Authors: Krista Ritchie,Becca Ritchie
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Adult
“Fuck,” Ryke curses. Daisy’s twenty-six-year-old boyfriend bounds into the kitchen, wearing nothing but gray boxer-briefs, which means he jumped out of bed.
It’s only six in the morning, so I’m not surprised that he was still sleeping and woke to find Daisy missing.
His narrowed eyes momentarily flit to me. “You’re just fucking standing there?” He manages to quietly growl the words.
“I’m not in the business of waking sleepwalkers,” I reply calmly. Daisy already has a history of panic attacks, and forcing her out of this type of sleep increases the likelihood of one. I assume Ryke understands this. He’s smart enough.
Ryke ignores me and gently rests his hands on her shoulders, steering her away from the bar counter that she repeatedly knocks into. She guides him more than he’s able to guide her, and she wanders further into the kitchen, near the open space where I stand.
She plops down on the hardwood. Ryke crouches just as she keels over into a deeper sleep. He catches her and gently rests her head on the floor before standing.
“You could have done
,” he tells me.
“I preferred watching you do it. Now I’m completely positive this is a common occurrence.”
With festering agitation, he runs his hand through his disheveled brown hair. “You could have just fucking asked like a normal person.” He’s still speaking in hushed tones while I choose to talk normally. It’s not that I don’t care about Daisy. It’s just that I don’t think changing the volume of my voice will do anymore harm than good.
I pour coffee in the second mug. “Where’s the fun in that?”
“This is fucking serious.”
“Je le sais, mon ami.”
I know, my friend.
He exhales a heavy breath.
It’s been hard to build any kind of relationship with Ryke that doesn’t include his brother or Rose’s sister at the center. Our personalities clash. He’s aggressive. I’m calm. He’s in your face. I’m out of it. He loves with all of his heart. I love sparingly, moderately or not at all.
I can’t understand all of him the way that he can’t understand all of me. We rarely open ourselves up past conversations about Lo and Daisy, and so I have no clue how many languages he speaks, if he still talks to his mother, if he’s planning on a career outside of rock climbing.
Of all the people in my life, I know the least about him.
It’s mildly annoying.
It makes me want to poke at him until he gives me something more, but I’m not entirely in the mood to rouse an agitated beast.
“She needs to see a new therapist,” I tell him.
His shoulders lock, but he’s not defensive. “She likes her therapist.”
“Liking one isn’t the same as having an effective one,” I reply. “She’s not getting any better, and she has too many problems to be complacent.” Rose and I hear the same thing from Daisy:
I’m doing okay.
While Ryke says,
she’s doing the same.
Those updates are irritating for people who like details.
Ryke keeps shaking his head, frustrated.
I pass him a coffee, knowing he’ll drink it black. He takes it, and I find another mug to fill for Rose.
“It’s not that fucking easy,” he says. “She needs stability. Not to go through a bunch of random therapists to find one that works.” He lets out an angry breath. “And what if she gets a shit therapist like Lily?”
“I never recommended that therapist to Lily. Her parents did.” I pause as I realize how I can have more details and help Rose’s sister at the same time. “Daisy can see my therapist. I’ve known Frederick for years, and he’s almost as smart as me.”
Ryke glances at Daisy who rolls onto her stomach, still sleeping. “What kind of therapist is he?”
“Frederick is a jack of all trades,” I evade the question. “He’ll be equipped to handle her problems.” He’d take her on as a patient without hesitation. Firstly because she can afford him. Secondly because her case is complex.
Ryke’s jaw hardens, his hand tightening on the mug.
“Do you trust me?” I ask him. I want what’s best for Daisy. Besides Jonathan Hale, Ryke always questions my motives the most.
“I feel like you’re manipulating the fuck out of me, Cobalt.”
I am. Partly. I want more information about Daisy that Frederick may be able to give me. “I want what’s best for Rose’s sister,” I say, only a portion of the truth.
Ryke nods, as though he’s trying to believe me. “You’ll have to talk to Daisy about it. It’s not my decision.”
I nod too. Ryke and I always cross paths in the morning, but usually it’s when I go to work and he goes rock climbing. We never utter a word to each other. Daisy lying on the floor between our feet has forced us to communicate at 6 a.m.
A string of tense silence lingers in the air.
He sips his coffee.
I sip mine. “I’ve had better conversations with a stuttering parakeet Frederick used to own, though he wasn’t nearly as intelligent as you.”
Ryke digests my statement quicker than most. “I’m sure you loved hearing your own fucking words repeated back to you.”
My lips rise into my next sip of coffee, remembering the bird’s high-pitched squawk and how it took him five minutes to repeat one fucking sentence that I said. “I’m a narcissist, not a masochist.” I pause in thought. “Maybe if the parakeet didn’t have a stutter.”
Ryke laughs under his breath and shakes his head.
So I ask, “Are you nervous about the surgery?” It’s not a topic he likes to discuss, especially with me, but I’m curious. In January, he’s undergoing a liver transplant to help his father survive. Jonathan Hale destroyed his own liver after decades of alcohol abuse. His son is his best match.
The surgery is a selfless act since:
a) Ryke doesn’t like Jonathan
b) Ryke will have a six-week-long recovery process and…
c) That’s only if there aren’t complications. I’ve personally never seen Ryke bed-ridden or told to lie down.
It seems out of his character.
Ryke shrugs. “I just want to get it fucking over with.”
“Ohmygod! Ohmygod!” Lily races into the kitchen from the living room, a black Halway Comics sweatshirt stopping at her thighs. Daisy somehow remains asleep, but Ryke watches her closely, ignoring his brother’s wife who bounds towards us like she’s on an urgent mission.
Lily has a tablet in hand, waving it around as if no one notices its presence.
I immediately reach for my phone…that I left in my bedroom. I usually always have it on me, but I didn’t expect to be in the kitchen this long.
Lily is mainly focused on me, mutually ignoring Ryke, and in seconds, she accidentally rams into his bare chest. When she raises her head, she absorbs his shirtless, toned body, realizing he’s only in his underwear. She glances at her own sparse attire.
Really, I’m the only one properly dressed. I’m never surprised.
A deep shade of red blemishes her cheeks. “
.” This time, she sounds mortified. “Why aren’t you wearing any clothes?”
“Animals generally don’t wear them,” I answer first.
Ryke flips me off casually, about the same moment that Daisy shoots up in alarm, incognizant of her new surroundings. Ryke hurriedly squats in front of his girlfriend, hands on her face so she focuses on something familiar.
“Oh shit.” Lily hesitates to rush to her sister’s aid, afraid to worsen the situation. I can read her guilt at the sight of Daisy’s distress and confusion, sweat beading her little sister’s forehead.
“Dais,” Ryke whispers. “You’re in our kitchen. Nothing bad fucking happened, I promise.”
Daisy blinks repeatedly, trying to listen instead of falling into a panic attack.
I place my palm on Lily’s back, directing her to the living room. She almost stumbles over her feet, in a slight fog.
“He’ll orient Daisy,” I say. “We don’t know what happened, but he does.” I’d rather Lily believe that someone else is on her side, no one casting blame her way for this small event.
Lily nods a couple times, focusing on the door ahead of us. “That’s a good idea.” She licks her chapped lips. “We shouldn’t overwhelm her.”
When we enter the living room, I shut the door behind us, no coffees with me. Living with two other couples has made life far from predictable. I can’t complain.
“Umm…” Lily puts a couple steps between us. She tugs at the hem of her sweatshirt, her thin legs pressed together, maybe out of habit more than arousal. She’s a sex addict, but very rarely has she ever admitted or been turned on by me.
I already know she’s here about the article since I’ve been waiting for it to publish. If Rose and I are going to handle this alone, Lily can’t be aware of this fact. “I’ve already put the Team Raisy sticker on my limo,” I tell her. She’s been on a Raisy crusade for the past year, in support of Ryke’s relationship with Daisy, just as we all are. Lo too. The public is more pro-Raisy than it used to be. Daisy getting older has helped.
“It’s not about the Raisy ship, but thank you.” She nods in appreciation and then pushes the tablet in my chest. “Just to be clear, I was online shopping for Black Friday deals, not actively snooping on the
website. But I think you should see this before Rose does.”
I’m positive Rose has already seen the article and reread it a dozen times by now. I wear a blank expression and skim the screen, opened on
who reposted the original article. I click on the link that takes me to
EXCLUSIVE! Connor Cobalt Caught Going Down on Rose Calloway in Public
My jaw muscles twitch. They used her maiden name. I understand she was famous before she married me, but I take pleasure knowing she’s Rose Cobalt because she chose it. What they published is inaccurate.
I purposefully let my irritation filter through. Rose and I already discussed what we’d say in defense of the night. I have to seem disgruntled, shocked, and briefly alarmed. All the normal sentiments that’d accompany this out-of-character situation.
“You look upset,” Lily notes. “Is it real? Not that I’m judging.” She raises her hands. “I’ve been there before, plenty of times, but never photographed…” Her eyes light up at the thought that Rose and I have somehow trumped her sexual escapades by a fraction. “This is strange.”
“The part where I went down on my wife or where I did it in public?” I ask easily.
Lily’s cheeks flush even more. “Uhh…both? No wait. That’s not the right answer, is it?”
I smile. “There is no wrong answer. It’s an opinion, but I like hearing yours.”
She relaxes and points to the tablet. “Have you read it yet?”
I shake my head, focusing on the photograph at first. They captured Rose at her climax, eyes closed, lips parted, and my hand clutching her neck. Her long legs extend out of frame, but you can see my head in between them, her panties on the dashboard. That’s all. Shadows and darkness conceal the majority of her features, enough to question the validity of the photo. As Lily just did.
The photographer is credited in small font beneath: Walter Aimes.
I read portions of the staff writer’s article, passing over the facts and concentrating on the opinions she’s constructed.
With already four sex tapes released, it seems like Connor and Rose are trying to top the most notorious, sexual celebrity couple: Loren Hale & Lily Calloway.
Could this be a LiLo-Coballoway feud? It’s likely! An inside source of the family told Celebrity Crush, “Both sisters have newborn babies and they’re basically fighting over popularity in the media.”
As they battle for “favorite” among the fans, we’re expecting more scandalous photos, wild nights, and shocking events from the Calloway sisters and their men. Keep your eyes peeled!
That’s how they’re twisting this then.
“Soooo…” Lily draws out the word. “I know this is kind of awkward—”
“I don’t find it awkward,” I say, passing her tablet back.
She hugs the tablet to her chest and squints at me, possibly trying to narrow her eyes to no avail. “Is that a nerd star power?”
I understand almost everyone, but Lily and Lo throw out references that I have trouble recognizing. “I don’t know fandom references,” I remind her.
Her eyes grow big and she looks over her shoulder like someone spoke for her. And then she clears her throat and pulls back her shoulders, appearing half-an-inch taller. “I didn’t mean to say that. What I
to say was, how can you not feel the awkwardness from this?” She raises her tablet. “I’d be embarrassed. Rose may be embarrassed, and I’m worried about her reaction when she reads the article.”
“She won’t be embarrassed. She’ll be pissed,” I say. “And I’ve personally never been embarrassed in my life. I won’t start now.”
Her lips almost form those same words:
nerd star power.
And they think I’m weird.
“I’m overly confident. Some call that arrogance. I call it four parts charm and six parts self-respect. I’m under the belief, and truth, that I’m superior to everyone and all things around me. Now, how can plankton make a shark embarrassed of itself? The correct answer is: it can’t.”
Lily squints more, reading into my words.
“Don’t fucking call her plankton,” Ryke retorts behind me.
I turn sideways, noticing Ryke’s arm wrapped around Daisy as she sips a Ziff: River Rush sports drink. “Don’t worry, I didn’t leave you out,” I say. “I called everyone plankton, including you and you.”
Ryke looks like he wants to punch me, probably for now calling Daisy a microscopic organism. He should be elated that he’s the same organism as his girlfriend.
“Except Rose, right?” Daisy says with a smile, more color to her skin.
I’m about to agree, that Rose is superior with me, when a door bangs upstairs. Muffled voices echo, and I leave Lily’s side to reach the staircase. She follows close behind with Ryke and Daisy.
“You think I wanted to see that photo? I wish to God I could forget what I just saw.” The edged voice belongs to Lily’s husband, Rose’s brother-in-law, and my best friend.
Loren’s subtitle could also be
Rose’s sworn enemy
, which is why I skip two stairs as I ascend.