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Hate Me
  • Текст добавлен: 15 октября 2016, 06:33

Текст книги "Hate Me"

Автор книги: Jillian Dodd

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Текущая страница: 6 (всего у книги 19 страниц)


You come to me.


I’ve just hit snooze for the third time when there’s a knock on the door. I look over at Katie’s bed and see she’s already gone. I vaguely remember her mentioning a Spanish club meeting.

“Come in.”

Aiden walks in carrying a bag and a cup of coffee. He’s dressed in a pale green Oxford, making his eyes look even greener than usual. He sits on the edge of my bed.

“Brought you some breakfast.”

I sit up, pushing my messy hair out of my face.

He rubs his thumb across my cheek. “You seemed upset last night. I wanted to make sure today gets off to a good start.”

I close my eyes and press my face into his hand, which causes him to wrap his arm tightly around me.

“Shit,” I say, “it’s getting late and I need to get ready. Do you wanna stay here while I do?”

“Of course,” he says, sitting down at my desk.

I run into the bathroom, get ready quickly, then run into my closet and throw on a white blouse and my skort. I walk back into my room, looking for my black sweater, and find it draped over the back of the chair Aiden is sitting in.

He stands up quickly, pulls me into a hug, and then kisses me.

The perfect kiss. Soft. Slow. Sweet.

“Do you remember what I told you last night?”

“That you’d help me?”

“No, after that. About what you’re supposed to do this morning?”

I shake my head. “Sorry. I must have fallen asleep.”

“I thought so,” he says, kissing my nose. “I told you to wear the cowboy boots your grandpa gave you. That they’re lucky and they’d make you feel better.”

A lightbulb goes on in my head. Grandpa. 

“Ohmigawd, Aiden, you’re brilliant,” I say with a big grin, running to the closet to grab my boots. “That’s exactly what I need.”

I come out of my closet wearing a smile.

“That’s what I like to see. You smiling,” he says.

I give him a long kiss, letting my body melt into his. “Thanks for coming over last night, and for breakfast. I really appreciate it.”

“I’m gonna have to bring you breakfast more often if I get kisses like that,” he says adorably.

“Come on, we better get to class,” I say, pulling away.

But he holds me firmly.

“But from now on, when you’re upset, you come to me, okay?”

I get lost in his sweet eyes and nod in agreement.

“You and me. That’s all we need,” he says, giving me another long kiss then leading me toward class.

Riley sits next to me in history and says discreetly, “So I talked to Cam last night. Asked how the hell we’re supposed to get stuff there. Get this. He told me to go back on Saturday night before curfew and all will be revealed.”

“All will be revealed?”

“I guess.”

“What did he say about taking other people there?”

“Pillowcase over the head unless you know one hundred percent that you can trust them.”

“So who do you think we can trust?”

He looks up toward the ceiling, thinking. “Aiden and Logan.”

“I’d agree. What about girls?”

“Girls are tricky. I trust Ariela but what happens if we break up? If it got ugly?”

“I don’t know. What about Peyton?”

“Maybe, but I definitely don’t trust Whitney.”

“Lets keep it small for Saturday night.”

“Do sort of a dry run and see how it goes?”

“Yeah, I think that would be smart.”

“You know, I was thinking that might be just the place to take Ariela on Sunday night.”

“I thought you were coming to dinner for Aiden’s birthday?”

“Well, it’s our one month anniversary, and I want it to be special. Like, I’m hoping it’s really special,” he says, lowering his voice.

“Ohhh, do you think you will?”

“I think so. And I’m going to ask her to Winter Formal.”

“How are you going to ask?”

“I bought her a Hello Kitty purse. Well, no, it’s not a purse—more like a tiny purse. Fancy.”

“An evening bag?”

“Yes, it’s all crystals.”

“She’ll love that.”

“I’m putting a note inside it that says, Please take Kitty and Riley to Winter Formal with you.”

“Ahh, that’s adorable, Riles.”

“Has Aiden asked you yet?”

“No. Do you think he will?”

“Yeah, don’t you?”

“I think we’ll go together, but I don’t know if he’ll do anything special . . .” I stop talking and chuckle quietly. “Actually, he will do something special. Everything he does is special.”

“You love Aiden,” Riley taunts.

I sigh.

“What’s the sigh for? Shouldn’t you be agreeing with me?”

“Sometimes life is just complicated.”

“Well, it’s about to get very uncomplicated, because all we’re going to be doing is hanging out in the . . . we need a code name for it.”

“Stockton’s. Remember? Stockton’s door.”

“Oh, yeah. Awesome. That’s where we’ll be. Party on, friends, evermore. I’m in love with that saying.”

I’d marry a pirate.


Before French starts, I send Sam an email with the changes I want made to my will. The most important change being that if something happens to me, Mom, and Tommy then Damian becomes executor and makes sure my sisters are well taken care of. I also noted the changes I told Cooper about. Taking care of his family if something happens to us both, as well as what to do if I die but Cooper doesn’t.

I notice an email from Tommy labeled Top Secret.

-Your mom told me everything. All the things she’s been keeping from me. How scared she’s been. You know, I’ve been wanting to ask her to marry me for a while now, and I think it’s time. A reaffirmation of our love. She won’t want to get married until we can all be together, but I need her to know that I want her to be my wife more than anything. 

S0, attached are four ring designs. I have no idea which one to choose.


P.S. The good news: Your mom and the girls are safely moved. The bad news: Bad Kiki came to NY with me. 

I open up the first sketch. This ring is beautiful. A huge emerald-cut diamond set flush in a thick band covered in different sized diamond chunks. It’s very unique but seems a bit too contemporary for Mom’s taste.

“What are you looking at?” Aiden asks, leaning over my shoulder.

“My mom and my stepdad have been together for quite a while, but they’re not actually married. He’s going to propose soon and wanted my opinion on some ring designs.”

“How come they haven’t gotten married yet?”

I shrug. “I don’t know. Busy with work and life. And, for them, marriage is just a piece of paper. They say all that really matters is their commitment to each other.”

Aiden thinks about it and nods. “That is really all that matters.”

“Yeah, but my little sisters are at the age where they’ve started asking why Mommy and Daddy aren’t married.”

“What do you think of that ring?”

“It’s cool, but too unusual for my mom.”

I click on the next photo. This setting is very popular now. A large, oval stone surrounded by a circle of smaller ones. What makes this one impressive is that the center stone is over eight carats.

“What do you think of that one?” Aiden asks.

“Too traditional.”

“I don’t know much about diamonds, but I have seen a lot of rings like that.”

“Yeah, me too.”

I click on the third sketch. “Oh, she’d love this one!”

I show Aiden the sketch of a large, oval-cut diamond wrapped with trapezoid and round diamonds. It’s funky but traditional. I count the round stones. “And there are seven little diamonds for the seven of us!”

“Sounds like you’ve found the winner,” Aiden tells me.

“I like the design the best and the number of stones would make it really special.”

“I think so too.”

I click on the last sketch. This design literally takes my breath away. It looks nothing like Mom and everything like me. “Wow,” I whisper. Hello, beautifully gorgeous ring that needs to be on my finger. 

“You like that better?”


“I asked if you like that ring better.”

“Oh, I didn’t hear you.”

“I take it you like it?”

“I love it, but for me, not Mom. And it’s not extravagant enough for my stepdad. Everything he does is big.” I stare at the sketch. This ring is so me. A three-carat round canary diamond set on a wide platinum band. The platinum band is completely covered with tiny baguette diamonds. “I’m going to vote for design number three.”

Miss Praline asks Aiden to hand back our quizzes, so I fire off a reply.

-You love that dog and you know it! As for the rings, I’m in love, love, LOVE with #3. 

It’s big and chunky, but still has a traditional feel. 

Did you plan it so there are seven round stones surrounding the main diamond? One for each of us? 

That will totally make Mom cry. 

(I think #1 is a little too funky and #2 is too traditional.)

Love you!! 

P.S. If any boy ever asks for my hand in marriage, show him #4. I’m in love. I’d marry a pirate for a ring like that.

When Aiden sits back down, I tell him that I’m leaving school tonight to go visit my uncle who’s in town.

Go for broke.


After signing out, I drive through the gates of Eastbrooke, down the long drive, and out onto the highway.

Cooper pops up from the back seat, where he was hiding under a blanket, and slides into the passenger seat next to me.

“Brooklyn totally bailed on me last night. His dad decided he can’t use his trust to help me buy Vincent’s company, and he didn’t even have the guts to tell me himself. He let the buyout guy tell me instead. That guy was a dick, too. Treated me like I didn’t have a clue—or the money—to do a buyout.”

“Do you have either?” Cooper asks.

“A clue? Not really. About the money, sorta, but not quite. I was really upset last night, but Aiden came over . . .”

“Kissed it and made it better?”

“He did make me feel better, for sure. But just when I thought prong two of our plan was history, he mentioned my grandpa. And a lightbulb went on in my head. I’m going to call him now.”

Cooper nods.

I tell my car to dial Grandpa’s cell.

His booming voice fills my speakers. “Well, howdy, hotshot.”

“Hey, Grandpa. Do you have a minute? I need some help.”

“Of course, I do,” he says loudly then whispers, “It’s good timing, actually. If I talk to you, I won’t have to help your grandma with the dishes.”

“I heard that,” Grandma yells in the background.

Grandpa chuckles. “So, shoot.”

“Do you know much about hostile takeovers?”

“I’d say so. We bought out fourteen companies over the years and none of them were particularly friendly.”

“So, if I were to maybe—”

“Keatyn, if we’re gonna talk business, you’ve gotta give it to me straight. No beating around the bush. Tell me what you need and how I can help.”

“Um, well, okay.” I take a deep breath. “I want to buy Vincent the Stalker’s production company. The company owns the rights to make the movie he wanted me to star in. It’s at the root of why he wanted to kidnap me, I think. He couldn’t get all the funding he needed, so he’s leveraged every asset he has, as well as taken on additional investors. He doesn’t own the majority anymore, and I was told the company is ripe for a takeover.”

“Sounds pretty straightforward.”

“Not exactly. I also need to hide my identity, so he doesn’t know I’m behind it. I was told that can be done through shell corporations?”

“Yes. What else?”

“B introduced me to a guy who was supposed to help. But he didn’t. He assumed I didn’t have enough money.”

“He wasn’t setting up investors for you?”

“No. I was going to spend all my trust but, based on his numbers, I don’t have enough, and B’s dad won’t let him loan me the rest.”

“You were willing to risk everything you have to make this happen? Go for broke? Why?”

“Because my family is worth the risk.”

“How will taking over his company help your family?”

“I don’t know if we actually even need to take it over. We just have to make him think we’re going to. If he loses the company, he loses the movie. I want to give him something to focus on besides threatening the people I love.” I have that unsettled feeling in the pit of my stomach. Even though I’m scared of my own plan, I know I have to see it through. “I want my life back, Grandpa. I’m tired of people telling me what I should do.”

“Tell you what, why don’t I get my old cronies together and have some fun with this. Seems to me you have enough on your plate.”

“Are you serious? Ohmigosh, Grandpa, thank you. But before you agree, there’s one more thing.”

“What’s that?”

“I need it, like, yesterday.”

“Ain’t no roots ever grow under these feet. It’ll take some initial investigation, but I already have plenty of shell corporations we can use. This isn’t my first rodeo, hotshot.”

“I have some information. Who his investors are, their initial investments, Vincent’s personal balance sheet. The guy told me this stuff was hard to get because it’s a privately held company and not public record.”

“Bullshit. You just have to know who to ask. Send me the information and I’ll get my guys to confirm. That will give us a head start. I think we could be ready to fire the first shot across the bow by early next week.”

“Really? That’s amazing. I’ll call Sam right now and have him send you the money. I’m short what I think it will cost, but I have some real estate I can sell. I’ll put it on the market, take a loss, and get you the rest.”

“Hotshot, you let me worry about the money. You worry about keeping yourself safe. I suffered all the way through that Victoria’s Secret fashion show, wanting to see what all the fuss over this movie was about. After seeing the trailer, I suspect Vincent is as fidgety as a whore in church.”

“I want him to know what it feels like to lose control of his life.”

“I wondered how long it would take for you to fight back,” Grandpa says. “Glad to see I taught you well. Just remember, any idiot can poke a rattlesnake with a stick, but a wise man knows exactly how long that stick is.”

“Thanks, Grandpa. I’ll keep that in mind.”

I hang up, pull into the airport parking lot, pull on a wig of chestnut curls, and turn toward Cooper. “I’m really glad you decided to come with me.”

“There’s no way I’d let you go alone. And I know you would have.”

“Yeah, but I may have just figured out a plan that you’ll approve of.”

“What does it involve?”

“A flashy entrance and a stealth exit. I think I know exactly how long my stick is.”

Cooper looks amused. “I don’t know how long your stick is, but I will admit, you’ve grown a big set of balls.”

That makes me laugh and also feel a little proud of myself.

Once we’re in the air, I turn to Cooper and say, “So, we have homework to do.”


“Yeah. We’re going to watch A Day at the Lake. I’ve never really studied the plot.”

Is there a plot?” Cooper laughs. “I’ve never seen the movie, but from what I understand, people only watch it because of all the now-famous actors that got their start in it.”

“That’s true. But what we have to figure out is why Vincent loves it. There must be something more than her running around in a bikini and screaming that caught his attention.”

Cooper shakes his head and chuckles some more. “If he fell in love with her as a teenager, that’s exactly what caught his attention.”

“So you won’t mind watching it?”

“Tough job.”

As we watch the movie, I stop it often, rewinding, re-watching, and writing down plot points.

A Day at the Lake


*  We meet college students, Lacy (Mom) and her hot frat boyfriend, Matt. They are with a group of friends, planning a weekend getaway at a friend’s lake house.

*  Lacy and Matt seem to be the perfect couple until they argue about her doing a semester abroad to study archeology. (This scene leaves you wondering if their relationship is just superficial. I mean, he should support her, right? It’s her dream.)


*  They arrive at the lake house, which is a huge spread in the middle of nowhere. A few people have cell phones, but they have no service. No problem though. The house has a phone line. (Desolate location? Check.)

*  The party kicks into gear. Drinks are made. Many are consumed. Music blares. A great time is had by all.

*  Shot of Lacy walking out of the lake, blowing a kiss to Matt. (The money shot, so to speak.)

*  Matt and Lacy are making out in the lake when a raft bumps into Lacy’s arm. She opens her eyes and screams as she sees Dead Partier #1.

*  Everyone is drunk and freaking out. Girls are crying. It’s at this point that they discover the house phone is dead. And the boat, although it had been pulling wake boarders all afternoon, suddenly won’t start. They are stuck there.

*  Drunk boys decide to keep partying, as that’s what Dead Partier #1 would have wanted them to do, and figure they can fix the boat tomorrow.

*  Matt sends Lacy, who is still in her bikini, to grab a couple more beers. Lacy screams as she discovers Dead Partier #2, a boy who “fell” down the stairs. (Must have been a small wardrobe budget. They didn’t even give her a cover-up!)

*  Drunk partiers decide to be more careful. (Do your friends typically die when you’re partying or are they just accident prone?)

*  Drama ensues as two party girls fight over a boy. Bikini-clad Lacy shows up to save the day, giving them a brief girl-power speech and pouring them tequila shooters. (Hello, Lacy?! Maybe you should be handing out bottles of water and shotguns instead?)

*  Now bffs again, Bikini-Clad Lacy and the girls head back to join the party, but all scream when they discover Dead Partier #3. She’s dead on the bathroom floor, blood oozing from a head wound. Drunk boys surmise Dead Partier #3 must have hit her head on the sink. Someone suggests walking to get help, but is told there are no neighbors for 10 miles. (And it’s dark now.)

*  Remaining partiers decide to sober up—for about two seconds—until Matt makes a poignant speech about their fallen comrades and they all drink to their friends. Partying ensues. (This scene should be included in a public service announcement about underage drinking.)

*  Matt is all over Bikini-Clad Lacy, things quickly getting hot and heavy between them. (I will admit, they have good onscreen chemistry and I’m hoping they survive. I’m also starting to scan the remaining partiers trying to determine who is the killer.) Matt, in the wake of the deaths, tells Lacy that they need to embrace life. (And, apparently, that means a quick shag in the lake.)

Now, Wet-Bikini-Clad Lacy needs to use the restroom. (She can have sex in the lake, but is apparently too much of a lady to pee in it.) 

*  Lacy goes into the dark house, flips a light switch, and discovers that the power is out.  (OMG!)

*  But she must really have to pee, so she creeps up the dark stairs because, obviously, she doesn’t want to use the bathroom where Dead Partier #3’s body still is.  (Don’t. Go. Up. The. Stairs!)

*  While Lacy is peeing, she hears a noise, gets scared, and rushes out of the bathroom without bothering to flush. (I’ve heard people play drinking games while watching this movie. You drink every time: Lacy screams, Matt says sweet, or when a dead partier is found. Meaning we’d all be drunk by now.)

*  Lacy tells the boy whose house this is that the power is out. He says, Happens all the time on the island. Must be a storm. Lacy agrees with him. (Even though there’s not a cloud in the sky?!)


*  It’s at this point that viewers realize they don’t know anything about House Boy. He’s cute, but seems quiet, and doesn’t appear to be drunk.

But when Lacy says, Vince, do you have some candles? I about fall out of my seat.

“Ohmigawd,” Cooper and I mutter at the same time.

“Is that it?” Cooper asks. “Is it because they share the same name?”

“No. Vincent’s real name is Thaddeus Samuel Kingston.”

“So where did Vincent Sharpe come from?”

I look at the movie paused on the screen. “I’m pretty sure we know now where the name Vincent came from. But his grandmother was the actress, Viviane Sharpe. I’m not sure when he started going by Vincent Sharpe, but it’s the name he uses professionally.”

“I’m not a big movie buff, but I know who Viviane Sharpe was. I suppose that name helped him get ahead in the industry.”

I nod. “Yeah, probably. Still, it’s weird though. Do you think Vincent is the killer in the movie? Or the guy she ends up with?”

“I don’t know,” Cooper says, then rewinds the part we just missed.

We watch as Vince puts his hand gently on Lacy’s shoulder.

Are you freaked out by everyone dying? he asks as he hands her a box of candles.

A little, she admits. You?

She holds out a candle and he lights it.

(The cinematography on this scene is gorgeous. Dark room, only lit by moonlight. Vince and Lacy’s faces suddenly glowing in the candlelight. Mom looks angelically beautiful. And I can see why a boy who thought his mom was a whore fell in love right then and there.)

Vince touches Lacy’s hand and says, Don’t worry. I’d never let anything happen to you.

Lacy places the taper into a candlestick and sets it on the kitchen table.

Then she does what she’s famous for. The corners of her mouth form a little smirk, which slowly spreads into her famous megawatt smile.

Thanks, Vince, she says sweetly, blushing.

And you feel it. Something between them. A little spark.

Cooper pauses the movie. “Does it freak you out, watching this?”

“Um, no. Why?”

“That smirk that builds to the big smile. It’s like I’m watching you.”

I’m flattered, which makes me smile.

“See, you just did it. When you first met Vincent, you were in a bikini, right?”

“Yeah, and in the picture that was missing from Mom’s set trailer.”

Cooper nods and presses play. “Vince likes her, don’t you think?”

“For sure. What you can’t tell is if Lacy likes him back or if she’s just being nice.”

“Let’s keep going.”

I heard you might not be coming to Egypt. You shouldn’t let him hold you back, you know.

I know, Lacy says softly. But I love him.

He’s an asshole.

We’ve had this conversation before, Vincey.

“Vincey? Does my mom not see the parallels between this movie and life?”

“I think this explains why she was planning to leave Tommy,” Cooper states. “But she’s looking at it from her perspective. I’d say your Brooklyn is in more danger than Tommy.”

“Shit.” I knead my forehead. “I hope Vincent shows up and thinks I’m back. I need to keep B safe. And I’m so grateful my grandpa is handling the takeover.”

“Are you in love with Aiden or Brooklyn?” Cooper randomly asks.

I frown at his question.

“I’m not trying to interfere in your love life, but . . .”

“Anyone I love will be in danger.”


“That’s why I didn’t want to be at Eastbrooke while we did this.”

Have you made a decision?

Yes. I’m not going. I’m sorry. I know you’ll have an amazing time without me.

Vince’s eyes smolder as he says, Just answer me this. If he wasn’t in the picture, you’d go, right?

Tears gather in her eyes. Yeah, probably.

Vince takes the candles out of her hands, sets them on the table, and pulls her into a hug.

She gives him a sad little smile and then says, I better get back out there.

*  Not long after this, Still-Bikini-Clad Lacy screams again as Dead Partier #4 is found. It’s the girl who was upset earlier. Apparently, she and Lacy were close, because Lacy starts crying and Matt pulls her into a hug. After dead body #4 is found, the four remaining partiers finally sober up.

This is getting creepy, Still-Alive Party Girl #5 says.

“I agree,” Cooper says.

I’m starting to think these weren’t accidents, Matt deduces brilliantly.

I think you’re right, Lacy agrees. She takes a band from her wrist and pulls her hair up into a high, tight ponytail.

I pause the movie and stare at the screen, feeling like I’m looking in a mirror.

The captain announces our decent and asks us to buckle up.

“We’ll watch the rest on the way back,” I tell Cooper, shutting off my laptop and stowing it.

We fly into Van Nuys Airport, which is closest to Malibu, easy to get in and out of, and one of the only airports in the Los Angeles area that has no hourly restrictions regarding when flights can take off. We don’t have the time to airport-hop, so I did something else to shield our identity. I opened a fractional ownership under Cooper’s name and bought a chunk of hours. I figure Cooper Steele kind of sounds like an actor, and he kind of looks like he could be one, too. With my darker hair and our comfortable relationship, we’ll easily pass as brother and sister.

Our pre-arranged driver picks us up and shuttles us to Malibu, dropping us off at the Malibu Lumberyard.

“We have time for some fish tacos,” I say, suddenly craving them.

“As long as you keep the wig on, I’m fine with it. I’m hungry. Besides, we need to go over your plan for tonight in detail.”

The restaurant is crowed, so we sit at the bar. Cooper picks a spot close to the doors to the kitchen. I notice he chooses a seat with his back to the wall, facing the crowd. I sit down next to him.

I look at the tables around us and spy someone I know. “Sand—” I start to blurt out loudly, but Cooper quickly covers my mouth with his hand.

I take a deep breath. “I’m sorry,” I whisper. “I forgot for a second.”

“You’re also wearing a wig.”

“Shit,” I say, glancing down at my brown curls. I close my eyes and think. “It might be a good idea for me to be seen here. As me.”

“If the goal is for Vincent to think you’re back in Malibu, I would agree. But we need a plan.”

After a brief discussion, I walk out of the restaurant with my head down and go into a nearby restroom, emerging as myself. I quickly go into one of the stores, buy a new outfit with cash, and then wear it back into the restaurant. As I make my way back to Cooper, I purposefully walk by Sander.

“Sweetheart?” he says. I smile, remembering his adorable nickname for me.

“Sander!!” I squeal, throwing my arms around him and causing a bit of a scene. “How are you? How’s Grease?”

“In the can. Big Memorial weekend release,” he says proudly, kissing me on the cheek.

“That’s awesome!”

He pushes me out and takes a hard look at me. “You look amazing. Where the hell have you been hiding? I come back and Cush is gone, and you’re nowhere to be found.” Then he whispers in my ear, “Rehab?”

I laugh. “More like an all-girls school in the middle of nowhere. You heard what happened with Cush, right?”

“Yeah. It’s a shame. That boy hit the jackpot when he dated you.”

“That’s why I love you. You feed my ego.” I give him another big hug.

“Join us for a drink?”


With his arm still draped across my shoulder, he turns me toward his group. “Keatyn, this is Danny Woodyard, the choreographer of Grease, Dylan George, one of the T-Birds, and Donnie Van Zandt, one of the dancers. Everyone, this is Keatyn Douglas. Abby Johnston’s daughter.”

The boys all ooh and aah over my mom and her acting brilliance.

Gay men love her.

“Can’t wait to see her new movie! It’s going to be just scrumptious.”

“So what’s your next movie?” I ask Sander, changing the subject.

“Not sure. I want to choose the right project. My agent called me yesterday wanting me to do a screen test for that remake of your mom’s old movie. Hey, we could star in it together. They want me to play the boyfriend. How easy would that be?”

Shit. I need Sander to stay far away from Vincent.

I grab the fruity martini they ordered me, take a big drink, and look toward Cooper. “Oh, wow. I didn’t even see him over there.”

“Who?” Donnie says, swiveling his head quickly, probably hoping to spot someone more famous than Sander.

“Cooper Steele,” I say, drawing his name out. “I’ll go get him. I feel bad making him sit over there and wait for me.”

“Girl, you should always play a little hard to get,” Dylan tells me.

I saunter over to Cooper. “You’re going to have to pretend to be really into me, okay?”

“Got it,” he says, all business as I grab his hand and lead him back to the boys. But as soon as I introduce him to everyone, he becomes a cad, stealing my martini, drinking half of it, and placing his hand firmly on my ass.

“So, Cooper Steele, where did you get all those muscles?” Donnie asks.

Cooper shrugs like he was just born this way.

“The Steele Building Workout,” I say discreetly.

“Sexy name for a workout,” Dylan says. “I dance too much. Can’t seem to put on any bulk.”

“Eat more protein and lift weights,” Cooper says. “You need to balance out all the aerobic activity.”

“Are you a personal trainer?” Sander asks, sizing Cooper up and noting his hand placement.

Cooper, who doesn’t miss anything, keeps his hand firmly in place, but starts caressing my ass with his thumb.

I give a cute little shiver and kiss him on the neck. “Cooper is one of Tommy’s stunt men. So, thanks for the drink. It was great seeing you, Sander, and meeting you all. We’re going to head out. I’m taking him dancing tonight.”

“We were thinking of hitting Plague. Where are you going?”

“To a place that doesn’t have a name,” I laugh.

“I’ve heard rumors about that place,” Danny says in awe. “Can we join you? Can you get us in?”

I glance at Cooper. He gives my butt a single tap of his finger. “Sure, why not? Can we meet up at your house, Sander?” I look down at my clothes. “Obviously, I need to change.”

“Sounds good. Ten o’clock? We can get there before the crowds.”

“Sander,” I tease. “I’m not going to let you drink with the crowds. We’ll be in the VIP section.”

Danny claps his hands together and grins. “Even better.”

Cooper puts his arm around me as we stroll out of the bar.

“That went surprisingly well,” he states.

“Hopefully, breaking into my house will go equally well.”

“Breaking in?”

“Not breaking in, exactly, but we don’t have a car for a reason. Come on.”

I take my shoes off and drag him across the street, down the beach, and through the fence delineating the start of the Malibu Colony properties.

“Are we going to get in trouble for trespassing?” Cooper asks after reading the warning signs.

“I live here,” I say, then I take off running, feeling free for the first time in a while.

I stop two houses before mine and point. “That one is ours.”

“It’s pretty here. I can see why you like it.”

I nod, looking out at the ocean. “You can sightsee later. We have work to do. No one’s around, so let’s go.”

I take off running again and don’t stop until we’re standing on the side of my house that’s hidden behind the fence. I sneak to the front, push one of Tommy’s codes into the keypad, and slip into the garage.

Cooper tries to open the door into the house. “Shit, it’s locked.”

“I know. Hang on.” I walk around Tommy’s Ferrari to a shelving unit where he keeps all the car cleaning supplies, pop open a cigar box hidden under a stack of diapers, pull out a key, and let us in.

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