I had only worn them around my bedroom. Tonight, I was being brave and wearing them in public. The dress called for it. I hoped if I dressed boldly then I would feel bold. By the time I finished curling, piling, and pinning the curls I’d spent over an hour working on, it was time for Grant to arrive. Nan was in her room, also getting dressed. We hadn’t spoken earlier when she came in. She just walked past me as if I hadn’t been there.

Grant had warned me she would be coming tonight. I had assured him I could get ready without him being my bodyguard. The doorbell rang right on time, and I stepped out of my room, grabbing the black and silver clutch that matched the best with my shoes.

Nan’s door didn’t open. I was relieved. Taking the stairs slowly, I headed to the door and then took a deep breath. Grant had never seen me like this. I wanted him to like it. No, I wanted his tongue to hang out. I was being vain. I had never gone to prom. This was that moment all little girls imagine.

Slowly, I opened the door. Instead of Grant, August stood there in a black tux, his hair styled perfectly. He blatantly checked me out, starting at my feet and going all the way up.

“Nan isn’t ready yet, but you can come in and wait,” I told him, stepping back and hoping to get his eyes off my body.

“I hope she looks half as good as you do,” he said with a wink as he walked into the foyer, his tall body making it seem smaller. Where was Nan?

“Um, can I get you a drink?” I asked, hoping to find a reason to get away from him.

“I’d love one. I’m sure she plans to keep me waiting another half hour. Glad I got good company,” he replied.

I didn’t like him. I turned and headed to the kitchen and felt like cursing when I heard his steps fall in behind mine. I had been planning on him going to the living room and waiting.

“I can get you a drink and bring it to the living room if you want to have a seat,” I told him.

“You don’t even know what I want.” He was amused; I could hear it in his voice.


“Oh, sorry. What would you like?”

He didn’t reply. When I stepped into the kitchen I battled my impulse to run back upstairs with the excuse that I’d forgotten something, leaving him to fix his own drink.

“Hard to believe you and Nan are related. She’s not at all this polite and sweet,” he said, pulling out a bar stool and sitting down.

I needed to get out of here. I would hurry and make his drink, then run. I turned and reached for a glass. “What would you like?” I asked.

He leaned forward and began checking my legs out again. “A lot of things,” he replied.

I set the glass down. I was leaving him to help himself.

“Who’s the lucky guy taking you to the ball tonight?” he asked.

“I am.” Grant’s voice startled me, and I spun around to see him scowling at August. I hadn’t heard him come in, but then I had been focused on getting away from August.

“Don’t blame you. She’s the nicer sister,” August said, dropping his gaze to my legs again.

Grant rounded the bar and was pulling me to his side before I could blink. “You ready?” he asked me.

I nodded. “Yeah.” This was not the moment I had been daydreaming about. Grant looked like he was barely controlling his anger, not interested in how I looked.

“Hello, Grant,” Nan drawled as she walked into the kitchen.

I turned to look at her in the short, tight red dress that hugged her every curve. She shouldn’t look stunning in red but she did. Nan was what every little girl wanted to look like when she grew up. Her long red hair hung in soft curls and rested on her cleavage, which was right out there for the world to see and, no doubt, drool over.

“Damn, baby,” August said, standing up with his mouth slightly open.

I glanced at Grant, who was also looking at Nan. The way I had wanted him to look at me. I closed my eyes briefly and took a deep breath. I didn’t want to see that.

“You always did look good in a tux,” Nan said, ignoring August and keeping her eyes on Grant.

This wasn’t a game I knew how to play. My instinct told me to take off running to my room and lock myself up and let Grant have what he wanted while I got the heartbreak I knew was coming for me. But my pride wouldn’t let me move. So I stood there, hoping he remembered me and had enough compassion to not totally humiliate me in front of Nan.

Nan’s smile curled up evilly on her lips as she sauntered toward Grant, not taking her eyes off him and knowing she had his complete attention.

I was about to give in and flee. I could go to Texas. It wasn’t so bad.

Grant slipped his hand into mine and started walking for the exit. I didn’t glance back at Nan, although I heard her laugh an amused, knowing laugh, which shot a pain through my chest. Because she knew, just like I did, that she’d gotten to Grant.

Grant was silent until we got outside and down the steps to his truck. Once we reached it, he let go of my hand, but instead of opening the door he turned me around to face him.

“You look so damn beautiful, I’m not sure how you expect me to focus tonight,” he said as his eyes finally focused on me.

This was what I wanted. The silly female in me wanted to see his appreciation, but now . . . it fell flat. I had seen the way he looked at Nan, transfixed. He hadn’t reacted that way to me. But then I didn’t look like Nan. Could I blame him? He was a guy, and Nan was breathtaking. I was just me.

“I wish we didn’t have to go to this ball. I want to take you out and keep you all to myself.”

I liked that idea. Facing a room full of people was not on my priority list. But I wasn’t sure I wanted to be alone with him tonight. There was a wound I needed to lick now, and hiding out in my room with my books was more appealing.

“We will stay long enough to make Woods happy. Then I promise I’ll make this night better,” he whispered before pressing a kiss to my mouth and making a low growl. He jerked away and opened the truck door. “Get in before I change my mind and piss Woods off.”

When he was ready to leave, I would make an excuse to come home and go to bed. Alone.

“How long was that douche there before I got there?” Grant asked as he pulled out of the driveway and onto the road.

“Maybe ten minutes. Not long,” I replied.

Grant’s nod was tight. He didn’t like August, and I wanted to believe it had nothing to do with his dating Nan. But it was hard. He’d explained his relationship with Nan to me, but I wasn’t sure I completely believed him. Especially now.


Harlow was silent the entire way to the club, but I needed that time to calm myself down. Walking in and seeing that piece of scum looking at her chest had just about sent me over the damn edge. I should have been there earlier. I didn’t like thinking about Harlow being at that house and August being able to show up at any time. What if he got Harlow alone? My hands clenched the steering wheel tighter.

That wasn’t f**king happening. Nan’s looks weren’t enough, and I had no doubt August was figuring that out. Tonight she’d played it up big. Sure, she was gorgeous. Nan had always been gorgeous, but it was only her appearance. The moment she opened her spiteful mouth her outward appearance dimmed. It wasn’t enough.

I knew she had misinterpreted the way I looked at her tonight. She was just glad to have my attention. She didn’t understand what I was looking at. She thought she’d stunned me with her looks. I was past that. Nan was a part of my past. She always would be. We had bonded over our absent parents. Nan and I had grown up with absent parents, but I didn’t let that define me. Nan did. She let it poison her. Tonight, I had seen only the bitterness and hate in her when she’d walked into the room. It was all there on her face, and I wondered how I had ever missed that. Was I that blind before . . . before . . .


Damn, I’d been a shallow fuck.

Glancing over at Harlow, I saw her hands clasped tightly in her lap. She was nervous. Her bottom lip was tucked between her teeth and she was staring straight ahead. Well, shit. I’d ignored her this entire ride and she had been sitting over there, nervous.

I was f**king this night up completely.

I reached over and pulled one of her hands free and slipped my fingers through hers. “Hey,” I said, breaking into her thoughts.

She turned her head to look at me and a forced smile touched her lips. That wasn’t going to work. If she really didn’t want to go to this damn ball then Woods could get over it. I wasn’t making her do this. I thought the fact she had dressed to make every man she passed drool meant she was ready for this. Maybe not.

“You okay?” I asked, squeezing her hand.

She nodded and didn’t say anything.

“If you don’t want to do this we’ll go somewhere else,” I told her, and waited to see what her reaction was. She stiffened. What the hell?

“Talk to me, Harlow,” I said.

Her shoulders slumped and she dropped her head to stare down at her hands, still balled up in her lap. “I think maybe I should just go home. I don’t want to be in the way.”


“Whose way are you worried about being in? Has someone said something to you that I need to f**king handle?”

She didn’t look up at me. She kept staring at her lap. “No. I meant your way. I don’t want you to feel obligated to take me. I don’t mind going home. I’m good with that. Truly, I am.”

She wasn’t making any sense. Had Nan said something to her? I wanted her out of that bitch’s house. We were talking about that later tonight. But right now I had to figure out what was wrong.

“I want you with me. If Nan said something to you . . .”

“Nan didn’t have to say anything. You said it all with your eyes.”

Wait . . . what?

I studied her, trying to figure out what that meant.

Harlow took a deep breath and then finally looked up at me. Her big eyes were so sad and broken, my chest felt like it was going to explode. I had to fix this shit. I didn’t want my girl hurting. I jerked the truck over to the side of the road and threw it into park before reaching over to Harlow and pulling her close to me.

“You need to explain that because I’m not following you, sweetheart,” I demanded.

Harlow kept her eyes fixed on my shoulder. “I saw the way you looked at her. I’m not blind. I know how beautiful she is. I know you were struck speechless. And it was obvious she would have dumped August for you. Who wouldn’t?”

Well, fuck. I hadn’t thought about Harlow thinking anything about me looking at Nan. I hadn’t been impressed; I’d been disgusted with myself.

I slipped my hand under Harlow’s chin and tilted her face up to look at me. She always looked down, and I wanted to see her eyes. I wanted to fix that sadness in them. I didn’t ever want to make her sad.

“What you saw was me looking at Nan and seeing nothing but bitterness and cruelty in her eyes. I wondered how I had missed that for so long. I wasn’t impressed with the way she looked. I had you standing there beside me, looking like an angel. No one can compare to you. You’re not just beautiful outside, you’re also beautiful inside. I see that and I cherish it. I just don’t know why I screwed around with Nan. I guess you saved me.”

Harlow continued to frown at me. “She’s every man’s fantasy.”

I rubbed my thumb over her bottom lip and tried not to think about how sweet that mouth tasted. “She’s every man’s nightmare, sweet girl. Unfortunately, they don’t realize it right away.”

“I can’t compete with her. I don’t want to.”

“There’s no competition. She pales in comparison. I wish I knew what I could do to convince you that you’re it for me. I don’t see anything but a girl I once knew when I look at Nan.”

Harlow dropped her gaze to study my shirt before finally lifting her eyes and giving me her first real smile. “I think I believe you.”

She had serious trust issues, and I needed to remember that and act accordingly. Where Nan never needed reassurance that I wanted her, Harlow needed reassurance that she owned me. She was too innocent to see just how I really felt about her. Even if it was obvious to the rest of the world.

“I’ll make sure you never doubt me again. Just know I can’t see anyone but you. When you walk into a room, you light it up.”

She leaned up and pressed a kiss to my cheek. “Thank you,” she said, simply.

It was things like that that set her apart. She was like no one else I knew, and I was the luckiest son of a bitch in the world.


Blaire spotted me the moment we stepped into the ballroom, and she made her way toward us. I was relieved. Seeing a friendly face helped ease me into this. The black dress she wore danced around her legs as she walked. It also made her blond hair stand out even more. I glanced behind her to see Rush’s eyes on his wife, watching her every move. The love and possessiveness that was there on his face for everyone to see made my heart beat faster. That had to be an amazing feeling.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” Blaire said as she hugged me.

“I’m still trying to decide if I am,” I replied.

Blaire laughed and glanced around. “They’re not all bad.” She turned to Grant and grinned. “You look happy.”

“I am,” he replied, and slid his hand around my waist.

“It’s about time,” she said.

“Yeah, it is,” he agreed.

I felt like there was a private conversation going on here that I was being left out of.

“You thirsty?” Grant asked me, leaning down so that his warm breath tickled my ear.

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