Trashed / Page 69

Page 69


“I understand this,” Lani says, her voice quiet, her eyes far away. “Growing up in Fiji, I was just one of many children whose parents simply couldn’t afford to care for them. But for us, there was no system.”

My heart hitches. Something in her carriage, her bearing, her voice, tells me she understands me on a personal level. “But you made it out?”

She nods. “Eventually, yes. I had an aunt; my father’s much, much older sister. She had no children of her own. She’d moved here to Los Angeles many years before I was born. I’m not even sure how she made it here, honestly. She visited us in Fiji when I was eleven. And she…brought me back with her. Why me, I’ll never know. But she did. Put me in school, gave me an opportunity I would never have gotten otherwise.”

“That’s awesome,” I say.

“Yes, I was very fortunate.”

“So, what do you do?” I ask.

“I am a surgeon,” she answers. “And Erik is an entrepreneur. He owns several apartment complexes, a shopping center, a chain of gyms, and he also runs a medical supply company, primarily for outpatient home care.”

“You must be busy, then.”

She shrugs. “Who isn’t? He’s thinking of selling off some of his holdings now, though, since the girls are both heading off to college in the fall.” Her gaze goes to me, and while her expression isn’t exactly hard, it’s piercing, unwavering. “Tory is kind and loyal to a fault, you know. And he may be a big macho tough guy, but his emotions run deep. He was hurt by a woman recently, very badly. That was…difficult for me to watch.”

I let out a long breath and meet her eyes. “Emma. He told me about that.”

Lani seems surprised. “He did? He’s usually very reticent to speak of that time in his life. That was just so…public, which made it that much more painful for everyone involved. Except her, of course.”

I nod. “He made it seem like the whole thing was no big deal to her. Which is just…insane to me. The way he explained it, at least.”

“Well, we never met her, but every time I saw him during the time they were dating, he seemed…stressed. As if keeping up with her, keeping her happy was more a full-time job than even his acting career was.” She glances at me. “If you ask me, a person is only as beautiful as the contents of their soul.”

“You never met her?” I find this odd. “They dated for what…a year and a half?”

“Perhaps closer to two years, yes. And no, he never brought her here.” Lani’s expression is thoughtful. “How long have you and Tory been dating?”

I shrug. “Not long.”

Adam is behind me, his arms sliding around my middle. “I never brought Emma over because I just…I guess I knew you and Dad wouldn’t approve. And I didn’t want that conflict. Des is a different story.” He moves beside me, leans a hip against the island. “And Des, you’re the only girl I’ve brought home to meet my parents since…what, Mom, high school?”

Lani nods. “Your first girlfriend. Sarah Wexford. That was your sophomore year.”

My heart lodges in my throat. “So I’m in pretty exclusive company, huh?”

Adam laughs. “Babe, you are the company. I brought Sarah here once after we’d dated for a month, but then she dumped me two days later for the quarterback, who happened to be my best friend at the time. So that doesn’t even count.”

“Wow.” I’m not sure what else to say, so I don’t say anything.

The rest of the evening passes easily. I like this family. I like sitting around the dinner table, passing a basket of bread, laughing, talking, feeling as if I belong. Perhaps it’s just how kind and open his family is, but I do feel as if I could belong. Which is heady, and addictive, and frightening. I pinch my leg under the table several times throughout the evening, but it all remains real. Lia and Lizzy and I discuss fashion for a long time, especially once they discover that I was a model. I tell them modeling isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and Lizzy especially seems a little let down by that. I find out Erik used to play football, too, for the USC Trojans, and then second string for the Forty-Niners for four seasons, which explains Adam’s build and natural athleticism.

As scared as I was when we first got here, by the time night has fallen and Adam seems ready to go, I feel like I’ve known this family forever, which makes it hard to leave.

But we do leave, sometime close to ten p.m., and Adam is quiet on the drive into downtown L.A. He takes me to a high-rise condo building in the bustling heart of the city, where a valet parks his car and a porter unloads our luggage and whisks it away. We board an elevator, Adam inserts a small key and presses ‘PH’, and then we’re shooting up, up, up, forty-three floors above the ground.

The elevator doors open directly into a huge foyer where the luggage is somehow waiting for us. It’s an open-plan penthouse suite, the kitchen, dining room, living room and a library all sprawled across the entire upper floor, more square footage on one level than I’ve ever seen before. The walls are white, decorated with black-and-white photographs of old Hollywood, a few framed high-gloss color action photos of Adam playing for the Chargers, and some antique-style maps. The floors are black wood and so shiny they reflect the track lighting. There are floor-to-ceiling windows running along one entire wall, a white couch in the living room area facing a TV that has to be at least ninety inches. It’s a beautiful condo, masculine and lived in.

I’m still taking everything in when Adam tosses his keys on the kitchen counter, kicks off his shoes, and then peels his shirt off. His dark skin and rippling muscles catch my eye, and then the gleam in his gaze, the hungry, predatory expression has my breath lodged in my lungs and my core going hot and damp.

“Seeing you with my family was incredible,” he says, reaching for me.

“Your family is amazing. They’re all wonderful.”

“They loved you.” He rolls the waistband of my yoga pants down. “I told you they would.”

“I felt very welcomed. It was…nice.”

“Nice? That’s all it was?”

I set my purse on the floor and leave my hands at my sides, look into his fierce, ravenous green gaze. “They made me feel like they could be…like I could—” I can’t finish the thought, though. It’s too much to hope for.

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