I squeeze her chin and glare as though she’s been a bad f**king girl, a look she rarely sees from me. Her whole body shudders. I feel every quake against my chest, my legs, my arms and groin. Her lips part and a high-pitched moan staggers upon release. The noise grips my c*ck so tightly that I choke on a groan. I want to be so far inside of her. I want to pound between her legs until her eyes flutter, until her limbs slacken in exhausted defeat.
She breathes heavily, as do I, and I trace her lips, her flushed cheeks, her narrowed eyes.
“I’m helping you,” she says with a raspy voice.
“No,” I say before I bite her lip. She moans again, and I slip my tongue into her mouth, kissing her forcefully. She returns it with just as much power, her hands clenching my hair with a desperation that I haven’t seen from her in a while.
I lift her up onto the counter and pull her legs towards me. I wrap them around my waist, not giving her time to be uncertain. My hands drift underneath her robe, relaxing on the bareness of her thighs. I kiss her while guiding her shoulders onto the cool counter. My lips break from hers, sucking a line from her collar towards her br**sts. With one hand, I slowly untie her robe, and then her eyes meet the cameras overhead.
She shoots up and places two hands on my chest. “Wait…” Her eyes flicker to the rafters again. I don’t want Scott to see Rose nak*d any more than she does, but I knew this would be the easiest way to get her to forfeit.
I’m not really a winner in this scenario. My c*ck hates me, dying to slip between her legs and thrust for as long as we both can last.
“Let me help.”
“I’m either f**king you right now. Or you’re going to bed.”
She realizes there’s no alternative. Really, I wouldn’t deflower her in the middle of the kitchen with cameras pointed on us. I may be horny, but I have an idea of how I want to take her virginity. And this isn’t it.
“Fine,” she concedes. “I’ll go to bed this once, but if I catch you up again like this, I’m helping. Or you’re going to wake up with bruises.”
“Such threats.” I kiss her cheek, my lips lingering.
She holds my arms and swallows hard. I put a little space between us, but I keep my hand on her knee as she stays seated on the counter. A sudden thought sweeps my brain. It’s one I’ve meant to ask before. “Where do I rank in your life?”
She frowns and shakes her head in confusion. “You want me to rank you?”
I nod. I want to know how far I have to climb to be her first importance. I’m willing to work hard to get there, but I need to know who fills her heart before me and if I’ll ever be able to surpass them.
“I have siblings,” she says.
Her sisters outrank me. All three of them. That’s what I thought. “I almost had brothers,” I tell her honestly.
Her face falls. “What?”
“Twins. They would have been fourteen by now.” I skim her knee with my finger.
“How can you say it like that?” she asks.
“I’m not the one who carried them for nine months.”
She slaps my arm. “Stop being an ass. This is serious.”
“I know. That’s why I’m telling you. I’m not sure if having brothers would have made me a different person.” I’ve often thought about this event and how it could have reshaped my life, but it’s too foggy to see a clear outcome. They would have been ten years younger than me. They would have gone to boarding school, been distanced from my life at Penn. Would I have been as fiercely protective of them as Rose is to her sisters? I don’t know. I was never given the chance to see. “My mother had complications during their birth. They both passed, and I have no idea how she coped afterwards. She seemed…fine. She could have been as cold as she appeared to be, or she could have just hid her grief. I wouldn’t know.”
“Didn’t your parents separate two years later?”
I nod. “But I think their marriage was already strained when she was pregnant. I rarely saw them together.”
“Do you think…?” She trails off, not able to say the words.
“That she cheated on him? That those weren’t his kids?” I shrug. “Maybe. But all of it is neither here nor there. It’s all just…gone.”
She exhales loudly. “That’s a lot to take in, Richard.”
“No one knows that except Frederick. I didn’t think it was important.”
“It is,” she says.
I still don’t see how, but somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I must have believed it was significant too or else I wouldn’t have shared it. “So you love your sisters the most?”
She runs her fingers through her shiny brown hair. “I can’t imagine loving anyone more than them.”
“You do realize that Lily loves Loren more than anyone else on the planet? If they were both given the ultimatum of oxygen or each other, I’m fairly certain they’d choose to suffocate.”
She contemplates this for a second, her brows scrunching in thought.
“I’m not asking you to love me,” I tell her. “I think we’re both smart enough to choose oxygen.” I don’t see how love could benefit me.
Her eyes fall and her lips downturn. After a full minute of silence, she says, “I’d choose to die if it meant my sisters could live. You think it’s stupid, but sometimes love is worth every foolish choice you make.” She hops off the counter. “Oh, and you’re my number three.”
“I beat Poppy already?” I fight a burgeoning smile.
“I see her less than I do you.”
I fit my arms around her waist. “Don’t ruin it,” I breathe, kissing her neck lightly. My hand lowers to the small of her back, and I leave her with one last kiss to the forehead that feels more genuine than all the others. “You’ve bewitched me, body and soul.”
She glares. “And you ruined it with a quote from Pride and Prejudice.”
I grin. “What? I thought we were purposefully being cliché.”
“Maybe next time, quote the book and not the film.”
My eyebrow arches and I recite theatrically, “You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.” I shake my head. “Doesn’t have the same ring to it, darling.”
A laugh escapes her lips. “Go back to work. I’ll see you in the morning. Oh wait,” she feigns surprise, “it is the morning. I’ll see you when we cross paths again.” I watch her walk to the staircase, her lovely round ass bouncing against her silk robe.
“How can you be sure we will?” I ask before I return to my computer. She hypnotizes me, gluing me to this very spot.
She glances over her shoulder, her silky hair molding her beautiful face. “Because,” she says, “we always do.”
[ 14 ]
I didn’t go back to sleep. I decided to take a shower before the rest of the house wakes up. The bathroom is my hell. I think it’s the third or second circle. Scott Van Wright, a devil in disguise, stands firmly in the first.
A chest-high tiled wall barely separates one shower from the other. As though we need to high-five while we’re shampooing our hair.
I wash quickly, but I have a particular routine: scrub beneath my nails at least twice, rinse, shampoo, wash, condition, repeat. I’ve already finished with those steps. But I still have others to do.
I prop my foot near the hot-and-cold knob and shave my leg. I slow down to avoid cutting my ankle or knee.
And then the door swings open.
I drop my leg, warm water dousing me from the showerhead. Please be Connor.
I process that sudden realization—that I’d want it to be him, out of everyone, that’d I’d hope for it. Even if it would pull him away from his business project.
I hate that I’m attracted to a man who thinks love is nothing but a weakness. But I also adore that there’s no one else remotely like Connor Cobalt in the world.
And I’m the one who has him.
When I look back up, Scott is already halfway inside, heading to one of the sinks in the center. He barely acknowledges me, just turns on the faucet and starts brushing his teeth. I solidify to stone. And I only move to cover my chest with my arms, standing underneath the showerhead, as though the downpour of water will clothe me.
I should ignore him and just go back to shaving, but I can’t reawaken my taut muscles.
I shouldn’t watch him either, but I find myself scanning his features quickly. Messy dishwater blond hair, scruffy jaw, and reddened eyes from the early morning.
He spits into the sink, and his gaze meets mine as he wipes his mouth with a towel. “Yes?”
“I didn’t say anything.” My voice is not even a little kind. I don’t know how to defrost the ice that clings to each syllable, even if I wanted to.
“You’re staring.” This fact gives him permission to lower his gaze to the misted shower glass.
I don’t look away. I will not come across as a frightened bird.
“I wondered if you were a bush kind of girl. Now I know.” He tops it off with a half-smile.
I purse my lips. He can’t see that much detail through the glass. “You’re a pig.”
He tosses his toothbrush back in a cabinet underneath the sink and leans against the porcelain rim. “And Lo calls me Mr. Hollywood. Do you all have a thing with nicknames?”
“Loren also told you to eat shit in the same breath, so I wouldn’t gloat.”
His grin never falters, in fact it widens. “You forget that every curse word, every pig and insult is another notch for ratings. So keep ‘em coming, honey.”
He prefers to provoke Loren since he’s fishing for drama. He’d like for me to curse him out too. Maybe I should seal my lips shut and let him deal with the silence. We could still have great ratings without being nasty. But it’s harder for me to be nice than mean. However awful that seems.
Scott steps closer to the showers, and my eyes tighten as I glare so hard. I continue to hide my br**sts with my arm, but everything else is exposed. I could reach for the towel, but surrendering is not an avenue I’ll take. I’ll look foolish and scared, which’ll sit like dead-weight in my stomach.
He slowly steps out of his pants.
“What are you doing?” I ask.
He cocks his head. “Taking a shower, Rose.” He motions to the available “stall” beside mine—the one so close that we could practically high-five. “Do I need your permission?”
“Yes.” I straighten my shoulders. “And you’re not getting it.”
He laughs. “I was just being a dick when I asked. I don’t really care about your permission.”
I don’t really care about your permission. His words gnaw a hole in my brain. I hated him before. I think I loathe him now.
He removes his white shirt, and my eyes linger on his abs for point-two seconds. They’re okay… Defined, but more “I lift too many weights and drink a shit ton of protein shakes” sculpted than the natural “this is my body. I’m just f**king hot” look. Which all three guys in the house possess in spades (even if they all do work out together).
My loyalties lie far, far away from Scott Van Wright—and even a simple compliment about his body feels like kissing a pig who shit in my yard.
I catch a glimpse of his red briefs.
This is not okay.
Fuck it. Where’s my towel?
I go to reach over the glass door to retrieve the cloth off the hook, but Scott snatches it—and it slings right out of my grip.
You have got to be— “That’s my towel.” This is not okay.
“Now it’s mine.” Scott acts modest all of a sudden, tying it around his waist so he can shed his underwear.
I fume. Outwardly. Steam may as well be blowing out of my ears. “What no peep show this morning?”
“We’ll save that for the bedroom,” he says. And winks. He winks at me. My insides shrivel in repulsion. I think he just poisoned my uterus.
He takes off his briefs, all while keeping the towel snug around his waist, and then he kicks his underwear to the side. His eyes pin to me, a smile playing at his lips. Yes, he is nak*d underneath that towel.
And yes, I am very much nak*d in the shower right now.
I’m not quite sure things could get much worse.
“Sorry that phone call took so long, darling.” Connor’s voice emanates from the doorway. “The partners wouldn’t stop talking about finger paints.”
A sudden wave of relief crashes into me. My teammate has arrived to tag me out of this disaster. Somehow he saw or heard Scott in the bathroom and came to retrieve me. Maybe he finally realized that I can finish his project for him.
Thank you. I’m out of here.
And then Connor says, “My shampoo, is it in there?”
That relief is squashed by anxiety. I understand now. He wants to come into the shower. He plans to beat Scott this round and push our relationship to a place where it should already be. I try to pump my chest with more confidence, but he still wants to hop in here with me. And in order for Connor to win, I can’t be shocked by his arrival. I can’t push him away like he’s less than my boyfriend. I need to be as comfortable around him as I should be. I can’t say “wait” like I did downstairs. I have to let him keep going. Full speed ahead. No f**king brakes. Grow some bigger balls, Rose Calloway.