“Give me a break,” she says jokingly. “I was on a roll.”
Sawyer comes into the kitchen, looking around. His eyes dart awkwardly over to me. “Uh, can I grab a beer?”
I know full well there is a beer fridge under the bar in the living room. I snort petulantly. “Did Caden send you in here to check on me?”
“No.” He looks guilty as sin. “Okay, yes. Hell, I don’t know how to do this shit. Your boyfriend is on the edge out there, Murphy. Throw the guy a bone.”
My mother walks in and I shake my head. “More reinforcements?” I ask.
“We’re all worried about you, honey.”
“And we’re hungry,” Sawyer adds, making us all laugh.
“Fine,” I say, getting up from the table. “Let’s get things moving then.”
My mother puts a hand on my arm, stopping me from helping. “I think Lexi and I can handle this. You have something more important to do.”
I look at Sawyer. “Is he still in the living room?”
“He’s on the balcony.”
I nod, leaving the kitchen and grabbing a throw blanket off the couch on my way to find him.
I wrap myself up and open the sliding door, frozen air assaulting me as I walk through to the outside.
Caden turns around and sees me, worry etching lines across his forehead. “Murphy, I’m sor—”
I hold up my hand to stop him. “There can’t be any more secrets,” I say. “I know you had good intentions, Caden, but we have to be able to talk about everything or this isn’t going to work. First you withheld the fact that Tony was going to break up with me, and now this.”
“I didn’t know how to tell you,” he says guiltily. “It won’t happen again.”
I pin him with my stare. “Are you sure, Caden? Because you said that once before. I need to be able to trust you.”
“You can,” he says, his eyes imploring me to believe him. “I screwed up, Murph. And believe me, I won’t do it again. More than anyone, I know about three strikes and you’re out. I’m not about to strike out with you. I promise.”
“Okay.” I walk over to him. “You will always have more money than me. That is something I’ll have to deal with. I know you can pay for things that I can’t. But in the future, we need to agree on what those things are.”
He sighs in relief at my mention of the future. “What if I want to get you a birthday present?” he asks with a smirk.
“That’s different. Presents are fine. Well, unless you buy me a car or something.” I look at his face that is breaking into a smile. “Do not get me a car, Caden.”
“But anything up to a car is fine?”
“You can be infuriating, you know that?” I swat his chest, causing the blanket to fall off my shoulders.
He picks up the blanket and walks around behind me, pulling my back to his chest as he wraps us both up. “No more secrets,” he whispers in my ear.
We stand like this, pressed together and keeping each other warm. And as I look over the city, I realize this is our first holiday together. I turn around and thread my arms around his waist. “When I was little, every Thanksgiving my dad would make us go around the table and say what we were thankful for. I would always say something stupid like how I was thankful for my bike or my new dress. It wasn’t until after he died and we stopped doing it that I realized the only thing he ever said he was thankful for was me.”
Caden leans down and kisses the top of my head. “It appears your father and I have a lot in common.”
“I wish you could have met him,” I say, looking up into his eyes.
“Me too. You know that nobody can ever replace him, don’t you?”
I follow his eyes as they look into the living room where his father is helping my mother bring a platter of food out to the dining room table. “It’s crazy, don’t you think? Your dad and my mom?”
“If by crazy you mean perfect, then yes, Murphy Brown, it’s crazy.”
I have a horrible thought and pull back from Caden. “Oh, my gosh. What if they get married? You’ll be my step-brother. We can’t let that happen. It’s gross.”
Caden laughs, winking at me as he pulls me back to his chest. “We’ll just have to beat them to it, then.”
After my workout, on my way back to the locker room, I see a familiar face walking towards the front desk of the gym.
I hurry my steps and head him off before he gets there. “Anything I can help you with, Fields?”
Tony steps back and looks around me to the desk. “I was looking for Murphy. She not working here anymore?”
“What’s it to you?”
He laughs, handing me a tabloid. “Of course she doesn’t. Why work at all if she has you to take care of her?”
I look at the magazine. Plastered on the front cover is a photo of Murphy and me at the club last week. I was afraid this would happen. But since she’s wearing a baseball cap, you’d have to know Murphy to know it’s her in the picture. You’d have to know her like Tony knows her.
My blood starts to boil. This asshole has been with her. He’s had more of her than I’ve had. And it more than pisses me off.
I throw the article back at him. “Not that it’s any of your business, but she got another job.” I lean close to him so I tower over his smaller stature. “But make no mistake, that doesn’t mean I’m not taking care of her.”
“What’s going on here?” Murphy says, coming from the back office.
Shit. I was hoping that wouldn’t happen.
“No longer works here, huh?” Tony gives me a death stare.
“I didn’t say she no longer works here. I said she got another job.” I put my arm around Murphy and pull her close. “She’s the membership coordinator now.”
He laughs snidely. “Bet it doesn’t pay as much as modeling.”
“It pays more than enough,” Murphy says. “Now what do you want, Tony?”
“Good, I’m glad you’re rolling in money, because Kirsten needs you to cover rent until they can find another roommate.”
“What? That’s ridiculous. I saw her post a picture on Facebook about her new roomie.”
“You saw wrong,” he says. “They haven’t found anyone yet.”
Murphy studies Tony. “He’s lying,” she says to me.
“Tony, we were together for four months. You don’t think I learned a thing or two about you? Like how you chew on the inside of your cheek when you lie?”
“Whatever,” Tony says. “I’m not lying, Murphy. Call Kirsten. Find out for yourself.”
I laugh. “Oh, like she would tell me the truth—the girl who was screwing my boyfriend behind my back.”
“It’s not like you and Richie Rich here can’t afford it,” he says.
I turn to Murphy. “What kind of agreement did you have? Was it in writing?”
“There wasn’t a formal agreement. I think the rental is in Kirsten’s name. She let the rest of us pay on a month-to-month basis. She was always telling us, or me anyway, how replaceable I was.”
“Well, there you go,” I tell him. “She paid through the end of last month. She isn’t obligated beyond that.”
“Really, Murphy? You going to hang her out to dry? Make it so she can’t pay rent? She’ll be evicted and then all four of them will be out on their asses. I thought you were better than that.”
“How much is rent?” I ask him.
Murphy puts a hand on my arm. “Don’t, Caden.”
“It’s not that big a deal,” I tell her.
“But he’s playing you.”
“I’m not playing anyone,” Tony says. “At least not any more than the wanna-be model is playing you.”
I look at Murphy to see if his words hurt her. They didn’t. I’m glad to know he doesn’t have that power over her anymore.
“I tell you what,” I say to him. “You get Kirsten and her other three roommates to come in here and tell Murphy they haven’t found someone to fill her bed and that they can’t afford to pay the rent. If they do that, I’ll cover one month myself.”
“Caden,” Murphy scolds me.
“It’s okay, Murph. It won’t happen. You said yourself Jamie was nice enough. I highly doubt this scam-artist can get four women to come beg for money.”
Tony shakes his head. “There’s no way they can all come in together, they have different schedules.”
“I didn’t say they had to come together, Fields. They can come in anytime, each one by themselves. If they all verify what you claim to be true, I’ll pay Murphy’s portion of the rent.” I hold up a finger. “For one month. Got it?”
His jaw twitches as he eyes Murphy with disdain. Then he throws the magazine at her feet and turns to walk out of the gym.
“That’s what I thought,” I say to his back before the door closes. I turn to Murphy. “I want you to watch out for that guy. Tell me if he starts bothering you. He’s out for an easy buck and right now, you seem to be his target. If he tries to hurt you …”
“He’s harmless,” she tells me. “Once, we almost got mugged on the subway and he hid behind me. Some other guy stepped up and ran the attacker off.”
“What?” I shake my head in disbelief.
She rolls her eyes. “Yeah, in hindsight I should have dumped him on the spot.”
I look at the door the asshole just walked through, wondering how he can even call himself a man.
Murphy picks up the tabloid and studies the photo. She hands it to me. “Why did they have to take one of me laughing? I look like I have a double chin. Now everyone will think you have a fat girlfriend.”
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