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She hesitates, then looks at her watch and leaves us.

I order some sparkling and plain water and bread. Placing the white cloth napkin on my lap, I face Brance. “Tell me,” I hiss, not looking up.

He lightly touches my cheek, forcing me to make eye contact. “You know I just want you to be happy. I have debated saying anything because I’m not sure you need to hear it.”

I bite my lip and take a sip of cool water, knowing whatever he’s about to say is going to change me.

“Do your worst.”

Then he does, butchering me with four words. “Reed is with Lexi.”

Lexi. Her blond hair and ugly body swim before me. I never allow myself to think about her since she is everything I find evil. She has been stalking Reed for years. He hates her as much as I do.

“Take another sip of water.” Brance holds up the crystal glass to me; the ice cubes swirl and sparkle.

Shaking my head, I say, “I don’t believe it!” My voice is getting loud.

Brance simply stares. I look around, not caring what people think about me. But no one seems to notice. Their happy smiles and laughter make me want to throw something to shut them up.

“Tess, look at me.” I do, then wish I hadn’t because it’s all there on my best friend’s face. His pain is real, and he is feeling it for me. “I confronted him because I couldn’t believe it. He didn’t deny it.”

I stand up. “No! Not with her—he wouldn’t!”

Brance gently pulls me down into my chair.

“He did, Pretty Girl. It’s time for you to move on too. I need you to think about this, Tess. Maybe we should move to LA and start over together.”

Blinking at him a couple times, I try to get my mind to work. The pain and betrayal are about to make me scream and I might never stop. My eyes dart around the restaurant, looking for a safe corner to curl up in and vanish.

I grab my water, spilling it all over my shirt, the wetness cold and not unnoticeable, but I’m beyond caring.

Brance rubs my back. When Lana slinks into the chair next to me, her freshly applied makeup looks perfect.

“So, he told you what a piece of shit your boyfriend is.” She flags the waiter to order a chardonnay.

I clear my throat. “He’s not my boyfriend.” I stare at them dumbly.

Brance reaches for my chin and holds my face tight. “Tess, you are the most important person to me. You’re going to be okay, and just so you know, I have decided not to move yet, so you will be staying with me.” He’s so good and confident, I wish I could crawl inside him.

Tears sting my eyes. “Brance…” I want to say more, but my father’s tall build fills up the small walkway.

“Do you think you could have gotten a worse table?” he grumbles at me and turns to Brance. “And you… are you sure you’re gay? I think I have been hustled into thinking you were safe to be around my daughter.” He chuckles at himself.

“Daddy! That’s not funny. You’re being rude.”

He ignores me and holds out his hand to Brance who stands.

“Mr. Gallagher, good to see you again.”

My father’s attention returns to me, and he gives me a disapproving stare. Obviously, I don’t rank on his perfection scale. Lana does though. His eyes light up with approval. “Svetlana.” He leans down to tenderly kiss her.

That’s it. I push my chair back. “Excuse me, I need to use the ladies’ room.”

I’m going to puke. I can feel it coming up, burning my esophagus. My legs move as fast as they can. Bursting into the restroom, I lean over the toilet, waiting for my body to purge itself. I heave, but nothing comes out. As the agonizing seconds tick by, my mouth stops watering and I lean back resting against the side of the stall.

Reed is with Lexi!

Closing my eyes, I try to calm my manic mind, but the stupid childhood song plays in my fuzzy brain. Reed and Lexi sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G. I almost start laughing at the betrayal and that this might be my tipping point.

“Unbelievable!” I kick the door, and it snaps open and shut like a boomerang. This is the ultimate nail in our coffin. He wanted to send me a direct message? Mission accomplished.

Hands go up to my face, and I want to hide. My life is a joke—a sad waste of a pretty face.


I push open the stall door. Brance stands with his arms crossed.

“You’re going to get us thrown out.”

“Maybe.” We stare at each other. He nods, knowing what I’m going through.

“This one hurts the most.” Tears swim in my eyes.

“Christ, you should have let me castrate him.” He runs a hand through his hair and sighs. “Come here, Pretty Girl.” The tips of our fingers touch as he reels me in to his warmth. The thought of Reed’s dick, thick and proud, pulsing in my hand, is enough to make me wail, especially if I had allowed Brance to cut it off.