Vincent goes back to Los Angeles feeling invigorated. Although he failed, he was so close. He can still smell the scent of her hair, can still recall every shade of her iris, and can immediately recall the warmth of her touch. He knows those hands will run the length of his body when they are finally together. He glances at his arm, and instead of seeing the beautiful chaos symbol, all he can see is the whore’s name, permanently engrained on him.
He must change that.
He decides to go back to Tiny to see if he can cover it up, turn it into something else.
Tiny jokingly suggests he turn it into baby and cover the A with roses or something equally ludicrous. Vincent inquires about completely covering it with waves, a nod to the ocean where he first met his Lacy and to his grandmother’s famous movie.
Unfortunately for the tattoo artist, he starts asking too many questions. About why he has the name Abby on his arm. About copying her daughter’s chaos tattoo. He uses words like twisted and obsessed.
He thanks the man for his time and makes an appointment for next week to make the changes. That way if the police would ever suspect his involvement in Tiny’s upcoming demise, he can pretend to be shocked. Because it’s clear that the man has to die.
At halftime, I change into my formal gown, then meet Garrett just outside the field house. We gather with the other Court members waiting for the processional. The game has been going in our favor. We’re up by fourteen already and you can feel the excitement in the air.
Except for here.
Here, there is tension.
Peyton is happily sashaying around in her new dress, but you can feel the tension between her and Whitney. You can see the glares Whitney gives her and you can tell that Peyton is pretending not to care.
Whitney is standing next to her perfect-looking parents.
Where there is even more tension.
I think it’s safe to say that Whitney’s mother does not approve of her dress. She keeps looking at it and scowling.
I have to hand it to Whitney though. She has her head held high and a smile plastered on her face.
I didn’t think she could pull off a dress covered with jewels, but she so is. She looks amazing and I can see why she fell in love with the dress. It makes the rest of our gowns look plain in comparison.
Dawson grabs me from behind, kisses my neck, and whispers, “You look hot.” Then he gets in line with his own parents.
I forget about Whitney and Peyton and just stare at him. He looks so sexy in his football uniform and my mind can’t help but wander back to wearing that jersey and nothing else yesterday. Although, in my daydream we are not interrupted by his parents.
Garrett is reading emails from his phone. He coughs and a troubled look crosses his face.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“I just got some news.”
I instantly panic. “Bad news?”
“I’m not sure yet. We had an interview scheduled next week with a guy regarding Vincent and, possibly, your case. Now he’s dead.”
“Dead?” I croak out.
The band director, who is in charge of leading us all out onto the field, yells out, “Okay, line up by class starting with the freshmen. We’re about ready to go out.”
We’re supposed to follow the band director out onto the field. Then, as our class is called, we’ll walk down the sideline, then turn and go up through the 50-yard line toward the home crowd.
“Yes,” Garrett replies. “He was apparently killed in a random mugging.”
Random mugging. Where have I heard that before?
He continues. “His family doesn’t think it was random. They think he was murdered. And, I mean, they’re right . . .” He stops to listen to the stadium announcer who starts talking about the Homecoming Court tradition over the loudspeaker.
The band director yells out, “As soon as he says freshmen, all freshmen proceed on your route.”
And this year’s Freshmen Court is . . .
Garrett whispers to me, “The guy was huge. I can’t imagine anyone trying to mug him.”
“What did he have to do with Vincent? How did Vincent know him?”
“He had an appointment with him a few weeks ago.”
“And this year’s Sophomore Court is . . .
“Was he a doctor?”
Garrett looks at me and shakes his head. “No, he was a tattoo artist. He did Vincent’s chaos tattoo.”
“All right, juniors, walk down to the fifty-yard line and hold,” the band director instructs us.
Garrett and I walk to the fifty-yard line. I hear someone shouting my name from the Visitor’s section, which I’m now standing in front of. I look up and see Braxton waving at me.
I smile and give him a little wave back, but there’s something gnawing at the back of my brain.
“We had hoped Vincent might have said something about the tattoo that would help our case. Like maybe he mentioned why he was getting the same tattoo as you. Or something like that.” He shakes his head. “It was a long shot.”
And this year’s Junior Court is . . .
I remember the tattoo artist who Brooklyn brought in to do our tattoos. How big he was. “Tell me he wasn’t covered in tattoos and looked like Santa Claus.”
I take a step forward to walk onto the field, but Garrett doesn’t come with me.
He’s firmly holding his stance and my elbow.
“How do you know that?”
The band director yells, “Miss Monroe, go, please.”
I pull Garrett down the center of the field, putting on a big smile that completely masks the sick feeling in my stomach.
“Because Brooklyn hired a guy who looked like that to do our tattoos. Everyone called him Tiny.”
“That’s the guy who is dead,” Garrett says.
As I accept a bouquet of flowers, the student section yells, “MON—R-O-A-R!”
I plaster a fake smile on my face and wave to the crowd.
Then it hits me. Where I heard it.
“Garrett,” I say out of the side of my mouth, while still keeping a smile plastered on my face. “Vincent’s mom and stepdad were killed in a random mugging.”
Garrett says, “This is quite disturbing.”
“Yeah, it is.”
And this year’s Senior Court is . . .
We all turn to watch Dawson, Jake, Brad, Whitney, Peyton, and Mariah walk down the fifty-yard line toward us.
Garrett holds my arm tight. “Are you okay? You’ve got a smile on your face, but I can feel you shaking.”
“I’m fine. I’ll be fine. But I’ll be better if you can prove Vincent killed him. Then he can go to jail and I’ll be free.”
“Do you need me for anything else after this?”
“No, this was the big deal,” I say, looking down at the designer dress and shoes I’ve had on for a total of twenty minutes. “Kinda silly, isn’t it? Like, in perspective.”
“Yeah, it kinda is. As soon as this is over, I’m catching a plane to LA.”
“I think that’s a very good idea.”
Abby is upset after Garrett tells her about the tattoo artist’s death and his connection to Keatyn. And although he tells her his death appears to be a random mugging, she knows better. And to prove her point, this morning when she gets to her dressing room, she finds a single piece of mail. She knows immediately who it’s from. She doesn’t bother showing it to anyone because she knows there is nothing they can do—no proof who sent the photo. And what a photo it is. A man is standing next to a blown-up photo of Keatyn coming out of the ocean, her tattoo visible. There’s an arm in front of the picture. Vincent’s Abby tattoo is covered with his sleeve, but she knows it’s there. On his wrist, Vincent has a chaos tattoo that matches Keatyn’s.
She hides it away with the others.
While she’s getting her hair done to prepare for their next shoot, Vincent is all that’s on her mind. Bile fills her throat, causing her to jump out of her chair and rush to a trash can, where she wretches—the thought of Vincent’s obsession sickening her.
“Are you expecting?” the hairstylist whispers to her.
And in that moment, she sees an opportunity. She doesn’t want to lie, but she has to, for her children’s sake. And even though the thought of it possibly being true breaks her heart, she sees no other choice. She has to distance herself further from her daughter, her husband, and her little girls—for their safety.
“I certainly hope not,” she confides. “I’m afraid our relationship is a little rocky right now.” She touches the woman’s arm gently for effect and continues, “Please, don’t tell anyone.”
And you know what the child-rearing books say about when you start with a don’t, that’s exactly what they will do. And she’s hoping the woman will find this news so juicy, she won’t be able to keep it to herself. She needs the tabloids to say their relationship is rocky. She needs Vincent to read them—so that when she leaves Tommy and the girls, no one will be surprised. Including Vincent.
An alert pops up on Vincent’s email screen. He has them set to notify him whenever certain names show up on the Internet. He clicks the link and reads:
A Miami club owner’s answer about its secret guest performer for this weekend has taken the Internet by storm. When questioned by a local radio show, the man simply answered that his club goers would be getting a little twisted. Fans are speculating that means none other than Damian Moran of Twisted Dreams will be on stage, causing VIP table prices to skyrocket quickly.
While Vincent is considering a trip to Miami, his cell phone rings.
“It’s me,” the girl says.
“Do you have something to report?”
“What is it?”
“We’re maybe, kind of dating now. I just wanted to be upfront with you about it.”
“I told you to get close to Brooklyn. If it goes beyond that, it’s none of my business.”
“Um, there’s sorta maybe something else.”
“A girl. He has a photo of him and a girl on his Facebook page. It’s a photo from before he started on tour. He won’t really tell me much about her other than they were friends. But I think it’s more.”
“Yes, they dated before he left on tour.”
“What do you know about her?” she asks.
“I’m paying you to get me information, not the other way around.”
“Did you know that she was at his tournament in Long Beach?”
“Why didn’t you tell me this before?!”
“I just found out. He mentioned it in passing.”
“What did he say?”
“Why does it matter?”
“I told you before his personal relationships matter. Particularly if they are volatile.”
“They got into a fight. She left. He says they are over, but he doesn’t act like it.”
“He’s still in love with her?”
“He says she’ll always have a piece of his heart.”
“Why did they fight?”
“He won’t tell me.”
“Did he say where she is?”
“I assume she’s back in California.”
“I need you to find out specifically where she is. Check his phone. Find her address. We’ll need to vet her, too.” Vincent pauses, hoping. What could be better than Matt falling for someone else and staying out of the picture? “Are you in love with him?”
“Love? Oh, I don’t know—maybe. He’s really amazing. Deep. Like really deep. Being with him is so different than being around all the Hollywood types who are hustling for the next role, hoping for their big break. He’s so chill, but so focused. And,” she sighs, “so cute.”
“Find out more about the girl. Report back,” Vincent says, then hangs up the phone.
She went to Long Beach. They were both there. His men were there and never saw her. He reads the Internet alert one more time and makes a decision.
He picks up the phone again, calls the club and asks to speak to the owner. He offers an exorbitant amount of money for backstage passes and a VIP section.
And gets them.
It’s clear. The thugs are worthless.
He’s going to Miami himself.
Lacy is waiting for him. And this time, he’s not coming home without her.
We get to the club and immediately go backstage, do some shots, get backstage wristbands, and get Damian set up to go. After that, he comes out and dances with us for a while.
About an hour later, it’s time for him to go backstage to prepare for his performance.
“Hey, Riley, I’m going to run to the restroom before he comes on. I’ll be right back.”
I wait in line.
No. Like, F-O-R-E-V-E-R.
I didn’t have to go that bad when I got in line, but now I do.
Then I stop at the bar to get a bottle of water. After the shots we did backstage, I need some water.
I stand on the edge of the dance floor sipping my water and looking for Riley and Dallas. The dance floor is packed.
I’m scanning the crowd when I feel someone move in close behind me.
I’m pretty sure it’s Riley. I start to turn around as he wraps his arms tightly around my waist.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are.”
My heart stops.
I’m face to face with Vincent.
“Aren’t you the tricky little minx?” he says. “I’ve been looking all over for you.”
“How did you find me?”
“I followed the breadcrumbs. You toured with him this summer. I heard he was going to be here. Took a chance. So, where are they keeping you?”
“Here in Florida,” I lie. “I’m in a witness protection program. So, you found me? You’ve found me a couple times before, but I keep getting away.” I try to make my voice sound like I’m unaffected by him.
But I’m so affected.
I will my body not to tremble.
Don’t let him know you’re scared, Keatyn.
Vincent’s still gripping my waist so tightly that I know it’s going to leave a mark.
“You won’t be getting away this time. So here’s how it’s gonna go down. First, we’re going to dance. You want to be an actress; consider this your biggest role. You’re going to dance with me like you were dancing with that boy at your birthday party.”
I can’t hide the surprise from my face.
Vincent nods, gripping my waist tighter. “Yes. I was watching. Even went to visit him in Oregon. He didn’t know a thing. Not even your best friend, Vanessa, seems to know where they’ve been keeping you. She’s quite the fun little distraction though. From what I understand, you left without saying goodbye to your friends.”
“I just told you I’m in the witness protection program. Even my family doesn’t know where I am.” I put on a French accent and say, “I am a foreign exchange student named Michelle.”
“You’re not going to say goodbye to anyone tonight either. After we dance, you’ll accompany me to my car and we’re going home.”
“Yes. We’ll start filming immediately. I have everything prepared.”
“And what if I scream? There are a lot of people here.”
“I have a gun, Abby. If you even move wrong, I’ll start shooting. And I’ll start with your friend, Damian. He’s scheduled to go onstage about now.”
The music stops. Damian walks out onto the stage.
I can’t let him kill Damian.
“My name’s not Abby. I’m Keatyn. Don’t you remember that? I’m Abby’s daughter.”
He just grins at me.
The kind of grin that makes my skin crawl.
“We’re going to dance. Now.”
He pulls me out onto the dance floor and pulls me into his arms.
I put my hands on his back but I can’t move them.
I can’t make them move. I don’t want to touch him.
He pulls me in close and runs his hands all over me. Down my back. Cupping my ass. Down the outsides of my thighs.
I feel like I’m going to throw up.
“It feels so good to finally have you in my arms. I heard we just missed each other at Long Beach.”
“How do you know that?”
He grins. “I have my ways. And then we met again in New York City. Wasn’t that something? Cat and mouse chase through the streets. We may have to add that to the movie. It was very exciting.” He pauses. “You’re not dancing with me like you did him. Move your hands,” he commands.
My mind is going a thousand miles a minute. Don’t make a scene here. Just do what he says. Then when he tries to get you out to his car, you can fight him.
Get the gun.
The gun. That’s it.
I’ll get the gun and use it on him.
Where could it be?
In the movies, they always tuck them in the small of their back. I swallow and move my hands. I close my eyes and try to pretend that he’s anyone but Vincent.
I run my hands up the inside of his jacket, trying to make it feel sexy and not like a pat down.
“That’s it, Abby,” he says, smoothing the back of my hair. “God, that feels good.”
There is no gun in his waistband.
I move my hands back to his chest, work my way up to his collarbone, then move under his arms and down his side.
He shoves his leg between mine, then moves his hands down my body. “I know what you’re doing,” he whispers.
“What am I doing?” I say, in my coyest and sexiest voice.
“You’re trying to get me all turned on so I can’t think straight.”
Oh, thank god. He doesn’t know I’m trying to find the gun.
“Is it working?” I purr.
He gives me a grin that if I didn’t know how sick he is, would have made my heart flutter.
My heart is fluttering, but it’s a bad way.
I’m going to have a heart attack way.
“I almost forgot,” he says. “I did something just for you.” He pushes me back just a little, flips over his hand, and shows me the chaos tattoo on his wrist. “Now we match.”
“I heard about Tiny. How he died in a mugging gone bad. Suspiciously the same way your mother died.”
Vincent smiles a sick smile. “I heard that too. You really have to be careful on the streets these days. Bad stuff can happen to anyone.”
“Is that a threat?”
“No, Abby. It’s a promise.” He tucks his fingers under the waistband of my skirt and pushes it down slowly.
I know what he wants. He wants to see my tattoo.
I back away quickly, causing his hand to fall in front of him.
He grabs my arm and squeezes hard, pulls me back close, and gets in my face. “Don’t even think about it. I want to see your tattoo. Now.”
“I said now.”
I lean my back away from him and slide my skirt down a little further on my hips so that my tattoo is visible.
He puts his wrist against my skin.
Making our tattoos touch.
He keeps his hand in place but pulls the rest of my body back in closer.
“It’s like our tattoos are making love,” he says.
He pushes his hips further into mine so I can feel how this has aroused him.
I can barely choke back the bile in my throat.
I really feel like I’m going to puke.
Maybe that would be a good idea. If I puked, wouldn’t someone come help me?
Or would he say that I’m sick and he is taking me home. No one would believe he was being anything other than helpful.
My chin is up by his shoulder so he can’t see my face.
I allow myself a moment to be horrified.
To stop acting.
I shut my eyes tight. Breathe heavily and try to keep myself from crying.
“Keep doing that,” Vincent says. “That way you’re breathing. Having our tattoos touch is turning you on too, isn’t it?”
I can’t say anything.
I can’t act anymore.
I cannot do this.
I just nod my head into his, so he thinks I am agreeing.
“Abby, god, this is amazing,” he says, pulling me closer and rubbing his tattoo harder up and down against mine.
Remember the gun.
Find the gun.
I move my hands down his chest. To his front pants pockets.
He moans again. “Abby. Abby.”
I still don’t feel a gun.
Instead, I feel his erection.
Definitely not a gun.
That leaves his ankle. James always keeps a spare gun in an ankle holster.
I pull myself closer to Vincent and slide my foot down the side of his left leg.
I don’t feel a holster.
That leaves his right leg. Which I should have checked first. He’s right handed. Of course, it would be on the right side. A plan forms in my head. I’m going to find the gun. Shake into him or something. Drop it low. Get the gun. Tell him to get the fuck out of here and that if he touches my tattoo one more time, I’m going to shoot him.
But then I’d be the crazy person in the club with a gun.
I’d have to kill him, so he’d have no defense. So that he couldn’t make up a story.
I have to kill him.
“What the—” Vincent says.
Vincent is shoved away from me and knocked to the ground in a blur.
Dallas grabs my hand and pulls me off the dance floor, with Riley right behind us.
“No!” I yell at Dallas. “I have to go back there. He has a gun.”
“He said that? That he has a gun?” Dallas’ face goes white and he looks scared.
“Yes, he said if I didn’t do what he said that he’d start shooting people.”
“Fuck,” Dallas says. He pulls his phone out of his pocket and sends a text. Why he’s doing that at a time like this, I have no idea. “I’m sorry,” he says, “This is all my fault. I shouldn’t have gotten you involved in this mess or put you in danger. Come on, we’ve got to leave.”
He pulls my hand, bringing me and Riley with him.
I follow him, even though I have no idea how he could have put me in danger. I’m the one that’s putting them in danger.
I listen for gunshots. I’m praying Vincent doesn’t follow through with his promise to shoot Damian, who is still on stage singing.
I’ve got to warn him.
“I’ve got to go backstage first. I’ve got to tell Damian. He knows we came here with him. He threatened to shoot him.”
Dallas looks like he’s ready to cry. He runs his hand through his hair. “I’m sorry. This is all my fault.”
I don’t understand why he’s rambling about it being his fault, but I do know I need to get to Damian.
I run to the door leading backstage. Flash my backstage wristband to the guy standing in front of it.
I sprint through the hall, up the three black metal stairs leading to the stage, run across the stage and leap on Damian, bringing him and his guitar crashing to the ground.
Big guys dressed in black rush onto the stage, surrounding us and trying to pull me off Damian.
“What the hell did you do that for?” he whispers.
“He’s here. Vincent is here. You’ve got to get off this stage.”
The bouncers pull me off him and carry me off. They pull Damian to his feet, and he runs after me.
“Put her down,” he says, once we’re both safely offstage.
I can see the other backstage door from here. I see Vincent standing in front of it. He passes a wad of cash to the bouncer. The bouncer opens the door and lets him in. Riley and Dallas, who are both out of breath, come running up to us.
“We’re leaving out the back. This way,” Dallas says as he pulls me to the back exit.
I don’t even have time to think. I just let him lead me. He seems to have a plan.
As we rush out into the back alley, I see three identical blacked out Suburbans. Men in dark suits pull me, Dallas, and Riley into one and Damian into another.
Vincent runs outside, only to watch the SUVs squeal out of the alley. He reaches down to his right ankle, pulls out his concealed gun, and takes aim at a tire.
Something makes him stop though.
The men in dark suits didn’t look like rentals. They looked like the real deal. Like someone who would have been guarding the president. Which makes no sense.
He puts the gun back into place and then slams his hand into the wall in frustration and screams out. He had her. He fucking had her. Exactly where he wanted her. He shouldn’t have danced with her. He should have grabbed her and pulled her out of the club immediately.
He fucked up.
He screams out in rage again. The club owner comes out of the back door, causing him to immediately calm himself.
“Are you alright?” he asks Vincent.
“Yeah,” he says, rolling his eyes. “Women.”
“I hear ya, man. Come back inside. Did you see the cluster that just happened? I don’t give a shit how popular that Twisted Dreams gets, that asshole is never coming back. To leave like that. Like those rockstars don’t love girls jumping them on and off stage.”
“You’d think,” Vincent says. “A drink sounds good.”
As the man turns around and walks back in the club, something shiny catches Vincent’s eye. He reaches down and picks it up.
It’s a dainty necklace. The one Lacy was wearing around her perfect neck. A delicate chain decorated with silver stars, like the night sky when Lacy and Vince are together after he kills off everyone for her. She left it for him. It’s a sign.
And now he understands what is really going on. She didn’t want to leave. Someone made her. They are making her stay away from him.
But she doesn’t want to.
He must find and rescue her.
He slips the chain in his pocket and decides not to follow the man into the club. Instead, he runs down the alley, around the corner, and to the front of the club, where he tosses a hundred dollar bill and a stub to a valet.
“I’m in a hurry,” he says, noting the long line waiting to get their cars.
The valet looks at the tip and says, “Yes, sir.”
Soon Vincent is behind the wheel of his rental and back in his hotel room.
He grabs his laptop and calls every five-star hotel in the city, telling the same story. That Keatyn Douglas, best friend of Damian Moran, lost her necklace at the club Damian was performing at. That he needs to be connected to his room.
The trucks split up and we go flying down the street, slowing only to make numerous turns.
Dallas doesn’t say anything, but I can tell he’s as tense and scared as I am.
I put my shaking hand on his leg and start to say something. He gives me a slight head shake and moves his eyes toward the guys.
How did Dallas get these men here so fast? And just who are they?
After a fifteen minute drive full of turns and doubling back, we pull into an underground parking lot and are hustled to a nondescript elevator.
After a short ride, we enter a plush hallway to a huge Presidential suite with sweeping views of Biscayne Bay.
Dallas stops to give me hug and whispers in my ear. “They are going to want to debrief us. Just agree with me. I’ll explain everything to you later. I’m so sorry that I put you in danger.”
“But . . .”
“We’ll talk later,” he says firmly.
I nod as he leads me to a sofa, which I promptly collapse on.
I look out at the beach.
Try to pretend I’m back in Malibu and Vincent doesn’t exist.
Two guys in suits sit down.
“Tell us what happened,” one of them says to Dallas.
“I did what I was told to do if I ever felt threatened. An old guy had ahold of her on the dance floor and wouldn’t let go. He grabbed her arm hard. At first, I thought it was just because she’s pretty and turned him down or something. But I could tell he was threatening her. Riley and I decided to get her away from him. When we did, she told me he had a gun. That’s when I texted.”
The guy in the suit turns to me. “What did he say to you and did he threaten the Senator’s son directly?”
“He told me he had a gun and that if I didn’t dance with him he’d start shooting.”
“But he never mentioned his name?”
I shake my head. What is going on here? Do they think Vincent was after Dallas? “No, he didn’t say anything about Dallas. He only mentioned Damian, the guy you put in the other truck. He’s my friend. That’s why we were at the club in the first place. To hear him sing.”
Another black-suited guy stands in front of us. “We’d still like to question him. I have a man in the club. Can you give us a physical description of the assailant?”
“He was white, dark haired, about six-two, and was wearing a dark jacket,” Dallas replies.
“That’s half the people at the club.”
I could give them his name and a much better physical description, but I’m a little confused right now, because I think they think he was going to shoot Dallas, not me and Damian.
“Look, guys,” Dallas says to the suits as he takes a calming breath. “I’m sorry for the hassle. It’s the first time I’ve ever been in a situation like this and I panicked.”
“Well, you’re safe. That’s all that matters,” the suit says.
The other guy in the suit, who has been on his phone the whole time we’ve been talking, raises his head. “The senator will be calling you shortly. We’ve kept him abreast of the situation and we’ll make sure you get safely back to school. You’re free to retire, Miss Monroe.”
I’m pretty sure I’m being dismissed.
“My friend, Damian, where did you take him?”
“We took him to where you were staying. He was not followed and is secure. We’ll get your belongings brought here.”
“Thank you,” I say, because I can’t come up with anything else.
I’m led to the door of a large bedroom. I walk in and collapse on the bed.
A few minutes later, Dallas and Riley walk in. Dallas grabs the bottle of champagne that was chilling in the corner. Probably waiting for the senator’s arrival.
He pops it and pours us each a glass.
“So now that we’re safe, I need to apologize to you,” Dallas says as he climbs on the bed with me.
“Why would you apologize? You helped me.”
“Because I’ve told you more than once not to lie to me, but I told you a lie.”
He sighs and runs his hand through his short blond hair. “Yeah.”
“What did you lie about?”
“I told you I got caught smoking weed and that I was an embarrassment to my dad.”
“Yeah, I kinda thought your dad sounded like a dick.”
“He’s not. My dad is awesome.”
“So why did you lie?”
Riley has been pacing the floor. “You lied too, Keatyn. About why you’re here.”
I lower my head. “Yeah.”
“We’ll talk about you next,” Dallas says. “I need to get this off my chest.”
He leans back on the pillows. I pull my feet under my legs and snuggle up next to him.
Riley turns from the window and leaps across the room and onto the bed. “How ‘bout we all get naked and do something worth lying about?”
Dallas and I laugh.
Riley pulls me back into a hug. “You seem like you’re doing better. Are you?”
I kiss his arm and nod.
Dallas says, “Okay, so I’m the youngest of five kids. I was the oops baby. I’m the same age as most of my brothers’ and sisters’ kids. They are all grown, married, and spread across the country.” He pauses and sighs. “So, my dad was threatened by this extremist group. They specifically threatened our family. My mom and me. They were going to make me leave my normal school and go live in Washington with them, but I didn’t want that.” He rolls his eyes. “I threw a bit of a fit. So the drug thing was a lie. Dad let it be publicized. Said he was sending me to military school. That drugs are killing our youth, blah, blah, blah, and I went to Eastbrooke. To stay safe.”
“I keep dangerous company,” Riley says with a laugh. Then he looks at me seriously. “So that guy at the club. Is he the guy you told me about? Your mom’s ex?”
“Um, yeah. He . . .” I don’t know what to say. I want to tell them both the truth so badly. But I can’t. Just yesterday, I was going to tell Dawson everything. I can’t fully trust anyone. And even though I do trust these boys, I also know they are human. They could accidentally say something about Abby being my mom. If that happened, the whole school would find out in seconds. And I can’t risk it.
My phone rings, startling me.
Shit. It’s Garrett.
“I need to answer this,” I say to the boys.
I try to act nonchalant. “Hey, what’s up?”
“Where are you and why aren’t you wearing your necklace?”
“I’m out of town, but I think you already know that.”
“Yes, I know that you’re in Miami. I know that you went to see Damian. I know that you had a run in with Vincent. I know that you tackled Damian on stage and were whisked into black Suburbans by what might have been the Secret Service.”
“That about covers it. I’m fine.”
“I need to know what he said to you. Damian has already filled me in on the rest.”
“I can’t now,” I say and hang up.
I get tears in my eyes. What could have happened to me is sinking in.
I’m gonna start crying.
I look at Riley. He’s helped me so much. I’m not going to have another meltdown in front of him.
But it’s coming.
“Uh, if you don’t mind, I’m gonna go shower,” I say, pointing toward the palatial bathroom.
“That’s fine,” Dallas says. “My dad is going to be here soon. He’s here in Miami but he’s out on a boat somewhere. They are choppering him in. He’ll want to talk to me alone.”
He chugs his champagne then goes back into the living room, shutting the door behind him.
“I’m just going to lie on the bed, drink champagne, and think about how bad-ass that was,” Riley states. “I felt like I was in a spy movie or something.”
I nod, walk into the bathroom, shut the doors, turn on the shower, strip off my clothes, and stand under the warm water.
I let the water fall and start crying.
I look at the tattoo. It’s supposed to remind me of my first love, but now it feels violated and dirty.
I grab a washcloth and try to scrub it off.
I scrub and scrub and scrub.
When it won’t come off, I sit on the shower floor, pull my knees up to my chest, drop my head to my knees, and let my emotions rack through me.
I cry about everything.
The way Dawson looked standing there in his closet.
How much I miss Damian.
The things Vincent said to me.
How he probably had Tiny killed.
How he’s been following the breadcrumbs.
How he’s not going to stop.
How I know it’s just a matter of time before he shows up at school and gets me for real.
I suddenly realize the water has stopped running.
A towel is thrown across my body as Riley sits down next to me. “You’re not gonna sit in here all by yourself and cry.”
“His dad is here. He’s out with him. And your friend Damian called, so I answered for you. He wanted you to know that he’s fine and that he’s sorry about everything.”
I grab Riley’s shoulder, getting his shirt all wet, and cry into it until I have no more tears.
“I’m so glad you came with me, Riley. Otherwise, I’d have been here alone and I don’t think I would’ve gotten away.”
“What I don’t understand is why he wants to kidnap you. For ransom or something?”
“No. He doesn’t need money. He wants to make my mom pay for whatever he thinks she did. He wants to hurt her by hurting me. He also thinks I look like her when they, um, dated. When they were young. He even called me by her name tonight.”
“That’s just sick. But don’t worry. You’re safe now. Dallas and I will always make sure you’re safe.”
“Did you know about Dallas? Like what he told me?”
Riley nods. “Yeah. They did full background checks on everyone at the school. Specifically chose me to be his roommate. They liked the fact that I had some military training and that I’m not afraid to break rules when necessary. They briefed me on his situation and asked me not to tell anyone. That’s why I was worried about you during Homecoming week. They told us with all the people coming and going we needed to be especially alert. Come on. Let’s get you out of here. It’s time to meet the senator.”
While Riley goes out into the living room, I brush out my wet hair and put on a big fluffy robe. Not what I would usually choose for meeting a parent, let alone a senator, but it’s going to have to do. I threw my clothes from the club in the trash and I’m not putting them back on.
I’m getting ready to walk out when I hear my name.
A voice I don’t recognize says, “Don’t you think it’s a little strange that this girl brings you to Miami and all of a sudden there’s a threat? Who is this girl, anyway?”
“We don’t know much about her, sir,” another voice says. “She apparently was admitted to the school at the last minute.”
“Don’t you think that’s a little odd? I want her background run now. I want to know everything about her.”
I call Garrett quickly.
“Um, I have a question. How solid is my backstory? Like if someone starting digging. Like, the government, maybe. What would they find?”
“It will stand up. I’m good at what I do.”
“Okay, I won’t worry then.”
“Why don’t you tell me what’s going on.”
I tell him about Dallas.
“You swore to me that you wouldn’t go see a friend again.”
“I know, but this was different. Brooklyn’s event was public and planned. This wasn’t. Damian said it was a surprise performance.”
“Yeah, one that the club owners leaked all over the internet.”
“I didn’t know that. Damian didn’t know that.”
“He knows how the industry works. He’s not stupid. He risked your life tonight.”
“He’s never done a surprise thing like this before. He’d never knowingly put me in danger.”
Out in the living room, the same voice says, “Son, you need to start thinking with your head and not your dick. I don’t believe in coincidences.”
“They think it’s my fault, Garrett. They think I may have set Dallas up to get kidnapped.”
“Who is his dad?”
“He’s a senator from Kentucky. Last name is McMahon.”
“I know senator McMahon quite well. Did security for his trip to Central America a few years back. When we were fighting the war on drugs instead of the war on terror. Let me talk to him.”
“Garrett, no. I don’t want Riley and Dallas to know who I am or the truth. I don’t want to put them in danger.”
“How did you explain the situation to them?”
“I told them that Vincent was my mom’s ex-boyfriend. That he’s been stalking me.”
“That’s a pretty good story. And don’t worry about your background. I’ll call the senator myself. I’m also working on a new plan for your security. We’re going to be making some changes.”
“Garrett, one other thing. When I talked to Vincent, he told me about how he’s been following the breadcrumbs to find me. He never once mentioned anything about school. I’m positive he doesn’t know where I am.”
“Well, that’s the best news I’ve heard all night.”
He hangs up, so I walk out into the living room.
Even though he was just talking trash about me a few moments ago, the senator gets off the couch with an outstretched hand. He’s tall and broad-shouldered with perfect white hair and eyes as blue as Dallas’.
I shake his hand just as his phone rings.
“Excuse me, I need to take this.” He steps away from the living area.
“I heard what your dad was saying,” I say to Dallas. “I would never want anyone to hurt you.” I start getting tears in my eyes just thinking about someone hurting him or Riley.
He gives me a hug. “He’s just watching out for me. What we went through was scary.”
I nod my head into his chest, completely understanding.
The senator ends his call and sits on the couch again.
“So, Miss Monroe, I just spoke to our mutual friend.”
“I understand the situation now. We’ve decided to join forces.”
I sort of squint my eyes at him. I’m pretty sure that whatever they are planning, we’re not going to like. I’m pretty sure Garrett’s ready to put me in solitary confinement on the moon right about now.
Dallas says, “Join forces?”
“Miss Monroe went to Eastbrooke at the last minute because she is in a similar situation. An old boyfriend of her mother’s is stalking her.”
I smile. Garrett lied. To a Senator. For me. I want to reach through the phone and kiss him.
Dallas says, “So you lied too?”
“Just about that,” I say, but then I add, “mostly.”
“It sounds like you kids had quite the scare, either way.”
“I’m so sorry for all the trouble I caused.”
The Senator puts his hand on top of mine and says, “I’d much rather you overreact and be wrong, than not react and be in danger. You kids can stay here in the suite, relax, and try to enjoy what’s left of your weekend. We’ll make sure you get back to school safely.”
The sun is starting to come up when he finally finishes the list. He opens the drapes and watches the sunrise over Biscayne Bay.
“Don’t worry, Lacy,” he says aloud. “I’d never let anything happen to you.”
In his mind, Lacy places the taper into a candlestick and sets it on the kitchen table.
Then she smiles at him. The corners of her mouth form a little smirk, which slowly spreads into the megawatt smile that is just for him.
Thanks, Vince, she says sweetly, blushing.
He closes the drapes tightly, goes into the bedroom of the suite, strips down, and lies on the bed.
When he closes his eyes, he’s back in the club. He recalls what she was wearing. The soft satin bustier that highlighted her long neck, delicate collarbones, and delightful décolletage. The short-as-sin leather mini skirt covered in safety pins, studs, and rhinestones—the kind of skirt not just anyone could pull off. Although, he would have liked to. Even through the tough exterior of the leather, he could feel the softness of her waist and hips. He loved how the skirt showcased her long legs. And then there were the shoes. Or boots. Silver platforms topped with fur. What was that song about boots and fur? How everyone at the club would look at that girl? That girl was Lacy. But she only had eyes for him on the dance floor. Her body moved in perfect harmony with his. Their beings connected. Their tattoos making love. It was perfection. He and Lacy are joined together in a spiritual way.
She can’t fight it. She is his destiny.
Little does Keatyn know when she has breakfast on the balcony overlooking the bay, that Vincent is literally in the suite just below, dreaming about her.
We slept in late, got up, ordered a huge breakfast, and ate it overlooking the bay.
I stay out on the deck because it’s so incredibly peaceful.
Vincent wakes with a start. He’d been having a nightmare. Lacy was trapped, calling out for him. He vows to find her—rescue her. He replays everything she said to him at the club. Dissecting it. She had to have given him a clue to her whereabouts. Something subtle so that those watching her wouldn’t suspect. He keeps coming back to one line. “I just told you I’m in the witness protection program. Even my family doesn’t know where I am.” Then she put on a French accent. “I am a foreign exchange student named Michelle.”
Foreign exchange student. That’s it. Of course, they would keep her in school. His thought process is interrupted by his phone ringing. It’s the office.
“Sharpe,” he says by way of greeting.
“Mr. Sharpe, I just wanted to update you on the casting for A Day at the Lake. We have contacted Sander’s agent and he might be interested. And we are getting quite a buzz going about the auditions. I even have someone who I think might be perfect to play Lacy. Although, there are some great agencies in Miami. Maybe you should get in contact with them while you are there.”
A thought sparks in his mind. “That’s actually a really good idea. Thank you.”
“Of course, Mr. Sharpe.”
Vincent stays in Miami and contacts every modeling and talent agency personally. He shows them a photo of Lacy from the movie and lets them know that he’s looking for someone who looks like her. That he wants to cast an unknown. That he needs their help.
It can’t hurt to have a few extra boots on the ground.
By the time he gets back to L.A., he’s decided he might as well go all in.