Page 63 of Riot (Mayhem 2)

Our hands separate when the server drops our pancakes off. This time, Rowan thanks her since I’m still lost in the darkness of her words. “What if we end up breaking each others’ hearts?” I ask once we’re alone again.

“You’re already doing that,” she answers, her voice matching her solemn expression. “What do you have to lose?”

THAT EVENING, AFTER I finish zipping up a pair of sparkly stiletto ankle boots, I consider all the answers to Rowan’s question: my pride, my heart, my independence. But when I gave her those answers at breakfast, she asked me one more simple question: Are they more important than Joel?

I stand up, command my knees to stop shaking, and take one final look in my bedroom mirror. My purple wrap dress squeezes me in all the right places, flaunting my curves and complementing my dark chocolate curls. My makeup is flawless, my body is killer, and I feel like a fucking wreck.

Rowan told me that Joel is definitely going to be at Mayhem tonight. One of his favorite bands is playing, and all of the guys are going to go see them. The plan is just to go, be as hot as humanly possible, and say the words I should have said a long time ago.

“I love you,” I practice in the mirror, rolling my eyes at myself. I take a deep breath and stare at it again. “I love you. I love you, Joel.”

When someone knocks on my door, I nearly jump out of my skin.

After collecting myself, I let out a little chuckle and swing open the door to find Leti dressed in a dark purple button-down and dark-wash jeans. I smile when I realize we matched without even planning to. When he’s not wearing ridiculous T-shirts and bleach-stained jeans, the boy definitely knows how to dress.

“Happy to see me?” he asks.

“Took you long enough.”

“You do realize you’re the one with the car, right?”

Ignoring him, I do a twirl and say, “How do I look?”

“Like a hot little succubus,” he says with a grin. “What’s the occasion?”

I grab a light leather jacket from the coat closet and toss Leti my keys, leading him into the hall outside my front door. “Joel is going to be there.”

Leti locks up for me, pausing long enough to show that he’s weighing his words. “I thought you two were done?”

“Turns out, I love him.” When his jaw drops, I shrug and say, “Go figure.”

He bursts out laughing and throws his arm over my shoulder as we navigate the hallways of my apartment building. “So you’re going to tell him at Mayhem tonight?”

“I’m going to try.”

“Say it to me,” he prompts when we get to my car, opening the passenger-side door for me.

I put my hand on his shoulder and flutter my eyelashes up at him, saying in a 1960s-romance vixen voice, “Oh, Leti, you hot chunk of man, I love you.” His laugh makes me smile.

“I think I just went straight for a minute.”

“It was only a matter of time.” I wink at him and get in the car, rubbing my hands over my thighs when I realize I’m really, seriously about to do this.

“Don’t be nervous,” he says when he slides into the driver’s seat.

“I’m not,” I lie.

“Don’t be.”

“I’m not,” I say again, and he pats my knee.

“Good.”

By the time we get to Mayhem, the club is pulsing with music and swimming in a thick cocktail of perfume, cologne, and sweat. Layers of people are packed in front of the bar, but since that’s where I know Rowan will be, I grab Leti’s hand and start weaving. I’m the small end of our human wedge, tugging him through the open space people make for me and hearing him make apologies for his wide shoulders the whole way.

“Hey,” I say to Rowan when we finally get to her and Adam. I release Leti’s hand and we both wipe hand-cooties onto our clothes.

Rowan hands me her full drink, and I gladly suck it down. “That dress is killer,” she says.

I glance down at myself, getting an eyeful of cleavage. “I may or may not have caused a few heart attacks on my walk over here.”

“That tends to happen when you torpedo through a crowd towing a big purple chunk of man behind you,” Leti quips, and I crack a smile.

“Chunk of man?” Rowan asks with a lifted eyebrow.

“Her words, not mine,” he says with a thumb in my direction. I smile and shrug while I finish off Rowan’s drink and covertly scan the bar for Joel.

“Alright, who’s dancing with me?” I ask, and Adam takes that as his cue to go outside for a smoke break. Rowan and Leti both follow me toward the dance floor, and I get swallowed by the crowd with my two best friends.

“He’s not here yet,” Rowan says as soon as we’re far enough away from Adam.

“Are we sure he’s coming?” Leti asks. He’s at my back, and Rowan is at my front. I rest my hands on her shoulders and try to pretend my heart isn’t balanced on a tightrope waiting for her answer.

“Yeah. Adam texted him to make sure.”

“Adam knows?” I ask, my cheeks flushing.

“Of course not,” Rowan scoffs before I send myself into a tailspin. “What kind of a best friend do you think I am? I just told him I was worried about Joel and thought he could use a fun night out and to make sure he was coming.”

“And he bought it?”

Rowan nods. “It was true, so yeah.”

With Leti at my back, I mouth to Rowan, I’m nervous.

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