You can’t leave a guy to “sleep it off” when he’s barely had anything to drink. A few shots of tequila does not a drunk Preston make. I lay back on the bed and stared at the white ceiling fan slowly spinning. Letting everyone around me think that I was just living from one party to the next had always been easy. It covered up the truth. I liked pretending to be carefree. It had always been better than the truth.
Letting Amanda Hardy think I was as shallow as I’d convinced her I was hurt like a son of a bitch. I didn’t want to see the disappointment and disgust in her eyes. The only thing that kept me from blurting out the truth while she went on and on about my sucky behavior was the fact that the truth was worse.
Reaching over, I picked up the white teddy bear lying beside my head and held it up to my nose. It was Amanda’s. It smelled like her. This was her sorry-ass father’s condo, but this had to be Amanda’s room. Staying in here wasn’t going to be possible. I’d just think about all I couldn’t have. I placed the bear back in its spot and stood up.
Marcus was my best friend. Sure, there was a group of us, but Marcus was the one I loved the most. He’d always seemed to know more than I wanted him to, but he never said anything. Instead of asking me questions like Rock had when we were kids, Marcus had brought me an extra lunch every day. He never mentioned it. He just did it. When I’d been bruised from one of my mom’s boyfriends’ drunken fits, Dewayne and Rock had asked why. Marcus had changed the subject and then slipped into the school office to get me an aspirin that he’d casually placed in my hands without explanation.
The guys were my family, but Marcus was my brother. Blood didn’t matter. He’d cared when no one else had known there was something to care about. I had to let this fascination I had with his sister go. I also needed to get downstairs and celebrate with him. He’d found someone worthy of him. Being locked away and sulking over Jason Stone showing up with Amanda was unfair. Marcus didn’t deserve this.
I walked down the stairs and into the living room. As I entered the room, Willow smiled at me and motioned me over. She was surrounded by guests, but her attention was on me. I could see the concern in her eyes. If anyone understood my life even a little, it would be Willow. She’d had a suck-ass family tree too.
“You’re back,” she replied, with a smile to let me know she was glad I’d returned.
“Yeah, I figured things had time to cool off. I didn’t want to miss tonight. I’m sorry about earlier.” I stopped at that. I couldn’t explain any more to her.
Willow shrugged one shoulder. “No worries. I think the guys were just worried about that guy causing a stir. He was a friend of a guest. He’s been escorted out.”
I reached behind her to the bartender and grabbed a beer. It was safer than the tequila shots.
Willow raised an eyebrow. “Ever heard the saying ‘Liquor before beer, never sicker’?”
I tipped the bottle to my lips, took a swig, and grinned. “Sweetheart, it’s liquor before beer, never fear.”
Willow laughed. “Guess you’d know this better than anyone.”
“He’s been drinking before he was old enough to shave,” Marcus drawled as he came up behind Willow and wrapped his arms around her waist.
Willow tilted her head back, and I watched as Marcus bent his head to capture her mouth with his. They were so f**king sweet it made me sick. It also made me jealous as hell. I would never get that. I could never love like that. Ever.
“Glad you came back down to the party. I knew you weren’t drunk when Amanda took you up there,” Marcus said, once he’d released his fiancée’s lips.
“Yeah, I figured I’d given the guy time to leave or calm down.”
Marcus nodded. “I walked him to the door. Trisha said she was sorry. She told Krit he could bring a few friends. That was one of them.”
Krit was Trisha’s brother and the lead singer in a band. He didn’t normally have the best crowd surrounding him, and he traveled with a posse.
“Well, Krit’s friends have gotten classier. That guy was the son of a neurosurgeon in Mobile.”
Women always talked. They told me about their husbands and how they were neglected. I didn’t need to hear an excuse as to why they hired me, but they always felt like they had to give me one. It had been my first time with that woman. Normally, I kept my client list small. I had the usuals, but she’d been a friend of a client, so I’d agreed.
“So you did sleep with his mom?” Marcus asked. The disbelief wasn’t there. He knew. He always knew.
I sighed and took another drink of my beer. Of course I did. I wasn’t going to answer this, though. Not tonight.
“Listen, either you dance with your girl, or I’m going to,” I said, shooting Willow a grin. She knew I was kidding, but I loved getting Marcus all riled up.
“Back off, lover boy, or I’ll be the one kicking your ass,” he replied in an amused tone.
“Dancing sounds like fun. I want to go see Amanda and her new friend, too. I saw them walk down there,” Willow replied.
My somewhat good mood vanished. I wouldn’t be going down to the dance floor. I couldn’t handle that. I’d want to dance with her just to see if she felt as good as I knew she would.
“She’s with a Stone. Pisses me off. She don’t need to get mixed up in that world. He might not be a rock star, but he is awfully close to it,” Marcus snarled.
Willow laughed and slapped his arm. “He seems like a nice guy. Don’t judge him because of his family.”
I wanted to argue that, yes, you should judge him because of his family, but I kept my mouth shut. I couldn’t show any concern. Marcus would catch on, and he’d be shoving Amanda at Jason Stone. There was no way he’d ever agree to let his little sister near me, and I couldn’t blame him.
“I’m being good,” Marcus replied. “Besides, he leaves to fly off to LA soon, I’m sure. This is just a friendly thing. Amanda doesn’t seem real interested. Which is good, because he ain’t flying my baby sister out to LA with him. I’ll let her go five hours away, but that is as far as I’m allowing her to go.”
Willow sighed. “She’ll need room to breathe soon enough, Marcus. You can love her and care about her while you stand back and let her make her own decisions. She isn’t the little girl you took care of all your life. She’s a big girl now. Don’t forget that.”
Marcus bent down and kissed Willow’s head. “I don’t want to talk about family tonight. I just want to hold you in my arms. Let’s go.”
I gave them a small good-bye wave with my beer in hand and watched them walk toward the doors leading outside.
I could leave now and they’d never know. That way, I wouldn’t have to drink until I no longer cared about Amanda and Jason Fucking Stone.
“Hey, sexy. Why haven’t you called?” The cooing sound came from behind me, and I glanced back over my shoulder to see a familiar-looking brunette.
“Because I’m the a**hole who never calls,” I replied with a wink.
She giggled and closed the space between us. Large fake rack. Big brown eyes. I’d screwed her before. She was a Jackdown groupie—I’d hooked up with her at the club one night while Jackdown was playing.
“I’m the forgiving type,” she whispered in my ear and then moved in front of me, slipping her hands in the back pockets of my jeans. “Real forgiving.”
“Is that so?” I asked, taking a drink and watching her. She’d been one of those who knew exactly what she was doing. But then, typically band groupies were talented in the sex department. They had to be to keep the interest of guys who had new girls throwing themselves at them every night.
“You come here tonight with Krit?” I asked, looking around for Trisha’s younger brother.
“No. I’m friends with Trisha, and I went to school with Willow,” she explained, and slipped her other hand over the crotch of my jeans. “I came here looking for you.”
Sure she did. She came looking for action, and I was the first one she’d found who she was interested in. I wasn’t an idiot. “What do you have in mind? You might just convince me if you can make it sound real good.” She was going to have to be a talented dirty talker to get me interested. My mind was still focused on Amanda Hardy. I needed the distraction.
She stood on her tiptoes and pressed her mouth to my ear. “Come back to a room with me, and I can remind you just how talented my mouth is.”
Ah. Yeah. She was the one. I remembered her. She had one big-ass mouth. I’d never even f**ked her. She’d just sucked me off. I could close my eyes and pretend.
I reached down and grabbed her hand. “I think that sounds like a real good idea.”
She smiled up at me as I led her through the crowd. I couldn’t take her upstairs. It felt wrong. We were going to the bathroom. This wouldn’t take long. Not with the image I had locked away from the dirty dreams I’d been having of Amanda.
My feet hurt from these heels I’d been determined to wear. Jason was a great dancer, and he had made me forget other things and laugh. Willow and Marcus were cuddled up with each other at the corner of the dance floor, talking. I loved seeing them like that. I wouldn’t go interrupt them to tell them bye. I’d more than likely see Marcus tomorrow anyway.
“This was so much fun,” Sadie said as she and Jax walked up to us. They had danced most of the night too. Someone came up and asked for Jax’s autograph, and I heard Jason sigh. It had eased up earlier, but I guess now that we looked like we were leaving, people were anxious to get close to him before he was gone.
“Yeah, it was. I haven’t had this much fun dancing in a long time,” Jason agreed. I could feel his eyes on me, and I glanced up at him and returned his smile. I’d been really good about not worrying if Preston was asleep in my room or if he was back at the party. But now we were about to walk back through the condo, and I was concerned about what I might find.
“We’ve got a day of packing tomorrow, or I’d say we should stay and close the place down,” Sadie said in a wistful tone. I knew she was excited about moving close to Jax.
“I’m ready to get out of these heels anyway,” I assured her. I was more than ready to go home.
“Let’s go,” Jax said as he handed the picture he had just signed back to the guest.
Jason and I led the way down the candlelit path leading back to the condo from the beach. His hand held mine and it was nice.
When we reached the doors to the condo, I took a deep breath, hoping I wouldn’t see Preston. Praying he was asleep.
The party was still going strong inside the condo too. I spoke to several people as we passed by, and waved at those too far away. Just before we reached the front door, I saw in the corner of the room the shaggy blond hair that was impossible to miss. His back was to everyone else, and from the hands on his shoulders I could tell he had someone in front of him backed into that corner. My stomach twisted, and I tightened my hold on Jason’s hand, then picked up speed. Getting out of here was suddenly very important. I didn’t want that image in my head.
Just as I was about to turn my head away, Preston glanced back over his shoulder and our eyes met. The glassy look in his eyes was one that I was all too familiar with. His attention shifted from me to Jason, and then he winked at me. What was he doing?
I glared at him in return and opened the door, then stepped outside. He was such a jerk. A stupid, sexy, hard-to-get-over jerk.
The ringing of the telephone woke me up. Rubbing my eyes, I rolled over and reached for the cordless phone beside my bed. Mom had to be gone somewhere. She rarely let the phone ring more than three times.
“Hey, you still sleeping?” Marcus asked on the other end of the phone.
“Wake up, sleepyhead. It’s after ten.”
“Mmm-hmm, whatya want?” My eyes were still heavy. I’d been up all night talking to Sadie. She’d left early this morning for LA. It would be months before I saw her again.
“I need a favor. I hate to ask you, but I don’t know who else to call.”
Sitting up, I covered my yawn. “Okay, I’m listening.”
“I know you aren’t crazy about Preston after what he did at the party, but he’s my best friend, and I need your help.”
My eyes snapped open wide, and I slung my legs over the side of the bed. I was instantly alert.
“Yeah,” I replied, wanting him to get on with it.
“He is passed out on my sofa. He showed up at our apartment late last night and said he was a bastard and a few other things, then walked over and curled up on the sofa and went to sleep. Anyway, Low is gone to get Larissa, and I’m at work. Can you go over there and get him up and gone? I don’t want Low to have to deal with him. She’ll have Larissa, and, well, you are probably going to have to throw water on him and help him get home. She can’t do all that and take care of Larissa, too. I tried waking him up before I left, but he wouldn’t budge and I was running late.”
Explaining to my brother the reasons why I didn’t want to do this would be bad. That was a secret that he’d never know. I would do this for him one last time. That was it, though. After today, I was keeping my distance. I was. I meant it.
“Okay, fine. I’ll get him up and gone.”
“Thanks so much. I owe you one.”
He had no idea.
“Yeah, you do. Bye.”
I hung up the phone and frowned at it. Going to see Preston was a bad idea. However, I couldn’t leave Willow there to handle him while she had Larissa to take care of.
Larissa was the daughter of Willow’s sister and my father. My dad’s affair with Willow’s sister had almost destroyed Marcus and Willow when they’d found out. It was bad enough that our dad was cheating on our mom, but to find out that he also had another child—it had been really tough to deal with. Willow’s sister was hard to like. For everyone. Including Willow. She’d mistreated Willow for years. But Larissa was innocent in all this.
Willow was like a mother to Larissa. She was little and would want my attention too. I hadn’t seen her in a couple of weeks. I missed her sweet face. I could get rid of Preston, then hang out with Willow and Larissa awhile.
I dialed Willow’s number to let her know I was going to be at their apartment when she got back with Larissa. Once I was done, I got out of bed and decided I’d forgo a shower and just pull my hair up. I didn’t want to impress anyone, anyway.