“No, you should be one of my bridesmaids. Seriously, my cousin, Pauline, who I can’t stand, is a bridesmaid. And you’re not. How does that make any sense?”
I stifled my cringe at the idea of me in Justin’s wedding. He might appear to have changed and I might really like his bride-to-be, but that would just be . . . weird.
I was saved from lying and agreeing that I wished I could be in her wedding when someone bumped me from behind and caused me to collide with Melanie. Her cocktail splashed down the front of my dress.
“Oh!” She patted at me with a napkin. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” I assured her. “It’s black. I’ll just go pat it dry.”
She clasped my hand and gave it a warm squeeze. “I’ll go with you.”
“You don’t need to do that.”
At that moment, Melanie’s mother appeared at her side. “Dear, you’ve hardly said more than a hello to Mrs. Rothman.”
Melanie looked at me uncertainly. “Ugh. I used to babysit for her.”
“You go. I’ll be fine,” I assured her.
Melanie’s mother nodded. “See? She’ll be fine, Melanie. Let her mingle. She’s a pretty girl. Some nice young man will latch on to her.” Melanie’s mother beamed at me and nodded, her well-coiffed hair not even moving with the action.
“Okay. I’ll find you in a little while.”
I nodded and worked my way through the crowd outside the ballroom. There was a line outside the ladies’ room, so I crossed the hotel lobby to use the restroom on the other side.
As I suspected, it was empty. I took my time, breathing in the silence and decompressing after the noise and deluge of people. As I washed my hands, I stared at my reflection for a long moment. The girl who stared back at me wasn’t the same girl from a couple of months ago. That girl would never have come tonight. She would never have faced her past or been open to the fact that maybe things could be different. That she could possibly have a relationship with her mother. That her stepbrother maybe wasn’t Satan after all—or at least not anymore.
Maybe. Maybe she could fall in love and have a normal relationship.
An image of Shaw filled my mind. Okay, above normal. Maybe I could have an amazing relationship with an amazing guy.
My reflection smiled slowly back at me, tentative and hopeful. With a lightness to my step, I exited the bathroom, my boot heels clicking on the tiled floor. I pushed through the door, stepped into the corridor, and stopped.
Justin was waiting there, leaning against the wall, one hand tucked casually into the front pocket of his slacks.
“Justin,” I said rather dumbly.
“Hello,” I replied, feeling my forehead crease. What was he doing here? “Did you follow me?”
“I just wanted a moment alone to thank you for coming. It was the last thing I expected after I called you.”
“Well.” I nodded. “You were right.”
He arched an eyebrow. “I was. About what?”
“Maybe it is time to move on and try to be a family.”
He smiled. “I’m so happy to hear you say that.” He pushed off the wall and advanced on me. “I’ve only ever wanted us to be friends. We were once, remember?”
I nodded, backing up until I couldn’t go any farther. “Yeah. Before that night.”
He flattened a hand against the wall, near my head. “About that night. I was wrong.” He shook his head. “It was so stupid of me.”
I exhaled. It was the closest he’d ever come to admitting what he did—the closest he’d ever come to an apology. “Thank you for saying that,” I murmured.
“I was drunk. You were young. I should have waited. You weren’t ready.” He dipped his head and smothered my lips with his, ramming his tongue inside my mouth.
Stunned, I pushed at his chest, shoving him back. He blinked down at me, startled. I slapped him, my palm connecting with a crack to his face.
He flattened a hand to his cheek. “What the hell—”
“What are you doing?” I shook my head. “I thought you had changed! I thought you were different, but here you are. The same prick you always were. Only now I’m not a little girl. So stay the f**k away from me.” I stabbed a finger in his chest.
He snatched hold of my finger. Unsmiling. Eyes hard. “I get it now. You came here for a little payback. Right?” He sneered. “You spread all those lies about me all those years ago and now you—”
“They weren’t lies,” I reminded him, tugging my finger free. “You know it happened.”
His upper lip curled over his teeth. “What happened was that you couldn’t leave me alone.”
Everything inside me burned to lash out. To remind him that I had been fifteen years old. If he hadn’t been so drunk, if I hadn’t run out of the room, if—
I blinked hard. Then that night would have ended very differently.
“Yeah. You kept throwing yourself at me from the moment our parents got together.”
Is that how he saw it? I had looked up to him like a brother. And he wrecked that, sneaking into my room in the middle of the night. I shook my head, unwilling to argue with him about what had really happened all those years ago. “Whatever. I didn’t come here to stir up the past.” No. I came here because I thought I was burying it. Stupid. I saw that now. “You’re still an ass**le.” I tried to step around him, but he grabbed my shoulder and slammed me back against the wall. I bit my lip, muffling my cry.
“And you’re still just a cocktease.” He looked me up and down, his gaze lingering on my cle**age. I had thought the dress tasteful before. Classy. But the way he looked at me made me feel dirty.
He traced the neckline, his finger dipping inside to brush the top of my br**sts. “Or maybe not such a cocktease anymore. I bet you spread your thighs plenty these days.” He shook his head and made a tsking sound with his tongue. “I fantasized about popping your cherry.”
“Go to hell.” I slapped his hand away from me.
He chuckled, looking me over. “No little girl anymore.”
“That’s right. I’m not a little girl anymore. You don’t scare me. And you can’t do this to me.” Not again. “Maybe I’ll march in there and tell Melanie—”