I think of Reid, and how I told him he was hopeless. How angry he was that I deemed him unworthy of my time or attention. I don’t know if he’s addicted to any particular substances, though he’s certainly addicted to his hedonistic substances, though he’s certainly addicted to his hedonistic lifestyle. But is he hopeless? Maybe he’s right. Maybe my snap judgment concerning him makes me a hypocrite.

“So you’re educating Bradford about real life, eh?”

“I’m attempting to, but he’s the most opinionated, obstinate man I’ve dealt with since Dr. Horsham in second year pathology.” Deb almost quit medical school because of Dr. Horsham, until Mom convinced her to go back and prove she was made of tougher stuff than that.

After I hang up, I lie on my bed thinking about my sister fighting for an ex-addict. She was right this time, but she won’t always be. There wil always be addicts who lie to get their fixes, taking hospital resources from those who have actual need. Stil , Deb wil find the people everyone else has given up on and resolve the most unmanageable problem—assuming there is a solution. That’s just how she is.

Mom was pul ing twelve-hour shifts in the maternity ward when she found out she was pregnant with me. She spent the last two months of her pregnancy on doctor-ordered bed rest, so her intention to fix up the nursery was wrecked.

My sister’s old crib, unearthed from the attic, stood pathetical y in the center of the otherwise bare room until Deb and Dad took over nursery decoration. Mom had a lamb-based theme planned, but that idea was tossed.

Thanks to the Discovery Channel, Deb was on a marine life kick, infatuated with the Great Barrier Reef. She insisted on decorating my room with fish.

Dad says I lucked out—her next fascination was lizards.

Deb and Dad painted the room turquoise. Twisting up from the floorboards were sections of coral created from orange posterboard, and twenty-two fish were strung from the ceiling, cut in Dad’s woodshop from a pattern and al painted the same iridescent blue-green. Mom had suggested that they be multihued, but Deb refused anything that wasn’t identical to her National Geographic images of damselfish.

The posterboard coral is long gone, and Mom and I repainted the room a lighter blue just before I started high school. The fish, though, remain. Attached to strands of transparent fishing line hooked to the ceiling, they swim in a school from my bedroom door to the window. My earliest memories are of those fish. As I lie with my head at the foot of my bed, they sway fluidly in the A/C-generated breeze, forever passing through.

Chapter 8



“Supermodel checking you out, two o’clock.” I glance one direction and then the other. “John, dude, that’s ten o’clock.”

Aside from his inability to remember how to tel time on the face of an actual clock, my wingman is correct. Actual supermodel. Actual y checking me out. And now that I’ve noticed, she’s walking over. Stick-figure thin, she swings non-existent hips, her body and face al planes and angles, a long way from any Dorcas Cantrel doppelganger.

“Hey there,” John says.

“Hel o,” she offers me her hand. “I’m Dorika.” Of course she is. And the only reason I’l remember her name tomorrow is because it’s ridiculously close to that of a girl she doesn’t resemble at al , who I can’t stop thinking about for some insane reason.

“I’m Reid.” In her heels, we stand eye-to-eye. Makeup flawless, dark eyes half-mast and ringed with amethyst, she smiles when I graze her knuckles with my lips.

“Yes, I know. Reid Alexander.” She knows who I am.

Better and better.

“And I’m John.”

Her gaze never wavers from my face; John doesn’t even register with her, though he’s not a bad-looking guy. He might be a little short for her, unless she’s barefoot—but she’s got to be used to that. She’s tal er than the majority of the guys here.

I motion to the waitress to bring her another drink.

“Where are you from, Dorika?” Her accent is eastern European.

“I am from Budapest.”

“So what brings you to LA?” I couldn’t care less about her answer; it’s just part of the game.

“The handsome men, of course,” she laughs, tossing waves of dark hair over her shoulder. Her look is calculated, and I chuckle along with her to confirm that I’ve grasped her insinuation. “Also I am doing, how do you say it, a spread for Elle magazine.” I sense a vulgar comment coming from John and flash him my shut-the-hel -up face. To my amazement, he complies.

The waitress removes the near-empty glass from Dorika’s fingers and deftly hands off a fresh drink. “It is rather loud here,” she says, sipping.

“Wel , this is a nightclub.”

“I know a quiet bar nearby,” John interjects, but he might as wel be mute, for al the attention she’s paying to him.

“My hotel is a few blocks away. It is more comfortable.

Less noisy. You wil come with?”

I regard her for a moment longer. There’s no reason to say no. No reason at al .


I pul the stirring stick out of the paint to test the consistency, dribbling a spiral onto the smooth white surface, where the liquid squiggles disappear almost instantly. Perfect. I take a satisfied breath, the chemical aroma something I’ve never disliked, even while it singes my nostrils.

Identical to the past three days, work slows to a standstil when Reid arrives. Now that he’s acquainted with the layout of the house, I’m determined not to go looking for him.

When the scent of espresso mingles with the odor of the paint, I know he’s found me. I close my eyes for a count to three and a breath of composure before I turn, straightening.

He’s holding two Starbucks cups, one of which he extends towards me. “Truce?”

I take the cup, confused.

He’s smirking, having anticipated my reaction. “It’s a double-shot soy latte. If you hate it, my driver can go back and get something else…”

Blinking, I wonder what kind of stalking he did to know my favorite coffee drink.

Right. Because a celebrity is going to stalk me. “No, this is… fine. Thank you.”

He glances around the smal bathroom, takes a sip from his cup. “Second coat on the cabinets and trim today, right?”

“Um. Yes, that’s right.”

“You finished the tiling? How late did you stay?” He looks impressed, his fingers reaching towards the wal and curling back. “Is it okay to touch it?”

I nod. “Sure. It’s dry.”

Stroking one finger across the glossy white squares, he says, “They’re so even.” His laughter is unlike the derisive chuckle I’ve become accustomed to over the past few days.

“If I’d done this, it would look like a shitty optical il usion.” His half-grin dares me to disagree.

My mouth pul s up on one side, involuntarily. “Um, thanks.”

When I finish caulking the master bath shower, I check to see if Reid is on task with the cabinets in the second bathroom. I hear Gabriel e’s voice before I round the corner, so I hover just outside the door, listening.

“I just want to live my life, you know? I don’t care about col ege. I’ve been in school long enough.” From what I remember of a conversation with her mother, Gabriel e spent the past six weeks in summer school after having floundered her way through tenth grade, more interested in boys and partying than keeping up with her assignments.

“Mmm-hmm.” He’s noncommittal, when I would be trying to discourage such a foolish decision.

“I want to be a model. And then an actress, you know, later. After I’m too old to do, like, swimsuit shoots and stuff.”

“Gabriel e?” They both start at the sound of my voice, which echoes in the smal room. I pretend not to notice their matching reactions. “I thought you were working outside with Frank today?”

She glares at me, petulant. “I was just taking a break.”

“Ah,” I say pleasantly, leaning a shoulder on the doorjamb and pointedly waiting for her to leave.

She huffs a sigh and rol s her eyes, turning back to Reid.

“See you at lunch?”

“Sure.” His eyes flick to her and straight back to the cabinet, stroking the brush downward with the wood grain, remarkably straight. As he dips the brush into the paint, he looks up at me. “Need something, boss?”

“She’s only sixteen, you know.”

The brush stil s and he crooks an eyebrow, eyeing me.

“I’m aware of that.”

“Are you?”

“What’s it to you?” His voice is pure chal enge, his eyes narrowed.

I straighten, running my finger along the groove in the door trim. He should have primed this when he primed the cabinets. Doing al of the priming first is more efficient.

“She’s the daughter of the people for whom we’re building this house. I feel a responsibility to them where she’s concerned.”

“A responsibility to what?”

I glance at him and know he’s uber-aware of what he’s doing. Making me spel it out. Fine. I can do that. “A responsibility to make sure the court-ordered ‘volunteer’

understands that he needs to keep his distance from the underage girl while on this property.”

He stares at me for a moment. “So if I run into her off property, for instance—”

“No. That’s not what I mean. I mean… just stay away from her, period. Why would you even—I don’t get why—

don’t you ever want to be a better person?” My breath catches. I can’t believe I just said that.

“Okay, what?” he says, taken aback.

That was so out of line, but before I can backtrack, he slams the brush down, surrounding it with a halo splatter of paint on the plastic sheeting. He stands up and glares down at me. “What I choose to do or not do is none of your business. Who I choose to do or not do is also none of your business. Shit.”

Shouldering past me, he goes straight out into the back yard. I should fol ow him and apologize, but I doubt he wants to hear anything I have to say. Besides, I’m right about Gabriel e. She’s young and she’s starstruck. In no way are they on an equal playing field. I may think she’s a little twerp, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to keep her from ending up emotional y damaged by a guy like Reid Alexander.

So much for that truce.

Chapter 9


What the hel is it with this girl? No matter what I do, I can’t catch a break from her nonstop condemnation.

Truth? That Gabriel e chick is hot, so in the interest of not being bored off my nut, I don’t mind her flirting with me. I’d also be wil ing to bet she’s no virgin. But virgin or not, she should be hooking up with some guy her own age, if that’s what she wants, not some guy who’s wel past eighteen.

And since I’m not a complete idiot, I don’t need to be told that.

When I said that thing about taking her off the property, I was just pointing out the big fat hole in Dorcas’s reasoning.

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