Logan went over, grabbed my wallet, and tossed it on the bed. “Wash your face, brother. We’re going out.”
I groaned and sat forward. “I don’t know if my legs will walk.”
“Then we’ll carry you.” Mason stepped forward.
Yes. They would.
I needed alone time, and I needed to move.
It started snowing this morning, so I left the lights off when I headed into my studio. I opened the wall chambers to expose the floor-to-ceiling windows, then put the music on. The heat filtered through, but I kept it turned down.
There was so much noise in my head. Too much.
I needed to clear it out. I needed things to make sense.
Nothing was making sense right now.
You win. Always. Those were my father’s words, his motto. It was how he lived his life.
Valerie didn’t live life that way. Neither did our mom. Neither did Graham and Calihan.
Why did she choose me to take Nova?
Why did Valerie want her in this life with me?
“Oh my God, Quince! You can’t be serious with that costume.”
I was stretching and paused as Valerie’s voice ripped through my concentration. It was a memory, and Valerie had been laughing. It was one of my rare visits to our mom’s house on Halloween. I was dressed as the Statue of Liberty, and Valerie had dressed as a fairy. She looked cute in a green tutu with pink glitter all over her body and in her hair. I came out with a microphone wrapped in cellophane and a white sheet around my body. I was wearing a wig and had gold glitter all over me.
I thought I’d been ingenious.
Valerie and Calihan had not. They both jumped up from eating brownies, and I was quickly changed into the third fairy for their trio of fairies. It’d been one of the few times I felt as “one” with my sisters.
My phone buzzed, lighting up the studio.
I paused, the memory now fading, and I reached over, seeing Ricci’s name on the screen. She was the only friend I kept in contact with from high school. I swiped the screen, her text lighting up with a picture.
Ricci: OH MY GOD! That’s him, isn’t it?! And he’s in Seattle now???? U ok? Have u seen him yet?
I clicked on the picture, seeing Nate at a nightclub with his two friends on either side of him. It was from one of the gossip blogs, the headline reading, Mason Kade and Nate Monson at Club Poof!
A second picture came in. This one was Logan shielding Nate, his arm up, and he was scowling over his shoulder at a photographer.
Ricci: Holy shit. They’re all hot! No wonder Nova is already stunning.
I instantly softened, a warmth spreading through me because she was. She had the beginning of a serene face. Nova was going to be absolutely gorgeous, but it made sense. Valerie had done a small stint as a model, and now I had seen Nate’s looks up close and personal.
But there was more.
There was the air that moved around him. It was like he was a vacuum, and he pulled you to him. As if you needed oxygen and he was the only one to give it to you.
A third picture from Ricci.
This must’ve been from later in the night. All three were exiting Club Poof, a trendy nightclub usually known for being secretive about its clientele. And Seattle didn’t usually have paparazzi at the ready, so either a call was made or someone sold their pictures. I wasn’t altogether surprised. I’d forgotten Nate’s relation to Blaise DeVroe, who had been Seattle’s star soccer player for a couple of years.
Of course, Nate would be recognized here.
I cursed softly, sitting more on my butt and drawing my knees up to my chest.
My phone started ringing.
I hit accept. “Hey.”
I flinched, hearing the catch in my voice.
“Oh. Whoa. You okay? Did you see the pics I just sent?”
My heart sank, but I didn’t know why. “I saw them.”
She was quiet.
“You okay, babe? You don’t sound okay,” she murmured.
I set the phone on the floor, putting it on speaker, and I rested my cheek against my knee. “I’m… I’ve seen him for the past two days.”
I heard her swift intake of breath.
“It’s why he’s here, Ric.”
“Oh. Babe. I didn’t know that would happen that fast.”
“He met up with our PI, so it made sense to move fast before he could get his own side assembled, you know?” Acid filled my mouth as I said those words. It felt wrong. It tasted wrong.
It was wrong.
“What does…?” She sounded so hesitant. “What does Daddy Duke say about all this?”
I snorted. “What do you think?”
“Quincey.” It was a soft sigh from her.
A lump was in my throat, bulging out, choking me. “Yeah.”
“I just want to make sure I’m hearing this right. Your dad for sure wants to fight for Nova?”
“You think, I mean, what’s Nate Monson like?”
“Oh.” I bit out a harsh laugh. “He’s prepared for war. It’s why his friends are here, too.”
“I was wondering about that. I mean, that one is missing football practice, right?”
“He missed one. When we got the paternity test results back, I took Nova over there again, and he was gone. I’m sure he had to go back. The other one is still there. He’s the lawyer one.”
“Babe. Man. I’m sorry. Wait. Paternity test?”
“Oh. I mean, that makes sense. Kinda? It confirmed he’s the dad, right?”
“He is. But I already knew. I never doubted Val.”
“Your sister wasn’t a liar. Now, Calihan, on the other hand…” She laughed, trailing off.
I laughed. It was true. My younger sister was a lot, but I laughed because I needed to. So much was building, rising. Things were escalating. It started when Carl called.
The hotel meeting.
The meeting at the house.
The hotel again.
Every call since then, every visit since then.
And just now, hearing Ricci’s pity, a dam broke inside me.
It was wrong.
I’d been feeling it this whole time, but damn. Damn!