My next breath comes out ragged and Ryke focuses on me for a long moment. But when Daisy inhales strongly, staring at the sand with tears brimming, trying to bottle her emotions, he turns his gaze on her. I watch his face change. If he was concerned for me, I don’t even know what to call the expression he has for her.
What the hell did I miss when I was in rehab?
“I have to get out of here.” I cringe when I realize I said it out loud. I start walking.
Ryke awakens and follows me. “Where the f**k are you going?”
His anger fuels me and I stop suddenly. He nearly knocks into my chest. “What the f**k is wrong with you?” I hiss. “She’s sixteen.” I see Daisy in my peripheral, standing off to the side, looking on but not wanting to interrupt.
“I’m not doing anything,” Ryke refutes.
My forehead hurts from frowning so hard. He can’t be serious, but I think he believes he is. That’s f**king terrifying. “Don’t be stupid.”
Ryke sets his hands on his head for a second. I’ve never seen him unravel, and I can tell he’s trying hard not to. “I’m blunt and abrasive,” he says. But he knows that’s not the answer I want to hear. “I can’t turn that off.”
“You’re going to turn it off around her,” I sneer. “And you know what, I invited you to Cancun, and I can uninvite you.”
“Are you uninviting me?”
“No, but I don’t want to talk to you or be around you right now.”
He grabs my arm before I turn around. “Wait.”
“What? You’re going to blame everything on the fact that you’re blunt? When Connor wants to be, he’s just as honest as you, and he would never say the things you do.”
“Because I’m a f**king a**hole,” Ryke says.
“That’s not good enough.”
Ryke’s nostrils flare and he points to his chest. “I was raised by a single mother, Lo—”
“So was Connor,” I retort. I give Ryke such a hard time. I make him hurdle the highest walls, and he’s taken each test without complaint, but I can tell this one is tearing him inside. And a little part of me likes that he’s finally breaking down. The other part hates that I take pleasure in someone else’s pain.
“Stop comparing me to him,” Ryke sneers. “His mother was the head of a corporation. My mother sat around all day and plotted ways to f**k over my father. I spent years being torn between the two of them, having to choose sides, and I chose her.” He points at his chest again, his eyes blazing with heat. “I was made to believe that she was a saint and he was the sinner, when they’re both guilty of things that I can barely even stomach. Do you know what that’s like—to defend someone so vehemently out of love and then realize they were no more innocent than the man you hated? It f**king sucks.”
My chest is so tight that each breath takes force.
Ryke steps forward. “I love women and care about them more than you even f**king realize, Lo. But I saw my mother turn callous from that divorce. I say things that I shouldn’t because I stopped giving a f**k what people thought of me. I stopped trying to play the doting son—the role that that girl is going through right now. And it’s f**king killing me to watch it happen.”
I’m assaulted with so many emotions that I almost can’t see straight. I just keep nodding, trying to understand his point of view, trying to get it. “I need some space…” to think.
“I can’t leave you alone like this.” Ryke breathes heavily, and he hesitates to put a hand on my shoulder. If he sets one finger on my body, I’m going to jerk away. I’m so full of hate, resentment, and blackness—everything that normally sends me right to a bar.
“I’ll go back to the room with Daisy,” I say. “You go find Melissa. You know, that girl that you came here with.” I don’t want to butcher him anymore, but it’s so easy to cut people, especially my brother.
Ryke takes the hit, not moving one inch. “You almost made Daisy cry. You really want to spend time alone with her?”
“It’ll give me a chance to apologize,” I say. “Either you take that scenario or I’m walking out of here on my own.” My hands shake, and I clench them into fists. Ryke would never leave me alone right now. I want to relax. To sit at a bar and just float away.
Ryke motions to Daisy, and she jogs over. When she stops by his side, he says, “Don’t let him drink.”
He hesitates before heading farther down the beach. We walk towards the resort in a heavy silence that weighs on my chest.
“I’m sorry,” I end up muttering while we wait for the elevator.
“No, don’t be,” Daisy says. “You were right. What I did—it was wrong. Sometimes I just forget about money. I’m going to try to be better about it.”
“Yeah, but I do it at times too. And I’m not your dad. I shouldn’t be lecturing you.” Or anyone.
She smiles. “It’s nice to know you care.”
We stop on our floor and she walks in front of me, leaving me to think about that.
I do care. Is that because I’m sober or is it just because things have changed? I wish I knew.
Daisy waits by the door, and she suddenly pales with worry. “Are you going to tell Lily?”
She’ll ask me what’s wrong as soon as I get inside. We’ve been around each other enough to pick up body language, and mine says I’m losing my shit. I hadn’t intended on lying to her. “Yeah,” I say, “but I don’t think she’ll be mad.”
“Really? Because I don’t think I’ve ever seen Lily in beast mode, like Rose’s eternal setting, and I’ve always been kind of scared to see that.”
I smile as I try to recall an angry Lily. She does kind of look like a little monster, but I find it more adorable than frightening. “You’ll be fine.”
I don’t know if Daisy thinks I’m actually this upset just because of the bartering, or if she realizes I caught onto her flirting with Ryke, both at fault, I believe. But I will never have that conversation with her. Lily can handle her sister, and I’ll handle my brother.
Daisy lets out a breath of relief before edging out of the way. I slide in the keycard, and we enter the room.
Rose refolds clothes on the nearest bed while Connor organizes various bags that surround the room. Between what Daisy brought and now what Rose purchased, I think we’ve officially clothed seven people for the week.
“How was the run?” Connor asks.
“Hot,” Daisy says.
I scan the room for Lily, unable to find her, and then I look through the glass door to the patio. She’s curled up on a chair, her legs to her chest, watching the birds or something.
I move towards the door, and Connor suddenly blocks my exit like he wants to have a conversation. All I really want to do is talk to Lily. I need to know if she knew about Ryke and Daisy’s... Jesus, I don’t even know what to call it.
“What?” I snap.
Daisy focuses on us, filled with curiosity, and this causes Rose to pat her mattress. “Daisy, come help me fold,” she insists.
Daisy answers her sister’s call—reminding me of what Ryke said about her. And I cringe a little, not wanting Daisy to be affected by her mother. All these girls have complexes, and I can see how most people would get one just from the freedom of our lifestyle and the pressure to maintain it. I feel like we’re all a little f**ked up in our own right.
Connor leads me to the furthest wall from the girls. And I instantly understand what’s going on. He’s moving me away from Daisy so she can’t hear. Whatever Connor wants to tell me—it’s about Lily.
The worst thought crosses my mind.
She slept with some cashier at Bloomingdales.
She f**ked another guy.
I feel the color drain from my face.
I feel my stomach roll in on itself.
My world slowly begins crashing down. I should have been with her. I try to move past Connor and reach the patio, wanting to talk to her, wanting to make this right, wanting to be alone again.
Connor steps in front of me once more and puts his hand on my shoulder. He reads the panic on my face, and says, “Nothing happened, not like that.” I don’t know Connor well enough to know what that entails and this just heightens my nerves.
“What did happen?” I ask quietly.
He stays resolute, calm, and for some strange reason it feeds into me. His casual attitude makes me believe it’s not that bad, and I wonder if this is a Connor Cobalt gift. To pacify people with his demeanor rather than words.
“Look,” he says easily, “Rose didn’t want to tell you, but I convinced her, I think.” He lets himself smile at the accomplishment. “She wants Lily to handle these things on her own. In a feminist’s perspective, I guess it seems like when you help Lily, you don’t give her a chance to be strong on her own.”
It feels like he knifed me, even though those are Rose’s words. “I’m not her f**king cure, I know that,” I say, trying to mimic Connor’s easy tone, but my voice comes out strained and edged. I’ve let Lily succeed on her own, but I am the person hav**g s*x with her. All I can do is tell her to stop, to guide her. She’s the one actively making the choice to ask me to have sex, to want to have sex, to give into cravings enough to let them control her thoughts. That’s on her.
“I know, and Lily will never be completely on her own. That’s what I told Rose. You’re sleeping with her, and sex addiction is a two-person recovery process. She sided with me on this one.” I think he keeps gloating to postpone the news.
“Connor. Just tell me.”
He nods. “I noticed that Lily can sometimes zone out,” he says, “and I actually thought she was just a little slow. But then I found out she was a sex addict, and I know fantasizing can be a huge issue with the addiction.”
I know where this is headed, and I shouldn’t be relieved. But a pressure lifts off my chest. “And?”
“And it was fine. She zoned out a couple times and Rose would reengage her with conversations. Then Rose had to try on practically every pair of heel in her size, and we both forgot about Lily…until we heard her.”
What? She wouldn’t masturbate in public. That’s beyond what she’s ever done. My chest starts to hurt again. “Heard her? Was she masturbating?”
“No,” Connor says quickly. “No. Not at all.”
“But we heard her orgasm.”
What? “I don’t understand. How is that possible?”
“There have been numerous studies about the female orgasm. It’s not fully understood, but many scientists have shown that it can be brought on by thought alone.”
She fantasized and had an orgasm. Out loud. In a f**king store. I know how embarrassed she must feel and it floods me, seizing my ability to even form words right now.
Connor takes my silence as an opportunity to keep speaking. “Rose made her call her therapist.”