Taz Roman pulled his Porsche 911 Carrera S into the dance studio’s parking lot and killed the engine. He sat, paralyzed. His sister’s words swarming around in his brain like angry bees.
“You need to settle down,” she pressed through the Bluetooth speaker. “You need to have some focus in your life and grow up. You’re not a kid anymore. By the time Dad was your age, he had a whole orchestra. He and Mom were at the height of their careers.”
“What’s your point?” Taz growled.
“That you’re wasting your time with the Belly Dance Divas. You’re the best thing in that show. You’re a Roman. You should be the headliner.”
He touched his temples and stared into the glare of sunlight glancing off the car’s hood. He measured his words carefully. “You haven’t even seen the show.”
“I don’t have to. How could I, knowing you were so close to striking out on your own? But you had to go and let that snake Garrett weasel his way into the deal—”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.” His heart thumped the way it always did when they argued. He tried to be calm. He tried to breathe. He tried not to care.
“Don’t I?” she needled. “I know what I see when I look at a Belly Dance Divas poster: I see his name splashed over everything, like he’s the reason the show’s so successful.”
Taz closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “My name is there, too.”
“It’s at the bottom. Underneath the dancers. I guess that shouldn’t surprise me. From what I hear, you’re beneath quite a few of those dancers these days. No wonder—”
“Enough,” he said, his knuckles burning white on the steering wheel. “Stop pretending you’re my mother. Just because she’s gone”—after all these years he still couldn’t bring himself to say dead—“doesn’t mean you get to fill the spot.”
There was a silence. Then a meek, “I’m sorry. I just worry about you. When I was there, I knew what was happening. You said you’d come to New York to visit, but you haven’t come since the wedding. It’s been two years. You can’t blame me for worrying about my little brother, especially when I hear what’s happening with the show and these girls.”
“You don’t have to worry,” he said. “It’s a good show, and I’m in a good spot, whether you want to believe it or not.”
“But you need someone to take care of you. You need someone who understands you and your talent and can look out for you. Someone like Tamara, who—”
“Stop,” he blurted. He wasn’t going to think about her. Not now. Not ever. He’d walled off that part of his life a long time ago. It was better that way.
Gina perked. “Oh?”
In that one syllable, he heard the conversation pivot.
“Is there someone new?” she coaxed. “Someone special?”
There wasn’t anyone remotely close, but he heard opportunity in her tone. If he told her the truth, she’d go right back to haranguing him. But if he didn’t…
“Yeah,” he lied. “I’ve met someone new.”
“Why didn’t you say so? Do I know her? Is it serious? How serious?”
Even with three thousand miles between them, her giddiness radiated loud and clear.
“Well, you know…” He cracked a grin, relieved to be off the defensive.
“It is serious. I can hear it. I want to meet her. You know what?”
He heard the flutter of papers at the other end of the connection. “Todd’s going to a work conference next week, so I’m coming to California. No reason to stay in this penthouse all alone for a week, not when I can spend quality time with my little brother and his new girlfriend.”
Sudden panic set in. “You can’t,” he said.
“Why not? I’ll stay in my old room. It’ll be just like old times.” She paused. “Unless she’s living with you. Is she living with you? She is! You devil! You should have said so.”
He made a face. Was this getting better or worse? “I didn’t want to say anything until—”
“Until you knew it was going to work out. I get it. Well, I’m sure it’ll be fine. It’ll be better than fine. It’ll give me a chance to get to know… what’s her name, anyway?”
He froze. Then he said the only thing he could think to say. “What?” he bellowed. “You’re breaking up. I’m losing the signal. Are you still there?”
She repeated herself, but he wasn’t listening. He tapped the phone’s screen and ended the call. Then he tore away the Bluetooth ear piece and threw it against the windshield.
What the hell had he just done?
The excerpt will continue tomorrow…
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