Home > Work in Progress (Red Lipstick Coalition #3)(16)

Work in Progress (Red Lipstick Coalition #3)(16)
Author: Staci Hart

“Hey there, handsome,” she said through a smile.

“Heya, Gen. Congrats on New York Today.”

When she backed away, her hand stayed put, her hips leaning toward me. “Thanks, Tommy. I’m glad you came.” She glanced over my shoulder. “Hi, Theo.”

Theo raised his glass. “Gen.”

“Are you two having fun over here by yourselves?”

“Teddy won’t let me leave the bar,” I said petulantly.

Theo rolled his eyes. “Please. Somebody’s gotta keep you out of trouble. Chaining him to a chair’s my best bet.”

Genevieve laughed. “You let me know how that works out for you, Theo.” She turned back to me, crimson lips together in a smile as she toyed with the collar of my leather jacket. “You look good, Tommy. You doing okay?”

I nodded, squeezing her small waist. “You don’t look so bad yourself. And I’ve never been better.”

Her brow climbed, and she glanced at Theo again. “That true?”

Theo snorted. “Ask him when his book will be finished.”

My face flattened. “It’ll get done.”

She shook her head. “That bad, huh?”

I laughed. “It’s like you guys have never met me. It’ll get done.”

She chuckled. “Always does.”

I gave Theo a look. “See? Gen believes.”

Theo made a noncommittal sound and took a sip of his drink.

Genevieve’s voice lowered, her smile fading. “And how’s your mom?”

I smiled. “She’s good, Gen. Thanks for asking.”

“Give her my love,” she said before straightening up and putting on her show-stopping smile. “Come here—take a picture with me.”

She hooked her arm in mine as I stood, and one of a fleet of photographers wound his way over and pointed his lens at us.

The flash burst in our vision, and we took a moment to hug. We kissed on the cheek again, exchanging those pedestrian phrases one said when one didn’t know what to say or when others were listening. That flash burst fast enough to give somebody a seizure.

“Have fun tonight, Tommy. Don’t get into any trouble.”

I smirked down at her. “Why’d you think I brought Teddy?”

She laughed, shaking her head as she let me go. “See you later.”

“Bye, Gen.”

She strode through the crowd, which parted for her like the Red Sea, photographer in her wake. And when I looked around, there were at least a dozen cell phone cameras pointed at me.

So I took a second to offer my best smolder-smirk before taking a seat next to my brother again. My editor caught my eye from across the bar and raised his glass. Steven had all the no-nonsense affectation of a judge, which I supposed in a way he was. As one of the top editors at Blackbird, such was his right.

I nodded back, tipping my glass to him in answer.

Theo sighed in that way he did, a judgmental exhale, heavy with skepticism. “I really hope Amelia can help you.”

“She already has. She told me everything I had was the driveling nonsense I’d known it was. I’ve got a few ideas moving around. Just waiting on something to stick.”

A female squealed my name from behind me, and I turned with my best fake smile on. It was a damn good fake smile, one she bought completely as she gushed, blushing. I reminded her to breathe while we took a picture, asked her to tag me, and sent her on her way.

When I was seated again, Theo sighed, shaking his head. “Doesn’t this ever get tedious?”

“A little, sure. It’s all a pony show, just part of the gig. If I didn’t like being seen, I never woulda built my brand on the backs of models and pop singers.”

Another snort. “I just pictured Marley giving you a piggyback.”

“She’d fold like a lawn chair,” I said on a laugh. “Look—you know if I could quit the life, I would. But this? Putting myself in the gossip columns to get attention when I was young and stupid? That was my mistake.”

“Our mistake,” he amended.

“It seemed like such a good idea at the time, didn’t it?”

“Can’t say it didn’t work.”

I sighed. “It’s like the mob. The only way to get out is to move to France like Johnny Depp.”

“Or Italy like Sting.”

“I heard you can shake down his olive trees during harvest season. For admission price.”

Theo snorted a laugh. “You’d better keep Amelia on the low. Talk about folding like a lawn chair. I don’t think she could handle the spotlight.”

I frowned. “I dunno. I think she’s tougher than she looks.”

He made the universal face for come the fuck on. “Tommy, she could barely hold eye contact with either of us.”

“Have you seen us?”

He ignored me. “I guarantee if some asshole shoved a wide-angle lens in her face, she’d have an epileptic fit.”

“Well, the flashes are really bright.”

He rolled his eyes. “Glad you didn’t miss the point.”

“Don’t worry,” I assured him. “I’m not gonna let them get to her. I won’t let anybody hurt her. She’s so little, so delicate. My brain keeps screaming that she’s breakable. Did you notice?”

“Notice what?”

“How small she is? Even her hands are tiny, but her fingers are long. I don’t even know how that’s possible.”

He was still making that face.

“I mean, I guess it’s her fingers. They’re longer than her palms, so it gives the illusion that they’re long in general. Pretty sure one of her hands would fit on my palm. Like in Beauty and the Beast when he holds her hand and it’s just a wrist disappearing into his big, hairy fist.”

He added blinking to the face. “Did you just compare yourself to a Disney movie?”

I shrugged. “What’s it to you, asshole?”

A pause. “You’ve given this a lot of thought.”

“I like her. She’s interesting, different. And she treats me different. I always feel like chum in the water, but for once, she makes me feel like a shark. She doesn’t want a piece of me, doesn’t care about the life. Her intentions are pure.” I shook my head. “You know how rare it is to find someone like that. Someone who isn’t a vampire. I don’t feel drained after she leaves. I feel…filled up.”

“You’re not gonna sleep with her, are you?”

The sound I made was similar to an air leak but wetter. “No. And anyway, she told me she wasn’t interested.”

The sting of that particular rejection rankled. I shifted in my seat to counteract it.

He eyed me, indicating he believed a grand total of none of that. But before I could defend myself, someone bumped into me, spilling my drink on my shirt.

I turned, brows drawn and ready to school somebody in manners, but the girl I found there kicked in another instinct altogether.

She was small, eyes big and brown, skin dark and smooth. But her cheeks flushed when she saw me, her eyes tight with concern.

“Oh my God, I’m so sorry,” she said, grabbing a couple of cocktail napkins to dab at my shirt.

“What the fuck?” the guy in the suit behind her slurred, oblivious to me as he reached for her arm. “I bought you two drinks. What do you mean you’re not interested?”

I pushed back from the bar, my eyes on the place where his meathook was wrapped around her slender bicep. My jaw clenched so tight, I thought I might pull a tendon.

“Tommy,” Theo warned, standing with me and squaring up.

“Don’t worry. I’m cool,” I said, unable to look away.

The girl dislodged her arm from his hand. “I…I’m sorry.”

The suit laughed, his eyes hard and glinting. “Sorry? You’re sorry? I just wasted half an hour and forty bucks for you to tell me you’re not interested? Then pay for your own fuckin’ drinks, cocktease.”

I stepped between them, putting her behind me. “Hey, man. How’s it going?”

He jerked his chin at me. “Oh, look. It’s pretty boy Bane. What are you gonna do, clock me?” He leaned into my face. “Oh, wait. You can’t. Isn’t that right, pretty boy?”

   
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