…Savannah and Ben. I hate them all. Where’s the loyalty?
Ryke takes his hands off me and starts to near Scott.
Loren doesn’t do a thing. He’s just whispering in Lily’s ear and she nods back.
“You’re going to f**king hell for this!” Ryke says with darkness swirling in his brown eyes.
Connor shoves him back the moment he’s close. And then Connor turns to Scott. “I’m going to let Ryke go if you don’t get out of this house. And his fists are going to hurt a hell of a lot more than mine. So take what’s on your back and leave.”
Scott straightens up, not exactly exiting with his dignity. But he has millions of dollars in his pockets from multiple sex tapes. He can sell them for much more than the first one.
He’s set for life.
We lost. How did we lose?
Oh yes, hubris.
I am a Greek tragedy. Or a Shakespearian comedy—it’s going to end with a wedding after all.
When the door closes behind him, the room blankets in tension, only disrupted by Sadie’s collar that jingles as she rubs her body against Connor’s calves.
“So…” Loren looks from Connor to me and back. “…is there going to be a boxed set of you two for sale?”
“Most likely,” Connor says. And every dime will go to Scott and the p*rn site. Fuck my life.
He comes to my side and kisses my temple. There’s nothing we can do. We just have to deal. With Connor here, I think I can.
I clap my hands together to alleviate the leftover strain in the room. “Everyone, go pack. We’re leaving, you heard Dad.”
I picture my gated house with the black shutters, large kitchen, and most importantly—private bathrooms. Dear God, I’m already salivating over a nice hot shower alone with no threat of cameras.
I glance at Connor, who collects my hair off my neck. Maybe he can join me too.
Daisy shifts on her feet. “I guess I’m going back to Mom’s.”
My stomach falls again. She’s seventeen. There’s nothing I can do about that, as much as I want to. And then my eyes drift to Ryke, the other one who will be left in Philly. It’s weird. We’ve been together in the same house for so long that breaking our routine feels odd. Like a puzzle piece out of place.
We’ve become something of a family.
A dysfunctional, f**ked up family. It’s hard to let that go.
But things are changing again. The reality show helped Calloway Couture, and in one moment, this sex tape could topple all I’ve sacrificed.
I’ll have to confront the public at some point, and it’ll have to be more than just waving a glass of whiskey at the television.
I could be hated and condemned like my sister.
I hear the criticism already. And I don’t wilt by it. I’m just angry.
So bring it on, motherfuckers. Try to hurt me. Because I won’t let you.
You’ve won the right to see my body, but you’re not taking my pride.
It’s too excessive to destroy anyway.
[ 49 ]
The townhouse is empty except for my heavy cedar table in the living room. I set my small duffel bag on the kitchen counter as Connor descends the stairs.
“All the rooms are checked,” he tells me. “Nothing’s left behind.”
“Except my dignity.”
His eyes deepen in concern, the same look he’s given me the entire time we’ve been packing. I’ve shut down any conversation revolving around Scott and the sex tape. But now I’m no longer fueled by my liquid courage, and I’ve had two hours to shake off the shock and process what’s happened.
“I’m sorry,” I immediately say. He comes over and touches my cheek. But I take a step back, and his hand falls.
“Just let me get this out.” I take a deep breath. “It’s my fault that we have a sex tape…soon to be sex tapes.” I grimace, but I don’t back down from his gaze. I don’t cower. “It was my fault. Mine. And I’m so, so sorry. Your penis is now all over the internet, and that’s on me.”
He smiles at the last line. I narrow my eyes as he nears me again and cups my cheeks. “Rose, you don’t have to apologize to me,” he says sincerely. “It was a mistake.”
I cringe again.
“I know,” he says. “You and me, we don’t have many of those.” Connor combs my hair away from my eyes. “But they happen.”
I exhale and nod. I’ve been holding so much in—looking more like a wooden board, like someone shoved a broom up my ass, on red alert, waiting for the next attack. I’m trying to let this go, but it’s a little difficult. My nak*d body is all over the internet, and my world has changed in one millisecond and moment of time.
What’s done cannot be undone.
“Can I try something?” he asks me.
I frown deeply, not understanding. Not until he clasps my wrist and pulls me into his arms. And then he places his large hand on the back of my head, guiding me to his chest so that my forehead nestles safely in the crook of his shoulder.
Darkness is here.
The kind I don’t like to meet.
Emotions so cavernous stir within me, and a powerful surge bubbles them to the surface, a force I can’t stop. The layers I wear to muffle the pain start to peel off quickly. The tears come first. Silent. And then the sobbing. Louder. The type that shakes my whole body. I have f**ked up so badly, and it’s not just me that’s paying the price. I hate that I dragged someone else down from my mistake.
Connor may lose his job over this. Cobalt Inc. may not take kindly that their future CEO is a p*rn star. The loss of Calloway Couture will hurt me, but knowing that I ruined someone else’s dream—that’s unforgivable.
I can’t stop crying. I hate tears. I hate what they mean, but in the confines of Connor’s body it feels safe to show this part of myself.
He holds me tighter, and I clutch onto the fabric of his shirt.
“Let it out,” Connor coos as he strokes the back of my head.
My privacy has been stripped, and I’ll never get it back. I feel so incredibly violated, but Connor has somehow muted this pain that tries to pummel me. The way he holds me, with reassurance, with commitment and confidence, makes me believe that I can overcome anything. I think all my life he’s helped me find power inside of myself so that I may barrel forward and never look back.
I don’t know how long he holds me while I cry, but when I feel drained, when the tears have ended and I master the strength to lock away the guilt, I withdraw from his warm chest.
Connor rubs the wet streaks from my face.
“Can you fix my mascara?” I ask in a whisper.
“Look up,” he tells me. I stare at the ceiling while his thumb removes the black smudges I’ve caused. When he finishes, he places his hands on both of my cheeks again. “Rose,” he breathes. “I’d rather you cry in my arms for ten minutes than pace manically for two hours. I’m always here when you need me.”
“Literally a shoulder to cry on,” I say with a small smile.
“Literally, yes.” He shares it.
He kisses my lips chastely before he says, “We’re going to get through this. There’s no challenge we can’t defeat together.”
He’s right. My chest lifts with a newfound strength, just in time for the front door to swing open. We both look over, Loren and Ryke walking in.
“So the movers just left,” Loren tells us. “They said that they couldn’t fit your cedar table in the truck, so we have to carry it to your Escalade.” They stop by my coffee table like they’re going to lift it, but then they just wait there for a second, staring knowingly at me. This is a level of weird that I’m not used to.
They’ve seen me have sex.
They’ve most likely seen me nak*d or partially nak*d.
I have no idea if they watched the unedited tape on accident, on purpose, or not at all, but the option is there. Instead of being plagued by embarrassment, which threatens to creep up, I set my hands on my h*ps and say, “What are you waiting for? Take the table to the car.” I almost snap my fingers at them. But I withhold that impulse.
Loren cocks his head, and his mouth curves in a wicked grin. “So you like to be tied up?”
My nose flares. Embarrassment sufficiently gone. Anger intact. I am about to lunge (with poise and class) and swing my purse at him, but Connor wraps his arms around my waist.
“What?” Lo says mockingly. “I’m just stating the truth.”
Ryke gives his brother a look. “Stop making her ashamed.”
Lo touches his chest innocently. “I just find it funny that a girl who invents new ways to mutilate dicks every single day likes to be f**ked hard by one.”
Connor speaks before I have the chance. “She likes what she likes. Let’s leave it at that, Lo.” He says it casually, but we all sense the warning behind his words.
“Okay,” he says, but he’s having trouble holding back a smirk and a laugh. Ryke shakes his head at him, but he’s about to laugh too.
“I hate both of you,” I tell them.
Ryke looks a little apologetic. “We’re not laughing at you. Honestly, it’s just…” His eyes flicker between me and Connor. He smiles again. “You go through life, seeing people one way. And in one f**king moment, what you thought was commonplace becomes something else, something…different.” He shrugs. “That’s all. I see you guys a little differently. Not bad, not good. Just f**king different.”
It takes me a moment to digest that. I can be okay with different. Connor is trying to stifle an even larger grin. I can practically hear his thoughts: Ordinary is boring, darling. He loves every word that just came out of Ryke’s mouth. And that rarely happens.
Loren nods to Connor. “You going to help us lift this?”
Connor’s eyebrow arches. “Is it really that heavy?”
“It’s solid wood,” Loren says, about to kick the table to demonstrate.
I glower and hold a finger to him. “Don’t scuff my table.”
His foot freezes mid-kick. He sets it back on the ground while Connor goes to the middle, each brother on either side.
Before they pick it up, Connor stares off for a second, and I watch his eyes tighten in confusion. “I’ve been meaning to ask,” he says, clearing his throat. He looks between both of them. “Did either of you f**k in the showers?”
“No way,” Ryke answers first.
Oh. Shit. We couldn’t have been the only ones, right?
Loren says, “Lily was too scared to take a shower nak*d for six whole months. Do you really think we were going to f**k in there?”
So there’s no footage of Lily bathing in the nude. She must have kept her swim suit on. Thank God. I’ll take that miracle.
“Did you two do anything?” Loren asks us.
We stay silent as we both recall the bl*w j*b. I look far more suspicious than Connor.
Loren meets my gaze, and I glare. He laughs harder. “Oh, this is too rich.”
“What’s rich would be my foot to your balls,” I retort.
“Why don’t you just hit Connor?” Loren banters. “And then he can spank you for it.”
“Or I can just spank you,” Connor says.
Loren laughs. “Before or after you tie me up?”
Loren grins, and I cut him off as his mouth opens again, “You’re both adorable. We get it.” Before he can comment, I add, “How are Lily and Daisy doing?” I haven’t spoken to either of them about the tapes yet. I’ve been avoiding, and they’ve been giving me space while I packed.
Loren and Ryke say nothing at first, and my eyes must widen to saucers because Connor returns to my side, drawing me to his chest.
“You go,” Ryke whispers to his brother.
Loren shakes his head and then rolls his eyes. Then he looks at me. “Lil is concerned about you. She’s fine, but…I mean…” He cringes. “We’re both kind of relieved.” He looks guilty for saying so. “Honestly, we’re just glad it’s not us.”
“Me too,” I say.
He exhales and runs a hand through his hair. “I’m sorry. Really, Rose. If that was Lil…” His face breaks, and it looks like there’s a physical weight that bears on his shoulders, dropping them.
“She’s okay,” I say with a nod. If not her, then me, right? I can handle this. If I keep repeating it, it may come true. Or I’ll just believe it until it does. “And Daisy?” I ask.
Ryke stuffs his hands in his jeans. “She’s been quiet. I think she’s just in shock.”
“She’ll be okay,” I say again with another nod.
“Yeah,” Ryke says, his muscles tense, “she’ll be fine.” It’s like he’s trying my new tactic. Repeat it and believe it.
Connor kisses my cheek and departs from me again to help with the table.