He holds up two button-downs by the hanger. “White or blue today?”
“Did you just come out here to show off your body?”
His eyes gleam with mischief, telling me that’s exactly what he did. “I need your impeccable fashion advice, darling. White or blue?”
But I like this more than he knows. It feels comfortable and normal. Sharing space. Sharing each other. I want to wake up and be the woman who chooses what color he wears for the day, and I want him to be the man who chooses what position we’ll take at night.
“White,” I say easily. “I like you in white.”
“Blue it is,” he replies casually.
I glare and his eyes rake my body, taunting me even more. He loves to make me mad. He rests the blue shirt on the desk and takes the white one off the hanger.
“What are you working on today?” I ask as I head towards the door, my purse hung on my forearm.
“My proposal for Cobalt Inc.,” he replies. “The board members approved it this morning. It will go into effect within the next few months.”
He still hasn’t revealed what he’s doing to the company.
I think he just wants to surprise me.
I slip into the hallway, wearing a dark purple peplum dress. Before I can go downstairs, Scott ascends them. His ugly gray eyes latch onto mine. Really, whatever part of him was decently cute or hot has suddenly become putrid like a rotten sulfuric swamp.
“Rose, how are you?” he asks cordially.
“Brilliant,” I say. “As always.” What? I never claimed to be humble.
“Of course. You’re a member of Mensa, you graduated in the top one percent of your class, and you know random facts that no one cares about.”
He flashes an oily smile.
And there goes my future children. Sorry, Connor. My ovaries just withered and died.
Before I can combat with something much nastier, he says, “Where’s your necklace?”
I frown and my heart jumps in fear. Did I lose it? I quickly touch my chest, and I relax once my fingers find the smooth diamond pendant. I even glance down to double check. The thin chain is still clipped.
Now he’s just trying to pointlessly irritate me. “Go annoy someone else,” I snap, “preferably someone from a different universe. Maybe you’ll reunite with your ancestors.”
I try to shove past him, but he sidesteps and blocks me. “I was talking about your other necklace. The one with more than one diamond.”
“I have many diamond necklaces, Scott,” I retort, not realizing how bitchy and snobbish I sound until it’s too late.
“Not this many diamonds,” he says, taking a step closer to me. “The inside is leather.” And then he drifts to the left, stuffing his hands into his pockets and sauntering away.
I stay frozen, too stunned to force my heel down the stairs.
He was talking about my collar. My diamond collar.
The one I only wear during sex.
And I’ve never had sex outside of the bedroom or anywhere the cameras can film.
Something is wrong.
I sense it deep in my gut.
Dread mixed with paranoia, a nauseous combination, carries my feet downward. I’m on autopilot, trying to shake Scott’s words and continue my daily routine.
Breakfast. A vanilla yogurt with strawberries and granola and then I’m off to New York to introduce myself to the new Calloway Couture staff.
My heels clink against the hardwood in determined steps. Two stairs down and I stop, worried thoughts creeping back, despite my urgency to brush them away.
What the f**k are you doing, Rose? If Scott knows something, I need to confront him. Or talk to Connor. I almost turn around, but I hear the television from the living room below. Two more stairs down, and the voice becomes distinguishable.
“…a top story. Another Calloway girl in a scandal,” the news anchor says. “This time there’s legitimate proof.”
Something happened to Daisy.
I walk hurriedly, reaching the bottom of the staircase in no time. Loren, Ryke, Lily and Daisy sit on the couch together, their backs facing me. They watch the television above the fireplace, and I march further into the room to have a better look at what’s on screen.
“Oh shit,” Ryke says, seeing me first.
Loren quickly snatches the remote, and the television flickers to black.
I set my hands crossly on my h*ps and direct my hostility towards my sister’s boyfriend. “I’m not five-years-old, Loren,” I snap. “You can turn on the news.” Especially if it’s about Daisy.
“No,” Lo says, flipping the remote in his hands nervously. “I’d rather not.”
Ryke runs his fingers through his brown hair—a clear sign that he’s anxious too.
Lily and Daisy huddle together on the couch, cupping their hands by their mouths as they whisper. I frown and scan the area for Ben, Savannah, or Brett, but the camera crew is nowhere to be seen.
And why are my sisters acting like gossipmongers in front of me?
I refuse to believe what’s right in my face. I don’t want to accept it yet.
I stomp over to Loren on the couch, my five-inch heels never letting me down. They keep my body sturdily upright, confident and f**king poised. I try to snatch the remote from his hand, but he holds onto the other end tightly—as if we’re about to have a tug-of-war.
I glower. “Let go, Loren, unless you’d like me to dislocate your arm.”
He narrows his eyes. “Aren’t you tired of making all these empty threats?”
I twist his arm, just like Connor taught me in the self-defense “class” and Lo winces. His grip loosens on the remote, and I take it quickly from his hand.
As he massages his shoulder, he says, “Bitch.”
“Yes, but I’m a bitch with real threats.” I power on the television. When the news pops up, I freeze. Again.
Fixed to the floor. Too cold to move.
“Bet you feel like a bigger bitch right now,” Loren comments.
“Shut up, Lo,” Lily calls out. “Rose…”
I wave her off and turn up the volume. But the headline on the bottom of the screen is vitally clear. Yet, I still have to reread it five times just for the letters to sink in.
Sex Tape of Rose Calloway and Connor Cobalt Sold to Porn Site for $25 Million
I didn’t sell shit. That little scumbag forged our signatures to a p*rn distributor? The only satisfaction right now is picturing Scott’s head behind bars because if I imagine the other thing—everyone watching Connor f**k me—a tingling sensation crawls up my arms like thousands of centipedes.
The news doesn’t even bother to explain who we are. Through the reality show and blogs, we’re already famous. Now, I suppose, we’re infamous.
My head buzzes with all the noise from the television, from my friends and sisters. “The producer is none other than Scott Van Wright, Rose’s ex-boyfriend.” I barely catch that line. He’s still my ex-boyfriend? I concentrate on that stupid lie that’s still being aired. When the real shit hits the fan—Scott still manages to keep half his mask on. I hate him.
I have to be stuck in some f**ked up nightmare.
Loren tries to grab the remote out of my hand, and I jerk back and turn the volume up. “I’m watching this,” I snap. And there I am.
They play a clip from the sex tape. I’m lying on my bed in this house, nak*d. Black bars censor the tape for network television, my br**sts and vag**a sufficiently covered now.
But somewhere online the unedited version is being circulated. And how can I stop it? Lawyers. Lots of them. But I can’t even bring myself to call my father or to dial the family’s attorney. I am hypnotized by me. On screen. With Connor.
My arms are tied to the bedpost with Connor’s belt, and the expensive diamond collar glints in the dim candlelight. I remember that night. It was right after the Alps. My second foray into sex and it’s public for everyone to see.
I turn the volume higher, my finger stuck on the button as it blares.
“Rose,” Loren complains, his hands on his ears.
“Rose.” Lily stands and tries to touch my arm, but I jerk away again.
“Don’t touch me.” I need to see this. No one tells me to turn it down, probably afraid I will kill them for it. I feel murderous. I feel like I could go kill a coalition of baby cheetahs and not bat an eye.
The news anchor’s voice escalates to an intolerable level. But I don’t lower the television. Not yet. “Scott Van Wright has sold the sex tape to Hot Fire Productions for a multi-million-dollar deal. There’s been no comment yet from either Connor Cobalt or Rose Calloway, but it appears to be a legal transaction between all four parties.”
My mouth drops. That f**king liar. There is no way in hell this is legal.
“The summary of the film says the hour-long session is rough and for mature audiences only.” Clearly.
I turn the volume to the highest level.
“What the f**k are you doing?” Ryke asks, putting a hand to his ear to block the noise. Lily is the only one standing up by my side. Her face twists in pain, and I remember she’s been in this position. Sort of. She’s never had her sex life distributed. No one has seen it online.
She was just called a sex addict, and everyone took it as truth. Which it was. But this is clear, physical proof that I’ve had sex. I’m no longer a virgin.
“Maybe she’s like…having a mental break…” Daisy says.
I spin on my heels, taking the remote hostage with me. I carry myself with some morsel of dignity. In the kitchen, I rummage in a cupboard that squirmy Brett loves to hide his booze under. Since we have a “no alcohol in sight” policy in the townhouse, most everything is kept out of reach. I land on my knees and dig around the dishwasher soaps for the bottle of Jack.
“Seriously though, Rose!” Lily says loudly, trying to talk over the blaring TV. “Are you okay?”
I rise to my feet, snagging a wine glass from another cupboard before I return to the living room. Everyone watches as I pour whiskey to the rim, practically overflowing the glass.
“Rose, not to lecture you at this really sensitive time in your life,” Loren says, “but that’s not how you drink whiskey. And as an expert in liquor, it offends me.”
I give him a sharp glare. “You’re not an expert in liquor. You’re an alcoholic.” I set the bottle of Jack on the coffee table and take a large swig. It burns the back of my throat, but I hardly even cringe. The sting is numbed by my anger.
“Which makes me an expert,” Loren argues.
I wave him off. My go-to move at this point. Wave it off. If only I could magically wave away that sex tape.
I take three more gulps from my wine glass. I am so pissed. My body throttles with rage. I am shaking I am so f**king livid. Yes, it’s embarrassing that the world has seen my br**sts and vag**a, two parts of me that I was unwilling to show Connor for an entire year.
Yes, I’m slightly nervous the world will view me as a doormat now that they see me gooey and submissive in bed.
No, I will not cry.
I won’t shed a tear for Scott Van Wright. He deserves only my nasty, vile words. Not emotions that I reserve for people I love.
“What’s going on?” Connor asks, his voice coming from the stairs. Perfect. He’s heard my call. The loud, obnoxious television.
And his gaze traverses to the TV.
“Look honey,” I say, “we have a sex tape together.”
Everyone silences, probably wondering if the unflappable Connor Cobalt will suddenly lose his shit. It takes him less than ten seconds to unglue his feet from the floor—beating me by a whole minute. I expect him to take out his phone. To do the responsible thing and start dialing attorneys and crisis management centers.
Instead, he stops right in front of me. His eyes swim in mine, as if searching for my mental state. I’m f**king fine, I want to scream back. But I choose to take another large swig of the biting whiskey.
Raw concern encases his features. I want to explain how angry and not sad I am, but the words don’t form. And then he glances at my wine glass. He better not take this away from me like I’m a child. If he pours my drink down the sink—
And then he snatches the wine glass right out of my hand.
Before I have time to complain, he puts the rim to his lips. And I go quiet, watching him take a huge, brazen swig—washing away his own fury with the alcohol. I smile. Because we cope in the same way. Not usually with drinking, but with pulling our shoulders back and taking it like a f**king champ.
He hands the wine glass back to me and says, “Ce n’est pas la fin.” This isn’t the end.
I nod in agreement. He steals the remote from me and softens everyone’s ears by lowering the volume.
My phone buzzes in my pocket. I don’t even check to see who it is. I just sit on the armrest of the couch and watch the television.