She’s quiet again. And then, “You used to.”

“Yeah, well. You know how that ended.” Dammit. Why am I saying this to her of all people? She grows quiet again and I wish I’d never asked the question.

“Kathryn told me once that loving someone means you want what’s best for them. And I’m what’s best for him.” Kathryn is Brooke’s stepmother—one of them. She’s the one Brooke is closest to. Ironically, they didn’t have to have any relationship at all, because Kathryn was her father’s first wife—but for some reason, they’ve always been close. Which is good, because Brooke’s mother is one crazy bitch.

“That sounds like convoluted logic to me. My father would say it’s a conflict of interest for you to decide that you’re what’s best for him.” And there’s my alter-ego again.

“Are you trying to talk me out of this? Because you’ll never get Emma away from him if I don’t succeed.”

Wow—complete avoidance of my argument and a below-the-belt insult. “No, I’m not. Ever heard of devil’s advocate? And what the hell, Brooke? I mean shit, I know you think he’s better than me. I get it. You don’t have to fucking underscore it every time we talk.”

She huffs a sigh. “This conversation has gotten way out of hand. Look, we’re allies on this little venture, but we aren’t friends. When this is over, I don’t care if I ever talk to you again and I’m sure you feel the same.”

“Damn right.”

“Then let’s stop pretending we’re BFFs and focus on what we’re doing. This week is all about me winning his family over—God, what a pain in the ass that’ll be—and you continuing to be emotionally available for Emma. While keeping your dick in your pants.”

“You really have a way with words. You know?”

“So I’m blunt. Sue me.”


I knew Emma would love the seafood place in Union Square, with its century-old architecture and an interior resembling an underwater fantasy. One look at her face as we entered confirmed my assumption. We’re escorted to the glass-walled semi-private room I reserved, where we can observe the rest of the place while the bodyguard who accompanied us blocks the door and any possible intrusions.

“I feel like we’re inside an aquarium,” she says, leaning closer. “I keep expecting someone to tap on the glass or make fish faces at us.”

We’ve had caviar and oysters on the half shell and tomato bisque soup, with the main course and dessert still to go. Emma has vowed to be on her stair-stepper from the moment she gets home tomorrow afternoon until Thursday morning, when we meet in Burbank to tape Ellen.

I lean up on my elbows after the waiter clears the second course dishes. “So when did this thing with Graham begin?” I expected to startle her with this question, but I didn’t foresee the full-on blush that floods her face. My eyes narrow. “Wait… was it before that night in the club?” The night Graham threatened to kick my ass if I hurt Emma. Which I’m not telling her, because girls love that shit.

“What?” The blush surges until she looks sunburned.

I had no idea she had such an overactive conscience. Of course, I didn’t know she was capable of what that blush entails, either. She and Graham were screwing around while I was pursuing her? Holy shit. She’s staring into her lap and I’m torn between amused as hell and seriously ticked off. “So you guys were messing around before you broke it off with me?”

On second thought, I’m not all that amused. Controlling my expression is abnormally challenging, and the aquarium-like walls are suddenly the worst idea ever.

“No. It wasn’t like that.” She looks up, straight into my eyes. Still tomato-red from her hairline to the neckline of her sweater, she seems sincere, though I’m probably the last person qualified to judge honesty or lack thereof in anyone. “We kissed once, before you kissed me. I mean, before you kissed me, outside of our Will and Lizbeth roles. Nothing else.”

Like a slideshow through my head, I recall those photos of the two of them in Austin, running together or preparing to. And then the looks they shared that Brooke and I both noticed, and the protective way he sometimes acted around her. I all but missed that because he seemed even more so with Brooke. Now it all looks like evidence, and I’m not sure I believe her.

“Here’s the unavoidable question—especially given the fact that you two are a thing now—why did you begin a relationship with me, instead of him?”

Eyes dropping to her lap, her voice is low. “It was that photo of you and me at the concert. He thought we were already involved.” She shrugs. “After that went viral, he decided not to intrude.”

So he just backed off and let me have a shot at her with no competition. Interesting. “Hmm. That seems a little… sacrificial.”

The anticipated crease appears in her forehead. “What do you mean?”

I lean closer, staring into her eyes in the muted light, my voice restrained, but with an underlying edge I know she’ll detect. “There’s no way in hell I would have given him the same consideration, if our positions had been reversed.” I watch my words sink in and then I back up a bit, reducing the physical tension just enough to convince her that I’m speaking in past tense. Probably.

She clears her throat. “I guess he’s just not that, um, competitive.”

Spoken like a true hetero-feminist—the girl who says she admires guys lacking that aggressive alpha gene, while dreaming of a guy who’ll push her up against a wall and kiss her breathless before telling her to shut up and hold on.

“So you and he got together—when—after you and I broke it off last fall?”

If that’s true, they were together when I voiced that groveling apology and asked for another chance. I’m not sure which would be worse—if I said those things with no chance at all, or if I said them when she was free and clear, but got shot down anyway.

“No. I ran into him in a coffee shop in New York when I was there a month ago, visiting colleges.” She leaves out the Graham-has-a-kid part, predictably better at keeping other people’s secrets than Brooke, though I suspect Brooke lets slip only what she means to disclose.

We’re silent while the third course is laid out and our glasses are refilled. “Would you like anything else now?” the waiter asks, and we look at each other and shake our heads.

“No thanks, man, we’re good.”

I picture Emma spotting Graham in some overcrowded Manhattan coffee shop, with his kid next to him, and I itch to ask her what she thought when she found out. Like, how is that not an instant deal-breaker? What eighteen-year-old girl wants her boyfriend to have a secret kid? And how the hell did he end up saddled with it? I can’t imagine my parents’ reaction if they’d have found out Brooke was pregnant (they didn’t) and then I said Oh and by the way, I want to keep it. I’d have been under psychiatric observation before I could whimper one more word.

“That’s a bizarre coincidence—running into someone in New York,” I prompt.

“Mmm-hmm,” she says.

“So when are you planning to move there? In the fall?”

“Yeah… maybe before that.”


She takes a bite of her pan-seared Alaskan halibut, as much to stall as anything else, I think. I take a bite of maitake mushroom and wait her out.

Chapter 24


I’m never sure how Reid gets me to reveal information that might not be hush-hush, but is still personal. He has this way of posing questions—like he’s just curious and we’re old friends, no big deal, and then boom, I’m blurting out stuff about Graham and our relationship. Then I catch myself and I think crap, how did that happen?

I haven’t even broached the subject of moving to New York early with Graham, and I just mentioned it to Reid, who’s forking bites of grilled ahi tuna while waiting for me to make another unbridled announcement about my private life. The silence stretches taut between us, and finally I glance at him. His dark blue eyes regard me closely, and his compressed lips tell me he’s amused.

“What’s funny?”

“You, realizing you’ve said more than you meant to.”

I sigh, and laugh, and he laughs, too. “How do you do that?”

He shrugs, unashamed, as always. “I was raised by a master cross-examiner. Plus, I’m sneaky.”

“Yeah, you are. I have an idea. Can we talk about you?”

He smiles. “All right. What do you want to know?”

I prop my chin on my fist, Thinker style. “Hmm. Okay—you said a few days ago that you and Brooke had reached an understanding.” Last fall, I’d have never thought the two of them could coexist in the same room for long. Now they’re exchanging pleasantries and acting normal. It’s freaky. “What did you mean by that?”

His eyebrows quirk up. “I wouldn’t call us friends.” I stare at him and he knows I’m waiting for more of an answer. “But like I said, we decided to call a truce of sorts. What happened between us was a long time ago. We were kids.”

I’m not as good at this as Reid, because when he stops there, I don’t know how to press him further. More than that, I’m face to face with the knowledge that my true reason for prying has everything to do with Graham. He’s tangled up in their history, and I’ve felt left out. Until this moment, that feeling of being excluded was unconscious. As if I’d have wanted to be any part of that train wreck.

“What, no other questions, counselor?”

My thoughts are full of Graham, and I fight clicking my phone to check the time. Reid did promise to have me back in time. His smirk is too superior to ignore, even if he is playing at condescension.

“I do have one more critical inquiry,” I say, and he leans up, all ears. Suppressing the urge to laugh, I fix a puzzled expression on my face. “So… is yellow your favorite color, or what?”

He growls good-naturedly. “I swear, I’m getting rid of that car next week—right after the premiere. I’d tell you what I’m considering to take its place, but you probably aren’t interested in talking makes and specs. Suffice it to say, it won’t be yellow.”

I arch a brow. “Is that a nice way of saying I wouldn’t have the faintest idea what you’re talking about?”

He laughs, turns one palm up. “Well… unless you’ve become a closet car aficionada in the past few months…”

It took Stan, the on-set mechanic for School Pride, half a day to teach me to unlatch the hood of that car for a scene. “Er, no, I wouldn’t say that. But I can drive, as long as it’s an automatic—um—motor?”

“Transmission.” He’s chuckling again. “Yeah, Emma the car enthusiast—not-so-much.”

“I guess it’s a good thing I’m moving to New York, where I won’t need a car.”

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