“Why the hell would you bring this trash to our uncle’s house?” The purple-bandana Donatello asks as I struggle to break from his grip. I kick out, my legs flailing in the air, but he holds tightly as if I’m a sack of bones.
Connor steps forward. “What are you, back alley thugs? Let her go, Matt. Then we can talk.”
The few other clusters of people in the yard begin to watch. Through my struggle, I spot a Tinkerbell, a Peter Pan, a green-clad superhero and Dobby, the house elf. The green-clad superhero edges forward, and just when I think he’s coming to my rescue, Matt releases his hold on me, and I finish the distance to Lo.
He quickly places two hands on my cheeks, inspecting the length of my body with his gaze.
“I’m fine,” I tell him, more worried about his state. “Stop fueling them.”
His eyes harden, his cheekbones sharpening which turn his lips into a pout. “Just get behind me.”
“Lo,” I panic, my chest constricting.
“If something happens,” Lo breathes as he pushes me back. “Run to Connor’s limo. Don’t wait for me, okay?”
“No.” My eyes bug. “Lo, please—”
“This kid owes us forty grand,” Matt sneers, turning the spotlight back on Lo and off Connor. Why would Connor even help us? It may damage his reputation beyond repair.
“I’m not giving you a cent,” Lo spits. “How the hell was I supposed to know the liquor was off limits? There wasn’t a sign.”
“It was locked,” says the blue-bandana cousin.
Lo opens his mouth again, and I pinch his arm, shooting him a glare. We need to leave, preferably together. He clenches his jaw and thankfully shuts up.
Matt steers his heated glower back to Connor. “Do you think we’re going to overlook this because you’re Connor Cobalt? You realize that anyone else would be blacklisted by now.” Oooh, blacklisted. Lo and I are probably crossed off all lists in the affluent Philly circle. If it wasn’t for Connor, we wouldn’t have even passed the doors.
“Blacklist me, then,” Connor says. “This is a terrible party. You didn’t even bother to serve food.”
Matt’s head jerks back in surprise. “You’re going to choose them over us?”
Connor nods, his muscles tensing. “Yep. Let’s see what we have here. Net worth of maybe”—he scans the mansion behind me—“twenty-five million combined.” He points to Lo and me. “Calloway and Hale. That’s every f**king soda can in your house and all your little nephews and nieces’ diapers. Billions. So yeah, I’m going to side with the two people that make your inheritances look like chump change.”
I gape, not expecting any of that, mostly about Connor being our friend in a few days. He collects people, and Lo and I are gold nuggets in his jar. It’s been so long that anyone has stuck up for us that I slide past the superficiality in his motives. Having an ally is nice. Desperate, yes, but no one said Lo and I are perfect either.
Matt and the other Ninja Turtles look stupefied, trying to process our wealth and our last names. Then he laughs in cruel amusement. “Well then, I suppose with your means you’ll have no problem taking that pacifier out of your ass and reimbursing us for what you drank.”
Lo’s expression grows dark. I put my hand in his, hoping he’s not about to be belligerent and argumentative. I trust Lo to stand down with me here, but once I leave, anything can happen.
“Fuck you,” Lo curses.
Connor cuts in before one of the cousins raises a fist to make Lo pay it. “Will your uncle really care? Forty grand is nothing.”
“He drank a car, Connor,” Matt says in disbelief. “That’s more than some people make in a goddamn year! Yeah, he’ll be pissed, and Diaper Rash over there can easily afford it. Pay up, or we’re going to find collateral until you grab your f**king checkbook.” They eye me, and I back up into the cold stone. Lo glances over his shoulder, all sharp lines, and when he feels that I’m safe, he steps forward.
No! I lunge and grab his wrist.
“He can’t pay it,” I defend.
“Lily,” Lo warns. “Don’t.”
I seal my lips, not about to spill Lo’s personal life to strangers. His father put him on a stringent allowance, tying up his bank account and pooling in money on a monthly basis. He supervises every transaction, calling Lo when there are any big purchases. That four thousand-dollar champagne at the Italian restaurant plus his other expenses wiped him clean this month.
And if he overdraws, Jonathan Hale will throw a fit.
“You really expect me to believe that, sweetheart?” Matt says. No, he wouldn’t.
Connor, for the first time, looks concerned. He keeps edging backwards, glancing around to find reinforcements in case this gets ugly.
“I can—I can do it. But my checkbook is in the car with my purse,” I say. If I have to take the heat for a forty grand charge, then I will. I can easily blame it on a dress for the Christmas Charity Gala, citing that I stained the one I already bought. The only problem: I didn’t bring any money. With no pockets and an affinity for ditching purses, I left the house with nothing but my plastic blades and knee-high leather boots.
“Matt!” A tall, tanned guy jogs over to us. He wears a green leather jacket and carries a bow with a quiver of arrows strung to his back. I recognize him as the green-clad superhero from the sidelines. Dark green paint streaks across his eyes like a mask and disheveled brown hair accentuates the hard lines in his jaw. He looks manly, powerful and pissed. His costume probably helps, but I have a feeling the self-confidence is all him.
He stops a few feet from our stand-off with the Ninja Turtles and focuses on the purple-bandana cousin. I’m ready for him to shake his fists at Matt, threaten him with his strong build, something that Lo has avoided.
The green-clad superhero says, “Hey, I just talked to some girl. She said Michael wants you guys to come in the house. He needs you to break up a fight in the basement. They’re knocking into shit.”
My mouth slowly falls. So…he’s not here to help us. I’m an idiot.
Matt rubs the back of his neck, his eyes flickering to us before he nods to the other Turtles. “Go. I’ll take care of this.” The cousins sprint off towards the pool.
“The girl said that Michael wanted all four of you.”
Matt huffs. “Can you do me a favor, Ryke? These two owe my uncle forty grand.” He points to me. “This girl says her checkbook is in the car. Follow them and get the money from her.”
“Yeah, no problem.”
My stomach drops further. Now we’re going to be tailed by Matt’s superhero friend who looks fit enough to tackle me and pin me to the grass. Maybe not Lo. Definitely me. Probably Connor…Great.
The evil Turtle disappears around the corner and Ryke shifts his attention to us. “Where’s the car?” He turns his head, and I catch his profile: unshaven jaw, slender nose, brown eyes that melt into honey. He’s something I would normally pursue without question. I shake off the thought, especially since he’s friends with Thomas Jefferson’s cousins.
“This way.” Connor leads us to his limo.
Lo slips his hand around my waist, bringing me close. Ryke walks ahead of us with Connor, and Lo burns holes into the superhero’s back. Besides the fact that Ryke is working as Matt’s errand boy, I wonder if Lo feels threatened. Did he see me eyeing him? I’m not so sure. Ryke also stands a good inch above Lo, probably six foot three, and carries himself with that extra assurance, exuding a strong sense of masculinity. Lo does too, but there’s a small difference. I can barely place it. Where Lo is all sharpness, this guy is hard-lined. Like ice versus stone.
I blink, trying not to focus on Ryke’s handsomeness. Not at a time like this.
Five paces out and Lo plucks his flask from his belt, drinking again.
“Is that even your booze?” I ask, pissed that he’s drowning another situation with liquor. But I guess I just spaced out a little—one second from imagining Ryke’s abs. So I can’t be too critical.
He wipes his mouth with his hand. “Maybe.”
Ryke looks over his shoulder every so often. His eyes dart between us, his expression too enigmatic to understand. If Matt trusts him, he can’t be any better than the Ninja Turtles.
Maybe I can cry instead of paying him. Don’t guys get really uncomfortable when girls start sobbing?
“So what are you supposed to be? Robin Hood?” Connor asks.
“Green Arrow,” I correct before Ryke can.
Ryke looks back, and he scrutinizes my costume, his intrusive gaze heating my body. “You know Green Arrow?” he finally asks, meeting my eyes.
“A little,” I mumble. “DC comics aren’t really my thing.” I like the underdog stories, the kind where any average person can be a superhero. Peter Parker, mutants—they know a little something about that.
“Only losers read DC,” Lo adds. Okay, I wouldn’t go that far.
“I don’t read comics,” Ryke confesses. “I’ve just seen Arrow on television. What does that make me?”
Ryke’s eyebrows shoot up, surprised by the hostility. “I see.”
“For the record,” I interject, “I don’t agree with Lo. I’m not a comic book elitist.” Anyone can read comics, and if you don’t it’s perfectly okay to enjoy the characters in other mediums.
Lo makes a point to roll his eyes at me.
Ryke ignores my comment and turns to Connor who has gone quiet. “Why are you with these two? Aren’t you usually surrounded by a pack of people trying to kiss your ass?”
“I’m broadening my social reach.”
As we near the car, I realize I need to formulate a plan. But my brain short-circuits with each panicked breath. We step into the street and the wind churns, blowing my hair. Connor’s limo hugs the curb.
“Where the hell is your car?” Ryke asks, eyes flickering cautiously to the house.
“Right here.” Connor knocks on the door and Gilligan, his driver, pops open the lock.
I motion for Lo to climb in before me. He sways on his feet, needing no other encouragement. When he’s safely on the leather seat, I begin to relax. Somewhat.
“Where’s your purse?” Connor asks. And then his eyes gradually widen. “Wait, you didn’t bring a purse, did you?”
“I-I…” I avoid Ryke. Is he going to shake me down? Hit me? His broad muscles tense, and I shrivel back in fear.
“What did you do?” Connor asks, horrified.
I open my mouth, but as I look up, I realize he didn’t address me. He glances from Ryke to the lawn where Ninja Turtles sprint out the door, dodging motionless zombies and heading straight for…us.
“Get in the car,” Ryke urges.
I hop in too fast and whack my head against the metal frame. I curse under my breath and rub the welt, ducking further inside. Lo lies on the longest seat, eyes closed and cradling his flask like a teddy bear. I sit beside him and rest my hand on his ankles.