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Authors: Sabrina Lacey

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BOOK: Stand Close 1
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Chapter Fourteen
Sean

R
ue’s halfway
up the block. What, did she break into a run as soon as she cleared the door? “Hey! Rue! Wait up!” With no signs of her slowing, I sigh and run after her. She covers her face with her hands as I pass and spin around to walk backwards in front of her, my hands out helplessly. “I’m sorry about Jack.” Since she can’t see, she starts veering toward a building. I grab her shaking shoulders and stop her. “Hey, stop crying. Please. Come on.”

“I’m not crying. I’m not!” She wipes her eyes and smears the dripping mascara into horizontal streaks. Raccoon-eyed and adorable, she glares at me, her mouth tight and proud. “I’m not crying.”

Gently, I correct her, “Well, you’re not anymore.”

She smiles despite herself. “Okay, I was crying. But I’m not now. I can handle this. I swear I can.” A fresh stream of tears pours out and her little forehead crinkles up. “I just wish my mom was here. Why didn’t she tell me about you guys? Why didn’t she warn me? She had to know it was a possibility I’d find out. When she was sick, why didn’t she leave a letter with someone like your dad did! It hurts so bad! Do you know how badly this hurts? Did you love him?”

“My dad? I mean… our dad?”

She nods, looking childlike and lost. Suddenly, I want to punch Jack for being cruel to her. I have to admit, I was having a hard time believing her in there about that dumb job. But now I’m sold. This is Hollywood; people like her aren’t common.

She’s been thrown into the ocean and doesn’t know how to swim.

What are we supposed to do, drown her?

No.

I won’t let Jack do that to her.

Bringing her into my arms for a comforting embrace, I quietly tell her, “I loved him, yeah, but not like you loved your mom, I don’t think. We didn’t spend a lot of time with him. He was always traveling and working, overseeing the companies. It didn’t leave a lot of time for father/son bonding.” Holding her at arm’s length, I look into her eyes. “Rue. Hey. I get it. It’s a lot for us to take in, too. Before yesterday, we didn’t know who you were! Jack’s going to take some time, and I’m sorry for his…”

“I know! I know… it must be hard for you guys. It must be! But I just want to slap that smirk right off his fat face.” I laugh and she smiles, her eyes flickering as she sees him approach. I turn around and nod to him.

With him getting closer, I mutter to her out of the side of my mouth, “You know what you just sounded like?” She shakes her head, wiping her eyes again. “A little sister. Come on.” I put my arm around her and together we walk toward Jack. “Hey Jack. Rue thinks your face is fat.”

His head goes back like someone hit him and confusion knits his forehead. “What?”

She reaches out her hand to him, smiling, her cheeks all rosy from the cry, the jacked-up mascara ridiculously charming. “I’m sorry. It’s just a
little
fat.”

He’s so knocked over by her smile that he takes her hand and loses the grimace. “Okay. I don’t know what you guys are up to, but I’m pretty sure my face is just fine. Let’s go out.” He doesn’t apologize, but with my arm around her shoulders, and him holding her hand, I’m pretty sure we’re on a good path now.

Chapter Fifteen
Rue

T
he music is so
loud I can’t hear myself think.
Thank God.

Club Level is packed, so much so that I now have five different perfumes on me and even some cologne. There are go-go dancers on risers throughout the fog-filled room, and there’s a glass window where an actual live woman lies naked in the case with plants blocking her nudity. She smiles serenely and waves as people pass her. “Move the plants!” guys yell through the glass. She just wags a finger at them like they’re being naughty.

The bartenders are all stunning. Biceps tightening as drinks are poured. Cleavages dipping down as ice is gathered into pretty glasses. Flashing blue and yellow lights ignite profiles of the club goers who were deemed worthy enough to make it past the bouncer. We went right in, the rope pulled back for us with the bouncer fist-bumping Sean and Jack like they’re old buddies, faces cool and unsmiling.

“What should I get to drink?” I ask Jack. Sean’s talking to an actress I recognize from the show Chicago Fire, his back to us after she stopped him to say hello.

Jack smirks. “Oh right, you just turned twenty-one. We have a table, so there’ll be several bottles of vodka, and some whiskey for us. You don’t want to try that. It’ll be too much.”

I turn to say into his ear, over the noise, “Just because I just turned legal doesn’t mean I’ve never had a drink.” He meets my eyes with a look he should not be giving a sister. I step back, glancing away quickly, uncomfortable. “I’m just saying,” I mutter, flustered, feeling my heart race. He grabs my hand and I gasp as he pulls me suddenly through the throng of people, heading toward the back of the club. I glance hurriedly for Sean, but he doesn’t see us leaving; he’s still locked in conversation with that actress. I almost call out for him, but I’m so shocked and freaked out that I say nothing. Through at least fifty bodies we go, until he steps up into a burgundy, canopied booth and plants me into it with a firm swing of his arm. Bouncing off the seat, I stare up at him, speechless as the edgy lines of his jaw tighten on a challenging smile. He reaches down for one of the four bottles on the table: Bombay Sapphire Gin, Bookers Bourbon, Grey Goose and Chopin Vodka. Pouring a hefty splash of Booker’s into a curvy glass, he hands it to me. “Here you go, Butch.”

Taking it, I cock my chin a little, realizing now what’s going on. “Oh, you’re bad.”

His green eyes glitter and he says, dryly, “You’re just now figuring that out?”

Interrupting us is the deepest, most recognizable voice I’ve ever heard. “Well, well, well. Is this the baby sister?” I look to the right and my heart smashes into a brick wall as I lock eyes with Alec Gabriel, Jack and Sean’s rockstar best friend. Everyone knows who he is, the front man for the band Locked Tight, but in person he’s so much taller than he appears in pictures. Like so many musicians, he’s lanky, with sexy hair, and great style. My breath catches as his glittering hazel eyes unapologetically tear my dress off. I respond by running my own gaze up his tall body, and I can feel myself getting wet immediately, a reaction I’ve never had so quickly with a guy. Like he
knows
, he looks down to my lap and flashes that famous twisted smile, one corner tugged up. The left corner. Always the left. Like he’s got a secret only he knows and he’ll never, ever tell. “Hey.”

My mouth goes dry and I can’t speak. I’m pulsating in places I’d expect, and some I don’t, like the back of my knees and the palms of my hands! Staring at him like a mute, I just blink.

Jack slides in next to me and puts his arm over the back of the booth around me. Possessively? Protectively? I steal a look at him, but I can’t tell which. He doesn’t introduce Alec. I will come to find that they never introduce the famous people. They just assume the world knows who they are. “The very one. What do you think?”

Alec looks away to the dance floor, saying nonchalantly, “Very nice. Can I borrow her?”

Jack doesn’t miss a beat. “No.”

Alec laughs and picks up a bottle as I stare at his smile, transfixed. I’ve heard of bottle-service where you get a reserved table of your own with bottles you’re free to pour from until they’re empty… and then you can order more if you want. I’ve never been able to afford the five hundred to several thousand-dollar price tag, depending on the venue. I used to think it was obscene to spend thousands so you have a place to sit, and your own alcohol, but now that I’m here? It’s pretty awesome.

I can’t take my eyes off Alec as he pours himself a Bombay Sapphire Tonic and gives me a wink before he rises up to survey the gyrating crowd. His eyes land on a group of mini-dressed girls dancing like they want to be noticed. Instantly, jealousy punches me in the gut. With the glass rising slowly to his perfect lips, he gives them the audience they want, and I stare at his profile, wishing he’d turn around and look at
me
.

Jack gets up to shake hands with a couple of guys I don’t recognize. With the freedom to stare at Alec all I want to now, I sip from my whiskey glass and can’t even taste the burn of it as I take in his body, the slope of his back, those broad shoulders pulling at his well-tailored gray blazer. His ass is perfect; slim hips, a little meat to the high rise of it. But then I get a look at his fingers. They’re so thick, I can feel myself gushing. I wish I were that glass he’s drinking from.

“How do you like it?” Jack asks me.

“I like it a lot,” I murmur, still staring at Alec.

“I can see that.”

I look at him with a start, sheepishly lower my eyes to the glass, and find it almost empty. “I was proving a point that I can handle this.”
Wait, am I talking about the whiskey or my new life?

He raises an eyebrow. “No, I meant, I can see that you like my best friend. AND the drink. Catch up slowpoke.”

“I wasn’t looking at your best friend,” I lie, and drink the rest the glass way too quickly. A coughing fit overtakes me and I can’t stop. I almost die coughing. Alec glances to me and I want to vanish into the wall and come out three minutes earlier to redo this moment.

Jack chuckles over a sneer and shakes his head. “Instant karma for your lie.” He grabs a napkin and tosses it to me. “You’re a mess. Go fix your face.”

My eyes narrow as I cover my mouth with one last cough. “You’re truly poetic in the way you phrase things, you know that?”

“I try. Go.” He jerks his chin toward the bathroom.

I hold the hem of my dress as I scoot awkwardly out of the leather booth, and cut a last defiant look to my stupid jerk of a brother. Alec is watching me, amused. “I’m normally more graceful than this,” I mumble.

“What?”

“Nothing.” Pushing my way through the bodies, I head for the bathroom, unsure of where I’m going.

I’m so mad at Jack, I can’t see straight, and the whiskey is making me feel loopy. A couple swear words slip out of my loosened lips, but people don’t move out of the way to let me through. Exasperated, I ask a girl with fake boobs, too much makeup and too little clothing, “Excuse me, where’s the bathroom?”

She eyes me for a second, and points with one fire-engine-red fingernail. “That way.”

“Thanks.”

I turn to leave, but she stops me with a grab of my arm. “Hey. Are you with them?” Confused, I look at her hand until she releases me. “Sorry. Was that too tight?”

“No, it’s fine,” I lie. “Them? Who’s them? Oh… yeah. I guess I am.”

“I’m a friend of theirs. I’ll come with you.” She slides her arm through mine. “You don’t want to get lost. I love your dress!”

“Yeah? I wasn’t sure about it, but it’s okay I guess.” I glance down and see our legs keeping time as we head through a hallway littered with people engaged in conversations, voices bouncing against the walls over the beat of the music.

“I’m Desiree.”

“Rue.”

“So, who made you cry?” She holds the door open for me.

“Wait, what? Cry?” I throw her a weird smile and run to the mirror, remembering I never checked my face after the restaurant. “Holy crap! Oh my God! My face is a disaster! I can’t believe he saw this! I look like a heartbroken druggie after a bender!”

Desiree leans her hip on the bathroom counter. “You can’t believe
who
saw this?”

Snatching a paper towel, wetting it and wiping at the smears, I mutter incredulously, “Alec Gabriel! Oh my God! Just looking at him made my panties fall off and here I was this whole time looking like THIS! How is he ever going to want me
now
?” From out of nowhere, Desiree punches me in the face. In the mirror I see it coming at me like I’m watching an alien pop out of the wall. The hard blast of her knuckles cracks me hard and fast in the cheek. My head swings to the side and I drop the soggy paper towel and make a horrible sound of agony.

I hear her screaming, “Put me down! Put me down!” I spin around to find Alec carrying the crazy bitch, kicking and screaming into the larger of the stalls. “PUT ME DOWN YOU LYING SACK OF SHIT!”

Oh. So
that’s
what’s going on.

He jogs his chin to the older female bathroom attendant in a silent command for help. Wide-eyed, she leaves her counter of necessities–gum, deodorant, hair ties, all available for the price of a tip–and runs over to do his bidding. Everyone knows who he is. Everyone has him in their playlists. Everyone has seen that famous shot of him wearing no shirt on stage in Germany, shiny sweat droplets flying off his hair as he sang their favorite song,
I Need You More Than I Need Air
. When this guy asks for your help, you help. You want to take off all your clothes and THEN help, because that’s the natural state to be in with a guy who has this much testosterone.

There are other girls in the bathroom, gawking at the scene. I stare open-mouthed, my hand on my hurting cheek as he commands her, “Hold the door. I can get security to get her out of here.”

The lady practically jumps on the stall door to hold it shut. On the other side, Desiree is still kicking and screaming, “You fucking liar!!!” She grabs at the woman’s hands. The attendant yelps and moves them, holding the door with both hands flat, her rear sticking out, and her feet staggered like she’s about to take off for a race. Thank God the doors go all the way to the floor! Alec pulls out a hundred dollar bill, shows it to the attendant and slips it into one of her straining hands. “Hold on a little longer.”

She sees the bill. “I’ll hold her all night!”

He turns around, and when his eyes lock on mine, a calm falls over my body. “You alright?” He walks to me and takes my hand, his skin warm and soothing. I nod, gazing up at him. “Good,” he says with his crooked smile.

Chapter Sixteen
BOOK: Stand Close 1
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