The Insiders

Page 78

“You’re temporary, you know.”


I turned. Victoria had sidled up next to me, and—bully for her—I just now realized I had pulled back until I was standing in the corner. No one was within hearing distance. She got me. But wait. No. Bully for me. She’d been pissed about me since the beginning. I had a gut feeling it was always about Kash, with everyone saying he was her ex, but maybe it was time I found out.

I sighed. “What’s your problem with me?”

She grinned, holding a wineglass in hand. “Just one?”

She’d darkened her hair so it looked like a sunset, a wheat blond mixing in with bright highlights. Long limbs. Long legs. A pastel yellow tunic, sheer enough that her white bikini could be seen, ended just over the tops of her legs. She didn’t wear shorts, just her bikini bottoms. Her heels were high, but sparkly and pink. Sunglasses covered her eyes, and she had a slight smattering of lip gloss coating her mouth.

I didn’t rise to her bait. “How long did you and Kash date?”

Her eyebrows shot up. I’d caught her off guard. But she recovered quickly, shifting back on her heels and saying smoothly, “We were together for two years.” She hesitated before plunging forward. “But I’ve known him forever.”

I was trying to see it. I was.

I was trying to run the math in my head of Kash with her, but I couldn’t see it. This was a conversation I should run by Kash, not her. I’d seen too much to know I shouldn’t believe whatever she had to say. I wasn’t a jealous person, though I could feel intimidated, pushed down.

I’d just feel hurt, not anger.

Which was happening now, slightly, because there was a small voice in the back of my head wondering why he picked me.

I tuned back in to what Victoria was saying.

“Kash and I are meant to be together. Everyone knows it. Why do you think Quinn has me come over for Seraphina?” She was so haughty as she was talking. “I’m family. Already. He’ll get tired of you. You’re just a novelty to him, a brand-new shiny toy. Trust me; he’ll come back to me. He always does.” She sounded so assured.

But I still couldn’t see it because he had not once looked at her, not ever. If Victoria’s name was mentioned, he never even paused.

He would have. There would’ve been a look, if he had cared, if she was the one he was meant to be with. So I told her my thoughts.

The look on her face. Dark and stormy.

“You don’t know anything.” She lowered her head, almost hissing under her breath. “They’ll all get tired of you, and they’ll remember why you weren’t brought into the family in the first place. There’s a reason you were kept a secret. Once the press stops giving a shit about you—and that’ll happen too—you’ll be shipped back to where you came from. Everyone will forget you. Matt. Seraphina. Cyclone. They’ll all move on, continue with their lives, because you’re beneath them. You’re a secret. You aren’t worthy of this family.”

The words stung.

I gritted my teeth. “You don’t know anything.”

“I know that—”

“Enough!” A growl erupted from behind us, and we both whirled.

I gulped.

Victoria paled.

Peter was standing there. Hands fisted. Steam coming out of his head. Jaw clenched. He was pissed. He swung his gaze to me. “Is that what people have been saying to you? That you aren’t worthy of this family?”

“Mr. Francis—”

He didn’t cut her off. He didn’t say anything to make Victoria jump back, but he looked at her. That was it. Just a look. One deep and withering look that said everything. If the girl spoke up again, she was risking her life





Suddenly, all those words she’d said to me weren’t so piercing anymore.

But he was still waiting for me to answer, and as he looked back to me, I ducked my head down. It was one thing seeing how he eviscerated Victoria with a look, but it was a different thing to have the father I never knew, who’d been ignoring me, who finally just spoke to me for the first time tonight, look at me as if he was viewing me with a whole new filter.

Things. Annoying things were clogging my throat.

“What’s going on?”

Matt and Kash came over. Kash spoke over my head. “What’d you say, Vic?”


God. He had a nickname for her.


Peter overrode her. “She spewed out a bunch of bullshit, that’s what she was saying.” He took a beat, saying more softly, “Bailey.” He waited. Then, “Look at me. Please.”

I did, but I didn’t want to. I didn’t have the emotions in check, and a tear slid down my face.

I heard Chrissy gasp as she was rounding the pool, too.

Hayes women didn’t cry. We endured. We were tough. We kept going.

We did not cry.

Except these eye things kept leaking. They were broken.

“What the hell?” There was my mama bear, growling. “What’d you say to her?” But she wasn’t accusing Victoria. Her words were directed at Peter, her finger in the air.

He threw his head up, an incredulous look on his face. “Keep your hate in check, woman. I’m trying to make things right, for once. And I’m done waiting around.” He swept the entire pool area in a gaze, his eyes falling and pinning to me. He spoke up. “Labor Day is in a week and a half. We will be having a party that day.”

Quinn came forward. “Honey?”

Matt frowned. “Dad?”

His jaw clenched. “It’s time I announce my daughter to the world.”

He wasn’t done.

He turned to my mom. “I am never letting her go, not again. Do not push me on this, and do not make this difficult. I will take you on if I have to.”

“She’s an adult. No one’s got custody of her,” Quinn was saying, coming forward in her own high heels and wearing an outfit remarkably similar to Victoria’s. “She can make her own decisions—”

“Exactly!” He was skewering his wife and my mother at the same time, with the same look. “She’s a part of this family from now on. I will hear nothing against this, do you both understand?”

I was confused. Not about Quinn, but my mom. Chrissy hadn’t been trying to talk me into leaving. She had stayed. She was just as locked in with Seraphina, Matt, and Cyclone as I was. But I still saw that guilt. That was there for a reason.

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