“Lily!” Scott calls as he enters the living room. “I have something for you.”
Brett rotates the camera to catch Scott on film.
He holds a manila envelope in his hands, large enough to contain a paperback book.
Lily frowns, as confused as me.
“I wanted to get you a little thank you gift,” Scott explains. “The ratings for the show these past months have been off the charts, and we all know the success is from you.”
After he hands her the package, she unwraps it quickly to find a DVD of Magic Mike. Unfiltered anger surges through me. Loren has expressed multiple times on camera that he doesn’t want Lily watching the movie, afraid it may trigger her cravings for porn, which is a major compulsion of hers.
The fact that Scott went behind his wishes is low.
By the front door, Rose and Loren continue to argue, slowly peeling off their wet outdoor clothes, not noticing what Scott has just given Lily.
To make matters even worse, Scott leans into Lily’s ear, his hand on her arm as he whispers to her. She turns bright red, obviously uncomfortable by his closeness and maybe even his words.
I step in. “Scott, leave her alone.” I add, “And take your inappropriate gift with you.” My insides twist in unmanageable knots. All I can think about is Lo. He’s right there, by the doorway, a couch and a chair apart from us. And I know how much this is going to hurt him.
Our friendship means something to me, despite what he said at the screening party. And I have to stick up for him and for Lily.
Scott pulls back from her ear, but Lily remains flushed and motionless. A statue solidified in the middle of the f**king room. He turns to me. “It’s the perfect gift for her, actually. She’s been saying how much she wants to watch the movie.”