“I’m turning over a new leaf. Celibacy.”

“Celibacy?” I repeated, unsure if the loud music was screwing with my hearing.

“Yep. The Chelsea that you know and love is growing up.” She beamed at someone across the party and gave an enthusiastic wave.

“Why?” I folded my arms across my chest, unnerved by the sudden tilt of this very reliable axis.

“Stop being so SERIOUS, Elle. This is a party!” She sang along with a line in the song and grabbed my hand, pulling me deeper into the crowd.

I followed, unsure of what to say. I danced with her and when Aaron handed me a drink, I guzzled it and tried to ignore the way his gaze moved to her face and lingered there. I had seven years of history that proved Aaron and Chelsea were miles deep into the friendship zone. There was no way that right now, that would be changing. It couldn’t be. Because if it were… then Easton and I had made a monumental fuck-up.

* * *

Police lights bounced against the white brick of Chelsea’s house. I cupped a drink against my chest and watched as a trio of Chippendale dancers gave their information to a female cop who couldn’t stop smiling.

Apparently, Monroe County had a noise ordinance as well as Chelsea’s neighborhood association, so she’d been in violation of both jurisdictions. The neighborhood president had shown up a half-hour ago in golf shorts and house slippers, a thick stack of papers in hand, just in time to see the conclusion of the vibrator race. He had dressed down Chelsea as if she was a child, then vowed to have her kicked out of the neighborhood by Monday—a proclamation that had triggered a low “oooooooo” from the crowd, as if we were in high school and someone had been called to the principal’s office. Then the police cars had pulled in, and all of the crowd had scattered.

“Well, that was fun,” Easton said, lifting a beer to his lips. “Can’t say I’m too surprised.”

Me either. I wasn’t sure if it was the noise, or the fireworks, or the boatful of male strippers that pulled up to Chelsea’s dock, but the cops had come in full force, their sirens barely audible over the beat of the band’s bass.

“Think she’s going to jail?” Easton glanced at me.

I shook my head. “Nah. I think this is minor stuff. Code violations and noise issues. Plus, Aaron said she had two attorneys in his guest house, waiting on call.”

“Wow.” He chuckled, then finished off the final sip of the beer. He wrapped an arm around my waist and pulled me against him. “Chelsea is insane.”

“This party is insane. The death of her slutdom? How long do you think this celibacy kick will last?”

“You know her better than anyone. You tell me.”

Yeah, I knew Chelsea as well as I knew myself. Which is why this party—one she organized without a single call to me for help—was a giant red flag. Something was horribly wrong, and I was afraid I knew exactly what it was.

14

I squirted makeup remover on a cotton ball, then dabbed it across my face. From outside, I heard Easton call Wayland’s name, then yell it with a fierce level of severity that would most likely be ignored. I yawned as I slid the cotton ball over my eyelashes, then my lids, tossing the black and blue ball into the trash before moving to the next eye.

Easton yelled again and I glanced at the clock, extra mindful of the noise after tonight’s mild brush with the law.

In all of the excitement, I’d never gotten another moment alone with Chelsea, and I felt unease at the pivot that she was taking. Maybe it was nothing. Maybe this “funeral” was just like the wedding dress she’d worn to Vegas, or the veganism diet she’d attempted and abandoned. Maybe this celibacy was an excuse to throw a party and would be tossed aside within the week.

The back door slammed shut and I turned to see Easton approaching the bedroom, Wayland cupped against his chest like a baby. Only… this baby was one hundred and forty pounds and licking the side of his face as if it were coated in peanut butter. Easton made it through the door of the bedroom before setting him on the floor. Wayland immediately bounded onto the bed.

“You need to get your son in line.”

“E—” I protested. “Get him off the bed.”

Wayland rolled on his back, then thrashed at the sheets. Easton bent over him and gave a low warning growl.

“STOP,” I warned him. “You’re going to get him all riled up.”

“I think it’s too late for that.” He snapped his fingers and pointed to the floor. “Wayland, down.”

Wayland rolled to the opposite side and beat his tail against the headboard. I returned my attention to the mirror and heard a loud thump as Wayland was pushed to the floor.

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