“This is different.”
“I know.” Lo, Lily, Daisy, and Ryke will be sharing the space too. Adding me was like skipping two stairs at a time for her. With them, it’s like trying to stretch over five. “But everyone’s uncomfortable, not just you.”
She groans in distress. “I didn’t want to put them in this situation. The reality show wasn’t supposed to uproot their lives like this.”
I usually say the right thing. I’m obviously doing a shitty job today. The psychic and Scott have scrambled my head.
I wrap an arm around her shoulder. “Lily wants to help Calloway Couture. She’d do anything for you. And they’ll all adapt quickly.” To make amends with Rose, Lily even sacrificed being close to her college. She’ll be taking online classes so she doesn’t fall behind.
Rose stops pacing with my touch. Ben documents her reaction with the zoom of his camera. She stares up into my blue eyes and leans close, her leg pressed against mine.
I comb her glossy hair away from her cheeks, and her arms cling to my waist. I ask, “Are you going to talk about Scott when I kiss you from now on? Or is it only going to be when we have sex?”
She clenches my button-down, fisting the fabric, and tries to throttle me for that comment, but I stay unmoving at her attempt, too strong to be overpowered by her, even if she puts up a good fight. With a huff, she stops trying to shake me. “One day,” she says, “I’m going to slap you on impulse, and then I’m going to feel like utter shit.” I read her eyes that say: maybe we should break up before it happens. Maybe we’re not good together.
“You won’t feel like shit,” I tell her, “because I’ll punish you for it.”
Her lips slowly part. “You’ll punish me?” She chokes on a laugh. “In what way?”
“Just trust me when I tell you that you’ll love it.”
She swallows hard and shakes her head. “I don’t see how I could love a punishment.”
“It won’t be like detention in prep school, Rose.” Remember, I have your best interest at heart.
She inhales deeply and she stares at my lips again, silently asking me to come a little closer. Just as I go to kiss her, a jingling sound echoes through the open kitchen that’s in sight of the living room. No walls between any of them.
Sadie, my orange tabby cat, pads over to us, the bells on her collar clinking together. Rose spent an hour wrestling my cat just to put the thing on her while I was in class. She wants to know Sadie’s location so she can avoid her. My cat scratches women fairly often. She’s not fond of the times I locked her up for a date. But just for snapping on a collar, Rose had cuts all along her arms for a week.
I was about to sell Sadie after that, but Rose refused to let the cat leave. I appreciate her for trying to put up with my pet, but I don’t want to find her bleeding like that ever again.
Rose lets out a horrified gasp. “We have rats!” She disentangles from my arms completely.
She’s not frightened so much as disgusted by the rodent hanging out of Sadie’s mouth.
I rub my lips to hide my smile. “Sadie hunts like a champion.” I wink.
Rose plants her hands on her h*ps and stares at me like really? “You just winked at her.” Rose’s glare turns into a laugh, but when she looks back at Sadie, her face falls again. “It’s bleeding…oh my God.” Sadie drops the rat on the hardwood. “No, no…”
“You’re fine,” I say, setting my hands on her shoulders. “Breathe.” Rose is obsessive compulsive—a trait that has gotten out of hand since the paparazzi have clung to the Calloway family.
She blows out a long breath. “I can’t cohabitate with rodents.” She pauses. “That’s a lie. I’ve lived with Loren for nine months, but I draw the line right here.”
“So then we’ll move back to Princeton.” Win for me. Fuck you, Scott.
She shakes her head slowly. “No, no…I’ll just have to deal with this. It’ll be okay.”
Fine. “Lo, Ryke, and I can set rat traps tomorrow.” But I add this just to rile her, “The perks of having three men living under one roof.”
Contempt crosses her face. “Lily, Daisy and I are more than capable of doing it.” But she breathes a little easier at the idea of three guys living here. It’s appealing to not be in control all the time. Well, for her, not me.
“By all means,” I say, “set them yourself. I fully appreciate female power.” I step nearer, closing the space between us. “But you’re going to have to put them in dusty, dirty…” I wrap my arm around her hip. “…places.” I slide my hand to her neck and my thumb brushes her lower lip.
She inhales again, remembering where I put my thumb three days ago.
Ben silently films us, but I sense his unwanted presence. My thumb lingers on her soft, wet lip. Fuck the camera.
I’m about to push my thumb into her mouth once more, but the front door bursts open.
She pushes off me almost instantly, retreating in her head, realizing who and what surrounds us. I wear my complacent expression, even if I’m highly f**king irritated at whoever ultimately barged through the door.
I see his blond hair first, and my irritation escalates to new volatile levels. I’m already an egotistical ass. I’m afraid I’m about to become the villain of this reality show.
Right now, I don’t particularly give a shit.
“Look, another rodent,” I say to Rose.
She smacks my chest, but she’s smiling.
Scott saunters inside like he owns the townhouse. I’m sure the lease is in his production company’s name. Next thing, he’ll try to stamp Van Wright all over my girlfriend.
“Where is everyone?” he asks, extending his arms. “The psychic will be here in five minutes.” I fixate on the duffel bag slung over his shoulder.
I don’t like assuming things, but if there are clothes, a toothbrush and a change of underwear in his bag—we’re going to have a major f**king problem.
Rose squeezes my arm.
I’m wearing my anger.
“They’re all settling into their new bedrooms,” Rose tells him. She eyes the duffel. “Traveling somewhere, Scott? Hopefully to California where you’re actually needed.”
When he faces my girlfriend, he’s not pissed at her insult. No. He smiles. His gaze even lingers on her lips—the ones that I just touched. “I’m needed here,” he tells her. “It just takes people time to realize what’s good for them.” He gives Rose a long once-over, and my blood begins to boil. “Nice dress, but you could lower the neckline. Showing your tits would increase the ratings.”
“So would shoving my foot up your ass,” she retorts.
My lips rise.
So do Scott’s.
“Just trying to help,” he says smoothly. “I do have a question though. If your sisters are wearing your collection on screen, does this mean they’re going to be entering a nunnery too?”
She growls and tries to charge him.
I seize her around the waist, holding her back. I hate that he incenses her like this. That’s my f**king role.
My lips find her ear. “You’re giving him what he wants.”
“He’s insulting my line.”
It’s like calling her child stupid. I understand the blow. “Your clothes are perfect, Rose. They’re not as modest as he believes. Women will buy them.”
My words instantly calm her, and she relaxes against me. I hold her while Scott waves Ben towards us. And then I meet his gaze. “So,” I say, “you’re moving in.”
It’s a guess.
But it becomes fact as soon as he tosses the duffel bag onto the floor. “I am.”
“What did production want this time?” I ask. “A misogynist? A natural blond?”
“A love triangle,” he deadpans.
Rose’s cheeks concave as if she’s attempting to suck in all the air from the room. She points her finger at Scott, the red nail polish threatening and incredibly sexy. “If you try to break up Lily and Loren, I will gut you from the inside out.”
No, Rose. He wants you.
His arousal practically swims in his eyes as he watches her tell him off. “I’m not here to break up anyone. I’ll be introduced in the show as your ex-boyfriend. We dated for a few years in college but decided to amicably break up when your fashion line absorbed all your time. I like my women to be…attentive. We’re still friends, despite your love to harass the shit out of me.”
I let go of Rose and take a step forward. “We haven’t formally met,” I say, holding out my hand. “I’m Connor Cobalt. The guy whose girlfriend you want to fuck. And just so you understand, the odds don’t look good for you.”
He shakes my hand, and I grip him so tight that he struggles to hide a wince. “You’re threatened by me,” he states, not breaking eye contact. “I’m twenty-eight, and you’re—”
I hate ages. “Twenty-four years smarter than you.” I tilt my head. “And in ten years I’ll be thirty-four years smarter than you. See how this works?”
Rose steps between us, hands outstretched like she’s protecting us from each other. But I just want to protect her from him. “All right. Put your cocks away. I’ve seen enough of them.”
We both look down at her with the same desire.
“You haven’t even seen mine,” Scott says with curved lips.
Is he serious? “I assure you, you’ve pulled out your cock,” I tell him.
“Stop. Both of you,” she says, her chest rising in her dress, her br**sts more apparent, even with the high neckline. This, interjecting herself in the middle of a fight, even tame, causes my dick to throb. I struggle not to pull her into my chest, away from Scott and his lingering gaze. She wouldn’t appreciate me claiming her. But if he’s going to try to take her from me—there’s only so long I can withhold from doing so.
Anyway, I don’t think she’d appreciate another girl hitting on me this way. In fact, I’m almost certain she’d rip her to shreds and grab me.
Rose spins towards Scott. “You’re the executive producer.”
“So you’re in charge of production. You make the rules. So you can leave.”
“Yes, but I also have the network breathing down my neck. GBA expects certain things from Princesses of Philly when I pitched the show to them. My placement in the house was a promise I made.”
He’s planned this for that long?
Maybe he’s smarter than I thought.
Rose fumes. “If the network wants you here, then fine. But the moment I think you’re f**king with my friends and their relationships, even mine, you’re gone. My company isn’t worth hurting everyone I care about.”
“Okay,” Scott says evenly. “But I can’t be held accountable for your feelings, Rose. If you end up liking me, that’s completely out of my control.”
Well, he’s still the douchebag I thought he was.
Rose snorts and backs up into my chest. It’s intentional. And I could kiss her for it. Instead, I wrap my arm protectively around her collar, and she clutches onto me.
“I’d rather burn,” she tells him.
Scott just smiles and motions to Ben who’s filmed the entire scene. “Get everyone in this f**king living room. We have a psychic segment to shoot.”
[ 5 ]
“He’s cute,” Daisy says, appraising Scott from the kitchen. The main level of the townhouse is all one open space, so we have a direct view of the four guys in the living room, sitting on various pieces of leather furniture. The frizzy-haired psychic is on the ottoman, shuffling her Tarot cards.
Lily and I give our youngest sister a long stare. Mine contains a strong warning, but Lily looks more confused, like a puppy wandering the side of a road. I’d only stop to help a sad dog if they shared my genetics. Cruel, maybe. But survival of the f**king fittest. Blood is thicker than water. Choke on all of those clichés. They’re true.
Daisy adds, “I mean, if you’re into the whole blond, scruffy alpha-male vibe.” She bites into a carrot with a crooked grin.
“You mean if you’re into the whole domineering, jackass vibe,” I refute.
“Or that,” she says. “But no offense, Ryke is more of the jackass.” She says it with an even larger smile. Yes, she’s friends with Loren’s brother, who happens to be twenty-three. It’d be stranger if she didn’t hang around high fashion models older than even him.
My two sisters and I have excused ourselves from the palm reading to replenish on pizza and drinks. But really, I wanted to leave the guys to grill the producer…or rather—my fake ex-boyfriend. I internally gag every time I think of Scott and boyfriend in the same sentence. He’s put this disgusting chili pepper and pickle taste in my mouth. And for anyone who finds that combination pleasant, I’ll give you Scott’s number. He’s all yours.