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Authors: Krista Ritchie,Becca Ritchie

Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Adult

Fuel the Fire (4 page)

BOOK: Fuel the Fire
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I cling to the rarities in life, the unusual fragments that open windows into a person’s soul. Rose’s genuine,
warm
smile is a rarity. It’s not a constant. And I wouldn’t want it to be. It’s a powerful blip that punches me hard. If this happened frequently, it wouldn’t have the same effect. It wouldn’t be unique anymore.

A child¸
our
child, unlatches things inside of us that we’ve both kept closed. Love, for me. Warmth, for her. I selfishly crave another. I selflessly would ruin my reputation to protect every child of mine.

I call that even.

Rose speaks to Jane in her normal voice. “I knew I didn’t toss away this hat for a reason. You can have it, my little gremlin.” She kisses her cheek, and Jane almost says something like
ya-ya.

“What will it take?” I ask, standing at the foot of the bed, enamored with the scene. I don’t elaborate since I’ve asked her this before.

Rose stares off at the comforter while she collects her thoughts. “A couple kinks need to be smoothed down before we think about having more kids.” She always says this. It’s a rehearsed line. And she always calls them
kinks
instead of what they really are.

I’m not bringing up our sex tapes. I’ll leave that for another time. It’s nearly out of my control—I can barely even admit it to myself.

But the other “kink”—we can smooth. Together. “You’re afraid that we’re denying Jane a choice to be in or out of the media. She’s involuntarily going to be in magazines throughout her adolescence because she’s too young to say yes or no. And in a perfect world, you’d like to wait for her consent to be thrust into this type of spotlight.”

Rose hugs Jane closer to her body. “It’s not just up to us, Connor.” She grits her teeth. “Last week, I was grocery shopping with Daisy and some asshole with a camera approached me and…” Her eyes blaze and her throat bobs as she swallows.

I frown, my stomach roiling at her hanging endnote. “I haven’t heard this story.”

“Because I can barely repeat it without vomiting.”

I sit on the edge of the mattress and place a hand on her bent knee. I don’t want to draw illogical conclusions. If he touched her, Rose would’ve sued. Still, my head pounds like it’s being flooded with water.

She inhales strongly. “He told me that he bought a house a few miles from our neighborhood, and he said—I quote—‘I’m going to be around for every moment of Jane’s life. Probably until she leaves for college.’ I…” She shakes her head. “It’s gross, and I can’t help but think that we’ve taken some sort of freedom from her. If this is the world we’re bringing children into, I’m not sure it’s safe enough to have another.”

What I’m about to say next will piss her off. But I have to say it. “There’s no way to rewind time and go back to the way things were.” Fading into the background, ignoring the media, we’ve all tried it for months. In the end, they just swallowed us more, finding parts of our lives interesting: birthdays, vacations, lunches in Philly, pregnancies, new haircuts, a car wreck. Anything.

“I put us here then?” she says, taking more blame than I thought she would. “The reality show made us more popular, to the point where people now crave parts of our lives.”

“It also helped people see Lily and Lo in a better light. They became
loved
, Rose. Two people who needed affection more than any of us.” I don’t add that the reality show also bolstered my company’s success. That fact is tangled with the notoriety of the sex tapes, both benefiting my diamond business: a branch off of Cobalt Inc.

She fixes Jane’s straw hat, deep in thought, her eyes beginning to flame. “I don’t see a solution. These cameramen are going to follow Jane to and from kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, and she’s going to wonder why strange men are hiding in the bushes, why they’re stalking her and why that’s okay. What do we tell her?” Rose lets out a defeated laugh and lifts the flap of the straw hat.
“I’m sorry, Jane, it’s just the way it is.”

Jane clasps her hands together and makes a sound that could be comparable to
ma-ma
but not quite.

“No,” I suddenly say, sliding further onto the bed in front of Rose, Jane between us. “That’s not the way it’ll be.” The future of my family is at stake, and I’m not the type of man to let it drift into an ocean and see which way it floats.

I want many things. The first of which is to protect my girls. Then I want to have more children. Lastly I want my family to feel safe and loved and complete. I have to give Rose peace of mind while shielding our daughter from the media’s focus.

But we’re already doing that for Moffy, creating gossip and stirring the media, and in exchange, we’re keeping a rumor from surfacing on
Celebrity Crush’s
headlines. It’s part of an agreement we have with the tabloid, but we can take matters into our own hands too. “What we’re doing now for Moffy, we can do for Jane.”

Rose listens intently.

“Jane becomes interesting when nothing else is happening in our lives. She becomes the focus only when we’re not.”

Rose digests this quickly. “You want to tip them off more, so they’ll be distracted from Jane and focus only on the headlines we create?”

I nod. “If we can’t leave the spotlight, Rose, we have to redirect it on us and not our daughter.”

Rose pauses, considering this for a moment. “And what if she grows up and reads these false things about her parents, things
we’ve
created?”

“What if she grows up and reads about herself? You have to pick one, Rose.” I reach out and hold her hand, lacing my fingers with hers. I remember when Jonathan Hale told me there was nothing I could do to help Lo. He was resigned to the fact that his son would be slung through the mud again, this time with his grandson. He had no chips to bargain with. But I did. I do.

Lo isn’t the only one in the public eye. So I put my celebrity status on the table for Andrea DelaCorte, the new Editorial Director of
Celebrity Crush

Andrea told me that if I wanted the article about Moffy gone, I needed something of equal caliber to replace it.

So I went down on Rose in a public parking lot, contacted
Celebrity Crush’s
photographer for an exclusive picture, and now they’re the only tabloid with this story. It’s not the only exclusive photo we have to tip them off to. To be even, we have to do a few more.

I can still use that power, the fame that we have, to detract the attention from Jane. We just have to make certain our stories are more newsworthy. And to do that, we may have to create extreme situations—do things out of our nature. Play a different sort of game. An unfamiliar one to Rose, but a very familiar one to me.

Rose lifts Jane on her lap, removing the straw hat. Her fingers brush Jane’s cheek. “You deserve a choice, don’t you?”

She’s going with my plan.

“We need a time limit to test this,” she says. “We can’t just keep doing it forever if it’s not working.”

“Six months,” I say. “If we see progress and she’s not in the media as often, we’ll do this for as long as we need to. And we’ll have more children. If we don’t see any progress or not enough, we’ll stop.” I don’t finish the rest, but she does.

“And we’ll just have Jane.”

I have to nod. I have to agree with this. She’s been forthcoming about more children so far, and if this is her stipulation, I have to compromise what I want. The next six months will be the most important to me—in my entire life.

I lean forward and kiss her on the lips, more forcefully as my hand slips into her hair. Jane babbles between us, and Rose breaks apart first, Jane wrapping her fingers around Rose’s black robe.

“She’ll speak soon,” I tell Rose. “Maybe just one whole word.”

Rose says, “I hope so.”

I lift Jane into my arms, and she giggles happily, her eyes searching for something to clutch. I’m shirtless, without long hair like Rose, but she fixates on my watch, trying to grip it between her fingers.

Jane is hyperaware of her surroundings, more so as she grows older. She latches onto specific toys for comfort, cries when her setting has changed or a stranger comes close. She sleeps terribly. But according to my late mother, so did I. Katarina used to say it was the sign of a beautiful mind at constant work.

I hold Jane to my chest while she inspects my watch, her eyes a brighter blue than mine.

“What quote comes to mind when you look at her?” Rose asks me.

I recite the one that pulls at me first. “‘We can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive.’” My lips rise at Jane. “‘There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger after them.’”

“George Eliot,” she correctly names the quote. “
The Mill on the Floss.

“Well done. I’d kiss you again but I’m busy.” I unclasp my watch and let Jane hug it close.

“A kiss isn’t a suitable reward.” She attempts to wear irritation, but her smile appears again and stifles any dark looks. “Stop staring at me like that.”

“Stop smiling like that then,” I quip with a grin.

She tries to tighten her lips in a thin line.

I return to Jane. “Your mother apparently doesn’t prefer kissing. She likes other unnamed things.”

I feel Rose watching me, not listening to my retort. And then she suddenly says, “You love her.”

“You say that three times a day, which is the definition of redundant.”

“I just didn’t believe you would.”

“Neither did I.” It’s the honest, bitter truth. Loving many people means being selfless, and I usually only do what’s in my best interest.

I’ve always seen children as a greater challenge. Whether or not I loved them never mattered to me. Rose made me realize that love is necessary, even if it’s costly. Anyway…it’d be impossible not to risk my life for Jane and give up everything I value. I’d do it all.

My thumb brushes Jane’s soft cheek and she smiles like the universe has opened. “You’re very easy to love.”

I kiss her forehead and set her back on the bed with Rose. I stand to put on my charcoal-gray button-down, and Rose yawns into her hand before she refreshes the computer again.

“I’m going to make us coffee,” I say.

She nods, too entrapped with the laptop. I can tell the article hasn’t appeared, just by her stiff shoulders. She won’t relax until it’s published.

We’ve planned a much bigger experiment than whether or not Jane Eleanor Cobalt likes Chanel. The next six months will be a test with a life-changing outcome.

And it begins today.

 

 

 

[ 3 ]

CONNOR COBALT

 

Right when I start the coffee pot in the stainless steel, spacious kitchen, the basement door clatters against the wall. I expect the six-foot-three, unshaven foul-mouthed roommate I’ve been living with—for almost an entire year—to barge through in a brooding tirade.

Instead, I see long brown hair.

I leave the cupboard open, abandoning my pursuit of coffee mugs, and I lean against the granite counter. I watch Daisy stumble through the doorway with glazed, dim eyes. My concern is at mid-peak. Out of ten, I’d give it a four-point-five.

If she nears the knives, it’d shoot to an eight.

But right now, she looks as fine as she can be. Her hair is dyed back to her natural color, and a long scar cuts across her cheek from the Paris riot. This is the first time I’ve seen Daisy Calloway sleepwalk, but I doubt it’s the first time it’s happened. These past few months have been unpleasant for Rose’s youngest sister.

Daisy sways a little near the leather bar stools. The door is shut to the living room, so I think she’ll be stuck in the kitchen with me. I’m impressed that she was able to open the basement door. Her heavy-lidded eyes sink tiredly, trying to open all the way.

“Daisy,” I call.

She raises her head but stares past me.

Interesting. I reach behind me and grab two mugs while the coffee brews. “Do you want to know a secret?”

She just continues to stare past me, looking slightly disturbed. I’d find it eerie if mental disorders frightened me, but nothing like this does. Its effect is horrifying on her, but it can’t horrify me.

I set both mugs down. “When I was seventeen, I found someone attractive at Faust, my all-boys boarding school.” I pause to observe her level of lucidity.

She sways closer to the bar in front of me, the counter separating us, still not aware of her surroundings.

“Theo Balentine was a pawn,” I tell her, rubbing my lips in thought. “But an interesting pawn. One that smoked too much pot and quoted too much Thoreau. He was intelligent in his own right, and he didn’t hide who he was. I liked that about him.”

She wobbles and bumps into a stool. Her green eyes graze me.

“So I fucked him,” I say casually. “Literally. Rose caught me coming out of the bathroom with him at a national Model UN conference. I’d just blown him, and Rose didn’t seem to care.” I smile at the memory. “She knew me well enough that I barely had to explain anything. She accepted me as I was.” I drop my hand to the counter. “My time with this guy lasted a month. I grew bored with him.”

Daisy seems slightly aware, blinking. But maybe it’s just my fear—of her knowing. My pulse seems to speed. Still, I continue, like I need to tell this to someone else. “And then years passed, and somehow he landed a job at Hale Co., the assistant to the marketing director. Somehow, our brief time together at Faust reached Jonathan Hale’s ears. And my life became a fucking mess with rumors and truths that Loren’s father could hang over me.”

I’m not worried about Jonathan, not really. He’s like a barking dog that threatens but knows better than to bite. He won’t enact any kind of plot against me. His relationship with his son would be at stake, and that’s something Jonathan can’t afford to lose.

The coffee pot beeps and Daisy drifts backwards, silent and unblinking. I stay still as though she’ll respond soon with harsh words that I’ll need to defend. She blinks once, sluggish and unaware.

“Thanks for not judging,” I tell her. “I always knew you were one of the good ones.” When I return to the pot, I hear bare feet rush up the basement stairs. I tense and begin to pour coffee into a mug.

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