Home > Work in Progress (Red Lipstick Coalition #3)(15)

Work in Progress (Red Lipstick Coalition #3)(15)
Author: Staci Hart

“My brother is an asshole. It went viral, like, five years ago.”

She clicked the video, and I cringed as it started to play. I watched myself walk up to my bed, flip the covers, and jump backward with inhuman speed and a height I’d never been able to replicate. All to the soundtrack of my horror—a scream so high, I sounded like a teenage girl.

The loudest, bawdiest, hiccuping laughter ripped out of Amelia, the sound as incongruent as my screaming on YouTube. She was laughing so hard she could barely breathe, restarting the video the second it was finished. And then again as tears streamed down her face.

When she restarted it for the fourth time, I snatched her computer and snapped it shut. “All right, that’s enough of that.”

She didn’t even protest, just sat back on the couch holding her belly. “I…I can’t. That’s too good. Too, too good.” Bubbling laughter spilled out of her again before she seemed to get herself under control. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to laugh. It’s just that—”

She started giggling again, her face scrunched up. Another tear squeezed out of her eyes as she got ahold of herself, blowing out a controlled breath.

“That is one of my comedic weaknesses.”

“People running from spiders?”

“No, men screaming like little girls.” The sentence ended in a squeak and another fit. “That, and people running into glass doors. They never see it coming!” She dissolved again, which had me chuckling along with her.

“Mine’s pranks. I swear, the ones where they prank people in the shower with the never-ending shampoo. Have you seen those?”

“Nuh-uh,” she said, shaking her head and still trying to stop laughing.

“Here, watch this,” I said, turning to my laptop. I passed it to her as the montage began to play, already feeling the hysteria of her giggles and the anticipation of the video overtaking me.

There was a guy in a shower at a beach, rinsing out his hair. And just when he had it almost clean, someone would squirt more into his hair without him knowing. Within thirty seconds, the guy was freaking out, panicking as he scrubbed his head, screaming, It won’t come out! SHAMPOOOOOOO! as he slapped his head like a monkey.

I couldn’t stop laughing.

Amelia shook her head, smiling and laughing but gently. “That is so mean!”

“He…he can’t—” I giggled. “Look! He can’t get it out and—” Laughter shot out of me. “God, I would break somebody’s nose if they did that to me.”

“Well, a friendly heads-up: don’t ever prank me, or I might break your nose.”

I turned my laughter on her. “Pretty sure your tiny fist wouldn’t tenderize a steak, never mind break my nose.”

She folded her arms and put on a tough look, which made her look about as dangerous as a box of kittens. “Who says I’d use my fist?”

“You hiding a baseball bat somewhere, Melia?” I asked, leaning closer like I was inspecting her.

But once I was in her space, everything slowed, stilled. My eyes fixed on her lips. Would they be sweet? Gentle? Giving? Would they be everything she was?

I needed to know.

Her eyes widened as I drew closer, determined to find out. A puff of breath left those lips of hers and brushed mine, tingling with anticipation.

And to my deepest disappointment, she leaned back, scooting away from me.

Her cheeks flushed crimson. “Oh!” she breathed. “I…I don’t…I’m not…”

My frown was spectacular. I leaned back, put in my place as she found her voice.

“I-I’m sorry, Tommy. But this is a business relationship, and it’s too important to me to…to…mess up with…that.” She gestured to all of me.

I swallowed hard, shaking my head. “No, please don’t apologize. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I didn’t even intend to kiss you. I just…couldn’t seem to help myself.” I shifted, putting space between us. I handed her laptop over. “Don’t worry. It won’t happen again,” I promised, meaning every word. “I’m sorry, Amelia.”

“Thank you,” she said, relaxing visibly.

And as we settled back into the couch, I tried to tell myself it was fine. It didn’t matter. She didn’t want me, and I hadn’t realized until she rebuffed me how badly I wanted her. But it would never have worked anyway.

She was right.

And that was fine.

Perfectly fine, I told myself, ignoring the sting of the lie.

Brother's Keeper

Tommy

“Gus is my new hero,” I said, punctuating the statement with a sip of my whiskey.

Theo chuckled once through his nose. “That dog is a fucking menace.”

“Menace implies he has some sort of foresight or premeditation. He’s too dumb to be a menace.”

That earned me another laugh, this one with teeth.

“And anyway, you wouldn’t call him a menace if he’d bumped a pretty girl into you.”

“You’re right. I probably would have fed him a hamburger as positive reinforcement.”

“Maybe we could train him. Make him your wingman. God knows you need help finding women.”

He made a face. “When do I have time to meet women? I’m too busy keeping you outta trouble.”

“Psh, please. I’ve been a goddamn joy and a delight.”

His face flattened, lips in a sardonic line.

“Really, Teddy—how could I get into trouble with a prison guard like you on duty?”

He rolled his eyes, but he was laughing, that asshole.

We were hitched to the bar at Jackson’s—a momentary hotspot in SoHo—for Genevieve Larou’s book release party, which meant the joint was packed wall to wall with publishers, editors, models, actors, and the clinging unknowns who’d finagled invitations and wanted to be seen.

If Genevieve wasn’t such a good friend and if Blackbird hadn’t insisted I be there, I would have passed. But Gen had just hit New York Today’s bestseller list with a comedic memoir all about her career as a runway model, and in truth, she was a good friend. Most my exes were.

Plus, it was a chance to be seen. A Page Six feature wouldn’t be the worst thing for book sales. Given my lack of new releases, my sales graph looked like the heartbeat of someone being defibrillated.

“So,” Theo started, shifting on his stool to face me, “when’s Little Miss Sunshine coming over again?”

“Tomorrow. She’s already read all the pages I sent. Can you believe that?”

“I can a hundred percent believe that. I bet they were annotated and highlighted.”

I laughed. “They had a million aggressive sticky tabs on the pages. It looked like a neon hate rainbow.”

“Somehow, I’m not surprised. She doesn’t seem like the type to dog-ear anything.”

“Definitely not. I was kinda hoping they had cats on them or something. The neon-green ones were screaming insults at me.”

“Cats, huh?”

“Always with the cats. Yesterday, the collar of her shirt looked like a cat wrapped around her neck.”

He frowned. “That sounds weird.”

“It was actually really cute. She’s really cute.” I shook my head. “It really is a shame she’s a cat person.”

One of his brows rose. “Why, because that’d stop you?”

“Nah. But we could never get married—Gus would never survive. He’s too gentle for feline sensibilities.”

That time, when Theo laughed, it was bawdy and loud and shocking out of his strict mouth. “You. Married? That is fucking hilarious.”

I found myself smirking, pleased he’d taken the bait. “I know. Nobody’d ever put up with my shit long-term anyway.”

“Oh, don’t sell yourself short,” Genevieve said from my elbow.

She was just as beautiful as always—tall, sleek, enviable jawline and cheekbones, big eyes and wide mouth. Her dress was short enough that if she took a full stride, the entire bar would be able to determine her waxing preferences.

She laid her hand on my shoulder and leaned in to press her cheek to mine. My hand moved to her waist.

   
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