Archive for October, 2019

Conclave Part II

Wednesday, October 30th, 2019

*Conclave Part I is available here in the NEWS section. Simply scroll down to find it. Please read that before this. This is a spoiler for every book in the Devil’s Night series. 🙂


I head down the long, dark corridor, the engines humming under my feet as I pass by the cabins on the yacht. It feels like I’m alone on board, but I know I’m not. This boat will always give me the creeps, I think. 

I reach the end of the hall and pull out my AirPods, leaning my ear into the final door and listening.

But I don’t hear anything. I grip the handle and slowly twist it, cracking the door open.

A form lays in the bed, under the covers, and I slip inside, leaving the lights off as I set down my phone and earbuds.

I look over at her.

The fading light of the day seeps through the blinds, casting a striped shadow over Alex’s body, and I walk toward her and softly climb on the bed, straddling her on my hands and knees.

I look down at her. She’s the only one who can make me smile lately. I study her face, taking in her flawless skin and long lashes. Her pert nose and rosy apple cheeks. Her calm breathing and how her eyes don’t move behind her lids. She’s so peaceful. And honestly, when she’s asleep, she looks twelve. Vulnerable. Innocent. Pure.  

It’s when she opens her eyes that you see that you see the woman.

I brush the tip of my nose against hers. She stirs, and I smile.

One of the stewards said she was the first on board today, arriving late this morning, but I haven’t seen her. I decided to get in a workout in the gym, but I can’t wait for her to wake up anymore. I slowly lay down on her, my head resting on her chest as I tuck my arms under hers and hold her tight.

“Mmmm.” She shifts under me and yawns. “You can’t come at me with your seven-hundred-dollar perfume and expect me to keep this platonic, Rika. It’s devastating.”

I laugh. “Why are you sleeping?”

“Because some of us works nights.” She stretches her arms above us and yawns again. “And we have a long one ahead of us.”

Yes, we do. I close my eyes, her heartbeat filling my ears. I’d give anything not to have to leave this room, just stretch the minutes and make them last forever so Conclave never begins. She’s my safe space.  

“Need a hug?” she asks.

But before I can answer, her arms are wrapping around me and holding me, too.

“Nervous?” she asks.

I don’t reply, though. If I don’t make a big deal out of this, I can convince myself that my nerves are just overreacting. I soak up her warmth, her body heat under her cami soothing. 

She strokes my hair. “You’re too young for all this, you know?”

We all are. Yeah, I’m a twenty-two year-old graduate student and mayor, and I’ve taken over a large portion of my inheritance, including businesses and properties, but we all have full plates. It seems the deeper we get, the more danger that arises.

Guilt nips at me. “And you’re too good for all this,” I tell her. Too good for all the tangles we bring into her life. “We love you, you know?” I still don’t meet her eyes. “You’re the breath that feeds the wolf.”

I graze my thumbs over her arm, where my hands are tucked under her shoulders, and hold onto her, because she’s the best of us. Still innocent. Still pure no matter that ugliness that comes into her life. But no longer vulnerable. There’s not a time when she isn’t here for us, and I’m not sure if we’d be where we are without her.

I know I shouldn’t seek refuge in her as much as I do, but there’s so much going on, she seems to be the only one who realizes that I’m…


When it comes down to it, I still feel like a kid playing at all of this.

I feel her swallow, and when she speaks, her voice is quiet. “Did I ever tell you about how I came to live at Delcour?”

No. And I hadn’t pried much into her life except to discover she was thrown out of her house when she was seventeen, and she doesn’t want to talk about her parents.

“I lived in the dorms my freshman year,” she tells me, still stroking my hair in a steady rhythm. “Living off loans, a scholarship, and a part-time job working the beer tub at a dive club in Whitehall.”

I listen. That would’ve only been months before we meet then.

“One night my roommate and I go out and party,” she continues, “have lots of drinks, and come back to the dorm really lit and horny. She calls her boyfriend at Yale on her laptop. They always video chatted on her phone, so he and I never saw each other or met. I only knew he was a genius and twenty-two, a senior.” She falls silent, and I wait. “We’re talking and joking around, both of us kind of flirting with him and making him laugh—which wasn’t easy to do, because he seemed a little sad. I can’t pinpoint what it was, but it was there.”

I remain still, waiting for her to go on.

“Anyway,” she says, “we got on the subject of whether or not it’s cheating if she sleeps with another girl. I look at him and her, and I… start unbuttoning her shirt.” She lets out a small, quiet laugh like it seems so silly now. “I don’t know when it changed from fooling around to full-on making out and undressing each other, but I looked over at his face on the computer, and his smile was gone. It was almost like he forgot how to breathe, you know? That’s how entranced he was. He barely blinked as he watched us.” Her voice drops to a whisper. “As he watched me.”

I close my eyes, listening as she caresses my scalp.

“We fucked for him on my bed, Rika,” she says.

I picture the scene she paints.

“The sex was a little boring—she was nervous and embarrassed,” she explains, “so I had to take control—but I didn’t want to stop, because I didn’t want him to stop watching me. I thought he might touch himself and jerk off or something, but he didn’t. He just watched and took everything in.”

My mind goes back, and suddenly, I’m sixteen again, standing in the catacombs. I liked to watch, too. Or listen, because Michael blindfolded me that day.  

“It was so hot.” She goes back to rubbing my back, but I can tell she’s lost in the memory. “It can be so much more exciting when you can’t touch. I just wanted to never leave that night. Everything felt so fucking good.”

Her chest rises under my head as she takes a deep breath and sighs.

“But things kind of went to shit between Aurora and me after that,” she says. “She didn’t say so, but I could tell she was ashamed. And it made me ashamed, because it felt natural at the time, and she was making it dirty. Like she was bullied into it, and I was weird for liking it. And she was also suspicious, and I didn’t know why until she let it slip during an argument that he wanted to see us again. That he’d asked her if we would do it for him again.”

Despite the disdain from her friend, a flutter hits my belly for Alex. I love her, and I can understand anyone who wants more of her. It’s natural for Aurora to be jealous, but it’s natural for Alex to like being desired.

“So in a fit, she finally agreed,” Alex tells me. “And I wanted to do it, too. I wanted more.”

There’s a pause before she continues.

“A half an hour later, though, she walked out, they were broken up, and he was begging me not to stop.”

Her voice is thick with pain. Did she stop? Would I have if it were Michael? Alex and this guy aren’t together, so it either didn’t end well, or it didn’t begin at all. 

“A week later,” Alex nearly whispers, “they were back together and I was the campus slut.”

I close my eyes again.

“And a month later, I’d lost my scholarship, I hadn’t seen or heard from him, Aurora and I were both kicked out of the dorms, because of our fighting, and my boss at the club was introducing me to the first of many of his friends who would help me pay for my new apartment.”


“Choices drive our lives,” she goes on. “I sometimes think about where I’d be if I never wanted him to watch me so much. If I’d never started throwing fucks around to whoever paid for it, because if I could never hear him tell me how beautiful I was again, then I didn’t care what I did with my body or with who.”

She tightens her arms around me.

“But then… I might never have become friends with you,” she tells me. “My path with you and the guys might never have crossed, and I wouldn’t have a family.”

Her chest shakes under me, and my lungs swell. I feel her heavy breathing, and I know she’s tearing up.  

“I need Will back, Rika,” she whispers.

I lift my head, resting my chin on her chest and seeing her eyes glistening.

She purses her lips to keep her emotions in check, but eventually, she explains, “I love you and Banks and Winter and the guys, but… Will gets it.”

I stare at her, my heart breaking a little. Alex puts on a good show, but how easily it never occurred to me how much she was missing him. All the time Damon wasn’t around, Alex was there for Will.

And we always looked at it like that, too. Alex is with Will. Alex is taking care of Will. Alex keeps Will company.

But none of that was really true. She hung onto him just as much as he hung on to her. 

“He didn’t deserve you,” I tell her. “Your roommate’s boyfriend.”

She stares at me for a moment, looking a little pained, but then she lets out a sigh and forces a smile.

“Yeah, no one does,” she jokes. “Not for less than five hundred an hour anyway.”

I give her a pointed look at her sudden change in demeanor. “Alex…”

But she rolls us over, and the next thing I know, her head is on my chest. “Rub my head now,” she demands.

I pause there, aggravated she’s changing the subject and putting up that façade again, but she holds me, dressed in her tank and underwear, and swings a long, naked leg over me. I let out a quiet laugh. Hiding behind playfulness. Will does that, too.

I start to rub her head, but then the cabin door opens, and we both look over, seeing Banks standing in the doorway.

She stops dead, her eyebrows nearly reaching her hairline as she catches at us in our little, cuddly embrace.

Her mouth forms an O, and she starts to back out, closing the door.  

“Get in here,” I call out. “We’re not doing anything.”

For crying out loud.

She stops, a half-smile curling her lips, and she comes back in, closing the door behind her.

“And get that constipated look off your face,” Alex says.

Banks heads over to the bed, dressed in some work-out clothes, same as me, but her hair is down. “Brat,” she spits out.

Laying at my side, she joins me in giving Alex a scalp massage, except Banks’ massage looks more like how you rub a dog’s head, curling her fingers and lightly scratching. 

“Stop that,” Alex barks at her. “I hate you.”

Banks and I both start to laugh. She has like fifty-eight dogs—okay, not that many, but a lot—so petting probably comes naturally to her.

I glance at Banks. “Mads okay?”

“Yup,” she says. “At your mom’s with the nannies, and hopefully Ivarsen by now, too.”

Awesome. My mom is in baby heaven lately. Kai’s mom, Vittoria, and her happily walking the streets of Thunder Bay and buying all the things for their grandsons. I’m surprised Ivarsen doesn’t have a car already. You know, just for when he’s ready.

“Where’s Winter?” I ask her.

“Probably getting Damon-ed in the back seat of a car. She’ll be here.”

I snort. I think Winter lets him do anything he wants as much as he wants during this time, because she can’t get pregnant if she’s already pregnant.

“And Michael?” Alex chimes in.

“On his way,” I reply.

Alex lifts up her head, and I stop rubbing her. “So…” She looks at Banks. “You and Kai.” And then to me. “You and Michael. And Damon and Winter, and…”

“Misha and Ryen,” I offer. They’ll be here, because Misha is Will’s cousin, so we have business he wants to be involved in.

“Misha and Ryen,” she repeats absently. “And what am I supposed to do while everyone else takes “breaks” tonight?”

She put “breaks” in air quotes as if she won’t get any hot, little downtime, too.

Oh, who will she find to play with?

“There’s a full crew,” I assure her.

Her eyes go wide.

“And David and Lev will be boarding with Damon,” Banks adds.

She gasps and then her face scrunches up into a delighted squeal. “It’s like Christmas and my birthday together.”

I ruffle her hair and roll her over, giving her a quick peck on the nose and cheek. “We got you. Don’t worry.”

She laughs, and Banks and I hop off the bed, heading for the door.

“Eight o’clock,” I tell Alex, grabbing my AirPods and phone off the dresser. 

She still lays in bed but gives me a thumbs up as she pulls her phone off the charger. I hesitate a moment, watching her and realizing that no matter how many people are in her life, there’s something about her that always seems alone.  

Banks and I leave, closing the door and walking down the corridor. She stops at her and Kai’s cabin. “Eight o’clock,” she says and pushes open her door.

I unlock my phone, already speed-dialing. “See you soon.”

And I hold the phone to my ear, taking the stairs up to bridge deck.

The line rings twice before I hear Mr. Lyle’s voice. “Ms. Fane,” he says.

“Hi,” I tell him. “Take this info, please.”

 There’s silence, and then I hear him again. “Okay, ready.”

“Alexandra Zoe Palmer, apt. 1608 at Delcour. Find her freshman year college roommate,” I instruct. “And the woman’s boyfriend that year, as well. Apparently, a student at Yale at the time. I want the works by tomorrow.”

“Got it.”

“Thank you.”

I hang up and step onto the bridge. I probably shouldn’t pry in Alex’s life, but I haven’t decided if I’m going to yet. At least if I do, I’ll be ready.

George Barris stands at the helm, going through his checklist, and his first mate Samara Chen works at her station. I see faxes spitting out of the machine, and I tear them off, reading them.

Pithom has a satellite weather system, but the captain likes to double up on precaution. Which is good.

I look over the weather reports and nod, satisfied. “You can take us out of the harbor,” I tell him, starting to leave again. “Drop anchor about a mile out, and we’ll wait for Mr. Crist.”

“Yes, Miss Fane.”

I leave the papers for them and start to exit the bridge, but I stop, staring out the port side window and seeing the stewards carrying a couple of suitcases on board. Someone else has arrived. A light layer of sweat cools my back, and my stomach knots, but I know it’s not Michael. He won’t be in from Seattle for a couple hours. 

Heading out, I descend the stairs to the Owner’s deck again, and make my way through the sitting area. I stop and pick a few pieces of prosciutto and cheese off the platter and stuff a slice of meat into my mouth.

I walk out to the sun deck, the dying light behind us, and see Damon standing at the edge of the boat. Looking down at the darkening water.

His eyebrows are pinched, and I cup my food in my hand, leaning against a column and watching him as I chew. The last time I stood where he stands, Will was in the water with a cinderblock tied to his ankle and Trevor was trying to kill me. Will and I were almost lost that night.

“Sometimes,” Damon says, breaking the silence. “I let my mind wander enough, and it always comes back here.”

He breathes hard, staring hard at the water as I stick a cube of cheese in my mouth.

“Except Michael doesn’t catch him, and you never come up.”

He turns and sits on the ledge, sliding his hands into his pockets and our eyes meeting.

I see our mother in him now. A lot.

I didn’t before. The way his eyes go big and round, and it takes a moment to be sure whether or not they’re happily surprised or pissed off. The way he says what he wants and doesn’t like to lie. The way they both hate being alone.  

What an amazing thing time is. Three years ago, I thought I was going to die on this boat, him the last person I see or talk to. I’d never been more scared.

Now, there’s hardly a day that goes by where I don’t speak to him or need him.    

“You know…” I approach him.

He lifts his head, listening.

But I don’t continue. I take a breath, let out a sigh, and… shoot out, shoving him hard in the chest.

His eyes go big, his arms shoot out, flailing, and the next thing I know he’s lost his footing and tips over the side of the yacht.

“Shit! Fuck!” he growls.

But he plummets. His body hits the water ten feet down, a big slash as he disappears under the surface.

I stare down and pop another cold cut into my mouth, chewing. Did he land on his shoulder? How do you land on your frickin’ shoulder?

He shoots up through the surface, splashing and sputtering as he pushes his hair back over his head and glares up at me. I fight not to smile.

Water hangs on his eyelashes and lips, and I’ve never seen two more pissed off eyebrows. “You little shit!” he bellows.

“Okay, yes, that was harsh. I admit it,” I tell him, teasing. “But it was only fair. I almost died that night, Damon.”

“Get your ass in here, and I’ll show you what death looks like!”

“Are you crazy?” I pick up another piece of cheese. “That water’s really cold.”

He growls again and swims for the back of the boat, and I finally let myself laugh as I grab a towel for him. He looks so vulnerable.

Walking down the stairs, I watch as he hops up onto the back of the yacht and stands up, his white dress shirt and black pants, sticking to his body.

But his hair looks good.

I bite back my smile and hold out the towel.

“Piss off.”

But he snatches it from my hand anyway.

What a baby. I guess some people can only dish it out.

“You know that guilt I was feeling a minute ago?” he blurts out. “It’s all gone now.”

“Good.” I nod once. “We have bigger things to deal with tonight anyway.”

 He seethes, drying off his hair and face and kicking off his shoes.

“Everyone in?” I hear someone call. “We’re ready to shove off.”

I look up at the captain, standing up on the bridge deck.

I give him a wave. “We’re ready.”

Damon and I climb the stairs again and walk across the sun deck as the engines start purring a little louder.

“Is Michael here?” he asks.

“He’s coming.” I dump out the rest of my uneaten food and grab a bottle of water. “I wish everyone would stop asking me that.”

I move around the bar, ready to head to my cabin to shower, but Damon grabs my arm.

I stop, meeting his dark eyes.

“Everything on the table tonight,” he commands. “Everything.”

My heart skips a beat, and my muscles, relaxed a moment ago, start to tighten and strain again.

But I nod in agreement. “I know.”

And as the yacht moves out into the darkening Atlantic, and the stars light the night sky, nothing but Damon’s words play in my mind over the next two hours. Everything on the table. I shower, I dress, and I barely have the stomach to think about anything else other than what’s going to happen in the next hour. Or the next four hours.

Or tomorrow.

Everything hinges on tonight.

I put on my lipstick, and the faint sound of propellers echo in the distance as dread sits on my lungs, making it hard to breathe. I look up at my ceiling, turning my eyes toward the sound of the helicopter above descending onto the yacht.

Michael is here. 


The bells chime eight, all the clocks in the cabins singing the hour, as well as a faint dong of the tower clock in the wine room carrying through the corridors of the yacht.

Michael didn’t come to find me when he arrived. I leave my room, taking my phone, silent of any texts or calls I thought he’d send when I wasn’t in our cabin. It’s for the best, though. It’s why I decided to get ready in another part of the boat, other than the place we share. I don’t want to see him until I go in there. I’ll lose my nerve.  

Ryen, Misha’s girlfriend, steps through their door, followed closely by him, and she looks over at me coming her way.

I smile, unable to stop my eyes from trailing down her body. She wears a tight black dress, falling about mid-thigh, with black heels that make me feel a little short. Misha turns to me, wearing a tailored black suit, minus the tie, and no matter what Damon says about his tattoos, they really do go with everything.

We’re all in black, and I almost laugh. I’m glad it’s understood that tonight is for a power color.

He holds out his hand, waving me by. “Lead the way,” he says.

I walk ahead, feeling them follow me. Alex’s door opens as I pass by, and I see her fall in with Misha and Ryen as the four of us head toward the bow, under the sun deck and deeper into the ship.

Glass walls shimmer with the firelight from the sconces, and I turn into an open doorway, seeing a large room spread before me as Kai, Winter, Banks, and Damon all stand around. Floor to ceiling windows decorate the far wall ahead, and the sea spreads before us as the engines whir again. Michael gazes out at the night, his back to me.    

I drift slowly into the room as Misha, Ryen, and Alex walk past me, but I can’t take my off him. My insides melt, and after the years of wanting him and loving him, I’m still sixteen with a crush from afar. Loving someone so much it hurts.

The stewards finish setting out food and drinks on the buffet table, pulling a couple bottles of red off the racks on the walls and opening them for us. As soon as they leave, the doors close, and everyone drifts to the large, round table, finding their seats.

Michael turns, and our eyes lock. His hazel gaze holds me frozen, and it’s hard to breathe, because I see it in his eyes. I always see it.

The love. The need. The longing.

But now, it’s different. There’s a hesitance there, too, now. Like he’s unsure of what to do with me.

His beautiful eyes glide down my body, taking in my long, thin, black gown with a plunging neckline and cutouts on the back and sides, damn-near to my ass. A leather belt wraps around my waist and naked back to hold the dress to my body. I take a step forward, my leg popping out of the slit all the way up to my hip, and I know what he sees. Or doesn’t see underneath my dress.

His jaw clenches, and his gaze dart up to me again, a small fire blazing behind his eyes. I want to take pleasure in it. Taunting him.

But I simply love it. I love us.

I take the seat closest to me as Kai, Banks, and Alex go to my right and Misha, Ryen, Damon, and Winter sit to my left. Michael takes the last remaining seat, across the table, directly opposite of me.

But then he quickly rises again. “Before we begin…”

We watch as he opens a shiny black box on the table and pulls out several smaller black cases. He slides one each to Damon, Kai, and Misha, and takes one himself, circling the table toward me.   

“When Will comes back,” he says to everyone, “we’ll figure out something for the men, but… every family has their heirlooms.”

He stops at my side, meeting my eyes. Boxes flip open as everyone busies themselves, looking to see what it is, while every nerve under my skin fires at his attention. He opens the box, setting it down on the table, and removing the item inside. 

“So let these be our first,” he adds, holding up an ornate black necklace with a pendant in the center.

“What is it?” I hear Winter ask as Damon pulls hers out of the box.

“It’s a necklace,” he says.

“It’s a collar,” Banks spits out.

Michael and I share a smile at her jab.

But it’s beautiful. Regal. Thin, black chains weave together, dotted by small black jewels, and in the center sits an oval broach. Michael drapes the necklace around me as Kai and Damon put theirs on Banks and Winter.

“It has a white pendant,” Damon explains to Winter. “With a skull. The skull has antlers above a bed of grass where a snake lies.”

“The skull represents our true faces.” Michael fastens the clasp at the back of my neck, the necklace only falling as far as my collar bone. “What comes out of us when we put on our masks.”

“The call of the void,” Damon whispers to Winter.

Michael continues, “The antlers represent a deer which means watchfulness, being in touch with your inner child, innocence, and vigilance. The snake means rebirth and transformation.”

I touch the broach with my fingers. “And fertility,” I add as an afterthought.

Michael holds my gaze for a moment and then turns away, heading back around the table.

He takes another box and sets it down next to Alex, opening it up.

But she stops him. “I want Will to put it on me.”

He nods. And closes the box again.

Standing at his place at the table, he looks over at Misha and Ryen who just stare at the item still tucked inside its box.

“It belongs to the family,” he tells her. “If you forfeit it, you forfeit it to us or no one. Do you understand?”

She looks between him and Misha at her side, nodding nervously. “I appreciate the gesture,” she says, glancing back at Misha. “We have some things to think about.”

Misha doesn’t say anything, and I absolutely understand their reluctance. I don’t know Ryen well, but this isn’t him. Misha likes freedom, not answering to anyone but her, and I’ve never known him to be in a club other than his band. Too many people interfering with his privacy would paralyze him. It’s not who he is. 

And quite frankly, they don’t have a history with us. The rest of us are here, because we wouldn’t be anywhere else. Misha is here for Will and only Will. 

Michael takes his seat and swipes his fingers across his phone, setting it in the middle of the table to record the minutes. “Alright, considering our agenda, let’s first tackle the—”

“I want to kill your father,” I say, cutting him off.

Damon chokes on his vodka rocks. Every eye at the table turns to me, and Michael silently stares as my words hang in the air. 

I know it was abrupt, but I need to set the pace tonight. Or I’ll lose control.

“I won’t,” I add. “I just want to. I wanted you to know that.”

Michael sits there, playing with the Mont Blanc in front of him as everyone watches on silently, but he doesn’t blink, and neither do I.

“And I want to marry you,” he tells me. “Is this why you’re dragging your feet? My father?”

I falter. One has nothing to do with the other. “That’s a private matter.”

“You don’t talk even when we are in private. The only time things are good lately is when we’re fucking.”

Damon shoves his chair back, making Banks and Ryen jump, and rises, scowling at Michael.

But Michael is already on it, not bothering to get out of his seat as he glares up at Damon. “I was there when she was five and eight and thirteen, so you remember where you and she started the next time you want to imply you have any more responsibility or love for her than I do,” he bites out. “My woman. Sit down.”

I’m simultaneously hit with flutters over Michael’s words and appreciation for Damon’s protectiveness. As much it hurt, though, Michael was right. Things are okay but only great when we’re in bed lately.  

Damon hesitates but finally sits, still seething, and I look back at Michael.

He turns his gaze back on me. “This was your fantastic idea,” he says. “So out with it. You resent me for not avenging you. My father killed yours.” And then he gazes around the table leaning back in his chair. “Is that how you all see it? I haven’t defended her?”

But before they can chime in, I tell him, “I don’t resent you. I love you.” I am a little hurt by his lack of urgency, but I understand the position he’s in. “And I’ll die your wife or I’ll die no one’s.”

There. Happy now?

He stares at me, hopefully understanding there’s no doubt in my love or devotion. 

He clears his throat. “The only living witness I could manage to locate was murdered last year.” He tosses a look at Damon, referring to Gabriel’s demise. “And even if I could find more, I can’t put my mother through the humiliation.” He drops his eyes, pausing. “I know what your father’s death did to your mother, Rika. What you’re asking is only fair. I know that.” His eyes raise to mine again, pained. “But I killed her son, Rika. I can’t… kill her…”

He falls silent, but he doesn’t need to finish the sentence.

I know. Even if his father “quietly disappeared”, Michael wouldn’t lie to her. She’d find out, and she’d be hurt by him. She might even start to fear him.

“I’ll do it,” Damon chimes in.

Michael nods absently. “I know you will, but I’m not going to let you. You have things to live for now. Don’t put yourself in unnecessary risk.” He sighs, sitting back again. “We can’t slaughter every problem anyway.”

No, we can’t. We’re not criminals, and I have to constantly remind myself of that. We don’t break laws for personal gain. We do it for fun.  

We don’t have to kill him, but things can’t stay the same, either. “I want him gone. Out of Thunder Bay,” I tell Michael. “And out of Meridian City.”

“We can’t buy him out,” he replies.

“We won’t have to,” Banks interjects.

Everyone stops, turning to her. The skin of her bare shoulders glows in the candlelight, and I sit up in my chair, meeting her eyes.

“He’ll give it to us,” she says.

I hold back my smile. My favorite thing about Banks is that she proudly refrains from bringing anything to the table unless it’s a solution. I’m listening.  

She turns to Michael. “Killing Schraeder Fane isn’t all your father is guilty of, to be sure. We’ll find something and use it to persuade him.”

“Persuade him to do what?”

“Seek life elsewhere,” she replies sarcastically.

Michael shakes his head. “He still won’t leave quietly.”

“Then we’ll take care of it,” Kai says, losing patience. “We’re only doing what’s necessary, Michael. We have kids to think about. Rika’s right. He can’t stay.”

It takes a moment, but Michael finally looks up at me, and I know what’s going through his head. Yes, his father is dangerous. Yes, he’s hurt people immeasurably.

But couldn’t we say the same things about ourselves? We’ve hurt each other. We’ve killed.

The difference between us and Evans Crist, though, is that he acted out of greed and a lust for power. We’ve always acted out what we thought was service to our family. Our true family. Evans barely acts with consideration for his wife and Michael. He won’t care about the rest of us. I don’t want Mads and Ivar anywhere near him.  

Slowly, Michael nods.

“And I don’t want his name,” I add.

He stills, his eyes slowly rising to meet mine.

I know he probably feels targeted so far in this meeting, but I need it out, and better sooner than later. I’m not changing my name when we marry.

His chest rises and falls slow and steady, but I can tell he’s fucking pissed. “I want you to have the same last name as your children.”

“I will.”

My heart pounds, because I don’t want to hurt him, but I can’t bend on this. It’s something I’ve thought a lot about. Why should I have to change my name? Who made that rule anyway? My father was a good man who left no sons to carry on the name. He deserves this.

 My last words hang in the air as no one breathes at the table, and Michael stares at me, the growing anger playing behind his eyes. I know I’m asking a lot. He was born with a name he thought he’d carry his entire life. He doesn’t have to change his.

But I’m not changing mine. Michael and I are locked, but neither of us says more, probably because we don’t know what to say. He either wants to yell and doesn’t want to do it here, or he wants to throttle me.

“Al….right,” Kai stammers, and I know he’s glancing between Michael and me. “We’ll… come back to that then.”

Everyone shifts around the table, but Michael won’t look away first, so I do. I’ll let him have that.  

“Will…” Kai says, moving onto the next subject. “What do we know?”

Misha sits up. “The last text I got from him was months—”

“Forget texts,” Kai states, looking around the table. “When was the last time we had a visual on him?”

“Thirteen months.”

We turn to Damon, his whisper hanging in the air as he rolls an unlit cigarette between his fingers.

“And twelve days,” Alex adds. “He video called.”

Thirteen months. I blink long and hard. Thirteen fucking months.

“And we can rule out he’s not dead, because his parents aren’t worried,” I tell them.

Misha pulls something out of his breast pocket and unfolds it, setting it down on the table. Damon immediately snatches it.

“What’s this?” he asks, inspecting the sheet. 

“A list of males from wealthy and prominent families who have fallen off the grid and reappeared over the past thirty years,” Misha explains.

Damon scoffs, flinging the paper over to Michael. “We usually deal in digital files here in the twenty-first century.”

Michael takes the paper, scanning it.

“And what good is interviewing a bunch of middle-aged dudes going to do?” Damon continues. “A. They won’t talk. No one talks about Blackchurch. And B. The location changes. Even if they did talk, they wouldn’t know where it was anymore.”

“Maybe the location doesn’t change,” Misha argues. “Maybe that’s part of the story they tell us. And maybe Warner… Stratford… Walmart Cunningham III can give us a lead. Something useful. Unless you have a better idea?”

“His grandfather,” Winter chimes in. “He’s the one who probably put him there to begin with, right?”

Michael turns to Alex, plotting the next step. “Can you get in?”

She laughs under her breath. “I don’t know why you think these men divulge state secrets to their whores.”

“Because it’s worked before.” Damon grins, teasing her. “You don’t give yourself enough credit.”

But I sit up. “No.”

They all look at me.  

“We’re not using Alex like that,” I explain.

At some point, she’ll finish her graduate degree, get a new job, and what will we do then when we can’t pimp her out? I’m not sending her to that old man.

“Besides,” I go on. “Men like him don’t handle the details themselves anyway.”

“His assistant then,” Kai says. “Jack Munro. He’ll know everything.”

“And if he won’t talk?” Misha retorts.

“I’m sure information is more forthcoming when you want to put someone in there instead of take them out,” Alex mumbles.

The table falls silent, but I see a slight smile curl Michael’s lips.

“What?” I ask.

He quickly hides his smile and shrugs. “Nothing.”

But I watch him for a moment. He’s thinking something. 

Alex draws in a breath. “I’ll ingratiate myself to Senator Grayson’s assistant as soon as conclave concludes.” And she meets my gaze before I can say anything. “I’m doing it, Rika.”

I swallow my argument, not happy putting her into the position, but it’s Will, and I know she’ll do whatever it takes at this point.

Winter sets her hand on the table. “And if we find Blackchurch, and he’s there, how do we get him out?”

“We need to know what kind of fortress we’re dealing with first,” Banks tells her. “If the stories are true, they’ll have free run of the house and grounds. If we’re able to get to them, then they’re also able to get to us.”

The table falls silent as Banks looks around at each of us.

“There’s a reason Blackchurch is like that,” she continues. “Why it’s not simply a luxury spa with locked cages and guards. Why they’re left alone as if they’re dogs thrown into a pit to eat or be eaten.”

Images flash in my mind of what she’s describing, and how, at this moment, Will could be sitting in that place. My head falls.  

“They’ve burned their bridges and decided not to be part of a family,” Banks goes on, “so now they’ll learn their place in the natural order.”

The natural order. Tough love on crack. They have their needs provided for. Food, shelter, medical attention if needed… But otherwise, they’re completely alone and…at each other’s mercy.

“They will have resorted to base instinct,” Banks tells us. “They’re lives are about survival now. The rest of the world does not exist anymore. They’re a system of their own with rules and laws…” She pauses. “And consequences.”

She might know more about Blackchurch, since Gabriel considered sending Damon, or she might just know what happens to dogs in cages. Either way, I know everything she says is true.

“They’re hoarding food,” she says, “each one of them fighting for their share. They’re forming alliances to protect each other, and they will have made weapons with whatever’s lying around.”

My chest constricts.  

“There will be an alpha,” she continues, “and Will…will not be it.”

None of us speak as, I’m sure, everyone’s mind is going to the same place as mine. Imagining Will and what he’s possibly living through right now. Those men are not his friends. Will isn’t strong by himself.

He isn’t Michael. He isn’t Kai.  

“I’m going to be sick,” Winter chokes out, tears filling her eyes as she rises from her seat.

Damon gets up, takes her hand, and they both leave the room.

The door closes again.

“How did we let this go for so long?” Kai breathes out.

“We fucked up,” Misha says, his eyes now more worried than ever.

But Ryen chimes in. “Will’s okay.”

Alex looks over at her, a tear streaming down her face. “How do you know that?”

“Because he has an advantage over those other prisoners,” she tells us. “He’s been in prison already. He’s done this before.”

I tuck my lips between my teeth and close my eyes, trying to calm myself. She’s right. I swallow and try to unknot my fucking stomach. If Will is there, he’s alive.

“Jack Munro,” Michael says, looking at Alex. “You make contact, and we want to hear from you as soon as it’s over.” And then he repeats, “As soon as it’s over.”

She nods.

“Let’s take a break then,” he tells us.

The room suddenly feels too tight, and I push back my chair as everyone rises from theirs. I need some air.

The food on the table sits uneaten as everyone drifts out the door to stretch their legs. I turn to leave, but someone grabs my hand, stopping me.

I look up at Michael, both of us silent as the room slowly empties.

“Say my name,” he whispers.

The vein in my neck throbs.

“Michael,” I say.

“That’s not how you say it.” He inches closer, taking my face in his hand. “How you always said it.”

I want to look away, because I can feel the tears at the back of my throat. I want to tell him. I want to get rid of this pain and fear, but… Our future looks perfect. I’m about to change it.

And I can’t.

We’re in love. Right now, in this moment. Things change in seconds, and I can’t.

“Where did you go?” He searches my eyes. “Where are you right now?”

I feel my chin tremble.

“There’s something else you’re not telling me.”

I open my mouth to say it. Or kiss him or anything, but I…

I have all night. I can’t yet.

Pulling away from him, I turn on my heel and charge out of the room.

“Rika!” he barks.

But I don’t stop. I swipe the tear off my cheek just as it falls and make my way out toward the sundeck, passing through the lounge area where everyone is congregating on the couches with a drink.

I stop at the edge, peering out over the black ocean, a white beam of moonlight spreading into the horizon. The wind blows through my dress, the chilly air doing nothing to soothe my nerves.

Just let me make love to him one more time before I fuck everything up.

“How far out are we going?” someone suddenly asks.

I blink away my tears, looking over my shoulder at Ryen.

“The boat’s been moving for a few hours now,” she points out, laughing a little. “We must be far enough out. No one is escaping to shore at this point.”

I turn back around, fixing my eyes on the sea. “I told them not to stop until they hear from me,” I tell her. “Or we hit land.”

“The next land is Ireland,” Misha says.  

I force a smirk. “Then we better work fast.”

Actually, Misha and Ryen can probably sit the rest of the night out. Their business is done, and they certainly won’t need to hear the rest of what goes on. The Cove. Damon’s inheritance. His plans to put Banks in D.C which he thinks I don’t know about, but really, it makes perfect sense.

Will’s grandfather spends most of his career staying in power, and while Damon’s motivation isn’t entirely selfless, Banks would be absolutely suited for it. Once she finishes her degree, he’ll convince her to run for state legislature until she’s thirty and old enough to run for Senate. Everyone perfectly positioned to make the world how we want it to be and connected enough to keep making money. It’s shady as hell, but she won’t be bad in that office. Not bad at all.

If she goes for it, that is. Unfortunately, I foresee a huge fight first.

I turn around, seeing Damon enter the lounge, and I grip the railing behind me. “How’s Winter?”

“She’s okay,” he assures, carrying a box to the table. “Just freshening up.”

He plops down at the table, across from Misha and Ryen, and turn his attention to them.

“Babysoft,” he teases and dumps a box on the table in front of Ryen.

“What is this?” she asks, opening it up.

She reaches in and pulls out an ornate, black eye mask made of metal with black ribbons to secure it around her head. The designs allows for her skin to peek through the gaps and has exotic holes for the eyes. It’s more a masquerade type mask than what we wear. It’s beautiful, though.

“It’s the girl that comes out when you and Misha are alone,” Damon explains. “It’s for when it’s dark and private, and he wants to do fun things with you.”

Misha takes it out of her hand and sticks it back in the box. “No.”

Damon laughs, amused but not shocked.

Or phased. “Just let her try it on.” He pushes the box back to Ryen and looks at her. “Later. When you’re alone. See if you like what comes out.” And then he turns his gaze back to Misha standing up. “See if she hears it. Maybe you’ll hear it, too.”

They don’t ask what he means, but I know. L’appel du vide. Winter’s philosophy of who we are and what brings us together. Maybe Misha and Ryen are more like us that we thought. Maybe everyone is. Given the chance.

But Misha just sighs and pushes back his chair, getting up. “I need to be drunk to deal with you.”

And he walks to the bar.

Damon follows, making himself a drink, but he doesn’t bug Misha further. I glance at the doorway, noticing Michael hasn’t followed us. He’s probably ready to wring my neck.

I cross the lounge and step into the head, closing the door. But it catches, and I look up, seeing Kai slip in behind me and quickly shut the door.

My eyes immediately sting, and I didn’t realize how hard I’m holding back until I’m alone with him. He approaches me in the quiet, secluded little space in front of the sink and takes my face in his hands.

He looks at me, and my eyes water.

“I know,” I whisper. “I know.”

“You’re torturing both of you,” he says. “Tell him.”

My chest shakes, and I try to look away, but he doesn’t let me. He holds my face in place.

“It has to be in private,” I tell him. “He’ll be angrier if I put him on the spot in front of everyone.”

“He won’t be angry.”

He’ll be in a terrible position, though. One where he’ll be against a rock and hard spot, and I’d be asking him to make a choice where both options leave him giving up something he wants.

I need to make the choice for him. I always knew that.

I let my head drop, slowly falling forward into Kai’s chest. “It would kill me to see him with another woman,” I whisper. “What if he marries someone else, and I have to live in Thunder Bay and see them?”

I start to cry, feeling his arms circle around me, and I break down, the dread and anticipation sitting in my stomach and making me sick.

Kai whispers against my hair. “Shhhh…”

But the door suddenly swings open, and we pop our heads up. Michael stands there, and the look on his face makes my stomach sink. He bares his teeth, grabs Kai by the jacket, and hauls him out of the bathroom.  

I gasp as he throws his friend back into the lounge, Kai crashing into the table, the vase on top sliding off and breaking on the floor. Ryen yelps, scurrying out of her seat and out of the way.

Michael charges over to Kai, grabbing him again and fisting his lapels.

“Whoa, whoa, stop!” Kai growls.

“Michael, stop!” I yell.

He shakes Kai, shouting in his face. “What the hell were you doing?”

“We were just talking!” Kai tells him.

Damon stands frozen, watching but ready, while Misha, Ryen, and Banks look on with worried stares at the scene.

Michael leans in, speaking low in Kai’s face. “You don’t touch her.”

“It wasn’t like that,” Kai argues.

“Then what was it like?”

This came from Banks, and I turn my eyes on her, her doubt stinging.

Michael throws Kai off, breathing hard, and Kai looks at Banks, fixing his suit and looking exasperated.

“Just hold up, okay?” he tells everyone. He’s not sure what to say to explain himself to his wife and protect me at the same time. I put him in that position.

I step forward. “Michael…”

“Fuck you, Rika,” he says, cutting me off.

He stands up straight, turning his attention on me, and I tense.  

“Fuck your power, your schedule, you assistant,” he tells me, “your fucking little entourage everywhere you go, your plans, and your chess games. I gave you too much power.”

I can’t move. Slowly, the bricks of every moment we built together start to shake, and I don’t know if I’m more shocked by his sudden disdain or the fact that he actually thought Kai and I were…

“And you know,” he goes on, “I wanted this. I wanted you to own it. I didn’t want another version of my mother. Silent, docile, living separate lives. I wanted my other half.” He looks at me, and I don’t see love anymore. Just hurt. “And I got it,” he says sadly. “When I look in the mirror, all I see is your face. I can’t tell the difference anymore.” He hesitates and gestures to Kai and Damon. “I’m all about you, and you…? You talk to them instead of me.”

“Well, you are gone a lot,” Damon chimes in.

Michael holds my eyes for only a moment before he hauls off and hits Damon, slamming his fist right across his face.

“Michael!” I shout.

Damon grunts, falling onto the sofa, but shoots back off quickly, glaring and charging ahead.

But Kai holds him back, stopping him.

Michael forgets his attack and looks at me. “I’m retiring after next season,” he tells me. “Will you talk to me then?”

Retiring? I shake my head. “You’re twenty-five. You still have years if you don’t get injured.”

“It’s time to concentrate on other things. The Cove, our family…”

“We can’t move on the Cove until we get Will home,” Damon commands.

“Will won’t stop it from happening,” Michael replies, planting his hands and leaning on the table. “It’s time to level the property and begin.”

“Whoa, whoa, the Cove?” Misha steps forward. “You’re not tearing it down!”

But Michael slams the table with his fists, shutting everyone up. We all stand silent as he dips his head, staring at the table.

I inch forward. This is my fault, not theirs.          

Finally, he looks up at me, his voice softer. “I feel less than you,” he says. “Like…”

“Like you have nothing to teach me anymore,” I finish for him.

He doesn’t respond, so I know I’m right. He’s intimidated that I have more going on than just him.

“I’m not your pet,” I tell him.

I was once, but not anymore.

“Why?” he asks.

Why? He’s asking why I won’t be his pet? Seriously?

He rises and walks around the table, approaching me.

“Because…” I say. “Because I need to be more. I need to be… useful.”


I want to laugh, not out of amusement but anger. I’m not a trophy. I’m not something to play with or program.

“Because I need you to see what I can do,” I tell him. I need to prove myself.

“Why?” He inches closer.

I open my mouth, but I can’t find my words. I know what he’s doing, and the tears start to fill my eyes. I just need to say it.

“Because I don’t want you to be disappointed in me,” I whisper. “Because you’ll be disappointed.”

He stands in front of my, only a few inches between us. “Why?”

 “Because I can’t…I…” I stutter, swallowing the lump in my throat. “I can’t have children.” I close my eyes, silently starting to cry as the words leave my mouth. “I can’t give us a family.”

He stands there, not coming an closer, and while my heart is breaking at the life we can’t have, a weight lifts off my shoulders. I didn’t want to do this in front of everyone, because Michael will be the gentleman and assure me its okay. We’ll adopt. We’ll hire a surrogate. We’ll be fine.

But months down the road he’ll start to understand it’s not that simple. He’ll resent the life he can’t have, and I’ll feel like I’m keeping him from something better.

“My cycles have always been long, but…” I continue, “I’m not ovulating regularly. The doctor says it’s  unlikely.”

“But not impossible,” Banks clarifies, approaching me. “Have you tried other doctors?”


Damon steps forward. “Well, once you get off birth control—”

“I’ve been off for two years,” I tell him. “And I haven’t had a period in over one.”

“A year,” Michael says more to himself. “About how long you’ve been carrying this around, right?”

But it comes out sounding like an accusation before he turns his eyes on Kai. “Why don’t you seem surprised?” he asks him.

But Kai just looks away. He’s the only one who knew, and I understand what Michael is feeling. But I didn’t confide in Kai. He just found out.

He went through the whole pep talk with me. Michael loves you. You have options. People make it work every day. Lots of kids need good homes. But people also break up over these things. Every day. People want children of their own. They want to make children with the man or woman they love. I never thought something like this would get in my way, but I’m scared. It’s easy to say I’m valuable. He loves me for me, and if my body can’t do this, it can’t be all he needs from me. I ‘m worth plenty, even if I can’t give him our children, right? This isn’t my fault. I haven’t failed.

But believing those words and feeling them is more difficult. What if he tries but he decides this is just too hard? What if I can never accept that I can’t do this for him? 

 I can’t look at him as I whisper, “We won’t have any children together, Michael.”

That’s as plain as I can put it. He needs to know the likelihood is slim.

I wait for him to not be angry. To give some sign that this isn’t the end of the world, and he still loves me more than anything, but…

He turns and walks away.  

He leaves the room, leaving me standing there with tears on my face. Emptiness aches in my body everywhere. He hates me. God, he hates me. I can’t breathe.

“You knew?” I hear Banks ask.

“I found out,” Kai tells her. “It was an accident.”

I sniffle, my hands shaking. Oh, my God. He left. He walked out.

I close my eyes again.

“We’re killing him,” Damon growls, and he’s probably talking to Kai. “Right now.”

Banks, Ryen, and Alex step over, trying to hold me, but I shake them off gently. “It’s okay. I’m okay.” I wipe my eyes and move forward. “Excuse me, please.”

And I hurry out of the room, covering my mouth with my hand as I go, so they can’t hear the sobs.


Fuck you, Rika.

Something constricts my throat, and I startle awake, unsure if it was a noise or the sudden quiet that jostles me.

The engines have stopped. I lift my head and look around the dark room, seeing it’s still empty and the bed untouched. What time is it?

I’m still curled up in the chair in Michael’s and my cabin, having buried myself in it when I finally found the courage to step inside.

But he wasn’t here when I came in.

Setting my feet on the floor, I wipe my eyes and stand up, looking around again. It’s still dark outside. I glance at the clock on the dresser, the little bells chiming midnight.

It’s been three hours since the fight. Where is he? Why have we stopped?

Of course, I have no interest in going to Ireland right now anyway, so I’m kind of glad.

Leaving my heels next to the chair, I pick up my dress and walk barefoot to the door. Opening it, I peer outside into the corridor.

“Michael?” I call.

And I listen.

But nothing. No noise coming from the other cabins. No music. No movement or conversation.

Stepping out of the room, I pick up my dress off the floor and walk, swiping my fingers under my eyes to tidy up the eyeliner as I go. After the argument, I’d drifted to the bow to cool off and try to get my head straight. I’d put myself through every mental argument I could over the past several months leading up to this conversation, and not only did I completely blow it, but I expected everything from him except the one thing I got. Silence.

He just walked away like I was nothing. I was right to worry, after all, it seems.

And even if he were okay with it, I don’t know if I would be. He’ll go on, watching his friends have their babies, but it won’t be like that for us, and I hate that. I’d hate doing that to him. 

I shake my head, taking breaths to calm myself. I don’t want to lose him.

After a while, I’d decided to go have it out privately, but when I went to the cabin, he wasn’t there. I curled up on the chair to wait and drifted off.

I hear splashes and look over the side of the boat and see people jumping into the water down at the stern.

Ryen and Banks swim back to the boat, while Kai and Misha jump in over their heads. They all laugh, blowing off steam while they can. Conclave still goes on, whether we’re in that room or not, I guess. It’s just Michael and me for now, though.

I take the stairs to the bridge. “Hello?”


“Mr. Barris?” I say, stepping into the room.

We still face east, but he’s stopped the boat for now.

“Ms. Fane.” He rises from his chair. “Everything okay?”

I rub my arms, extra aware of my lack of under-clothes now. “Have you seen Mr. Crist?”

“Not for a while, no.”

I nod absently. Well, he couldn’t have gone far at least.

I turn to leave but stop, noticing he’s been in the bridge all day.

“Where is Ms. Chen?” I ask. He should be getting to sleep soon.

He stares at me for a moment and then says, “I dismissed her for the evening a while ago.”

But then he looks away, and something unnerves me. Like he didn’t want to tell me that.

I look after him for a moment, watching him busy himself with something silly, and finally, I decide to leave. What’s wrong with dismissing her for the night? Why would he look uncomfortable telling me that?

Heading back to the owner’s deck, I slowly walk down the corridor, lightly knocking on rooms I know are unoccupied. He could be sleeping it off somewhere else to avoid me. I search the galley, the dining area, the lounge, and the wine room. There’s no one in the steam room, and the further I go, the louder my heart beats in my ears, because if I haven’t found him yet, then he’s somewhere he doesn’t want to be found.  

A thought occurs to me, and my stomach rolls with nausea. Did Michael ask for Ms. Chen to be dismissed from the bridge early? Is that why Barris looked at me so weird?

The boat rocks under my feet, and I stop for a moment steadying myself.

It’s not the boat. I’m dizzy.


I swallow. No, he wouldn’t do that.

I descend the last set of stairs, the machines and engines humming quietly as the low lights glow across the red floors. I tread in the shadows, around giant cylinders, afraid to look in the nooks and small spaces, but this place—in the bowels of the yacht—is the only place left to search.

Maybe he’s with Damon and Winter. Maybe he took the speedboat back to shore?

A flash goes off ahead, and I look up, catching movement somewhere behind the tanks.

Slowly, I head that way.

Another flash goes off, and I hear a shuffle as I peer between two large white tanks, two more flashes going off. It’s a camera.

A woman with long, dark hair sits on top of a table, it’s legs nailed to the floor and her naked body in full view of whoever takes her picture. Her face is covered behind her hair, but I know who it is. It’s too long to be Banks and too dark to be Alex.

Samara Chen.

I watch as our first mate leans back on her hands, one foot propped up on the table and one leg dangling, as someone takes her picture over and over again. I close my eyes for a moment. I want to see who it is, but I’m pretty sure I already know.

I open my eyes, watching Samara slip her fingers between her legs, her hair falling behind her shoulders, so I can see her eyes now, eye-fucking the camera in front of her as she rubs herself in circles. The long lines of her torso, the smooth skin of her hips and back, her full, beautiful breasts…

An image of Michael fucking her on that table flashes in my mind, and my stomach twists again and again like a rubber band, and I clench my fists.

But as I slowly step to the side, my heart pounding so hard it hurts as I look around the tank, I see it’s not Michael taking her picture.

Alex has changed into a casual pair of gray lounge pants and white V-neck T-shirt. She holds a camera in her hands, cocking her head and watching as Ms. Chen props both legs up on the table, spreading wide for Alex’s view.

I release the breath I’d been holding.

But then, out of the corner of my eye, I spot movement. Lev enters from somewhere he’d been standing beyond my line of sight and walks over to the table, shoving Samara down hard.

She whimpers, and I suck in a breath. Alex’s holds his eyes for a moment, and then he dives down, eating the girl’s pussy.

He licks and sucks, nibbles and rubs, her body arching off the table as he goes at her without pause. She moans, and he wraps his hand around her thigh, holding her place as Alex continues photographing them.

I should leave. I step back but run into something hard, and I pause, the hair on my arms standing up straight. A long arm with long fingers reaches around me, and I spot the same beautiful vein in his hand bulging as he grips his bottle of Kirin, handing it to me.

A flutter hits my heart, and I’m sixteen again, back at St. Killian’s. I take the beer, looking up at the scene in front of us as he remains behind me. I take a swig, the bitter bubbles popping on my tongue.  

Lev licks her slow but steady, rubbing his tongue around her clit and kneading her breasts. She moans, her hips rolling into his mouth, hungry for more. Another flash goes off as we watch them, silently tucked away and hidden.

“I love you,” I say, clutching the bottle.

I’m glad when he doesn’t respond, because I need to say this now that we’re alone.

“What’s my worth if I keep you from having the one thing most people really want?” I pause, staring at the scene but barely paying attention. “I couldn’t lose you, Michael.”

I take another sip, remembering that first taste all those years ago.  

“I couldn’t lose you, but I couldn’t marry you, either,” I tell him. “Not under a lie.” I draw in a deep breath despite the tears lodged in my throat. “I just wanted to be able to love you as long as possible, because I don’t want you to give up your chance to have children, and I don’t know if I can cope not being able to give them to you. I feel like shit. All the time. I can’t stomach the thought of you having a family with anyone else, but I don’t want to make you unhappy, either.”

I’m hurting.

He’s still silent, and I don’t know if I’ve explained myself or if I make any sense.

He takes the bottle from my hand, and I hear the liquid slosh as he tips the bottle back for a drink. I wait, because everything hinges on hearing his voice.  

“I knew you were in my truck that day,” he says in a low voice.

I blink. What?

“I saw the backdoor open in the rearview mirror,” he explains. “And then I saw it close.”

In his truck…?

And then it hits me. Devil’s Night so long ago when I snuck into his truck to follow him and his friends. The same one where he let me try his beer for the first time.   

“You weren’t old enough for everything,” he continues, “but you were old enough for some things, and I couldn’t wait anymore. It was always there. Since we were kids.”

Ms. Chen’s moans and whimpers fill the engine room as she holds Lev’s mouth to her pussy, their pace and breathing growing stronger and faster. 

“Sometimes I thought I wanted to touch you,” Michael whispers, and I feel it on the top of my hair. “Other times I thought I wanted to kill you. I didn’t know if it was love or hate, but I knew it would change my life.”

“Slower, Lev,” Alex tells him, snapping a photo.

But he argues. “Come on, she tastes so good.”

“Like this.” Alex leans in, kissing Ms. Chen and Lev following her lead, both of them devouring the young woman.  

“Oh, my God,” Chen pants, arching her back off the table.

I close my eyes, the memory of those same sounds coming back to me. “And you found me at St. Killian’s, just like this,” I say to Michael. “You took me downstairs, blindfolded me, and we heard things, just like this.”

Chen groans, panting harder, and I can tell she’s about to come.

“I loved your world,” I whisper.

“You wanted to see so badly that day in the catacombs.” The heat of this body warms my skin. “I even think part of you wanted to be her. To experience it all.”

“I wanted anything with you,” I reply, opening my eyes. “I wanted to let it all happen.”

Samara’s body bobs back and forth, her back arching again and again as Lev buries his mouth in her pussy and she gets closer. Her moans fill the room, growing louder and faster.

“I wish I could go back to that night,” I tell Michael. “I would’ve tried not to get in that truck. I would’ve tried not to steal all this time from you.”

Tears burn behind my eyes. I’m a burden to him. I feel like I’m making his life worse.

But all of a sudden, his arms wrap around me, and his whisper hits my neck. “And if I could go back, I wouldn’t have wasted a moment.”

He lifts me off my feet, and I suck in a breath as he carries me back a few steps. He drops down, bringing me into his lap, and I realize he’s in a chair. I still see slivers of the scene through the tanks, Lev rising and Samara panting and whimpering in protest that he stopped. He takes her legs, pulling her down to the end of the table as he unfastens his jeans.

Michael pulls me back against him, one arm around my body and one hand cupping my cheek as he whispers in my ear. “I would’ve left that warehouse that night, but I would’ve taken you with me instead.”

An ache hits my heart but also a flutter. I love how we love each other now, but if he had taken me with him that night—if I hadn’t decided to walk home—so much might not have happened to keep us apart all that time.

“I would’ve kept my word,” he goes on. “Just kissing you and holding you, and that would’ve been enough then, because just the feel of you drove me out of my mind.” His breath is hot on my skin, and I hear the desire in his voice. “l would’ve sat you down on the counter in my parents’ dark kitchen that night, standing between your legs as I ate you up, because at any moment we could’ve been caught, and I wanted to get us into trouble. I wanted them to try to keep me from you the way they always did, only this time I wouldn’t have listened.”

Lev thrusts himself inside Samara, and I see David come from behind her, grabbing her arms and forcing them over her head as she gasps. She whimpers, but he covers her mouth with his before taking her breasts in his hands, squeezing them.

She pulls at his hold. “I’m scared.”

“I know,” David says. And then he sinks his mouth into her breast, not stopping.

But just as Lev starts going hard and Samara starts writing under the attention of the two men, something comes down over my eyes, and I can barely breathe as Michael ties something around my eyes. The world goes black, and my heart pumps so hard, I want to smile and laugh and cry, because I’m too excited to know what to do. I raise my hand, feeling Michael’s necktie wrapped around my eyes.

Lev grunts. “Ugh, fuck.”

The table creaks on its bolts as moans and kissing fill the hot air of the engine room.

The camera starts clicking again as Alex takes her pictures. “Can David have his turn?” I hear Alex ask.

I don’t hear an answer as she takes more pictures.

“I would’ve kissed you,” Michael goes on, dragging his fingers along my jaw. “And touched your face and started sweating, because I was so hard, wanting something so sweet that I couldn’t have yet.”

The fabric of my dress chafes my breasts, and I nuzzle into him, breathing hard. Touch me. You can. I’m not sixteen anymore.

“I wouldn’t have wanted to stop,” he continues, “but I would’ve put you to bed, because the next I came home from college you would’ve been seventeen.” The tip of his tongue flicks my ear before he catches the lobe in his teeth and slips a hand inside my dress, cupping my breast.

I gasp.

“And I would’ve gone under the clothes then,” he teases. “I would’ve snuck you into my room, taken off your panties, and touched you and let you touch me, and I would’ve kissed you everywhere, Rika.” He kneads with one hand and spreads the slit of my skirt, baring my legs and naked pussy, teasing me with his fingers. “Everywhere.”

“Michael…” I moan, picturing what could’ve been. The boys would never have gone to prison, and I would’ve been high, living for when Michael came home, because nothing feels as good as him wanting me.  

“Please, stop stopping,” Samara whines. “I need to cum.”

The table has stopped creaking, and I hear a shuffle of feet as Michael slides his fingers up and down my pussy, chaste and never dipping inside.

“My turn,” I hear David say in the distance.

“It would’ve driven us crazy,” Michael whispers, “and we would’ve come so close it hurt.”

Doing everything we could right under our parents’ noses but dying to do the one thing we couldn’t.

“And when you turned eighteen,” he tells me, the whispers seeping through my body and making my clit throb so hard, “I would’ve bid my time during the dinner and the fucking cake and the presents, and you wouldn’t have been able to enjoy it, because you would’ve felt my eyes on you during the whole damn thing and known what was coming. They wouldn’t have been able to find you. They would’ve been frantic, because I would’ve had you far away, down on the beach, in a tent, and I wouldn’t have stopped…all night.”

I bite my bottom lip, rubbing the tip of my nose against his cheek as I grinded on him a little. The thick ridge of his cock pulses under me, and I take his hand between my legs and guide it down further, pressing his fingers into the wetness on my inner thigh. A strap of the dress falls down, the air hitting my bare breast.

“Rika…” he growls under his breath.


The camera clicks another picture, but this time I see the flash through my blindfold. The skin of my nipples grows tight as they harden. Alex is here.  

Michael rubs his thumb over my nipple, and my breath shakes. “And you wouldn’t have turned up until I dropped you off for school in the morning,” he goes on. “In front of everyone so they knew who the fuck had you now.”

And he gives me a hard squeeze, making me gasp. Another picture and another flash.

I jerk, but instead of covering myself, I…

I like it. Chills spread across my skin, and I want more. I want to be looked at.

Alex snaps another picture, and I don’t know what she sees or what she’s focused on, but she’s watching us now as Samara and David go at it on the other side of the tanks, and Michael touches me. Where’s Lev? I still can’t see, so I don’t know.

“We wouldn’t have made it through dinner, Michael,” I whisper, breathing in his skin. “You would’ve felt me and known—all I wanted was you. I wouldn’t have been able to wait anymore.”

Michael takes my hand and guides two of my fingers down between my legs, sliding them inside of me. My pussy throbs, and I groan, needing so much more. He brings my hand back up and slips each finger into his mouth, sucking me off of them.

The camera snaps again as Michael’s hot tongue glides slowly across my fingers. Samara cries out in the distance, coming.

But then, suddenly, a hot breath falls across my face, and I hear heavy breathing. My heart stops for a moment. Who is that?

“Do that again,” Lev suddenly whispers, and I hear him swallow. “Please.”

I pant, my heart hammering.

Oh, my God. 

Michael holds my face, kissing my cheek, jaw, and neck. “Do you trust me?” he asks.


I nod.

“Then why would you ever think the idea of children with any other woman wouldn’t make me sick?” he whispers, and I can hear the pain in his voice. “We will have kids. If you want them. But I will never not have you.” He shakes me. “Do you understand?”

A sob lodges in my throat.  

“Do you understand?” he growls again. “A world where there is no us can’t happen.”

We kiss, and I barely notice as Michael takes my hand and dips it down between my legs again. Oh, God. I start to cry, but I calm myself, the heartache breaking me, and I don’t know why. Why did I ever doubt him? I can live without a lot of things, but I can’t live without him. Why did I not trust the same from him?

Pressing my two fingers inside me, he withdraws them and holds my hand up, not sucking on it, though.

“Do you trust me?” he asks again.


He holds my hand out, and I barely have a moment to register what’s happening before Lev grabs my hand. I gasp as the flash clicks again. Slowly, the wet heat of his mouth covers my finger, and my mouth falls open as I whimper, his tongue making every hair on my body stand on end. Michael kneads my breast, possessive and breathing hard in my ear as Lev licks my fingers clean, gently biting them.     

“I love watching you feel,” Michael says. “I love your face.”

Lev sucks the other finger clean, long and slow, and I know he’s looking down at me. Michael squeezes me as he buries his whispers in my neck and grinds his cock under me.

“I can’t follow the rules,” he says, “and with you, I don’t have to. I’m not alone. I can’t go back to being alone.” He hovers over my lips, our mouths open and hungry. “I can’t fucking breathe without my little monster.”

Little Monster.

I breathe out a half-laugh, half-cry. “I love you, Michael.” I kiss him. “I love you so much.”

He dives into my mouth, and I grab hold of the arm rests to steady myself, but I grab Lev’s wrists instead, his hands already wrapped around the arms of the chair. I don’t move my hands of him.

“Do you trust me?” Michael breathes out.


“Stand up, Lev,” Michael orders.

And before I know what’s happening, he’s pushing me forward to sit up in his lap, Lev catching me before I go too far. Michael yanks at the back of my dress, and I clutch the waist of Lev’s jeans, the belt unfastened but still there. Michael rips the dress away from my body, more flashes going off from Alex’s camera, and only the black, leather belt remains around my waist.

Lev’s fingers caress my face, and I’m spinning behind the blindfold. “God, she’s hot,” he whispers. “Can I touch her?”

“No,” Michael tells him, and I hear his belt fall open and then his zipper.

He grips my hips, jerks me back, and I moan, burying my face in Lev’s stomach as Michael spreads my legs wider and sinks deep inside me.

I whimper, wrapping my arms around Lev for support. But I feel a bulge in his jeans and pull my head up.

He laughs under his breath. “Sorry.”

Michael’s cock stretches me, and I grip Lev’s belt as I start rolling my hips and fucking Michael slow. He squeezes my body, pulling me back into his cock, while I roll forward, pulling myself into Lev. Our pace quickens.

Alex takes more shots, and I arch my back, feeling my hair drape down my skin.

Samara pants and cries from somewhere beyond the tanks, and I moan, the light layer of sweat on my back cooling me as Michael jerks me back harder and faster.

“Hold on to me,” Lev says, and I feel him lower to his knees as he puts my hands on his shoulders. I can’t see him, but he’s close, his breath falling on my breast.

“Michael,” he says, struggling. “Please let me taste her again.”

Another flash goes off as Lev’s mouth hovers over my nipple. I breathe hard, rocking back and forth into both men, my orgasm starting to crest already. I push off Lev into Michael and off of Michael, holding onto Lev.

“Ugh, fuck, Rika,” Michael grunts, his fingers digging into my hips. He pumps his own up into me, and I can’t hold back anymore.

“Yes,” I moan. More pictures snap.

I bounce up and down on him, doing deep and hard, my orgasm building and my moans and cries getting louder. I rock back and forth, chasing it and then… it explodes, racing through my body, and I feel Michael grip the back of my hair, pulling my head back as he grunts and groans, Lev’s hot mouth damn near boiling over where it hovers over my nipple.

Oh, fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck…

I writhe a little, groaning as the pleasure courses. A trickle of sweat glides down my back, and Michael loosens and tightens his fist in my hair as he spills inside of me, and I try to catch my breath, noticing the flashes have stopped.


God, that was so good. I pull down my blindfold and lean back, diving into Michael’s mouth again. Alex leans against one of the tanks, the camera dangling from her fingers as she watches us, photography forgotten.

Michael’s still inside me, and I look between Alex and Lev, both of them looking at us like they can’t tear their eyes away.

“Yo, Lev,” I hear David call. “She wants more. Come on.”

Lev smiles at me, his eyes peeking out from under his black hair, and he rises, leaning over me.

“At your service anytime, Miss Fane,” he whispers.

His eyes flash to Michael, and then he turns and heads back to his own party. 

Alex opens the slot on her camera and pulls out the memory card. She comes over, handing it to us.

“Look at them together some time,” she tells us, and I take it.

She turns to head back, as well, but then she stops and looks over her shoulder at us. “And it’s probably good that you didn’t let Lev have that second taste.”

I pinch my brows.

“He would’ve sucked you off Michael,” she explains.

My eyes go wide, and I think Michael stops breathing. She grins and leaves, disappearing beyond the tanks.

It takes a moment to find my lungs, but all of a sudden, I break out in a quiet laugh.

Oh, my God. What would Michael have done? The image floats through my mind, and I don’t hate it, actually. It might be incredible to see him experience something new for a change. Put the shoe on the other foot, so to speak?

But Michael clamps his hand over my mouth and whispers in my ear. “Don’t even think about it,” he warns.

I smile, rising from his lap, and he stands up, giving me his shirt, since my dress is ripped to shambles on the floor. I hear the camera click again as Samara goes for round three or four—I lost count—and Michael scoops up my dress and takes my hand, leading me out of the engine room.

I can’t believe we just did that.

But then I can. We don’t have to hide around these people.

We climb the steps and make our way to the Owner’s deck, his warm hand gripping mine so tightly, like he’s afraid I’ll be lost.

“The wedding is in one month,” he finally says, pulling me along.

I hold his white Oxford closed around my body. A month? I start to protest. “Michael, I can’t…”

“One month.” He turns to look at me. “Devil’s Night. We have until then to find Will and get him back.”

He grips my hand, leading us both down the corridor to our cabin, and we pass Winter and Damon’s room, but all I can hear is muffled words and moans.

A month? I’m thrilled to have a date, but…

We’ll be paying through the roof to have everything ready in time.

But still…

A month. I smile, hugging his arm like I do when I’m feeling fifteen and smitten with him all over again.

He swings open the door to the cabin, tossing his jacket and tie, and both of us head to the bathroom. I jump into the shower, him following me, and he holds me, kissing my forehead as the steam billows around us.

And I don’t let go of him as he washes my hair and my body, barely blinking as I watch how good he loves me and how lucky we are.

After we get out, we dry off, and I let my hair down as he passes me my toothbrush with paste already on it. “I’m sorry I said those things earlier in the lounge,” he tells me, the toothbrush in his mouth. “I was pissed. And intimidated. You weren’t talking to me, and my pride was shot.”

I start brushing as he spits, and I meet his eyes in the mirror. “I was lying to you. I’m sorry, too.”

Omission is lying, and it was hurting us.  

I finish up and rinse, patting my mouth dry with a hand towel. When I enter the room, he’s dressed in a pair of lounge pants and sitting by the windows, smoke from a cigar billowing into the air above his head. It’s so funny. Damon quits, and everyone else starts.

I slip on some white panties and a matching cami, walking over and sliding into his lap. I throw my legs over the arm of his chair as he cradles me, and I rest my head on his shoulder, watching the black sea spread out before us.

“No matter the money or the meetings or the mayor’s office, Michael,” I tell him, “I’ll always be perpetually twelve. Searching for Trevor’s older brother in every room I enter.”

He never has to feel intimidated. Nothing is worth anything without him. I bury my head in his shoulder, his hold tightening around me.

“And I’m not wearing white to the wedding,” I say sweetly.

Just so we’re clear.

He snorts, and I smile, looking up to see him taking another drag.

“Yeah, me, either,” he teases.

I run my hand up his beautiful chest, tracing the dips and muscles, and then circling my arms around his neck again and kissing him there. Nothing has really changed in all this time. His smell is like my matchboxes. It feels like Christmas and the Fourth of July together.

“I love you.” I pause and then add, because I can’t help myself, “Mr. Fane.”

“Oh, Jesus, fuck,” he grumbles and sits up. “I need a drink.”

Huh? I hold tighter, damn-near falling off as he tries to get up from the chair.

“Off me, now,” he orders. “I need a drink, Rika. Many drinks.”

I slide to the floor, the carpet scraping against my ass. I wince. “Hey.”

He pops the cigar in this mouth, shaking his head, and storms for the door.

Rika Crist just doesn’t sound right. He’s going to lose this one.

“We only have a weeks’ supply of food on this boat!” I yell as he opens the door. “So don’t wait too long to come to terms with this!”

“Goodnight!” he barks. “I love you!”

And he leaves, the door slamming rather hard for someone who says he can’t live without me.

I stare after him, a slow laugh rolling through me.

One month. I’m ready. I’m ready for it all.

And I smile, excitement coursing through me as I reach for my notebook on the table to make notes for the wedding planner.


Thanks for reading!

F/F Work in Progress

Wednesday, October 30th, 2019

*This is a scene with a new set of characters (not related to any book) that I wrote for fun one day. This is a planned project for the future.


It’s better than a drug. This feeling swirling in my gut and my heart pounding like I’m dangling a hundred feet in the air, only holding on by a single hand.

She’s better than a drug.

I slouch in the wooden chair, tonguing the cut at the corner of my mouth as I glare past Father McNealty’s empty chair.

But all I see is her.

“If you ever come near me again,” Olivia Jaeger grits through her teeth in the chair next to mine. “I will cut you.”

I look over at her. The orange juice she threw at me stains her white Polo, because the stupid bitch took me to the ground in the lunch room and rolled us in the mess all over the floor. 

But I almost smile, seeing the tear in her sleeve. I fought back.

“Cut me?” I taunt, watching her as she watches me graze my hand up the inside of my thigh, dragging up my school skirt. “Where?”

I pretend to rub myself, moaning.

Her mouth twists into a snarl. “Cunt.”

I turn away, smiling to myself. Dyke.

Sitting up straight, I hold up my nails, inspecting the damage. It took three teachers to pull us off each other. My only regret is that she didn’t start this shit after school when we wouldn’t have been interrupted. I’m in every bit as good a shape as she is. This could’ve gone on for hours.

The second bell rings, and now we’re officially late for fifth period. Where the hell is he?

“They’re going to research it, you know?” Liv says, and I can see her looking at me out of the corner of my eye. “Find out were that video came from, and when I take this online with my receipts, the entire fucking world will be calling for your head.”

I pick at the chipped red nail polish. “And who will believe you?” I turn my head, meeting her dark eyes under her long, black lashes. “I’m Clay Collins.”

Blonde and just like a bomb. Everything the administration loves to parade around in their recruitment brochures.

Her eyes narrow.

I look her up and down. “And you’re a dumpster rat probably looking forward to a long and illustrious career turning tricks on the dirty floor of her shitty house.”

Olivia shoots out and grabs me by the back of my neck. I gasp.

I clutch the arms of the chair for support as she pulls us face to face, and I harden my jaw, looking into her eyes. The dark brown lights up with flecks of gold as she glares at me, and I can smell the peaches in her long black hair.  

My heart pounds so hard. Yes.

Like a fucking drug.

She stares at me with fury, and I brace myself for impact when I know I should pull away.

But I don’t want her to let me go.

This is what the fight felt like. Why I would do it a thousand times more just so I could fill up with something strong and smile once today and feel it.

I hate Olivia Jaeger. I fucking hate her, and I’d happily never love anything if I could hate her my whole life.

My eyes pool with tears, and I don’t know why.

But I don’t blink.

Come on. My chin trembles. Come on. I want this.

The juice she threw at me still drips from my skirt, and I close my eyes at the burn in my scalp where her fingers are curled into my hair under my pony tail. Come on. I open my mouth, feeling her everywhere. Almost tasting it.

Bitter but beautiful, like Valium on my tongue. That’s what she’s like.

I open my eyes, a tear spilling over, and I see her watching me, a mixture of anger and wariness in her eyes. Like she’s unsure about something.

A voice carries in from the office, and Livvy pushes me away, releasing me as the door to the headmaster’s office opens.

I shake my head as I sit back in my chair. Wimp.

“Father McNealty is held up with the mayor,” Mrs. Garrison tells us, remaining in the doorway. “He will speak to both of you in the morning, so don’t think you’re off the hook. Go to the locker room, change—”

I rise before she’s finished, grab my cell phone, and walk past the old bag.

“And get directly to class,” she yells after us as Liv and I walk through the office toward the door. “If I get another whiff of one more fight between you two, I’m calling your parents to pick you up!”

But we’re already in the hallway, the door swinging close behind us. I don’t turn around, and I don’t slow down, charging down the empty hallway as teachers drone on in their classrooms, and I descend the stairs, finding my way to the locker room.

Jaeger’s on my tail the entire time, though, and I feel her eyes on my back. I hope she jumps me again.

I hope she does.  

But she won’t. Her world doesn’t revolve around me. Getting expelled won’t get her out of the gutter, will it?

I push through the door, the offices and locker room empty as everyone is already outside. I charge for my locker and dial in the combination, throwing it open.

“Just had to be orange juice, didn’t it?” I gripe, pulling my black Polo off over my head. “Everything is sticky.”

It’s down in my goddamn socks. These saddle shoes are vintage. If she fucked them up, I’ll make sure not even her lowlife brothers can protect her.

 She digs in her locker—which is unfortunately in the same row, because Coach keeps lacrosse together—and I stalk over to the cabinet, pulling out a spare Polo.

“You know,” I tell her, fumbling with the clean shirt, “if you didn’t want everyone to see, then maybe you shouldn’t have been practically fucking her in public.”

“We weren’t fucking,” she growls, glaring at me. “As you, and everyone else, clearly saw. I guess if I didn’t want people filming, I shouldn’t have expected as much as some simple manners from a stupid, useless cow.”

I slip my arms into the shirt. Stupid, useless…  

But I pull it back off and throw it at her. “This should fit your fat tits. Take it.”

She catches it, and I yank another shirt out of the cabinet, making sure it’s a small.

She sets the shirt in her locker, checking her face in the mirror that hangs on the inside of the door. A trickle of dried blood coats the ridge of her ear, and I try not to look at she wipes it clean.

A tiny pang of guilt hits me, but I push it away. She made me bleed, too, didn’t she? It’s not my fault she has to trail metal up her ear with all her dumb piercings. She came at me first.  

I lick the cut at the corner of my mouth again, glancing over and watching her throw the bloody wipe on the ground, her lips twisted in anger.

But the fury is in her eyes, too.

The pinch between her brows and the upset in her jaw. I pause, confusion seeping through.

I wasn’t going to post the video. That wasn’t my plan originally. I mean she’s the stupid one. Who’s idiot enough to think anything we do is private anymore? Anyone could’ve seen them in that car this weekend. Why is she surprised?

She probably knew that chick for three whole seconds before she invited her into her backseat anyway. It’s not like it’s special.

Any more than the last one was.

I grind my teeth together and close my eyes, blinking long and hard.

Olivia kissed that girl everywhere. Like, everywhere.

I stare off into my locker, the bra like sandpaper on my skin.

I peel it off, dropping it to the floor.

I mean, if I did that with my boyfriend in a public place, I’d be a slut, right? I might even get into trouble, because sluts don’t represent Marymount at lacrosse games.

Marymount girls are good girls. We’re discreet.  

And n ow she knows.

I stand there, the air grazing my bare breasts as she fumbles in her locker.

She brushes down her blue, green, and black plaid skirt as chills spread across my body.

She tightens her high ponytail, fluffing up the messy hair and smoothing out the loose tendrils that hang around her ears, the posts and small rings there glinting in the lights as the flesh of my nipples hardens.

I can’t look at her, but I see everything.

She stops moving and lets her head fall, both of us breathing in sync.

“Why do you want me to hurt you?” she asks, her voice suddenly soft.

I don’t blink.

Why, she asks?


My chin trembles. Because…at least it’s something.

At least I have that.  

My brother’s picture hangs inside my locker door, and I absently rub my thumb over the faint, hidden tattoo on the inside of my middle finger. He would’ve been fourteen this month.

My insides shake, and I grab the prescription bottle, tapping out a ten-milligram blue pill. I pop it into my mouth, the bitter dust starting to dissolve on my tongue before I swallow.

I pull out a clean sports bra and pull it over my head.

“Where’d that bruise come from?” she asks.

I cock an eyebrow, stopping myself from wincing as the bra squeezes my ribcage under my arm where a nasty blue-green bruise about the size of a pancake swells.

“Answer me.”

“Well, it’s from you, isn’t it?” I fire back. I mean, duh. “You knocked me to the ground during practice on Monday. We’re on the same team, you know?”

Bitch slammed right into me, my stick nearly impaling me.

I meet her eyes, but she doesn’t say more. Yeah, that’s right. Our shit didn’t start with the video. You’ve had this coming.

I pull on my black Polo as she takes off her dirty one, and for a moment, I can’t take my eyes off her stomach. The contours are tight and smooth, but I turn away before she can see me look.

What does she do? Barter for tummy-tucks while the rest of us are starving ourselves?

Digging in her locker, she pulls something out and holds it to me.

I look over, seeing a package of wet wipes. I dart my glare back up to her.

“You want them or not?” she barks.

“Piss off.”

She walks over, pulling a wipe out of the pack and reaches for me.

But I swing my arm, knocking hers away.

“There’s a drop of blood on the back of your neck, dumbass,” she growls.

She pushes me back around and wipes at the blood, which I’m not sure is mine or hers, but if it’s on the back of my neck that would explain why I couldn’t see it.

Does she feel guilty about the bruise? It’s not like she should. I got her back. That video had eighty-five thousand views before I took it down at three this morning.

But by then it had already done it’s damage, hadn’t it? What’s on the Internet stays on the Internet somewhere.

Jesus, what did I do?

Tingles spread up my spine.

 She’s so warm. She’s not even touching me, but I can feel it.

And I hate it. I grab the package and the wet wipe out of her hand. “Just give it to me, Dyke.”

She slams her hand into the lockers, and I jump.

Bitch. I whip around to shove her away, but she grabs my wrists and spins me back around, fisting my hair and stuffing my head into my locker.


But my stomach somersaults, and… I almost want to smile. Oh, God. Planting my hands on the lockers, I get ready to push back against her, but she’s already backing off. Her grip loosens, and I feel her hands drop to my waist, her fingers digging in.

“It’s going to take every ounce of pull I have to protect you,” she says in my ear. “You know that?”

Protect me?

“Once my brothers find out what you did,” she warns, “their women will rebuild your fucking face, Collins.”

“I’m not scared of Tryst Six,” I say over my shoulder.

My father eats that side of town for breakfast.

But then I hear the click of her blade behind me.

And I stop breathing.


She won’t do it.

“Take out your phone,” she tells me.

“What for?”

I turn around, meeting her eyes, both us almost the same height.

Her arm hangs at her side, the blade in her hand. “Do it.” She cocks her head, calm. “I’m sure you have notifications by now.”


What did she do?

I quickly turn around and grab my phone out of the locker, turning it back on.

It lights up, loads, and in a moment, I hear dings and see tabs pop up.

Clicking on one, I watch as YouTube loads, my heart pounding hard as the same video I posted—and deleted—starts playing. The jewelry in Olivia’s ear glimmers in the moonlit, and her black T-shirt makes her slender neck look warm and tan as she bends it back for the girl to kiss.

The account is registered to Vaudevillian Vix—not me—and it already has seven thousand views.  

No, no, no…

I shoot my eyes up to her. “What did you do?”

“You wanted it up, so it’s back up.”

“But I took it down,” I growl.

Goddammit, I took it down. I look back at my phone, scrolling the comments. Why would she do this? When did she do this? Before the fight? After?

“They won’t trace it back to you,” she assures, walking back to her locker and tossing the knife in. “It came from my phone.”

So why repost it then if not to screw me over?

“Take it down.” I charge over to her. “Take it down now.”

I don’t want people se…

“You’re not scared of Tryst Six?” She fixes her lip gloss in the mirror, extra red against her black shirt and black hair. “Well, I’m not scared of you, baby. Do what you will. Leave it up. Forever if it gets you off.” She turns and looks at me. “Every degrading comment and joke is for your pleasure, so enjoy it.”

Son of a bitch. What did I do? I knew this would happen. It would get saved before I had a chance to get it down, and now I can’t stop it.

I push her aside and pull her phone out of her locker. “Take it down now.” I hold her phone out to her, but before she can take it, I pull it back and swipe the screen, trying to do it myself. “Unlock this!” I yell at her. “Goddamn it, Jaeger!”

She pushes me back into the locker and grabs her phone, but I launch forward and shove her ass back.

“Scared now?” she taunts. “Huh? Feel violated when you’ve lost control of your property? How does that feel?”

I raise my hand, pointing in her face and shouting, “Take it down!”

But she grabs my wrists and twists them behind me, and I whimper at the ache as she backs me up into the lockers again.

“Because why?” she whispers in my face. “Say it. Say it. You’re afraid, aren’t you?”

I shake my head. She presses her forehead into mine hard, but I push back, giving as good as I get while I try to wrangle my hands free.

“You’re afraid, because your life is sad, and you want to gut anything that’s different.” Her breath falls on my lips, and I feel a light layer of sweat cover my back. “Anything that makes you feel strong, because at least it’s not dull, and it’s too painful not to feel, isn’t it? You’re afraid of me, because some day you’re going to wake up and remember that that video is still there, but I’m not, am I? I’m gone, living, and you’re not, because your brain is still in the fucking gutter.”

A sob lodges in my throat, and my body shakes.

She shakes her head at me. “You’re just afraid.”

“I’m not afraid,” I tell her. “I’m…”

But I swallow, pushing the word back down my throat.


Tears fill my eyes, and I tighten every muscle in my body, forcing myself to get my shit together.

But I’m lost. She’s holding me, and I’m lost.

She stares at me, her eyebrows pinching together as something crosses her face and she watches me.

I clench my fists behind me as our noses brush and I hover a moment from her lips. “Livvy, I…”

My mouth rests open, the need to feel her overtaking me. I can’t…

I can’t…

I can’t stand it. I catch her mouth, our lips open and paused on each other, just feeling her as both us stop breathing.


And then, all at once, we’re in the shit.  

She releases my hands, and we both grab onto each other as she pushes me into the lockers again, our arms and hands wrapping around one another as her mouth sinks into mine.

I moan. Oh, God.

Our legs thread together, the heat between her thighs hitting my center, and she slips her hands under my skirt, squeezing my ass through my panties as we go at each other, kissing and nibbling.

I lick her tongue and groan, kissing her hard and fierce and closing my eyes, because everything is spinning, and my body is on a roller coaster. I’m fucking flying right now.

She lifts my leg, and we’re gone. Grinding and panting as I slip my hand up her shirt, pulling down her strap, so I can get my hand inside her bra. She dives down to my neck, and I tip my head back, letting her have it all. I want her. I want to feel her and kiss her and touch her everywhere.

Our lips come back together, again and again, eating each other up frantically. I brush her nipple, and my clit throbs.

“You gotta be fucking kidding me,” she whispers, shaken. “Are you kidding me right now?”

I know, okay? I know. I wasn’t afraid. I was…

Jealous. I’ve wanted this since we were freshman, and that first day we met, before the fighting started.

And when I knew she liked me, I had to make her hate me. All these years…

She brings one hand up, grabbing the back of my neck and taking my bottom lip between her teeth. I pause, savoring the fire blazing inside my body.  

Our foreheads meet again. “We have to stop,” I murmur.

I fumble and squirm, trying to push her away, damn near in tears because I’m aching for this. I don’t want to let her go.

But she doesn’t let me. “No,” she bites out in a whisper. Her mouth crashes down on mine again, and I can’t fight. I hold her head, soaking up how soft she is. How beautiful she smells and how hot her mouth is.

I barely notice as she lifts up my skirt and yanks down my panties just enough to bare my sex, but then she fiddles with her own clothes between us, and in a moment, she’s on me. Her pussy rubs against mine, and I pull away from her mouth to moan as she grinds on me, the friction of our skin agonizing.

Agonizing but perfect. It’s hot and wet and…

She grips my ass, her head dipped into my shoulder as I wrap my arms around her neck and meet her rhythm, both of us fucking against the lockers.

I’m consumed. This is what it feels like.

This is what right feels like. It was always wrong before. Kissing someone. Letting them touch me. I never had that burn low in my belly.

I was never hungry.

Until her.

I sink into her mouth again, kissing, sucking, tasting…

At least there’s this.

I thought hating her was enough. If I couldn’t have this, at least I had her attention. Even if it was bad.

At least I could destroy what I was going to lose anyway in five months when we graduated, and I couldn’t look at her every day anymore.

But God, I do hate her. Her smile and her pink lips. The way she smudges her dumb eyeliner, making her eyes look smoky and captivating, and her wild hair that always looks like it flew through the wind before she put up in a ponytail.

Her olive skin, how her bracelets make music every time she moves, her chipped black nail polish, and those stupid biker boots with all the buckles she wears that make her legs so hard not to look at.

The way she rolls her skirt up, and I can’t pay attention in Calculus.

I hate it all. How every part of her looks like it has a taste.

I whimper as our pace gets faster, and I feel and hear her breathe hard, in and out as the friction turns heavenly.

And this isn’t even all we can do to each other.

“God,” I pant.

She hovers over my mouth. “Come to my shitty house tonight,” she demands. “Sweat with me between the sheets, huh?”

I nod. “Yeah.”

I want to sneak out. Into a dark place with Olivia Jaeger and do things.

But then a voice pierces the air. “Oh, I know!” someone says.

I pop my eyes open, stopping. What? 

Giggles and laughter follow, and I hear the creak of the locker room door.

Oh, shit. Ice courses down my veins as everything goes cold. This can’t…

I can’t…


Another voice follows. “And then he was like…”


I push at Olivia. “Get off me.”

She stumbles back, and I reach under my skirt, pulling up my panties.

Jesus Christ. I’m just a world of stupid today, aren’t I? Anyone could’ve seen us.

I step back over to my locker, avoiding Liv’s gaze as I check myself in the mirror, righting my clothes again and tightening my pony tail.

I see the wet wipes on the floor and kick the package back over to her.

Sweat seeps out of my pores as girls round the corner just in time, and I look up, seeing Amy Thornton and Krysten Tyler.

They stop, bags slung over their shoulders as their eyes dart from me to Olivia, noticing us tehre.

“Oh, hey,” Amy says.

Both of them stare at Live, struggling to contain their smiles until they finally break down in laughter like the cats that just ate the canary. Another punch of guilt hits me about the video. I cast a glance at Olivia and see her ignoring all of us as she as she pulls on a short black military jacket.

She won’t meet my eyes.

“Are you okay?” Krysten asks me, giving my back a sympathetic brush of her hand as she passes to her locker.

The knots in my stomach start to ease. I don’t think anyone saw us. The last time they saw me was when I was walked with Jaeger to the front office after the fight.

It takes a moment, but I let out a scoff. “Are you kidding?” I steel my spine and swipe my finger under my eye, fixing my eye liner. “Nothing is tastier than a piece of cake.”

They both laugh at my jibe, and I dart my eyes up again, finally catching Olivia’s.

Her head is turned toward me, staring at me with a mixture of pride and… wrath.

Like the threat of a secret. Our secret.

Someone clears their throat, and I blink, seeing Amy turned toward Olivia.  

“Would you mind?” Amy asks her.

Livvy looks over her shoulder at her.

“I don’t feel comfortable changing in front of you,” Amy explains.

I clench my jaw.

But Livvy remains silent.

It’s on the tip of my tongue to dull the embarrassment for Liv and tell Amy no one wants to look at her pancake nipples, but…

I don’t. Livvy stands there for a moment, as if waiting for something, but I just ignore her and finish touching up my face.

Her locker door slams closed, and I jerk, seeing her move out of the corner of my eye and walk toward me.  

She strolls past, knocking my shoulder with hers as she goes. “Don’t cross the tracks.”

And then she’s gone, her threat hanging in the air as the locker room fills with the P.E. class coming in.

I almost laugh. I have no plans to cross the tracks into her sector.

Until, of course, the senior scavenger hunt this weekend. She’ll have all night to finish that fight during Night Tide if she wants.

And if she can find me.


*Thank you for reading. Hope you love what’s to come!

Birthday Girl Halloween Scene!

Wednesday, October 30th, 2019

*This scene takes place a couple months after Pike comes to get Jordan from the motel but before he proposes to her on the four wheelers. She’s back in college and living in his house.


I love this car. I grab my water bottle and the receipts I’d stuffed into the drink holder, fold back my visor, and take my backpack from the passenger’s seat.  I step out of the new Chevy Blazer Pike bought me.

I mean, bought us.

Technically us. That’s the story he’s sticking to anyway.  

I swing my backpack over my shoulder and head for the garage, turning around to walk backwards as I gaze at my new car, dark red with black wheels. I smile. It just matches the leaves falling from the trees on the sidewalk, perfectly complimenting the Jack-o-Lanterns on the curb. I want to jump up and down at how pretty it is.

And then I roll my eyes at myself and toss the garbage into the recycle bin as I turn back around.

Pike still drives that old, beat-up truck, and while this new car is nice for ‘nights out or road trips’ like he said, I know he bought it for me. Safe and reliable, he’d said.

Because I can’t take care of myself, and I’m just one expense after another for this guy. Not that he gives any impression it bothers him. I just don’t want people thinking he’s my meal ticket. He gives me so much, and I just…

I catch movement to my right and stop, looking out over at Kyle Cramer’s house. His screen door swings open and Cam steps out, him trailing behind her as she laughs at something.

My shoulders fall as I freeze. Shit.

Her long hair shines in the light, and she slips her hands into her dark, skinny jean pockets, her skin exposed in her off-the-shoulder shirt as she turns to look at him. He has a towel wrapped around his waist as he uses another one to dry the back of his head. She leans in and kisses him, long and slow, moving over his mouth soft and passionate.

Like a promise of more to come.

Like how I kissed Pike in the shower this morning.

I dart my eyes over my shoulder, scanning the neighborhood for noses stuck or their windows or peeled-back drapes.

Cam heads toward me, and Kyle disappears into his house again.   

“Hey!” she says, smiling.

But I’m not smiling. “What are you doing?” 

Her face falls, and she straightens, rolling up her sleeves. “You know I’m been trying to fit in more cardio, Jordan.”

But her joke doesn’t breach me. Cardio? We go to the gym for that.

“Seriously, Cam,” I whine. “The whole neighborhood is already whispering about what a tart I am behind my back, and you’re only adding fuel to it.”

“Tart?” She looks at me, amused.

Yes, tart! Ever since Pike brought me home from Virginia, word has certainly gotten around. They’re sleeping together! How long has it been going on? She’s doing it, because Cole dumped her. What kind of man wouldn’t lose control with THAT living in the house? Poor guy—her attention will certainly cost him a few bucks.

I mean, Jesus. Almost no one understands our relationship or how we have anything to talk about, so of course, they assume it comes down to sex and money.

I walk toward the kitchen door in the garage, finding the door key.  

Cam chases after me. “Don’t put me in a bad mood. I just spent a very enjoyable afternoon next door, getting—”

“Lalalalalalala…” I sing to drown her out as I unlock the door.

Picturing Kyle Cramer getting exactly what he wants from my sister aggravates me. He doesn’t deserve her.

“And I am not going to feel guilty,” she goes on over my singing, “just because the Northridge Housewives are jealous.”

I throw her a look and push through the door, hitting the button to close the garage on my way in.

She adjusts her sweater and lifts her chin. “If they had a lick of sense, they’d take a few notes from me, drop to their knees, and give their men something to watch tonight other than the TV.”

Oh, for God’s sake…

But I honestly don’t know why I’m worried. Or angry. Cramer isn’t evil. I still watch his kids here and there—partly because I love watching Pike with them, but…

I don’t know. He’s sleazy, and he likes to mess with her head at the strip club. Making her give his friends dances or paying other dancers to get on him when he knows she’s watching.

But it’s Cam and not me, and Cam is different.   

She approaches, softening her voice. “Stop worrying, okay?” she pleads. “I’m already growing bored with him.”

Well, thank God. I’m sleeping with the single dad here, she’s sleeping with the single dad there. We’ll get reps.

I plop down at the kitchen table, letting out a deep breath. I’m overreacting. 

“Why are you so worried about everything lately?” she asks.

Why? It takes a moment to find my words, but with my sister, I know I can just be straight.

“He pays for everything,” I mumble what’s really bothering me. “My education, the new car, allllllll the bills…”

I went back to Grounders last month, but with school and his unpredictable work schedule, we hated being apart any more than necessary.

So I quit, and he was beyond thrilled. He supports us entirely.    

Cam pulls out the chair and sits down next to me. “You’re his future, and he’s investing in it,” she tells me. “Your college debt would be his as your husband anyway. What’s the difference if he helps you now or gets saddled with your debt later?”

“Husband?” I laugh, even though flutters hit my stomach. “Slow down now.”

“Oh, please.” She levels me with a sarcastic gaze. “He closes his eyes when he kisses your forehead, for Christ’s sake. He’s not letting you go. Ever.”

He closes his eyes? Really? My cheeks warm.

“You’ve made his house a home,” she continues, “you love him, you’re honest, loyal, and genuine, and you’re completely devoted to him. He’s the luckiest man in the world and he damn-well knows it.”

I chew the inside of my lip to keep the tears away. Leave it to Cam to put things in perspective. I love him good, don’t I? It’s enough?

“Those bitches had their chance.” She tries to pinch my cheek, but I swat her hand away. “They’re just bitter that a kid was smarter than them and snatched him up while they were snoring.”

Yeah, okay.

Part of me still feels like Pike will wake up and realize he’s taken a step backward in life and want someone his own age.

But she made me feel a little better. I’m doing my best. I know that much. It won’t be like this forever. I’ll graduate, get a job, and contribute more.

Cam rises and adjusts her jeans. “Now I have to go get my Puddin’ and get ready,” she says. “I’m the Harley to his Joker tonight. Woohoo.”

Oh, that’s right. Halloween. Pike and I won’t be home tonight, so I can’t pass out candy. I’ll leave some candy on the porch. Hopefully the teenagers don’t take it all.

I walk over and dig a bag out of one of the cabinets, opening it. I pull out a handful of chocolate and quickly stick it into a baggie.

I give it to my sister. “Give him his first candy of the night from me,” I tell her. “And have fun.”

She takes the baggie but notices something and stops, picking up my costume on the hanger as it lays draped over the island bar stool.

“Yeah, you, too,” she says and holds up the costume, looking at me.

 I shrug. What?

It’s the Little Red Riding Hood costume from the movie, Trick ‘r Treat.

She starts to move her body, moaning and rolling her eyes into the back of her head. “Oh, Grandmother,” she pants. “What.. a big… dick you have!”

Her mock sex sounds fill the house as she thrusts against my costume, and I grab a cookie from the plate on the counter and throw it at her, snatching my outfit out of her hands.

She rears back, shielding herself from any more attacks as she laughs.


“See yaaaaa,” she teases.

And then she turns and leaves.

I hold up my costume and look at it. I’m pretty sure Pike won’t be wearing his, but it doesn’t matter.

Wearing this tonight, I’ll have plenty to fear from him anyway.

And I can’t wait.


My hair blows, and I look up at the night sky, spotting the dark clouds even at night. I hold a small basket of snacks, the air caressing my chest through the thin fabric of my short-sleeved, low-cut peasant blouse. I wore a red cape for public.

And no bra under the thin, white shirt for Pike in private.

I look over, seeing him approach with a picnic blanket under one arm as he slips his car keys into his jean’s pocket and heads for the entrance where I stand. He had to work late, so we decided to meet here.

I smile, laughing under my breath. His long-sleeved gray T-shirt peeks out from the bottom of his black pull over jacket.  God, he’s so hot.

But no costume, I guess.  

He shakes his head at me, clearly seeing my expression. “You know I love you…”

“And I love how predictable you are,” I tease, coming in and wrapping an arm around him. “It’s okay.”

He was supposed to dress as Principal Wilkins from the same movie I’m dressing from. I guess he decided the suit and glasses was just too silly, but I couldn’t care less. I’m still calling him Principal Wilkins.

All night long.

He slides an arm around my waist and lifts me up. I press my lips hard to his, just holding him and breathing him in. I love how he smells. Like wood and wind and warmth.

I suddenly want to be somewhere where I don’t have to let him go.

“And I’m loving this,” he says, looking down at my outfit as he sets me back on the ground. “You sure you want to see a movie?”

I catch the insinuation in his tone and toss him a look. We’re not going home. Yet.

“It’s supposed to rain,” he quickly explains. “We could watch it at home.”

I laugh again, threading my fingers through his and walking us both into the park.

“Nuh uh,” I tell him. “We’ve been cooped up long enough.”

Between my second year of college starting and that site two towns over he’s been working on, we’ve been busy. If he’s not working and I’m not studying, then we’re too wrapped up in each other to make it out of the house much.


I don’t know. It feels like something else is holding us back, too, and it could be my paranoia stemming from why I left last June, but I can’t help but feel like he’s still nervous sometimes.

Like they can’t judge us if they can’t see us? We go to the store together, Home Depot, the movies, but…if we go out to eat, he makes some excuse to try a new place in the next town or grab take-out instead and have a picnic. Which is awesome. I haven’t complained.

But still, we’re not going home yet.  

We head through the park—the open, wide lawn spreading before us has a huge blow up screen already set up and a sea of people—couples and families—parked on the grass with their blankets and coolers. It’s after nine, so trick or treating is done, and kids run around, ready to see a classic horror movie. Albeit a PG one.

The surrounding trees hug the crowd in shadows as Pike leads me over to the concession stands. “Two, please,” he says to the kid and then looks down at me. “Butter?”

I nod.

“Both with butter,” he orders.

Poltergeist is showing tonight, and the screen plays a bunch of retro movie trailers as everyone finishes trailing in, getting their snacks, and getting seated. As soon as I heard which movie was playing, I knew we had to come tonight. It was the date we almost made the first time we met watching Evil Dead last May. It was the date he tried to make a month later when I left his house—and his bed—and ran far away, because I knew if I stayed, I wouldn’t be able to resist wanting to be with him.  

Two months later, he came and got me, and now, more than two months after that, we’re inseparable unless we have to be. I wake up with him, I go sleep with him, and I get to touch him anytime I want. He’s always looking at me, never goes anywhere except work without me, and for some reason, doesn’t think I know how to undress myself for bed every night, so he helps with that, too.

Such… a sweetie.

I feel his eyes on me, and I look up, seeing his downcast gaze scowling at my breasts. I look down at them bulging out of the top, the cool air coaxing my nipples through the fabric. He pulls my cape closed, and I laugh to myself.

We pay for our popcorn and Pike takes both cups, both of us heading for the lawn.

But then suddenly, Dutch is there. We stop, seeing him exit the line next to us, grumbling, “They’re not serving.” He rolls his eyes at us. “Some bullshit about being family-friendly. Beer is the reason I am friendly to my family.”

He walks off and Pike lets out a small laugh.

We watch Dutch head back to his family, and Pike and I start to move.

But then I hear my name.


We halt again.

I turn my head, following the voice, and see my Mr. Jarchow holding a tray of nachos with two sodas tucked in his arm.

My old principal. Not nearly as good looking as Pike wouldn’t been as one but still a good guy.

“Mr. Jarchow.” I reach up for a quick hug.

Pike releases my hand as I do, and I pause but shake it off.

I come back, looking at my old high school principal. His light brown hair has turned dusty, and he looks like he hasn’t been home from his workday yet, still wearing the same kind of slacks and shirts he wore to school when I attended, minus the tie. But who are we kidding? The tie was always gone by lunch period anyway.  

“How are you doing, sweetie?” he asks.

“Good,” I tell him. “I’m in my second year at Doral State.”


“Landscape design.”

He snaps his fingers. “I knew it.”

I laugh. Yeah, I was the President of the Garden Club. Not a difficult feat, though, when we only had three members.

Mr. Jarchow’s eyes gleam at me but then they rise, seeing something behind me, and his lips turn tight. “Pike?” He nods in greeting. “How’s it going?”

“Joey.” Pike reaches out his hand.

“Joey?” I repeat, turning to Jarchow. “May I call you Joey now that you’re no longer my principal?”

He laughs under his breath, but he looks straight at Pike when he says, “And no longer your fifth-grade teacher or your eighth-grade science teacher. Why not? You’re an adult now.”

I force the smile to stay on my face, but it’s a struggle, because I can hear the disdain in his voice.  

“Legally, anyway,” he adds as an afterthought.

 I close my eyes for a moment.

So I guess he knows. Pike and he are about the same age. One is in love with me and the other raised me, in a way that teachers do. Well, this is awkward.

And Jarchow isn’t pretending otherwise.  

Thankfully, Pike keeps his cool.

“You know, watching you grow up,” Jarchow says, “I always knew you’d do something creative career-wise.” His look is gentle and fatherly again. “It’s good to hear I wasn’t wrong.”

His heart-felt demeanor never failed. He’s one of the people I was lucky to have during those years.

But I can’t feel or hear Pike’s breathing next to me, which tells me he isn’t.

“Well, have fun,” I tell Jarchow.

“You, too, sweetie.”

And he walks off, carrying his food to his three daughters seated not far away.

Pike takes my hand again and leads us off, but I can see the silent rage all over his face.

“It wasn’t that bad.” I clutch his hand. “He saw me grow up. It’s weird to know I’m dating someone…”

“His age?” Pike finishes for me.

But I can tell he’s aggravated. Mr. Jarchow just became principal five years ago, and he and Pike clearly knew each other well. Jarchow probably taught Cole.

“Dating…” Pike shakes his head as we walk, my word not sitting well for some reason.

“You sure you don’t want to go home?” Pike teases, laying out the blanket. “We could make out.”

I snort, setting the basket down. We can make out later. We will make out later.

Oingo Boingo’s Dead Man’s Party plays on the screen, and I look up, seeing Bentley with a few other people I know. He waves, and I wave back, the couples all laughing and joking together. I saw them less after high school but still at the bar sometimes. When I worked there.

I turn around to sit and meet Pike’s eyes, his gaze darting quickly between my high school friends and me before he looks away again, fixing the blanket. I don’t need those friends. We weren’t close anymore anyway.

But seeing the couples together makes me realize Pike and I don’t really have mutual friends, do we? At least not yet.  

“You know, I was thinking…” he says, taking my hand and pulling me down into his arms. “You’re going to need an internship senior year, right?”


“Well, if you want…” He threads a lock of my hair through his fingers. “De Kalb is coming in to assess the property next week. You should be with me during the walk-through. Start networking.”

I smile wide. Really? De Kalb is a major developer. I mean, interning with them would open so many doors, especially since we don’t live in a metropolitan area.

“Convince your mom to let me host either Thanksgiving or Christmas, and I’ll be with you during any walk-throughs you want.”

He gives me a little snarl. “Fine, but if I have to eat a tofurkey, I will never have your back in front of her again.”

Whatever. His mom likes my cooking. She’s just a control freak about the holidays and loves for her house to be home-base for all the family. Fine by me, but I’m cooking.

“You had tofurkey in the tetrazzini last week,” I retort. “And you didn’t notice.”

“What?” He grabs me and digs his fingers into my waist.

I jerk, squealing at the tickle.

“Excuse me?” he plays, feigning anger. He tickles more, and I giggle as I try to squirm away from him.

But he pulls me back into his chest, both of us calming. “Actually, I did notice. I just didn’t say anything.”


He tosses me a look, and I try to hold back my smile. I’m not really changing what he eats on purpose, but if I’m cooking dinner that night, then he’ll eat what I eat.

We look at each other, holding each other’s eyes, and before I can help it, my gaze drops to his lips. Smooth and strong and have touched almost every inch of my body. They even have their favorite places on me.

And suddenly, I can’t stop the heat rising to my cheeks. There’s no one around us, we’re in our bedroom, and everything is in slow-motion. Our breathing quickens, and just as the lights around the field suddenly extinguish and the crowd cheers for the movie about to begin, his mouth lands on mine, and we kiss.

He doesn’t use this tongue at first. Just cups my face as I tilt my head back and dive into our own little world. I love him so much. These stupid little kinks we continue to work out are nothing compared to this and how well he loves me. His tongue touches mine, and I’m on fire, almost sorry we came tonight after all.

But even after the movie later, I know we won’t make it home before we have to pull over somewhere. I’ll just have fun with the foreplay until then.

He snaps the ruffled band on my shirt at my cleavage. “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?” he asks in a whisper.

I grin as I settle back against him and he kisses my temple. “A little.”

Like yesterday morning when I made him breakfast in my underwear and half-shirt.

But then when he insisted I sit in his lap to eat my breakfast, it was my fault when he wanted something other than his own food. He’d pulled me back against him like this, stuck his hand down the front of my panties, and fingered me before he went to work. I’ll happily take those punishments for taunting him.  

A breeze picks up, sweeping through the crowd, and people fumble to keep their blankets on the ground. Ours picks up, and I dart over, away from Pike for a moment to dig a soda can out of the basket and plant it down on the blanket to hold it down. 

“Pike?” a woman exclaims.

I look up and see a brown-haired woman in jeans, a tight pink Henley, and cat ears standing a few feet away. She holds out her hands, fixing a look of surprise on her face.

“Oh, my God, hey!” she says, charging over with her shiny, straight hair cropped to the shoulders and her eye make-up flawless.

Pike rises, and I still.

“Dee,” he says, both of them embracing. “Jesus…”

I stand up, immediate insecurities rising, but I push them away. She pulls back, and I watch as her hands drift down to his upper arms, holding him. I narrow my eyes.

“What’s it been?” She looks him about and down. “Fifteen years?”

“Just about.”

A gleam hits her eyes. “You know, I convinced myself every boy I went to school with was some beer-bellied, baldy by now,” she goes on, “and that was incentive enough to stay away from this town, but here you are, looking like someone I’m going to develop a teenage crush on before the night is over.”

He laughs nervously, and I stand there, waiting for him to introduce us, but neither of them looks at me.

“How are you?” she asks. “Not married, right?”

And then she grabs his left hand, to check for a ring, I presume. She sighs in relief, seeing his hand is bare. “Oh, thank God.

Pike takes a step back, and her arms fall away finally. “Are you still living in Arizona?” he asks.

“Yes, but it’s so fucking hot—still.” She laughs, and I go to fold my arms over my chest in aggravation but stop myself. “I needed a more cooperative temperature to feel festive. I’m just back for the weekend.” And then she fixes him with a look. “Long enough to break your heart if you let me.”

Um, no. The image of two high school friends falling in bed together, getting all hot after years of pent up sexual attraction makes my stomach roll. I let my eyes drift up and down her body. She’s pretty.  

I visibly turn my head to Pike, and he finally looks over at me.

So does she. As if I just appeared out of nowhere.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she says, wincing. “Excuse me, sweetie. You didn’t hear me swear.” She playfully puts her hands over my ears. “My bad.”

Excuse me? I fist my skirt at my sides.

She pulls her hands away, shaking her head at herself. “She looks exactly like you,” she tells Pike. “I knew about Cole, of course, but I didn’t know you had a girl, too.”

My stomach sinks. Oh, my God.   

Pike is dead silent for a few moments, and when I finally open my eyes, he chokes out a laugh. “You’re so funny,” he says. “Dee, this is my, um…” He swallows, forcing the word out. “Girlfriend, Jordan Hadley.” And then he looks at me. “Jordan, this is Deanna Mansano. We graduated together.”

I exhale. Fucking finally. Was that so hard?

I hold out my hand as Dee looks between the two of us, her eyes wide. Hopefully, she’s not appalled at anything but her own assumptions.  

“Hey,” she finally says, taking my hand. “Wow, I’m so sorry. Nice to meet you.”

“You, too.”

I can still see the shock playing on her face as she probably reprocesses everything she just said that I was right in front of her to hear.

“And he’s being kind,” she tells me, finally recovering. “I barely graduated.”

There’s an awkward silence, but she holds out her hand, gesturing to both of us. “You should both come to Red’s with us after the movie,” she tells us, looking at Pike. “You and I can catch up, see some of the old crew, and I’m sure you won’t have to guard the door while I pee this time.”

I glance at Pike.

He nods, remembering. “Dutch ripped the doors off the stalls when someone gave him a sugar cube that he thought was only a sugar cube.”

They laugh, sharing in the memory.

She knows Dutch, too. An emptiness settles inside me, but it hurts.

Of course, she would know him. If she grew up here, she’s known Pike and everyone else a lot longer than I have.

Pike’s eyes look happily lost in thought for a moment. “I forgot all about that night.”

“You were my hero.” She touches his fucking arm again. “You should come, though. Both of you.”

He looks over at me. “Actually, I have work early in the morning,” he tells her. “Wish I could. Thank you, though.”

He has the day off tomorrow. I can’t go into the bar, because I’m too young, and he doesn’t want to tell her that.

“Well,” she trails off, looking a little disappointed. “It was nice to see you. You both have a good night.” She starts to move away, but she looks back at me. “And I’m sorry again for my mistake. I’m drunk. And an idiot.”

I force a small smile. I guess I can’t blame her. She’s interested. Who wouldn’t be?

And at least she backed off once she realized her mistake.

She leaves, and Pike and I stand there for a moment, watching her walk back to her friends.

Their friends.

“She’s only in town for the weekend,” I remind him. “You could go and hang out with your friends.”

I trust him, even though the idea ties my stomach into knots. What if he realizes what he’s missing? Conversations with someone on his level. Someone mature. Someone that’s maybe done wanting kids and has been a few places and had a few experiences. 

But he just replies, “They’re not my friends, Jordan. Don’t worry about it.”

And he sits back down.

The movie starts, and I reluctantly join him, but not in his arms.

And he doesn’t reach for me, either.

What the hell is happening? Is this on me or him? I’m not sure if I’m mad or mad that he’s mad.

I let out a breath. I guess he had a point about keeping us secluded the past couple of months. Jarchow pissed him off, and Deanna unnerved him. Deanna unnerved me. I wasn’t jealous of Lindsey, mostly because Pike seems to dislike her vehemently.

But Pike has good memories with Dee. A history. Something I don’t really have with him yet.

And my God…I do not look like him. She just humiliated him. Us.


But he shakes his head. “Just watch the movie, baby.”

He fiddles with my cape, putting it over my legs to cover me against the chill, and I fall silent. We sit there, the movie playing, but I don’t think either of us is watching. The popcorn sits uneaten, as well as the snacks in the basket.

I drop my eyes, doubt swamping me. What’s he thinking?

We burned hot for a few amazing months, but reality is seeping in, and he’s going to start seeing this as a step back.

I’m not what he needs. This doesn’t make him happy.

A joke passes in the film. We’re silent. A scare pops up, we don’t react.

We shouldn’t have come tonight. This was a bad idea. Another bad idea from me and my stupid expectations.

Only now, I’m scared. I can’t lose him. I walked away once, but… I can’t walk away again. I don’t want anything more than I want him, and if he ever not wanted me anymore, I’d…

“What’s wrong?” I hear him ask.

The movie plays, the breeze quickens, and I blink at the sudden break in silence, seeing him leaning back on his hands out of the corner of my eye.

He knows what’s wrong. I can barely manage more than a whisper, because my throat is filling with tears. “I love you more than anything.”

He doesn’t move, and if he were home, and I were sad, he’d pull me into his arms. But he can’t do that now. Which is probably good.

“You’re embarrassed,” I tell him.


“You’re embarrassed.”

He doesn’t hesitate long. “I’m not.”

The leaves on the trees rustle, and the blow-up movie screen sways, pulling at its stakes in the ground.

“I just wanted us to get out for the night,” I tell him, pushing my hair out of my face to look at him. “We never go anywhere really public. You didn’t even want to say I was your girlfriend.”

“Like you rushed over to invite your friends over here or drag us over there?” he snaps back. “I mean you’re not at all afraid of what they’ll think, I guess.”

A crack of thunder pierces the air, and I feel a drop of rain hit my arm. But I barely register the commotion around us as people start chattering and rising from their seats.

So he thinks I’m the one who’s embarrassed?

“The rain’s starting.” He sits up and pushes himself to his feet. “Let’s go.”

I rise. “I was thinking of you,” I tell him. “Your comfort.”

He leans down, pulling up the blanket and forcing me off.

 “Because you worry too much what people think,” I go on. “You just stood there while Jarchow acted like an ass.”

“He acted like I was a child molester, Jordan!” he whisper-yells, glaring at me.

My spine goes steel-rod straight. I thought we’d settled this. We’re not doing anything wrong.

But he apparently hasn’t gotten over it, and I knew. I knew this was a problem last June, and it’s still a problem for him.  

I glare at him. “I told you. Didn’t I tell you? Why did you even come for me in Virginia?”

Pain hits his eyes, but he doesn’t answer me. 

“People think you only want me for… That I’m good for one thing, because what else would you want from a bubblehead nineteen year old? Are they right?”

“Are you serious?” he growls, breathing hard as he inches closer. “You know that’s not true. You’re overreacting.”

“Yes, teenagers do that.” I dip down and swipe up the basket and popcorns, tossing them in the trash.

He shakes his head, like I’m oh-so-immature. “Let’s just go.”

“I have my car.”

“Leave it!” he barks.

But I charge off, following the crowd to the parking lot. Maybe he’s right. Maybe I’m overreacting.

But it seems I’m telling myself that a lot lately. Like today with Cam.

I never want to let him go, but what if this isn’t the life he wants? It would kill me to make him unhappy.

Am I making him happy? Is this too hard?

“Jordan?” he calls after me.

“I need to be alone.”


I whip around, fat drops of rain hitting me now as people go running to their cars. “I need to be alone.”

Why are people so awful? What makes them have any right to judge us? I just wanted a night out. We should be able to do that. I should be able to walk out of the house in the morning without the neighbors looking at me like Pike is keeping a dirty, little secret inside.

Rain pummels the gravel lot, kicking up dust and drenching my hair as I whip open the car door and put the basket inside. Untying my cape, I remove it and toss that inside, as well.

“I’m not embarrassed,” Pike says, throwing the blanket into the back of the truck. “I’m pissed off.”

I stand in my open door, watching him over my shoulder.

“I wasn’t hiding you or embarrassed by you,” he explains, anger creasing his brow. “I was hiding us.”

Rain soaks my clothes and hits my mouth as cars peel off around us, getting their kids home.

“I’m fucking happy,” he barks.

The words my make heart fly, but the rage on his face and the harsh tone of the words almost make me laugh.

“I’m fucking happy, and I hate everything they don’t see in you,” he tells me. “Looking at us like they know what goes on between us when they know nothing!”

I turn around slowly, watching him—his eyes intense and piercing me.

“Of how I’m ten times more entranced and obsessed with you—your whispers in the morning, the sight of you in my house, the feel of you in my arms, your smile, and your body than I’ve been with all of the women in my life combined,” he says. “Fucking looking at us with their snide smirks when they don’t know what this is. I don’t want anyone invading it, because I’m not going to be made to feel like this shouldn’t be happening. I won’t live without you.”

My throat swells as tears fill my eyes, and I can’t fucking breathe.

“Now get in the goddamn car,” he orders. “Don’t make me come after you.”

I swallow the needles in my throat as I watch him round his truck and pull off his jacket, tossing it inside.

But I don’t move. I can’t wait until we get home.

I don’t take my eyes off him as the rain hits my blouse, soaking through. Pike goes to climb into his truck but stops, seeing me.

He comes back around the door, looking at me over the hood. He doesn’t blink as his chest rises and falls steadily.

How does he do it? I’ve never been more afraid of losing something, because I’ve never loved anything more. But he always knows what to say to make it all go away.

I breathe hard, fisting my hands because they’re aching for him, and tip my face up to the rain, feeling the fabric stick to my nipples like a second skin.

He’s going to marry me. This is it. It’s forever.

“Wanna make me come after you?” I hear him ask.

And I smile, all the doubt washing away. I open my eyes and meet his again, seeing he’s slowly stepping around the front of the car with a look in his eyes.

I nod, stepping around the front of my own vehicle and backing away from him as he inches forward. Rain drops stream down my legs, and water slips into my flats, but I barely notice. The way his eyes take me in I may as well be naked.

Cars spin their wheels around us, one by one emptying the lot, and I carefully back up around them. Pike won’t give chase with so many around us, so I don’t need to run yet. 

I hold his eyes as he cocks his head, looking at me like I’m asking for it.

A horn honks behind me, and I go to look over my shoulder to see who it is, but then I see Pike shoot off, darting toward me.  I gasp, breaking into a laugh.

And run.

Scurrying through the mess of cars, I hall ass into the trees, digging in my heels, because I know he’ll be on me any minute.

I can’t believe he did that. People are probably wondering if I’m in danger or something, running away from him.  

I dash into the woods, seeing the old Donahue barn and swing open one of the doors, not bothering to close it.

Horses peek out from their stalls, the smell of hay hitting me as I race to the other side. Instead of seeking refuge, like he thinks I will, I run out through the other doors, exiting the barn, and quickly close them again. Heat swirls in my belly, and my heart is in my throat, but I keep my laughter quiet as I peek through the slits in the board and watch Pike enter the barn.

His T-shirt is already soaked, and I watch him glance side to side, looking for me inside the barn. I bite my bottom lip to keep from laughing.

He moves down, checking stall after stall, and I trail around the side of the barn, finding a hole here or a slit there to keep an eye on him. Once he goes up into the loft, I’ll go inside, hide, and jump his ass when he least expects it.

But as I move to the next peep spot, I can’t see him anymore. Did he go up the stairs already? I move my eye in a circle, scanning every inch I can see, and then move to another slit to try to get a better view.

He’s not there, though. He has to be in a stall and out of my view. I stand up straight, ready to head to the front of the barn, but I see something out of the corner of my eye. My heart jumps.

I jerk my head, seeing Pike standing outside at the corner of the barn.

He runs for me.

I squeal and change directions, darting around the back of the barn again and rounding to the other side, toward the front.

But before I can reach the parking lot again, he’s there, catching me in his arms. My startled scream turns into a laugh, and he throws me over his shoulder, carrying us both back into the barn.

My shoes are gone, and I’m smiling. But then I feel his hand slide up my skirt and pull down my panties, the fabric ripping.

I feel them slip over my feet, and then they’re gone. My toes curl. God, I want him.

He sets me on the ground, and my mouth is on him as he tries to unlace my little corset.

“I love you,” he says, breathless as I pull off his shirt.

But I can’t pause long enough to reply. My hands are everywhere. On his chest, his face, and finally, down his jeans, rubbing him until he’s moaning.

He yanks at my laces, and I shift on my tippy toes, because my thighs are on fire.

“Just rip it,” I breathe out.

He grabs my blouse, tearing it away from my breasts, his hand immediately cupping one and kissing me hard.

“Oh, God. Pike.”

He lifts me up and carries me, but I don’t know where, because I’m lost in his lips, his jaw, his neck…

He sits me down, unfastens his belt and jeans, and pushes up my skirt. I barely have time to register the cool air hitting between my legs before he pushes me down on the table and thrusts inside of me.

“Ah!” I cry out.

He pauses for a moment, savoring the feel, and then dips down and sucks on my nipple as he begins moving inside me.  

“I’m so lucky,” he says.

I whimper, holding his head to me.

God, this is good. He lifts up, holding my hips and looking down at me, my tits bouncing back and forth, still wet from the rain.

But I can’t even feel it. I’m on fire right now.

He thrusts again and again, kissing me and my breasts, and his hands roaming my hips and ass. I’m never not in the mood for this and every time it’s good.

Because we’re made for one another.  

“They need to see us, Pike,” I tell him.

I mean, I get it. I know why he wants to keep us to ourselves and not let anyone rain on our parade, but that’s can’t go on forever.  

He comes back down, sucking my breast into his mouth. “You really want Jarchow to see what I’m doing to his former student right now?”

Ew. No. That’s not what I meant.

He leans back up, propping himself up with one hand and grazing my face with the other as he looks down at me.

His dick slides in and out, and I run my hands down his chest, loving to watch how his body moves when he fucks me.

“They need to see us every day,” I go on, “because the sooner they trust that this isn’t changing, the sooner they’ll get over it.” I meet his eyes again. “And they will get over it. They’ll see it every day, and they’ll learn.”

If one thing is certain in this world, it’s that it moves on eventually.

“I love you,” I tell him. “They can’t ruin this.”

He grabs the end of the table above my head and thrusts harder, his tip hitting me deep, and I roll my hips, arching my back.

“Ugh, fuck,” he groans, closing his eyes.

And I smile, because that’s the sexiest compliment a man can pay you in bed.

Not that we’re in a bed, but all the same…

I hear a creak and the sounds of rain rushing in, and all of a sudden, Pike stops, popping his eyes open. What?

I twist my neck, following his gaze. Deanna stands in the doorway with some guy, both of them soaking wet.


Pike pulls me up, holding me to him, so all they see is my naked back.

Her mouth hangs open a little. Both of them are stopped dead in their tracks at what they see at the back of the barn, and I’m not sure if they’re just trying to escape the rain or if they’re up to the same thing we are.

A faint smile plays across Pike’s lips. “Barn’s full,” he says.

And I turn around, burying my own smile in his neck.

Yep, he’s mine.

“Excuse us,” I hear her finally say.

And then the door creaks closed again.

I burst into laughter, wrapping my arms around him. I thought for sure he’d grab me and have us hurrying out of here, embarrassed.

But his mouth crashes down on mine and he’s not stopping.

I fall back to the table as he pumps harder and faster, and I close my eyes again, feeling him and loving him so much.

“Pike,” I moan.

He spreads my knees wide, leaning over me and thrusting as my orgasm crests and he starts groaning more and more.

But then something hits me, and I gasp. “Oh, shit.”


“I think I left a candle burning in the house?”

I don’t remember if I blew out the blueberry vanilla one in the kitchen or not. Dammit!

I try to push myself up, but leans down more, getting in my face as he rubs my clit and thrusts at the same time.

“You’re not seriously stopping?” he growls against my mouth.

Heat spreads down my thighs, and I wrap an arm around his neck as my hair sticks to my face.  

“But the house could burn down.”

“I don’t care.”

His hard breath caresses my lips, and I smile, falling back onto the table again.

Fine. I don’t care, either. Pretty sure we’re going to care in a few minutes, but…

I moan, arching into him and clawing his chest. Whatever.


Hope you enjoyed revisiting these two! Have a happy Halloween!