Ryke and I fail on that front.
“I was giving Lily a pep talk,” Lo explains.
“I needed one,” she agrees. Her eyes flicker to his in gratitude, but then she must remember her earlier declaration because she takes a step to the side to put distance between them. “We’re still in a fight.”
Loren’s throat bobs at her words. “I’m going to start taking Antabuse again, Lil,” he whispers.
“Good,” she says with a nod. Then she looks to Ryke. “Fast-forward to the end. When we come out of the bathroom, I know I’ll look disappointed.”
Ryke presses a button and the footage speeds up, when he hits play, we all wait in anticipation, as if this is the only piece of evidence we have left.
On screen, Lily and Lo exit the bathroom, and before anyone says a thing, Lily goes, “Ah-ha!” She points to the footage. “I look so upset.”
I frown and bend closer to the screen. She needs her eyesight checked. I put my hands on my h*ps as I lean further. Really, what is she looking at? All I see is Lily’s flushed face and her hand in Lo’s. Their demeanor is natural, almost content.
“That’s you disappointed?” Ryke says in disbelief. “You’re sweating and your face is red.”
“It was hot in the bathroom,” Lily defends.
“It was,” Loren agrees but his voice has changed. Where Lily is frantic, Lo looks resolute as if he’s accepted the fact that this looks bad for them.
“Are they going to air this?” Lily wonders.
“Probably,” Connor says, “but it helps promote your wedding. The bad edit would be you slipping into the bathroom with another guy.”
“We’re just concerned about your health,” I say.
“I didn’t have sex, Rose,” Lily tells me with pleading eyes. “I’m doing better. I mean, I shouldn’t have asked Lo that...that question. But besides that, I’m doing better.”
I have to trust her. I know this.
But if Lily didn’t blow her boyfriend in a public restroom and if Loren didn’t drink, then there’s only one other guilty party.
Scott Van Wright.
I’m going to kill him.
[ 37 ]
I convinced everyone to keep their production-tampering suspicions to themselves. If we give production a reaction, they win. They all agreed after a few hours, but Rose, Ryke, and Loren have short fuses. It’s only a matter of time until one of them detonates.
Five days later and I have other obligations to attend to. Like an apocalyptic dinner with my mother and my girlfriend.
I wait for Rose in my limo that hugs the curb. The townhouse is lit by bulbs in the dining room, flickering through the windows. Our home is also guarded by her father’s hired security. I’m about to call her to see what’s taking so long. I doubt she’d want to be late the first time meeting my mother. If I could, I’d drive this limo past the restaurant and into a hotel or Rose’s office. Anywhere to avoid the chaos of the night.
Rose has expressed about twelve times in the past three hours that she wants to impress my mother. The confession nearly had me laughing. Rose Calloway wants to impress someone, a feat she has never been a hundred-percent successful in. But for some reason, I feel like if she fails this time, I’m partially to blame. Katarina is my mother after all.
My phone pings before I call her.
Daisy, Lily, me – Rose
My eyes narrow at the list. We started playing Fuck, Marry, Kill again on the plane. And when I gave her three inanimate objects, she almost whipped out her pepper spray and used the whole canister on me.
She’s been simmering. Waiting for a chance to get me back.
She definitely has.
I cringe as I try to find a suitable answer without offending anyone.
And then I press send.
[ 38 ]
I’d fuck, marry, and kill you. – Connor
Oh. He is not getting out of this one that easily. He made me admit to f**king a tree, killing an orange and marrying a book. He is not cheating. I didn’t.
With the phone in one hand, I struggle to text him back and snap my high heels at my ankles. My old silver peep-toes betrayed me today. The heel broke when I walked down the stairs, so I’ve had to hurry for an alternative, which happen to be black heels with too many buckles.
“LILY!” I shout.
After a long pause, she says. “I’M NOT COMING OUT!”
I purse my lips. I forgot. Loren and Lily have been isolating themselves in their rooms for three days and counting. They’re waiting for Scott to apologize for the Magic Mike ploy and generally every vile comment he’s made to Lily. I think what finally tipped the boat was when he told her to go suck a c*ck with Lo right there. Just to start a fight.
Instead of attacking Scott, they’re both hoarded in their rooms, outsmarting him. He’s not getting any footage with the couple unless they have to sneak to the bathroom. I don’t know how they’re eating because neither I nor Ryke will feed into this crazy plot. Being isolated from us is a way to fester their addictions. I don’t like it, but I can’t coax them out without letting Scott win.
I do have a suspicion that both Daisy and Connor have been supplying them with breakfast essentials and microwaved meals. I caught Daisy with three empty bowls of cereal in her hands. And since her photo shoot for Marco Jeans is quickly approaching, I highly doubt she’s eating that much.
And I can’t call Daisy down here either. She’s not at the townhouse. I’ve seen her for maybe three hours total in the past two weeks. That’s how busy she’s been with school and modeling. I asked the guards when she got in last night and they said three a.m.—riding home from New York. The perks of being wealthy: we have a family driver that each of us can use if we want, so no one has to worry about her sleeping or drinking at the wheel. But it hardly helps diminish the other concerns I have for my little sister.
Savannah points her camera at me, and she gives me a look like she wishes she could help me with my heels. I asked all of the cameramen to kindly stay behind while Connor and I go see his mother, who does not want to be filmed. They’ve all graciously accepted, and Connor had a guard sweep the limo to make sure there weren’t any hidden cameras.
Besides Savannah, the only one in the living room is Ryke. He drinks a bottle of water, his hands chalky from climbing some mountain.
I’m not joking.
He does it for fun. No ropes. No harness. He’s as crazy as my little sister.
“Ryke,” I say with the fakest girly voice I can muster. “Can you please come help me?” I feel like I just choked on a steak bone.
He nods, and I forget that he’s not his brother. He’s not going to put up a fight with me. Thank God. I don’t have time for that. He kneels at my feet, and before he touches my heels, I flinch back.
“What?” he asks roughly.
“Your hands, they’re dirty.” I crinkle my nose.
He glares as he wipes the chalk residue on the burgundy rug.
I cringe even more. My poor rug. But if I had to choose between my rug and my heels, I’m going to choose the heels every damn time.
He raises his hands to show that they’re slightly clean. Fine. It’ll have to do. I stick out my feet again, and he buckles them at the ankles while I text Connor.
I don’t f**k cheaters. Send.
That should get him to speak.
My phone buzzes, but the new text isn’t from him.
2 months and 13 days – Mom
“Who died?” Ryke asks.
I stare down at him with furrowed brows.
“You look upset,” he clarifies, fumbling with the last buckle.
“Worry about my heels,” I snap.
He shakes his head and lets out a short, irritated laugh before standing. “Finished, your highness.”
I smooth my dress as I head to the door. “Thank you.” See, I do have manners. “Try not to dirty the couch while I’m gone.” Translation: Go take a shower.
“Love you too, Rose,” he says with a tight smile.
My lips rise as I walk outside, down the brick stairs. The limo sits on the street, and I have to pass a couple guards to get there. He better text me before then.
Like he’s read my mind, he’s finally made a real decision.
Fuck. Kill. Marry. – Connor
He’d f**k Daisy.
He barely gives me any time to think this over before he texts again. Lo, me, Ryke – Connor
Now I have to level the playing field.
And it’s pretty easy to do so.
Kill. Marry. Fuck.
I send nearly the same answer as him. Now I think I’m ready to meet his mother. I take a deep breath. It can’t be as hard as having to admit to f**king Ryke Meadows or hearing that your boyfriend wants to kill your closest sister.
This will be easy in comparison.
[ 39 ]
“I can’t believe I did that,” I say with wide, petrified eyes, my chest rising and falling so heavily that it feels like I’m one small step from hyperventilation. We climb back into Connor’s limo after a dinner that literally lasted ten minutes. We didn’t even order food yet. “I stooped to the level of a child.”
Connor smiles, the first real smile all night. He grabs a bottle of champagne out of the ice bucket as the limo bumps along the road.
“There is nothing to celebrate!” I shout and slap his arm as he leans back next to me.
“I’m celebrating the fact that the dinner is over seventy minutes earlier than I expected.” His grin overtakes his whole face.
I gape. “Your girlfriend just threw wine on your mother’s silk blouse!”
He tries to hold in a laugh. He’s unsuccessful.
“It’s not funny,” I deadpan. “It probably costs a fortune. Can you tell her I’ll have it dry cleaned or replaced, whatever she wants.”
I haven’t been this embarrassed since the sixth grade at the Smithsonian science museum. I had started my period, and to make the event even more memorable, a stupid boy pointed and told me that my Uranus was bleeding.
This might be worse though. I was the immature one in this scenario.
“I’ll talk to her,” he says calmly. I expel a breath of relief. “I’ll let her know that I fully supported your decision to act like a child, and if you didn’t do it, I would have.”
I attack his bicep with my purse, whipping the black sequined clutch at him. “You’re not helping, Richard!”
He grabs my purse and tosses it aside before I have anything to say about it. And then he passes me the uncorked bottle of champagne. “Drink,” he orders.
I gladly take a swig, trying to sweep away the humiliating memories that I’ve created. The first two minutes had been cordial enough. She asked about Calloway Couture, and I told her that a couple department stores were interested in stocking my clothes. And then she brusquely swerved the conversation to my relationship with Connor.
She said, “While I admire your ambition, it’s going to ruin my son.”
“Excuse me?” I retorted, my spine arched and prepared for attack.
“He needs someone better than you by his side,” she elaborated. Her dyed red hair suddenly looked animatedly devilish. I understood that she was trying to protect her son, and she happened to be a very blunt woman.
Well, so was I.
I said, “And what makes you the best judge of your son? He spent his childhood in boarding school.”
“And you’d be a better judge? You’re just a silly little girl,” she retorted, cupping her white wine.
That line did it.
The silly part—saying I’m stupid. And the little girl. I’ve been called so much worse, but by her, it was like a punch-gut blow. And I blew back. I stood up on impulse and splashed my red wine all over her cream blouse.
Her eyes went big like saucers as she sprung from her chair in alarm.
Connor set a comforting hand on my shoulder, silently telling me it was okay.
And Katarina pursed her lips, but she didn’t curse me to hell or make a bigger scene. After collecting herself, she calmly set down a napkin and pushed in her chair.
She neared us on her way out, stopping for the last word. “You think you have time for each other now, but when you both get older, you’ll see.” She looked me up and down. “You two continue this path, and you’ll realize that something has to give. And your ambitions will always trump each other. And you, Rose, will be the one sending off your little son to boarding school. Years will pass like minutes, and it will be too late before you realize you’ve missed everything.”
With this, she passed me and Connor to reach the door.
That woman was so full of regrets, and her words suddenly seemed less like insults and more like warnings. My cheeks burned. They still do. I feel so stupid. Like the little girl that she called me.
“She hates me,” I say, pinching the bridge of my nose after I chug the champagne.