Lily dances beside me, wearing a pink sparkly Bachelorette sash and tiara. Her happiness makes Scott’s looming presence worth it. We’re in a huge club with multi-colored strobe lights and half-naked girls gyrating in cages.
I grab Lily’s hands, all of us a little buzzed. Usually Lily doesn’t drink, but when I ordered shots with Daisy, she said she wanted to be a part of it.
“You’re getting married!” I shout over the music, swinging her hands.
She beams from ear-to-ear. “I’m getting married!”
I don’t really understand her sudden change of heart. But why question it? I’ll just ruin this, and I’d rather enjoy tonight and the next seven days.
Daisy twists her sweaty hair into a bun on top of her head. Savannah and Brett try to film us without being shoved by other dancers.
“Hey, look who it is?” I hear a guy shout.
“Go back to Philly, sluts!” The guys don’t near us, but the longer they yell, the more likely they will find the courage (or stupidity) to do so.
“Get out of Vegas!”
“Should we take a bar break?” Daisy asks. “Beer time?”
Lily tries to ignore the heckling too. She nods quickly. “Beer time”
“You girls want beer?” I say. We have the option of fruity cocktails, dirty martinis, tequila shots, and they’re going to choose beer. Really?
“You’ve never had beer before,” Lily refutes. “This is the day for us to try new things together. Come on.”
She tugs my hand.
“But you don’t even like beer,” I retort. Beer is not my alcohol of choice. Although, I’ve never tasted it. It kind of looks like piss in a glass, which makes complete sense why frat guys love it so much.
“I do like it,” Lily tells me. “I just don’t drink it often.”
“I love beer,” Daisy says with a nod.
“You love everything,” Lily and I say in unison.
She smiles and shrugs. And she would probably try to eat everything if she didn’t have to worry about her weight.
“Go back to—”
“We heard you!” I shout at the air, not sure where the voice is coming from. It must be close considering I hear him over the music.
We reach the long black granite bar with blue lights underneath, and we pick three stools beside each other. Lily is seated between us, and a guy with a scruffy jaw and tattoos sits on my left. From here, we can see our guys over in the VIP roped area, a balcony above us. They sit on leather couches and talk.
Scott doesn’t join them. He leans his forearms on the balcony railing, his eyes pinned to me. The whole time.
It’s aggravating, but I feel worse for Loren who has to put up with Scott during his bachelor party. And I rarely pity Loren in settings like this.
I glance at Lily who pockets her phone as soon as my eyes hit her.
“What are you doing?” I ask.
“Texting Lo. Let’s order.”
If this bartender would respond to my waving hand, that task would be much easier. But she’s having a nice time flirting with the male customers who’ll tip her more. I would have tipped her well. Now I’m reconsidering. I snap my fingers.
Lily grabs my hands, flushing in embarrassment. “She’s not a dog.”
Well she’s not a good bartender either. But I tone it down because Lily looks as red as the bartender’s formfitting dress.
I guess we’ll have to wait.
Patience—it’s something I don’t have.
[ 47 ]
Scott keeps looking at Rose. It’s creepy. Can you do something? – Lily
I pocket my phone. I’ve tried to stand up and distract Scott from Rose, but every time I do, Lo pulls me back down and Ryke tells me not to give him the time of “f**king” day. But it’s about Rose, and I don’t want her to be uncomfortable because of him.
“Go back to Philly, a**holes!” Someone screams from one leather couch over.
“I’m getting the sense we’re not wanted here,” Lo says dryly. He tries not to provoke the hecklers, but I can see the irritation growing as he flashes a bitter smile.
I glance from the text to Scott. “Give me a minute,” I tell the guys. “I need to talk to him. Seriously.” I have to see what he’s plotting.
“No, we thought you were joking the last four times,” Lo says.
But I stand up from the leather couch anyway, expecting Lo to tug me back, but he just nods to me and says, “Tell him I hate him.”
“Any other messages?” I look at Ryke.
“Tell him to f**k himself.”
I nod. “Didn’t expect anything eloquent.”
He flips me off, and I leave both of them to go to Scott. I rest my arm on the railing like him, not saying a word as I stand by his side. I just watch what he does.
She argues with the a brunette bartender in a red dress, and even from afar, I notice the way she cranes forward with heat in her eyes, obviously on the offensive about something.
“So here you are,” I say, feeling the gleam of Ben’s camera lens behind me. “I have the girl, and you’re left with what?” I finally turn to look at him.
“I never wanted the girl,” he says.
I try not to seem shocked. I thought this was a pissing contest from the start. “You wanted fame,” I state, throwing it out there for him to catch.
“No.” He stands straighter. As do I. And we face each other. “If I wanted fame, do you really think I’d be the producer of a reality show? You think someone’s going to award me a f**king Emmy for filming six rich college students?”
I don’t make a point to announce that I already graduated college. He knows this. “So you just want money from the show,” I say. “Princesses of Philly is a hit. You have your payoff. There’s no reason to keep looking at Rose. The charade is over, Scott. You’re not her ex. You’ve never been.” But I stop myself. The more I say these things, the more his lips curve in a smug grin. I inhale in detest, rubbing my mouth as a bad taste rises.
“There’s no season two, is there?” he asks.
“I figured as much when she signed the contract. I thought there’s no way she’d want to do this for longer than six months.” He shakes his head at me. “It’s not over, Connor.”
He wants more money.
What the f**k is he going to do?
Before I have a chance to continue, my phone repeatedly buzzes in my pocket. I answer it, not checking the caller.
“You have to get down here, right now!” Lily yells so I can hear over the loud music.
“What’s going on?” I ask while I look for them at the bar. Rose is no longer arguing with the bartender. The thirty-something guy next to her is in her f**king face. And she’s in his as they scream.
I can hear her voice in the background of Lily’s receiver.
“Just order the f**king beer!” he yells. “Who cares what size it is?!”
“For you to understand me, you’d have to open your tiny, infantile brain,” she sneers, “and try to step onto my plane of existence!”
“Girl size or guy size, it’s not that f**king hard of a concept! Small or large!”
“FUCK YOU!” she shouts, not even that drunk.
I race down the balcony stairs at that last curse word. And I feel Ryke and Loren behind me, the distress must be clear in my muscles that constrict from my neck to arms.
When I reach the first floor, still on the phone with Lily, I sprint ahead, the crowds parting as soon as they see me. The bar is in sight. Maybe fifty feet away.
And then he punches her.
In the face.
Everything moves quickly.
The momentum knocks Rose off the bar stool. Lily crouches down to help her, and Daisy shoves the guy, screaming and trying to hit him back.
My heart is in my throat. The sensible, reasonable part of me that I have always listened to says to go to Rose, to make sure she’s okay. But the livid, boiling side that Rose is familiar with has a mind of its own. I’m already making my way to him, my hand clenched around my phone, my knuckles white with hatred. Who the f**k punches a woman? I’ve met some a**holes—some really f**ked up people that would sell their child if it meant living an A-class lifestyle. But this shit is something new and foreign and disgusting.
I almost reach the guy.
But as soon as he says, “Oh, you’re that prick on the show. Come to restrain your f**king crazy girlfriend? She needs her mouth taped shut—”
I lay one fist into his stomach before the bouncers separate us. My grip was strong enough to break the screen on my phone. These stupid, raging emotions collect as I realize Rose is still hurt. On the ground.
I find her within a second. Lily has her arms above Rose so no one enters her space. And Lo is right beside Rose’s head, holding a napkin filled with ice to her cheek that he must have grabbed from the bar.
“Tell me you hit him,” Lo says the moment he sees me.
I nod once.
“Thank me,” I say, dropping to my knees while Lo just laughs. It’s easy to joke right now. This is the hard part. “Rose?” I inspect her cheek that swells. Not a shiner, but she’ll have a bruise on the bone. I can barely breathe without seeing a fist in her face. Her body falling off the stool. The motion is repeated over and over again. I want to f**king puke.
“He hit me!” she growls, her eyes flickering hot. She tries to sit up to go attack him, but Lo keeps his hand on her shoulder, forcing her down.
“I have her,” I tell Lo, and I swiftly cradle her in my arms. She holds onto my bicep, not trying to go after the guy. Lo passes her the ice, and she keeps it to her cheek, silent again.
“How bad is it?” she asks. “Oh my God, the wedding pictures.” She grimaces. “What an a**hole!” She growls again.
“There’s such thing as Photoshop,” I tell her with an even-tempered voice. I hate that she’s hurt, and another guy was the cause. From the sound of it, he wasn’t even a heckler.
“LET ME AT HIM!” Daisy screams.
We all turn our heads. Ryke has Daisy thrown over his shoulder, beelining towards the exit. I follow with Rose in my arms, Lily and Lo behind me somewhere.
Daisy tries to climb down Ryke’s back to go attack the tattooed guy who’s seated at the bar again. Her head is near his ass until he pulls her back up on his shoulder.
“HE HIT MY SISTER!!!”
“Say it a little louder, Dais!” Ryke shouts at her. “The world can’t f**king hear you!”
She screams incoherently and then yells, “If someone hit Lo, you’d kill them!”
“Someone did hit Lo, and I didn’t do a f**king thing,” Ryke retorts, “so calm the f**k down!”
I remember that night. It was when they met each other. He didn’t really know Lo then. I try to concentrate on Rose, who looks murderous at any person who passes, as though every dancer in the club wronged her.
“You’re okay,” I tell her.
“I should have punched him back.”
“You were on the ground.”
She huffs. “How do I look?” she asks, her eyes softening as she stares up at me. Her cheek continues to swell.
“Beautiful,” I say, and I kiss her forehead before she can refute.
“At least he didn’t break my nose,” Rose says, pinching the bridge with two delicate fingers in gratitude.
If he broke her nose—I think my mind would have truly ejected at the sight of her blood.
Just as Ryke disappears through the door to go outside, I glance over my shoulder to make certain that Lily and Loren are following. But I notice Scott close by, speaking to Brett, both of them laughing and smiling together.
I have a horrible feeling.
[ 48 ]
I’ve willfully handed over my pleasure and the wedding to-do list to Connor Cobalt. I’ve either gone mad or he’s put a spell on me. I smile at the thought. He doesn’t like when I accuse him of witchcraft.
My phone buzzes as I finish clipping the buckle to my heel in my bedroom, back in Philly, cameras positioned overhead.
4 days and I bought new makeup for you – Mom
I head to the vanity just to check my face once more. It can’t be that bad…well it’s not good. A purplish bruise puckers on my cheekbone. It could have been worse. My eye could have swelled shut and oozed puss—that’s what Connor told me to lessen my misery. It worked. Now I’m just happy I don’t have a puss-filled eye to deal with.
And I can also say I’ve been punched. The bachelorette party hasn’t aired yet, but if anyone thinks it’s my fault, I don’t really care.
Connor walks into the bedroom, shirtless and in a pair of black slacks. His muscles ripple across his abdomen, dipping down towards a place that I saw early this morning. He’s sexier than he realizes—no, no, he definitely knows how hot he is.