The cameras veer off Ryke and pin on Lily and Lo.
Lily gasps and punches him in the shoulder. “You just desecrated the Vulcan salute!”
He wraps his arms around her h*ps with a grin. “Yeah? Who does the Vulcan salute while wearing a Star Wars hat? You ruined it first.” He rubs her head with the furry white cap. And then she stands on the tips of her toes and kisses him. He grins as he kisses her back.
“Shall we get started?” I ask. Daisy just came home thirty minutes ago, and it’s already one in the morning. And she arrived earlier than usual.
“Shhh!” Rose yells, extending her arm over my chest hysterically, her eyes ablaze as she whips her head from side to side.
Everyone frowns and goes quiet for a second.
What is she…
And then I hear a jiggling sound, like bells clinking together on her collar. Sadie emerges from the bottom level stairs, not hesitating to enter the main floor like she owns this part of the house too.
Rose reaches for her pepper spray on the ground, her eyes narrowed at Sadie like she only has bad intentions.
But the worst reaction comes from Lily, who apparently was “haunted” by Sadie last week in her bedroom. She said she’d wake up and Sadie would just be sitting there, watching her sleep. It was so ridiculous that I started crying in laughter when she told me.
“Ohmygodohmygod,” Lily says. I think I heard her say demon once or twice, but she slurs her words together in a frantic state. She starts running in circles around the living room, looking for a place to hide, but we pushed all the couches and chairs against the wall. The space is open for Sadie to find her.
And my cat lets out a low hiss the longer Lily makes jarring, spastic movements.
Daisy tries to reach out and collect Sadie in her arms, but Ryke pulls her away instantly, drawing Daisy to his chest. The last time she attempted to grab my cat, Sadie raked her leg, three long claw marks bled, and her mother had a fit, shouting at me for at least an hour at a Sunday luncheon. I actually sold Sadie after that, but I came home the next day and found that Rose and Daisy went out of their way to buy her back.
For as much as I like my cat, I care about these women more.
Lily sprints around until she finds a solution. She climbs on Lo like a monkey, crawling up his back while he struggles to contain his laughter and keep her from falling. With her furry hat and bugged eyes, she truly looks like some kind of gangly animal.
“I’ll take her downstairs,” I tell everyone.
“If we can’t protect ourselves from a cat, then what hope is there left for us?” Daisy says dramatically, a bright, playful smile spreading back across her face.
“I can defend myself,” Rose refutes, shaking her pepper spray canister.
“Darling,” I warn her, “we really don’t need a call from PETA in the morning.”
Shit. “Rose.” I shake my head at her. This is where we’re different. She can’t hold her tongue when it matters.
“Someone’s going to throw a bucket of red paint on you after this episode,” Lo tells her. He has Lily on his shoulders where she seems content, her legs dangling on his chest. She eyes Sadie who saunters around the room with too much pride.
Rose looks slightly regretful, and I leave her side to usher Sadie downstairs. “I love animals,” she says mechanically to make up for it. She smiles icily at the camera, and then adds, “And if anyone ruins one of my fur coats, I’m going to bill you and then rip out your goddamn eyeballs. Because you don’t deserve to look at beautiful clothes, ever again.”
I watch Sadie slink down the stairs while everyone laughs. I smile as I glance over my shoulder, at these people, at my friends.
I wouldn’t want to miss this for Wharton.
I wouldn’t want to miss this for anything.
Right here is where I’m happiest.
[ 43 ]
I stir to a body rocking against me, my eyes fluttering open in a half-sleep.
I squint at the fuzzy morning light, and my mind starts to collect my position and what’s happening: the fullness between my thighs, the hands on either side of my shoulders, the body that hovers above me with determined thrusts.
I’m still nak*d from last night’s rough sex, and the collar is firmly snapped around my neck.
My heart quickens as I meet Connor’s eyes. He watches me wake completely, making good on my strange fantasy that I once spilled. I always imagined I’d be aroused right off the bat, but it takes a little while to lead me there.
Connor facilitates my needs, rocking slowly to build up these electric sensations. I grip his biceps that flex with each push inside of me. It’s one of the few times I’ve had use of my hands during sex. When I glance down and watch the way he disappears between my legs, I feel myself start to clench around him.
He bends his head low and kisses me deeply.
I like this.
I can’t believe I like this. But more than that, I can’t believe he was willing to make it happen. I love him for it.
A layer of sweat glistens on our bodies the longer he thrusts. His mouth opens as I squeeze my legs around his waist, tightening the way he fits inside of me.
“Rose…” he groans, his face marbleized in pleasure.
And then he pumps hard, and I turn my head into my pillow and moan, my toes curling. He slowly pulls out while we both catch our breaths. He rolls over and lies beside me, our chests rising and falling together, in unison.
Waking up to a c*ck thrusting into me—it’s a turn-on that I can now fully admit to.
I summon my strength to meet his powerful blue gaze again. He grins, knowing exactly how much I desired this.
“Morning…darling,” he says with his last heavy breath. He leans over and kisses me once more.
Right as he parts from me, I’m about to tell him how much I loved it, but loud thumping splinters my thoughts. The sounds come from the wall near our dresser, not behind us.
The thunk, thunk, thunk continues, and then there’s the added moans and groans. I frown. “Didn’t they have sex last night?” We have thin walls, and I try to ignore them as best I can.
But there is a perk to having an adjacent room to Lily and Loren. I know how much sex they’re having, which means I know when Lily is regressing in her recovery.
Connor swings his legs off the bed. Completely nak*d, he walks over to the wall and slams his hand against it. “Hey!” he yells, but even his screams seem calm and assured. “You two, cool it!”
The humping suddenly ends, only to be replaced by a worse sound to my ears—Loren Hale’s voice. (Though it’s muffled from the wall.)
“We’re not doing anything!”
“You had sex last night,” Connor says loudly. “Only one time within a twenty-four-hour period. Remember that?”
Lo and Lily usually only wait twelve hours between f**king, but they’re trying a new rule and asked us to help enforce it if they get weak.
“Then keep your noises down!” Loren yells back. “My girlfriend is a sex addict. She can’t be hearing you two going at it.”
“I promise to be quiet,” Connor says. He turns back to me, and we lock eyes. “Next time, you’ll be gagged.”
I narrow my gaze, but my lower body responds much differently.
Connor just smiles as he disappears into the closet to change. I don’t move off the bed. I grab my binder from the nightstand and start working on my daily to-do list. I have to pick out the music for the wedding today.
1 month – Mom
It’s almost here. I need a little more time, but we can’t push back the date without the media howling with suspicion.
I asked Lily to help last week and she nearly burst into tears. It’s too close for her.
And the televised event doesn’t help. She confessed she’s had nightmares about tripping down the aisle and the clip being auto-tuned and made into a viral video for YouTube.
It’s hard to appease those worries.
Because I can see it happening.
Besides the wedding, I’m swamped with Calloway Couture inventory. The show has sky-rocketed my line, but this isn’t the first time I’ve seen a spike in sales. I used to be booked for campaigns, even Fashion Week at the height of my career. My triumphs have been so up and down. Every time my line goes in a store, it gets pulled right out. I can’t enjoy this sudden success, not when I know how fleeting it may be.
There is no happiness in ambition.
Only fear of losing it all or belief that it’s never enough.
I wish I could settle for something less. Connor seems content without his MBA, but I don’t expect the same outcome if I compromise my dreams.
And I don’t know how to change what I feel.
I look up from my binder and see him towering close to me. He sits down on the edge of the bed and tilts the binder in his direction to read my to-do list.
“I’m just stressed,” I confess. “Too many things to do, not enough hours in the day.” I wave my hand like I’m brushing off the worries. “You know how it is.”
“I can help.” He taps the second chore I’ve written down. Reorder the ugly centerpieces that Mother picked out. “This looks like something I’ll ace.”
I give him a look. “You quit Wharton,” I remind him, “not to help me plan a wedding. You have a job. Go to work.” I push him off our bed.
His feet hit the floor and then he snatches the binder from my lap. I give him a hard stare and he returns it. “Just so we’re on the same page—I quit Wharton to be with you,” he rephrases. “Not for Cobalt Inc.”
I tighten my robe around my waist and stand, ignoring his admission. I motion for my binder, which might as well be my sanity at this point. “Hand it over.”
He flips open the binder and scans the list once more. “I think…” he muses. “I’ll take all the wedding responsibilities, and you can have your Calloway Couture tasks.” He looks up. “Sound fair?”
“No, Richard. It sounds like your bailing me out of my problems.”
I reach for the binder and he holds it up over his head. “We’re a couple. I want to bail you out of as many problems as I can. And I’m not asking for you to accept my help, Rose. You’ll have it whether you agree to it or not.”
I cross my arms over my chest. “What if I don’t like your taste?” I argue. “You could choose even uglier centerpieces than my mother.”
He raises his eyebrows like I said something truly stupid. I let out a huff and drop my arms. Fine. He has good taste. His shampoo costs more than mine for Christ’s sake.
“Consult Lily before you make the final decisions, even if she doesn’t really give you a straight answer,” I say. He grins, totally reveling in the win.
When his eyes fall back to the binder, his smile disappears. “Why do you have Scott’s name on here?”
I don’t even have to refresh my memory to know about number twenty-seven on the list. “It was a reminder,” I tell him. “I wanted to ask you if Scott seemed different this past month.”
“How so?” he asks. But I think Connor has his own theories, he just wants to hear mine first.
“At the beginning of the show he was a misogynistic pig, making disgusting comments and always in my face. But ever since the Alps, or maybe a few weeks after that, he’s backed off. I thought maybe it was because you and I had sex. Somewhere, deep down, Scott has a sense of respect.”
Connor’s already shaking his head.
“Yeah, I know,” I say. “It doesn’t add up.”
“Timing is everything,” Connor tells me. “I think he’s just waiting.”
“I don’t know yet.”
Shivers run up my arms.
One month left.
I wonder if Scott has been waiting for the wedding. Or if he’s planning on f**king something up sooner.
For the first time, I’m as nervous as I was when we first started the show.
I didn’t think that was possible.
[ 44 ]
“Don’t do this,” Daisy pleads. “I beg of you.” She cups her hands together in a praying fashion as her head whips from Rose to me. She sits on the edge of her paisley green bedspread while we stand in her room, the door shut so no leering cameras can peek inside.
“We gave you three whole days to break up with him,” Rose reminds her little sister. “If it hasn’t happened already, it won’t be happening in the near future.”
The Marco Jeans campaign ended almost a week ago, which means Daisy can break up with Julian without fearing “bad” chemistry at the shoot. But Daisy has a weakness for hurting people’s feelings.
I’m supposed to escort Julian out of the townhouse when we deliver the news. And I am greatly looking forward to it. I no longer have to be nice and put on a façade that hurts my f**king jaw. He’s of no use to me anymore.