Authors: Krista Ritchie,Becca Ritchie
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Adult
I slowly pull out of her, and she makes a choking sound. I rub her clit. “You thanked God again.”
“It’s a euphemism.”
“It’s an annoying euphemism when I’m the one who makes you come.”
She licks her lips. “I was going to give you an A plus for the sex, but I’m dropping your score to a B.”
“I don’t like your grading methods.”
“I don’t like your face.” Her eyes dance around my features in pure attraction.
“Maybe you should say that without looking like you want me nine-inches deep inside of you.”
“Maybe it’s not you that I want in me.”
I raise my brows and stop rubbing her—the statement is such a lie that it’s hard to even react negatively. “You’ve had plenty of other opportunities.” And she never took any of them when we were younger. Technically speaking, she waited for me. If I was more moral, I think I’d feel guilty for not returning the favor. But sex wasn’t emotional for me.
“What if I had taken those opportunities?” she asks seriously.
I set her foot on the floor. “I’d love you the same, but I’m selfishly happy you didn’t.”
“Because now you can have all of me,” she states. I’ve never been deceitful about my narcissism. It’s not a front or a mirage. I truly feel entitled to most things, and when I have them, I take good care of them until I grow bored. Then I find something new to play with.
However, I would never grow bored with Rose. So I married her, and in that sense, I am moral. I’m committed to the person I truly love rather than someone I momentarily like.
“Yes, I have all of you,” I reply, “but Rose, I’m married to you. I never weigh my experience against your lack of experience and think you’re less than me. You’re always, and will
, be my equal.”
She nods. “I believe you.”
I tuck a damp piece of hair behind her ear. She shivers, the strands wet on her shoulders. By training her mind back on her hair, she’s more aware that it’s dyed. Her eyes are right on mine, gauging my reaction to her new color before she looks.
I’m completely impassive, her hair actually more copper than rust.
“Just tell me,” she says, swallowing hard.
I lift her chin with my fingers and whisper, “‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’”
She smacks my arm with the heel of her palm, recognizing the quote from Shakespeare’s
Romeo & Juliet
I can’t restrain a grin. “It’s a famous euphemism, Rose.” I draw her closer to my body, peeking into her opened shirt for a millisecond. She tugs the fabric closed with two hands. I’m hugging her with her arms tucked to her chest, which is normal for us.
“It’s an annoying, famous euphemism, Richard,” she says, her lips almost twitching upward.
“Is that a smile?”
“No,” she says. “It’s a hateful frown.”
“If we’re going to rename all of societies constructs, then I’ll be sure to call that sink a table and the ceiling the floor.”
She actually smiles fully, and I hold her cheek, my thumb brushing her red lips.
“Shall we go on?” I whisper deeply. We don’t have enough time, unfortunately. I want more with her. Always.
She shakes her head and inhales, more confident. “I can dye it back next week, right?”
“Sooner,” I say. “Anytime after the picture, you can go to the salon.”
“Rose,” I breathe. “They just want the picture.” Andrea suggested one week, a timeframe for Rose’s altered appearance. She should be satisfied enough with the world’s reaction after one day. It’ll be exponentially greater than her sisters’ shock.
After one more silent moment, Rose rotates to the mirror, and I keep her in my arms, watching her eyes morph into pinpoints. Her shoulders tighten and her nose flares.
“It’s fucking orange,” she curses, about to grab the directions. I let her peruse them this time.
“I did everything correctly except wait longer to let it set,” I explain. “We didn’t have time, and it was burning your scalp.”
“I was fine.” She huffs though, knowing she wasn’t. She tosses the instructions in the wastebasket and thumbs a strand of her hair. “Stop smiling.”
“I’m not smiling,” I say easily.
“And I have to wear sneakers. And I have to rock climb.” She presses her hand to her forehead. I kiss that hand and then I kiss her temple.
“Ensemble,” I murmur.
“My time will come.”
This may be hard on her, but it won’t be long before one of these scenarios boomerangs back to me.
[ 7 ]
Philly Rocks! is a poorly titled gym that contains vertical multicolored inclines with ropes and harnesses and more or less peril and doom. The apt name would be Philly Die! or Philly Misery & Ungodly Things Since I Can’t Wear My Five-Inch Heels!
What’s worse: I have two sisters stretching beside me, gazes plastered on my orange hair that I’ve tied in a high pony. No one has slung an insult my way yet, and I realize my murderous,
I will run over you and then go in reverse for good measure
glare has shut their lips. Lo just asked that I wear a hat, quickly attaching his explanation:
the paparazzi will tail us if they see your hair, and we all want to do this in private today.
If only he knew.
I complied, stuffing my hair beneath one of Connor’s baseball hats, but as soon as we entered the gym, I had to remove it. We rented out Philly Rocks!—no kid’s birthday party or hovering instructors in sight. Ryke has permission from management to teach us.
Connor already tipped Walter our whereabouts, so the plan is set and in motion. Subconsciously, I check over my shoulder, at the floor-length gym windows, slightly tinted from the outside. I wonder if he’ll have to wait until we leave to snap a photo.
As long as there’s not an entire brigade of cameramen outside, Walter will have his exclusive photograph. Rumors about Moffy will stay out of the press. Everything will be fine.
“Earth to Rose.” Daisy waves her hand in front of my face.
I wake from my stupor, lounging with my hands behind me. Fuck stretching. “I was just picturing the wall violently swallowed by flames. Who has a match?” I look to Lily.
Lily tries to look stern, her back straightening. “This is about Ryke. We can’t burn his place of love.”
I snort. “His place of love is between our sister’s legs.”
Daisy waves her hand again. “I’m sitting right here.”
“I know, I fully intended for you to hear that,” I say curtly, checking my matte black nails, remembering their beauty, since they’ll be chipped by tonight’s end.
Daisy ties her brown hair in a messy high bun. “Lily is right, though.”
“I am?” Lily beams.
“Most definitely.” Daisy nudges her arm with a bigger, brighter smile. “The weather has been horrible these past few weeks, and he’s been really antsy.” Ryke hasn’t been able to climb outside, she means.
I sigh. “Fine,” I concede. “Maybe this will make up for our awful Christmas presents for him.” We spent four hours in the mall, flocked by our bodyguards and tailed by elated fans and cameramen. It was an ordeal, largely from our indecisiveness. We usually buy Ryke rock climbing gear that he requests for both Christmas and his birthday, but that seemed insensitive this year, considering his surgery is in January.
I bought him a nice electric razor, but I’m sure he already has one, his unshaven jaw clean and never a gnarly beard. I asked Connor what he bought him and he simply said,
I’ve had his Christmas gift for a year.
He refused to clarify that irritating answer.
My phone pings, and as I grab my cell off the carpeted floor, I notice the three guys by the gym wall, talking amongst themselves. I skim the screen.
Was that really Connor going down on you? @RoseCCobalt
Yes. We do have sex, even if some people believe we’re cold and unfeeling, and like Lo said—make out annually. I refrain from replying back, especially to negative comments. Our publicist basically said: being defensive is the worst opinion you can have. Standing up for yourself with your back arched and claws bared is not allowed on social media, at least not from my end.
It’s hard for me.
My finger itches to press “reply” but I move on to the subsequent notification.
Do you even love Connor Cobalt? You never act like you do. He deserves someone who wants to kiss him. @RoseCCobalt.
God. This must be in reply to when I turned out of his kiss at the mall. No one heard him quote Plato with the smuggest grin I’ve ever seen. That didn’t deserve a kiss, a hug or a handshake, and he knew it.
@RoseCCobalt you’re such a slut! First the pornos and now public oral. Seriously?
@RoseCCobalt is not a fucking role model for women. I’m so sick of people calling her that. She’s dumb and a disgusting piece of trash.
I try not to ingest any of these words. With a stiff spine, I look at the next tweet.
I nearly smile at the irony of a “good witch” saying ew to me.
My phone vibrates in my palm.
I raise my head. He’s still in a deep conversation with Lo and Ryke halfway across the room, but he takes the time to type a message to me.
People aren’t amused by our Thanksgiving activity.
I press send and watch him read the text calmly before typing back. When his fingers stop moving, my cell buzzes.
In case you’ve forgotten, three-quarters of what people say about us are incorrect, exaggerated or fallible.
He’s right. Though I won’t reply with that.
I have a perfect memory. I forget nothing.
Then you remember when you were fourteen…
My smile fades, and I notice his lips beginning to curve upward in triumph. “Don’t you say it,” I mutter under my breath.
“Are you texting Connor right now?” Lily asks, her head swinging between us.
I can’t answer. The next text pops up.
…and Faust beat Dalton at Model UN and I went in for a handshake, so you could congratulate me after I defeated you. And you actually did it.
“They’re totally texting,” Daisy says with a laugh.
I raise my hand at her while I type:
I also remember trying to squeeze your hand hard enough so your fingers would break.
I press send. “This is important—” My phone buzzes.
I remember you not succeeding.
I scoff, open-mouthed. I’m going to kill him. In the kindest way. I tighten my lips, my fingers flying over the keys.
I remember you not getting laid tonight.
I win. When I look up at Connor, he’s still grinning, like he’s very, very far from losing what he wants.
When I was fourteen, I thought for sure I would beat him at Model UN, but I wasn’t nearly as smart back then. Our rivalry pushed me to work harder. And when I was seventeen, Dalton almost won in a tiebreaker, but partly, I think he was thrown that year.
I caught him coming out of the bathroom with another guy—their body language said more than Connor wanted it to. I don’t think he intended for me to see the hidden parts of his life. But a veil opened that day. He said five words to me. Just five.
I don’t look at genders.
And after he took in my reaction—a nod and softened eyes—he walked away. I never once asked for more. I understood that he looked at the world in a different way, stripping the complexities and absurdities of society into bare simplicities. To be attracted to someone not because they’re male or female but because you feel a connection, in some way, you feel something more.
It made me realize how much there was left to see in Connor, of the truths I’d yet to discover. And I wanted another piece of him, another
There was a reason why he hid. What I really learned that day was that the world might not have been ready to accept Connor, and that’s a bigger shame than anything.
But I have every real part of him. Every part I love. Even if the world may not understand him, I do.
I see a new text drop down.
You can’t remember something that hasn’t happened yet.
I win. You lose, Rose.
The towering rock wall in an array of nauseating primary colors has already sealed my fate long before Connor Cobalt did. I know my weaknesses, and anything that requires the removal of high heels sits at the very top of the list.
[ 8 ]
When I pocket my cell, Lo brings his phone to his ear. He places his hand on his head in distress. “What do you mean they backed out?”
I lean my shoulder against the rock wall while Ryke abandons his task of untangling two harnesses, both of us concentrating on his brother.
“We always run commercials on GBA,” Lo refutes. “Daniel said the network has the highest percentage of female viewers. We’re not putting baby shampoo promos on FOX or ESPN.” Lo rubs his eyes and meets Ryke’s gaze first.
Lo shakes his head. “I’m fine,” he says softly to him.
Their relationship is better than it ever has been. I can see it as well as everyone else. Lo spends more time with Ryke, and his comments towards his brother are never spiteful or biting like they once were.
It took years for two estranged brothers to finally reach common ground, and if I were more empathetic, I think I’d be moved.
Lo groans. “This shouldn’t have happened!”
Ryke grinds his teeth, probably thinking that his brother isn’t fine, but he’s doing well considering the nature of his job. I’m the head of a multi-billion-dollar corporation too. For me, it’s relatively easy. Sometimes moderately taxing, but rarely hard. For a normal person, it’d be stressful, difficult. For a recovering alcoholic, it might push them over.