I roll my eyes, not in the least surprised by my mother’s betrayal or the fact that she got caught. “She lied. My mother has never let Rose go stag. I think Rose hoped that she could go alone if our mother believed you two were still together.” But no one could have anticipated Samantha Calloway talking to Connor before tonight.
“Who’s her date?”
“Matthew Collins, the son of—”
“Robert Collins, Fizzle’s primary lawyer, I know. I’ve met him. I had brunch with him and your father.” Oh… that’s awkward.
“Are you on your way?”
“I jumped in a limo when I read your first text,” he tells me. “Rose may not be pleased to see me, regardless of her mother’s affairs.”
I hesitate, wondering if he’s right. Will she be resistant if he interferes? “She’s not used to letting someone else help her.”
“I don’t think any of you Calloway girls are,” he says. I take this in and realize he might be right about that. But I’m learning to relinquish my control to other people. I’m learning to accept help that’s been offered. I hope Rose will do the same, even if she feels like she has everything taken care of.
“Promise me that you won’t run away from her,” I say in a sharp breath. “Even if she pushes you away—”
“I won’t let her go,” Connor says. “But is there something you’re not telling me, Lily? Has something already happened?” I catch the strain in his voice, so subtle and brief but present.
She’s drinking more than usual, I should say. But what if I’m just projecting my insecurities about alcohol onto her? With Lo in rehab, this is totally plausible. Still, I’m learning to say how I feel. I inhale a deep breath and let it out. “I’m afraid by the time you get here, she’ll be drunk. And I’ve never seen Rose drunk, so I’m not entirely sure what she’ll do or how she’ll be…she just keeps glaring at my mother from across the room…”
“Okay,” Connor says. “Okay, don’t provoke Rose. Try not to set her off.”
I internally laugh. Yeah, that’s going to be a little hard. Most topics ignite fire in her eyes when she’s in a mood. And I know, without a doubt, that our mother has put her in one. “When will you be here?” I shift anxiously and rub my arm.
“Soon. Will you be okay or do you need to stay on the phone with me?”
“I’ll be fine. Ryke is here…” I trail off, knowing that Connor and Ryke have never really been friendly after Lo left for rehab. I think the only reason they endured each other’s company was because of their mutual like for Lo, and when he’s not here it becomes painfully obvious they’d rather be on separate continents.
“Well, I’m sure he’ll f**k tonight up somehow,” Connor says. I remember Connor describing Ryke as a “Rottweiler you keep on a chain in the yard, guarding your house, but something you’d rather not let inside.”
I hesitate to agree. Ryke has helped more than hindered thus far, but that could always change. “I’ll see you,” I tell Connor. He says bye and we both hang up.
I sneak back into the ballroom, the lights still dim, but no one stands on the stage. Everyone is lively with chatter, and I smell chocolate ganache cake, my father’s favorite. When I approach my table, I see Rose sitting on the edge of her seat, her nails rapping against her champagne glass. Her poor date looks like a wilted flower, beaten to death by Rose’s intelligence. I’m sure she schooled him on another subject, and he has nothing left to do but pick at his dessert.
Speaking of dessert. I sit and find a beautiful slice of cake in front of me. Actually two beautiful slices. They almost make up for the fact that Aaron creepily stares at me on the other end. I ignore him. That seems like the best solution right now.
I glance at Daisy who teeters back on two legs of her chair again. “You don’t want your cake?” I ask her. Of course I noticed that she was the one to push her plate into my area, offering me a second slice when I haven’t even touched my first.
She shrugs. “I would eat it, but you know…” She rolls her eyes and glances at Ryke, as though they’ve already had this same conversation. I shouldn’t have asked. I know she’s not allowed to gain an obscene amount of weight because of modeling. So she watches what she eats, lest our mother criticize her waistline even more.
Ryke has his plate in his hand, and he leans back in his chair like Daisy. Her date hunches forward, now playing a game on his phone. Jeez, he really doesn’t want to be here. Ryke has a good view of Daisy and vice versa. He scoops a large bite of gooey chocolate fudge on his spoon. “This looks so f**king good,” he teases her. “So moist.” Okay, I know he says that I always think sexual thoughts. But that was sexual. Moist is a gross word, and I’m a sex addict. He’s definitely trying to ruffle her.
I don’t approve of his methods.
But at least she refuses to glance at him.
I can tell he’s trying to get her to eat, and I think he enjoys pushing people’s buttons. The only problem: I think my youngest sister is made of armor—kind of like him.
He licks the rim of the spoon and then sucks the cake off it, letting out a deep, masculine moan.
My eyebrows scrunch at him and I mouth, stop. I know his plan won’t work. Daisy won’t eat if she feels like our mother’s going to scold her for it.
Ryke keeps the spoon in his mouth and he glares back at me. Then he points at Daisy’s plate. I sigh heavily and slide it in front of her.
“Oh no,” she says to me, “you are not in on his stupid plan.”
“You love chocolate,” I remind her.
“I love a lot of things I can’t have,” she says pointedly.
True. I shrug at Ryke, giving up already. I’m not so resilient. Ryke, on the other hand…
“Daisy,” he coos, waving his spoon around the air to try to get her to look at him. She barely stirs. He tries a different tactic. He dips two fingers into the gooey chocolate filling. No, I internally scream in my head. He’s not going to…
My eyes widen and my mouth falls as his fingers rise to his lips. What the f**k is he doing?! Ryke…needs to stop pushing the line with her. He might find it amusing, but I’m afraid she’ll take his teasing as a sign of something…more. This. Isn’t. Good.
Daisy frowns at my expression, and she follows my gaze for the first time. Ryke puts his two (not-so chaste) fingers in his mouth. I am screaming at him in my head. Even as he sucks the gooey ganache off, he shuts his eyes, faking a f**king chocolate orgasm just so she’ll eat the damn cake.
Daisy snorts and tilts back a little farther in her chair to act all cool and composed. And then, the legs begin to slip underneath her. I gasp, picturing her smacking backwards on the ground. But Ryke is faster than my frozen joints. His eyes have already snapped open. He reaches out and grabs the top of her chair, setting both of them on four legs at the same time.
My sister puts her hands on the table, leaning forward as though a rollercoaster just flung to an abrupt stop. She looks winded and stunned all at the same time.
Ryke barely misses a beat. He pushes an extra spoon in front of her.
And to my surprise, she actually picks up the silverware and scoops a big bite of cake on it. She hesitates for a second.
“It’s not arsenic,” he says.
Her lips rise in a small smile. “Your h*ps also don’t have to be measured in the morning.”
“They can be,” he tells her. “Will you eat the f**king cake if I measure my hips?”
“And your ass,” she says.
“You want to know the size of my ass?” His brow rises.
“Eat the cake.”
She hides her growing smile and takes a large bite. She closes her eyes and sinks back into her chair, relaxing more than before and melting into chocolate heaven. “I wish I could eat this every day.”
“You can, but then you’d be ‘fat.’” He uses air quotes.
“The tragedy,” she says, pushing around the rest of her cake and smashing it until it’s a mushy lump.
“Okay, enough abusing the f**king dessert.”
“Do you always say fuck?” she asks. “I don’t think I’ve ever been around you where you haven’t said it at least once.”
“What can I say? It’s my favorite f**king word.” He flashes a dry smile.
“You know what’s scary,” she says, pointing her spoon at him. “You’re a journalism major, aren’t you? Shouldn’t you be a wordsmith?”
“Shouldn’t you be a voiceless mannequin?” he retorts back.
“Touché.” With this, she takes another bite, but since her dessert is a pile of goo, she steals a piece of mine.
I can’t concentrate on Daisy anymore, not when Rose springs from her chair, following my mother who suddenly stands and motions to her with an icy finger.
I scoot from my chair, tailing them as they head towards a lounge room for special guests, meaning family. A presence weaves behind me, keeping up with my pace. I glance over my shoulder and see the All-American build, the swept brown hair, the ugly blue eyes—I hate him. I wish he’d leave me alone.
But Aaron Wells isn’t going to stop me from being there for my sister. Not when she’s been around for me. I shut the door behind me as I enter the lounge area, which is filled with buttoned couches, a mini-bar, and a couple queen-style chairs. Nothing too fancy except the chandelier in the center and the gold wallpaper.
Jonathan Hale and my father sit on one of the navy couches, whiskeys in hand. They only look up when I drift farther into the room and away from the door. Aaron should be here in a matter of minutes.
I try not to approach Lo’s father. I don’t want to talk to him without Loren present. Because he wouldn’t want me to. My dad keeps him in a long discussion about stocks, but I feel Jonathan’s hot gaze on my body, most likely glaring.
Rose stands still, fingers clenched around her champagne glass, full now. A new one again? She seems utterly poised, though. A string of pearls choke my mother’s bony neck, and she has hair nearly identical to my sister’s dark chocolate. Maybe Daisy’s comment in the car has been stirring Rose too—about being so similar to our mother. No one in their right mind would want to be compared to her.
“What is your problem?” our mother snaps. “You’ve been incredibly rude to your date. Olivia Barnes heard you from across the room, scolding him like he was a child.”
“He is a child,” Rose retorts. “You set me up with a nineteen-year-old who has never switched on the goddamn news in his life.”
My mother grabs hold of the nearest chair, as though Rose physically impaled her with that curse word. “Language, Rose.”
“Grow up, mother,” she retorts. “I have.”
I take a step towards them to ease the situation, but the door opens and Aaron slips through and begins to walk over to me. In order to dodge him, I glance at my father and decide to take a seat beside him.