“Reed!” My mom sounds appalled.
“What?” I snap.
“Son, we need to eat the cake?” My dad chuckles.
I look around the room and run my hand through my hair. I completely forgot about eating the cake. “Sorry, of course, cake.”
Letty has turned on the lights and the music is back on. Maria is happily cutting the cake. Reluctantly I take a piece.
“God,” Jax moans, “this is fantastic.” He has a serious sweet tooth and he’s a bona fide chocolate fanatic. Looking down at my cake, I realize I got a piece with a T on it. With a smile, I take a bite. Jax is right—the cake is amazing. The chocolate is dark and not too sweet, so I eat it.
“Wait.” Claire stands up. “Before we open gifts, I would like to make a toast.
“Christ,” I say under my breath.
“Letty?” Claire calls for her. She comes out with a silver platter, filled with champagne flutes apparently for all of us.
I glance at Maria, who shrugs and rolls her eyes.
“Now, I know that some of you are not old enough to drink, but a little champagne never hurt anyone.” She giggles.
“In Russia, you are raised on this stuff. Come, Claire, make the toast to your beautiful daughter,” Dimitri chimes in. His bloodshot eyes are a good indication he should probably not accept a glass.
Brance finds his way to Claire’s side. She raises one of her skinny arms. “To my baby… Happy sweet fifteen.” She dabs at her eyes; the fucked-up one is starting to droop again.
“I know it’s been a rough year for us, what with your lying, cheating bastard of a father gone—”
“Whoa, Claire.” Brance leans over and whispers something in her ear.
Tess turns to stare at me, her eyes wide but her lips twitching.
“Anyway… I love you and hope that you have a better life than me.” She starts crying, clutching Brance.
“Jesus Christ, Claire,” I say.
“Reed, language,” my mom responds, reaching for Claire. She hugs her, stroking her hair.
Brance steps back and takes a glass of champagne. Shaking his head, he raises his glass.
“To Tess. Happy Birthday, Pretty Girl! I wish you nothing but joy and happiness.”TESSEveryone is cheering at Brance’s toast. Well, everyone besides my drunk mother and the psycho chick. Again, resentment wiggles inside me like a worm inserting itself into the dirt. I hate that in some ways she is right. My dad isn’t here, and the reminder of my father’s stupid phone call gets me fired up. Quite frankly, my feet hurt and I’m sick of 90 percent of the people in this room.
Reed touches my chin, forcing our eyes to meet. “Let it go, Kitten. You know it’s the alcohol.” He knows me so well, and I smile, already feeling better. “Finish your cake. I want to give you your present and get everyone out of here.”
Not even bothering to whisper, I say, “My mom makes me sick. She’s a complete waste of oxygen.”
“Yeah, she’s on a roll.”
I shake my head. Her speech about my dad hit a nerve. Nothing like airing our dirty laundry in front of the Russians. Does she always have to humiliate me?
My eyes shift over to Lexi, her weird smile making me uneasy. I don’t like her. I’ve never felt such an instant repulsion for someone. She reminds me of a black widow, waiting quietly in the dark.
“Reed?” My hand clutches his forearm.
“I’m ready for presents.” Moving my eyes away and back in Lexi’s direction, an odd anxiety engulfs me—that sense of unease that you can’t explain, but you want it to go away.
“You okay?” Reed’s turquoise eyes take me in.
“I’m ready to be alone with you.”
He nods, turning to the drunken messes we call our parents.
“It’s gift time.” His strong voice makes everyone respond. He sits me down in a large, soft gray leather chair.
I check to see if my mom has stopped her drunk crying. She hasn’t.
Jax hands me a large silver box, plopping it onto my lap.
“Mine first.” He flashes me those identical Saddington dimples.
“I love it already!” I touch the white ribbon on it.
“Open it, Tess.” With his large hands, he starts to help me unwrap it.
“You’re the best, Jax.” He’s so excited, I can’t help but giggle with him. “What did you get me?”
Opening the top, he rolls it out of the box and onto my lap. My eyes go wide. It’s an incredibly large crystal ball, the size of a soccer ball. “Holy God, this is heavy.”
Reed helps me hold it, so I can show everyone. Not that anyone but Brance and creepy girl are paying attention.
“It’s heavy because it’s a real crystal ball. It will protect and calm you, sis.”
My eyes fill up with tears. “I can’t believe how much I love this.” I hand it to Reed, so I can hug Jax tightly. “Love you.”