“…Princesses of Philly has promoted Rose as a virgin. Many people are speaking out about the validity of the show…”
Connor changes the channel to cable.
“…either she lied or she lost her virginity during the time of the show. Go to our website for a poll—” He flips to another station.
I yell spitefully at the flat screen, “The world doesn’t have ANYTHING better to do than talk about my virginity?!” I motion to the TV with my drink.
“Or lack thereof,” Loren adds.
I ignore that comment and turn to Connor. “My vag**a has trumped national news.” I let out a manic laugh. “What do you think our friends from Model UN would say about that?”
Connor’s eyes rake me like he’s diagnosing my hysteria.
I ignore that too.
After a quick moment, he sidles behind me and wraps his arms around my waist. He presses his lips to my shoulder. I lean back against his chest. It feels familiar and warm, safe even, knowing that I have someone here—on my team.
Daisy clicks away on her laptop. “It looks like most people are voting in favor of you in polls. They say that you can’t be a liar or a hypocrite. Not when you’ve stated in the show that you would—and I quote—‘jam my five-inch heel in the eye or a**hole of liars and cheaters.’”
That was a little dramatic, even for me. But the interviews riled me to a new degree, and I spouted every threat I could think of. Like roasting Scott’s penis by flinging it at the sun. I would love to execute that one if humanly possible.
Tink, tink, tink. Little bells clank together as Sadie pads over to our group. She looks as feral as I feel. And a wicked, crazy impulse drives through me. I disentangle from Connor’s safe embrace.
“Rose,” Connor says, half with worry and half with warning.
I don’t listen. Still holding my wine glass, I squat down in front of the tabby cat. She’s a hostile bitch (like me). She has scratched my arms. Hissed at me. And I swear she pissed on my Jimmy Choos, although I can’t confirm that.
But in this moment, I feel invincible from all offenses. The media. Scott. And this f**king cat. I reach out to her.
“Don’t do it!” Lily yells at me from beside the couch. “You’re going to lose an eye.”
Ignoring my sister, I slip my palm underneath Sadie’s furry belly and pick her right up with one hand, my other still clutching onto the stem of the wine glass. I stand and stare straight into her eyes that almost match the color of mine. I am channeling my hatred into one supreme death glare.
Sadie moves and Lily lets out an audible gasp.
But the cat doesn’t claw me. No.
She licks me. Her scratchy little tongue brushes against my chin like a puppy and not a feline.
“What the fuck?” Ryke says in shock.
I hold her close to my body and she purrs against my chest. “We’re friends now,” I state the obvious and take another sip from my wine glass.
“Or she thinks you’ve grown balls,” Loren refutes.
“I’ve always had them,” I say, offended. I turn to see Connor who stares with concern and a little bit of fear. The bottom of my stomach drops in effect. He can see right through the barriers I build to protect myself.
I’m okay, I try to convey the words through my eyes. But I’m not so sure I succeed.
Lily’s phone rings loudly on her lap. “Shit, it’s Dad.” She looks between Connor and me. “What do you want me to do?”
I don’t say anything. I just kiss Sadie’s head as she continues to nuzzle into my ribs. Her change of demeanor calms me and gives me a little more strength.
Connor mutes the television and takes the phone from Lily, putting it on speaker. “Greg, this is Connor.” His voice is relaxed, even if his tense posture and hard eyes don’t agree.
“Good, I’ve been trying to call you and Rose. I assume you’ve seen the news,” he says quickly, his anger underneath his urgency. “I’m on the phone with my attorneys and Cobalt’s. We’re looking through the contracts all of you signed. Until we can come to a clear picture of what’s going on, I need you to get my daughters out of that townhouse. No more cameras.”
Translation: Princesses of Philly is cancelled.
Hooray. I can hardly celebrate “no more Scott” when the result came at the expense of my name and image. And then it hits me like a freight train—Calloway Couture. Everything I’ve worked for can go to hell all over again. This sex tape could ruin my fashion career.
And I care. A lot.
My stomach roils like I need to puke. I think I may vomit. I hold my belly, and Connor puts a firm hand on my shoulder, squeezing tightly to reassure me that he’s here, that everything is going to work itself out.
I try to believe it.
“We’ll pack today and leave,” Connor says to my father.
“Let me know when you make it safely back to Princeton. If there’s too much press around the house, you should all stay at our place in Villanova.”
“Sure,” Connor says. “Do you know where Scott is?”
“No idea, but Loren’s father is about to rip him a new a**hole. To be honest, I’d love to see it happen.” My dad can be as soft as a flower petal whereas Jonathan Hale is the thorn. “Is Rose around?”
“She’s on speaker.”
“Rose,” my father says, his voice turning gentle. “Honey, how many lawyers looked over the contract before you signed it?”
Everyone stares at me, waiting for the answer. I already sense their judgment. I stroke Sadie who purrs again. She’s my only ally. “Just me,” I say.
“What…the fuck?” Ryke says, his mouth falling.
Loren groans, leaning back into the couch like a wave crashed into him. “Why did we trust you?”
Connor rubs his eyes and shakes his head.
Lily looks petrified.
Daisy’s face is frozen solid.
“I’ve taken multiple law classes at Princeton,” I refute. “I understood every line of that contract.” I’ve always shared Achilles’ fatal flaw. Hubris. Excessive pride. I couldn’t look weak in front of Scott, so I decided to do everything myself. I needed no one’s help.
And if I misread any line in that contract, it’s going to cost me. And Connor.
My dad lets out a disgruntled sound. “It’ll…be complicated from here on out, Rose. I’ll talk to you when the lawyers have read through the contracts in detail.”
“Wait,” I say. “How’s Mother handling this?”
“Terrific, actually. She’s been slinging Scott’s name in the mud all around the house. She said she’d call and apologize to you later today, Connor.” I can hear my father smile by the end of that statement. Connor shares it. Her precious Scott showed his true self today. I’m glad that my mother is back on my boyfriend’s team.
“Stay safe. All of you,” my father says.
With this, he hangs up. No mention of the actual sex tape, no chiding. He only seemed disappointed by my refusal to grab a lawyer.
Connor gives me a reprimanding look as he hands the phone back to Lily. “I thought you took my lawyer to the meeting, and I thought he read the contracts.”
“I thought I told you I left him behind.”
Connor shakes his head. “You must have mentioned that to someone else, darling.” He takes my wine glass again and finishes it off with one long gulp.
“What the hell was that?” Loren asks Connor. “Greg gives me a two hour speech about sobriety after our scandal, and he doesn’t even acknowledge yours.”
“To be fair,” Connor says, “you lied to Greg and Samantha about being addicts. That news is a bit more jarring than a sex tape…” His voice drifts off on the last words.
We all turn to see what stole his attention.
There he is.
Standing by the staircase like nothing’s wrong.
Scott Van f**king Wright.
The room silences in an uncomfortable wave. My body is vibrating in rage, and I realize I’m squeezing Sadie too tight when she lets out a small, dissatisfactory hiss.
Scott looks between all of us, and then his lips lift into that shit-eating grin. “Did I miss something?”
Before I can respond, Connor walks casually towards Scott, my boyfriend’s face utterly blank and unreadable. I can’t predict anything, and that unknown has all of us on edge, no one but him making a sound or a move. I just hear Connor’s expensive shoes tap the hardwood until he stops right in front of Scott.
And then Connor holds out his hand, like he wants to shake the producer’s. “Congratulations,” Connor says. “You outsmarted me. Not many people ever do. And I admit…I never saw this coming.”
His wooden voice frightens me.
Scott stares at his hand and then back at his face. He shrugs like what the hell? and then he clasps Connor’s palm.
What is this? A truce—
And then Connor decks Scott in the jaw with his free fist. Scott slams into the wall forcefully. “That’s from me,” Connor says, anger lacing his voice.
Scott gathers himself quickly and swings back.
Connor dodges the attack and then kicks Scott, hard, in the penis. Scott groans in horrific pain. Fuck yes! I am cheering on the inside. There are cannons shooting out confetti in my brain. Halle-f**king-luiah.
“That’s from Rose.”
Scott is in a crouched position on the ground, his eyes watering. He grimaces and slowly stands, clutching onto the wall for support.
Connor doesn’t back away, not even a little scared of being hit back.
Scott chokes on a cough, looking like he doesn’t want even the slightest chance of that happening again. “…I’d love to see your face when you realize what you’ve signed.”
“You’re seeing it now,” Connor tells him calmly, not giving Scott anymore satisfaction. I love him for that. “I’m positive you have full rights to anything we ever film, which gave you permission to sell the sex tape to a p*rn site without our signed consent. I don’t have the contract in front of me, but I’m sure there’s something misleading about the part where you weren’t allowed to film us in the bedrooms.”
“I read that line correctly. I know it,” I say. There was a stipulation about the bedrooms…wasn’t there?
Scott hunches a little, still recovering from the blow to the balls. “It said that we couldn’t air anything from the bedrooms on television. We never did. The contract said nothing about filming. And any of the footage from the bedrooms and the bathroom can be used for movies and web content. Just not network TV.”
OhmyGod. I blew Connor in the bathroom.
Scott laughs devilishly as he watches my face fill in horror. He has…so much footage of us. I recollect every time we had sex. He has it all. Hours of us, f**king.
Lily and Loren…
Scott must read my stricken gaze that travels to my little sister. “Lily was almost always in her room,” Scott says, “we weren’t able to install any cameras to catch anything.” Right. They had to reinstall cameras because I made Connor and Loren sweep the bathroom and the bedrooms when we first moved in.
I glance at Ryke.
“I didn’t f**k in the house,” he says.
I turn to Daisy. Her face pales.
Connor eases her worries. “It’s illegal to film minors in pornographic situations.” He glares at Scott.
We’ve caught him.
He’s going to jail.
“We didn’t,” Scott says. “All that footage was destroyed.”
Fuck you! I unleash Sadie, about to ram my heel up Scott’s ass. But Ryke stands behind me and holds me back, two hands on my shoulders. It takes me a moment to realize that Connor is staring at Ryke, giving him a command through his eyes to restrain me.
“You’re disgusting!” I shout at Scott with an extra high-pitch scream.
Scott stays calm. I am the only one freaking out. How is that possible? He dropped a grenade on my life. I want everyone to be as f**king pissed as me.
But I realize that when I’m angry, there’s almost no room for anyone else to be the same. I am a hurricane. A typhoon, and I will destroy everyone in my wake.
But that’s just how I f**king feel.
Get out of my way. Or I’ll drown you.
“The text message from Julian?” Connor asks Scott.
“Planted. Brett took Julian’s phone in the middle of the night and texted it to Ryke.” That pudgy a**hole. I knew he wasn’t on our side.
“Lily and Lo in the bathroom with the slurping audio?”
“Edited. We did it in advance and uploaded it on the camera for you to find.” That motherfucker...
“The alcohol in Lo’s closet?”
“Planted. Savannah and Ben put it there when Lily was taking a nap. They were supposed to install a camera too, but they ran out of time.”