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She started shuddering.


There was so much pain here, and it all started with the fucker named Duke.

“Quincey, please stay. I’m sorry about Calihan. She didn’t realize how important—”

“Yes, she did.” I stopped her. I shifted my hand to lace my fingers with Quincey’s.

The mom jerked her gaze back to me, and she swallowed, taking a step back. Her hands lowered.

I tried to gentle my tone, but I was pissed. “I’m going to give you my assessment of everyone in this room, and you can tell me if I’m wrong or not, but I’ll be honest. I won’t care. You, you seem nice. You seem like you care, and you seem very happy that Quincey is here. And I think relieved, too. You also seem on edge and fearful because you know your other girl has some residual anger issues and came here to throw her little tantrum, maybe try to put Quincey in her place. You disagreed, but you’re scared to speak up for whatever reason. Your man. He seems nice, too. Loyal. Gentle. But quiet. He’s in the background letting things play out, and that’s probably how his father was, and his father’s father, and your man seems like he likes that role. He’s content with that role. Graham, I’m not going to assess him because I know him. I like him. I respect him. The girlfriend, she’s nice, but she’s nervous, too. She also knows the two friends shouldn’t be here, and she was nervous about my reaction. She was the first to clue in, knowing there’d be fireworks when I got up here. Probably the reason she downed more drinks than she might’ve normally drunk for a night like this. The two friends, I’m not going to assess them because they shouldn’t be here. And they know it, but they signed up to be pawns. Now, Calihan, that’s a different matter. Right now, I’m not liking her one fucking bit. She seems like a spoiled brat, and that word can easily be interchanged with another that rhymes with witch. And when I say that, you need to know I’m not judging her for being a brat. I’m not judging anyone here.” I looked at the sister. “These are facts on how I see the dynamics playing out, and I don’t care two fucks that you might have reason to be a brat. God knows that I’ve been a dick, an asshole, and all other forms of a male brat in my youth, but it’s not the time or place to handle that right now. Right now is about hopefully coming together so we can keep Dick Royas away from Nova. And if you’re going to be a brat, I don’t want you involved. Now, we’ll leave and let this family handle their shit. When it’s handled, give me a call.”

And with that, we left.





I’d never seen anything like it. Ever.

Nate almost dragged me to his vehicle because I was so stunned. I couldn’t move.

I held onto him with two hands, but as soon as we were seated, a laugh began low in my belly. It wasn’t a happy laugh. It was a WTF laugh with a hint of hysteria and an edge of something unbalanced inside me.

He—I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.

Calihan showed up when Nate was downstairs, and I knew the night would end badly. She came in and breezed past me without a hello. Her two friends followed, both giving me nasty looks. It didn’t help that both were dancers, and I’d beaten them out for solos over and over again in the ballet company. There’d been years of that, so Calihan fully knew who she had picked to bring to this dinner.

They were there to make me feel miserable.

It didn’t work.

Not this time. Holy moly, not this time.

Nate didn’t let anything happen. He said his piece, waited, saw that he didn’t get through to her, and decided not to waste his time.

My body was throbbing. I wanted him. Badly.

I was aching because I couldn’t go there. I wouldn’t be able to handle a fuck from him. I knew it. I just knew it. This man, he was too much for me. Too hard. Too sexy. Too demanding. Too commanding. Too, just too. He could become an addiction that I’d never come back from.

I couldn’t do that because of Nova.

The thought of her was like a cold shower hitting me, and the lust that he’d ignited was doused to a slow, smoldering fire. The embers were still going but just barely. They were smoking, but this way, they weren’t inflamed. I wouldn’t do anything that I’d regret in the morning.

He started the engine and pulled away from the curb. “You okay?”

My stomach let out a loud grumble, and I laughed. My hand covered it. “Yeah. I’m...I’m good.” I turned to him, a new appreciation brimming in me. “Thank you for that.”

He pressed his mouth tight. “That girl wasted my night. I’m pissed about that.”

Another growl from my stomach.

He threw me a slight grin. “Let’s have dinner before heading back. We’re already out. Emily is watching Nova. Let’s take advantage of the night.”

A sensation zinged through me, setting my insides awake and excited. I was trying to tell myself not to look into that comment, but I recognized the butterflies in my stomach for what they were. They were starting, and the few times they’d started fluttering before, I was already past the point of cutting someone off. The feelings were already in there and rooted.

This was so not a good idea, but I sighed. “That sounds like a good plan.”

Dinner, that is.

My feelings, not a good plan.

One meal wasn’t going to hurt at this point.

I was wrong. One meal hurt, a lot.

It was Keela, and that was the first moment I knew something was off.

Keela was expensive and exclusive. The clientele was wealthy and famous.

I loved Keela. I loved loved it.

It’d been kept for special events, so I’d only been there a few times. And part of that reason was because it was confidential. When you showed up, you called ahead. They waved you in using a few different entryways. We didn’t have paparazzi in Seattle, but there were gossip bloggers who sometimes hung out in the coffee places nearby, just to keep an eye out for who might be going to Keela. I never cared. No one in my family or life was famous. Principal dancers didn’t get a lot of attention in the mainstream media. That suited me.

They had us drive in using a back alley that dipped into a basement garage. That was new.

The greeter met us at the door wearing a professional smile with our menu already in hand. We were also greeted with two glasses of champagne.

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