Lo shakes his head. “No.” He won’t meet my eyes.
I smack his chest. “You’re a lying liar, and we’re supposed to be truthful.”
“Well,” he draws out the word, “if the guy keeps texting us, we may or may not be able to cross Aaron Wells off our suspect list.”
“May or may not?” Rose says. “That sounds like no progress.”
“I did what I did. I’m not going to take it back.” His voice is sharp.
All I hear is Aaron Wells, and I go cold. “What did you do?” Aaron is not someone I ever want to see again.
Rose mutters something under her breath that sounds like vandalize.
“I just talked to him,” Lo says.
I look to Ryke for verification. Clearly he was a part of this plot, which only makes me more nervous.
“Yeah, we just talked,” Ryke says. “All of Aaron’s texts were deleted, which was suspect.”
Lo nods in agreement, and then he leans closer and kisses my cheek. “Okay?” he whispers to me.
I don’t think that’s the right word. I stare at the rug with a faraway gaze.
“What about Ryke?” Rose asks. She holds a small teacup between her tight fingers. She offered me a glass earlier, but I declined. I’m not sure my body can handle ingesting anything else today. I’m already bloated with fear.
“Not this again.”
“You know about Lily’s sex addiction. You could have told someone.”
Ryke glares. “So do you.”
“Be real. She’s my sister. I’m not going to backstab her.”
“And she’s my brother’s girlfriend,” he snaps back. “Why don’t you focus your attention on the guy who could easily spill this information for a f**king price?”
“Don’t you dare.” Rose points a warning finger at him.
“Why? Connor came into the picture around the same time I did. He learned about her sex addiction at the same exact time as us, and he has more to gain than we do. And he has less to lose.”
“He would lose me,” Rose retorts.
I never wanted to believe that Connor could turn on me like that. I still won’t entertain the thought for longer than a second. He’s too nice (in his own way). But Ryke…
Lo scrutinizes his brother for a long moment. “Maybe Rose has a point.”
“What?” Ryke leans forward. “You can’t be serious.”
“You may be my half-brother, but you’re also a liar. I think we established that the moment we met.”
“Oh come on.”
“Let’s go back a few months. You came into my life, told me you’re some student wanting to do a fake project on heirs to billion-dollar companies—”
“Lily made that lie up,” Ryke interjects.
I gape. Way to throw me under! But I already came clean to Lo about that, so there is only a morsel of shame.
Lo rolls his eyes. “Whatever, you knew the whole time that I was your brother, and yet, you never said a word to any of us.”
“You have to be shitting me,” Ryke says. They must have had this argument multiple times while Lo was in rehab. I wasn’t allowed to visit him, but under some strange guidelines, Ryke was. I’m a little confused how their relationship has developed since I’ve been away from Lo—but clearly bitterness has festered.
Lo lets out an unhinged laugh. “I’m the bastard. I tore apart your parent’s marriage when I was born. You should hate me. I would hate me.” He takes a small breath. “And then I would build an elaborate scheme to tear me down. Piece by piece. Starting with Lily. So forgive me if I’m having a hard time trusting you one-hundred-and-ten percent.”
I can’t tell if Ryke is angry or upset by Lo’s declaration, but I know this goes beyond my silly accusation. Deep hurt fills Lo’s words.
“Really? Even after everything I’ve done while you’ve been in rehab?” Ryke asks.
“You mean keeping your c*ck away from my girlfriend. Yeah, thanks.”
My eyes bug. I would jerk away from Lo if his hand wasn’t pressed so tightly to my hip. Something’s wrong. I can sense it. We handle stress differently. I f**k and he drinks. Now that we can’t do either, we’re both trying to learn how to deal with it in a healthy manner. Trying is the key word here.
“You know that’s not it,” Ryke refutes.
This one word makes Ryke look more livid than the past twenty, and I think this is it. Ryke is about to throw up his hands and leave. Lo tenses beside me, probably expecting the same thing. We alienate people. It’s what we’re good at.
“If I wanted to hurt you by creating some elaborate plot, I would have already screwed Lily. And I sure as hell wouldn’t bother spending time with you.”
I want to trust Ryke, mainly because he’s the only family Lo has for support, but he’s a good liar like Lo said. He even fooled me.
Lo flashes his usual bitter smile, normally accompanied with the raise of his bourbon. I can’t make sense of where his thoughts lie.
Before I can whisper in his ear to ask, the front door opens, and the silence settles like a weight. Connor’s loafers hit the hardwood, the noise heightening the tension.
He appears from the foyer, his thick wavy brown hair styled perfectly, as though he’s ready for a congressional speech at any moment. He slips his cellphone in his black slacks, his white button-down tucked in the waistband. From afar, he inspects Ryke’s stiff posture on the Queen Anne chair and Lo’s death clutch on the couch’s armrest.
“I missed something,” Connor states. “Was it good?” He looks to Rose.
“Only if you enjoy the intelligible mumblings of Neanderthals.” Her tone is pure ice.
“Good one, Rose,” Lo says flatly.
But Connor rubs his lips to keep from smiling further. And when Connor smiles at my sister, I instantly straighten up and lean forward like two orbiting stars are about to touch and kiss. I want to be present when they do.
Lo pinches my hip as Connor takes a seat next to Rose, sliding his arm along the back of the cushion behind her.
“You’re my girlfriend,” Lo whispers huskily in my ear, teasing me to take his side of things. But in a game of wits, I should choose the smart option and go with my sister. Or Connor. Lo is a losing battle.
“You’re my boyfriend,” I say the obvious. He edges closer, and my heart pounds, his lips right there. Kiss me. Kiss me. Kiss me.
He eases back.
Damn. I wish I had Professor Xavier’s power, but then again, I wouldn’t want to force Lo to kiss me. I’d want him to want it as much as I do.
Connor gestures a hand between Ryke and Lo. “I’m sensing tension here.”
“Lo was just thanking me for not f**king Lily,” Ryke says.
“Exactly,” Lo replies, his voice equally as dry.
Connor doesn’t even blink. “Must be a brother thing.” He casually turns to Rose, whispers something in her ear and presses a light kiss on her cheek. I cannot believe I’m envious of a kiss right now. But I really am. I want that kiss. Not from Connor! Just to be clear. From Lo. I want the kiss from Lo. My cheeks redden just accidentally thinking the wrong thing. Jeez.
“You okay?” Lo whispers.
I nod, squirm a little, and rest my cheek on the crook of his arm, safe in his embrace. His muscular body dwarfs my overly skinny frame. I’m working on being healthier too. All skin and bones is not a good look.
Rose puts her hands up to Connor’s chest, blocking him from scooting closer. “A brother thing? What’s going on here is not normal between brothers. You don’t see Greg Brady thanking Peter for not hav**g s*x with Marsha.”
“No because that would be incest,” Connor says.
She shoots him a look. “It’s not incestuous because Marsha is only the stepsister.”
“True.” His eyes flit to her lips and back to her sharp gaze. “And I’m surprised you used the word ‘normal.’ I thought we agreed last week that it’s arbitrary and too subjective to have any real merit.”
She gives me a look like why am I with him again?
I smile and really want to say: Because you’re two nerd stars, orbiting and meant to kiss. But that won’t make sense to anyone but me.
Rose and Connor have had an odd three months together, constantly breaking up over intellectual disputes like this and reuniting only a week later. Their relationship is something I can’t quantify or really understand. I think maybe you have to have a higher IQ or something. But I love watching them like Lo and I do Japanese cartoons. We can’t comprehend what they’re saying, but it’s still fun to tune in every week.
Rose points a manicured finger at his chest. “You can’t discount an entire word just because you don’t think it has merit, Richard.” Ooh, she used his real first name. “You’re basically saying Foucault’s entire sociological studies were worthless.”
My head hurts trying to listen to them, but I’m strangely enthralled.
“Hey,” Lo cuts in, clapping his hands. They both look at us like we’ve just appeared in the room. “You two can discuss normal people and Faulkner later.”
“Foucault,” Rose corrects him.
“It’s Foucault. Not Faulkner.”
“Whatever, they both start with an F,” Lo snaps. “You know what else starts with an F?”
“Fuck you,” Connor beats him to it. He also says it so casually—like he’s trying to answer an Academic Bowl question. I can’t help but break out into a grin.
Lo catches me smiling and gives me a look. I press my lips together to try to contain it, but it’s too hard and I probably seem goofy instead. The corner of his mouth quirks. My heart flutters because for the first time in three months, I can see these reactions.
He draws forward and places a light kiss on my nose. I didn’t even have to chant kiss me for him to do it. I bite my bottom lip, giddiness replaced by dangerous thoughts. Of yanking Lo into the bedroom, easing him onto the mattress, straddling his waist and skimming my fingers over each ridge in his abs. And then his half-smile will extend to his whole face, the grin enough to light up my body.
I could mumble some lame excuse to leave the meeting, but my throat tightens and guilt festers, even though I haven’t taken a step towards my bedroom yet. Planning out the events makes me feel like a failure. Why is that?
“You look good by the way,” Connor tells Lo.
I forgot they haven’t seen each other since Lo’s stint in rehab. I squint at Connor and put him on my pedestal of suspects. Maybe Ryke is right. In return for the info about my sex addiction, Connor could bribe his way into Wharton—the prestigious graduate school at Penn where he plans to go for an MBA.
Connor meets my gaze, and his brow arches like he knows I’m unlawfully incriminating him.
He can see straight through me.
My cheeks redden, and I immediately overturn my hasty judgments. There’s no way Connor would sell me out. He finds cheating too easy, and he’s more moral than 99% of our family’s social circle. So that leaves Ryke. And Rose. But Rose would be more likely to burn her entire fashion line—Calloway Couture—than throw me to the cannibalistic media. And she loves her collection like a mother does a baby.