Authors: Krista Ritchie,Becca Ritchie
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Adult
[ 4 ]
“What the fuck are they talking about?” Ryke asks no one in particular.
“Connor…uh did something to Rose,” Lily tries to explain. She points downward, towards her crotch. And when she sees me glancing over my shoulder, her face reddens. “Not
vagina, just to be clear. You know, her vagina.” Lily crinkles her nose. “In my head, this conversation was a whole lot smoother.”
“And clearer,” I say.
Ryke keeps shaking his head. “I’m so fucking confused.”
“Connor waxed Rose,” Daisy guesses with a goofy grin. “Or you made another baby.” She wags her brows.
I arch mine. “Someone’s feeling better.”
“Indubitably.” She bows. Very swiftly, Ryke picks her up and tosses her body across his shoulder. She laughs, her head hanging upside down near his ass. “Best view,” she muses.
I stop midway when I have a clear visual of Rose and Lo. Both of them hold their respective children, their eyes heated and their stances strangely open for two people who hate each other.
I begin to smile. Their bickering is amusing three-quarters of the time. The one-quarter where one of them drags the other in an undertow always alarms me.
“Oh, so someone
your eyes to a tabloid page that said,
Connor goes down on Rose?
Was it Moffy? Let me see your five-month-old son put you in a chokehold. I will laugh.” If she wasn’t holding Jane, she would’ve crossed her arms in triumph. She raises her chin instead.
“What the fuck?” Ryke says below me. Rose and Lo are too entrapped with their conversation to even notice the four of us on the staircase, Ryke and Daisy at the bottom.
“You’re so funny,” he says dryly. “I bet Connor laughed into your pussy.”
Rose fumes, her shoulders rigid and tense. I climb two more stairs, my smile fading. Rose steps towards Lo but he has another sentence, to try and retract the other. “Rose, I’ve been
avoiding your sex tapes for years—”
“Which proves my point that you
looked at that photo!”
Lo grips his cellphone in one hand, his other arm supporting his son to his side. “I don’t know why you’re yelling at me,” he retorts. “You’re the one who drove three goddamn hours on Thanksgiving just to be eaten out.” He cringes at his own words and even mouths
He’s trying not to sling verbal insults her way, which I appreciate. But it’s what he’s good at and what he’s been conditioned to do.
Rose jabs a finger towards his face. “I’m yelling because
took a photo of me orgasming and put it on their fucking website. For one second, can you please be sympathetic?”
Lo clenches his teeth, lifting Moffy higher on his waist. He’s only in drawstring pants, his cheekbones sharpened, hair shorter on the sides, fuller on the top. His son wears a blue onesie and kicks out for Lily, but she’s frozen one stair below mine, not wanting to interrupt Lo and Rose’s fight.
“It’s hard to be sympathetic when you left to knit a sweater and decided to tell no one your plans. That’s fine, you know, none of us were concerned about either of you. No one fucking cared…”
I feel my lips pull downward. Rose and I are always diligent about keeping tabs on everyone, and never did it cross my mind that they’d be upset if we snuck out. I thought they’d shrug it off, laugh and joke. When we returned to her parent’s house, Lily rushed to Rose and hugged her tightly while Rose stood stiffly in shock.
They all thought we’d been in a car accident.
“We’ve already explained this,” Rose says. “When we left, we thought we’d be gone for five minutes, but each store was closed and I needed lace for Jane’s dress, not
I didn’t want to go out today with the Black Friday crowds.”
“Wait,” Ryke says, more to me than anyone else. He drops Daisy carefully on her feet, and his voice finally captures Rose and Lo’s attention. “You’re fucking telling me that you two snuck out and had a quickie in a parking lot last night?”
“Relatively speaking,” I say.
Ryke’s nose flares. “I called six fucking hospitals, and you two were getting off?” Daisy wraps her arm around his waist in a comforting hug.
Lo gapes. “Jesus Christ, there’s a photo of Connor getting off too?”
“No,” Rose snaps.
“This has really traveled beyond the point,” I announce.
I hear Ryke mutter, “Unbelievable.” Normally I’d have another response for him, but since this is a much different scenario, with Rose and me at the center, I let it go.
Lo lifts Moffy to his ear, his son now concentrated on him. The pale-skinned, dark-haired boy touches Lo’s jaw and actually presses his lips to his father’s cheek. Lo nods in mock realization. “That’s right, little man. There are liars amongst us.”
I find it more amusing than worrisome. For now, at least. Jane murmurs something in Rose’s arms, the straw hat back on her head, covering thin, wispy brown strands.
“She said you’re wrong and I’m right,” Rose retorts.
I rub my lips, trying to hide my grin.
“Just say the words, Rose,” Lo tells her. “You. Left. To. Get. Off.”
I wait for Rose to accept this partial truth as the whole story, but it’s not the truth she’d usually tell.
We did it for you
, is the one that’s sitting on the tip of her tongue. But some things have to be kept secret. For the betterment of Lily and Lo and the simplicity of this entire process. Rose and I don’t want four other voices in this ordeal. It’s easier constructing plans without them.
Rose inhales sharply, raises her chin again, and says, “Fine. I left to get off. Do you feel better, Loren?”
“Yeah.” His amber eyes drift to me now. “If you needed a private location to go down on your wife, I could’ve directed you to the Calloway girls’ clubhouse. Backyard. Perfect place to fuck.”
I can’t hide my escalating grin. “Then why haven’t you ever invited me, darling?”
“My door is always open.” The innuendo is clear.
I tilt my head in thought. There was a time where I truly believed Lo wouldn’t understand me, maybe even act different towards me if I told him about my experiences with men. I have a natural, undeniable fear that the relationships I’ve cultivated will somehow morph into tangled, uncertain strands, made up of cold-shoulders and cautious glances from them to me. All because of past hookups and short-lived flings that have no basis on what I do today, now, with my wife and my friends and my child.
I told Loren the truth, not long ago. He’s the second person in my life to ever know.
He barely flinched. I doubt he knows this, but how he acts towards me now—like nothing has changed, like our lighthearted jabs have the same exact connotation as I want them to—has made me revere him and respect him even more.
“I’ll be sure to knock,” I tell Lo.
“I like my bell rung, love.”
Lily raises her hand. “I agree with Lo. The clubhouse is a good alternative.” She nods repeatedly.
“Me too,” Daisy pipes in from the bottom of the staircase.
Lily smiles wider, knowing someone else has been in there before. “When did you…with you?” She motions between Ryke and Daisy.
Ryke actually tries to lighten his features for Lily, his scowl almost dissipating. It doesn’t work well. “Who else would it fucking be with?”
“I can name a few bastards,” Lo says, disgruntled at the thought of Daisy’s past boyfriends. But his use of “bastard” causes everyone to look at him, me included. “Not
” He cringes. “What is fucking wrong with you people?”
“So we’re talking about metaphorical bastards then,” I say easily.
Ryke pinches his eyes. “I fucking hate all of you—except you.” He rests a hand on Daisy’s head. She leans into him again.
Lo descends the stairs to reach Lily. He says to his brother, “You’re just pissy because I brought up Daisy’s ex-boyfriends.”
Daisy is mouthing something to Lily and then to Rose. The three of us, the guys, are ignoring them.
I chime in, “And if you rewind a little, Ryke, you’re the one who asked for the ‘other people’ she possibly could’ve slept with. So really, you should be hating yourself right now, but I don’t advise that approach.”
“No, I’m pretty sure I fucking hate you, Cobalt.” I know it’s not true by his relaxed tone.
Rose taps her foot. “So we’re done here then?”
Lily takes Moffy from Lo, the baby clinging onto her arm. “I think we are,” Lily says.
I ascend the staircase, towards Rose.
“Seriously though,” Lo adds. I can feel his gaze on my back. “Next time you both disappear, even to make out—which must be like an annual event for you two—just…let us know where you’re going, okay?”
I’m not used to that speech being directed at me. Ryke usually gives it to Lo:
be careful, tell us where you’re going, don’t run off to fuck without saying something.
I understand their concern. We managed to leave the Calloway’s gated neighborhood without being followed by paparazzi, which is rare. They could’ve tailed us. We could’ve wrecked. Totaled the car. Died.
Anything’s possible, but Rose and I haven’t even been able to agree on who should be Jane’s godparents if something happens to us.
“We’ll text next time we’re running late,” I assure him. Lo nods in thanks, and when I reach Rose, her eyes drill holes in me.
“Don’t say it,” she whispers. Jane tugs on Rose’s dried hair and puts a strand in her mouth. Rose will wash her hair again, no matter what now, so she lets Jane play.
I lower my voice. “I wasn’t even thinking it. You didn’t fail.”
At lying to Lo.
I can’t add the rest aloud. “But there’s always room for improvement, unless you’re me.”
She rolls her eyes and whispers back, almost in a growl, “I’m sorry, I didn’t major in deceit in prep school.”
I edge closer to her, Jane between us. “Too bad you weren’t a boy. You could’ve attended Faust and then I could’ve tutored you.”
Her yellow-green eyes flit up and down my body. “And how many pupils would there’ve been?”
“Seulement vous,” I whisper.
I never took anyone under my wing at Faust. Had it not been an all-boys boarding school or had she really been a man in order to attend, I would’ve taken her, in every way. Even so, I’m glad this was the order of events. I’m glad we had years of being rivals before we became something more. I wouldn’t change anything. I adore every piece of my life, how I’ve lived it, and the only regret I have is not allowing myself to love Rose sooner. Or maybe just not believing I did.
I stroke the back of Rose’s neck with my thumb, and she begins to relax more. Jane’s head lolls as she dozes off in her mother’s arms.
When we participated in the reality show, Rose asked me to play her game. We were supposed to be us, no performing. Even when the producers wanted us to—even when they edited us how they saw fit—we were always supposed to be ourselves.
Now I’m asking Rose to play my game.
To find the loopholes, to take the manipulative, deceitful roads, to do anything to achieve a goal. I’m asking her to lie, bend sideways and fit into cramped boxes. To change to fit someone else’s needs.
It’s not easy for someone who follows rules, for someone with a strong, fiery personality. I hate asking this of her, but I need Rose on my side.
I can’t do this alone.
“Cobalt,” Ryke calls.
I turn my head, and from the bottom of the staircase, Ryke stares at me with knotted brows, his jaw hard. Daisy is turned into his chest, her back to us. So he’s alone in his thoughts.
Here is a simple fact.
Ryke can’t act any other way than how he is.
He’s the opposite of me. I can change. So I’m something less, something easier to swallow. Ryke gives himself to you like a bottle of sand or a bag of shrapnel.
Chew and swallow,
I’ll take care of you if you bleed.
The point is that Ryke can’t help Rose and me. He’d make it so fucking obvious that we’re staging events for the press. He’d basically wear
I’m in bed with the media
on his forehead.
I need people on my team that will make this easier. Not harder.
He’s a shackle, a weight, a cost that I can do without.
So while he stands there, glaring at me like I’m lying, I worry that he’s going to ruin something he’d support. He’d do anything for his brother. But he can’t do this. It’s not in his ability.
I’m benching you.
“Yes?” I say, pulling my face with confusion, even when I feel none.
He hesitates, frowning. “Never mind…” He shakes his head and whispers in Daisy’s ear. She nods, and they leave the living room and disappear into the kitchen.
Rose watches them exit and says quietly, “He’s too smart.”
Between the media’s involvement with Jane and Moffy, our sex tapes, and Ryke, he’s the least of my worries. “Just remember, he’s not smarter than us.”
No one is.
[ 5 ]
“This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done,” I realize, in slight horror. I stand firmly in the master bathroom, dressed only in one of Connor’s white button-downs and my white panties. I considered doing this stupid, stupid thing in our smaller bathroom upstairs, but I imagined the mess, the smell, and I decided against it. The master has been vacant since Connor and I changed rooms, opting for the second floor to be closer to Jane’s nursery and more integrated in the house’s happenings.
“You haven’t done anything yet,” Connor says, casually flipping through the tiny packet of directions. “And it’s a far cry from stupid.”
I pace back and forth in front of the his-and-hers marble sinks, my hands unintentionally stroking my long brown hair. Bleach, developer, and toner sit next to the faucet, chemicals that I’ve never contemplated using in my hair, not once. Not even when my mother prodded me for highlights when they were “popular among girls my age” during the early 2000s.