Chapter Twenty-Three

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The queasiness in Jada's stomach definitely meant she was going to throw up. That had to be the reason. It wasn't butterflies. It couldn't be butterflies. The lurch she kept getting in her gut every time she thought of Tristan absolutely, positively, could not be butterflies.  Jada repeated this mantra to herself as she got ready for Ren's wrap party. She'd spent an embarrassing amount of time quibbling over what to wear—which also, of course, had nothing to do with Tristan. Eventually, she settled on a purple dress with a tulle skirt and a modest amount of complementary makeup. By the time she finished her ensemble, Mikayla was still tinkering around in the bathroom with her own beauty products.

"Who are you getting all dressed up for?" Jada teased her.

"I could ask you the same thing." Her cousin paid her back in kind with an added dog whistle. "I'm sure Tristan will go all googly-eyed the second he sees you."

"Hurry up and get in the car," Jada said. "You don't want Ren to scold you for being late."

"It's a party!" Mikayla protested, then hesitated. "Although if anyone is going to chastise a party guest, it'd be him. Let's go!"

It turned out Ren's house was something they didn't want to miss. In the luxurious land of Beverly Hills, his estate sprawled across a vast amount of land, with a sparkling clean exterior. From outside, Mikayla and Jada could see the windows glowing in revelry as the party had, indeed, already started. If Jada had any doubts about Ren's wealth, they quickly evaporated when a real, live butler greeted them at the front door.

"Good evening, ladies. May I have your names, please?" he said in the polished, sophisticated tone of someone who'd been in indentured service for years.

"Jada Berklee and Mikayla Davis." Jada had to answer for them as Mikayla was too busy trying to see further into the house.

Once Jeeves checked them off on his guest list, he guided them into the spacious living room. The cast and crew of Love Locket filled the room, talking and laughing loudly as they swished down cocktails. The raucous gathering seemed like it would be on Ren's list of the Top Worst Ways to Die, but he was the center of attention. Entertaining guests with a smile on his face, Jada imagined the director was playing the social butterfly because he was delighted their train wreck of a film had ended. As Jada started to make her way towards him, Mikayla pulled on her arm.

"What are you doing?" she hissed.

"Saying hello. We have to at least thank Ren for inviting us," Jada pointed out. Mikayla let out an anxious groan.

"But he hates me," she insisted.

"He doesn't hate you. He just doesn't know you very well." Jada argued but eventually gave in to Mikayla's dubious glare.

"Okay. He totally hates you, but that's no reason to be rude. Manners, cousin." Jada proceeded to drag Mikayla over and tapped Ren on the shoulder.

"Jada, it's great to see you!" He enthused before his gaze flickered over to Mikayla. "And you as well, Maya."

"Mikayla," her cousin corrected him with a testy edge to her voice.   

"Right. Wardrobe PA. I remember," he said.

"Not very well, apparently," Mikayla grumbled quietly, causing Jada to elbow her.

"Thanks so much for inviting us, Ren. Your house is amazing." Jada took back the conversation.

"No problem. Please enjoy yourselves. Grab a drink, dance, whatever you like," Ren said encouragingly but soon took his leave of them to talk to someone else. Mikayla scowled after him.

"That asshole knows my name. He's trying to piss me off."

"And succeeding magnificently." Jada held back a snicker as she steered Mikayla over to the bar.

If she didn't know any better, she'd swear Mikayla had a thing for Ren. Mikayla always insisted she didn't want to go anywhere near him, but whenever she did, she pulled a petulant "look at me" act that Jada found entertaining. Despite her objections, Mikayla seemed to prefer negative acknowledgment from Ren rather than having him blow her off altogether.

"Here. Lighten up and drink up, 'Kay!" Jada handed her a cocktail. Mikayla took it without protest and began chatting with another PA standing next to them. Honestly, Jada wasn't paying much attention to the conversation and she knew why. She was waiting for him. For Tristan to walk in and give her that look that set her on fire.

Right as she started to grow impatient, he strolled in. And yep, he looked at her and the fire ignited. And damn it, maybe he did give her a few butterflies because something was flopping around inside of her as he walked towards her. Not wanting to have their meeting dissected by prying eyes, Jada moved away from Mikayla and company to go greet him.

She didn't get the chance to stammer and be nervous, because the second she was within reach, he wrapped her up in a hug and kissed her forehead.

"Missed you," he said softly in her ear.

"You saw me yesterday." Jada hid her smile by burying her face against his shoulder. God, he smelled good.

"So? I can still miss you."

Jesus, forget butterflies. There was a frickin' parakeet inside her chest, squawking like crazy.

"We should talk about that. The missing and Ferris Wheel kissing..." Jada began.

"I know but here?"

"Well, we should have talked about it yesterday, but I..."

"Didn't want to ruin it. I know." Tristan's look of adoration quickly shifted as he spotted something over her shoulder.

"And someone else is going to ruin it right now," Tristan said, gesturing for her to follow his gaze.

Low and behold, Angela had stepped onto the scene. Judging by her swiveling head and hawk eyes, she was looking for them. She'd come up empty though as Tristan swiftly grabbed Jada's hand and steered her into another hallway. The corridor proved to be almost as rowdy as the living room, with people lining up to use the bathroom. With the crowd and the tell-tale sound of Angela's demonic high heels clacking closer, Tristan changed directions and ushered Jada up to the second level of the house.

"We can't be up here. Ren will freak if he thinks we're snooping," Jada said.

"Such is the hazard of hosting a soiree. He knew that going in." Tristan shrugged. They both jumped at the high-pitched sound of Angela's voice coming closer.

"I saw him here a second ago!" Based off of Angela's shriek level, she had to be nearing the foot of the stairs. 

Tristan and Jada picked up their pace on the second landing and darted behind the nearest door. Their haven turned out to be a linen closet that housed Ren's shiny white washer and dryer combo, along with numerous sheets and towels.

"You think we're safe?" Jada asked.

"Eh, safe-ish."

Jada couldn't help giggling over Tristan's triumphant smirk, but her humor dissipated as he moved closer. She kept him at bay by grasping onto his shoulders.

"What about our talk?"

"Talking is overrated."

Before Jada could protest further, Tristan pressed his lips to hers, doing exactly what she suspected he would: taking over. Over her sense of reason and any bit of decorum she had left. 

*** For me, I get the sense they're seeing each other like Julia Stiles and Freddie Prince Jr. are right about now. Finally alone together...

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