“But I see now that I’m not doing you any favors,” Audrey continued. “I’ve always let you do what you wanted, even when I didn’t think it was the right decision. All those times you bailed out of rehab early? I let you. All those times you went right back to that bad situation? I said nothing. And this last time? When you promised to get clean and then overdosed as soon as my back was turned? That’s my fault because I supported you when you said you didn’t want to go to rehab.”
Tears began to pour from Daphne’s eyes. “I was doing better,” she protested. “Yesterday was just a bad day.”
“There are always going to be bad days, Daphne,” Audrey said bluntly. “Some are going to be worse than others. That doesn’t mean you run for the pill bottle to fix things. That doesn’t mean you use a man who loved you simply to get your way.” She felt no pleasure at Daphne’s flinch. “And it doesn’t mean that I’m going to continue to support you while you make bad choices. So this time, instead of supporting you, I’m offering you a choice. You can go back to rehab—”
“And you can stay there until I’ve met with all your doctors and I’ve decided that you’re clean.” Audrey turned her calm Daphne, ignoring her tears. “Or we can say good-bye now.”
“Good-bye?” Daphne choked.
“If you do this again, the doctor says you won’t live,” Audrey said bluntly. “And I already feel like I’ve lost the sister I used to know and love. I won’t go through this again. I won’t hold you on the floor and worry if you’ve killed yourself. If you won’t get help, this is where Gretchen and I leave you behind. You can destroy your own life, but you can’t destroy ours too, Daph. And watching you kill yourself slowly is ruining all of us.”
Daphne said nothing as tears poured down her cheeks.
“I’m sorry,” Audrey said. “But this is the way it has to be. You know I love you, Twinkie. You know I do. But I can’t watch you destroy yourself. Come on, Gretchen. We’re leaving.”
“Oh, but—” Gretchen began, looking at Daphne and Audrey. After a moment her face screwed up like she was trying desperately not to cry again, and she leaned in to hug Daphne. “I love you, too. I hope you make the right decision.”
“Audrey,” Daphne said piteously, now sobbing openly. “Don’t go. I want to talk to you—”
Audrey shook her head, her heart breaking into a million pieces in her chest. “You make your decision, Daphne. And if it’s the one where you choose to live, then we can talk. But for now, Gretchen and I have to go.” She turned to the door, then looked back at her sobbing twin. “I love you, Twinkie.”
Audrey opened the door and ushered Gretchen out.
They walked down the hall in silence. After a moment, Gretchen looked over at Audrey, her eyes red from weeping. “Sometimes you are stone cold, you know that?”
“I know,” Audrey said, feeling heavy and aching with sadness. She wanted to run back in there and comfort her twin, but she knew it was the wrong thing to do. This was the only way she could think of to get Daphne to turn her life around. So she had to be firm, even if it meant she had to be cruel.
“You’re not even crying!”
“I’ve shed enough tears over Daphne for now,” Audrey said. “I’ve got to be strong.”
Someone had to. There was so much to do. Someone would need to talk to the paparazzi and downplay the story. Talk to Daphne’s management team and discuss how to proceed. Call family and friends who would see the news and worry. Straighten out her work, Daphne’s insurance, and a million other small things that someone had to think about. She didn’t have time to be emotional or needy.
But for a brief, weak moment, she wanted to curl up into someone’s arms and just cry and weep and be a blubbering baby. Someone like Reese, who didn’t mind if she wasn’t strong all the time.
But Reese wasn’t here.
They returned to the waiting room, Gretchen sniffling the entire time. Cade met them at the door, the look in his eyes worried.
“She doesn’t want to see you,” Audrey told him gently. “I’m sorry.”
“I’ll wait out here,” he said. “Until she wants to see me.”
“You might be waiting a while,” Gretchen told him tearfully. “These twins are the most hardheaded women you’ll ever meet.”
A ghost of a smile touched Cade’s pale face. “Oh, I know.”
Reese poured himself another drink and considered the cards in his hand. Nothing but garbage. Eh. He swallowed his scotch and tossed his cards on the table. “I fold.”
“Gotta stay in to make some money, Durham,” Jonathan Lyons teased him, raking the pile of chips toward him. “Unless this is some new tactic you’re trying.”
Normally, Reese would have risen to the bait. But his mood was foul tonight, so he just grunted and poured himself another scotch.
“You’re in a bad mood,” Logan observed, taking the scotch bottle from Reese’s hand and refreshing his own drink. “Business trouble or women trouble?”
“Are they ever separate?” Reese asked with a grimace and tossed his drink back. Women were definitely trouble. Upon returning to the city, he’d approached Camilla in a strictly business manner about the cruise line. She’d refused to see him. So he’d gone to her father, only to be stonewalled once more.
His business was fucked, all because he wouldn’t pork a bored heiress. Goddamn.
Hunter snorted at his side. “For most people, yes, women and business are separate.”
Reese made a face at the scarred man. Hunter was usually silent. Count on him to chime in for that. Reese glanced around the table at his friends. Logan was to one side, Hunter to his other. Across the table, Jonathan was carefully stacking his pile of chips while Griffin dealt the next hand.
Cade was nowhere to be seen.
“Where’s the golden boy?”
Griffin shrugged and continued to deal. “You’re his keeper. You tell us.” His cultured, European accent made the insult sound almost pleasant. “Weren’t you vacationing with him for the last week or two? We had to cancel three meetings because of you two being out of town.”
Reese grunted again. “We were busy. And we’re not joined at the hip. I’m not his keeper.” If he was, he wouldn’t have let Cade near Audrey.
Audrey, who’d lit up shyly at the thought of going on a date with Cade. Who’d forgotten all about him an instant later. Audrey, who’d just been using him for sex to pass the time, her sister had informed him as soon as they’d gone. Daphne had gone on to confess to him that Audrey had told her hours earlier that she still wanted Cade and not Reese.
And that ate at him. He stared down at his empty tumbler and considered refilling it again. Maybe he needed to get good and blasted.
It wasn’t like him to get all hung up on a woman. But then again, Audrey wasn’t like most women. He thought of that tight little bun and her prim shirts covering those big, lush breasts, and that fiery passion she showed in bed. He clenched his jaw in frustration.
Fuck. The one woman who didn’t bore him within a week and his best buddy scored her right from under his nose. It fucking sucked to be him.
There was a bang at the top of the stairs. Automatically, all five men glanced up.
“Isn’t Bruno up there?” Logan asked Hunter.
“Always,” Hunter replied.
“No, miss,” they could hear from upstairs. “You can’t go in there.”
“Fuck off, Bruno! I can, too. Let me in!” The voice was familiar.
Reese turned to Hunter, who groaned and rubbed a hand on his scarred face. “Is that who I think it is?”
Hunter glared at him and got to his feet, approaching the stairs just as the door flung open and a disheveled Gretchen Petty stumbled her way in, brandishing her purse like a weapon. She bounded down two stairs, glared back at Bruno, and then brightened at the sight of Hunter waiting at the foot of the stairs for her. “Hey, baby!” She peered at the others sitting around the table, her gaze going to the cards and poker chips, and a wide smile crossed her face. For a moment she looked so much like Audrey that Reese’s chest ached.
“Thank fucking God,” Gretchen said a moment later, spoiling the vision. “Poker night. With the way Bruno was acting, I thought I’d wander in on some secret sausage party or something.” She tripped down the stairs, ignoring Griffin’s choked sound of outrage, and kissed Hunter on his unsmiling mouth. “But then again, I know Hunter doesn’t like cock, so that couldn’t be it.”
“Hello, Gretchen,” Logan said in a flat voice. “Did Brontë set you up to this?”
“No.” Gretchen’s eyes widened. “Does she know about this? That little hussy. She never said a word.” She moved to Cade’s empty chair and sat down, inviting herself to the table. “I was wondering where my lover had to run off to when I was clearly in need of more comforting, and I got nosy, so I tailed him here.” She looked over at Hunter and wiggled her eyebrows at him.
“Way to go, Hunter,” Reese said sarcastically. “Maybe we should invite everyone’s girlfriends to show up and hang out. Fuck privacy, right?”
Hunter moved to Gretchen’s side, putting his big hands on her shoulders and ignoring Reese’s foul mood. He stood behind her, showing his support for her presence, along with the stony expression on his face that just dared someone to say something.
“Jeez, why is everyone so pissy?” Gretchen looked around at the table of irritated men. “You sure I didn’t interrupt a circle jerk?”
Hunter leaned down and whispered something into Gretchen’s ear.
Her eyes widened and she studied the group. “A secret society? Holy shit! Do you guys all have the same tattoo that Hunter does?”
Griffin groaned and threw his cards down. “What’s the use of keeping a secret anymore?” He pointed at Logan. “I hope you have some more of that nondisclosure paperwork that you made Brontë sign.”
Hunter glared at Griffin. “It’s fine.”
“It’s not fine,” Griffin protested, taking the words out of Reese’s mouth.
“So do you guys meet here every week?” Gretchen looked excited at the prospect, picking up one of the poker chips and examining it. “I bet Hunter never wins, huh? He blushes like a schoolgirl. It’s a total tell.”
As if on cue, Hunter turned red, his scars showing livid against the flush.
“The meeting’s screwed this week anyhow,” Reese said, setting his empty tumbler down on the table and pushing it away. “Cade’s not here so it’s not like we can start anyhow.”
“I imagine he’s still at the waiting room of the hospital,” Gretchen said. “He wouldn’t leave as long as my sister was in there.”
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