Frayed Page 52

I roll my eyes at him and quickly text Ben back.

Did I tell you I make those sounds when I eat my favorite foods?

I slide my phone back into my pocket and watch Xander slip a stuffed mushroom in Ivy\s mouth.

’’Um . . . these are so good,’’ she says, and I want to gag. Fungus with bread crumbs is definitely not something I had selected for the menu tonight. I wonder what else got messed up.

’’Hey, little sis, aren\ those your favorite?’’ he asks, pointing to a silver tray with scallops wrapped in bacon.

’’Very funny.’’

’’Why don\ you try one of them for old times?’’ Xander asks.

’’No, thank you,’’ I say almost menacingly.

’’I dare you,’’ he challenges.

My gaze flits over him in an assessing manner. In our family we never shut down a dare. So I reach for the appetizer. I squish my nose in disgust and pop it into my mouth, swallowing it without even chewing. Then I cover my mouth to stop from gagging.

’’Happy?’’ I wave my hands in the air at me.

’’What? Are you going to throw up?’’ Xander asks, now with concern in his voice.

I cover my lips again, not really sure if I\m going to, and decide I\d better hurry to the bathroom just in case. ’’I just remembered. I forgot the Bellinis. I\ll be back.’’

I make it into the bathroom and I\m fine by then. There\s a chair in the corner and I take a seat, pulling out my phone to see if Ben responded. He did.

Do you forget, I\ve heard the sounds you make when you\ve eaten and they are nothing like what I heard today. Just admit it, you want me.

I smile hugely and my cheeks prickle when I do. Quickly I text him back.

That\s a fact I\ve never denied. You just never asked.

I was being respectful of your ’’guidelines.’’ But tell me now, ’’Do you want me?’’

I\ve always wanted you.

F*k me.

That\s the plan.

My stomach flutters and I\m feeling pretty proud of myself for my wit. I shove my phone in my pocket and stop to look in the mirror. When I do I\m a little shocked by how red my skin is. I splash some cool water over my face, but my discomfort level is starting to rise. A dab of powder takes away the shine and dulls the color.

A few hours later, I\m tired but happy watching everyone enjoying themselves. I\m also feeling eager for it to end.

’’Perk up,’’ Tate whispers in my ear.

The hand he places on my waist starts drifting down to my rear. I jump and turn around with a glare that should remind him where things stand between us. The dilation of his pupils tells me he\s had way too much to drink.

He lifts his glass. ’’You know how to throw a great party.’’

’’Thank you,’’ I say curtly.

He frowns at me. ’’You don\ look happy.’’

I step back. ’’I am . . . about the party.’’

I glance around, trying to avoid his scrutinizing stare. Romeo is dancing extremely close with some woman. Their bodies are rubbing against each other in a way that screams we\ e having se* tonight I\m not sure whether it\s his fiancée, because I\ve never met her, even though this woman does look familiar to me.

Jagger and Aerie are dancing in the same way, but the sight of them together makes me smile. And River is kissing Dahlia while Garrett stands next to them as if waiting for him to finish. Garrett really needs a girlfriend of his own. I thought he was into Ena, Xander\s assistant, but it seems she\s with Leif. I can\ keep up.

’’You\ e extremely moody,’’ Tate says.

’’Me?’’ I say, trying not to sound as offended as I am. My grin fades. ’’I\m not the moody one,’’ I say in a bold tone I haven\ displayed in a while.

He clams up.

’’I have a few things to take care of.’’

He grabs my arm before I can walk away. ’’Dance with me.’’

’’No, thank you.’’

’’Who are you seeing?’’ His short, sharp tone isn\ the normal one I\m used to. This tone is laced with menace.

’’Oh, there you are,’’ my mother says, oblivious of the scene before her.

I try to smile at her, to make everything seem all right.

Her eyes zero in on my face and I know it must be flushed with anger. ’’You look like you got too much sun today.’’

’’Yeah, I think I did ’’

I\m interrupted by the sound of Xander\s voice in the microphone. ’’Here she is, everyone Ivy Taylor,’’ he announces.

’’Come on, darling, we\ e going to miss it,’’ my mother says, reaching for my hand. I take hers and despite myself I feel guilty I haven\ told her about Ben.

We press our way over to the stage and listen to a medley of Ivy\s new songs. I close my eyes and sing along, but all the while visions of Ben kissing me, putting his hands on my body, feeling me in the most intimate places are all I can think about. I open my eyes when everyone applauds, smiling when I see the look on Xander\s face. He holds out his arm for Ivy to join him and then does something completely out of character and jumps onstage, swinging Ivy around. I look at my mother and we both have tears in our eyes. She pulls me in for a hug and her slight touch feels like pinpricks against my tender skin.

’’Don\ cry, Mom.’’

’’I\m trying not to, but seeing him so happy makes me so happy.’’

’’I know, Mom. I know.’’

She takes a deep breath and whispers, ’’It\s what I want for all of my children.’’

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