But it’s not my name. It’s my phone. And as I scramble to find it, reality returns.

I’m in a hotel room. I’m by myself.

And Jackson is standing firm on his ultimatum about the resort.

Well, hell.

As for the rest of it—the memories, the zoning out, the way he touched me—I really don’t want to go there.

But even though I tell myself that, I can’t help the jolt of disappointment when I finally squint at my now-silent phone and see that the call wasn’t from Jackson.


I sit up, stretching as I play the voice mail from Cass.

“Hey, girl, I tried to find you last night, and then someone said they saw you leaving with Jackson right behind you. So I hope that Jackson said yes to the resort and you’re home sleeping the sleep of victory. Or he said no, and you’re home sleeping the sleep of defeat. Either way, I hope you didn’t do something stupid. Zee and I are about to crash for a few hours, but if you get this right away, then call me. It’s, um, not quite eight. And if I don’t hear from you by ten, I’m going to be supremely pissed. No excuses, Syl. Call me.”

The phone goes dead.

Well, I think. All right then.

I hesitate, because I’m not entirely sure I want to talk. But this is Cass and she loves me and even though she didn’t outright say it, I also know that she’s worried. So I bite the bullet and call.

“You bitch,” she says without preamble. “You didn’t even text me. Where were you? Were you with Jackson?”

“I’m sorry. I just didn’t think. And no. I mean, yes. I mean, later. I was with Jackson later.”

“So you’re home now?”

I glance around the hotel and frown. “I’m at the Redbury.”

The pause is so long that I pull my phone away from my ear so that I can make sure we haven’t been disconnected.

“Did you fuck him?”

“No!” My tone is full of righteous indignation, which, considering Jackson had his fingers in my panties, is a little bit disingenuous. “I wasn’t even with him most of the time. I—oh, shit, Cass. I went to Avalon.”

“Fuck me sideways, Syl. Seriously?”

Now the worry is plain in her voice, and it’s clear that she understood my meaning—I didn’t go there just to dance.

I rush to reassure her. “It’s okay. I’m okay.”

“Am I giving you another tattoo?” Her words are controlled and evenly spaced. Not anger, I think. But fear.

“No,” I say, grateful that Jackson showed up when he did. “Almost,” I admit. “But no.”

“I’m on my way,” she says.

“No, Cass, really. I’m fine. I’m going to get cleaned up and get to the office. See if I can find another architect who will make the investors happy.” I say it lightly, even though I know there’s no way in hell.

“You’re sure? You don’t have a car, and I’m not that far away.”

“I’m sure,” I say. “And you don’t want to leave Zee, and she doesn’t want to spend the morning with me. Seriously, it’s all good.”

“Okay. Listen, Zee lives in Silver Lake, and my cell signal is for shit here, so if you call and I don’t answer, leave a message and I’ll call you back from her landline.”

“I won’t. I’m fine. Quit playing Mommy.”

“I’m worried about you.”

“Don’t be,” I say gently. “It’s all good.”

I can practically see her dissatisfied expression. “Fine. Tonight, then. I’ve got a one o’clock that should take a couple of hours, but after that I’m free. Meet me at the shop at three?”

And because we both need reassurance that I’m all right, I nod. “Yeah,” I say into the phone. “We can grab a late lunch.”

“Forget the late lunch. I’m going to want an early drink.”

I laugh, and we end the call.

I briefly consider whether I should go back to sleep for a few hours or just grab a taxi and get out of here. After I hit the bathroom, though, I decide to compromise on a shower. Because this bathroom is truly fab. With black tiled walls, ultra-modern fixtures, and a walk-in rain shower.

I turn the water on and wait for the temperature to adjust, standing naked in front of the mirror as I do.

Am I giving you another tattoo?

Cass’s words seem to echo in the small room, and I slide my hand down until my fingers brush the lock that Cass inked just above my line of pubic hair. The first of so many. The mirror isn’t a full-length style, but if I stand back far enough I can see most of myself. And the truth is, I don’t need to see anyway. I know where they all are. Every souvenir. Every mark. Every pain, and every memory.

Tags: J. Kenner Stark International Trilogy Romance
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