“I’m not kidding, Reid, if you touch her or pressure her in any way before I do my part of this, it’s over and we’re screwed.”

“Or not,” he quips.

“Ha. Ha.” God, I have had just about enough of his horseshit.

“Look, I’m not stupid.” He pauses and I know he’s thinking he left that wide open. I would dearly love to deliver the retort he expects, but it’s just too easy. “Everything else in my life is boring the shit out of me. This is the only thing remotely stimulating. I’m following your orders, because you’re the most successfully conniving girl I’ve ever known, plus I can smell how badly you want Graham.”

If it wasn’t true, how much I want Graham, I’d end this here and now. But Reid makes it sound like wanting him is dirty. It’s not. I’m simply ready for something more serious and meaningful than all of the faceless boys and men I’ve been with in the last few years. None of them were worth half of Graham, and I’m willing to be whatever he wants me to be to get him. What’s so wrong about that?

I’ve always been a crap judge of character. Graham was the only exception to that, though the existence of our friendship was all due to him. When I met him, I was reeling from Reid breaking my heart, and I just wanted to hook up. I was bouncing off of guys like the shiny silver ball in my father’s vintage pinball machine—ding-ding-ding. I guess Graham could tell that about me. He was one of the few who turned me down, but he didn’t run away when my humiliation that any guy would reject me morphed into uber-bitch mode. He stuck around and became one of my best friends. Something I didn’t deserve, and something I’ve always hoped would grow into more.

Graham has this quiet, steady aura about him, and of course I’m drawn to a disposition so completely opposite of mine. I thought we’d balance out, like a relationship seesaw. When we both scored roles in School Pride, I was sure my chance had come. Close quarters for three months, and my very real need for emotional protection from Reid that only Graham could provide.

Then he met Emma.

At first, I assumed she’d screw him over for Reid. She was obviously not immune to him, and he focused exclusively on her. I remembered all too well how that felt. When Reid and I first met, he flashed those blue eyes at me—baby blues, because holy shit he was what, fourteen then?—and I was a goner. Fifteen years old, and I was sure I’d met my soul mate, the guy I wanted to spend forever with. God, what a naïve idiot I was.

Unlike me, though, Emma figured him out. I have to give the girl props, she resisted long enough to witness him doing what he does, and then she dropped his ass. It would have been a joy to behold, if not for Graham. I’d never seen him so crazy infatuated before. Every time we hung out, I made careful plans to seduce him, but all he wanted to talk about was Emma, if he talked instead of brooding over her—which he was more prone to do. I don’t think he even noticed my seduction efforts. Now, I’m glad he didn’t.

Because this time, those efforts are going to work.



Choosing a restaurant in a city you’ve never visited is tough. Since Emma lives in Sacramento, I asked her to choose whatever she’d like. This one will do, though not for my calculated purpose of being observed together in the restaurant. The windows are draped, probably thwarting the cozy paparazzi photos Brooke and I were anticipating. For actual intimacy, though, it’s ideal—corner table, flickering candles, semi-tasteful décor (points deducted for the acoustic tile ceiling and likely-artificial paneling on a far wall).

“So what’s the deal with this Marcus character? He seems like an ass. I thought when you dumped me you were trying to move away from that type.” I smile, bumping Emma’s arm lightly, and she rolls her eyes.

“Yeah, well, I guess that’s harder to avoid than I thought.” She returns my smile, but pulls her forearm away from mine, slowly, putting an ever-so-slight distance between us.

I lean back, pretending not to notice her withdrawal while she examines the menu. The waiter, introducing himself as Chad, is so uneasy he’s twitching. He also punctuates practically every sentence with either heh-heh or Mr. Alexander. After taking our drink order, he scurries to the back through a set of double doors where the rest of the wait staff congregates. They’ve all been not-so-sneakily casting looks our way since we walked in. Typical.

A fun fact about celebrity: If you get carded, there’s no such thing as a fake ID. They already know your real name. All anyone has to do is hit up IMDb or Wikipedia to get your exact birthdate. I rarely get carded, especially in LA or New York, or really anywhere we’re filming. Most restaurants, bars and clubs are so freaked at having celebrities show up that they just don’t give a crap. Apparently this place, which passes as “upscale” for Sacramento, gives a crap. I can’t help my reaction, though, when Chad the waiter comes back a few minutes later all sheepish and asking to see ID for the bottle of wine I ordered.

“Dude, are you serious?” I say, and his face goes scarlet.

“My manager, heh-heh,” he subtly inclines his head towards the back. “I’m really sorry, Mr. Alexander.”

“It’s okay,” Emma says, giving him a reassuring smile. “I’ll just have water.” The breath wooshes out of the poor guy and he looks back at me.

I shrug. “Yeah, me, too.” Chad rushes off and I shake my head. “I guess I’m not in LA anymore, Toto.”

Emma laughs. “No, definitely not.”

“So I heard through the grapevine that you were in New York recently, visiting colleges. Chosen one yet?” I’m curious about whether or not she’ll ask which grapevine I got that from. What might she think to know it was Graham-to-Brooke-to-me?

She doesn’t take the bait. Either she doesn’t see it, or she’s too smart to pick it up. “I’m leaning towards NYU.”

“Tisch.” I nod. “Cool.”

“You know it?”

I laughed. “You don’t have to sound so surprised. I was up to my eyeballs with paying work by the time I got close to finishing my high school coursework. College was never really on my radar. But that doesn’t mean I don’t know all the major theatre programs. You know, just in case.”

She tilts her head. “In case what?”

That’s right, Emma. Follow the crumbs. “In case I decide to take my career in a more serious direction at some point.”

A crease appears on her forehead and my finger itches to smooth it out. “But I thought you said something about wanting the crazy famous and ton of money route?”

Wow. She remembers what I said months ago. Suddenly I’m recalling why I found her so unusual. She’s outwardly focused, in a way few people in this business are. Including me. I smile. “Maybe the critical acclaim is more important to me than I let on.” Total lie, of course.

“Huh,” she says, and then for some reason she blushes.

Chapter 8


Me: Touching down now. I’d call but i’m afraid of the flight attendant.

Emma: Lol why?

Me: She has a mustache. And sideburns. And perpetual anger.

Emma: Be careful…

Me: I’m taking my life in my hands to text that i’m only a few hundred miles from you

Emma: Wish I was there now

Me: I want to see you so bad it hurts

The second I hit send, I’m rethinking—too late—that last text. Because how desperate can I seem? It’s been so long since I’ve felt this way. No. I’ve never felt this way. I was lovesick over Zoe, but I didn’t rearrange my life in my head to make room for her everywhere. In a matter of what—less than two weeks?—Emma has gone from the girl who got away to the girl I see in every moment of my future. I’m starting to enter panic mode and second-think everything when my phone plays its text tone.

Emma: Me too

And just like that—relief. Muscle-flooding, breath-releasing, mind-calming relief. Laughing to myself, I stare out at LA as we taxi up to the terminal. I was sixteen the last time I felt so jerked around by my own desires. I’m out of practice.

I won’t see Emma until tomorrow, when she checks into the hotel in LA, and I’m already craving the sight of her like I used to crave the feel of a cigarette between my fingers, between my lips, inhaling, exhaling, the nicotine flooding my system and making everything right with the world, thirty seconds in.

I definitely shouldn’t tell her that thinking of her makes me wish for a cigarette to take the edge off, for the first time in months. Not that I’m sure it would even work.

Me: Heads up, seeing you will not be enough.

Emma: Consider me warned and ready

Emma: OMG *blushing*

Me: :)

My next text is to Cassie, to let her know I’ve landed, to ask how Cara’s doing. Most of the time she’s fine when dropped at her aunt’s, but sometimes not. My sister reports that currently, Cara is dancing in front of Caleb’s battery-powered swing and eating Cheerios from a cup.

My family has been supportive from day one as far as Cara goes, day one being the day I brought her home. Before that, they were divided—Mom and Brynn on one side and Dad and Cassie on the other. Mom and Brynn were not in favor of me taking custody of Cara. We’d had a family meeting to make the decision, and even though my sisters were both in college and no longer lived at home, they were both given a vote. Mom was tight-lipped, but Brynn was livid.

“Why would you do this to yourself?” Her hand smacked the pine-planked kitchen table where we all sat, me at the head like the accused. “She told you she’s absolutely not keeping it, thank God, so you’re off the hook for eighteen years of child support. Let her take care of it in whatever way she sees fit and go live your life! You’re sixteen for fuck’s sake!”

No one said anything. I don’t think Dad and Cassie disagreed with her. They just thought I should be given the choice, and I’d made it.

I stared at my hands, splayed on the table. They weren’t as big as my dad’s yet. They weren’t the hands of a man. They were the hands of a boy. I knew in that moment that I could reclaim my adolescence and walk away from this with my family’s full support.

My voice was low, but sure. “It’s my baby. I can’t just let her give it away—”

“Graham, honey, we can all appreciate your sense of responsibility.” Mom’s placating tone annoyed me even more than Brynn’s anger had. “But Zoe is accountable for not protecting herself, too—”

“We didn’t know antibiotics would screw up her pill.”

“And you weren’t using condoms?” Brynn yelled. “What the hell were you thinking?”

My face flamed. I was sitting in the kitchen while my entire family discussed my sex life and stared at me like I was the biggest idiot on the planet. Unquestionably the most awkward moment of my life.

Dad cleared his throat, and everyone waited for his tie-breaking assessment. My father is a man of few words—a trait I inherited. His eyes met those of Mom, Cassie and Brynn, one by one. “I think Graham’s made his decision, and if Zoe agrees with this, we’ll have another member of the family, and we’ll all adjust accordingly.” He turned to me. “Graham, I want your word that you’ll handle this like a man. No running away when it gets hard. No changing your mind later.”

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