I peeled the packaging off the Band-Aid and wrapped it gently around Tania’s toe, which she was holding out toward me like an injured child. In many ways, I felt she was an injured child . . . an injured child who was carrying a child inside of her in more ways than one.

“There,” I said when I was through. “Does that feel better?”

“Yes, thank you. I’m so stupid,” she murmured through her tears. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry for what happened to Jared. It was all my fault. I shouldn’t have stopped paying Gary, I should have believed him when he said he was going to hurt someone if I didn’t—”

“You were paying him?” I interrupted. “He’s been blackmailing you?”

“Not blackmail,” Tania said quickly. “Alimony. Well, sort of alimony. I owe him that much—”

More lyrics from her song pop into my head:

Go ahead, go all the way

Take me to court

It’ll make my day

So sue me

No wonder she sang “So Sue Me” with so much feeling. She’d not only written it herself, she’d lived it.

Frankly, I didn’t think she owed him a damned thing, but apparently a New York divorce court disagreed.

“—but mostly I’m sorry for what I did to you, Heather, with Jordan,” she went on. “I knew it was wrong. I knew Jordan was with you, but it was like I couldn’t control myself. Maybe it was because I knew I had to get away from Gary somehow, and I couldn’t do it on my own, and I knew . . . I don’t know. It was like a part of me knew you’d always be okay?” Tears dripped off her pointed chin. “I don’t mean that how it sounds, and I know it’s not a good excuse, but that’s why I did what I did. I’m not like you, I’m not strong. I’m so sorry—”

“Shhh,” I said to her. “It’s okay.” She was starting to sob hysterically. Nothing she said made any sense.

The thing that was getting through to me, though, was that she kept apologizing . . . for picking at her toe until it bled, for not making enough money for Gary, and now for seeking love, one of the basic human needs, from someone else. There was something so wrong with her, so broken, and yet she was one of the most successful women in the music industry . . . at least for the moment. I couldn’t help wonder what her fans—what anyone—would think if they knew the truth about Tania Trace.

No wonder she was so desperate to hide it.

“Listen, all of that’s in the past,” I said, desperate to get her to stop crying. “I forgive you. And I’m sure the Cartwrights don’t care about the stupid furry thing.”

“Are you sure?” she asked. Baby had clambered onto her chest and was licking her tears, but Tania paid no attention. “That makes me feel so much better. Plus . . . well, I really do love Jordan. As soon as we started singing together, I knew. Our voices blend. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard his song ‘Triple A,’ but I sing backup on it. I heard that ringing sound in my head right away, as soon as we started singing, just like I used to with my old choir.”

“You mean with Gary,” I said.

“Gary?” She looked confused. “Gary and I never performed together.”

“But,” I said, now unsure of anything I’d heard, “you told me that your choir got a first in State . . . that he led you there.”

“Of course,” she said. “Because Mr. Hall was the conductor. He was the greatest teacher I ever had.”

“Wait a minute,” I said. A horrible feeling had begun to creep over me, sort of like one of the cockroaches Tania had mentioned, only instead of skittering under the refrigerator, it was skittering down my spine. “Tania, was Gary your high school choir teacher?”

She nodded. “Yes,” she said. “Did I not mention that?”

Chapter 18

I Don’t Care
I don’t care
About the time you won the race
I don’t care
That you think I have a pretty face
I don’t care
That you wrote a best-seller
Keep your big mouth shut
And you’ll be my kind of fella
Stop talking about the time
You made the vegan dip
The truth is, honey
I couldn’t give a sh*t
I’m only here
To get into your pants
So take my hand and
Come on, boy, let’s dance

“I Don’t Care”
Written by Heather Wells
No sooner has Cooper locked the front door behind us—even before I’ve had a chance to tell him what Tania told me—than he announces, “I have got to take this thing off. Don’t freak out. But it’s been killing me all night.”

Then he reaches around and pulls his gun from the holster clipped to his belt at the small of his back, where it’s been hidden beneath his shirt the whole evening.

I don’t freak out. I don’t so much as raise an eyebrow.

Instead, I say, “Don’t you freak out either, but I have got to take this thing off too. It may not be a deadly weapon, but it’s killing me just the same.” Then I peel off my Spanx, right there in the foyer, after first kicking off my high heels.

Cooper does raise an eyebrow. “Does this mean what I think it does?” he asks, casting a hopeful look at the floor.

“Ew,” I say. “No.” Why do guys always want to do it on the floor? What’s so wrong with a nice cozy bed? “Sex is the last thing I’ve got on my mind right now, Cooper. I need a drink—a real drink—and probably about five movies in which Tyler Perry dressed as Madea goes to jail in order to get over what I just had to hear at your parents’ place.”

He winces. “That bad, huh?”

“The worst,” I say, heading up the stairs, Spanx and shoes in hand. “Not to mention the fact that you’ve been lying to me about owning a gun all along. Oh, and did I mention I happened to witness a murder earlier this afternoon?”

“Yes,” he says, “I did lie to you, and yes, a man died today. And yes, you did have to hear my sister sing about tasting her own menstrual blood, all of which were, indeed, tragic events. But I think both Jared and my sister would want us to go on enjoying making sweet love toge—”

I throw one of my shoes at him from the top of the stairs.

“Put that gun away,” I yell. “You’ll be lucky if I ever make sweet love with you again. ‘No, I don’t own a gun.’ ” I stride toward my bedroom, imitating him. “ ‘I don’t need a gun, I’m a brown belt in karate.’ ”

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