Trashed, p.23
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       Trashed, p.23

         Part #2 of Stripped series by Jasinda Wilder
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  “Are you locked into going to Mackinac this summer?”

  I shake my head, the denim of his jeans scratching my cheek. “No. I said I was, but Ruthie has an internship here in the city this year, and I…I don’t know what I’m going to do. Mackinac wouldn’t be the same without her. ”

  Adam grabs the remote, clicks the TV off, and tugs at my shirt sleeve, a tacit request to sit up. I twist and tuck my feet under my thighs and sitting facing him.

  “Come to L. A. with me. ” He takes my hand as he says this, twining our fingers together.

  “Um…what?” I blink several times. “I’m half-done with my master’s, Adam. I can’t move—”

  “Just for the summer,” he interrupts.

  “Oh. ”

  “At first, I mean. ” He pauses. “My agent just sent me a script for a cop movie. It’s gonna be filmed here in Detroit starting in the fall. September or October, they’re thinking. It sounds like a good script. It’s not a big-budget action movie either, more of a cop drama. I want to try my hand at more serious acting roles, and this might be a good way to show my skill at things other than fight scenes and crazy stunts. In the meantime, I could just keep this apartment. ”

  “But this summer?” I prompt. It’s not that I don’t care about where his career goes, because I very much do, but I want to nail down what he’s asking me.

  “This summer. Come back to L. A. Go to the premiere of Fulcrum with me. ” He traces my cheekbone with a thumb. “Meet my family. ”

  I swallow hard and have to blink the dizziness away. “Where—um. Where would I stay?”

  He frowns. “With…me?” This is said in a duh tone of voice. He touches my chin and tilts my face up so I’m looking at him. “Des. When I said I was going back to L. A. , what did you think I was saying?”

  I shrug miserably. “I don’t know. ”

  He has the gall to laugh. “Des. Seriously? Did you think filming would wrap and I’d just…what? Take off and leave? Like, see ya, I had fun?”

  I get up and walk across the room, feeling angry and hurt that he’s laughing at me. “I don’t know, Adam!” I snap. “I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know what this…where we’re…I don’t know. Yeah, maybe I did think that. I mean, what, am I just supposed to assume you’d want me to move to L. A. with you? And how could I do that? I can’t transfer this late in my degree, and I wouldn’t want to anyway. And then what? After I’ve got my degree, what then? I don’t know! I don’t—I don’t know. ”

  Adam is behind me, arms wrapped around my waist, nose in my hair. “Breathe, baby. You don’t have to know any of that. I don’t know either. That’s how relationships work, Des. You have your life, I have mine. And somehow, we find a way to make your life and mine fit together, because we like the way life feels when we’re together. Right? Do you know that, at least?”

  I lean back into him, let him support me. “Yes, I know that much. ”

  “Then that’s all you need. That’s all I need. The rest we take as it comes. We figure it out. ”

  “Okay. ”

  “Okay?” He spins me. “So you’ll come to L. A. for the summer?”

  I shrug. “Sure. ”

  I ignore the fear that comes with the rest of what he suggested: a big-ticket, high-profile premiere event, as his real official girlfriend, and, more scary yet, meeting his family.

  “Good. ” He tilts my face up, slants his mouth towards mine. “Now kiss me. ”

  “I taste like come,” I whisper in warning.

  He just smirks, kisses me, sweeps his tongue through my mouth. “Sure do. But then, you kiss me when I taste like pussy, so I guess we’re even. ”

  I can’t help blushing and burying my face in his neck. “Does it make me dirty that I kind of like kissing you when you taste like me?”

  He chuckles. “Yes, it does. It makes you a very dirty girl. I’ll have to remember that. ”

  I wonder what I just got myself into. Whatever it is, I’m sure I’ll enjoy it.

  A lot.

  I’m going to L. A. with Adam. I’m going to meet his family.

  Shit.

  Chapter 15

  I thought maybe we’d go to his house after we landed in L. A. , or maybe to a hotel, or something. I thought maybe Oliver would meet us there, or some other driver. I thought we’d do any number of things.

  Instead, there was a tall black man in a fitted black suit standing beside a sleek red sports car, holding a sign that read A. Trenton. The man takes our four suitcases and piles them—improbably, it seems to me—into the trunk, hands Adam a key fob, and accepts a folded $100 bill. Adam holds the door and closes it behind me, and then climbs into the driver’s seat. He touches a button, pulls the shifter into gear, and then the car darts forward silently. There’s no roar of the engine, nor even a silky purr. Just…silence.

  I glance at Adam. “What the hell kind of car is this? Is it electric?”

  He grins. “Yep. It’s a Tesla. Pretty sweet, huh?”

  “Where’s Oliver?”

  “Miss him already?” Adam jokes. “Or is his driving that much better than mine?”

  He has the car whipping between lanes, darting around one car and then another, doing easily eighty-five if not more. It’s certainly not what I expected when I thought of an electric car. It’s sleek and sexy looking, effortlessly powerful, and the interior is done in luxurious tan leather, with a huge touchscreen display where the radio and climate control would be.

  “Just…maybe slow down a little?”

  He only laughs. “Babe, this is L. A. Traffic will slow me down at some point. Besides, I’ve missed driving my car. ”

  I don’t ask where he was taking us. I should have. I really, really should have. But I don’t. We don’t head into downtown L. A. , but up into the hills surrounding it. After a good hour’s drive spent in conversation interspersed with companionable silence, he pulls off the freeway and into a suburban area.

  We go through a few stoplights, past a few shopping centers, palm trees lining the broad boulevards. It’s like a scene from every movie ever set in L. A. , immediately familiar even though I’ve never been here. He turns into a quiet neighborhood and the houses aren’t the monster mansions I was expecting, but they are still fairly large. I mean, they’re still mansions compared to what I’m used to, but still.

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  A few turns, and then he’s pulling up to a tall two-story house, all brick and adobe and dark beams set on an acre or so. There’s a Lexus sedan, an older two-door BMW, and a new four-door Wrangler in the driveway.

  Adam pulls up behind the Wrangler, shuts the car off, and gives me a happy grin. “Ready?”

  I stare at the three cars, at the expensive but still modest home—modest in comparison to what I imagine Adam could probably afford, even though I have no idea what he’s worth. I realize how far we are from Hollywood and the studios, and something inside me makes a connection.

  “This isn’t where you live, is it. ” This comes out as a statement.

  He grins even more widely. “Nope. At least, not anymore. ” He gets out, and then ducks his head back in when I don’t move to exit the Tesla. “Come on, Des. ”

  I shake my head. “You’ve got to be kidding me. ”

  He sighs in irritation, closes his door, and rounds the hood to my side. Opening my door, he kneels beside me. “Des. This isn’t a big deal. They’re excited to meet you. ”

  “I’ve been on a plane all day!” I hiss. “I didn’t take a shower this morning. I’m not wearing any makeup, and I’m wearing fucking yoga pants. Not how I wanted to look when I met your family. ”

  He rolls his eyes. “Believe me, they’re the last people on earth who would care how you look, babe. And you look stunning. ”

  “You haven’t told me a single thing about your family. ”

  This isn’t true. I
know he has two sisters and I know their names—Lizzy and Lia—and that they’re twins. I know his mom and dad are still married, and that their names are Lani and Erik.

  “Liar. I have too. ” He grabs my hands and pulls me up, and I let him pull me out of the car. “Now, come on. You’ll like them. I promise. ”

  He takes my hand and leads me between the Lexus and the BMW, down a walkway lined with dark red stones that leads to the front door, which is easily ten feet high and a rich brown, with black iron fittings. Now that I’m closer to the house, I realize it’s quite a bit larger than I’d originally estimated. My heart pounds.

  Adam pushes the door open, and we’re in a cool, airy foyer, the floor a blue-and-white Spanish mosaic tile, a staircase to the right, a formal living room to the left, and a kitchen visible beyond a short hallway. Adam kicks his shoes off, and I do the same.

  That, taking my shoes off before entering the home, is a marker that I’m really not in Kansas anymore, Toto. Where I come from, no one gave a shit whether you had your shoes on or not. I mean, why would you take your shoes off? It wasn’t like it mattered. Adam takes his shoes off in a way that makes me think it’s a life-long ritual. Walk in, take your shoes off.

  I can hear voices, a male and several females.

  Adam leads me into the kitchen, and then stops just inside. No one sees us at first. There’s music playing, top forty pop. A tall, slender woman with dark skin and long, straight black hair stands at an island set in the center of the kitchen, slicing cheese. She’s most likely Adam’s mother. Her head is down to focus on what she’s doing, so I’m not sure yet. Sitting on the stools on the opposite side of the island are three more people.

  All I can see of them are their backs, since they’re faced away from us, but I can guess their basic identities. The man is even taller than Adam and nearly as well-built, but he has fair skin and wavy brown hair. The other two are his sisters, I think, with Adam’s dark skin coloring and black hair.

  It occurs to me that Adam comes from an interracial family.

  The woman looks up first, sees Adam. He shakes his head, and the woman somehow keeps her expression neutral as Adam creeps up behind the other three sitting at the island. They’re all munching on crackers and sliced cheese, chatting and laughing with easy familiarity.

  A real family.

  A normal family.

  It’s hard to breathe for some reason.

  Adam lets my hand go and tiptoes up behind his sisters, moving with surprising silence for such a huge man. His hands clap down on his sisters’ shoulders, and he shouts wordlessly. They shriek deafeningly, jumping on the stools, and then turn and they both leap from their seats at once. They both cling to Adam, and he wraps an arm around both of them, spin them in circles, and then he sets them down and hugs each of them in turn.

  They’re not identical twins, he told me, but they’re almost indistinguishable. Or they would be, if they weren’t dressed totally differently, with their hair done differently as well. One wears a skirt shorter than anything I’d ever feel comfortable wearing and a tight top, her hair twisted up in an elaborate knot, and the other is more modestly dressed in a pair of jeans and a tank top, her hair in a low, loose ponytail.

  After he’s hugged them, Adam turns to his father, who’s stood up to wait. He and Adam hug. That’s just fucking weird. I mean, I’ve seen bro-hugs before—bump chests, hands clasped between them, smack each other’s back three or four times—but never an actual embrace like this between men. And then Adam is on to his mom, and this is hard for me to watch. He clearly adores his mom. He pauses, holds her by the arms, looks at her, and then he pulls her into a long, intimate hug.

  Her hands curl up under his arms and hold onto his shoulders, and when he releases her; she sniffs and drags a finger under her eyes. “Tory…hi, baby. I didn’t know you were in town. ”

  Tory?

  Adam glances back at me, gestures for me to come to him with a jerk of his head. “Mom, Dad, Lia, Lizzy…this is my girlfriend, Des. ” He points to each family member in turn. “Des, this is my mom, Lani, my dad, Erik, and my baby sisters, Lia and Lizzy. ” He glances at Lizzy, the sister in the miniskirt. “And Lizzy, would you like to explain to me exactly what the flying fuck you’re wearing?”

  Lizzy narrows her eyes at him. “Not you too? God, would you guys give it a rest? It’s not that short. ”

  “That’s what I asked her this morning,” Adam’s dad says. “I was running late so I didn’t have time to argue with her about it. ”

  “Liz, that wouldn’t fit a Barbie doll,” Adam says.

  “Don’t be an asshole, Tory. It’s not that short. Seriously. You should see what the other girls at school wear. This is modest. ”

  I tap Adam’s shoulder. “Um. Who is Tory?”

  His entire family exchanges looks, and then they all burst out laughing. His mother is the first to answer. She does this by moving between his father and sisters to pull me into a hug. Which is awkward, because I’m not a hugger. So I tense, and wonder what I’m supposed to do with my hands, and do I put my face against her shoulder, or what? I don’t know. But she doesn’t seem to care; she just wraps her arms around me and holds on. She smells like cinnamon, and her hug is soft and never seems to end.

  Page 67

 

  “Des, it’s so good to meet you. ” She finally lets me go, and stands at a comfortable distance. “His full name is actually Torrence Adam Trenton. He went by Tory up until high school, when he decided it was too girly for him, and switched to Adam. But he’s been Tory to us his whole life, and he always will be, especially since it irritates him so much. ” She smiles at me, her teeth flashing white against her dark mocha skin. It’s very faint, but I notice a lilt to her voice, the trace of an accent of some kind on certain words.

  I turn to him and grin. “Tory, huh. You’d think this would have come up before now. ”

  He narrows his eyes at me, and the glare he gives me is a mirror to the one his sister just gave him. “Is that so, Destiny?”

  I frown, because I don’t exactly have much to argue with on that score. I turn away from him and extend my hand to his father, who ignores the hand and moves toward me. He’s going to hug me too? What the fuck? Who hugs this much? It’s unnatural. My gut flips and my pulse hammers, because his mother is one thing, but Adam’s dad is almost as huge as his son, and I’m uncomfortable at best around anyone, men especially. But I don’t want to seem standoffish or anything, so I force myself to stay calm and let him get near me. It feels like it happens in slow-motion, and then his burly arms are around my shoulders, but he’s angled slightly rather than face-on, and there’s space between us, and somehow it’s strangely not as scary as I thought it would be. He smells like cologne and lets me go quickly.

  “It’s nice to meet you, Des. Welcome. ” He smiles, and I see where Adam got his eyes, the same pale, intelligent, piercing green.

  “You too,” I say. “And thanks for having me here. ”

  That’s what you say in these situations, right? I don’t know. Whenever I was placed in a new home, I’d just say my name and everyone else would say theirs and then I’d find somewhere out of the way to hang out. No one hugged, no one told me welcome or that it was nice to meet me. Just “Hey, ’sup. How are ya?” And then back to the TV or the video game or the joint.

  And then his sisters are in front of me, side by side, and they each hug me in turn, because clearly a hug is how this family greets new people, or maybe it’s just Adam’s girlfriends. I don’t know. But I make it through the hugs without panicking or freezing.

  “Would you like a glass of wine, Des?” Lani asks, uncorking a bottle.

  “Um. Sure?”

  “Do you like shiraz?”

  I shrug, mystified. “I…I’m not much of a wine drinker, so I honestly don’t know. Whatever you’re having is fine. ”

  I accept a huge goblet of ruby red win
e, and when I taste it my mouth explodes. It’s thick, rich, and does something bizarre to my taste buds. I blink and force myself to swallow it.

  Adam is watching my expression carefully, and laughs. “Yeah, shiraz’ll do that to you. I hate that shit, myself. ”

  Lani looks at me in concern. “Oh, I’m sorry. I guess I didn’t realize…here, would you care for something else?” She reaches for the glass, her expression so worried that it’s almost funny.

  I shake my head and take another sip, which assaults my mouth just as violently as the first time, but it’s not entirely unpleasant, just…very different. “No, it’s fine. I’ll try it. ”

  Lani frowns. “Well, don’t drink it just to be polite, not if you don’t like it. ”

  The girls have glasses of something pink and bubbly, and I’m not sure if it’s alcoholic or not. Adam and his dad have beer, and his mom has a glass of the same wine I’m drinking, and then we all move outside to a long rectangular glass table beneath a pergola. Thank god for HGTV, so I at least know what a pergola is. Lani brings a plate of white, pungent cheese and another plate of hexagonal crackers, and the cheese is arranged in an intricate starburst pattern on the plate and the crackers are stacked in rows, and it looks like something out of a TV show, where people do fancy shit like arrange cheese on the plate before eating it.

  I settle into a chair and take another sip, and this time it’s actually almost pleasant, the way the wine seems to occupy my entire mouth, exploding and changing as I swallow. I have a hand draped down at the side of the chair, and I feel something wet nuzzle my palm.

  I glance over, and then jump so hard my wine spills over the edge of the glass and then I shriek. They have a bear. An actual pet bear. Okay, maybe it’s just a big dog, but it’s the size of a small bear, with floppy ears and shaggy gray fur.

  “What the hell is that?” I ask, scooting my chair backward and moving behind Adam, who is laughing.

  “That’s Iggy,” Adam says, pulling the enormous beast to his side. “He’s an Irish wolfhound. He’s big, sweet, and stupid. ”

  “Iggy?” It seems an incongruous name for such a massive dog. I move out from behind Adam’s chair and sit down again.

  “He is not stupid, Tory!” Lizzy protests. “He’s just misunderstood. And a little slow. ”

  “Will he try to eat me?” I can’t help asking.

  I’m not a dog person. Cats, maybe. Fish, lizards, very small birds…fine. Dogs the size of a grizzly bear? Not fine.

  Adam laughs. “No. He might try to sit on your lap and crush you, though. Sit, Iggy. ” He pats the dog’s backside, and he sits, huffing, tongue lolling, a mouth full of huge fangs dripping with saliva. “Iggy. Say hi. ”

  The dog barks, a loud woof of sound that has me startled all over again. “Hi, Iggy. ” I reach my hand out tentatively, and the dog barks again and moves toward me.

  I hastily withdraw my hand, but now the dog is in front of me. He’s so tall that, when I’m sitting, he can basically lick me in the face without having to lift up. Which he does. Vigorously. I stand up and back away, but Iggy just leaps up and puts his paws on my shoulders. His paws reach my shoulders, and his head is higher than mine. And now his breath is in my face and his tongue is lapping at me.

 
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