Addicted for Now / Page 4

Page 4

“I can’t compete with Ivy grads. Now I have to work for my father.”

A pair of feet pads across the second story.

“Don’t do this,” Aaron sneers, but he’s pleading. “I only scared Lily a little. I wasn’t going to force her or anything. I promise you.” He’s never had sex with her, thank God. If I ran into one of her old hookups, I don’t know what my reaction would be.

“That’s what you always do, isn’t it?” I say. “You scare her. Well, grab a membership card Aaron. You’re about to be f**king terrified.”

Right on cue, a girl with the same dirty blonde hair grips the balcony railing, leaning over to stare at me from below. “Loren Hale.”

“Julie, go back to your room,” Aaron tells her, fear spiking his voice.

“What am I, four?” she snaps. She wears dark lipstick and a shit ton of eyeliner. She’s his fraternal twin. And a girl I may have f**ked once or twice when I was sixteen, depending on the day. The difference between Lily and me is that I actually dated Julie (for two whole weeks) at a time when I wasn’t in a fake relationship with my best friend.

Lily, however, f**ks once and then moves on.

And after a long, long struggle, I have finally become her only exception.

“Hi Julie,” I say. “Can you come here for a second?”

“What’s this about?” She looks between Aaron and me, taking in Aaron’s stiff posture. “Aaron, it’s been years since I was with Lo. Seriously, get over it.” But she’s wrong. Our fight didn’t start because I dated her. She was just a bullet in my gun. One of the things I used to hurt him. Fucking his sister—that’s the easiest trick in the book. Something my father would have done. Something that I hate I did. I can barely even stomach the memory.

I just thank God that Julie is as deplorable as her brother and me. She used me just as much as I used her—wanting to get back at her ex-boyfriend. He didn’t care as much as she wished he did.

“Julie,” I snap. “Come here. Now.” I’m not f**king around. Well, I kind of am. But you should see Aaron’s face. He’s about to shit his pants. He has no idea what I’m going to do. Hell, I have no idea what I plan to do either. I just know that his family is his weak spot the same way Lily is mine.

She descends the stairs, barefoot. Her curious gaze lingers on Ryke. “You’re hot.”

“Julie,” Aaron cringes.

“Can I see your phone?” I ask Aaron. Now that Julie is here, he’ll be more willing to hand it over. She’s a distraction and a warning.

His brows furrow. “What for?”

“Just give it to me.”

Julie sighs heavily like this is boring her. “Just give him the phone, Aaron.”

Aaron slips his phone out of his pocket and hands it to me. I scroll through his previous texts, trying to find my number stored somewhere. But the entire thing is blank.

“Why’d you delete all of your texts?”

“I always do,” Aaron says. “My mother likes to check my phone.”

“You’re twenty-two.” He’s not a teenager needing approval to sleep over a friend’s house. He’s an adult.

“Yeah? That hasn’t changed her from being nosy.”

I still don’t believe him. I can’t.

“What’s your name?” Julie asks Ryke, biting her lip as though that’ll drop him to his knees.

“Ryke,” he says.

“Ryke, how do you know Loren?”

“He’s my brother.”

Her brows shoot up. “Wow, I didn’t know he had a brother.”

“Neither did I,” I say, shoving the phone back in Aaron’s palm. “Did you use a fake phone? A disposable?”

“What the f**k are you talking about?” Aaron says, his eyes wide. “I didn’t do shit to you or Lily. I told you, your father—”

“I don’t believe you,” I say, not really sure what I believe. He could be lying. Out of everyone I know, he’s the most likely to threaten Lily. If I can end it all right here, right now, that’s what I’ll do.

“You’re out of your f**king mind!” Aaron screams.

Ryke steps forward to my defense. “Says the guy who spent two hours chasing a girl around a ballroom, terrifying her beyond f**king words.”

“Wow,” Julie says, “you’re sexy when you’re mad.”

“Julie!” Aaron shouts. “Leave, now. Get the f**k out of here.”

Julie rolls her eyes and drops off the tips of her feet like Aaron popped her entertainment. She nods to me. “It’s nice to see you again, Loren. I’m sorry my brother can’t get over our relationship.”

“Yeah, he has trouble letting things go.” If I was him, I would still be full of resentment. I don’t blame him at all. I just hate that I drove him to this place—to a point where he could attack Lily while I was at rehab. I was such a stupid f**king kid. I still am sometimes.

I could be going about this the wrong way right now. But it’s the only thing I know how to do. And it works. I use my words. Threaten the guy who’s threatening me.

Julie walks off to the kitchen, in plain view. Mostly so Ryke can see her bend low as she grabs a pan from the cupboard. She looks back to make sure he caught sight of her ass. He didn’t. His eyes haven’t left Aaron. But as I watch her, Aaron is seconds from imploding, dropping on his knees, and giving me what I want. I can’t take credit for that. I think, partly, my father’s previous threats have already sunk in.

“Where’s your disposable phone?” I ask again.

Ryke puts his hand on my arm, and he whispers, “I don’t think he did it.”

I don’t want to believe that. Because then I’ll be clueless.

I’ll have no idea who else it could be.

Aaron holds up his hands in defense. “I don’t know what happened, but I’m not the only guy who hates you, Loren. So whatever is going on, maybe you should think about who else you pissed off all these years. I can’t imagine college was that pleasant for you.”

Yeah…I may be f**ked.

I nod to myself. But if he is the guy who sent me those texts, I’m not just going to leave here without insurance that he won’t do something again. I have to have the last word. So I lean in and I say, “If you scare my girlfriend again, you’ll wish all you had to worry about was working for your f**king daddy.” My eyes flicker to Julie once. “And you should start eating your sister’s makeup. Your insides are f**king ugly.”

He could easily say as are yours. But nothing comes from his mouth. He’s solidified in a mixture of hate and fear—emotions that are floating all around his house right now.

I don’t wait for him to reanimate.

I leave.

And on the way to the car, Ryke says, “You didn’t tell me you’d be f**king with his sister.”

“Does it matter?”

He stares straight ahead, his eyes dark.

“She was objectifying you, Ryke,” I tell him. “She was two seconds from pulling down your pants and climbing on your dick.”

“Like Lily?” he snaps back.

“Fuck. You.” I swing open the car door. It’s not the same thing. Lily—she’s my best friend. I’m not a conquest of hers. If that were true, she wouldn’t still be with me. I wouldn’t be able to satisfy her for so long.

“Sorry,” Ryke barely apologizes, his harsh tone never softening. “I just don’t want to see another girl get caught in the f**king crossfires of your feuds.”

“I’m not going to hurt her. He just has to think I am.”

Ryke stares at me for a long moment. “Did our father teach you that?”

“Yeah,” I say. “He also taught me how to get in a car and drive the f**k away.”

Ryke nods. “Glad to know you’re still an a**hole, even without the booze.”

“Must be genetic.”

Ryke smiles at this, and we both climb into his Infinity. I don’t feel better after this. Because I don’t even remember some of the people I pissed off.

I drowned most of them in a haze of whiskey and bourbon.

They’re gone from my mind for good.

{ 3 }


“Is this an interrogation or a meeting?” Ryke asks roughly. He slouches on our navy Queen Anne chair with a deep scowl, sweat stains seeping through a Penn track shirt.

There are only three people who could have possibly spilled my secret. And the guy at the top of my suspect list has yet to crumble. Although, very little ruffles Ryke Meadows.

And here he sits—edged, all hard-lines, his eyes perpetually narrowed and his demeanor cocky and self-assured. He managed to become a part of Lo’s life. He infiltrated our group, and he has never made a move to leave. He either cares about his brother so much that he’s willing to endure almost anything or he’s scheming for something greater—something that could overturn my whole world.

So it’s true that I’ve been hammering Ryke with questions, and I’m about one step away from shining a blinding light in his face to get real serious. But I have a right to freak out. My life is seconds from crumbling.

Lo passes Ryke a bottle of water.

I shoot Lo a wide-eyed look. He shouldn’t be giving him sustenance until we have answers. That could have been our only bargaining chip. “Who says he gets water?” I blurt out.

Their brows crinkle as though I’ve lost some brain cells. Okay, so I’m being irrational. What else is new?

Ryke raises a hand. “I’m sorry, but is anyone else concerned for my safety here?”

Lo ignores his brother and clasps my hand, pulling me to the sofa. My leg touches his, but the closeness doesn’t calm me. Since I read the text, panic has overpowered my chance at being composed and sane.

I don’t want to act like this, but my only other way of coping with high-stress situations involves grinding and cli**xing and everything I’m not allowed to do.

Rose’s heels clap down the hallway. “Connor should be here any minute now.” She sits on the pale yellow loveseat adjacent to the couch, crossing her ankles. In a black pleated skirt and a high-collared silk blouse, she looks far classier than anyone else in the room.

“Great, so you can direct this interrogation on someone else,” Ryke says, eyeing me with a tad bit of scorn. But in Ryke Meadows’ case, there’s probably a little pinch of love in there. At least I hope we made some progress while Lo was in rehab. Sure, we had a rocky three months, but Lo was always our common ground.

But if he’s behind some larger plot to ruin Lo’s life—and consequently mine—I’ll never forgive him.

Lo runs a hand on my bouncing leg, trying to settle my nerves. “I’m going to take care of it, Lil,” he says softly.

And my interrogation aside, Ryke gives him a dark, furtive look. I’ve seen it before. It’s the kind you share with someone when you have a secret.

I gasp. “Have you done something without me?”

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