“We could Netflix and chill?” Cami asks.
Stella snort-laughs. “Just call it watching Netflix.”
“Well, Netflix and chill is kind of something people say when they’re, um, dating.”
“Oh.” Cami giggles. “Really?”
“Really.” When Stella steps into the kitchen, I’m splashing cold water on my face. “Brinley, baby.”
“Mom’s stressed about the wedding,” Cami says quietly.
“I can see that.” Stella’s steps soften and grow closer as I pat my face dry. Her hand is gentle on my shoulder. “Cami, honey, can you go to the living room? I’ll meet you there in a minute.”
Breathe. Just breathe.
I turn and wrap my arms around her, needing the reassuring hug of my oldest friend. And it helps. God, does it help. Stella, Abbi, Savvy—these girls are my family now. If my parents find out about the mess I’m in and disown me, I won’t lose my girls. Their love has never been contingent on a damn thing.
“Is this about having dinner with your parents, or is it about Julian?” she asks softly, hugging me back.
She strokes my hair. “Want me to see if Kace can babysit so I can go with you tonight?”
Pulling back, I manage a shaky smile. “You really want to face my parents again?”
She scoffs. “Well, no. I don’t. But I will if it helps you.”
The clunk of the front door is followed by the sound of heavy steps toward the kitchen. Julian’s here.
I shake my head. “I’ve got this. Cami would be heartbroken if I took away her night with Aunt Stella.”
She grins. “I am pretty cool.”
“But are you cool enough to get her to finish packing for Disney?” I ask, pressing my hands together as if I’m praying.
She laughs. “Sure. I’m guessing you made her a list?”
I grin. “Of course. It’s in her room.”
“Hey, Stella,” Julian says, joining us in the kitchen. “Thanks for watching Cami tonight.”
She gives him a tight smile. “No problem.”
He looks me over and frowns. “Ready?” He no doubt recognizes I’m still in the same clothes I wore to work, never mind the mess I undoubtedly made of my makeup when I rinsed my face. If he’s thinking my mother would never approve, he’s right.
“I need five minutes to freshen up.” And pull myself together. I jog to my bedroom and kick the door shut behind me. I unzip my dress and shimmy out of it even as I’m digging through my closet for a fresh one. I tell myself I don’t care about my parents’ opinion anymore, but everyone knows that’s bullshit. I don’t want them to be disappointed in me, and I know if they are, that disappointment will dog me for days. If changing outfits and freshening my makeup is going to keep my mother from making some snarky comment, it’s worth it.
In less than five minutes, I’m heading back to the kitchen, where I find Julian leaning against the counter and staring at his phone. No—my phone.
“Brinley and Marston are now husband and wife in accordance with the laws of the state of Nevada,” the voice from the video says.
Julian lifts his eyes to meet mine, and his pain is so clear there. The words I’m sorry sit heavily on my tongue. I am sorry. But I don’t like that he looked at my messages without asking. I am sorry. But saying the words won’t get us out of this awful limbo we’ve found ourselves in.
He straightens and hands my phone back to me. “You don’t even sound drunk,” he says, and the words sound like an accusation.
I take it and drop it into my clutch. “I know.”
He studies me for a long time before dipping his head and pressing a kiss to the side of my neck. “Don’t let him ruin us.”
March 4th, before
“You’re going to get us caught,” Marston says, but I feel his smile against my mouth as I tug him into my room. He smells a little like sweat and grass clippings from working with the yard crew for the last few hours, but the earthy rawness of him only makes me want him more.
“My parents are gone until six tonight. The only one here is Lori, and she’s cleaning carpets downstairs today.” I kick the door closed and begin unbuttoning my shirt. “But you can go if you want.”
He growls and nudges me to the bed until the backs of my legs hit the mattress. Giggling, I lie down, grab a fistful of his V-neck, and tug him closer. He crawls on top of me, his knees on either side of my hips, one hand behind my neck and the other sliding down into my shirt to cup me through my bra, too impatient for me to finish undressing.
His kisses are searing and hungry, on my mouth, my jaw, my neck, behind my ear—all the places he knows I like the feel of his lips. I arch into his touch as his thumb skims my nipple in slow, torturous circles. “You’re sure?” he asks.