Kiss Me Like This
- Text Font:
- Text Size:
- Line Height:
- Line Break Height:
Nothing, she was certain, could bring her down tonight.
But as soon as they walked inside the Delta Tau Delta house, it was as if her optimism had turned straight into a jinx when she heard the too-familiar strains of Crashing Girl…and realized Sean’s frat brothers were all hunched over an iPad.
* * *
Sean knew the second he and Serena walked into the house and every guy in the place turned to them with guilty looks on their faces that something was up. Something bigger than how they’d grilled him about her all day.
It hadn’t taken much to shut down their borderline raunchy questions when they’d realized he was serious about her. Not when they knew the kind of damage his fists could do to when he was provoked.
Out of the corner of his eye he’d seen them shove what looked like an iPad under a couch cushion. “What the hell were you just looking at?”
Serena was pulling his hand in the other direction, but he needed to deal with the situation in his house immediately. And in the strongest way possible.
Kurt stood and held up both hands. “It’s nothing, bro. Just watching some videos.”
“Give me the goddamned iPad.”
One of the newer recruits, clearly figuring there was a better chance of saving his ass this way, grabbed it from its hiding place and held it out to Sean.
The screen was paused on an image of Serena on a sandy beach. Tiny scraps of fabric barely covered her and she was wet and covered with sand. It was a music video he’d seen before, for the song that had been playing when they walked inside, but he hadn’t remember that she was the girl writhing around so sexily in it.
He threw the iPad across the room so that it slammed into the hardwood bar.
He hadn’t let go of her hand, and when she jerked at the sound of the device shattering on impact, he wanted to pull her against him to tell her she didn’t deserve every goddamned creep in the world drooling over her. But for the moment, he needed to focus on ripping his frat brothers a new one.
“I thought I already told all of you not to do one damned thing to disrespect her.” He had Kurt’s throat in his hand and had lifted him up so that his toes were barely touching the floor.
“Sean, it’s okay.” Serena tugged on his hand again, hard enough that he had to turn to look at her and break his hard hold on his onetime friend’s throat. “It’s not their fault I was in that video.”
She looked so obviously distraught that it made him even angrier. But at the same time, he could belatedly see that he was only making things worse for her by losing it.
Turning back to the crowd of guys who looked like they were about to piss themselves, he warned them, “If I so much as hear that you’re looking at pictures or videos of Serena again—”
“We won’t.” The scared freshman was the first to make that promise, but all the other guys quickly nodded and echoed it.
Kurt was rubbing his neck with one hand and wiping the water from his eyes with the back of the other. “Jesus, Sean, we didn’t mean anything by it.”
He was about to launch at him again when Serena said his name. “Please, Sean, it’s okay. I’m okay.” He watched her take a deep breath before turning to the group. “I know my past is a little weird—”
“It isn’t weird!”
She shot him a look that shut him up before she continued. “But if you want to know something about me or the career I had before I came to Stanford, I’d appreciate it if you’d ask me straight to my face instead of doing an Internet search. And things like that video...”
When she paused and he felt her hand shake a little in his, he wanted so badly to jump in to let her know she didn’t need to do this, didn’t need to be so brave. But for as badly as he wanted to protect her, he swore he could hear his mother’s voice in his head and what she’d always told him when he wanted to step in for one of his sisters. “She needs to do this. She needs to know how strong, how powerful she really is.”
“That video was a part of my career before I came here, but it isn’t who I am now. And,” she said with a small smile, “I’m going to do my best to convince Sean that he doesn’t need to beat up every guy who so much as looks at one of my pictures, because I don’t want you all to feel unsafe just walking past a stack of magazines or turning on your computer. But I’m also thinking that maybe you all could do your part by trying not to look.”
Right before they walked away, he could see the new respect in the eyes of most of the guys in his house—guys who, until this very moment, had only looked at her and seen a hot girl they wanted to do.
* * *
“I never wanted to be in that video,” she told him as soon as his bedroom door closed. “But my mother swore it would be fine, that she wouldn’t let them film anything inappropriate, and that it was a really important next step toward making it as an actress.”
“How could she do that to you?” Sean drew Serena against him. She needed to get this off her chest, but he couldn’t let her explain her previous life to him anywhere but in his arms. “To her daughter who trusted her to help her?”
But instead of answering his questions, she said, “I wanted tonight to be fun. To be good. I didn’t want to ruin it with all of this.”
“You’re not ruining anything, Serena.”
“But I already have. Just by being in that video.”
“Bullshit. Don’t you dare take the blame for something that wasn’t in your control. You were just a kid doing what you were told.”
“Honestly,” she said in a soft voice, “I don’t think my mom realized just how bad the video was for a seventeen-year-old girl to be in until it was too late. Once the song became a massive hit, all she could do to justify it was say that at least I’d proven I wouldn’t freeze up on screen. And she was right, because the scripts started pouring in. Every single one of them was the same, though, wanting me to play the young, overly sexed-up girl getting in too deep and getting hurt, just like I had portrayed in the video. That was the first time I ever refused my mother anything—refused to audition for any of those directors. She was so angry with me. She said she’d never met anyone so selfish, so unappreciative, in all her life. So when Smith Sullivan came along with a great script and a real character who felt like someone I actually understood, I couldn’t say no.” She tilted her face up to his. “I got the part in his movie, Sean, and I would be there now filming if the production hadn’t ended up on hold indefinitely.”