Reputation by Adriana Locke
“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.
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.”
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 I figured I might as well save the cash. Besides, Mom cleans my room and makes food just how I like it. I can’t 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 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 Holt and our other brother, Oliver, and I get along just fine. Wade and I, though? We 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? Do 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.”
I fill my mouth with cereal before a bunch of verbal diarrhea comes spewing out.
My tail between my legs.
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 sure of is, somehow, I was automatically the bad guy in the press.
I swallow hard before taking another bite.
My brain replays the incident. 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 Willa 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.
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