The concerto swel s, and neither of us speaks for several minutes. Music, to both of us, is the purest expression of emotion. When it’s inspired, it leaves tears in my eyes, leaves me breathless. For me, there’s nothing better than singing and knowing I’ve affected someone that same way.

“So, what’s on the agenda tonight—partying til the wee hours? Drag racing on the strip? Hot date?” My father laughs at his little joke. I know he doesn’t mean anything by it—to him, I’m an incorrigible good girl. I may be the only girl in the history of California whose father encourages her to stay out later with friends.

“Sure—al of the above. Don’t wait up.”

“So are you stil seeing—” he snaps his fingers twice.


“That’s the one.”

“We were never real y a thing, Dad.”

Nick is a guy from school who’s known for his civic-minded volunteer efforts. In other words, he’s a male me.

Everyone’s been trying to push us together since he transferred in during junior year. We’ve been out a few times and stil hang out occasional y. He’s nice enough, and certainly good-looking enough, but I can go for days without thinking about him. So I do.

“Is he aware of this?”

“Dad, sheesh.” I’m amused by the fact that my father is interested in my love life. Or lack thereof. “We get along fine. He’s nice. Fun. Easy to talk to.” Everything Reid isn’t.


Why am I thinking of him?

“Ouch,” Dad says, wincing. “No chemistry, huh?”


“Nice, fun, easy to talk to—sounds like you’re talking about me!” He glances over his right shoulder to change lanes, winking at me in the process.

“I could do worse than someone like you, Dad,” I laugh.

He pretends to admire himself in the rearview mirror, waggling his eyebrows. “True. There’s no hurry, though.”

“Definitely not.”

I’m eighteen, so he’s right—there’s no hurry. I don’t tel him how much I want that sort of connection—a relationship like he and Mom share. The trust and respect between them is plain to see, but I know that under the surface, their relationship simmers with passion. I don’t tel him how much I worry it wil never happen for me. I don’t tel him how some days, I feel as though everything I do is an attempt to be worthy of being loved like that.

Chapter 6


Mom meets me at the door with a drink in her hand. “Reid!” Plucking at the shirt, her eyes widen and her mouth screws up. Dropping the fabric like it’s covered in manure instead of paint, she rubs her fingers together.

“It’s just paint, Mom. And it’s dry.” I pul the shirt over my head and keep walking towards the curving marble staircase.

“Did you get any on the wal s?” Clearly, a smartass temperament is genetic, and I was dealt a double dose.

“Yeah, I actual y did. I’m gonna take a shower—when’s dinner?” I cal down when I hit the second landing.

“Immaculada should have it on the table by seven.”

“I think I’l nap, too. I’m going out later, and I’m dead tired.”

I don’t wait for an answer. If Dad isn’t going to be home

—he usual y isn’t—I have no idea how she’l spend the evening, besides having another cocktail or three.

“I stil can’t believe you destroyed your 911, man.” John downshifts his Jaguar XJ to take a curve. “It sucks ass, seriously.”

My one week old Porsche 911 GT2 RS was sweet. I don’t even remember getting into it that night. Guess I should be glad I hadn’t taken anyone home from that club—

the whole right side was crushed in.

Man, that’s a more sobering thought than I want to be having tonight.

“Gonna replace it?”

“No point right now—my license is suspended for six months anyway.” Six months. Damn. The judge didn’t even count the time from the accident to my court date against it

—he started the sentence from the court date, leaving five months, two weeks and four days to go.

John frowns, confused. “So?”

I should know better than to expect my best friend to get why I won’t be driving on a suspended license. He has no concept of consequences. He’s the luckiest bastard I hang out with—he never gets caught doing anything. It’s bizarre.

Not to mention unfair as hel .

“I’ve gotta lay low for a bit. First getting busted at that party, and now this DUI and community service crap.”

“But they dropped the charges on the weed, right?”

“Yeah. But standing there in front of a judge, you can’t help feeling like he knows everything you’ve ever done.”

“Whoa.” John is one of those guys who frequently comes across as stoned off his ass. He’s brighter than he seems

—unless he’s actual y stoned, in which case he’s practical y brain dead.

We’re heading into the Hil s for a party some girl is having. John says she’s an heiress who’s struggling to make it as an actress in Hol ywood. The houses we’re passing on the way are as posh as my parents’ place.

Yeah, she’s real y struggling.

“So about this party—any decent prospects for hookups?” I want nothing more than to get total y wasted, grab some hot, legal y-aged, equal y wasted girl and find a room. No brown hair, no brown eyes. No supervision, direction or advice. No sarcasm. No talking.

“Yeah, man. Ample possibilities.”

“Sweet.” I’m thinking a tal , leggy, blue-eyed blonde with huge tits.

This is LA—I can’t throw a rock and not hit one of those.


Day three has not gone as I’d envisioned it. Of course, neither did day two.

First, he showed up an hour late and hungover. He thought he was hiding it (with sunglasses—real y?), but just because I’m personal y naïve when it comes to getting drunk or doing drugs doesn’t mean I don’t know it when I see it. The neighborhoods where I work are rife with the ways and means people use to cope through their disappointing lives—and those coping mechanisms sometimes include substances that don’t do any more than mask the real problems and valid issues.

Frankly, his slightly bloodshot eyes and lack of energy—

coupled with the tardiness and an even more contrary coupled with the tardiness and an even more contrary attitude than the previous day—almost pushed me over the edge. I wanted to bundle him right back into the backseat of his fancy car and send him home. I’m supposed to be above such reactions. Some social worker I’l make, if I can’t keep a more even keel. I’l have clients with bigger personality limitations than he’s got, as difficult as that is to imagine at the moment.

He was a walking safety liability. There was no way I could leave him alone with a paint rol er, not to mention what paint fumes might do to him in his already taxed physical condition. Anything with tools, especial y power tools, was out. The only task I could imagine assigning to him was helping to lay sod in the back yard. I thought I was doing him a favor—he could wear the sunglasses and be out in the fresh air (such as it is—this is LA, after al ), and he wasn’t going to put a nail through his hand.

Of course, depositing him outside meant I had to abandon the tiling I’d planned to do so I could paint, because somebody had to do it before the carpet arrives.

Determined to get back to work, I left him outside with Frank, who’s in charge of landscaping.

When I came out to check on him just before lunch, hoping he hadn’t given Frank any trouble, he was standing in the middle of the half-sodded yard, shirtless, leaning on a tamping tool and chatting up a cute girl in cut-offs and a pink tank top. Judging by the cooler at her feet, she was supposed to be passing out bottles of water. When she turned, I saw that she was Gabriel e Diego, the daughter of the people who would soon own this house—and into whose rental house Reid had crashed his car.

Her family of five was living in a motel room because of him, and she was smiling up at him like he could crash into her house any old time, no big deal.

When she spotted me standing on the porch slab, she touched his arm and said something that made him turn.

Our eyes locked. Without severing that connection, he took a long swal ow from the water bottle, leaned close to her and spoke. At the sound of their laughter, my patience snapped. I stomped back inside and finished painting a second coat of pink on Gabriel e’s bedroom wal s and a coat of primer on the boys’ room without stopping for lunch or a break. By the time Dad arrived to pick me up, the muscles in my back were screaming for mercy. Reid must have gotten Frank to sign his sheet, because I hadn’t seen him again until this morning.

We finished the master bed and bath wal s today, not speaking beyond obligatory Q & A. He sat with Gabriel e at lunch, which made me uneasy. As I scrawl my name on the line marking the completion of his third day, I say, “You’re not here to socialize, you’re here to assist with construction of the Diegos’ house, and possibly become more communal y aware.”

He gapes before making a remark about my (f-word) humanitarianism and how he doesn’t need a savior and if he did, it wouldn’t be me.

Instead of biting my tongue, I tel him I wouldn’t give him a glass of water if his hair was on fire, nor does he ever have to worry about me trying to save him because I learned years ago that some people aren’t worth the effort.

“What—so according to you, someone like me isn’t worthy of redemption?” He smirks at such a preposterous notion.

I turn away from his smug expression and begin sweeping arches of thinset onto the shower wal with a trowel. “I don’t believe in wasting my time on hopeless cases.”

He laughs. “What about me constitutes hopeless?” I don’t bother to look at him. “What doesn’t constitute hopeless?” I press a tile into the corner, add a spacer, pick up the next tile and line it up faultlessly level with the first one. “From your language to your lack of morals to your inability to consider anyone’s needs or hardships but your own—honestly, what is there of any value to anyone?

Besides to yourself, I mean.”

“ I ’ m here, in this shithole gangbanger barrio, volunteering to do manual labor—”

“Volunteering? Manual labor? Real y?” I scoff, ignoring his elitist estimation of the respectable blue col ar neighborhood. “First, you’re here by court order, and second, you don’t do as much by lunch as the rest of us do before you arrive. You’re done for the day the exact moment your plea bargain agreement specifies, or before, if you get distracted by something, or some one.” He’s actual y worked harder than I’d expected him to, but his superior attitude just makes my usual unbiased judgment fly out the window.

“Ah, so I noticed an attractive girl. That’s your problem?


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