“Where is this place?” Hadley asks from behind me in the back seat of my car.
“Hell if I know,” I complain, propping my arm on the door, driving down Dash’s street. “Somewhere around South Gate.”
“Who all will be there with us?”
“Dash, and apparently, Rio has been granted special permission to join us.”
“Permission? Is he in the military?”
“No, but he’d have more freedom if he were.”
“Rio? That’s an unusual name. What’s he like?”
“It’s River, but not many people call him that anymore. I lived and worked with him during college. He’s cool, except for his talking in his sleep. I could carry on conversations with him.”
I see my sister’s teasing grin in the mirror, and I nearly laugh but keep a convincing frown. “Bite me.”
Pulling into the dead-end alley behind Dash’s apartment, I twist to back my car into his empty space next to his Subaru so I can turn around. I offhandedly glance at Finn, who is looking out his window, running his index finger along his lip. He’s been quiet since we got home from fishing, other than trying to resist my sister, but he was clearly unsuccessful. I’m glad I got the hell out of there in time. As much as they’ve had sex so far this trip, his cock has to be smoldering.
I honk my horn and say, “Rio giggles like a girl while sleeping, too. So fucking funny.”
“That’ll be good if I ever need to blackmail him.”
Impatient, I try calling Dash but no answer. I turn to look out the rear window, between Hadley and Finn, for Dash and notice their hands entwined in her lap, which makes me want to roll my eyes, but I don’t—a small miracle. I think I’ve been downright polite during their stay.
Suddenly, the passenger door flies open, making Hadley and me jump at the same time as Dash Calder bursts into the car with a fucking grin the size of Alaska. “What’s up, Hadley Beckett?” This time, I don’t refrain from the eye roll.
Always the well-mannered Beckett kid, she greets, “Hi, Dash. How are you? It’s been a while.”
Since he left the door open, and he’s practically on his knees facing my sister, I lurch the car forward. He grabs onto the headrest. When he frowns at me, I turn my head to hide my smile.
Dash yanks the door shut, still gawking at Hadley. “Good. I think the last time I saw you was forever ago it seems. You look incredible.”
Resisting the urge to smack him on the head as I pull onto the street, I jerk my head and thumb to the back seat. “That guy back there with the muscles, steely glare, and brass balls? That’s Hadley’s official bodyguard, Finn Wilder.”
Undeterred, Dash puts his hand out, “Dash Calder. Nice to meet you, Finn.”
Finn leans forward and takes Dash’s hand for a shake. “Likewise.”
I warn Finn, “You’ll want to take that back, for sure.”
Dash snaps his fingers as Finn sits back. “Damn it. You’re a Leo, aren’t you?”
Needing to see Finn’s expression for my own amusement, I quickly glance back there to see the expected look of confusion on his face. “Yeah… Why?”
I shake my head as I return my attention to the road.
“July or August?”
Dash says, “Hadley, I remember you’re a Scorpio.” Of course, he does.
“Who cares?” I gripe as I downshift to a red light.
“I knew it. Holy shit.” I hear the sadness in Dash’s voice, and I roll my eyes.
“What?” Finn and Hadley skeptically ask at the same time.
“The fireworks. Leo and Scorpio. You two are white-hot together. It’s in the stars. Soulmates.” Dash faces the front, virtually on the verge of fucking tears.
“Really?” Hadley joyously asks.
“Christ, Dash. Shut the hell up. If I hear you use that term again, you’d better run because I’m plowing you with this car. You say that about everyone.”
“No, I don’t. I’ve only seen it a handful of times in the last eight years or so.”
“What about Rio and that wench?”
“Lifetime-compatible partners at the spiritual level.”
“I swear to God, asshole, I’m having you committed.”
He taps something into his phone, and I scowl at him before looking back to the road. “What the fuck took you so long, anyway?”
“Sorry. I was on the phone.”
“Yeah. You’re always on the phone. So, you ignore my calls?”
“I knew what you wanted. I was on my way down.”
Checking my side mirror as I approach the on-ramp to the highway, I ask, “Did you bring the address or directions with you?”
“I know where the place is.”
“Great. We’re getting lost.”
“You know, you sound like an old, married couple,” Hadley observes, and then says to Finn, “Baby, will we sound like that when we’ve been married for as long as Jared and Dash?” I don’t need to see the look on his face reacting to that one.
I ask Calder, “Are you telling me which way to go, or do I have to read your damn mind?”
Glancing up from pissing around with his phone, he says, “You’re fine. Keep going. You’ll turn right at the next light, go about half a mile to the small feed store on the left. Then, go right, but the second full right—first is a hidden driveway. Go past the pizza place and when you get to the top hill with the UPS store on the left, make that left and go two miles until you come to a shopping plaza. Then you’ll swing a—”
“—hammer and bury it into your damn skull. Are you fucking serious?”
“It’s a shortcut. I know where we’re going.”
“Yeah. Rand McNally wouldn’t hire you to clean their toilets.”
“Turn here, Jericho!”
Darting my eyes to the rearview for a car behind me, I slam on the brakes and then the clutch, downshifting. “Why didn’t you fucking warn me sooner than that?”
He shrugs. “You were talking. It’s rude to interrupt like you did.”
“You still call him Jericho?” Hadley asks with a light giggle.
“He’ll always be Jericho.”
Rounding the turn, I upshift and stomp on the gas, making him drop his phone. “You’ll always be Douche Calder.”
He picks up his phone. “You love me.”
Fifteen minutes later, he at last says, “Turn down there and pull into the lot.”
“Oceanic?” Hadley asks, reading the teal, neon sign emblazed across the front.
“What the hell is it?” The building is a faded, red brick with the name of a bread factory in chipped, white-and-black paint across the middle. The sides of the building are flooded with blue light pointing down from the roof. The parking lot is surrounded by a brick and wrought-iron fence.
Holy fuck. I will murder Dash Calder.
I say, “It’s a damn club.”
Dash corrects me. “It’s an old factory.”
“How in the hell is that better?”
“It’s been converted into a club.”
I glower at the building as I drive through the lot. “It looks too… upbeat.”
“Live a little, Jericho. Park here.”
“That threat to run you over is good for shit like this, too.”
“Come on. Rio is meeting us here.”
“Yeah, and he’ll want to help me kick your ass.”
When we’re all standing in the parking lot, I lock my car as Dash says, “I don’t see Rio yet, so let’s go in.”
People are hanging by the door, crowding the entrance, laughing and shouting at each other. Christ. I feel too old for this shit. We have to work our way through to get into the building. A remixed disco song grates my ears as we follow Dash inside, and once in, we’re all floored by what we see. It’s as if we’re touring one of those walk-thru aquariums at a zoo. The floor is a light blue, lit by lights with a wavy filter on them and making it appear as if we’re walking through water. The walls are stone, but the room is filled with polished oak, including the massive bar with wooden columns, the rusted steel I-beams overhead, but leaving some former industrial aspects in the design, which I appreciate. An open staircase with oak banisters leads upstairs. There’re pictures on the walls and statues of marine life everywhere.
Dash says, “Let’s go to the third floor. We’re supposed to have a table reserved for us.”
Looking at the stairwell, I ask, “Why? What’s up there? I’m not dancing.”
Dash leads us through the crowd. “Dancing is on the second floor, and it’s Retro Saturday.”
“You’ve been here before?”
“No, but I know one of the managers, and he filled me in on the layout and shit.” Not surprising.
We go up the stairs, past the considerable blue-marbled dance floor, up to the third floor, and straight into a lobby. We then enter a lounge-type room with tables along the perimeter of a minor dance floor, a smaller version of the bar on the first floor, and at the front of the room… a stage. Behind the stage is a large screen TV hanging in front of a metallic blue curtain. What the fuck is this shit? I turn to Hadley and Finn behind me, who look as perplexed as I do.
Dash nods and waves to a guy behind the bar, talking on a phone. Smiling back, he puts up his index finger as he says something over the counter to a waitress and nodding at us. The blonde waitress makes her way through the crowd and over to our group. “Hi! Follow me!” she shouts over the crowd noise. She takes us to a dimly lit, curved booth that is roped off with Reserved.
“I’m Marcy. Here are some sign-up forms for the stage, and that little book in the middle of your table lists all the songs we have. There’s usually an hour wait between performances in the rotation, depending on if people actually take their turns, so it could be shorter. Just hand me the slips when I come around, and I’ll let you know when it’s your turn.”
Dash nods, but the rest of us sit, dumbstruck. She asks, “What can I get everyone to drink?” Dash is proactive and hands her his ID.
Looking around the room, I ask, “Performances for what?”
“Karaoke,” she answers like I’m the stupidest person ever, which I am for trusting Dash not to be a fucking idiot.
I shake my head. “I am not doing that.”
“Jericho, just have fun.” Right. I can’t even drink this bullshit away.
I look over to see Rio and beside him, his wench, who’s wearing goddamn pigtails and a short yellow dress that would serve better as a shirt on an infant.
I say to Rio, “Finally, you decide to join us.”
Rio steps aside for his keeper to take a seat, and she answers for him, “I had to work overtime. Sorry.”
This early in the night, I refrain from rolling my eyes at that excuse or for her stupid pigtails. I’ll save it for later.
Rio scowls at the stage and then at Calder. “What the hell, Douche? Karaoke?”
I scoff, “You didn’t know?”
Rio frowns. “You really think this would’ve been my idea of a relaxing Saturday night?”
We both shake our heads at Dash, making introductions. Hadley and Liberty start yakking about the clothes they’re wearing, which Hadley complains about the ordinary jeans she wore since she didn’t know to bring different clothes. I could use that nail gun right about now.
Finn surveys the room, probably for fans of his show, Dash checks his phone for the umpteenth time, and Rio blankly stares off into space, most likely wishing for a nail gun of his own.
Okay. I’m ready to leave.
Marcy returns, and since Rio and I are the designated bitches, he orders soda, and I stick with fucking iced tea.
Our seats in the booth are set back from the table, making room for us to walk around it. I lean forward and ask Calder, “You’re the only one who’s going to get up there, so what was the point of this?”
He asks, “Hadley and Finn, are you doing this?”
Making a face, Finn says, “Uh, no.”
Hadley laughs and shakes her head.
Setting down his phone, Dash picks up a piece of paper and asks, “What song are we singing?”
“We?” Rio clarifies with a dirty look.
“Yeah. We. You, Jericho, and me. We can do a group song.”
Rio indignantly laughs. “No way. I’ll sit here and watch the rest of you make asses of yourselves. That’s entertainment enough for me.”
Agreeing with Rio, I say, “No fucking way.”
Dash says to Duquesne, “Well, you could always sing Duran Duran’s Rio. Get it?”
Rio narrows his eyes. “No, Douche. That reference was way beyond my comprehension.”
“I’ll do a song,” Rio’s handler announces, running her fingers through one of her blonde tails. “I just need to have some drinks first.”
“Anyone else? Dash asks, looking to the rest of us, but something catches his eye, and he sucks in his lips to ineffectually hide a smile. What the hell now?
I demand, “Calder, what’s so funny?”
He jumps up and shakes his head. “Don’t start without me. Give me a minute.”
As he disappears amongst people, I ask Rio, “So, what song does Calder want to sing?”
Rio grins and reaches for the book. “Oh, please. Let me.” He flips through the book until a slow grin spreads across his face. “Perfect.” Liberty watches as he writes something down, and she laughs.
“He’s going to kill you, River.”
“Not a chance in hell. Douche owes us.” He shrugs. “And I could kick his ass in my sleep.”
“Only if you’re not laughing too much,” I throw at him. Rio glowers at me, but it only makes me laugh as I sit back, crossing my ankle over my knee and my arms over my chest.
Rio hands the papers to the waitress as she brings us our drinks.
“Check out what I found hanging around the bar.”
Looking up, I see Dash and standing next to him, Kat Merrick. Her purple-striped hair is piled on top of her head, and she’s wearing a gray, short-sleeved, button-up top that isn’t so buttoned-up, and a short, black-and-red pinstriped, pleated skirt.
What the hell is she doing here?
Are they… together?
I’ll tear out his esophagus and tie it around his neck like a fucking bow tie.