I do as she says, randomly picking from the pile, purple crescent moons printed on the back of each card.
She returns to her ottoman beside the coffee table and starts flipping the cards right side up. I can’t see any of the designs, but I think I spot a white unicorn on one, which has Connor rolling his eyes.
Even so, he intertwines his fingers in mine and kisses my knuckles, as though I need extra reassurance before she exposes my future.
She overturns the last card. “I see,” she says and nods. “You’re very fertile. I sense two strong male spirits in your life, possibly twin boys in the future.” She has to be joking.
A crying baby—that’s a personal circle of hell for me. When my eldest sister, Poppy, had her child, I didn’t acknowledge my niece until she could form intelligible sentences. I have nothing in common with kids. And no one needs to tell me I would make a horrible mother. I know it’s true. Which is why I plan to never have children.
“Take it back,” I snap.
“I can’t return a reading.”
“It’s not a purse, Rose,” Connor chimes in, his lips rising. “It’s your future.” His amusement is palpable.
I point a finger at him. “Shut. Up.”
Connor grabs my hand and says, “I won’t believe in it if you won’t.”
He doesn’t seem that upset by my declaration (technically I’ve voiced my baby-disdain before so it shouldn’t come as a surprise) but I strangely ache for a true answer. For his honesty. I know he’s not going to share it now, not when the cameras are rolling and with Scott sitting right beside me.
“Deal,” I say.
The psychic clicks her tongue. “I think I’m picking up someone else’s energy. It’s very black, very dark, not good at all.”
“Definitely Connor,” Loren says with a wink.
Connor actually cracks a smile, and as far as I can tell, it’s genuine.
“No,” Madame Charmaine says. “It’s from her.” She stares right at Lily. No, no, no.
“You’re going to be married soon, are you not?”
Lily slides lower on the loveseat, uncomfortable with the attention, especially as Brett and Ben direct both of their lenses at her. “Yes,” she says in a small, feeble voice. Lo sets their paper plates on the coffee table.
“All right,” Connor says, standing and nearing the psychic. “I think that’s enough magic for one night.” He puts a hand on Madame Charmaine’s elbow, and she rises with the pressure. “It was really nice to meet someone who’s dabbled in the dramatic arts, but I think it’s time for you to go.”
Loren mouths, thank you, to Connor, and then he rubs Lily’s back.
But Scott has to ruin it as he stands. “I’m in charge of production, Connor. I say when these events end.” He looks to the clock. “And we have ten more minutes.”
On cue, Madame Charmaine directs her next question to Lily. “This wedding, you don’t want to go through with it, do you?”
“What?” Lily’s eyes grow wide. “No…” She looks to Loren. “I mean, yes. Yes, I do want it. Why wouldn’t I?” She glances at the camera in alarm. “I…I love Lo so much. He’s my best friend…”
“Hey,” Lo says, tugging her to his chest, now settled on his lap. “You don’t have to tell that old hag anything.”
Ryke shakes his head and mutters under his breath, “Did he just f**king call her an old hag?”
“Yep,” Daisy says.
Lily doesn’t look well. Her shoulders curve forward like she’s a shivering puppy caught in the rain. I stand next to Connor. “Okay, Madame…” I can’t even say her name without rolling my eyes too. “…either you leave early…” I give Scott a glower before he can refute. “Or stop badgering my sister.”
But her lips fly open again. “Why would you get married if you’re full of apprehension?” she asks Lily.
I am going to kill Scott! If he planted these questions at all…I actually let out a little growl, and Connor puts a hand on my shoulder. I want to pluck out Scott’s eyeballs with my nails. And then stomp on them with the sharp point of my heel.
I spin towards him, my eyes growing hot. “Did you tell her to ask these questions?”
Scott feigns confusion. “Now why would I do that?”
Lily stammers. “I-I’m not apprehensive.” But she is.
After her sex addiction became public, Fizzle’s publicists suggested the best options for damage control. At the top of the list—a marriage. It would show that Lily’s in a committed relationship. That she’s not as deviant as the world believes.
So our mother and father have cut Lily off financially until she legally marries Loren. And our parents wanted them to wait a full year, so it wouldn’t seem like a shotgun wedding. Not very many people know that this is a scheme. But even so, the marriage will be real. In six more months, she’ll no longer be a Calloway.
This is not a wedding out of love (even though they’d most likely marry in five, six years regardless). Our parents decided this for them, and so the wedding is just one based on money and appearance. Nothing more.
Lily and Loren both have reservations and doubts. I’ve talked to Lily about it, and she’s told me point-blank that she hates the idea of looking back at her wedding pictures and just seeing something fake and cold. I want their marriage to start out on good terms too, but I can’t see a way out of this.
And I do agree with my mother on some level. I do think this will help Fizzle because it will repair Lily’s image in the media. Do I believe it’s worth it? That’s only Lily’s call. I know she’s complying with the wedding more out of guilt for hurting Fizzle, our father’s company, than regaining her inheritance.
Madame Charmaine holds up her hands. “There are so many emotions.” She presses her fingers to her forehead.
Connor’s composed, unreadable face is slowly breaking in annoyance.
“It’s not me!” Lily shouts all of a sudden. She springs from the couch. “I love Loren. Look.” She kisses Lo on the cheek and then the lips.
He recoils, the exact wrong thing to do to her right now. But he’s trying to understand her mental state, which is gradually going sideways. My sister is like a ball of twine that can unravel slowly or quickly, depending on the person tugging at the other end.
Lily flinches back, not expecting Lo to stop kissing her. She bumps into the table and knocks over a lit candle. Oh my God.
“Oh, I didn’t mean…” Tears flood her eyes, thinking she’s ruined everything. She tries to lift the candle back up, but Loren catches her around the waist, pulling her to his chest before she burns herself.
The flame ignites a paper napkin and a paper plate. Daisy picks up the napkin like it’s a dirty diaper, not a ball of fire. “Whoa, guys, this is pretty warm.”
“Really?” Ryke says, grabbing her wrist and trying to relinquish the burning napkin from her.
“Yeah, really, really. Want to feel?” She smiles playfully, waving the thing towards him. He doesn’t even jerk back.
“I thought I was just smoking hot.”
I’d like to say that I am the normal one out of my sisters, but I am frantically trying to grab the pitcher of water that sits on the edge of the coffee table. So much so, that I knock over another candle.
The cameras are swinging behind us, as wild as the flames.
Daisy has to toss the napkin back down on the table before it burns her hand. And the psychic yells something about her cards, gathering them in a messy stack.
And then a pair of hands peels me away from the growing flames that has eaten our napkins and started for the purple tablecloth. “The water,” I start, but Connor places me by the wall and then brings out a fire extinguisher.
In seconds, my boyfriend has snuffed out the fire. And the psychic has bolted from my house with her purple bag in tow.
The quiet lingers, and all we hear is muffled, “ImsorryImsorryImsorry.”
My heart constricts, and I find Lily mumbling the string of apologies into Loren’s shirt. He has his hand on the back of her head, his features sharpened. When he looks up at me, he says, “Thank God for Connor, right?” He tries to play off the pain that contorts his face.
“God always has a way of stealing my credit,” Connor says.
Loren’s lips curve in a small smile.
I think, in this moment, I love Connor more for lightening the mood than for saving my cedar coffee table. But I am glad this table isn’t burned.
It’s an antique.
Loren lifts Lily in a front piggy-back so she doesn’t have to meet the camera’s concentrated gaze.
Scott turns to me. “Looks like we’ll be seeing that lap dance after all.”
“Excuse me?” I sneer.
The room blankets in tense silence. Scott grins. “You made a bet a few days ago. I saw the footage. If someone cried during the psychic segment, you’d have to give your boyfriend a lap dance.”
Shit. Fuck. Shit…
“Lily didn’t really cry,” I say instantly.
Loren shifts her a little, and I see his T-shirt, wet with her tears. She wipes her cheeks quickly, trying to hide her sadness, but it’s there. I forget that Loren’s not on my side for the bet. Hell, he’s the one who proposed the wager.
I snap at Lo, “You should feel awful for profiting off of her emotions.”
“She was there when you made the bet,” he reminds me. “Lap dance rain check? Lily and I want a front row seat.”
Lily mutters something that sounds like only if she wants to.
“Fine,” I say as Connor’s hand skims my waist. I step out of his touch, anxiety heating my neck more than the small fire ever did. I am going to have to gyrate on him. In public. With millions of people watching later on television. Oh. Shit…
The only upside: the first episode is airing in February, a month from now. So I have some time before people witness my inability to grind.
“I think we missed something,” Daisy says to Ryke.
He stares down at her. “Apparently I’ve been missing a lot of f**king things lately.”
She looks away from him, and when she notices I’m watching her, she just smiles at me. I think Ryke is worried about her. We all are. There’s a small fear she’s going to end up like Lily—sex crazed and compulsive. All this media attention is affecting her at school in ways that no one knows. Daisy won’t talk to us about it. And she could very well blow off steam in a bad manner.
Loren carries Lily out of the living room and up the stairs, her legs wrapped around him. Wiry Ben follows close behind.
I turn slightly, and my arm hits a camera. Pudgy Brett has a big smug grin on his face, as if he won the bet too. Well I guess everyone f**king won but me. “Put that smile away, Brett, before I make it a permanent frown.” My threat does sound serious (it’s really not), but I’m edgy enough that I feel like I could truly cause astronomical damage.
I glance around at the coffee table. White foam. Charred napkins. Burnt food. Dirtied plates. An overturned ottoman. Is that a stain on the rug? Oh…
“I’ll clean it up,” Connor tells me.
“I’ll help,” Scott adds.
Connor gives him a look.
“What?” Scott smiles. “I live here now. Might as well lend a helping hand.”
I have a feeling that a “helping hand” is more than I’ll get from Scott.
Six months. Six months.
If I repeat it, maybe it won’t feel so long.
[ 6 ]
This is a shit waste of an afternoon.
The thought runs on repeat as I listen to another Cobalt Inc. board member drone on about advertising and angel investors. I have the urge to stand up and let everyone know that they have successfully battered the conversation.
But I don’t.
These are the highest ranked employees in the company. If there’s any hope of taking the reins to Cobalt Inc. without looking like I undeservingly inherited it, I have to bite my tongue. The company owns brands like MagNetic, Smith & Keller paints, and other profitable subsidiaries—things that have lined my pockets since birth.
I feign interest as best I can, but I’m sitting at the head of a long conference table filled with twenty middle-aged men. During these meetings, I’m my mother’s interim—a position she granted me two years ago. It means nothing really.
On paper, I’m still just her son. This is merely a test.
My mother has never been quick to let go of the empire she built from the ground up. In order to be a board member, become the CEO, and acquire her shares, I have to prove myself. Like these meetings or certain tasks she gives me at the least opportune moments. My cellphone is always in my pocket, threatening to go off.