This gritty spinoff of the New York Times bestselling Shattered Hearts Series follows mysterious and sexy Tristan as he attempts to abandon his demons in the name of love.
A steady stream of meaningless sex is all Tristan has left when he discovers the grandmother who raised him is dying and his best friend is getting married. He is lost; and the dark secrets in his past keep coming back to remind him of this.
Until Tristan has an idea that will change his life and fulfill his dying grandmother’s wishes: Abandon his playboy ways and settle down.
And who better to do it with than Senia, the girl who has occupied his thoughts since their scorching hot tryst in the back of his sports car. The girl who makes him laugh and feel like a kid again.
But when his world begins to crumble around him, the pain Tristan is hiding finds its way to the surface. Will Tristan finally learn to trust again? Or will he abandon Senia when she needs him the most?
Copyright © 2014 by Cassia Leo
She walks into Yogurtland with her cell phone pressed to her ear and a scowl on her face. Behind the scowl, her vulnerability shines like a fucking nuclear explosion in a dark closet. Whoever she’s talking to has stripped her bare. I find myself wishing it were me who affected her that way.
She’s digging inside her purse while balancing the phone between her shoulder and her ear; probably searching for money to get her frozen yogurt fix. What is it about frozen yogurt that makes us feel better? Maybe it reminds us of being kids, and how something as simple as a trip to the yogurt shop could turn a bad day into a great one. Whatever it is, I can see that she desperately needs her fix. But with each passing moment that she’s unable to locate her money, I see the hope draining from her face.
“I told you to stop calling me. I don’t care if your car is in the shop. I’m not picking you up!”
She drops her purse and cell phone onto the checkered tile floor and curses loudly. “What the fuck are you staring at?” she barks at the man who’s ogling her ass while ushering his small child out of the shop. “You’ve never seen a girl in a skirt bend over?”
She falls to her knees as she reaches for the cell phone. She presses it to her ear and says hello a few times before she realizes there’s no one there. I walk over to her, coolly taking my time, then I kneel next to her and reach for the lipstick tube that rolled behind her left foot. I hold it out in front of her. She looks sideways at me and her mouth drops as she’s stunned into silence. Most girls are stunned when they see me. I’m used to that. But Senia has seen me plenty of times. She’s not amazed by my good looks. She’s stupefied by my impeccable timing.
Her gaze immediately falls to my lips, which are just inches from her own. Then she begins to sob as she drops her purse and throws her arms around my neck.
I can’t help but chuckle. “Hey, it’s okay,” I whisper into her ear, breathing in her scent. She smells like strawberries or pineapple. Something fruity. It’s intoxicating.
I reach up and grab her face to pull her away, so I can look her in the eye. “What flavor do you want?”
A tear rolls down her face and I wipe it away as she stares at me, still dumbfounded. “Cheesecake, with strawberries.”
I help her gather the rest of her belongings into her purse then I order her yogurt as she watches me from where she stands next to the trash bin. Her gaze follows me as I approach her with her bowl, one of her perfect eyebrows cocked skeptically.
“Don’t look at me like that,” I say as I pass her the bowl of yogurt.
“Why?” she says and she pops the first spoon into her mouth.
She licks the spoon clean and I find myself wondering what it would feel like to have those full, red lips wrapped around my cock. I lean in and whisper in her ear, “Because you’re turning me on and I can’t fuck you in Yogurtland.”
She continues to cock her eyebrow as she takes another spoonful of creamy yogurt into her mouth. “Then maybe we should get the fuck out of Yogurtland.”
In the three years I’ve known Senia, we’ve almost fucked three times. The first time happened the day I met her, after a show we played in Durham. We were interrupted backstage by Xander, the band’s manager, just as Senia was about to get on her knees. The second time was at a Memorial Day picnic. We were both pretty shit-faced and she ended up tossing her cookies all over me as I was sliding her panties off. The third time was less than three months ago, in a pub restroom stall. She started crying and couldn’t go through with it; she was too heartbroken over her ex. I think the fourth time may be the charm for us. For some reason, this makes me really fucking nervous.
I’m not afraid I won’t be able to satisfy her. There’s no doubt I’ll make her come harder than she’s ever come before. But for the first time in my life, I’m afraid of what will happen after the sex.
Senia is Claire’s best friend. And Chris is my best friend. Once upon a time, Claire and Chris were the golden couple; everyone assumed they’d be together forever. Then they broke up before we went on tour last year. They’ve spent the last few months attempting to reconcile the issues caused by their breakup. Even if Claire and Chris never get back together, I know Claire will always be around. I can’t avoid Claire and, therefore, I can’t avoid Senia. Something about this terrifies me and intrigues me – like I’m flirting with danger or, more accurately, fucking with danger.
I grab the door handle on the passenger side of my silver Lightning and pause as I look her in the eye and pull the door open. “Get in.”
She smiles and shakes her head as she slinks into the passenger seat. “Please don’t bother using your manners.”
I slam the door shut and walk around to the driver’s side, tapping the trunk as I note my surroundings. It’s eight in the evening. There are only three other cars in the parking lot and at least one of those belongs to the guy working behind the counter in Yogurtland. I look up at the lamppost in front of the car illuminating the hood and shining through the windshield.
I open the door and slide into the driver’s seat. Gazing into her eyes, for a moment I’m reminded of the last time my mom took me to get ice cream, when I was nine years old. I clench my jaw against the visceral nature of this memory and Senia takes this as an invitation.
She climbs into my lap and takes my face in her hands as she crushes her lips to mine. I thread my fingers into her hair and roughly grab a fistful of her dark locks. She whimpers as I thrust my tongue into her mouth and squeeze my fist around her hair, intermittently tightening my grip then easing up. Finally, I pull her head back by her hair and her eyes widen with shock and excitement. That’s when I notice her styrofoam bowl of yogurt upended between us, the cold stickiness seeping through both of our shirts.
She smiles as she swipes her finger through the cool, sticky substance and slowly eases her finger into her mouth. “Creamy,” she purrs.
“Fuck,” I whisper as my dick jumps, trying to escape my jeans.
I grab the bowl and toss it into the backseat and she smiles as I swipe my finger through the yogurt on her shirt then shove my hand under her skirt. Her thighs are smooth and warm against the back of my fingers as I move straight for her panties. She holds my gaze as I slip my fingers under the fabric and find her clit. She swallows hard, and her smile melts into an expression of pure ecstasy.
“Oh my God,” she breathes as I stroke her gently.
I grab the back of her neck and pull her mouth against mine, swallowing her moans as if they were the air keeping me alive. I shove two fingers inside her and she gasps as I curl my fingers to reach her spot. Her body folds into me as I lick the soft skin below her earlobe. I pull my hand from her panties. Her face is incredulous as I grab her shoulders and push her away.
“Get in the back.”
For a moment, it seems as if she’s questioning this abrupt request. “This better be good,” she says as she slithers between the two front seats to get into the backseat.
I reach under her skirt as she crawls into the back and yank down on her panties. “Jesus Christ, Tristan!”
“Make up your mind,” I say as I place my hand on her ass and push her into the backseat. “Am I Jesus Christ or Tristan?”
She laughs as I scramble into the backseat after her, holding onto her panties so she’s forced to leave them behind. I quickly position myself between her legs as she lies on her back and smiles. “You can be whoever the fuck you want.”
I slide my arm under her waist and lift her up so I can place her back against the passenger-side window. Pushing up her skirt, I spread her legs wide open and marvel at the sight of her. She’s perfectly shaved with a small landing strip of dark hair that ends at the top of her slit.
“I prefer Tristan,” I say, flashing her my crowd smile.
She whimpers like a kitten in pain, her hips writhing against me as I devour her slowly and methodically. She tastes like the frozen yogurt I smeared all over her.
“Oh, Tristan,” she moans and I hook my arms tightly around her thighs to steady her as her legs begins to tremble. “Oh, my fucking God!”
I suck gently as her clit pulsates against my tongue. She lets out a loud cry that sounds like a sigh mixed with a scream. I can’t help but smile as I continue to stimulate her until she grabs chunks of my shoulder-length hair and yanks me up.
“Holy shit,” she breathes as she wraps her arms around my neck and pulls me on top of her.
But she doesn’t kiss me. She just holds me there and I quickly begin to feel uncomfortable with this closeness. I start to push away, but she tightens her grip.
“Please don’t move,” she begs, and I can hear something strange in her voice – she’s crying.
I lie still with her for a while until I no longer hear her sniffling. I slowly pull my head back to look her in the eye and she quickly wipes at the moisture on her cheeks.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers.
I grab her hand and pull it away from her face. “It’s okay,” I murmur, brushing my thumb over her cheekbone.
“No, it’s not,” she says, a hard edge to her voice as her hands reach down to undo the button and zipper on my jeans. “But it will be.”
She pushes my boxers down until my dick springs free and I suck in a sharp breath as it comes in contact with her.
“I don’t have a condom.”
My hair hangs around my face as I hover over her. She reaches up and pushes my hair back as she pulls my mouth to hers. I groan as I try to resist making such a stupid mistake. Despite the rumors, I don’t have unprotected sex. I may be a whore like my mother, but I’m not as reckless as she is.
I try to pull my face back, but Senia holds my head still. Suddenly, I’m royally pissed off. I tear myself from her grasp and glare at her.
“This is just a fuck. Nothing more,” I insist and her eyebrows scrunch together. A sharp pang of regret twists inside my chest. “I’m sorry.”
Why the fuck am I apologizing?
“Then shut up and fuck me,” she says, tightening her legs around my hips. The tip of my cock presses against her opening.
I slide in slowly, watching as she closes her eyes and tilts her head back. Leaning forward, I suck on her throat as I gradually ease myself further inside her with each stroke.
“You’re tight as fuck,” I whisper as I carefully work my way deeper inside.
She doesn’t respond, so I keep thrusting, slowly at first then working my way up to a steady pace. I pull my head back to see her face and her eyes are still closed. I don’t know why, but I want to see her eyes.
“Look at me,” I command, and she opens her eyes instantly, her gaze finding mine.
Her eyes are slightly red and that’s when I notice the tear tracks running from the corners of her eyes, down her temple, and disappearing into her dark hair. A strange urge overcomes me and I lean down and kiss her temple. Licking my lips, the saltiness of her tears turns me on even more. I ease my hand behind her knee and lift her leg higher so I can thrust deeper.
She whimpers as she threads her fingers through my hair and pulls my mouth to hers. I kiss her slowly, matching the rhythm of my hips to the movement of our tongues. She bites my top lip and I feel myself getting so close to blowing my load.
“God damn,” I whisper as I try to pull my head back, but she holds my head still and kisses me deeply as I let go inside her.
My dick twitches as I fill her with my gushing warmth. I grunt into her mouth and she continues to kiss me, swallowing my cries the way I did hers. Finally, I tilt my head back and look her in the eye. Then I ask her a question I haven’t asked anyone since I broke up with Ashley four years ago.
“Who was that on the phone?”
Twelve Years Ago
I can hear her voice coming from the living room and I don’t want to come out of my bedroom. She’s so loud. I don’t know why she always has to yell. She yells at me, at Grandma, and it won’t be long before she starts yelling at Molly. Molly’s only a baby. She doesn’t know nothing about Elaine.
I don’t call her Mom unless we’re in the same room, and she’s hardly ever here. Grandma takes care of Molly and me after school and whenever Elaine doesn’t feel good – and that’s a lot. Why is Elaine already back here? Tonight, we’re spending the night at Grandma’s so Elaine can be with her friends. I don’t remember a lot of stuff that happened before we moved here to Raleigh a few months ago. But I do remember that I hate Elaine.
“Where’s the fucking check? I know it came yesterday!” Elaine shouts at Grandma.
I can’t stay in this bedroom. I have to protect Grandma. I slide off the bed and trudge across the grayish-blue carpet. Opening the bedroom slowly, Elaine’s shouting gets louder.
“It hasn’t come! And where are you going dressed like that?” Grandma shouts back, but her shouting doesn’t sound like her daughter’s shouting.
Grandma’s voice is soothing and strong, but it’s not harsh like Elaine’s. I hate Elaine’s voice.
I step into the living room and Elaine is wearing a dark-red dress that looks more like a sweater. It only covers her to the top of her legs and her black boots come up over her knee. She isn’t dressed for the snow, which is probably why Grandma asked her why she’s dressed like that.
“Where the fuck do you think I’m going, to get a fucking ice cream?” Elaine laughs and Grandma’s round face scrunches up in disappointment.
Elaine’s dark hair is messily flipped over to one side of her head. I didn’t inherit her dark hair. Mine is light brown, probably like the sperm donor. That’s what Grandma calls my father. I’ve never met him, but I think that’s because Elaine doesn’t know who he is. When I was seven, she told me that she wished she’d had an abortion. I didn’t know what that was until I looked it up in the dictionary. That was two years ago. That was when I started calling her Elaine.
“You should take Tristan to get ice cream,” Grandma insists as Elaine digs through her big brown purse.
“It’s fucking snowing,” Elaine replies with a chuckle. “He can go outside and scoop some snow into a cup.”
The blonde girl standing next to Elaine lets out a low, rumbling laugh. I don’t recognize this girl. Elaine’s always bringing different girls to our house and Grandma hates it when she brings them here, ever since one of them threw up on her carpet. This girl looks younger than the other girls Elaine usually brings home, maybe sixteen or seventeen. Her eyes are covered in dark make-up and her mouth hangs open, making her look a little stupid.
The blonde looks at me and her top lip curls up. “We should take him to get ice cream. I need some ice cream.”
Elaine glances at me then she goes back to digging through her purse. “Fine. We’ll get a fucking ice cream. At least it’s too fucking cold outside for it to melt. Last thing I need is for him to make a mess all over Sadie’s car.”
“I don’t want ice cream,” I say as I scoot closer to Grandma.
That’s when Molly starts to cry. She has a fever and Grandma has been fussing over her all night ever since Elaine brought us over here. Maybe I should pretend to have a fever.
Grandma pats me on the back. “Go with your mom, Tristan. I have to take care of Molly.”
“I can help you,” I insist, but Grandma’s already in the hallway on her way to her bedroom where she keeps Molly’s playpen that Elaine hauls around everywhere.
Elaine rolls her eyes as she opens the front door for the blonde and me. “Hurry up,” she says.
“I need to get a jacket.”
“You don’t need a jacket. The ice cream parlor is indoors. Just get in the damn car.”
A whoosh of cold December air blasts me in the face as I step toward the front door. As I make my way out the door, my eyes repeatedly flit over to Grandma’s purple sweater, which is draped over the arm of the sofa. I consider swiping it up and wrapping it over my shoulders, but purple is for girls. I’ll look stupid and Elaine will make fun of me.
It’s freezing inside the car. I could tell by the emblem on the hood that this is a Cadillac. The inside of the car smells like smoke and perfume and the gray leather in the backseat is cold as ice against the backs of my arms. I try to lean forward a little so it doesn’t touch my skin, but I begin to get carsick from the way Elaine drives, so I just lean back and close my eyes.
A few minutes later, the car stops and I open my eyes when the engine stops rumbling. The blonde girl is looking over her shoulder at me from the front seat as Elaine touches up her make-up in the rearview mirror.
“What’s his name again?” the blonde asks.
“Tristan. I named him after—” Elaine stops herself before she can finish this sentence. “It doesn’t matter. Let’s go get a fucking ice cream so I can take him home. I have shit to do.”
The entire time we’re standing in line, Elaine is tapping her foot against the white tiled floor. When we make it to the front of the line, she doesn’t even ask me what I want, she just orders a scoop of vanilla on a sugar cone. I hate vanilla.
I take my ice cream cone from the man behind the counter and he can see the disappointment in my face. “Is this not the flavor you want, kiddo?”
“Yes, it is,” Elaine replies quickly as she grabs my shoulders to turn me away from the counter. “Come on, come on. Let’s go sit down. I don’t got all day.”
I take a few licks of the ice cream cone once we’re seated in our plastic chairs at a small, round table. But then I think of a solution.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” I say as I stand from my chair.
“You can’t go to the bathroom alone,” Elaine says as she pulls her cell phone out of her purse. “Just hold it till you get home.”
The vanilla ice cream is starting to melt. I have to throw it away without her seeing. “I can go by myself. I’m nine years old.”
“Charlene, take him to the bathroom,” she says as she begins dialing a number on her cell phone. “I’ll be outside.”
Charlene stands up, not bothering to bring her bowl of orange sherbet with her. “Come on, kid.”
She grabs my shoulder to lead me forward and I wriggle out of her grasp. “I can go to the bathroom by myself.”
The corner of her red lips curls up and my heart thumps against my chest as we near the bathroom. She reaches for the doorknob and opens the door for me. It’s a private bathroom. No stalls, just a single toilet and a sink. It smells like cherry air freshener and it’s almost as cold in here as it was in the Cadillac.
The lock clicks and she crosses her arms as she waits for me. “We ain’t got all day.”
The toilet is on the same wall as the door. If I take a piss, she’ll see me from the side. All I wanted to do was throw away this damn ice cream, which is now dripping down my hand and wrist. She huffs as she takes the ice cream from my hand and tosses it into the garbage can next to the sink.
“What a mess. Come here so I can wash your hands.”
She pulls me toward the sink and turns on the water. It’s cold so she turns on the hot water and waits until it warms up before she sticks my hands under the water. Her chest is pressed against my shoulders as she gently scrubs my hands with the slick soap. She begins massaging my fingers and I pull my hand away.
“Stop,” I mutter, trying to back away, but she’s pressed against me, locking me in place.
“Your mom will kill me if you take your sticky fingers in the car. Just relax, Tristan.”
I swallow hard and try not to breathe too loudly as I let her rub my hands with the slippery soap. I close my eyes, trying not to let what I think is happening inside my pants actually happen. Not now. Please not now.
“Does that feel good?” she whispers and I shake my head fiercely. “It’s okay if it feels good.”
She wraps her fingers around my thumb and moves her fist slowly up and down. I want to scream for her to stop, but there are people sitting in tables outside the door. What will Elaine do if I make a scene? I’m not at home where Grandma will keep me safe.
“Do you have to use the potty?” the blonde asks as she reaches for the button on my jeans.
“No,” I say firmly as I push her hand away. I can’t let her feel that thing growing in my pants. “Stop. Please stop. I just want to go home. Please.”
“Tristan, your mommy said you have to do this or she won’t take you home.” She reaches for my button again, but this time she waits until I finally move my hand away. “That’s a good boy. You’ll like this. I promise.”
“Get up.” The redhead in my bed – I think her name is Beth – rolls over and reaches for me. I slide out of bed and yank the comforter off in one swift motion. “I said, Get up. You have to leave. I have plans.”
“What the fuck?” she squeals as she reaches for the sheet to cover up her naked body. I grab the sheet first and yank it off the bed. “You’re an asshole!”
I chuckle. “Like you didn’t already know that.”
She scrambles out of bed and quickly gets dressed. “One of these days your dick is gonna fall off or somebody’s gonna break your black heart. I’m just sorry I won’t be there to see it.”
“Yeah, I’m really sorry for your loss.”
I follow her downstairs, smiling as she continues to lob insults at me. I open the front door for her to leave and she looks as if she’s going to spit in my face. It wouldn’t be the first time a girl has done that. But she doesn’t spit; she just stares at me for a moment before she delivers her final blow. “You were talking in your sleep,” she says with a grin.
I suppress the urge to stop her as she steps over the threshold and sets off down the gravel path to the roundabout where her Toyota is parked next to my Lightning. Despite the fact that she just pissed me off, I still stare at her ass until she’s inside her car, but I don’t bother watching her car drive away.
So she heard me talking in my sleep? Big fucking deal. I’ve heard that same line from other chicks a dozen times. Not a single one of those girls sold her story. Chris Knight’s bassist isn’t a juicy enough target for the tabloids, even though I’ve given them plenty of material over the years. And what’s the worst thing she could have heard?
My stomach churns with the thought of the worst thing I could have said.
The shame morphs into anger and I punch the inside of the door. “Fuck!” The pain shoots through my knuckles and the burn of broken skin is instantaneous.
I am not broken.
I close my eyes and repeat this mantra in my head a few times before I make my way into the kitchen. My cell phone buzzes on the granite countertop and I glance at the screen before I pick it up.
“Xander said we have to be at Reverb in an hour.”
Chris’s voice has an edge to it, like he’s in pain but he’s trying not to let it show. Typical Chris, putting Claire’s and the band’s needs before his own. Chris broke his leg a couple of months ago – a grotesque compound fracture – and since they cut off the cast a couple of weeks ago, the guy hasn’t stopped running around like a crazy person. He’s desperately trying to find a studio in the Triangle where we can record the new album. He even got the producer to agree to let us make this second album totally acoustic. All so he won’t have to go to Los Angeles to record and leave Claire behind for the second time.
There are only two persons’ needs that come before mine and I promised Molly and Grandma Flo I’d be there this morning. So I’ll be there at the studio in an hour, but I’m going to see them first. If Chris and Jake have to wait a while then that’s Chris’s problem for calling me at the last minute.
“I’ll be there,” I reply, then I end the call before Chris can ask me about my plans.
He knows I visit Molly and Grandma on Sundays, but he doesn’t know that I’m visiting them today on a Monday. And I don’t want him to know. Chris isn’t the type to ask questions, but if he finds out why I’m visiting my grandmother today, he’ll give me that look – the I’m-not-going-to-say-anything-but-I’m-secretly-pitying-you look. And I really don’t want him to talk to Jake or Claire about this. I don’t need anyone’s sympathy.
I take a five-minute shower and speed over to my grandmother’s house in Raleigh. It’s thirty minutes from my house in Cary. As soon as I had enough money, I moved the fuck out of Raleigh. That city and that house are ripe with bitter memories. Plus, being out here means I don’t have to get weekly visits from Elaine asking for money.
I paid to have Grandma’s house renovated last January while we were on tour, so Molly wouldn’t have to change schools. I wanted her to come live with me in Cary when I bought this place in August, but she didn’t want to leave her friends behind. She’s thirteen; she doesn’t understand that leaving her friends behind in order to get away from Elaine is in her best interest. Unfortunately, this also means I haven’t had Molly or Grandma over to see my house yet. I can’t risk them giving Elaine my address. Like me, Elaine can be very convincing.
I pull up in front of the yellow two-bedroom house I grew up in and take a deep breath to prepare myself for this visit. Throwing open the car door, I’m not surprised when I hear the squeak of the front door opening and Molly’s shoes slapping the pavement. As soon as I close my car door, she’s rounding the front of my car.
“Gah! I missed you!” she squeals as she throws her arms around my waist.
I chuckle as I wrap my arms around her shoulders and squeeze her tightly. “I missed you too, Moon.”
I gave Molly the nickname “Moon’ when she was three years old. She has a round, moon-like face that shines like moonbeams. And she used to beg me to read Goodnight Moon to her every night, until I turned twelve the next year and everything changed.
It wasn’t until I met Chris in my seventh-grade math class that I realized I wasn’t doomed to follow in my mother’s footsteps. When he asked me if I wanted to start a band, he didn’t know he was offering me a key out of my self-made prison.
As soon as I kiss her forehead, she starts to sob. “Why are you crying?” I ask, though I already know.
Grandma Flo is sick. Since the day she took me away from Elaine when I was nine years old, she’s been stronger than the rock this house was built on. But it turns out she’s only human, after all. Three weeks ago, she was diagnosed with stage-four breast cancer after a routine mammogram showed a small lump the size of a grape. The tumor had nestled in at the base of her breast and attached itself to her chest wall where it began to spread to her left lung and lymph nodes around her neck and under her arm. Once the cancer reaches the lymph nodes, where the lymphatic fluid then carries the cancer cells to other places in the body, there’s not much that can be done. The doctor labeled Grandma as T2 N2 M1 – Stage IV. A bunch of gibberish that basically means she’s going to die.
“I don’t want to be alone,” Molly whispers against my chest and I grit my teeth against all the anger that naturally follows moments like these.
“You’re not going to be alone. People with stage-four cancer can live for several years.”
She lets go of me and walks toward the house without replying.
I only have ten minutes, so I bound toward the house and open the door for Molly. She walks in with her head down, unimpressed with this gesture. I follow her in and my stomach clenches at the sight of the living room. I had everything renovated to get rid of the memories, but you can’t hide pain that runs this deep under a coat of beige paint.
Molly looks over her shoulder at me as she plods into the kitchen. “She’s in bed.”
I trudge through the hallway and slowly push open the door to Grandma Flo’s room. She’s asleep, curled up on her side with the blanket clutched tightly beneath her chin. Her short grayish-brown hair falls over her face as her chest rises and falls slowly. I kneel down next to her bed and reach for her.
Her eyebrows scrunch together as she tries not to cry. “I’m sorry,” she whispers and her face forms an expression of unimaginable anguish.
I don’t have to ask her why she’s sorry. She’s apologizing because she thinks she’s not going to live long enough to take care of Molly until she’s an adult. That’s bullshit.
“Don’t you apologize to me,” I reply, brushing her hair away from her soft cheek. “You’ve got nothing to be sorry about.”
“I’m so tired. I couldn’t sleep last night worrying about what’s going to happen.”
“I’ll go so you can get your rest. I have to be at the studio in a few minutes. I just wanted to check on you.”
In typical Grandma Flo style, she delivered the news of her diagnosis a couple of weeks ago as if she were merely remembering something she needed me to pick up from the grocery store. Don’t forget the eggs, and, by the way, I’m dying of cancer. I could hear from the weariness in her voice that she wasn’t feeling well when I called her yesterday to cancel my usual Sunday visit. But I had just finished taking five body shots of tequila off of Beth’s creamy white naked skin. I was in no condition to rush over here to check on her last night.
I stand from Grandma’s bed and hand her the box of tissues from her nightstand. “Don’t worry about Molly.”
“What about you?”
I think back to the last time I lived with Elaine nine years ago. I swore I’d never let anyone control me the way she did the summer before seventh grade. I also swore I’d never take my grandmother’s love for granted.
“You know I’ll be fine.”
She doesn’t look convinced as she dabs a tissue at the corner of her blue eyes. Grandma Flo insists I need to settle down and let someone in. I almost did that with Ashley and I ended up getting my heart stomped on. No, not stomped on. Completely fucking extinguished. I’m not about to settle down any time soon. Besides, the only girls who want to settle down with me are the gold-diggers.
I kiss her forehead before I head out to my car. I turn the key in the ignition and lower the stereo as I try to compose myself. Maybe Ishould settle down if it would give my grandmother peace of mind in her final days. Settling down with a girl to please your dying grandmother sounds like something that would happen in some tragic love story that surely ends with death and at least one shattered heart. But I can’t deny the appeal. I could pretend to be someone I’m not for a few months to make Grandma happy. Hell, I’ve been pretending to be someone I’m not for the past nine years. A few months will be a piece of cake.
It’s settled. I’m going to get myself a girlfriend, maybe even a fiancée. This shouldn’t be too difficult, especially since I already have a prime candidate in mind.
I leave the recording studio with Senia’s phone number, even though Chris refused to give it to me. He has a bad habit of leaving his phone unattended in the control room. It didn’t take long to find Senia’s phone number, and I swiped Claire’s number as insurance, in case Senia tries to ignore my calls.
I’m not one to chase girls. But I’d be lying if I said that I haven’t been thinking about Senia since our tryst outside the yogurt shop. When I asked her who she had been talking to on the phone, she pushed me off of her then quickly got dressed and left. I drove home licking the taste of her and the yogurt from my lips. I kept thinking back to all the times we’d almost had sex. Then I began to remember all the times I’d tried to have sex with her and she rejected me because she was in a relationship.
The worst memory I have of Senia has to be the time we almost had sex in the pub restroom in September. It was almost three months ago, but I still cringe when I think of the words I said to her. I actually said, “You’ll do,” as we were tearing at each other’s clothes, as if I were settling for her. That’s the kind of thing I’m used to doing: lashing out at someone who’s rejected or hurt me in the past. I have to be prepared to approach things differently with Senia this time. I have to prepare myself for the inevitable rejection and I have to resist my desire to hurt her when it comes.
Pursuing Senia will also be complicated by her friendship with Claire and my friendship with Chris. It may also be the one shot I have at a normal, convincing relationship.
I climb into the driver’s seat of my car and shoot her a text that works with most girls, even though I have a strong suspicion that Senia is not like most girls.
Me: I was thinking about you while I was in the studio today.
It’s not a lie. I was thinking about her while I was hurriedly scrolling through the contacts on Chris’s phone searching for her number. I tuck the phone into my pocket then peel out of the Reverb parking lot. By the time I pull into the driveway in front of my house in Cary, I’m certain that I’ll have a response to my text.
I slide out of the driver’s seat and slam the door before I activate the alarm. Slipping the phone out of my pocket, I see the notification that I have four text messages. I smile as I unlock my phone and navigate to the messaging app.
Molly: Grandma said you don’t have to come over tomorrow. Her insurance company is sending a van.
Me: Tell her to cancel the van. I’ll be there at 11 like I said.
I open the next message and I’m not surprised to see it’s from Jenny.
Jenny: My roommate is visiting family in Vermont. Want to come over?
I met Jenny at the show we played in Durham last month. Her roommate hates me, which makes Jenny perfect. This means she has to keep me at a distance. Plus, she can do some pretty amazing things with her mouth. Normally, I’d jump on the chance for an easy fuck like Jenny, but something about waiting for Senia’s text makes me hesitate.
Me: Maybe some other time.
The next text is from Chris, threatening to feed me to Rachel’s Aunt Maddie if I text Senia. Rachel is Jake’s girlfriend who became his fiancée last week. Not many people know that Rachel and Jake met in high school band class. Of course, Jake played the snare drum. Though Rachel grew up playing the piano, her mom made her attempt to take up the saxophone that year. Jake told me that he once caught her practicing a Kenny G song in her bedroom. Rachel threatened bodily harm if I ever tell anyone about this.
I take it, from Chris’s text, he must have found the selfie I left on his phone today. The last text is from Rachel warning me that if I’m late to tomorrow’s recording session she’ll poison me slowly. Considering Chris rolled into the studio later than I did, he probably received an even more colorful version of this text. I don’t know why the fuck Jake lets her be such a bitch to everyone. I would never allow my girl to bust my friends’ balls like that.
The one time I called Jake out on this, it was Chris who answered for him. “Rachel is only saying exactly what we’re all thinking.” Chris may be like a brother to me and he may be the wisest asshole when it comes to charming the ladies, but he doesn’t know shit about controlling them. Whether they admit it or not, women want to be dominated. They want to be owned.
Except for Senia, it seems, because she still hasn’t responded to my text.
When I enter the house, Lily the cleaning lady is just gathering up her cleaning supplies and her vacuum cleaner to leave. I walk past her without acknowledging her presence and head straight for the kitchen. It smells like that lemon-scented cleaner she uses. I walk past the dining area and through the French doors onto the veranda.
I bought this house in September because I wanted to be far enough from Raleigh that I wouldn’t have to worry about running into Elaine. Also, I wanted to be far enough that Grandma Flo and Molly wouldn’t try to track me down and pay me any surprise visits. I’ve been living in this house more than two months and I can’t decide what makes me feel worse: the fact that Molly and Grandma still don’t know where I live or the fact that they haven’t tried to figure it out.
I head past the outdoor dining table where I’ve made at least a half-dozen girls come until they were practically unconscious. Removing the metal grate from in front of the stone fireplace, I reach my hand inside and feel around over the rough stone. My hand hits the screw jutting out the inner surface of the chimney and my fingers follow the chain that hangs loosely from the screw. I pull the necklace off the screw and ball up my fist around it before I take a seat on one of the cushioned deckchairs.
My fist closes tightly around the gold chain with the heart pendant as I gaze out across the vast expanse of green grass behind the house that stretches out farther than my eyes can see. It’s been four years since Ashley admitted to cheating on me and threw this necklace at my face. I don’t know why I’ve kept it, other than to hold on to a reminder that relationships aren’t worth the trouble. And the sickening suspicion in the pit of my gut that I’m just as worthless.
Leaning forward in the chair, I slowly open my fist. The gold is covered in soot, which coats the palm of my hand in dark striations that crisscross my skin. I stand up and chuck the necklace out onto the grass, so far that I’m certain it lands on my neighbor’s property.
Good. It’s someone else’s trouble now.
Three days later
“Elaine called this morning,” Grandma says as she drops the thawed turkey carcass into a bucket filled with ice and her special brine; a mixture of water, white wine, honey, salt, and various spices, which she drowns the turkey in the night before Thanksgiving. The tinny sound of Christmas music is playing from a clock radio on the counter as she leans over to pick up the bucket, which must weigh over forty pounds now with the turkey in it.
I reach down and take the bucket out of her hands. “You shouldn’t be cooking. You should be resting.” I don’t bother acknowledging her comment about Elaine calling. She already knows how I feel about that. I don’t want to know about anything to do with her.
“I’m not dead yet. I can’t just lie there and feel sorry for myself. Put it on the counter.”
I heave the bucket onto the quartz countertop and watch as she begins pulling ingredients out of the fridge and the cupboards to make apple pie. She’s wearing one of the many checkered blue and white aprons she makes by hand. Grandma Flo hasn’t worked in twelve years, since Molly and I came to live with her. She used to live modestly off her savings and the life insurance money she received after Grandpa Ivan passed. Now I support her, though she refuses to buy or use more than she needs.
She grew up with very little in a different time when nothing was wasted and people helped their neighbors. It wasn’t until she got married and Elaine was in school that she decided to get a job and be a bit more independent – less traditional. Grandma insists that the reason Elaine turned to drugs shortly after I was born was because she worked outside the home and Elaine spent a lot of time alone. It’s a decision she has never stopped regretting. She never wanted Molly or me to feel like she was too busy for us. Now, all I can think of as I watch her sifting the salt into the flour is that she’s been too busy for herself.
I pull a chair out from the kitchen table and move all the ingredients she just placed on the counter onto the table. She shakes her head as I hold the chair out for her, but she reluctantly takes a seat. I grab the bowl of apples and she smiles as I begin peeling them for her.
“Don’t forget to squeeze some lemon juice on the apples so they don’t brown,” she warns me.
“I can’t believe I’m making a damn apple pie.”
“You should put on an apron. I’m sure you’ll catch some girls if you post a photograph of that on the Facebook.”
I grab a lemon out of the fruit bowl on the counter and cut it in half to squeeze some juice over the peeled apples. “You’d better not tell anyone I did this,” I say as I kiss the top of her head. “I’ll be back in a few hours. Do you need me to bring anything back?”
“Bring me some brown sugar and one of those bottles of sparkling cider Molly likes.”
I hurry out to my car, eager to get out of the house before Molly gets back with her friend Carissa. Thirteen-year-old girls with crushes are not as cute as they seem. Most thirteen-year-old girls these days have been exposed to enough internet porn to think they know what they’re doing. Carissa’s crush on me only seems to grow stronger the more I avoid her, but the alternative is making friends with her and that’s just plain disgusting.
I pull out of the driveway and head to the local pub where Chris and I use to chill out every Wednesday night, before he decided to go solo last year. Everything’s changed since then. We’re only twenty-one, but look at us. Chris has a kid he’s fighting to know. Jake is getting married. We’re fucking adults. And what am I doing? I bought a fucking house.
I enter the bar and immediately take the second-to-last stool from the end of the bar. Chris used to sit in the last seat and old habits are hard to break. Link, the bartender, nods as he finishes pouring a beer for a guy with a long gray beard. I don’t recognize the guy, but I haven’t been here in over a year. He could be a new regular.
Link slides the beer in front of the guy then heads over to me. “What’s up, bro? Long time no see.”
Link has more tats and piercings than Chris and I combined, which is saying a lot considering Chris is fucking addicted to ink. I only have nine tats. I’ve been holding off on getting the tenth one because I’ve convinced myself that it’s going to be some fucking special occasion.
“Get me a Pliny,” I say as we shake hands. “I’m so fucking over this holiday shit.”
“You need some pussy,” Link says as he reaches into the fridge under the bar and pulls out a cold Pliny the Elder. “You remember my girl Tara? Her friend Chrissy is coming in to pick up something in just a few minutes. You should hit that.”
As easy as that, he’s just pimping out his girlfriend’s best friend, like he’s so sure she’s just going to do whatever the fuck I want. Well, she probably will, but the point is that I’m not the only one who does this. I’m not the only one who thinks of a woman as a means to an end. Fuck Chrissy and feel better about myself, maybe relieve some stress. Is it normal to think of another human being as a tool to be used as a fucking form of therapy? I don’t know. But after five beers and two shots of whiskey, when Chrissy walks in with her pink scarf wrapped around her neck and her tight jeans hugging a luscious ass, I don’t fucking care.
I stare at the way her breasts rest on the bar when she leans over it as Link reaches into a cup next to the cash register and pulls out a set of keys. He hands her the keys and she squints at me as she turns to leave.
“Make sure you keep the fire going until we get there tomorrow morning,” Link says to her. “That cabin is cold as fuck right now.”
She nods without looking at him, her eyes glued to me. “You’re Chris Knight’s—”
“Bassist,” I say, trying not to let her see how annoying it is that hardly anyone knows me as anything other than Chris’s bassist. “And you’re Chrissy. I’ve heard all about you. You need some help getting the fire started in that cabin?”
She smiles shyly and for a moment I think she’s going to turn down my offer, then she nods.
I plunk down a hundred-dollar bill and my car keys on the bar. “Bring my car tomorrow?” I ask Link and he nods, then I slip my hand under her scarf and her blonde hair to grab the back of her neck as I lead her outside. I do this partially because I’m unsteady on my feet from the alcohol and partially because girls love when you grab them by the neck. It all goes back to that ownership thing. It’s fucking ridiculous how predictable women are.
A dull pang of guilt registers in my belly. I should be driving to the grocery store to get Grandma’s Thanksgiving goods, but I can’t drive drunk. Might as well burn off this alcohol with my favorite kind of cardio. I’ll be back at Grandma’s tomorrow morning in time to help with whatever she needs for T-Day dinner.
When we reach the parking lot, I’m a little put off by her white Lexus. Either this girl has money or she’s driving someone else’s car. As if she can read my thoughts, she blurts out, “This is my mom’s car.” She hits the key fob to disable the alarm and I seize this small moment of distraction to grab her face and kiss her hard. She whimpers as I push her against the car and press my body against hers.
She tastes like black licorice and it almost triggers my gag reflex. I hate licorice. I pull my face back and stare at her for a second as she attempts to catch her breath.
I feel nothing.
Everything is exactly as it should be.
“Let’s go,” I whisper and she hastily sets off to the driver’s side.
I slide into the beige leather passenger seat then lean my head back and close my eyes as I try not to reach into my pocket for my phone. No drunk texting tonight. Tonight, I’m going to fuck Chrissy into a stupor. I’ll worry about the rest tomorrow.
I wake up just after 7 a.m. with Chrissy’s cheek resting on my abdomen just above my dick. She’s lying crosswise on the bed and my hand is on her back. Her ass is even nicer with her clothes off. My head is killing me and I have a vague memory of Chrissy telling me that Link, his girlfriend, and Link’s family would be here in the morning to celebrate Thanksgiving. It’s 7 a.m. We still have time for one more goodbye fuck.
I slide my hand over her ribs and reach over to grab her breast. She groans softly as she turns over to face me, her head still resting on my abdomen. Her make-up is smeared all over her eyes and her lips look a little swollen, but definitely still fuckable.
“Sit up,” I order her and she looks confused.
“What time is it?”
“Seven o’clock. Sit up.”
Her eyes widen as she sits up on her knees. “They’re gonna be here in less than an hour!” she cries. “We have to clean up.”
Her eyes dart around the dimly lit bedroom in the cabin, which isn’t really a cabin. It’s a tiny house on a farm forty-five minutes outside of Raleigh. Though it does look like a cabin from the outside, there isn’t a mountain in sight.
“Calm down. An hour is plenty of time.”
I sit up and grab the back of her neck. She looks me in the eye as my other hand slides between her legs. Her panic melts as I stroke her clit. I tangle my fingers in her hair and pull her up until we’re both standing on our knees on the mattress facing each other. She whimpers as I plunge two fingers inside her wet pussy to unearth her moisture. I hook my middle finger inside her, using my thumb to keep pressure on her clit as I massage her g-spot. Her shoulders begin to curl inward as she gets close to climax, but I tighten my grip on her hair and pull her head up.
“Do you want me to finish you?”
“Yes!” she cries, panting between gasps. “Yes, please.” I ease the pressure off her clit and her mouth drops open as I remove my finger from inside her. “No, no, please. Please finish,” she begs as she reaches for my hand.
I grab her hand and force it behind her back as I lean in and whisper in her ear. “I’ll finish you, but first you have to sit back and do what I say.”
She nods her head and immediately obeys when I instruct her to lie back with her shoulders against the headboard. I’m out of condoms so I’ll have to make do with what’s available. I straddle her chest and her eyes widen at the sight of my cock inches from her face.
“That’s … that’s kind of big,” she whispers.
“Don’t worry. I’ll go easy on you.”
I slide my hand behind her head, to control the movement and to protect her head from the headboard, then I slide into her mouth. I go slow at first, to let her adjust to my girth, but she soon reaches around to grab hold of my ass and push me farther inside. The pressure of her lips and the warm wetness of her tongue are perfect, but her teeth are killing me.
“Open your mouth wider,” I groan and she mutters something I can’t understand with my cock in her mouth. “Fuck.” I can’t fuck her. I’m out of condoms and I’m not making that mistake again, but I can’t take the scraping. I pull out of her mouth and her lips look red and stretched. “Turn around.”
She quickly turns onto her belly and I grab her waist to pull her hips up into the air. I shake my head to shake off the doubts then I glide an inch into her pussy, just to get my dick wet, then I pull out. She gasps as I slide my heat between her cheeks and press gently against the opening.
“Feel free to scream,” I say as I slide inside, just a smidge farther with each stroke.
She buries her face in the pillow with the flannel pillowcase to muffle her screams and I’m glad for that when I hear my phone vibrating on the nightstand. I should let it ring, but my thoughts bounce to all different sorts of scenarios. Maybe Grandma’s calling about the brown sugar I was supposed to bring her last night, or Molly is calling for her cider. Or maybe it’s Senia finally coming to her senses.
I quickly pull out of Chrissy and reach for the phone. When I glimpse the name on the screen, I can’t believe my eyes. It’s Elaine. She knows I’ll never answer her calls, so I’m not sure why she even tries. I hit the ignore button and I’m not at all surprised when I look down and see I’ve lost my erection.
I look back at my phone and see a voicemail notification from Molly. I press the play icon and listen: Tristan – wait! Oh, sh—’
I laugh as I imagine her dropping her phone. I’ll call her back once I’m out of here.
“Who the fuck was that?”
“You have a dirty mouth,” I tell Chrissy as I hurry up and start gathering my clothes off the wooden floor to get dressed.
“Are you leaving?” she shrieks as I pull on my pants.
“You said your friends are getting here at eight. It’s seven thirty.” I pull on my shirt and shoot off another text to Senia wishing her a Happy Thanksgiving. She can’t ignore me forever.
“Don’t you at least want my number?” she says as she jumps out of bed and follows me to the front door naked.
“Already fucked you and it wasn’t that great.”
She swings her open hand at my face, but I open the door in time to block it. Her hand smacks the inside of the door hard enough that it makes me a little nervous.
“Your hand okay?” I say with a chuckle, but I quickly slam the door shut as she reaches back to take another shot.
I laugh as I turn around and Link and his girlfriend, whose name I can’t remember, are coming up the paved stone walkway.
“You bastard,” Link says with a smile as he slaps my keys into the palm of my hand. “I knew you’d hit that.”
“You guys are pigs!” his girlfriend shouts, elbowing Link in the stomach as she makes her way to the front door.
“Do you always have to resort to violence?” he barks at her.
“You might want to give her a few seconds to get dressed,” I say over my shoulder.
Link shakes his head, a smirk materializing beneath his painful grimace. “Happy Thanksgiving, bro.”
“Same to you.”
I slide into the driver’s seat and immediately attempt to call Molly. After four rings, I get her voicemail greeting.
Why are both Molly and Elaine trying to reach me?
I hang up and toss the phone onto the passenger seat as I pull away from the cabin and start off down the long dirt road that leads off the farm and onto the highway. I speed along the highway back to Raleigh, shaving a good ten minutes off the forty-five-minute drive.
When I pull up next to the curb outside Grandma Flo’s, I’m not surprised to see Elaine’s shitty Nissan parked in the driveway. If it weren’t Thanksgiving and if I weren’t so worried, I’d peel the fuck out of here. I rush out of the car, not at all looking forward to seeing Elaine when I’m hungover and wearing last night’s clothes. But I guess it’s better that she thinks I’m a worthless drunk who’s pissing his millions into the toilet. The less she knows about me the better.
I race up the front steps then open the door, preparing my psyche for the inevitable rage that will follow the sight of her emaciated face. The living room is empty, so I quickly move to the only logical place for Grandma to be on Thanksgiving morning: the kitchen. The kitchen is also empty and the turkey is still swimming in the bucket of brine. Grandma usually gets it into the oven by 6 a.m. Something’s wrong.
The gods of Thanksgiving and I have a secret pact: I eat all their tasty offerings and they agree to not let me vomit or gain more than five pounds. Unfortunately, they never seem to hold up their end of the bargain on the weight gain and, when December rolls around, I find myself renewing my pact with the treadmill gods. But I think I may have been a bit overenthusiastic in my commitment to consuming the tasty offerings of the day. I feel sick, which gives me the perfect opportunity to skip out on family karaoke hour so I can handle some covertbusiness.
Once Claire is deeply entrenched in a karaoke battle with my cousin Nico, I sneak out of the family room and race upstairs. It’s a few minutes past one in the afternoon. Tristan texted me about six hours ago. I know I’m going to regret this.
Me: Thanks for the kind message. Now kindly stop texting me. I’m not interested in being one of your concubines.
I actually get a pain in my chest after I hit send. I know I’m supposed to hate Tristan and I’m sure as hell not supposed to talk to him, but I can’t help but feel like I’m misjudging him. Like we’re all misjudging him.
That’s so stupid! That’s exactly what guys like him want girls to think. Oh, poor misjudged Tristan who fucks anything that breathes.
I met Tristan a little more than three years ago after a show they played in Durham. Claire and I had been friends for a total of five weeks, but I already knew, from the moment she shared her love of Vampire Diaries with me, that she and I were destined to be best friends forever. She actually had to drag me to the show. I was pretty shy before college. Most of my friends throughout junior high and high school were math geeks, like me. Unfortunately, none of my high school friends ended up attending UNC Chapel Hill. Starting from scratch is difficult for any eighteen-year-old, but for a kid with moderate social anxiety, it’s torture. Thankfully, Claire supported me through my drink-till-you-don’t-give-a-fuck stage of development. So, of course, the first thing I did when I arrived at the club in Durham to watch Chris, Tristan, and Jake perform was get shit-faced drunk.
Needless to say, my eyes were glued to Tristan all night as crazy thoughts of marriage and babies – and hot sex – raced through my socially inept and highly inebriated brain. Eventually, about halfway through the show, he finally cast his smoky gaze in my direction and smiled – a smile that I would later learn he and Chris refer to as their crowd smile. But, let me tell you, when he directed that smile my way … I’m not ashamed to say that I think I may have peed a little.
I am definitely never going to text him again. Unless it’s to send him a pic of my awesome bunion, as I promised Claire.
Tristan: Whatever you say.
Great! Now I feel like an asshole.
No. I will not allow him to do this to me. I will not text him again.
I sigh as I lie back on my bed and close my eyes. I try to push the images from that day outside Yogurtland out of my head, but it’s no use. It’s all I’ve been able to think about for the past twelve days. It was so different from all the other times Tristan and I have come close to having sex. It was almost as if seeing me on the phone with someone else spurred some competitive streak inside of him and he needed to outdo Eddie. And, let’s be honest, as amazing as Eddie is in bed, he could never be Tristan.
What the hell am I thinking? Stop it, Senia!
Oh, great. Now I’m yelling at myself inside my head.
It wasn’t just the sex. He wanted to know who I was talking to on the phone. That’s not just sex, right?
No, it was sex combined with typical male territorial issues. It wasn’t just sex. It was a fucking pissing contest. I am not anyone’s property! Especially not anyone’s property to piss on.
Okay, that settles it. I am not texting him back.
Me: Are you okay?
Tristan: No. I’m at the hospital.
Me: What’s wrong?
Tristan: Can I call you later?
Shit! I’m so stupid. I stare at the text for a few minutes before I begin typing. The bedroom door flies open and Claire walks in. I quickly tuck the phone underneath me before I can finish typing my response.
“What are you doing in here?” she asks, looking winded and flushed from singing.
“Nothing. Just trying to digest the twenty pounds of food I’ve eaten. No better way to make sure it goes straight to my ass than lying down and doing absolutely nothing.”
Claire raises an eyebrow. “Why are you acting like I just caught you masturbating?”
I laugh as I sit up and discreetly push my phone underneath my pillow. “Please. You’ve caught me masturbating plenty of times.”
“Oh God, please. I don’t want to talk about you touching yourself.”
“Whatever. Let’s go downstairs. I think I’m ready for some more pumpkin pie.”
I glance over my shoulder at the pillow and shake my head as I close my bedroom door.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Cassia Leo grew up in California and has lived in three different countries. She loves to travel and her dream is to one day score a record deal based on her awesome shower singing skills. She is the author of the Shattered Hearts series (Relentless, Pieces of You, Bring Me Home). She is also the author of the popular Luke and Chase series.