She nods rapidly. And as the news settles with her, she pulls her shoulders back like I’ve seen Rose often do. She raises her chin, trying to be strong. Christ, I want to her kiss her for it and to apologize for tempting her even more. I should have taken her to our house where we can have sex. In fact, that’s what we’re going to do now.
“Grab your stuff,” I tell her. “We’re going home, and I’ll make you come there.” My tone isn’t sexy. It’s clinical. I just want her to be able to wait until we reach our bedroom.
I find her jeans on the ground, and I help put her legs in each pant hole.
“Wait,” she says.
I don’t want to give her the chance to convince me to have sex with her in the bathroom. It’s not happening. I already screwed up by arousing her more—I don’t need to break anything on that blacklist.
Public sex—yeah, that’s not f**king allowed.
I zip up her jeans and fish the button through, towering over her with dominance that makes her squirm. I want to kiss her. God, I just want to hold her. But instead of drawing towards Lily, I have to draw back.
“Wait,” she says again, more forceful this time. She grabs my wrist to stop me. “You’re not going home.”
“I’m not leaving you,” I say. I don’t add that I don’t trust her. Her fingers may slip into her panties; she may give herself what I’ve denied.
“You’re working,” she reminds me, tears building again. “I’m not ruining your first job.” She inhales a strong breath and adds, “I’ll stay at my desk, and when you’re done working, we can go.”
“You should only be one more hour. I can wait that long.”
“Plus the ride home,” I remind her.
She nods quickly. “Yes, yes.”
I like this option. Mostly because Lily came up with the idea, and it’ll lessen whatever guilt she’ll feel for not being able to wait tonight. “Okay.” I kiss her cheek. And she sighs, but as she walks to the door, the tension becomes apparent in the way her thighs press together.
I lead her out of the bathroom, and we enter the loft space where Trish and Katie fling clothes at one another, fixing the garments on the models quickly. I look around for Rose, but she’s nowhere in sight.
Lily keeps her eyes pinned to the desk and nowhere else. “I’ll be okay,” she says, more to herself than me.
“I know you will.”
I watch her make the short journey to her desk. She slides into her chair and studies her computer screen, focused and concentrated. Maybe it’s all a façade. But I know she’s trying damn hard.
I need to find Rose to tell her that I’m leaving right after I finish with the fitting. There aren’t many places she could be. Besides her glass office, there’s only the backroom. I saunter down the short hallway, my shoulders stiff. I stuff my fists in my pockets so they’ll stop shaking. I feel high on fear and concern, my adrenaline spiked badly. I just need a drink.
Her icy voice echoes from an open door. I rest my arm on the frame, my eyes darting around the dimly lit area that’s filled with marked boxes, racks of clothes, and clear plastic tubs. Rose has her back to me, a phone pressed to her ear.
“I don’t want to have this conversation with you right now. We have a photo shoot next week and a runway show in two months—”
“Which is precisely why I called.” I’d recognize Samantha Calloway’s biting voice from the f**king moon. I’m not surprised that she called her daughter. She’s been involved with Rose’s company from its birth.
“Don’t start,” Rose warns her. “This isn’t going to end well, Mother.”
“You’re right. It’s not going to end well for you. I have helped your father market Fizzle for twenty years. What you’re doing is going to ruin Calloway Couture.”
“He’s just a model!” Rose shouts. “He’s not the face of the company.”
“He’s an alcoholic,” Samantha retorts. “And his face will be plastered in magazines and billboards next to your brand. Your company will suffer for it.”
It suddenly feels hot in here. I tug at the collar to my shirt. Why is it so f**king hot?
“And who sees Loren Hale and immediately thinks alcoholic? Your friends? Because I sure as hell don’t know anyone else in this f**king country who would give a shit.” Venom laces Rose’s words.
“Don’t speak to me that way. I’m your mother, and it’s my job to give you advice.”
“I hear it,” Rose says. “Your advice, while I know you mean well, is judgmental and cold. Loren will be a model in the campaign. He’ll be in photos, runway shows and commercials, so if you have a problem with that, then turn off the television, divert your eyes, but don’t scold me.”
Samantha Calloway sighs. “Is there anything that can change your mind, Rose? You’re making a very big mistake.”
“Nothing,” she says.
“Well then, I’ll see you Sunday.” She pauses. “I’m sorry I yelled.”
Rose sighs just as heavily. “Me too.” They both hang up, and when Rose spins around, she jumps back, her hand to her chest in surprise. “Lo, I…”
“Don’t,” I say with a bitter smile that turns into a grimace. “Look, I didn’t know that my role in your company would impact you nega—”
“It doesn’t,” she interjects. “She’s just overdramatic.”
All these feelings scorch my insides, and if I don’t speak my mind now, I’m going to be driven down the street to a place I shouldn’t go. “Your mother is right,” I tell her, the words sinking low. “And I won’t screw with your career just because I need some cash. I’ll find another way.”
“Don’t,” Rose tells me now. She holds a manicured finger directly at my face. “You’re staying.”
“I’m not.” I can’t stay. I can’t f**k up another Calloway’s life with my problems. Lily is so much a part of me that there’s no disentangling from her now, but Rose—I’m not going to trap her inside my vice. I’m not going to lead her down this dark path that I walk on.
I turn to leave, and Rose grabs my arm. “You need this job.”
I jerk out of her grip. “I appreciate your help, I do, but you have to let me go.”
“I can’t,” she says with such determination. “I promised you this job, and you’d still be here if it wasn’t for that phone call.”
I shrug. “Yeah? Shit happens, Rose. One day, I was an only child, and the next, I have a brother and an empty bank account. I’ve learned to deal.” I’m about to cross through the door, but she slides in front of me, blocking my exit.
“I won’t beg you to stay,” she tells me.
“Good,” I snap. “Then we have an understanding.” I go to pass her, but she extends her arm, trapping me. “Rose.”
“You haven’t even tried, Loren. You’re giving up.”
Veins pulse in my neck, and I lean in low. “Rose,” I sneer, “for a girl that cannot stomach a crying baby, who wouldn’t be able to empathize with a child if she tugged on your goddamn sleeve, you really should stop trying to understand the human race.” My words cut deep. Rose has been incredibly open-minded since she learned about Lily’s addiction. She’s been there for her every single minute of the day, and I know she would drop her whole schedule if I asked her to.
But I just need her to let me go—to realize that she’s lost this battle. For a girl who always wins, that’s a tough one to swallow.
Rose purses her lips and then she relents by edging out of the doorway. “If you change your mind—”
“I won’t.” I can’t even tell her thank you. I realize I am back to square one. Jobless and without a real plan.
“I’ll write you a check for your time today.”
I nod. “Just don’t overpay. I’ll be able to tell.” If anyone is going to accidentally hand out more money, it’s going to be Rose and Connor. But I don’t want to accept their charity. Not because I’m too prideful. I just want to prove to myself that I can do this on my own.
Her eyes darken, so I know that’s exactly what she planned on doing. I pat her arched shoulder, and I head back into the main room. Lily’s forehead is almost pressed to the computer. I walk up to her, noticing that her nose touches the screen.
I smile. God, I can’t believe I’m smiling after all that has happened. The fact that this girl can upturn my lips after such a bad day makes me never want to let her go. “Are you planning on eating your spreadsheet?” I ask her. “Or are you trying to disappear into cyberspace?”
Her cheeks rose, and she leans back. “I was making sure my numbers were right.” Her eyes trail my body. “Shouldn’t you be in a collared shirt?”
“Nah,” I say. “It’s not my style.” I reach out and hold her hand. “Come on, let’s go.”
She frowns. “But, you’re not done with work yet.”
“I quit,” I tell her.
Her face twists in so many emotions. “Not…not for me, right? Lo, you can’t.” She points to the muffins. “Go back.”
“Lil,” I say softly, bringing her to her feet, my hands at her waist. “I’ll explain everything in the car. But you have to trust me that none of this is because of you, okay? It’s my choice.”
“Did Rose…?” She looks over my shoulder, ready to dart towards her sister and convince her that I should stay. But she has it backwards.
“Rose wants me here. I don’t want to be.”
Lily processes the words. “Okay…okay, so we’re going?”
“You promise you’ll tell me why? And you won’t lie to me?”
“No lying,” I assure her. We have to be honest. It’s the one thing we need to be good at.
She leans over her keyboard, closes out Excel, and shuts down her computer.
As Lily steps forward, she whips her head from side to side, paranoid that someone can see straight through her—that they can tell just how aroused she is. They can’t. But I sure as hell can.
I swoop in behind her, my hands planted on her waist, and my lips brush her ear. “Want a ride?”
She brightens almost immediately. I don’t wait for her to say yes. I crouch a little in front of her, and I lift her up on my back. She holds tight around my neck, and I keep my arms underneath her legs, willing to carry her as far as she needs to go—just like when we were kids.
Some things never change.
I finish telling Lily about the phone call between Rose and their mother about the same time that we reach the parking deck. Lil still clings to my back like a koala bear to a tree, and I wish I didn’t have to set her down. But I drop her onto her feet while I search my pockets for the keys to her car.