Something About Us

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Chapter Two

Teagan

“Oh my gosh, this is fancy,” Kennedy loudly proclaims as we enter the extravagantly decorated ballroom hours later. The pamphlet advised guests to dress in semi-formal or formal attire for the event. I’m glad I went the formal route and decided to wear a golden A-line gown with a right side split up to my knee, picture neckline, and quarter-length sleeves. The color compliments my dark skin tone and highlights my chocolate eyes.

Kennedy is dressed in a simple strapless silver gown. “At least we aren’t overdressed.”

My head shakes as I see a woman dressed in a charcoal gray fitted gown with a trumpet skirt. “We may actually be underdressed. Let’s find our seats.”

There are ten medium-sized round tables draped with crisp white tablecloths strategically placed throughout the marble-floored ballroom. There are six golden chairs per table with folded name cards placed in front of the place settings. A podium sits in the middle of the entryway for the dining area. There’s a young woman dressed in a plain black dress standing behind it. She seems to be tasked with telling everyone what table they’re assigned to. We approach her and wait patiently. She asks for our names without ever moving her eyes from the electronic tablet in front of her.

With a pleasant smile, she looks up. “Ooh, lucky ladies, you’re seated at Mr. North’s table. Table one.”

Kennedy’s arched eyebrows wiggle as we make our way to the table. “I wonder how we got so lucky.”

“I can hear the wheels turning in that head of yours, but you need to stop. We’re here to get a new client. That is all that’s happening,” I respond, keeping my voice low. No one needs to overhear this conversation.

She presses her lips together. “I don’t think that’s all that’s happening.”

We arrive at the table and take a seat at our designated spots. Some of the attendees are mingling around the ballroom, networking, and socializing with colleagues and like minds. I should be interacting as well. An attorney’s career is only as good as her reputation. Mentally I’m battling doing the right thing and continuing to act like an anti-social prude when a leggy brunette dressed in a high-end gown struts to the table.

A shocked look covers her oval face. “Oh hello. Who might you be?”

“I’m Teagan Wilson and this is Kennedy Wolfe,” I introduce us with a polite grin.

The dark-haired woman stares blankly. “Telling me your names doesn’t tell me why you're sitting here.”

“This is our assigned table,” the words slowly come out of Kennedy’s twisted mouth.

“This must be a mistake,” the vapid woman scoffs with a twisted scowl.

Before I can fully register the woman’s rude words, Kennedy’s face morphs into a menacing look that would send a young child running. “Who are you?”

The woman plasters on a fake smile. “Surely you recognize me. I’m Isabella Greenwich, daughter of Ivan Greenwich.” We both stare blankly at her. She places a hand over her chest and sneers at the offense. “My father is the richest real estate developer in Canada. He’s grooming me to take over his company when he retires.”

“I still don’t know who you are.” Kennedy shrugs her shoulders.

“That only solidifies the fact that you shouldn’t be sitting at this table.”

A slender man with a square face filled with classic European features, bright blue eyes, and short-cut blond hair arrives. He’s dressed in a tailored black tuxedo that showcases his subtly athletic physique.

“Excuse me, Ms. Greenwich, my name is Kristoff Tisdale, I’m Mr. North’s assistant. There seems to be a problem with your seating placement. May I be of some service?”

Isabella Greenwich turns to Kristoff with an expectant expression. “Yes, there is a problem. I want these women removed from this table. Only the most influential of people should be seated at the same table as a man like Houston North. Surely there’s been a mistake.”

“Mr. North chose the seating arrangements himself,” Kristoff informs her in a cool voice. Kennedy is nearly giddy as she pointedly nudges my side. I ignore her. “However, I am sure he wouldn’t mind making some changes if it would please one of his guests.”

The entitled woman smiles triumphantly at us. “Fantastic. I’d rather not be sat at the same table as two nobodies. It would be damning to my reputation.”

“Then I’m sure Kristoff can happily find you another seat,” Houston informs the woman as he joins us at the table. He’s dressed in a crisp black tuxedo with silk lapels that does absolutely nothing to hide his sculpted build.

Isabella turns to him with a startled expression. “Houston, I didn’t see you arrive.”

“I’m not one for making a grand entrance.” Casually he shrugs his wide shoulders before turning to his assistant. “Please help Ms. Greenwich find a new seat.”

The woman’s mouth falls open. “You cannot be serious.”

Houston’s eyes narrow as he focuses his glare on her. “Oh, but I am. I do not tolerate disrespect. You know that.” The way he emphasizes the word confirms what I already suspect. He has a history with Isabella.

With indignation, Isabella places her hands on her hips and stomps her foot. “Houston be reasonable. Why would you move me instead of them? It’s me!” Her words don’t have the desired effect she’s obviously going for. Instead of responding to her, Houston turns away to greet Kennedy and me.

“Right this way.” Kristoff motions for the woman to follow him. Stubbornly she stands with her mouth agape and her dark, low-set, eyes wide. She waits for Houston to laugh and declare that it was all one big misunderstanding and boot us from the table. It never happens.

He extends a hand to me. “Would you like to dance?” Live musicians are playing instrumental tunes that are suitable for dancing styles I am less familiar with. Still, I place my hand in his and rise to my feet. It’s a miracle Kennedy isn’t bouncing in her seat as she watches us walk together to the dance floor.

“There are some interesting people at this little shindig of yours,” I comment as Houston places his hand on my waist.

“I accepted the first two hundred people who signed up and paid the fee. I didn’t actually vet any of them.” He admits without an ounce of shame.

A humored smile tugs at my lips. “So, what you’re saying is that you’re all about the money.”

Houston’s dark bushy eyebrows rise as he frowns. “That’s not what I’m saying, but I am a businessman. You can’t blame me for taking a chance to increase my account balance.”

My slim shoulders shrug. “You’re right. Living isn’t free.”

Without warning, Houston spins me away from him before pulling me close. “I know that you’re an attorney at a firm that’s vying for my business, but surely there’s more to you than your career.”

I grimace. “These days I’m pretty much all business. I’m new to being an attorney so it’s taking up a lot of my time.”

Houston narrows his eyes as he looks down at me. “I bet you make time for the things you enjoy. You look like the type of woman who is satisfied with a comfortable seat, fuzzy socks, a glass of wine, and a good novel.”

My eyes tighten with suspicion. “Either I’m really easy to read or Kristoff has been stalking my social media.”

Houston tucks a loose strand of my hair behind my ear. “I hate to break it to you, but you’re an open book.”

“I really hope you’re wrong. My career depends on me being unreadable.” I murmur as my eyes flit across the room. Kristoff is seated at the table with Kennedy and some other person I don’t recognize. They appear to be having an intriguing conversation. “I think your assistant is flirting with my paralegal.”

“Kristoff doesn’t flirt.” My face twists with curiosity at his response. “I mean I’ve never seen him flirt, but the man had no shortage of girlfriends in high school and college. I could never figure it out.”

“It must be the accent. Americans are suckers for a British accent.”

He hums in thought. “I guess that could be it.”

“I’m sorry for interrupting Mr. North, but I was wondering if I might have a word with you.” An older man with a round belly taps on Houston’s shoulder.

The mogul plasters on a polite grin before releasing me. “Mr. Carey, I have plenty of time for you. Allow me to introduce Teagan Wilson. She’s a second-year associate at Tidwall & Associates in Las Vegas, Nevada. Teagan, this is Michael Carey. He’s a partner at one of the largest real estate firms on the east coast.”

Michael Carey extends his chubby hand towards me for the sloppiest shake known to man. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Little Lady.” The southern accent is thick in his voice. I cringe at his title for me. It’s disrespectful and misogynistic.

“Well, if you gentlemen will excuse me, I’m going to go network.” With a fake grin, I turn and make my way through the crowd.

Kennedy is now at the white lighted bar with Kristoff. I don’t want to interrupt their conversation, so I throw myself into talking to strangers. Hours pass by in the blink of an eye. Houston is constantly being pulled into a conversation. He’s high in demand. It isn’t until we’re settled at the table with dinner being served that I’m able to speak with him again.

“Is it safe to assume you have researched my firm?” I question in between bites of the deliciously cooked salmon. It’s smothered in a creamy mushroom sauce with sautéed asparagus, red potatoes, and Mediterranean couscous.

Houston dabs at this mouth with the white linen napkin. “That is a safe assumption.”

I slowly nod my head. “Do you believe we will adequately represent you?”

He sets aside his fork and levels a gaze on me. “I’m concerned with the minimal diversity in the firm. You’re the only Black attorney. Kennedy is the only Black paralegal. There’s one Asian attorney but if not for her last name, I would have assumed she was white. I’ve made it a point to surround myself with people of all races and colors in my business endeavors. Allowing the firm that you work for to represent me would be a step back in my accomplishments.”

Nervously I gulp. He’s not wrong. “I don’t make the hiring decisions, but I am sure my bosses would love to hear your perspective on the firm’s makeup.”

He smirks, “I’m sure they’ll listen to anything I have to say if they think it’ll get my business.” Once again, he’s not wrong. “What about you?”

I’m confused by his question. “What about me?”

“If I bring my business to the firm, will you personally represent me?”

My lips tuck in as I try to think of the best response. “The partners are in charge of assigning the cases.” I’m low on the totem pole so it’s unlikely I’ll be assigned to anything dealing with someone of your caliber.

He frowns and lifts his fork. “That’s your evasive way of saying no. That doesn’t make sense. Why would they send you here to recruit me as a client, but not allow you to represent me? Now I have even more concerns.” I’m not sure what to make of his response. This is not going well.

“Perhaps we can discuss more tomorrow at dinner,” I suggest. He’s slipping out of my hands and I’m trying to salvage it.

Houston grins at me and shakes his hand. “I don’t think a business dinner will be necessary.”

With a gulp, I turn to Kennedy. She’s looking at me with wide eyes. She heard every word of the conversation. No words are spoken between me and her, but I know she knows what I’m thinking. I just screwed this up. My bosses are going to blow a gasket. I may lose my position in the firm. This weekend sucks.

After the dinner ends, Kennedy and I make our way back to our suite. Despite the flounder with Houston, the night was nice. The food was tasty, the music was good, and the speeches weren’t terrible. Houston and I danced twice more. He made it a point to keep the conversation away from anything business related. After I shower, I change into sleepwear and stretch out on the bed I’ve been occupying. Kennedy is having her turn in the bathroom, so I take the opportunity to upload the picture she and I had taken of us tonight onto my Instagram.

“I don’t know how I’m going to tell the bosses that I completely screwed this up,” I murmur with a heavy sigh.
Kennedy walks out of the bathroom with a frown on her face. “Technically, you didn’t screw anything up. Houston has legit concerns about the social climate of our firm. You know as well as I do that it’s borderline acceptable. How many times has Margot made an inappropriate statement?”

I grimace and push myself up in the bed. “More times than I can count.”

“And yet she’s never been disciplined. The white associates take an hour and a half nearly every day for their lunch, but if you’re away from your desk for more than thirty minutes, some people start freaking out. His concerns are legit. I don’t blame the biracial man for not wanting to do business with a firm that thinks being diverse means hiring three people of color.”

The firm’s social makeup isn’t the best. Honestly, I wouldn’t be working there if not for the great offer that was made to me before my law school graduation. One of the partners, John Marsh, was an adjunct professor at my law school. I took one of his classes during my third year of law school. He asked a question in class one day and I was the only one brave enough to answer. After class, he pulled me aside and asked me to meet him at the firm the following Monday to discuss a job opportunity. When I arrived, I thought I would be going into an interview. Turns out the job was already mine. I hadn’t even taken the bar yet and they were offering me a salary of $100,000 per year with a $25,000 increase after I received my passing bar results. After my first year, they increased my salary by another $5,000. I got the same increase after my second year. I’m not planning to work there forever despite their claims that I’m on track to become a partner by my tenth year of practice. Someday I want to start my own firm. My current position is simply a starting block to get my name out there and to build my reputation as an attorney.

“You are unfortunately correct.” I dryly respond while placing my iPhone on the nightstand.

Her eyebrows pulled together. “So, you won’t get the big bonus, but you have to look at the positives. Houston North is clearly interested in you. Play your cards right and you’ll have more money than you can spend in your lifetime.”

My face is blank as I stare at her. “Are you serious?”

She smiles and winks. “Yes, I am. You can’t tell me you didn’t pick up on his obvious interest.”

“Yes, I can because my interactions with him were strictly professional.”

Aggressively she points her finger at me and rolls her neck. “Bitch you a damn lie! He wants you and I think you want him too.”

My lips press together. “I think you’re delusional.” My iPhone chimes with a new notification. I tune out whatever witty response she’s throwing my way to lift the device. Once the screen is unlocked, I drag my finger down to reveal the Notification Center. My eyes widen as I read the unexpected words: Houston North liked your photo.

“You look like someone stole your precious car. What did you just read?” Kennedy comments. I hold the phone up for her to see what I’m seeing. “Oh my gosh, he followed you!”

“What?” I shake my head, pulling the cell phone to me. “No, he just … followed me.” My mouth pulls to the side. “Stop the spinning in your brain. This doesn’t mean anything.”

Kennedy throws up her hands and lets her head fall back. “You’re impossible. Obviously, it means I’m right. He is interested in you.”

“Or he’s reconsidering the firm, and this is a courtesy follow.” I theorize, masking my disappointment at the likelihood of the statement being true.

Her hopefully expression fades. “Why are you so adamant that he’s not interested?”

My shoulders shrug as I set the device aside. “Men like Houston North are not interested in women like me.”
Kennedy scowls and flops onto her bed. “There goes your self-doubt again. You’re beautiful, smart, charismatic, and selfless. Every man is interested in you. You’re just too caught up in your own world to see it.”

“You’re wrong.”

She frowns and slowly shakes her head. “I’m not. Honestly, Teagan, I wish you could see yourself the way I see you.” Her voice is saddened. She’s always lecturing me to be confident and love myself.

I do love myself, but I’m very much aware of my flaws physically, mentally, and emotionally. I’m not perfect. I know that no one is, but that feels even more true for me. I worry too much. I’m always stressed. I don’t have my life figured out. I get anxious over the simplest things. I’m not very social. In short, I’m a mess. I have been for a long time. It’s why I’ve also been single for a long time. No man can handle me, and truthfully, I can barely handle myself.


Houston

I lay in the king-sized bed in the bedroom of my resort apartment. It’s not my main home. That one is in Los Angeles. I also have private apartments at all my resorts and a penthouse in New York. The only reason I’m in Aloha is for the seminar. I have meetings to attend with several developers who think their latest venture is worthy of my investment. So far, I’ve passed on everyone that I’ve heard.

I should be sleeping or preparing for the conference call I have tomorrow morning with the architectural team for my Las Vegas resort. I declined Jai’s invitation to join him and a group of swimsuit models at a local nightclub. Instead, I’m scrolling through Instagram. I don’t use my social media accounts often. I’m too busy to make mundane posts about my day. My publicity team handles sharing anything charitable or business-related for my followers to see. Otherwise, the accounts are dormant. There are thousands of notifications from a mix of people. When you’re rich and handsome, fame tends to come with it. My pictures appear on more gossip blogs than I knew existed. I’m always getting invited to red carpet events. I’ve even made appearances on television shows. It’s all just another means of building my fortune. Sure, I have more than enough money to live a good life, but I know too well what it’s like to have nothing. I don’t want to ever go back to that life.
I don’t know what possess me to search Teagan’s name. It doesn’t take me long to find her on the platform. Her profile picture is of her wearing a fuzzy, bubblegum pink sweater with an off-white skirt that flares from her waist. She’s standing on a walkway in front of a metal railing with a body of water in the background. Her side profile is on display. There’s an off-white floppy straw hat covering her loosely curled hair. Her head is thrown back with a laugh on her face. Her right knee is up with her leg bent behind her. It’s not a staged photo. That much is obvious from the genuine laughter on her face. Still, it looks better than half the ones I’ve seen in catalogs and fashion magazines.

I scroll down to see what pictures she’s shared for the world to see. The first is of her with Kennedy from tonight. They’re standing side by side outside of the ballroom. There’s a closed-mouth smile on Teagan’s face. Her eyes are expressive as if she’s looking past the camera at someone. At me. Without a second thought, I like the photo. She’s gorgeous with her dark curious eyes, faint dimples in her round cheeks, and curvy body. Her voice is almost sultry. I could listen to it all day and night. She’s intelligent and carries herself almost as if she’s not quite sure of how special she is. She’s intriguing. My interest has been piqued since I literally ran into her. I want to break down the wall she clearly has up. I want to pick her brain and learn what makes her tick. I’m no stranger to desire. It’s gotten me in trouble with women more times than I care to admit. I desire Teagan, but there’s something more. There’s something almost foreign that I haven’t yet interpreted. The only way I can is if I get to know her better.

My thumb hovers over the blue follow button as my thoughts roam. My bedroom door is thrown open as Jai strolls in as if he owns the place. His ivory skin is flushed and sweaty. The top four buttons of his white button-down are open. His bleach blond hair is messy on his square head.

“There you are. You missed one hell of a party man.” His words are slurred which explains his glassy eyes. Jai is no stranger to partying. He’s also not shy about partaking in unsavory habits.

My eyes narrow as I stand from the bed. “What are you on?”

He holds up his long-fingered hands. “I’m only high on life and a little bit of coke I sniffed off a glorious pair of tits. You should have been there.”

“I was working.”

He frowns and leans against the wall. “You’re always working.”

My shoulders shrug as I grab a bottle of water from the mini-fridge enclosed in the cabinet of the dresser. “Someone has to be able to afford your rehab stint.” I hand the water to him. “Drink it. You need to sober up before you go to bed.” I know he did more than a little bit of coke. I know my friend. He’s living the Hollywood life to the fullest.

Jai grabs the bottle. “I’m not going to rehab. I’m fine. So, I like to party every now and then, there’s nothing wrong with that.”

“More like every night. You’re only sober when you’re acting and even that’s starting to change. You can’t keep going like this Jai.”

His eyes roll. “Stop nagging. You’re not my mom.” The words are coated in bitterness. His mom died from a heroin overdose when he was ten years old. She sent him to school that morning after promising to get clean so they could have a better life. He found her on the kitchen floor that afternoon.

Heavily I sigh. “You’re the closest thing I have to a brother. I care about your well-being.”

“I’m fine,” he huffs. “If it makes you happen, I will spend the remainder of this vacation sober and boring. I have to be on set bright and early Monday morning anyways.” He guzzles down the water and tosses the empty bottle into a small round trash can by the door. When I stare pointedly, he removes it. “I’ll recycle it before I crash. Did you have a good time at your boring formal event?”

Knowingly I grin. “Actually, I did.”

His face twists with amusement. “I know that grin. There’s a woman involved. Who is she? Please say it’s not Isabella. She is psycho.”

With a chuckle, I hold up her hands. “It’s not her. I met someone today. She’s an attorney. I turned my cell phone towards him so he can see her picture which is still pulled up on my screen.

“She’s beautiful. How’d you meet her?”

“I nearly trampled her.”
Jai chuckles. “That’s on form for you. Was she at the event tonight?”

I nod my head. “Yeah, her bosses sent her to the seminar to secure me as a client. I’m not sure I’ll give them a chance.”

“If you’re still thinking about her, then you should call her.”

“I don’t have her number.”

He eyes me pointedly. “We both know you can get it in less than ten minutes.” He’s not wrong. I have access to incredible resources. The kind of resources that only large chunks of money can buy.

“It’ll take more than ten minutes,” I respond after typing out a message to one of my sources. I toss my cell phone on the bed.

Jai shrugs his shoulders again. “You’ll still have it in the end.” He pushes off the wall. “I’m exhausted. I’m going to go crash in my suite now. If you’re not too busy tomorrow, we should hang out. I’m leaving for Atlanta Sunday night.”

“I have a meeting in the early morning, but I can probably break away after that,” I inform him. He sloppily nods and walks out of my bedroom. I don’t follow him. Even in his condition, a Jai can find his destination. He’s a functioning user. That makes him feel like he’s not an addict. Truthfully, he is, he has been for a while. I have to find a way to make him accept the truth and get some help.



Houston

My meeting ends with more disappointment for the developer. The last session of the seminar ends before ten, but I don’t make an appearance. The remainder of my Saturday is somehow free of obligations. Jai’s suggestion from the night before replays in my mind. Sitting in the living room of my apartment. My source gave me Teagan’s number before the sun rose. It’s been added as a contact in my phonebook. I press the green call button without hesitation. When the ringing stops, I stayed silent waiting to hear her voice.

“Hello?”

“Hello. I am speaking to Teagan, right?”

“Yes, you are.” Her response is given hesitantly. “Who is this?”

“Houston a north,” I answer. A cheeky grin spreads across my lips when she audibly gasps.

“I didn’t recognize your voice. How did you get my cell number?”

“I have my ways.” I shrug although she can’t see me. “Are you busy?”

“Um, no, not yet.”

“If you don’t have any plans for the day, I would like to have lunch and get to know one another,” I say the words confidently despite the nerves infiltrating my body. I rarely get nervous about anything these things. Yet I’m nervous as I wait to hear her response. I’m obviously trying to shift us from failed business comrades to something else. If she agrees, it may mean she’s interested in pursuing more, or it may be because she’s hoping to change my mind about the firm. There’s a warning in the back of my mind, reminding me that she could agree simply because of my vast net worth. I ignore it. Teagan doesn’t seem like that kind of woman. She’s successful in her own right. Not as successful as me, but she has the potential. She doesn’t need me or any man to provide for her. Money and greed aren’t her motivation.

“I’m flattered by your invitation, but Kennedy and I have plans to go to the adventure park here at the resort. Perhaps we can meet tonight. I’m available for dinner.”

“Dinner will be great,” I respond, masking the disappointment I feel. There’s a low voice in the background that Teagan addresses before turning her attention back to our conversation. “Did I catch you at a bad time?”

“We’re leaving our suite. It’s a far walk from our building, so we arrange a transport.” She explains.

The Aloha resort is my largest resort with its own adventure park, three restaurants, a golf course, a spa, and a nightclub. There’s a resort transport service available for guests to get from the residential side of the property to the recreational side. The service is luxury golf carts driven by well-vetted employees. The island has its own small airport so guests can fly right in. The only residents are employees of the resort and their families. There are three small schools for the children to attend from Kindergarten to twelfth grade. Technically, they’re private schools owned by me, but I don’t charge tuition. There’s an outdoor market, grocery store, movie theater, and shopping district. There’s also boat transportation to Hilo, Hawaii.

“Well, I hope you have fun. I’ll call you later about dinner.”

“I look forward to your call. Bye Houston.”

The call disconnects as Jai enters my apartment. He looks at me curiously. “You called her, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, I thought we could meet for lunch, but she’s going to the adventure park with her friend.”

“So what?” Jai questions. “It’s your adventure park. You can meet her there. Kristoff can clear your schedule for the day.”

“It’s already clear,” I admit while pushing up from the brown leather sofa to walking into the open kitchen. I skipped breakfast in favor of my meeting. My stomach is growling with hunger.

Jai claps his hands together. “That’s even better. Let’s go. If I’m going to be sober today, then I need something to entertain me.”

“Lord knows the trouble you get into when you’re bored,” I grumble.

He smirks. “You know me.” I do know him, all too well. “Are we going? I’ve already got my swim shorts on.”

I scratch at the smattering of hair along my jaw. “We’re going.”

Jai whoops with victory as I walk into my bedroom to change out of the suit I’ve been wearing since early morning. A plain white t-shirt and multicolored swim shorts are my decided attire for the day. I brush my hair back and place a black baseball cap on my head.

When I return to the living room. Jai is sitting on the sofa. His legs are bouncing and his rubbing his hands on his shirts. Warily I approach him. “Are you ready to go?”

“Yeah, I’m ready. Let’s go.” He jumps to his feet.

An alarm blares in my head like a siren. “Are you okay?”

He scratches the back of his neck. It’s a sign that he’s yearning for one of his vices. “I’m fine. Let’s go.” He snaps his response. My mouth opens to press him about rehab, but I think better of it, Jai doesn’t respond well to pressure. Trying to force him to do something he doesn’t want to do will only make matters worse. Right now, I’m merely grateful he’s sober although I’m not sure how long that’ll last given his obvious withdrawals.

“You don’t have to do this. I can go by myself.” I inform him as we walk out of the apartment.

Wildly he shakes his head. “I need to be around people.” He doesn’t have to elaborate for me to understand. If he’s with me, he won’t indulge. If he’s alone, there’s no telling what he will do. As we wait on the transport to arrive, I briefly wonder if I should be pursuing a woman while my best friend is clearly in desperate need of my help. Maybe this is a bad idea. Maybe I need to call Kristoff to arrange a flight so I can check Jai into the best rehab facility my money can afford.

“You know, maybe we shouldn’t go,” I murmur as we load the golf cart. The more I think about it, the more it seems like helping Jai is the right thing to do.

He scowls and cracks his knuckles. “You’ve got to stop worrying about me Houston. I’m a grown man. I can handle my business. You need to live your life.”

I feel uneasy as I nod my head in agreement. When I’m not working, I’m worrying about Jai. I may take time, occasionally, for a casual date or sex, but I’ve not tried to pursue anything more than that in a while. My life has been pushed aside not only for him but for my business. It’s time I start living it again. I’m going to start by getting to know Teagan. She’s too intriguing not to see if there can at least be friendship between us.



Teagan

The sun shines bright in the clear blue sky as we stand to walk along the pathway among the large crowd of guests at the adventure park. It’s mostly the resort guests who are here. There are locals and Hawaii residents here as well. We had yet to decide which attraction we wanted to start with.

“We can’t keep walking aimlessly.” Kennedy proclaims as she folds her arms over her chest. She dressed in denim shorts and a forest green sleeveless shirt.

“Let’s go to the big water ride. I need to cool down in this heat.” I respond. It’s the middle of March, but the island is close to the equator. The heat isn’t something new to me. Las Vegas is the dessert. I’m used to it being scorching hot outside. That doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.

“Why do you want to go to a water ride first?”

I blink as my mouth turns up. “It’s hot.”

“Okay, but we’ll get wet, I can’t believe you’re willing to get your hair wet.”

I gesture to my hair which is secured in a tight bun on the top of my head. It’ll be easy to return to its straight locks if it does get wet. “We’ll dry off on the other rides.”

She shrugs her shoulders. “Okay, let’s go.”

The line for the water ride is a long one. We stand in line talking about mundane things like work and our plans for the summer. As Kennedy describes her ambitious plan to have a new guy every three weeks of the summer, I look around the park. It’s filled with people of all shapes, colors, and sizes. My eyes skim everywhere not focusing on any of the unfamiliar faces. I catch a glimpse of a side profile that is oddly familiar. No, it can’t be. My head shakes in disbelief as the all too familiar face becomes clearer as its owner draws nearer. An audible gasp interrupts Kennedy’s rambling.

“Um, Teagan do you see who I see?” She asks almost comically.

With a gulp, I nod my head. “I see him.”

“You know he came here for you, right?” She says the words confidently that I almost believe them.

“No way. It’s a coincidence.” I respond. My eyes focus on him, watching as he and Jai are stopped by various people wanting pictures with them. Amid posing with someone, he glances in my direction and purposefully looks his eyes on mine. He winks as his grin stretches further across his face. “Okay, you may be right. What do I do?”

She bites her bottom lip. “Girl, you’re asking me for advice as if I have experience being pursued by a billionaire. This is so far out of my league, it’s laughable.”

“I’ll go say hi. You can save our spot in line.”

“Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.” Kennedy nods her head in agreement.

I turn away from her, stepping out of the line, and walking from behind the strategically placed metal railing preventing people from cutting in front of others. I keep my head up and my eyes focused. I am not a shy, whimpering girl. I am a woman. I can handle this. Whatever this is. When I get closer to him, my heart rate increases as my breathing spikes. Butterflies are soaring in my belly. It’s ridiculous how unsettled he makes me feel.

Nervously I stop mere feet away from him and clear my throat. “Hello, Houston.”

He turns to me with a cheeky smile on his lips. “Hello, Teagan.”

My hand pushes a flyaway strand from my face. “Not to be rude, but what are you doing here?”

He shrugs his broad shoulders. “My schedule is clear for the day. I wanted to spend some time getting to know you better, and you have plans to be here, so here I am.”

A masculine throat clears as Jai steps around his friend so he can be seen. “Correction, here we are.” He extends a slightly shaky hand towards me. “Hello, beautiful. My name is Jai Randolph.”

I accept his offered hand. “It’s nice to meet you. I’m Teagan Wilson.”

Jai’s grip on my hand tightens unexpectedly. “You must be pretty special Teagan Wilson to have my boy here chasing after you. He doesn’t do that.”

With a roll of his eyes, Houston shoves his friend aside. “Don’t make me sound like a creep.”

Jai gives a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders and takes a step back. “I just wanted her to know the power she is currently holding.”

Awkwardly I look away. “Okay, well, I left Kennedy in line for the big water ride. You two are welcome to join us.”

“We’ll join. I’ll admit, I’ve never taken the time to come here and enjoy. I don’t know what half the attractions are.” Houston responds as we make our way back to the slowly moving line of people waiting for their turn. We’re walking side by side with our hands dangling between us. My fingers twitch, tempting to lace with his. Rationally I know holding hands when we don’t really know each other would be weird.

Kennedy is schooling her facial expression when we finally reach her. She greets Jai without being promoted and surprises me with her cool and calm demeanor. People behind us grumble when they see two additional people joining the line ahead of them. When they realize one of those people is the owner of the adventure park, the disgruntled murmurs quiet. When Houston uses his status to jump us and the six people behind us to the front of the line, there’s a mom who nearly breaks into tears.

“You just love making people worship you.” Jai taunts as the four of us load the large round waft that will carry us along the turbulent man-made river.

Houston chuckles and shakes his head. “Worship isn’t my thing. I just did a nice thing.”

He and I sitting beside each other during the ride. When the first splash of cold water comes, I cower near him in an attempt to evade it. To my relief it misses us. As I straighten myself, foolishly feeling safe, a surprise wave falls over my head. Jai and Kennedy laugh heartedly.

My so-called best friend points at me knowingly. “Don’t pout, you wanted to get on this ride.” Her reminder prompts a roll of my eyes. I wanted to cool down from the heat. I didn’t want to be soaked from head to toe.
The ride continues with us getting splashed from time to time. When we get off there’s a slight breeze. I’m idiom deficient anemic, so the cool brush of air makes me feel like I’m cost less in New York in December. My arms wrap around my body trying to bring warmth as I shiver uncontrollably. Houston takes notice and carefully places an arm around my shoulders, ticking me into the side of his body. I look up at him and smile thankfully. He returns it. Kennedy watches the interaction with a sly grin, but she refrains from commenting. Jai takes a pause from his fidgety behavior to smirk at us. His obvious discomfort piques my curiosity. There are rumors that he frequently uses drugs like cocaine. He’s even picked up a possession charge at the airport before. I don’t give much weight to the gossip mill, yet as I sneakily observe Jai, I’m almost certain there’s some truth to the words that float around his name. The realization makes me uncomfortable. I’m all for the decriminalization of drugs. I believe addiction shouldn’t be treated like a crime. However, I’m aware of how prevalent those deadly substances are in the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Jai and Houston are best friends. If Jai partakes in those recreational activities, then does that mean Houston does as well? I would like to believe it can’t be true. Houston is smart and successful. Why would he use drugs? The question is easily answered by my remembrance of one of my friends from law school. He was the smartest person in our class, but he regularly snorted powder. He nearly overdosed on our graduation night. Smart and successful people seem to be more susceptible to those vices than others. Maybe it’s because of the pressures they face daily. I don’t know. My mind is swirling with thoughts as I casually step out of Houston’s embrace. That is not a lifestyle that I want anything to do with.

He glances at me with a curious glint in his eyes. “Are you okay?”

I nod and plaster on a grin. “Yeah, I’m warmed up now. Thank you.”

“No problem.” His voice is clear. His eyes aren’t glassy. He’s not fidgety or bouncy. He’s not acting like a habitual drug user in need of a fix. Part of me wants to call it a quits while I’m ahead. How can someone be so close to a person who does those things without succumbing to temptation? The other part of me knows it’s not fair to judge Houston based on what I think I know about his friend. Besides, there is no guarantee that today will flourish to anything more than two people who tried for more and realized that it won’t work. There’s no need to worry about something that may not matter by the time the sun goes down. For now, I’m going to enjoy where the day takes us. Everything else can wait.


Houston

I have genuine fun for the first time in a long time with Teagan. I learn that she’s a daredevil to a certain extent. She doesn’t mind riding roller coasters, but the ones that have loops give her pause. She’s competitive and challenges me when we approach the basketball booth. Shortly thereafter I learned that she played varsity ninth to twelfth grade. I wanted to cry foul when she let out a cry of victory after successfully beating me. Instead, I accepted defeat and bought her a congratulatory ice cream sundae. When she didn’t touch the scoop of chocolate ice cream, I learned yet another thing about her. She doesn’t care for chocolate. That includes all kinds of chocolate: candy, ice cream, brownies, and more. Apparently, she must be in the mood to eat it unless it’s chocolate cake. She claims she’ll never eat that because it’s dry and takes like powder. She’s so sure of herself, I don’t dare try to change her mind.

She has a dry sense of humor that can come off as sarcasm for those who don’t know her well. Her conversations with Kennedy are comical. They tend to get loud and try to out-talk each other whenever they’re not agreeing on something. So far, it’s only been something small like which flavor Laffey Taffy is the best. Teagan iterates her argument by citing sources. She’s a natural litigator. I can only imagine her prowess in a courtroom.

Kennedy throws her hands in the air. “Fine! The fire tribe is the most useless Avatar. You’re right. I guess that’s why they tried to take over the world.”

“I don’t know why you try to argue against me.” Teagan’s infectious laughter sounds.

Hardly any of the park workers approach me. The ones who recognize me, shuffle me and my group to the front of the line while offering to get me anything my heart desires. Jai is periodically swamped by fans. Kristoff has been excessively calling me, but I’ve ignored him. Work can wait in my opinion. When he threatens to send security to find me, I post a picture of the tallest rollercoaster in the park on my Instagram, so he knows I haven’t been taken for ransom. It’s later in the day when Teagan wants to go on the Ferris wheel. Kennedy and Jai both opt-out. It’s just me and her sitting in the round compartment slowly traveling to the top of the circle. Easy conversation flows between us.

“The first time I ever rode a Ferris wheel, I was in the sixth grade on a trio with the middle school band. I was with my crush at the time. He was in the eighth grade. I was hoping to experience my first kiss. I even bribed our friends so they wouldn’t ride with us. Everything was going well despite my nerves until we reached the top. It started storming unexpectedly and lightning struck the control box. The thunder was loud, and it was raining so hard that I couldn’t see, so I started crying. That first kiss did not happen.” Teagan freely admits.

“Are you frightened by storms?”

She shrugs her shoulders. “I used to be but going to college made me toughen up. I still hate being alone during them, but I’m not scared anymore.” She slaps her hands together and grins brightly. “Do you have any quirky fears?”

My hand strokes my chin as I think over my answer. “I’m scared of cats,” I admit with a grimace.

Her eyes widen with humor. “Why cats? They’re annoying but harmless.”

“That is a lie. They are not harmless.”

“You’re being dramatic.” She laughs.

I mock gasp and slap a hand on my chest. “Are you laughing at my fear?”

Her head shakes but she barely concealing her giggles. “I would never.”

“I have a good reason for it,” I assure her jokingly.

Her giggles burst free. “Please share it.”

Inhaling deeply, I lean forward with my forearms on my thighs. “I grew up in a neighborhood filled with people who were either well below the poverty line or right at it. There was an old woman who lived at the end of my block and she had at least six cats. Every day I would walk past her house on my way to school and the cats would watch me from the window. It was creepy. I could tell they were letting something.”

Teagan laughs and covers her mouth with her hand. “Cats do not plot.”

“They do!” My mouth pulls into a grin as she laughs. “Anyways, one day I was walking home from football practice. It was kind of dark outside and I was moving fast. Out of nowhere one of her stupid fat cats jumped off the stoop right in front of me. It scared me half to death. I screamed and jumped off the sidewalk into the road. I nearly got hit by a car.”

She’s bent over laughing now. “Oh my gosh, I shouldn’t laugh but this is hilarious.”

“I just told you a story about my near-death experience, and you’re laughing.”

She gasps and shakes her head. “Near-death?! You did not almost die.”

“I did! That cat had it out for me.”

Gently she dabs at the corners of her eyes with her fingers. “Wow, that was a good one.”

“I can’t believe you’re laughing at my pain. This traumatizing. I’m going to have to call my therapist.” I joke causing her to giggle even more. The sound is like music to my ears. I’ve only heard it a few times and already it’s playing on repeat in my head like my favorite song. I hardly notice that we’re descending on the Ferris wheel signaling that the ride is ending.

Teagan sighs as we walk away from it. The sun is sitting low in the sky. “Ugh, I’m not ready to go home.”

“When are you leaving the resort?” I question.

“Our flight departs Sunday morning.” She responds dejectedly.

An idea pops into my mind that would extend our time together today. “What are you doing tonight?”

She shakes her head. “Probably going to dinner, then to bed.”

“No, that sounds way too boring. A friend of mine and his band are putting on a concert at the stadium. Would you like to go?”

Her eyebrows pull together and her nose wrinkles. “Who is your friend?”

“Avi Hall. He’s the frontman for a pop-rock band.”

“All Fall Down,” she supplies. “I listen to their music.”

“Great! You can come to the concert.”

She grimaces. “Houston, I can’t let you use your status to smuggle me into a sold-out show. It’s not fair.”
Reassuring words are rushing out of my mouth before she can object anymore. “I always keep four tickets on reserve for live performances at my properties. You wouldn’t be smuggled in.”

Her eyes narrow. “Wouldn’t you prefer to let someone else tag along?”

“As far as I’m concerned, the only option is you.” I level my gaze upon her face. Her lips are beckoning me. With willpower I didn’t know I possessed; I ignore the temptation. “Please come to me. We can have dinner as well.”
Biting her lip, she attempts to look away, but I move into her line of vision with my bottom lip jutted out. I’m sure I look ridiculous. “If you really want me to go, I’ll go.”

The ridiculous look on my face is replaced by a wide grind. “I’m glad you agreed to come. You won’t regret it.” My eyes connect with hers. A chill sweeps over my body from the magnetic pull her orbs have on me. I want nothing more at this moment than to wrap my arms around her and sensually connect our mouths. Despite my desire to do so, I refrain. There’s more to our connection than the physical attraction and I’m desperate to figure it out. That means I can’t move fast towards the bedroom like I usually would. This is different. She is different. Teagan is making me feel things I haven’t felt in a long time. I like it. I like her as potentially more than a friend. No matter what happens between us, I hope never to be an experience that she regrets. If I end being a mistake, then I’m going to be the best mistake she’s ever made.


Teagan

It’s well after noon when our quartet leaves the adventure park. Kennedy and I part from Houston and Jai to return to our suites. Houston promises to send transportation for us for tonight promoting Kennedy to give me a questioning look. I wait until we’re in the privacy of our suite to tell her what’s happening.

“We are going to see All Fall Down perform live with Houston and Jai,” I explain while throwing open the drawers of the vanity dresser where I’ve stashed my clothes.

Kennedy frowns monetarily before verbally responding. “I’m glad you agreed to spend more time with Houston, but this almost feels like a double date. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Jai is not my rule.”

My eyes roll. “What happened to your whole ‘Jai is everyone’s type’ speech you gave while we watched the Oscars last year?”

“That was before I met him. Now that I’ve spent a considerable amount of time with him, the man is gorgeous, but he’s got a lot of issues that need unpacking.” A knowing look covers her face.

My nose wrinkles. “You picked up on that too.”

Kennedy smacks her lips together and folds her arms. “I definitely picked up on that. He was very jittery and I’m certain it wasn’t from a caffeine buzz.”

With a heavy sigh, I sit on the cream-colored Cheshire sofa. “Do you think Houston has some of Jai’s habits?”
Kennedy hesitates before responding. Her finger taps her chin as she thinks about her words. “Honestly, no, I don’t think so. He doesn’t have the signs.”

“Yes, but we both know looks can be deceiving.” I regretfully respond.

“That is true, but something tells me that Houston doesn’t spend his limited free time experimenting with narcotics. Don’t write him off just yet.”

My mouth pulls to the side of my face. “I’m going with the flow.”

Kennedy claps her hands and jumps to her feet. “Great! Now let’s transform ourselves into goddesses for tonight. How does one dress to attend a concert of one of her favorite bands with an extremely handsome man?”

Her question repeatedly sounds in my head as I stare at the clothing selections available in my suitcase. None of it seems to fit the look I’m going for and there’s no time to go shopping. Eventually, I choose my black, puff-sleeved, mini wrap dress paired with Kennedy’s red sling-back sandals. My hair released from the bun revealing a mess of natural curls and waves. I run my straightening brush through it, then part it in the middle so that it’ll frame my face. Makeup is applied including bronzer and highlighter. When I’m out together, I stand in front of the floor-length mirror and study my reflection.

“You look gorgeous. Houston is going to be blown away.” Kennedy compliments me as she applies the finishing touches to her eyes. She’s dressed in a black mini skirt with silver zippers on the side and a spaghetti strap, black and gray, checkered, peplum blouse. She steps back from the vanity and grins at her reflection. “I look gorgeous too.”

“Of course, you do.” I laugh while putting needed items into my black leather clutch.

Kennedy turns away from the vanity and struts out of the bathroom. “Okay, let’s establish some ground rules. I will be your wing-woman tonight, but if Houston wants to take you back to his apartment and do filthy things to your body, please know that I will hand-deliver you to him.”

My mouth pops open as my eyes widen. “Traitor!”

She shrugs unapologetically. “If Houston North wants to ravage my friend, who am I to stand in his way?”

My eyes roll as I walk towards the door. “You are ridiculous.”

“I know you love it.” She sings.

To my utter surprise, instead of the standard resort transport waiting for us, it’s a black limousine with Houston and Jai waiting in front of the open door. Houston is dressed handsomely in black slacks with a multicolored button-down. He’s holding a single iris, my favorite flower, which he extends to me as soon as I’m close to him.

“You look gorgeous.” He murmurs as his eyes look over every inch of me.

I shiver and fight the urge to yank his face to mine. “Thank you. You look handsome.”

Slowly he pulls his gaze away from me. “Kennedy, you look great as well. I hope you don’t mind me changing your plans for the night.”

Kennedy smiles politely and shakes her head. “This is much better than the night we had planned. Thank you for inviting me to join.” She looks to Jai. “It’s not so bad seeing you again.”

He chuckles as his eyes darken. “I’ll get you to fall in love with me, Kennedy.”

A sly grin covers her face. “You’ll try, but you’ll fail.” She saunters to the limo as Jai steps aside. He doesn’t waste time following her into the expansive vehicle.

Houston turns a wary look to me. “Were they flirting?”

“They were, but don’t worry. Kennedy claims Jai isn’t her type.”

“Do you think that matters?”

I playfully pat his chest. “Not at all.”

We have dinner at the resort’s upscale seafood restaurant. It’s booked full for the night and we don’t have reservations. Of course, you don’t need reservations when you’re with the owner. The seared oysters I have are heavenly. A moan slips past my lips at the delightful taste. Houston’s eyes darken as he shifts closer to me. Our eyes lock in a knowing stare. If my skin were lighter, my cheeks would be as red as a tomato as I drop my head and awkwardly clear my throat. If Kennedy or Jai notices the heated interaction, they refrain from saying anything.

“Do you think we have time for dessert?” Kennedy asks me as the waitress clears away our empty dinner plates.
Before I can respond to her, Houston interjects. “If the two of you want dessert, then I will make time for it.”

My eyebrow quirks. “How would you do that?”

A smirk pulls at his lips as he winks. “I own the resort.”

Humorlessly Jai guffaws. “That was such a cocky thing to say.”

Houston rolls his eyes at his friend. “I’m confident, not cocky.” On a swivel, he turns back to me. “Would you like dessert?”

I ignored my best friend’s nodding head. “No, I don’t want to hold up the show for everyone else.”

“She’s considerate of others. That’s a nice change of pace.” Jai humorously comments.

Kennedy’s mouth turns up. “I’m sure the woman you two are usually surrounded by could not care less about others.”

“You’re not wrong,” Houston mutters as he digs his wallet out of his pocket. He deposits three hundred dollar bills on the table. The monetary amount is more than enough to cover all our meals and tip for the server. Houston isn’t fazed by the money he’s given up as he pushes back his chair and stairs. As I remove the white cloth napkin from my lap, he pulls my chair away from the table and offers me a hand. Without hesitation I accept it. It doesn’t take long for the four of us to walk out of the restaurant to the waiting limo.

The venue is packed when we arrive. Security efficiently escorts us to the best box there. We’re mere feet from the large semi-circular stage but above the crowd. There’s a fully stocked bar and bartender waiting to serve us. There are also plush, black, leather sofas and a glass-topped, oval coffee table. There’s a large television hanging on the shiny wood-paneled wall to the right of the open space that allows us to see the stage. It’s the nicest seat I’ve ever had at a live music performance.

“Would you like a glass of champagne?” Houston asks me as he pulls the $1,000 bottle out of the metallic ice bucket.

“Yes, thank you.” I don’t have any intentions of getting drunk tonight, but a glass of champagne will be nice. It’s not so I can loosen up. Truth be told, I don’t feel tense. Being around Houston makes me nervous, but not so much so that I can’t properly function. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing.

“Are you a fan of the band?” Jai asks Kennedy as they sit beside each other on one of the sofas.

Kennedy casually shrugs her shoulders. “Their music is good, but I’m not a fanatic.”

My lips press together. “She’s a liar. She played their latest album on repeat for an entire week.”

Kennedy’s eyes widen as she turns to me. “Girl, shut up.” She says the words in a hiss and slaps the air with her hand.

With a sneaky grin, I lift my champagne flute for a sip as the lights in the arena dim. Excited cheers sound from the crowd. The disappointment only briefly dampens the mood once everyone realizes that the opening act is on stage. It’s an all-woman band named Golden. The frontrunner is the younger sister of Avi Hall, the front runner of All Fall Down. Their music has a chill yet retro vibe to it. It’s not hard to sway to the music and sing along to the few words that I do know.

When All Fall Down finally comes on stage, I’m tempted to escape the box so I can enjoy the rowdiness of the hyped crowd. Instead, I stand as close to the rail at the opening as is safely possible. Beside me, Kennedy jumps around as the four men on stage mesmerize their audience.

“You’re going to end up in the crowd if you keep jumping like that,” I warn her with a laugh.

She shrugs her shoulders and flips her hair. “You would be doing it too if there wasn’t a chance of Houston seeing you act like a dork.” Purposely she eyes the man who is relaxing on the sofa, drinking champagne, and nodding along to the live music.

She’s right of course. I’m having fun, but not how I usually would. Kennedy and I are no strangers to live concerts. We tend to get into the music, badly singing and dancing along. My behavior tonight is refrained in consideration of the attractive company present. Even Kennedy has been acting demure since Kristoff unexpectedly arrived. She won’t admit it, but I think she likes him.

She leans close to me and whispers in her ear. “If you can’t be yourself around Houston, then it’ll never work between the two of you.”

My gaze flicks to him before I respond. “I’m not even sure what’s happening between the two of us.” Houston is standing beside me before I can say anything else.

We continue to enjoy the concert. When it ends, security reappears to lead us backstage to speak with the band.
“How do you think Houston’s going to introduce you?” Kennedy murmurs as we walk down the wide hallway.
My eyebrows pull together. “I don’t know. Why do you ask?”

“I’m asking because it’s important. Do you think he’ll call you a friend?”

My eyes roll. “You’re overthinking like a teenage girl. Stop it.”

She mocks gasps and places her hand on her chest. “I’m offended. I am far from being a teenage girl.”

“Houston!” A masculine voice booms down the hallway. In a rush, a tall and slender man with shiny blond hair hanging a couple inches past his wide shoulders approaches. “Dude, I wasn’t sure you were coming.” The man says excitedly. He slaps hands with Houston as they pull each other into one of those half hugs that men tend to do.

Houston pulls back with a happy grin spread across his face. “Did you think I would miss one of my best friend's shows at my resort?”

The blond man laughs and wildly shakes his head. “Jai, how the hell do you put up with this man?”

Jai chuckles and shoves his hands into his pants pockets. “I use a lot of booze and blow.” He winks casually as if what he just said isn’t concerning. Houston shifts uncomfortably and steps back so that he’s standing beside me.

His movement catches the blond man’s eye. “Oh, I’m so sorry beautiful ladies. I didn’t notice you.”

“Avi this is my date, Teagan, and her friend Kennedy. Ladies meet Avi Hall, lead singer for All Fall Down.” Houston flawlessly makes the introductions.

Avi extends his hand with a welcoming smile. “It’s nice to meet you both.”

“It’s nice to meet you as well. I’m a fan of your band.” I kindly respond. Avi is intimidatingly tall but the soft twinkle in his light eyes makes him approachable.

“That’s what I like to hear. Did you like the show?”

Kennedy enthusiastically speaks. “It was great. We went to your Las Vegas show last year, but tonight’s show was definitely better.”

Avi’s eyebrow quirks. “That’s good to know. Hey Kristoff, I didn’t see you there.”

The foreign man nods his head in greeting. “I’m often looked over when surrounded by millionaires.”

“Billionaire,” Houston jokingly coughs causing us all to chuckle.

Kristoff rolls his eyes. “I’m walking away now.”

A man with low-cut kinky hair and mocha skin approaches our ensemble. “Hey, guys. What’s up?”

Avi greets his bandmate good-naturedly. “Hey, I’m just catching up with Houston, his beautiful date, and her gorgeous friend.”

Marcus nods appreciatively as he turns to at me and Kennedy. “I’m Marcus. It’s nice to meet you. What are your names?”

“I’m Teagan and this is Kennedy.” I introduce us.

“Hey, Marcus! Your girl is blowing up your phone.” Someone yells from the other end of the hallway.

Marcus glances back over his shoulder to signal he heard whoever the announcer is. “She’s got family drama going on. Let me go talk her down. It was nice to meet you Teagan and Kennedy. I’m sure I’ll see you two again.” He jogs away.

Avi rubs his chin. “, I need to change, but we can grab drinks. We’re leaving in the early morning, but I’m available tonight.”

“Yeah, let’s do drinks,” Jai responds. It’s the first time he seems to be less jittery in the hours that I’ve been around him.

Avi points knowingly at him. “Not too many for you. I’ll see you guys later. It was nice meeting you, Teagan, and Kennedy.”

“Nice meeting you too!” Kennedy calls as Avi jogs away much as Marcus did before him.

Jai rubs at the back of his neck. “I need to find Deacon. He and I have shit to discuss.” He mutters before walking away in search of another member of the band.

Kennedy's cell phone sounds in her pocket. She pulls it out and grimaces as she sees the name shining on the digital screen. “Ugh, it’s Johnathan.” Johnathan is a man she hooked up with almost a year ago. For six weeks afterward, he begged her for a date. She finally agreed and got lulled into the closest thing to a romantic relationship she’s probably ever been involved in. She broke it off weeks ago, but Johnathan insistently calls her.

My mouth turns up in disgust. “Ignore him.”

“If I don’t answer he’ll keep blowing me up.” She reminds me. “I’m just going to hear whatever he has to say. Maybe I can convince him to leave me alone.” She accepts the call and walks away, effectively leaving Houston and me alone.

He turns to me and shoves his hands into the front pockets of his pants. “I’ve had a nice time tonight.”

A shy smile pulls at my lips. “I have as well. Thank you for inviting me.”

“Thank you for accepting my invitation.” His voice lowers as he steps closer to me. “I really want to kiss you right now. How do you feel about that?”

My bottom lip is pulled between my teeth as I contemplate my response. “I feel like that’s something I would be interested in.”

He steps closer causing my head to tilt back. Gently he reaches out allowing his fingers to caress my cheek. His touch is soft and sends a chill down my spine. Our eyes are locked in a battle of wanting as our faces moving closer together. Timidly my tongue flicks over my bottom lip. We’re so close that I can feel his minty breaths. His fingers dance down my cheek until they’re gripping my chin. He lifts my face. His eyes darken and focus on my lips. Deeply I inhale with anticipation. When his mouth descends onto mine, sparks burst in my mind.
Honestly, I didn’t expect him to truly kiss me. Not right now. Yet that does not suppress the expression of beautiful delight that I am sure is on my face as our mouths sensually move together. I wish that I could catch a glimpse of his face. Would I see that he is experiencing the same euphoria as I am? I don’t dare pull away to sneak a peek. His tongue feels too urgent as it fights with mine to even contemplate ending our entanglement. Sweet desire washes over me, pulling me under like a violent wave of water. It overpowers my senses most deliciously. If I’m ever asked to describe this moment, I would be lost for words.

“Hey … oh my gosh!” Kennedy’s sudden reappearance is a tortuous interruption. “Now I regret rushing Johnathan off the phone.”

Suppressing groans of annoyance, we gently pull apart. Rapidly my chest rises and falls. He does the same. We’re revved up and ready with nowhere to go.

Houston runs a hand down his face. “I’m going to find Avi and Jai.”

Taking a step back, I turn to my friend. “Are you ready to go get drinks?” A wide grin naturally spreads across my face.

She holds up her finger and wags it at me. “Nuh-uh, don’t act like I didn’t just see what I just saw.”

My fingers interlock as I look around aimlessly. “We’re not talking about that.”

She folds her arms across her chest. “We will talk about that later.” Her eyes focus past me to where Avi, Jai, and Houston are walking down the hallway towards us. After a quick verbal exchange, we leave the venue and make our way to the nearest resort bar.

The place is packed with concertgoers and others drinking, laughing, and having a good time. Of course, we manage to snag a round high-top table in a semi-secluded corner. It doesn’t take long for us to get our first round of drinks. The conversation flows easily. Laughter erupts around the table. Kennedy wears a proud smile stemming from the hilarious story she just shared. She holds her hands up, palms forward, and shrugs. I dab at the tear in the corner of my eye.

“Did he believe you?” Kristoff chuckles as he asks the question.

Responsively Kennedy nods. “He told me he was sorry he bothered me and offered to buy me a drink.”

“Did you take it?” Houston asks while managing to casually sling an arm over my chair.

“Of course.” My social friend responds with a smug smile of her own. She’s eating up the attention. “That’s not nearly as great as Teagan lying to a man about her age when he asked her on a date.”

Suddenly all eyes turn to me. I hold up my hands. “Whoa there Satan. Don’t make me look like the bad guy here.”

Jai and Houston exchange a curious look. Kennedy amps them on. When Kristoff starts demanding that I share the story with them, I know the battle is lost.

Defeatedly, I sigh. “Fine, I’ll tell the boring story. We were at the tattoo shop and there was this guy who gave off the creeper vibe. As I waited for my turn on the bench, he focused his attention on me and started flirting. I tried politely declining, but he would not give up. When he followed us out to the parking lot, I told him I was only sixteen.”

Avi barks with laugher. “Did he believe you?”

My shoulders shrug. “I don’t know. I drove off before he could respond.”

“Hold on one minute. Do you have a tattoo?” Houston asks as if he’s surprised.

With a smirk, I nod my head. “I have three so far, but I want at least one more.”

He angles himself towards me. “I didn’t peg you for the type to be secretly covered in tattoos.” He comments as everyone else breaks off into their own conversations.

My brow quirks teasingly. “You mean like you.”

Softly he chuckles and tilts his head. “Touché. Tell me more about your ink. Where are you hiding them?”

“I have one on my right hip, one on the left side of my lower stomach, and one across my ribs on the left.”

He nods slowly as if storing the information. “What are they of?”

I lean forward so that my mouth is at his ear. “That’s a secret,” I whisper seductively. Houston’s pupils dilate. I bite my bottom lip while slowly putting space between us. I’m hyper-aware of Kennedy, Kristoff, Avi, and Jai sitting at the table with us.

“Oh goodness me. It’s getting late.” Kristoff comments as he looks at his phone.

Kennedy pulls out her own cell phone and gasps. “I missed a call from my mom.”

Houston clears his throat, looking away from me. “We should wind down.”

Avi sighs and nods his head in agreement. “Yeah, I should probably head back to my room. The sun will be rising before I know it.”

“I’ll close our tab,” Jai announced before leaving the table. We all stand and make our way towards the door. The limousine drives us to the residential wing of the resort. Avi is the first to depart. Kristoff and Jai say goodbye shortly thereafter when we’re standing in the fountain courtyard between the buildings holding the guests’ rooms.

“It’s late and my phone is dying. Good night everybody.” Kennedy stumbles away.

“Is she going to be alright?” Houston watches her departing figure with a concerned expression.

I glance back over my shoulder at her. “Yeah, she’ll be fine. She’s slightly intoxicated, but it’s nothing she can’t handle.”

“Well, I won’t hold you up. Kennedy may need you to look after her.” He murmurs causing me to turn to face him. We’ve invaded each other’s personal space but neither of us steps back.

“I had fun tonight. Thanks for inviting us.”

“No problem babe. You’re great to be around. I hope I’ll see you again soon.”

Momentarily my eyes lower. “You never seem to be in one city for more than a week and I live in Las Vegas.”
He rubs his chin. “Las Vegas is one of those cities I’ll be frequently visiting from now on.”

“I’m open to seeing each other again. You have my number.”

“I do have your number.” Houston slowly says the words. “Is it okay if I use it?”

A girlish squeal bubbles inside of me but I suppress it. “It is more than okay.” My words act as an invitation for him to pull my face to his. This kiss is more tamed than the one we shared before. We part way too soon.
“Have a good night. I’ll see you soon.” Those are Houston’s parting words as I turn and walk away.

When I walk into the suite, Kennedy is pacing. Seeing her amped up like this is unusual. It piques my curiosity. “What is up with you?”

She groans and lets her head fall back. “Johnathan won’t stop calling me no matter how many times I tell him that what we had is over and done.”

I take a seat on the end of the bed. “That’s not all that’s bothering you. Spill it.”

She sighs heavily. “My life has been a shit show lately, but this weekend has been a dream. We met two members of All Fall Down. You spent the day flirting with Houston North. It’s all so glamorous and yet it feels unreal. It can’t be real. It’s too good and nothing good happens in my life. My parents are the conductors of the Hot Mess Express. My brother is going to prison, and the uncle who molested me for four years is up for parole.” A tear rolls down her face.

A brokenhearted gasp escapes me. “Oh no. When did you find out?”

“My mom told me when she called.” Sadly, she sniffles as her nose draws up. Her eyes are shiny, and more tears are falling.

Standing to my feet, I pull her into an embrace and rub her back comfortingly. “I’m so sorry honey. It’s okay. You’re going to be okay.”

She inhales and pulls away from me. “I’m fine. My wallowing is done. I need to go to sleep now.”

“Are you sure you’re alright?”

She waves away my concern. “I’m fine. Don’t worry about me. It’ll dampen your night.”
Several minutes later when I’m lying in the bed, a secretive beam stretches across my face. This weekend was nothing how I expected it to be. I came into it thinking I would be stuck in boring seminars. Instead, I’ve spent hours in the company of a man who makes my toes curl with a simple kiss. Kennedy was right about one thing; this does feel too good to be true. Perhaps it’s not reality. Maybe it is a dream. If it is, then it’s the best dream I’ve ever had.
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