“Perfect,” Daisy says with a bright smile. I don’t believe her, and I have a suspicion Ryke wants to come clean since he shakes his head now. She grabs the bag out of my hand to distract me.
I let the issue go, only because I can’t prod today. I need to get work done at my office, and if I dwell on my little sister, I’ll worry until someone spills the truth. It’s probably not that bad anyway. I’m sure she just sped down the highway on her Ducati and almost got herself killed. In Daisy Calloway’s adrenaline-fueled world, that situation is like the sun rising and setting.
“Ooh,” she says. “Which one is mine, the tie-dye or the leopard-print?”
Ryke frowns. “What the f**k did you get her?”
I shoot him a glare. “Not whatever you’re thinking.”
“Panties,” Daisy tells him.
“That’s exactly what I was f**king thinking.”
She smiles. “I know.” And she pulls out a plastic package that does not contain panties. “Pepper spray.” She glances at me. “I think I’ll take this one.” She holds the tie-dye package.
“Since you and Lily have given up your bodyguards for the show, I thought it would be a good idea to have some sort of protection.” In order to film, Scott had a proviso that Daisy and Lily ditch their bodyguards, who had been keeping them safe from paparazzi after we went from anonymity to celebrity. “I also signed us up for a self-defense class.”
“Didn’t you used to take those classes all the time in Princeton? Why would you want to go to another one?”
“Because you girls should learn.”
“I don’t know if I have the time,” Daisy says honestly. “I’m booked for shoots a lot this week.”
“I think it’s a good idea,” Ryke chimes in from the couch.
My brows jump. “Really?”
“Sure,” he says, his eyes not softening like mine. “And if Daisy doesn’t have the f**king time, then Lo, Connor and I can help out here. We can push the furniture to the walls for space.” I would love to beat the shit out of Loren. But what’s more appealing is trying to pin Connor to the floor. I’d revel in that win for months.
“You want to help?” I ask Ryke.
“Why does everyone find that so f**king hard to believe?”
“I don’t,” I say. “I’m just wondering why you’re so concerned all of a sudden.”
“I’m always concerned. I just don’t voice my opinion every five seconds like you.”
“You’re a jackass,” I tell him casually.
“You’re a bitch.”
“Thank you.” I grab my phone out of my purse. “And I accept your help by the way. Lily really needs to learn how to protect herself without running behind Lo’s back.”
“Yeah,” Ryke says, “but you girls need to f**king admit that you can’t protect yourself against a hoard of angry guys with a mini-bottle of pepper spray and a kick to the nuts. It’s better if we’re there too.”
I dial Lily’s number. “I disagree,” I say. “The tip of my heel to your ball sac would cripple you.”
“A hoard of f**king guys,” Ryke emphasizes. He purposefully rests his dirty boots on my coffee table.
I choose not to break his neck. This time.
Daisy pries the plastic open and pops out the canister from the packaging.
I press my phone to my ear, the ringing incessant.
Daisy shakes the pepper spray. “Should I test it out?” She grins and points the nozzle at Ryke. “Stay away, you pervert!”
Ryke’s face darkens, not amused.
She drops her hand and walks over to the couch, plopping down beside him. They have an intense whisper-conversation that Brett tries to catch by edging close to Daisy. Ryke physically plants his hand on the camera lens and drives Brett back, putting space between them.
Brett glares. “You can’t touch the cameras, Ryke. How many times do we have to tell you that?”
“Back up and I won’t.”
Brett shakes his head, but he shuffles backwards.
I concentrate on my phone call, and the dial tone sounds after the last ring. I groan and click the “off” button. “LILY!” I shout. I know she’s upstairs, and I want to give her a bottle of pepper spray before I leave.
When I glance back at my little sister, I scrutinize the way she leans into Ryke as she whispers something to him. Her eyes drift over his features in a curious, impulsive manner, and my heart quickens.
She’s going to kiss him.
And then when her lips stop moving, Ryke puts a hand to Daisy’s cheek. And he forces her face away from his. It’s a gentle push that has her trying to tackle him on the couch with a laugh. They’re verging on flirting, even when his brooding features say that he’s pissed at her.
He struggles to hold her still as she slides beneath his arm and snatches his helmet. She swiftly fits it over her head, and he tries to pull it off her, his lips slowly upturning. But she wiggles out of his hold, and in seconds, she’s suddenly straddling his lap. He flips up the visor to his helmet and stares harshly at her, hiding his partial smile.
I worry that the cameras will pick up any chemistry between them. My mother will not approve of a Ryke Meadows and Daisy Calloway coupling. For multiple reasons.
“Both of you, stop it.”
Ryke snaps awake, and he shoves her completely off his body. Her back hits the cushions.
His eyes flit from me to the staircase. “Lo!” he yells. “Lily! Get your asses down here!” His voice is a lot louder than mine.
From upstairs, feet patter but then they stop and go quiet, hesitating to join the land of people and real, adult things. Lo and Lily keep to themselves, living in their own hazy, addicted world. Here, it’s a bit scary.
“Loren f**king Hale!” Ryke calls.
Daisy rises to her knees and grips the back of the couch. She peers up at the staircase behind me. “Lo! Lily! A comic book came in the mail for you!” She pulls off the motorcycle helmet.
Enticing Lo with something that’s not here will put him in a worse mood.
But it works.
Lo and Lily stampede down the stairs. “It’s mine!” Lily shouts at him. “I ordered the new X-Men comic.” She tries to shove him into the wall, and they block each other mid-stair.
“And I ordered the last issue of New Mutants.” He steps forward and she jumps in front of him, gaping.
“You’ve already read that! Mine is more important.” She spins to race to the door.
Daisy crouches behind the couch.
Before Lily reaches the bottom stair, Lo snatches her by the waist and throws her across his shoulder.
“Not fair!” she retorts, trying to squirm from his strong grasp.
He carries her to the door without so much as glancing at us in the living room. When it comes to comics, sex and booze, they have a one-track mind.
Ben creeps down the stairs, the camera positioned under his arm. He looks slightly petrified from being alone with them, his eyes bugged and his legs shaking.
They must have been in the study room and not a bedroom, or else he wouldn’t have been able to film them. And I’m sure they were making out with more heat than a horny cat—just to say f**k you to the cameras. They’ve been at it all week. It’s only getting worse the longer Lo has to put up with Scott.
Lily said she’s been purposefully trying to distance Lo from the producer and finding ways to keep them apart for as long as possible. I think it’s a brilliant idea.
Ben almost drops his camera.
“Steady hands,” Savannah says to him.
Brett rolls his eyes. (I’m not a big Brett fan.)
Ben lets out a nervous laugh. Documenting Lily and Loren is like being an extreme voyeur, peeping in on their intimate affairs. I bet he feels a bit gross and wrong afterwards. Even reading about Lily’s sex life online leaves me feeling violated. I imagine it’s ten times worse for Lily.
“Wait…” Lily says from the door. “There’s nothing here.”
I grab the shopping bag and head over to the two of them. “This is for you,” I tell Lily. She brightens when she thinks it’s the comic. But as she sifts through the bag’s contents, her face falls for the second time. “Pepper spray?”
“No, she thought it was for greasing pans,” Loren retorts.
“You’re going to treat us like idiots,” he says, “you’re going to get an idiot response back.”
Touché. “I’ll be leaving.”
“Look at that, Lil. The queen has announced her departure. Should we bow?”
“Lo,” Lily warns and gives him a sharp look, and for Lily, those don’t come often.
He shuts his mouth, which must take a great, great deal of effort.
“Go sit with your jackass brother on the couch,” I tell him. “And just so you know, I like that jackass better than you, and I’ve known him fifteen years less.” I flash Loren a dry smile. “See you tomorrow.”
Loren usually has the last word, but I slam the door behind me before he gets it. Bickering with Lo solidifies my day as a normal one. The bad days are the ones where everything is a little off. So far, so good.
* * *
I jinxed myself.
I know Connor does not believe in such things, but I know I f**king did something wrong. I said, so far, so good. And OF COURSE something decided to blow back in my face.
Scott is here.
At my office.
He just showed up while I was in the middle of rearranging my inventory into plastic tubs. I was separating them according to seasons, trying to unearth the spring and summer collections that we’ll need to wear soon for the show. I’ve been letting my sisters wear their own clothes at certain times, just because I don’t have enough pieces for six full months, even if we wear an outfit twice. Hopefully Scott airs the footage where we’re all dressed in Calloway Couture and not Old Navy, which Lily gravitates towards.
“You work too hard,” Scott tells me, setting down a plastic bag on my white desk. Boxes and tubs line the large loft space. Besides that and my desk and a pig, there’s not much else in here. Oh, wait, there is Brett who films us.
Scott’s kindness must be a result of the camera in his face, trying to capture some footage of him being nice. Must be painful for him.
“I don’t,” I say. “The people who work hard are the ones dedicated to protecting our country, who do better by it. I just design clothes.” I snap the lid onto one of the tubs and wipe my hands on my black pleated dress, the seam touching my thighs (not good) and my collarbones (thank God). At least I have on sheer black tights.
“I brought you dinner.”
I watch him pull out two Styrofoam to-go containers, vaguely interested. I ignore my stomach that threatens to grumble on spot.
He opens the containers, and I see the lines of sushi, the little dab of wasabi and bundle of ginger. I barely hear him say the name of my favorite sushi restaurant in New York. I’m too slack-jawed that he got something right. Maybe I’ve been too harsh, too bitchy and judgmental just because he’s from California and says a few sleazy things.
I grimace as I try to come to terms with being nice too. I clear my throat and straighten my spine. “I only have one chair.” I near my desk and peer into the plastic bag, taking out chopsticks and soy sauce.
“That’s okay. You can sit on my lap.”
“Just kidding,” he laughs. “I’ll sit on your desk.”
Fine. I settle in my rolling chair and pick the to-go box with the rainbow roll, also my favorite. Connor usually brings me dinner in the city, and the fact that he’s been replaced by Scott agitates me. “So who told you I liked sushi?” I ask him.
As promised, he sits on half of my desk, his legs hanging close to me. “I’ve always known it’s your favorite, babe.”
I pause, my chopsticks frozen above the ginger. So he’s definitely playing into our fake old relationship. Two can play this game. “I never ate sushi with you,” I retort. “You said you hated it, and you always made me eat alone.”
His lips twitch in a cringe, which he hides very well. He sets his to-go box on his lap. “Things have changed.”
“You like sushi now?”
He eats a piece, chews and swallows. “I love sushi now.” He smiles, and I absorb his features, the dishwater blond hair that’s styled in a messy, dysfunctional way. And the light layer of scruff along his jaw that makes him look a little older than his age.
I hate that he’s not ugly. I wish he had a thousand warts and a hairy nose. Instead, he could be an actor on a daytime soap, not a producer.
“You miss me,” he suddenly says.
My eyes tighten. “Not for a second.” My phone buzzes on the desk.
Scott snatches it before I can.