Pandora. My morning text two days later isnt actually from Melanie: its from Brooke.

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My morning text two days later isnt actually from Melanie: its from Brooke.

Brooke: Are you in New Orleans? I just heard Crack Bikinis concert was the night before last.


Me: Yes. Were leaving today for Jacksonville to stop for the night and then on to the next stop.


Brooke: OMG were leaving Miami today! Do you want to meet up?


Kenna. I head into the shower and stop when I see him inside the stall, soaping up his beautiful body. I wait for him to turn the water off, and when he steps out, my breath catches.

Whatcha doing there, Pink?

Looking at you, I say, not even shy about memorizing every wet, delicious inch of the eye candy that is Mackenna Jones.

Anything you like?

Most of it, yes.

Most of it? He scowls. Well, what dont you like?

That I dont know what that means. I motion at his tattoo, and he glances down at it with a scowl.

I told you. It means Im a jackass.

And a cocky, self-confident man who thinks hes God would tattoo that on his arm? Pfft! Keep lying to me, Kenna.

I shake my head in chastisement, but he just smirks and says nothinglike hed rather die than tell me. Then I sigh and explain, One of my friends, her husbands a fighter and they tour all the time, and they just finished in Miami. She asked if we could meet up in Jacksonville.

What kind of fighter?

I dont know. But the fights get dirty.

Whats his name?


Whoa. Parents hate him?

I think they did, but no, thats not his name. His real name is Remington Tate.

Seriously? Well, whos your friend?


He was a boxer, no? Got kicked out when he went Tyson on some dudes at a bar or some shit? I like him. He grins.

You like all men who make you feel like youre a saint next to them.

He grins. So, you asking me to double-date with you and your friend?

Ugh. Its not a date. Forget it.

He laughs. Where do we meet them?

I stare at my phone. My stomach tangles because it feels so serious. A date. Double-dating. Me and Mackenna, Brooke and Remy. But I want to see Brooke. I havent seen her in months, and she, Melanie, and Kyle are my only true friends.

Me: Were on! How about dinner?


Brooke: Double date? OH YES! Text me when you get in town and well have a reservation ready.


Me: Its not a date, so please dont say that in front of Mackenna.


Brooke: Holy shit, dinner with MJ from Crack Bikini. Remy doesnt believe me.


Me: Why?


Brooke: He listens to their shit all the time before he fights!


Me: Well Mackenna already confessed his man-crush on Remington going Tyson in the past so if Mackenna wants to date someone, he can date Remy.


Brooke: Sorry, my mans taken. :)


Me: Youre such a possessive bitch now.


Brooke: He actually loves it! So were on. See you tonight!


Were on, I tell Mackenna. But its not a date.

We talk about them on our drive to Jacksonville. Having returned the bike, Mackenna is now driving a Porsche, and my seat is so sunken I can hardly see the road. It must have been too much to expect him to be monogamous with his car selection.

And your other friendBarbie?

Barbie lives with, and is marrying, the closest thing to sin that she could find.

And this sin likes her?

Are you kidding me? He dotes on her. Hed break any one of the ten commandments for herhell, Im sure he already has.

Wouldnt any guy do that for their girl? Do whatever it takes to make sure shes well and happy?

I look at him in confusion. Because, hello? I used to be his girl. And when he walked away, he couldnt have been stupid enough to think that it made me well and happy.

Unless he truly thought he wasnt good enough for you. . . .

The thought haunts me as he finds a parking spot a block away from the restaurant, and it isnt long before we spot Remy and Brooke, right outside. The first thing you see is, of course, him. Hes large and eye-catching, with muscles that make his T-shirt cling to his shoulders and biceps, and his narrow hips encased in low-slung jeans. His hair is spiky and rumpledlike Brookes just had her hands in itand theyre deep in conversation, him nodding with a smile, his finger rubbing her bottom lip while she talks.

Hey! I call.

They turn and Brooke squeaks, Pan!

Remington approaches Mackenna with a dimpled smile. Ill be damned.

Ill be next, Mackenna says right back, and they strike handshakes, pumping hard and smiling while Brooke and I hug.

How are you?

No, how are you? Touring with Crack Bikini!

Yeah, this is Mackenna, I say, stepping back, gesturing. Brooke, Mackenna. Mackenna, Brooke.

Its so nice to meet you, Mackenna, Brooke says sweetly, but even as she shakes Mackennas outstretched hand, she slips her free hand into Remingtons, as if reassuring him that hes the one for her.

Remington looks down at her hand in his and smiles a secret smile. He doesnt strike me as a man who needs constant reassurance, but the way he squeezes her hand in some silent communication makes me feel warm inside.

We head into the steakhouse, and the restaurant is oddly vacant as we walk inside. Remingtons PA thought wed have a better time if we rented out the place, Brooke explains.

Hell, Im already having a blast, Mackenna says, taking my hand in his.

It gives me tingles, and those tingles make me want to draw my hand away, but instead I find myself both scowling and laughing.

I told you, this isnt a date, I whisper in his ear so only he can hear.

He turns his head and plants a quick, surprising kiss on my lips. One second his lips are on mine, shooting a gust of pleasure through my limbs, and the next theyre gone. And I heard you the first time, he says, smiling down at me.

Hes observing me with that rather adorable wolfish curiosity he always watches me with, and since it unsettles me so, I decide to concentrate on Brooke and Remington instead.

A waiter leads us to a table at the back of the restaurant, and I notice all those protective gestures they have. He steers her by the neck, while she uses the hand closest to him to hook her index finger into the waistband of his jeans. He pulls the chair out for her to sit, whispering something in her ear that makes her grin. When she laughs, he bends over. I watch as he rubs his nose all along the shell of her ear and she smiles privately at herself and closes her eyes. Shutting off the world so she can focus on what her husband is doing.

He sits down, and Mackenna, apparently immune to the fact that these two people are quietly making love to each other, begins by asking, So howd you get into these Underground fights?

Im amazed at how courteous Remington is, because he seems genuinely interested in Mackennas questions, his thick arm outstretched, one hand firmly on the back of Brookes chair. Her hand is under the table, and I think its on his thigh. Im getting all sorts of hot feelings inside me, and an even more noticeable one that I always seem to feel when they are near. Longing. Because I ruined my chance at this.

Thats when, as Remington briefly explains to Mackenna that hed fight wherever as long as he got to fight, I realize where Mackennas arm is. Hes in exactly the same position as Remingtonhis arm stretched across the back of my chair, his hand resting just behind my neck, as if he owns me.

Or, at least, thinks he does.

A tingle grows in my stomach, and I try unsuccessfully to quell it. Ive always loved those little gestures I see between Brooke and her guy, but me? Oh, no. This is not for me. And definitely not for me and Kenna.

Okay, maybe a little part of me wants something like this, but not the rest of me.

I squirm, feeling uncomfortable. Then I slide my chair back a tad, just to see if he drops his hand.

He doesnt.

In fact, he doesnt even turn to look at me.

I hear Remington ask Mackenna, Howd you get your start with the band?

Racer is so big, I tell Brooke at last, switching the conversation to talk about her son while desperately trying to ignore Mackennas arm close to my nape.

Brooke grins and starts telling me Racers exact eating schedule, and how hes restless because hes just about ready to walk but can still barely stand up for a couple of seconds.

When the waiter approaches, Brooke doesnt even pause, and I hear Remington order for her. Shes still talking to me when I hear Mackenna order, and just as I flip open my menu to decide what Im having, I realize hes also ordering for me. Shell have the mandarin salad and the seared scallops.

Abruptly I leave Brooke midsentence and turn, rapping the side of his hard head. Knock, knock?

Whos there? he teases me.

You just ordered for me without even asking me what I wanted.

He leans back with a smirk. All right, Pandora. What was it you wanted? He lifts one eyebrow, and god, the things I want to do to that smirk. Kiss it. Lick it. Bite it. All of it.

The mandarin salad and the seared scallops, I finally admit, hating that hes making me smile back at him.

And what did I order?




All of a sudden Im hungry, and its just for that damn smirk of his. Ive loved mandarins and sea scallops my whole lifesince the days we used to steal away to the docks. And deep inside my brain, I keep hearing a silly little voice saying, He remembers.

How can something so insignificant turn me to mush?

I could have wanted something else, I argue, still smiling.

He cocks an eyebrow, still smirking at me. But you dont. Trust me, I know what you want, Pink.

God help me, I want to kiss that smirk. To kiss him so hard, Ill be the one smirking back at him afterward. Instead, Brooke kicks me under the table and gives me the universal going-to-the-bathroom-to-discuss-the-guys sign.


We excuse ourselves, and as soon as were out of earshot, shes on meanxious to know whats going on.

Whats been happening?! Brooke asks as we storm into the bathroom.

In her short black dress and sky-high heels, she looks like a million bucks. I go stare into the mirror and look like . . . me. Like some angry little crow out to attackpink streak and all. Brookes face is lit up like from the inside. Like she knows shes worth something. To someone. Like she sleeps well at night because shes sleeping next to a blue-eyed man who looks at her like hes both coddling and fucking her in his mind. And thats hot.

Pan! Brooke says, with that radiance surrounding her and those gold eyes boring into me. You need to tell me. I did not know you even knew this guy. Now he sits there, ordering for you, knowing things I didnt even know about you

I used to know the guy. Now Ive been hired to be in their stupid movie, and were fucking. I wash my hands and try not to meet my own gaze in the mirror, but I sneak a quick peek and then force out the frown lines Im wearing across my forehead.

For real? Youre fucking the Crack Bikini terrible threes? Brooke asks, as disbelieving as me.

The main one. But not for long.

But you like him! Ohmigod!

I scowl. No, I dont!

Yes. You do! she counters. And he definitely likes you. Im really digging the way he steals those long looks at you. Long looks, like his eyes are taking in all of your face, your temples, your eyes, your nose, your lips, your chin. Every time he looks at you its like he takes in every inch of your face before he looks away. You make him smile too.

He just does that to irritate me! I cry, getting truly agitated by the excitement and fear Brookes words are creating in me.

No, he does not do it to irritate you. And how can you say that when you dont even notice when he does it?

Hes a man-slut, Brooke. He looks at my mouth because he likes me doing stuff with it. I bet hes thinking dirty thoughts, I say. A memory of him feeding me his cock flashes through me, and I cant quite quell the bolt rushing through my body.

She laughs, then shrugs. Maybe. Personally, I love it when Remington thinks dirty thoughts about me when were with others. I can see it in his eyes. Sometimes I just brush my body against his to confirm my suspicions, and I love it when the evidence just slams into me and he growls.

I raise my eyebrows, then laugh. Do you stop having sex with Remy when you have a baby?

Are you serious?

Im just curious how . . . couples live when they have babies.

She grins, then her eyes gain a dreamy little sparkle in them as she admits, We used to struggle when Racer didnt sleep all night. We needed to steal every one of our moments together. But Racers such a good baby . . . Her smile widens. If anything, Remington is even more primal and possessive now. Just the thought of me being his makes him want me. Badly. Hell, if you sit down and say something about me and refer to me as his wife, youll see what it does to him.

Shit, I have to do that.

She grins happily. Okay! But I get to pick on Mackenna too.

The guys are sitting down in their placesMackenna drinking a beer, Remington plain water. I notice them watching us return. My body heats up through Mackennas stare alone, but I dont want it to, so instead I watch Brooke grin at Remington, his gaze sliding appreciatively over her figure. She leans over and kisses the top of his spiky dark hair before sitting down.

Melanie and I have really missed your wife, Remy, I promptly say as I sit.

The change is immediate as his blue eyes sparkle and one of his dimples appears, and I see him lower his hand from the back of the chair down to Brookes neck. What did she tell you to do? he asks me in his rumbling voice, his eyes twinkling as he caresses her nape.

What? I ask him, distracted.

He grins and slides his hand deep into Brookes hair, still looking at me, and I almost hear Brooke purr in her seat. Did my wife tell you I like you calling her mine?

Yes! Brooke laughs, but he moves really fast for such a big man, and he quiets her with a kiss. On the mouth.

For a full second, theyre kissing. Not with tongue, but really lockedlike Mackenna and I arent even here. His hands splay on the back of her head, hers sliding up his neck.

Is that what you wanted? Remington then asks as he looks softly down at her.

The powerful way they stare at each other and the way he starts rubbing her lip with the pad of his thumb make me ache inside. A raw, hot sensation takes over me, and I blame it for making me ache all over when Mackenna takes my hand in his. I blame it for making me feel even blacker, hotter, more empty when Mackennas fingers twine with mine, filling my chest with something Im scared to feel again.

I should move away, but in reality, I want him closer. I need him nearer. Because I could have had that with him. We could have had a family. And as Remington chuckles as Brooke admits that she told me to tease him, and he starts teasing her about how she loves picking on him, Mackenna tips my head around to his in that proprietary, strangely sexy way he has.

Silver eyes capture mine.

Nice to know you have a heart, he murmurs with tender eyes and an even more tender smile, and I can hardly stand that he noticed. That doesnt make you weak, baby. It makes you human.

I was not programmed to have feelings. It just wasnt coded into my hard drive, I lie, struggling to return to my grumpy, defensive self.

So, howd you two meet? Brooke asks, and when I remember that I agreed to let her poke back at Mackenna, I want to groan, but instead I decide to answer for us. Just to make sure we remain in safe territory.

In school. We used to go out in secret, I mumble.

In secret, why? This is from Brooke, and shes genuinely outraged.

Mackennas father went to jail, I say quietly, turning the spoon on my place setting, over and over.

Oh no, says Brooke, her eyes wide, and your mom

She put him there, Mackenna finishes for her, his voice not betraying any emotion.


Remington says, Sorry, man.

He reaches for Brookes hand, both of them now solely looking at Mackenna. How old were you when that happened?

Seventeen. Doesnt matter anymore.

Pan, Brooke whispers, her attention coming back to me in full force. All this time you knew him and didnt even say. And he was singing about you!

With a rumbling laugh, Mackenna reaches out to retrieve the knife from my place setting with that adorable, kissable smirk thats driving me nuts. Please dont even mention that. She has . . . exceptions to that song.

Because its a lie!

He groans and rolls his eyes.

So it was you, then, Brooke laughingly tells him. The man we all wanted to hang for ruining her life.

Dont, Brooke, I warn.

She pine for me? Mackenna asks, his voice growing thicklike it sometimes does when he asks about me. He seems superinterested, his predatory, wolfish gaze glimmering full force.

Dont. No! Dont say anything, Brooke.

No, she doesnt get sad, Brooke admits, with a curl of her lips. She gets mad.

Oh, shes mad at me, all right, Mackenna agrees.

I groan and bang my palm to my head, but in the end, we all burst out laughing.

♥ ♥ ♥


AFTER DINNER WE part ways, and Mackennas eyes are somber as we head back to the parking lot. Enjoy that?

The daring lift of his brow surprises me. Excuse me?

Enjoy that? Making me jealous?

What do you mean? Because I was watching Remington? I stare at the sidewalk across the street. All my friends have that and it makes me curious, but I dont want it. I dont need it. I want to be independent all my life, I lie.

He chuckles softly. Your nose just grew about an inch.

Fine. I may want it, but I dont think Ill get it . . . not that youd understand.

I understand. I want something normal too, you know.

Im so surprised, I stop walking and whirl around to face him. You want a wife? You have a freaking harem.

So? I want a wife someday.

An elderly couple walks past us and I stare at their intertwined hands, weathered with age but still holding on to each other.

And theyre not even talking, as if they know all they need to about each other.

Suddenly all the memories of walks with Mackenna, unable to hold hands because wed be seen, hurtle through my mind, and a new thought teases me, begs me to find out if thats the reason hes now so determined to hold my hand. When he drives. When we were in the restaurant. Even after we fuck.

The question hammers at me, at all my precious walls, and Im so torn, Im powerless to resist him.

Especially now, when his eyes glimmer in the moonlight, his face patterned with all kinds of interesting shadows that make him look hotter, his lips softer, his lashes longer.

Im not a jealous guy, he says, studying me intently. Fuck, maybe I am jealous. Im insanely jealous. How come you smiled at him and not at me?

Because were fuck buddies. You want to think only you can make me smile.

I can make you smile. Hell, I can make you laugh like nobodys business.

I try to start walking, but he swings me around and takes my shoulders in his hands, whispering an order that sounds almost like a plea. Mash up a song with me.


He pulls me close to him and hums against the top of my head. Come on, he urges, ducking to softly kiss the top of my ear. Mash a song with me, he repeats.

You make me do some stupid things, I groan.

All part of my charm, Pink. Now come on, he presses, his voice lulling me into a relaxed mood. Plus, how to resist the twinkle in those wolfish eyes? I love those eyes, even though they haunt me, see me, build me, break me . . .

I clear my throat, readying myself to lose what little pride I have left, and I give it a try.  Like a virgin . . . 

He laughs and adds in that low, unique baritone of his,  Take me over, take me out, give me something, to dream about . . . 

 Like a virgin, feel so good inside. 

 Tastes so good it makes a grown man cry . . . Sweet Cherry Pie! 

I start laughing. Were so ridiculous, but Mackenna eases me back against a storefront window, adding some awesome lyrics from Miss Independent.  And she move like a boss . . . Do what a boss do . . . 

 I dont believe a masterpiece, could ever match your face,  I whisper from Kylie Minogue.

 When I see you, I run out of words to say . . . 

God. It feels like hes singing to me. And . . . is that Beautiful, by Akon?

Im so affected and drawn into the momentthe sudden memory of when I lost himI go for a slow one from the Fray.  Where were you when everything was falling apart . . . all my days, spent by the telephone . . . 

He comes in with Guns N Roses Sweet Child o Mine.  I hate to look into those eyes and see an ounce of pain . . . 

And Im suddenly full-blown emotional with Rihannas Take a Bow.  How about a round of applause . . . standing ovation . . . 

He drops his voice and strokes his silver ring across my lower lip, just like I watched Remy rub Brookes.  And you can tell everybody, this is your song . . .  Elton John.

 Im falling apart, Im barely breathing . . . ,  I softly sing, from Lifehouses Broken.

And then him, his voice low and smooth,  Pretty, pretty please, if you ever, ever feel like youre nothing, youre fucking perfect to me. 

Pinks perfect song in his manly voice makes me pause, and suddenly I cant think of anything because I both feel serenaded and accused, as though I just unknowingly pieced my feelings into random songs and random words, and blended them with his.

Hes watching me, waiting for something to happen.

This right here. Wearing a genuine smile, he looks up at the sky, then swings his finger between me and him. Theres nothing better. No better song. I could mash songs all day and be in heaven.

You have horns, Kenna, youll never set foot in heaven.

All the more reason I need to find my own little version of heaven here on earth. He smirks, and looks at me in his sweet, wolfish way as we once again start walking toward the car.

See, a song was made to be alone. A duet? he says, thoughtful as our feet pound the sidewalk. Every singer has a part. Everyone knows what theyre saying. But a mashup, you take two songs created to stand alone, and you mash them. And although theyre meant to be alone, together theyre crazy and dont even make sense, but somehow, they do.

I start past him, down the block. Whoa, whats wrong? he says.

I cant do this.

He stops me and pulls me around. Yeah, you can, Pink. You can do this.

Being with you again is destroying me! I cry.

He stares at me and takes me by the shoulders. Anger and frustration and loveyes, love!rear up in me, but my voice is weak and forlorn.

What is it that you want, Mackenna? What do you want from me?

He clenches his jaw and looks at me with eyes that scream their torture. I had your heart once, Pink, and it wasnt enough. I have your body now, but its not enough. He holds my face in order to force my eyes to stay on his as he demands, I want your mind, your dreams, your hopes, your fucking soul. I want it all.

I feel like I just lost a battle.

I feel . . . destroyed.

I kid myself that I hate him, but I dont hate him. What I feel for him is unchanging and unstoppable. Nothing about my feelings for him has changedonly the other feelings it gave me. It used to feel good, loving him. I felt whole, excited, happy to be alive. Then he left and I hated feeling that love. It ate at me, corroded me, haunted me. Now here I am, thinking I could find closure while sharing his bed. His kisses. Learning more about him, and what hes doing. Liking it too much.

I cant kid myself into blaming him for my mistakes. I cant kid myself into blaming him for me not being able to get over him.

My anger was my disguise. But now hes taken off my mask.

And I. Love. Him.

I still do. Always have, always will. I love this manthis rock godas much as a drummer loves his beat. But its clear to me that we can never be, even if the miraculous would happen and he could love me back, and be true only to me. Even then, it could never work.


He has no idea, no idea. But I do.

You cant have it all, I whisper, praying he doesnt hear the tremor in my voice. You already took it. You took it, and now I have nothing left to give to anyone.

Listen to me, he says with quiet command, forcing me to look up at him, into his face, carved with relentless determination. The woman I see now is not nothing, shes everything. Everything. You broke me too, Pink. Us . . . us broke me.

He reaches into his jeans pocket, and I blink at the ring he holds out.

His promise ring.

Is this a promise ring?

What are you promising me?


My stomach plummets as I see the familiar yellow gold band, the tiny diamond in the center held up by six legs, as if begging for attention. Dont, I whisper.

He clenches his jaw. Pandora, I didnt leave you because I wanted to. I left you because I had to.

No you didnt. You didnt have to!

I fucking did. And if you dont believe me, you can go ahead and ask your mother.

What? Tears blur my eyes. What does she have to do with anything?

She never wanted us together, babe. Im sure thats no news to you.

That still doesnt mean you had to give her more power over us than she already had over me.

She had power over my dad. Over his sentence. A stony look crosses his face, and his voice grows hard with rage. She offered to cut his sentence if I left you alone. She told me I wasnt worth even a moment of your day wasted thinking of me. I promised her Id be back for you. Hell, I told her I was going to be good for any womans daughter, especially hers. All I was waiting for was for my dad to serve his sentence. I have been planning for years to come back to you, Pandora!

No! Mackenna, do you realize what youre saying?!

Im telling you the truth.

I need to talk to my mother, I suddenly say, my chest close to imploding from the pain delving into our past is causing. I need to talk to my mother. I run to the corner and hold my hand up for a cab while Mackenna calls after me.

What the fuck are you doing?

When a cab screeches to a halt, I climb inside and close the door, my world spinning. Drive! Now.

The car screeches past him as he flings his arms up in the air, and I think I see him mouth, What the fuck? but I cant be sure.

Im close to unraveling, and I tell myself that I will. That when Im back home, Ill have a good long cry, even if it takes me months or years to heal. But I cant break now. Not when I still need to know the truth.

My mother has her faults. Shes bitter, true. Shes overprotective, but . . .

I cant fathom she would do this to us.

Break us apart.

Exploit her power.

Make me experience the same pain of betrayal she felt after the truth about my fathers affair came out.

An indeterminate amount of time later, I find myself at Lionels open door. I dont even react to Olivia, visible right on the bed behind him. Its off. The contract. Its over. Ill give you the money back.

What . . . ? He glances back at Olivia, twists the lock so the door doesnt close on him, and steps out wearing just a hotel bathrobe. What the fuck did he do?

A wave of protectiveness washes over me. Its not Mackenna. Its me, all right? So whatever deal you had with him . . . please, just honor it. I just need to go home now. You got some footage. Ask Noah, he caught us kissing in the plane. And fooling around in the car. He caught us . . . looking at each other too, Im sure. And when we were locked in the closet, he probably caught the sounds of us kissing too. But pleaseIm begging him and I dont even careI cant be here anymore. I had an out from the contract saying if I didnt fulfill, every cent would be turned back. It will be. Im out. I quit.

You cant quit!

This last comes from the low, angry, painfully familiar voice of Mackenna. I spin around and there he is, eyes glimmering with anger, ready in his battle stance. But he looks . . . confused. Like he doesnt know whats happening here. One minute were mashing songs, the next Im running. But can he blame me for running, when he ran too? All I know is that I need to be home. I need to stop this from spiraling. I need to talk to my mother.

I need to go home, I tell him in the strongest voice I can manage, searching for even an ounce of pity in his face.

Miss Stone, Leo says, but Kenna stops him.

If thats what she wants, Ill fly home with her.

Really? I ask, wide-eyed.

Yeah. Really.

An intense wave of relief and gratitude washes over me. And love. A painful, intense, overwhelming love that makes me wrap my arms around myself as my entire body trembles. Thank you.

Argh! Fuck this! Leo explodes. Jones, if you take her home, our deal is off. Do you hear me! he yells as Mackenna heads to his room in the opposite direction from mine.

When he answers, Mackennas voice is unwavering. So be it.


: 2015-09-13; : 5;

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