Why was I here? What was the f**king purpose? Had I gotten this bad? Really? In the past, I’d been able to shake her loose and walk away. Nannette had been my go-to f**k for years, but then she’d gotten needy. And I’d liked it. Somehow, she had managed to get under my skin. I had wanted to be wanted—I was that pathetic. My dad rarely called me; my mom had decided she preferred French models over me years ago.
I was screwed the hell up.
It was time I let this go. Nan had needed me for a time when she felt like she was losing Rush, her brother and safe place, to his new life with his wife and child. Not that Rush wouldn’t welcome her with open arms—it was just that she was such a bitch. All she had to do was accept Rush’s wife, Blaire. That was it. But the stubborn woman wouldn’t do it.
Mine had been the arms she’d run into, and like a fool I had opened them up for her. Now, all I had was a lot of damn drama and a slightly damaged heart. She hadn’t claimed it. Not completely. But she had touched a place no one else had. She had needed me. No one had ever needed me. It had made me weak.
To prove my point, here I sat in Nan’s father’s home, looking for her, waiting on her. She was running wild again, and Rush wasn’t coming to the rescue. He had hung up his Superman cape and decided his days of coming to Nan’s side were over. I had wanted that. As sick as it was, I had wanted to be her hero. Damn, I was a pussy.
“Drink, kid. Fuck knows you need it,” Kiro, Nan’s father, said as he shoved a half-empty bottle of tequila into my hands. Kiro was the lead singer of the most legendary rock band in the world. Slacker Demon had been around for twenty years, and their songs still skyrocketed to number one whenever they released a new album.
I started to argue but changed my mind. He was right. I needed a drink. I didn’t think about where the dude’s mouth had been when I touched the rim of the bottle to my lips and tipped it back.
“You’re a smart boy, Grant. What I can’t figure is why the hell you’re putting up with Nan’s shit,” Kiro said as he sank down onto the white leather sofa across from me. He was in a pair of black skinny jeans and a silver shirt, unbuttoned and hanging open. Tattoos covered his chest and arms. Women still went crazy over him. It wasn’t his looks. He was too damn skinny. A diet of alcohol and drugs would do that to you. But he was Kiro. That was all that mattered to them.
“You gonna ignore me? Hell, she’s my daughter and I can’t put up with her. Damn crazy bitch, just like her momma,” he drawled before taking a pull off a joint.
“That’s enough, Daddy.” The musical voice that was finding its way into my fantasies lately came from the doorway.
“There’s my baby girl. She’s come out of her room to visit,” Kiro said, grinning at the daughter he actually loved. The one he hadn’t abandoned. Harlow Manning was breathtaking. She didn’t look like a rock star’s kid. She looked like an innocent, sweet country girl, with long, dark hair and eyes that made you forget your f**king name.
“I was going to see if you planned on eating dinner at home tonight or if you were going out,” she said. I watched as she stepped into the room and purposely ignored me. That only made me smile.
She didn’t like me. I had met her at Rush and Blaire’s engagement party and then spoken to her at their wedding reception. Both times hadn’t ended well.
“I was thinkin’ of going out. I need to party a little. I’ve stayed inside this house too damn long.”
“Oh. Okay,” she said in that soft voice that I swear was intoxicating.
Kiro frowned. “You lonely? Locking yourself away in that room with your books getting to you, baby girl?”
I couldn’t take my eyes off Harlow. She rarely came around when I was here. Nan wasn’t exactly kind to her. I got why she didn’t like Harlow. She was eaten up with jealousy where Harlow was concerned. Even if it wasn’t Harlow’s fault that Kiro loved her and didn’t seem to give a shit about Nan. Harlow lit up a room when she walked into it. There was a peacefulness about her that was hard to explain. It made you want to get close to her and see if you could soak it in. She made it easy for someone as selfish as Kiro to love her. Nan made it hard for normal people to love her—much less someone like Kiro Manning.
“No, I’m fine. I was just going to wait and eat with you if you planned to eat here. If not, I’ll just eat a sandwich in my room.”
Kiro started shaking his head. “I don’t like that. You’re in there too much. I want you to stop reading for tonight. Grant is here and he needs some company. He’s a good guy. Talk to him. You can have dinner together while he waits for Nan to return.”
Harlow stiffened and finally glanced my way, but only for a moment. “I don’t think so.”
“Come on, don’t be a snob. Grant’s a family friend. He’s Rush’s brother. Have dinner with him.”
Harlow’s spine stiffened even straighter. She went back to not making eye contact with me. “He’s not Rush’s brother. If he were, it would be even more disgusting that he’s sleeping with Nan.”
Kiro grinned like Harlow was the funniest person in the world and he was proud of her spunk. “My kitten has claws, and apparently only you bring them out. Sleeping with the evil sister has put you on my baby girl’s shit list. Now that’s funny as hell.” He looked extremely amused as he took another long draw from his joint.
I wasn’t amused. I didn’t like the fact Harlow hated me. I wasn’t sure how the hell to fix it, though. Turning my back on Nan wasn’t possible. She wouldn’t be able to handle someone else dropping her. Even if her slutty ass deserved it. I wouldn’t let myself think about the boy band she was currently sleeping with. Guess I was wrong about those guys. I thought for sure they were sleeping with each other. Instead, they were all sleeping with Nan.
“Have a good night, Daddy,” Harlow said, then turned and walked out of the room before Kiro could demand she stay with me.
Kiro laid his head back and closed his eyes. “Shame she hates you. She’s special. Only known one other like her, and it was her mom. Woman stole my heart. I adored her. Worshipped the f**king ground she walked on. I would have thrown all this shit away for her. I had planned on it. I just wanted to wake up each morning and see her there beside me. I wanted to watch her with our baby girl and know that they were mine. But God wanted her more. Took her the f**k away from me. I won’t ever get over it. Never.”
This wasn’t the first time I had heard him ramble on about Harlow’s mother. He did it whenever he got high. She was the first thing that came to his mind. I hadn’t known that kind of love. Scared the shit out of me, though. I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to know it. Kiro had never recovered. I had met the man when I was a kid and my dad had married Rush’s mom. Rush had begged his dad, Dean Finlay, the drummer for Slacker Demon, to take me with them on one of his weekend visits.
I had been in awe. It had been the first of many weekends. And Kiro would always talk about “her” and curse God for taking her. It had fascinated me, even as a child. I had never witnessed that kind of devotion.
Even after my dad’s short marriage to Rush’s mother, Georgianna, I had remained close to Rush. His dad still came to pick me up sometimes when he got Rush. I had grown up personally knowing the most legendary rock band in the world.
“Nan hates her. Who the hell can hate Harlow? She’s too damn sweet to hate. Girl hasn’t done anything to Nan, yet Nan’s mean as a goddamn snake. Poor Harlow stays away from her. I hate to see my baby girl so defenseless. She needs to toughen up. She needs a friend.” Kiro set his joint down in an ashtray and turned his head to look at me. “Be her friend, kid. She needs one.”
I wanted to be a lot more than Harlow Manning’s friend. But she wouldn’t even look at me. I had tried more than once to direct one of those earth-shattering smiles my way, but she hardly glanced at me. Prove me nuts. “Not sure I can be her friend and Nan’s at the same time.”
Kiro frowned, then sat up and leaned forward. “Three kinds of women in this world. The kind that suck you dry and leave you with nothing. The kind that only want a good time. And the kind that make life worth a damn. That last kind . . . the right woman’s the one who gives as much as she takes, and you can’t get enough. She’s the kind . . . if you lose her, you lose yourself.”
His bloodshot eyes told me he hadn’t just smoked a joint today. But even high, he made sense. If anyone knew about women, it was Kiro Manning.
“I’ve had all three. Wish like hell I’d stayed away from the first. The second is all I touch anymore. But that third one . . . I won’t ever be the same. And I wouldn’t take back one minute I had with Harlow’s mom.”
He ran his hand through his stringy hair. “Nannette, she’s the first kind. Be careful of the first kind. They will f**k you over and walk away laughing.”
Three months later . . .
Only nine months. Just nine months. I could make it nine months. I would hide in my room and only come out when she wasn’t here. Classes would start soon and I would have my courses to distract me. Then Dad would be home and I’d leave this place behind me. I could do it. I had to. Dad hadn’t given me any other option.
The house was quiet. The loud sounds of Nan ha**g s*x with some idiot had woken me up around two this morning. I had put on my Beats and cranked up my favorite playlist. At some point I had fallen back to sleep. Because the music had been pumping in my ears when I woke up this morning, I wasn’t sure if I was home alone or not. It was after ten and the house was so quiet, I was pretty sure no one was here. Besides, Nan didn’t seem like the kind to have a sleepover this late.
She screwed them then tossed them.
I threw back the covers and ran my hands through my hair to tame the tangles before stepping into the hallway. Silence was all that met my ears. I was safe. I could eat. Nan hadn’t been here when I arrived last night, but I knew she must have noticed my car outside. Dad had an Audi waiting on me when I had landed at the airport.
After finding the house, I had gone to buy some groceries, then unloaded my food and luggage. Dad had bought this house for Nan with the understanding that I would stay with her for nine months while he was on tour with Slacker Demon. She wanted a house in Rosemary Beach, Florida. He had supplied a big one. Dad did everything big. Which was good for me. I could hide from her more easily. Unfortunately, there was only one kitchen.
I walked down the hallway and headed down the winding staircase, which spiraled past the top two floors before ending at the bottom floor. My bare feet made very little noise as I walked across the hardwood planks. I had just opened the fridge to get my organic milk when a door opened and closed somewhere in the house.
I froze and considered shoving the milk back in the fridge and hiding. I wasn’t ready to face Nan yet. I needed coffee before I dealt with her. The heavy footsteps on the stairs weren’t Nan’s. Which made me even more nervous. Facing some strange man wasn’t appealing, either. I wasn’t dressed. I still had on my pajamas. Pink satin polka-dotted shorts and a matching tank top were all I had on. I glanced around for a hiding place, but before I could figure out what to do the footsteps landed on the bottom floor.
I was stuck . . . unless I hid behind the counter while he escaped. Maybe he wouldn’t come this way. The front door was past the kitchen, but the back door was just as close to the stairs. I set my milk carton on the copper countertop and waited. The footsteps weren’t heavy anymore. I barely heard them. Straining my ears, I tried to figure out where they were going.
It wasn’t until it was too late to hide that I realized he was barefoot and headed my way. My eyes locked with Grant’s as he stepped into the kitchen wearing nothing but a pair of black boxer briefs. He stopped when his eyes met mine. We stood there silently, staring at each other. The realization that he was the one who had woken me last night made my stomach knot up. I didn’t want to think about him in bed with Nan.
But the realization doused me like a bucket of cold water. Grant was still sleeping with Nan. All that stuff he’d said to me was a lie. He had made me a promise, one I hadn’t asked for and he had never intended to keep.
“Harlow?” he said, his voice thick from sleep. He’d been up most of the night. He must’ve been exhausted.
I didn’t respond. I couldn’t think of anything to say. I hadn’t expected him to even be in Rosemary Beach. But he was here . . . and he was sleeping in Nan’s bed.
I was an idiot.
Three months ago . . .
A knock on my bedroom door interrupted my favorite scene in a book I had read at least ten times. Annoyed, I laid down my Kindle. “Yes?”
The door opened slowly and Grant Carter stuck his ridiculously beautiful head into my room. His long hair, which curled at the ends and tucked neatly behind his ears, made a girl want to sit and just play with it for hours. I often wondered if it was as soft as it looked. His eyes twinkled as if he knew exactly what I was thinking, so I forced a scowl on my face. I never scowled, so it was a new thing that I reserved just for him.
It wasn’t really fair. I disliked him on principle. He had been nothing but nice to me, but the fact he was in a relationship with Nan was enough for me to not like him. If a guy could like Nan then something was wrong with him.
“I ordered Chinese. Want to help me eat it? I got way too much.” His blue eyes were so hard to look away from. They had been my downfall since the first time I laid eyes on him. That had been before I knew he was Nan’s Grant.