Chapter One: Reputation

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Chapter One 

Coy 

 

“You’re not doing anything stupid, are you?”

“Not yet,” I say, slurping the milk off my spoon. “But I just got here. Give me time.”

My eldest brother, Holt, half-laughs, half-groans through the phone.

The groan is there because he knows me enough to be afraid I’m serious. The laugh is there because, as much as he hates it, he’s entertained by my antics.

Somewhat, anyway.

I scoop up another spoonful of fruity cereal and shove it into my mouth. Ice-cold milk dribbles down my chin, and I swipe it away with the back of my hand.

“At least you decided to stay with Mom and Dad,” Holt says. “Maybe that’ll keep you out of trouble.”

“Yeah, because that’s worked out so well in the past.”

“Good point.”

I lean against the counter. The edge of the marble is cold and bites into my hip. I wish for a split second that I had bothered to put a shirt on when I woke up twenty minutes ago.

“I almost rented a house on Tybee Island,” I say, “but figured I might as well save the cash. Besides, Mom cleans my room and makes food just how I like it. I can’t really go wrong here.”

“You realize you’re in your mid-twenties now and have money of your own, right?”

“Your point, old man?”

Holt chuckles. “I’m simply pointing out that you’re capable of procuring food and housing on your own.”

“I procured them on my own.” I scrape the little flakes of cereal off the side of the bowl. “I called Mom myself … which was an easy choice when I got hit with how much it was going to cost on Tybee. Do you know what places are going for down there? Hell, Holt. I might quit performing and buy rental homes.”

“Great idea. I’m sure Wade would help you.”

“Very funny,” I say, making a face.

Out of all of my brothers, Wade is the last one I want to deal with. About anything. Not that any of them are particularly a barrel of fun—except my youngest brother, Boone—but Wade and I rarely see eye to eye on anything. If I’m music and mayhem, he’s silence and spreadsheets. I’m not even sure how we have the same genetics.

“Be nice, Coy,” Holt says.

“What? You think that Wade and I could do anything together? He has a resting dick face and a repulsion for strip clubs. Yeah. I think not.”

Holt struggles to hide his laughter. He succeeds … barely.

“I’m just happy to hear you’re managing your money well,” Holt says. “Even if you can’t manage your women.”

“Hey now,” I say, dunking the spoon into the bowl again with a little more force than necessary. “Keep your jealousy in check. I can’t help it that I’m a rock star and make women lose their damn minds.”

“Rock star?” Holt’s laughter fills the line with no attempt at restraint. “That’s a stretch.”

I smile. “Okay. You’re right. I believe the last headline I saw called me a country music sensation. If it makes you feel better to call me that, I’m good with it.”

“Well, the last headline I saw said something about you fleeing Los Angeles with your tail between your legs.”

Fucker. 

I fill my mouth with cereal before a bunch of verbal diarrhea comes spewing out.

My tail between my legs.

What-the fuck-ever.

My stomach churns the children’s cereal as Willa Welch and a particular day last week comes to mind.

The pretty blond actress is better at her job than anyone understands. Hell, I’m not even sure what’s real and what’s not when it comes to her.

The only thing I am certain of is, somehow, I was automatically the bad guy in the press.

Again.

I swallow hard before taking another bite.

My brain plays the incident back again. The way the boutique door sounded when it closed behind us. The sun’s bright rays as we strolled down the street. The way she pivoted out of nowhere and looked like she was going to cry.

My confusion. The bag—the one holding the overpriced shirt with the semi-witty saying on it that I’d just bought her as a token of good faith—coming straight for my head. My shock. The shrill of her voice followed by the swarm of paparazzi who ate the dramatics up like starving hyenas.

I’ve only been caught off guard a few times in my life, but this was one of them. My first thought was that our shared agent, Meadow, had concocted this fight for Willa and me just like she created our fake relationship. It seemed crazy but so did the original premise.

You need to clean up this bad-boy image you have, Coy. Willa needs to dirty hers up some to get the roles she wants. It’s perfection,” my agent said.

I was quite satisfied with my reputation but whatever. I just wanted the cash, and if being a nice guy would get me more opportunities, I was in. Besides, all I had to do was pretend with Willa.

All of it was bullshit.

One of us forgot that.

That one of us wasn’t me.

It all came to a screeching halt—along with a dozen cars—on Sunset Boulevard. I can’t remember what I said, but I was silenced by Willa throwing her coffee in my face as the grand finale. Thankfully, it was iced.

“Are you listening to me?” Holt asks.

“I did get the hell out of LA,” I say, annoyed. “But the only thing between my legs was my giant—”

“Okay, okay.” Holt’s sigh is tinged with amusement. “When are you planning on going back?”

“Not sure. I swore a blood oath to Meadow that I’d stay under the radar until she works her PR magic. I’m supposed to relax and write music—two of the three things I do best.”

My brother snorts. “I don’t even want to know the third thing.”

“Your call, but I could probably give you a few pointers.”

Holt seamlessly changes the subject to some business deal he’s working on, but I find it hard to follow along. My attention span is already short, thanks to the reminder of Willa.

The back of my neck tenses as I work through the asinine events leading up to me being in Savannah.

My jaw pulses as I try to calm down. It’s a load of crap that I’m banished to my parents’ house while she’s allowed to stay home and cry to the press. For what? Nothing I did.

Why am I always the bad guy? I mean, granted, I usually am, but why is it a foregone conclusion that I screwed up?

It doesn’t sit well with me, but I can’t do anything about it except be pissed.

“You can go with us if you want,” Holt says.

“Where?”

“You weren’t listening, were you?”

“Kind of,” I admit. “Not really.”

He goes on again, repeating the offer to go with him … somewhere. But my attention is redirected.

The sound of footsteps rings through the kitchen. My mother breezes through the doorway in what looks like a lazy stroll, but it’s not. I can see the wheels turning in her head as she glances my way and floats me an easy smile.

My mother makes everything look easy. She never used a cleaning service or bought dinner out very often for our family of seven. She managed the house, her five sons, a husband with a penchant for gin martinis and poker, and was still on the board of directors for various Savannah programs. Everyone thinks my brothers got their drive from our father, but it was really Mom. She’s the queen around here.

She points at the phone with a perfectly painted red fingernail. “Is that important?” she whispers.

“Nah. It’s just Holt,” I say around a mouthful of cereal.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” she admonishes before letting my error go. “I have an appointment in twenty minutes and will be home around six. Your father should be home slightly before me.”

“Got it.”

“Can you take the trash out for me, please?” she asks as casually as if she’s asking me what I want for dinner—a question she did not ask.

My spoon pauses midway to my mouth. Milk drips off the sides and hits the counter.

“Did you just ask me to take out the trash?” I ask.

“Yes, Coy, I did.” She slides a water bottle into her oversized black leather bag. “Is that a problem?”

She glances at me over her shoulder with that look in her eye. It’s a quiet challenge, a silent invitation to press the issue.

“Mom,” I say, not really wanting to press the issue but unable to help myself. “Really?”

She stops at the door leading to the garage. “Really what?”

“I had the number one song on the radio for eight weeks two months ago, and …”

She opens the garage door as she simultaneously pins me to my seat with a firm gaze. After a long, awkward few seconds, her face breaks out into a victorious smile.

“Do it before I get home, please. Love you, Coy. Tell Holt I love him too.”

The door snaps closed behind her.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” I mutter.

“Better get that trash taken out,” Holt says with a laugh. “I’ll let ya go. I have a meeting with Oliver in a few anyway.”

“Tell my favorite brother I said hi.”

“I’ll remember that the next time you call me needing a favor.”

“Well, you could be my favorite if you come over here and take out the trash for me,” I joke.

“Hard no. I pay someone to take mine out. Besides,” he says with what I’m sure is a shit-eating grin, “it might do you some good to remember where you came from.”

I look around the kitchen. The counters are a white granite and set off a dark-colored Viking range. Sub-Zero freezer drawers and a blast chiller are hidden in the cabinets. A crystal chandelier hangs arrogantly overhead.

“Yeah,” I say, my voice full of sarcasm. “Better remember my roots.”

“That’s not what I mean, asshole.”

I feign shock. “Asshole? That’s it. I’m going to have to bump another brother over you on the favorites list.”

“So what you’re saying is that Oliver and Boone are ahead of me, and Wade is last?”

“Well, yeah, basically.”

Holt laughs. “I gotta go. Call me later.”

“Bye.”

“See ya.”

I end the call and slide my phone across the counter. It narrowly misses the splashes of milk dotting the surface around my cereal bowl.

A loud, unnecessary growl rumbles through the air as I stretch my arms overhead. The clock says it’s late in the afternoon, but my brain lobbies to go back to bed. I try to bargain with myself that I got into town late and didn’t get to bed until well into the early morning hours. But truth be told, I wouldn’t have been to bed before three in the morning anyway.

I march to the cabinet where I think the trash bags are kept. There’s a broom and a mop and a basket full of batteries. It raises a lot of questions that I force out of my mind.

I’m about to give up anyway when a slight rasp on the door leading to the side yard distracts me.

“Who is that?” I mumble as the faint knocking sounds again.

My family would use the garage door. If any salespeople manage to get by the neighborhood’s gated entry, they’d knock on the front door. The only people who would use the side door would be my dad if he’s coming in from grilling out … so twice a year at best, and this isn’t one of those two occasions.

I run my hands down my jeans—the same ones I slept in last night—and head to the door. There’s an outline of someone shorter than me by a good bit through the thin cream-colored curtain.

“Hang on,” I say, fiddling with the lock.

It takes a few seconds to figure out the fancy new combination lock that wasn’t here the last time I visited. Lucky for me, my parents’ choice of numbers was predictable.

I open the door.

“Hello—fuck!” I shout as I’m hit in the side of the face.

Hard.

It feels like I was smashed by a large man or attacked by a swarm of bees. My eyes go blurry from the pain radiating through the side of my face.

“Oh, my gosh! I’m so sorry,” a voice squeals in front of me.

“Did I kill him?” another voice asks from farther away.

“No,” the person in front of me says. “Just … sit down, Bree. Please. Right there. Sit still.”

I struggle through the wetness building in my eyes to see. I work my jaw back and forth to try to loosen the stiffness already settling in my face.

Finally, I get my bearings and open my eyes.

Through the blurry haze, I think I see heaven. And a little piece of hell.

This enemies-to-lovers romance releases January 5th. 

 

 

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