Authors: P. T. Michelle
The gladiator puffs his muscular chest up like a peacock, his gaze slitting. “You don’t recognize me without my helmet, do you?”
What the hell is he rambling about? Wait…football?
“Are you talking about high school?” I’ve killed men with no names, but whose faces will remain etched in my mind until I take my last breath. I’ve been attacked by men wielding knives, bullets, and explosives. I’ve seen best friends go through PTSD, lose their limbs, their lives, and plenty of other dark shit I’d prefer to forget.
For a split-second, I just stare incredulously at this jackass, who lives in his safe, elitist bubble. Shaking my head, I move to walk around him.
He sidesteps back into my path and folds his arms. “That’s right,” he says, tilting his chin at an arrogant angle. “Even as a sophomore I kicked your team’s ass. Celeste is mine. Stay away from her.”
Just as Bash starts to put a staying hand on my shoulder, my fist connects with the fucker’s smug face as I grit out, “Celeste knows who’s worth spending her time with.”
The guy hits the floor hard, skidding across the wood. Everyone backs away and stops talking to watch as the idiot jumps to his feet. Swiping blood from his upper lip, he shouts, “Do you know who the hell I
“Do you think I give two
?” Hearing him talk about Celeste like she’s his makes my blood boil. I want to smear this guy’s face into the ground. I take an aggressive step toward him, but Bash grabs my arm.
“Not here, Cald. He’s not worth it.”
Chest heaving, fists clenched, the guy seethes. “I’m Jake Hemming. My father is a senior partner at Hemming, Gersh, and Platt.”
“And I’m Calder
Blake. Might want to write that down so you don’t forget it when you go whining to your lawyer daddy.”
Jake’s face flushes even as his hazel gaze turns cold. “We’ll ruin you.” Glancing around at those gawking, he gestures to me. “You all are witnesses. He attacked me.”
My adrenaline vaults and as the beast inside me roars to be set free, the steel hold on my arm tightens. “I didn’t see anything,” Bash states calmly, then addresses the onlookers. “Did anyone see what happened?”
One by one, they mumble in the negative, then turn back to their drinks and chatting with friends.
“Are you serious?” Jake snaps, glancing around for support.
Gavin approaches, his mouth pressed in a tight line. Eyeing Bash’s hand on my arm with a hard glare, he turns to Jake. “I think it’s time for you to leave.”
Bash releases me as Jake’s eyes widen in disbelief. “You’re fucking kidding me, right?”
Gavin’s dark gaze hardens behind his mask. “You don’t come into
home and cause problems with my family. I’m not going to ask you again.”
Once Jake storms out, Gavin sighs heavily at Bash and me. “Do you two think you can control yourselves the rest of the evening? I’d actually like to enjoy the party.”
Bash shrugs. “I never make promises I can’t keep.”
“I’ll keep him out of trouble,” I say, choking back a laugh at Bash’s honest response.
Gavin shakes his head and slides his hands in his dress pants pockets, his voice dropping to private mode. “It’s a good thing you’re both heading out soon.” Fixing his gaze on Bash, he continues, “The Blake name can only stretch so far to cover your asses—”
“We got it,” I cut him off in a cold tone, my amusement gone in defense of Bash. I’m the one who nearly started a fight, yet he’s getting the blame.
Once Gavin walks away, I shake my head. “Gavin can be such a—”
“Dick,” Bash supplies.
I’ll never understand how Bash can be so unaffected. I
want to pummel Gavin each time a dig comes out of his mouth. Then again, Bash’s control over his emotions is one of the things I admire most about my cousin. He’s taught me a lot in that regard. He might be Gavin and Damien’s illegitimate half-brother, but I’m closer to him than they’ll ever be. It’s a fucking shame that Mina is the only one who returns Bash’s sibling loyalty.
Raising an eyebrow, Bash smirks. “Care to tell me what that was all about with Jake? These last few years, I’ve seen you take far more shit without losing it.”
I know he switched the subject on purpose. Bash is a master at redirection. Instead of calling him on it, I let it go. But I’m sure as hell not talking to him about Celeste. Whatever’s going on there is too new. All I know is that I wanted to pile-drive that asshole into the ground for even thinking about touching her. “That’s none of your damn business.” Ignoring his knowing chuckle, I nod toward the bar. “Go check on Mina, then come sit with me while I drown my sanctioned good behavior in a mug of beer.”
alia’s thrashing around wakes me. I blink quickly, my brain foggy and sluggish. It’s four a.m. I’m surprised I’m in her bed. I don’t remember much about the car ride home other than teasing her that I hope she got laid. I definitely don’t remember her getting me into the house. She must’ve brought me to her room so she could keep an eye on me. I will always miss my sister, but Talia has made the hole in my heart feel less empty.
When she suddenly elbows my arm, I bite back the cry of pain. Her restrained wails and twitchy movements make my heart ache, but I wait until she rolls to her side, then I quickly wrap my arm around her and hold her in place, calling in her ear, “It’s a nightmare, Talia!”
She flips onto her back, her breath heaving in and out. I gently touch her cheek. “You’re okay. I’m right here.” When I see tears trickle down her temple I brush them away. “It’s okay.”
The first time this happened in our dorm room, it freaked me out. But I understood nightmares, so I crawled into bed with her until she calmed down. I think she appreciated that I never asked what tormented her sleep. But now…after all this time. I’m a bit worried. I wait until she settles, then say, “You haven’t had one of those in a while. Do you want to talk about it?”
She grabs my hand and rolls back over, taking my arm with her. “No.”
I recognize her avoidance, but I can also sympathize so I just snuggle close. “One of these days you’re going to tell me.”
She immediately slides her fingers across the scars on my wrist. “Just like you’ll tell me, right?”
It takes effort not to pull from her touch, but I hold steady, remaining silent. She sighs and tugs me closer. “I love you, Cass, but you still smell like a bar.”
I snicker and brush my lips against her cheeks, purposely blowing my horrid breath across her face. When she protests and tries to roll away, I just grasp her tighter, knowing she needs a comforting touch despite our goofiness. This is exactly what my sister would’ve done for me, and I’m glad I’m here for Talia.
I can feel the tension vibrating in her body, so I whisper, “Think about the fact you finally got laid instead. Hold on to the positive thoughts.”
She instantly goes still against me. “How did you know that?”
I run my tongue across my lips, licking the salt I tasted when my mouth touched her cheek. “Because you smell like cologne and taste like sweat.” Just to rev her up once more, I lick her whole cheek and laugh when she gags and attempts to swat me away. “And because you wouldn’t tell me. That’s how I know.”
Her silence makes me wonder if she’s still thinking about her dream, so I try to draw her thoughts away. “Why don’t you tell me what happens this afternoon at four instead?”
“You heard that?” she whispers.
I snort. “I was drunk, not deaf.”
“Just coffee,” she sighs.
“Good!” Relieved she’s started to relax, I bury my nose against the back of her neck. “And I love you too, Talia.”
After we lay there in quiet silence for a bit and I finally hear her breathing even out in untroubled sleep, my heart feels lighter with the knowledge Talia finally had sex. Maybe it will help her stop obsessing so much on the newspaper. She’s entirely too focused and never allows herself any time for fun. At least one of us got the full-shebang of wonderful feelings tonight.
Well, what I could only
wonderful feelings would feel like to fully let yourself go with someone. To be completely uninhibited. Maybe the mask and fake name helped her get past her hang-ups about guys not being good enough. Bash certainly seemed like a fine specimen.
As happy as I am for her, a part of me twinges with jealousy. I desperately wish I had the freedom to spend the night with Calder, to find out if that amazing orgasm I experienced with him was just a one time thing.
Could I really let myself go with him?
But unlike Talia, who could completely hide behind her anonymity tonight, I came to the party as someone else behind my mask and had to maintain that underlying persona. No matter how much it killed me.
Crawling out of bed, I stumble to the bathroom. I’m still in my costume. Well, minus the heels. As the light pops on, I flip my dark, rat-nested hair out of my eyes to stare in the mirror. I’m tired and bleary-eyed, but even looking a bit haggard, I have perfectly spaced eyes, nice lips, and symmetrical bone-structure. Perfect from a photographer’s perspective. Some would call me pretty. Just like Celeste.
I scowl at the image.
Not only did Celeste cost me Calder tonight, she cost me my inner peace. Jake would’ve smirked at Cass if he happened to run into her tonight, but otherwise he would’ve pretended she didn’t exist. Coming face-to-face with him shook me more than I thought it would. I wasn’t prepared for the full deluge of self-disgust that hit the moment he touched me.
I didn’t throw up because I was drunk like I let Calder believe. Jake makes my skin feel like it’s teaming with bugs and my stomach dip and rise like a seesaw. The sheer dislike rocketing through me flushed my cheeks and made it hard to breathe. I loathe him with every fiber of my being. I can’t believe that I ever thought he was attractive. I hate that what he did to me fucked with my mind, twisting me inside out. If I could’ve flattened him with my fist, I would’ve right there in front of everyone. But I wasn’t me. I was Celeste.
Proper. Bitchy. Spoiled
. And put on a pedestal by him.
I scowl at the face in the mirror that has caused me so much grief, then hit the light switch, cutting off the image.
My phone buzzing with an alert draws my attention just as I start to crawl back into bed. I grab it from Talia’s nightstand so it doesn’t wake her, my heart rate jumping when I see it’s from Calder.
From: Mr. Navy
Come fly with me, Raven. I promise to keep you warm.
Biting my lip, I send him a message back.
I shouldn’t have to remind you that you’re Navy, not Air Force.
From: Mr. Navy
I’m also a qualified pilot. I promise I’m fully capable of taking you to the mile-high club.
My heart races. I already miss his sexy arrogance. The promises he made just before I had to leave echo in my mind, twisting my stomach in excitement despite the fact it will never happen. He caught me off guard in so many ways. Even though there’s no guarantee he’d be able to repeat the experience I had with him tonight, if circumstances were different, I’d want to let him try.