“Justin,” I spit his name out like it was venom in my mouth. “I wouldn’t go to his wedding if you held a gun to my head.”
“Oh!” She tossed her hands up in the air. “This is still because of that misunderstanding.”
I surged to my feet. “There was no misunderstanding.”
She held up a hand as if to ward me off. “You were always guilty of an overactive imagination. You flighty artist types—”
“Mother!” I snapped. “I imagined nothing.”
“Fine!” Mom grabbed her bag from where it sat on my desk and marched toward my door. “Cling to your bitterness and this ridiculous agenda you have against Justin. You haven’t even seen him in five years. When are you going to grow up and move on, Emerson?”
“Oh, I’ve been quite grown-up for some time.” The hard realities of my youth had guaranteed that.
“Don’t call me. Don’t text.” She stabbed a red-nailed finger at her chest. I almost laughed and reminded her that she was the one who called and texted me. “Not until you learn to accept me. You never have. Not since I married Don.”
“That’s not true. I don’t have a problem with Don.” Honestly, I didn’t. I met with her and Don several times a year for dinner. Even joined them for Christmas one year in Paris—true, I felt safe doing so because Justin was spending the holiday with his new girlfriend, his current fiancée, a girl I’ve obviously never met but who had my boundless pity.
“When you’re finished behaving like a spoiled child, call me.” She slammed out of my suite.
I stared at the door, my chest heaving as though I had just run a marathon. A soft knocking at the adjoining door had my head turning. Pepper peeked in the room, her eyes brimming with concern. Great. She’d heard that.
She stepped inside the room, rubbing her palms over her thighs. “That your mom?”
I nodded again. “Sorry, I didn’t introduce you two.” My voice cracked a little. I swallowed. “As you heard, we’re not on the best of terms these days.” Years, really.
She sank down beside me. “Want to talk about it?”
I shook my head. “No.” Rising from the bed, I started searching through my closet, stuffing my emotions way down deep where they couldn’t get out. “What time does this band start? I could use some fun. And a drink.”
Make that a few.
THE BAND PLAYED LOUD and fast, the drummer going wild with the sticks. Sweat trickled down my neck as Suzanne and I danced hard. Bodies hopped all around us. The place was hot and jam-packed. People bumped around me. Guys I didn’t know grabbed at my hips. I didn’t care. I just danced, stopping only occasionally to make my way to the booth where Pepper and Reece sat and take another drink from my whiskey sour.
Pepper watched me with her face all scrunched up with worry. She’d looked at me that way all night. Which only made me want to drink more. Until that look on her face didn’t register. Every once in a while she would glance at me and whisper something to Reece. Slamming my glass down, I made my way back out onto the dance floor to Suzanne.
My goal was drunken oblivion.
I didn’t know at what point in the night Shaw showed up, but when I flipped my head and spotted him in the booth with Reece and Pepper, I stopped dancing. My dancing partner at the moment didn’t stop, however. He continued to bump against me, his hands roving over my belly, sliding under my shirt to palm my stomach.
Shaw stared across the crowd at me. I stared back until the guy with his hands all over me spoke into my ear. “You’re so f**king hot. How about we get out of here?”
Snapping my gaze off Shaw, I turned until I was facing the guy pawing me. Typical frat boy. He wore his hat backward. Greek letters emblazoned across his chest. “I want to dance!” I shouted over the crazy loud noise.
“We could dance back at my place.”
“No.” I shook my head, and resumed dancing, indifferent to him.
He stuck close, dancing with me and Suzanne, trying to infiltrate.
“Who’s that?” Suzanne called, nodding toward our table.
I followed her gaze. Shaw was talking to Reece now. “Friend of Reece.”
“Holy hotness,” Suzanne murmured. “I’m going in.” Smoothing her hair back from her sweaty cheeks, she made a beeline for the table. I pretended not to watch, not to care, and kept dancing.
A new guy moved in, taking her place. I had frat boy behind me and the new guy in front. New Guy gripped my h*ps and thrust his pelvis in time to the music. I watched the table from beneath my lashes. Suzanne shook hands with Shaw. He was talking to her and I felt a stab of panic. Did he like her? She was pretty. And likable. Obviously. She was my friend. Suddenly annoyed, I pushed out from between my boy sandwich and headed for the bar.
At the bar, I looked left and right. I didn’t have long to wait.
A guy squeezed into the space beside me. “Hey!”
“Hey,” I returned.
“Emerson.” We shook hands, his hand holding on to mine longer than necessary.
I waved back in the direction of my table. “Came with some friends.”
“Yeah. Cool. Me, too. Great band.” He nodded at the stage. I forced myself not to yawn at the small talk. I just wanted a drink.
“Saw you on the dance floor.”
I leaned in a little. “Yeah?”
“Yeah. You’re the hottest girl out there.”
Ah, the brilliance of flattery. I flattened my hand against his chest. “Well, how about you buy the hottest girl on the dance floor a drink?”
His eyes flared with excitement and I knew in that moment he thought he was getting laid tonight. Boys could be so dumb.
“Sure. What’d you have?”
He waved the bartender over and ordered our drinks.
“So are you like a professional dancer? You’ve got some moves.”
And the flattery kept getting better. Or rather, cheesier. Our drinks arrived and I took a long sip from my glass. “Nope.”
“You a student? At Dartford?”
“Me, too. I’m an econ major. Figure it will help for law school—”