I found Rohan in the middle of the hotel lobby, a squirming orange cat in one hand and a martini in the other. As far as I could tell, he was working furiously to keep the two things separated while a couple of middle-aged women with mile-high hairdos screamed at each other in front of him. Two bellhops scrambled to collect the contents of several shopping bags that had somehow ended up strewn about the lobby, and a maid was cowering over by the front desk.
What in the world had I just walked into?
“Ladies,” Rohan said on a breath. “I’m sure we can sort this—”
“You know how easily he relapses!” one woman shouted through her tears. “He’s been sober for almost a week, and you—”
The other let out a squeak and pressed a hand to her heaving bosom. Huh. Apparently people with bosoms—unlike myself—actually heaved when things were pushed up so high. “I can’t believe you would accuse me of sabotaging Sprinkles’s progress! I haven’t given him a drop of liquor since the last incident.”
The cat yowled as if in protest and continued trying to claw its way free from Rohan’s grip. Knowing how much my friend absolutely detested cats, I was pretty sure I had only just missed the beginning of this scene. He would never hold a cat longer than necessary, particularly one so determined to be rid of him.
Wait, was Sprinkles the cat? Were they saying the cat had fallen off the wagon? It did seem rather determined to get to that martini…
I approached slowly, unwilling to get in the middle of…whatever this was…but desperate to catch the attention of my friend. I had never needed him more than I did right this moment.
“You’re the one who left the mini bar open,” the second woman continued. “You were probably so drunk off your fifth shot of tequila that you let him get inside.”
I glanced at the ornate clock above the front desk; it was one in the afternoon. Who in the world did tequila shots at this time of day?
Better question: who in the world had an alcoholic cat?
“Ladies,” Rohan said again, but that was the only thing he managed to get out before the cat clamped its teeth down on his hand. He yelped and dropped both cat and cocktail, and glass shattered everywhere as the cat darted off toward the hotel pool in the back.
“Sprinkles!” Both ladies shrieked and took off running, followed by two of the bellhops and a security guard.
“Rohan,” I said before he could hurry after them.
He glanced over at me, but he was mostly focused on his bleeding hand and the maid who scurried forward to clean up the glass. “Sara. Hey. Sorry, I’ve got…” He winced as he examined the punctures in his thumb.
It didn’t look too deep. He’d probably be fine. I swallowed, unsure how to tell him why I was there. “So, I need to—”
“Thompson!” Rohan was still grimacing as the guy from the front desk hurried over. “Call animal control in case we need to stop that cat from attacking someone else. And send someone up to the room to remove whatever alcohol might be left. If they want anything, they can call room service, but if they’re going to be here another week, I don’t want another episode like this one. Oh, and Thompson?” He stopped the attendant from heading back to his desk, his grimace growing deeper.
“Yes, Mr. Bakshi?”
“If a flyer for the closest rehab clinic just happened to end up in their room, that probably wouldn’t be a bad thing. Something tells me the cat isn’t the only one with a problem.”
He grumbled that last part, almost making me smile. Almost. I had plenty of reasons not to, which was why I was here.
I stepped forward again, my heart picking up speed. “Ro, my mom…”
This time when he looked over at me, I finally had his full attention. As if completely forgetting the holes in his hand, he shifted closer and set his dark eyes on me. “What’s wrong with your mom, Sara?”
Of course he went straight to worrying about my mom. Frustration cut through my panic as I stood there with my arms folded tight. If anyone, I would have thought Rohan would be on my side and worry about me. After all, it was my mom’s fault that I was down here in the first place. “She’s fine,” I snapped, not missing the way his shoulders relaxed. “It’s me I’m worried about. She just kicked me out.”
At first, Rohan didn’t seem to understand me. He just stood there, his thick eyebrows pulled together as he processed what I’d just said. Then his eyes rose, as if he could see through the seventy-odd floors between us and the three-story penthouse at the top where my family lived.
“Kicked you out?” he repeated slowly, and then it clicked. “Wait, is it April already?”
And the idiot laughed.
I smacked his arm. “This isn’t funny!”
“It’s a little funny.”
“How is it funny? I have nothing, Ro. She didn’t even warn me; she just locked my door while I was up on the roof and told me to clear out!”
Thankfully, that stopped him from laughing, though he still had a stupid smirk on his face. “Technically, you had a year and a half of warning.”
I groaned, wishing I was in my room so I could flop dramatically onto my bed. Here, in a very public lobby where people could see me, wasn’t exactly the place for theatrics. “You know I haven’t been able to complete my terms.”
He folded his arms to match me. “I only know that because you’ve told me a million times, but you won’t even tell me what your terms are. I told you I would help.”
And I would have loved his help, but Dad had been clear when he gave my brothers and me our final instructions before he died: if we wanted any of his money, we had to fulfill the terms he set for us.
I was pretty sure mine was the only one that came with a deadline. Seriously, eighteen months was so arbitrary. Besides, my terms were basically impossible. How was a girl supposed to do something so monumental when no one had managed such a thing on their own?
Eighteen months to “change the world”? Seriously?
“I can’t talk to anyone about it,” I grumbled. Along with changing the world, keeping quiet about the terms was one of the stipulations of Dad’s will, and my perfect mother would know if I ever breathed a word of it to anyone. As cliche as it sounded, I was pretty sure Marianne Hawthorne had eyes and ears everywhere, and that made for an intimidating parent.
“Stupid cat,” Rohan muttered, back to focusing on his hand, and I groaned again.
“Ro, you need to help me.”
“I need to get this looked at,” he argued, brandishing his bleeding hand.
“I have no idea what to do.”
“Aren’t cat bites super infectious?”
“Rohan.” My stomach churned. How could my mom expect me to just go out into the world with nothing but a phone that had no service? (She’d turned that off, telling me I would have to pay for it if I wanted service.) Sure, she said she would send me some of my things when I had a place to stay, but I could hardly call that helpful. Not when I had no idea where to go. Well, I had one idea.
I bit my lip, hoping the answer to this question wouldn’t make my awful day even worse. “Can I stay with you?”
He choked, coughing a few times as if he’d just swallowed water wrong. “What?”
I hated the idea as much as he did, but probably for a very different reason. He hadn’t had his best friend confess her love for him six months ago. Being on the other end of that equation was far more awkward than his side.
“I have nowhere to go, Ro.”
Clearly uncomfortable, Rohan bounced on the balls of his feet as he thought for a moment. “What about Jace and Madeleine’s?”
I shuddered. My brother and his wife ran a clinic sort of thing where people went to die. At least, I was pretty sure that was what it was. “Jace wouldn’t answer his phone,” I admitted. That had been right before my service dropped. “But I doubt they’ll have room for me.”
Rohan already had his phone out and to his ear, but his crestfallen expression told me he’d been ignored as well. “He’s probably at the park,” he said. “That’s usually the only time he forgets he has a phone. Probably the homeless side of him coming out.”
I would never understand my older brother’s reasons for willingly living on the street for several months. Though he’d since gotten his inheritance, Jace had left everything behind on purpose, and I had no idea why. Coming from one of the wealthiest families on the East Coast should have made that idea repulsive.
“Jack’s playing a show in Boston,” Rohan continued, though he seemed to be talking to himself now. “But he lives upstairs anyway, so that won’t help you.”
Jace’s twin, Jack, was hardly ever home, and when he was, he was usually with his wife or our younger brother. He spent so much time playing his music that I sometimes forgot he’d even come home, and it felt like that year and a half that he’d disappeared before Dad died.
What was it with Hawthorne boys taking to the road and leaving their comfortable lives behind?
“Hang on,” Rohan said, focusing on me again. “Is Wes getting kicked out too?”
If only. At least then I would have my little brother facing the world with me. But no, “According to my mom, Wes pays rent.”
Rohan lifted an eyebrow. “How? Didn’t he start at NYU last fall? School isn’t cheap, and I’m pretty sure your parents aren’t paying for it. They didn’t with Jace.”
I shrugged, resigned to the fact that I would always be the one Hawthorne child who didn’t have everything figured out. “Can you help me or not, Rohan?”
We both turned to the bellhop who had appeared back in the lobby. He was out of breath, and a long scratch ran the length of his face.
Rohan groaned. “Sorry, SJ, but I’ve gotta take care of this demon cat before it tears the place down and leaves me without a hotel to manage. You can stay with me tonight, but I’ll be working for the next few hours.”
There was no way I was hanging out in this lobby, where anyone could see me. Considering my last name was on the side of the building, I was bound to be recognized, and someone would wonder why Lucas Hawthorne’s recluse of a daughter was crying in a corner of the Hawthorne Tower lobby. “But where am I—”
“I’ll call Max to take you over to Central Park. Jace’ll be there, and you can hang out with him until I—” Something crashed down the hall, and he winced. “Sorry, Sara, but I have to go. I’ll come get you later, okay?”
He was gone before I could argue. So much for being my best friend.
Ten minutes later, the family driver pulled up in front of the hotel, and I did my best to pretend like everything was normal and he was just taking me out to the shopping district. Hard to do when he pulled up outside Central Park and made it clear with his commiserating grimace that he wouldn’t be driving me anywhere else.
What was the point of having a family driver if I couldn’t even use him? It was like I wasn’t even a Hawthorne anymore.
“Were you ever?” I muttered under my breath.
Tears built up in my eyes as I unwillingly thought about my last conversation with my dying father, when he told me how much I had to do to live up to the Hawthorne name.
He’d been suffering from cancer for years, but it had hit hard a year and a half before he died. It had done a lot to my family, affecting all of us differently, but they had all moved on and come to terms with his death. “It was his time,” Mom said often. “He had a good life,” Jack said whenever someone brought him up. “His legacy will live on forever,” Jace had said many times.
My little brother, Wes, never said anything about Dad, but that was because he never said anything at all.
And me? When my father died, it became clearer than ever that the whole world had known him better than I did, and he had just been the guy who made me believe I would be rich for the rest of my life and never want for anything. He’d been the guy who spent so much of his free time with his perfect sons, teaching them to be men and showing them how to be a part of the world. The guy who only frowned when he looked at me and couldn’t find anything to say, even when it was just the two of us together in a room.
I may have had my dad’s eyes—an icy blue color that contrasted sharply with my black Hawthorne hair—but that didn’t mean I was anything like him.
Groaning a little, I decided I should probably find Jace before I started panicking. This park was huge, and I had a feeling he wasn’t going to be easy to find. His wife, cute and sweet as she was, had taken all the bite out of my once-impressive brother and turned the corporate shark into a guy who wore cargo pants and beanies. He was going to blend in.
Unless Rohan was wrong, he was around here somewhere, and without my phone, the only way I would find him would be to start walking.
Maybe it was just me, but it seemed like everyone I passed stared at me like they knew me. Yes, I was Sara Hawthorne, but I wasn’t like my dad, who had constantly gone to parties and events to help promote the company. I wasn’t Jace, who had spent a couple of years as CEO of Hawthorne Enterprises, or Jack, who had gotten himself pretty famous with his music.
Yes, I had a video channel that got millions of views, but I had never given my real name or disclosed where I lived. So why was everyone staring at me?
Thank goodness Rohan was right. I found Jace more quickly than I would have thought, sitting against a tree and reading a book. He hadn’t shaved in a while, though, and without one of his tailored suits, he was starting to look homeless again.
My twin brothers had both spent time on the streets, and I had no idea why. There had to be a better way to find yourself.
Sighing, I walked right up to Jace, then plopped myself down at his side before he realized I was there. “Your wife kick you out?” I asked as casually as I could manage.
I felt him staring at me, but I refused to look at him because I knew what his expression would be. I knew how strange it was to see me out in the wild, away from my camera.
“Uh, hi,” he said, and though I expected him to close his book and ask me what I was doing there, he just kept reading.
And kept reading.
He turned so many pages that I couldn’t stand it anymore, and I grabbed the book out of his hand and said, “You have to help me.”
“You have to learn how conversations work,” he replied.
He looked just like Dad. He and Jack. It was almost creepy sometimes, and I squirmed a little under his intense gaze. Thank goodness he wasn’t quite as discerning as his twin, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t pretty good at reading people. It had served him well when he was CEO, and I still didn’t understand why he had risked his job—and the whole company—to ruin a fellow executive of some other big company in the city. Supposedly, he had done it for his wife, Madeleine, before they were even dating, but it didn’t make much sense to me. He could have ruined the whole family with his reckless actions, and it had cost him everything.
At least, it had until Mom decided he had earned his inheritance because of it.
I needed to find a place to live. I did not need my brother staring at me and trying to make me feel inadequate because I had no idea what I was doing. “Forget it,” I mumbled and jumped up to my feet.
“Mom kick you out?” he asked, using the same tone of voice I had when I arrived.
I flinched and glanced down at him. “I have to get a job,” I mumbled.
“Is that what your terms are?”
We especially weren’t supposed to talk about the terms of our inheritances with each other, and he knew that, but I was pretty sure that wasn’t what he was asking.
When I didn’t answer, he chose a different question. “Are you even trying to fulfill them?”
Of course I was, but I doubted he would believe me any more than Mom had whenever I tried to tell her that. Changing the world was impossible, and I was starting to worry I would never live up to Dad’s ridiculous standards.
Clenching my fists, I tried to be as civil as I could when I said, “It’s not possible, Jace. Yours was easy, and—”
“I thought mine was impossible too,” he interrupted. The guy was only twenty-seven, but he was looking at me like he had some profound wisdom to impart. What would he know about anything?
It would be better to change the subject before I started to hate my brother. “If you’re rich again, why are you hanging out in the dirt?”
He grinned. “Because I like it here, Sara.”
The man was ridiculous. How could he possibly like spending hours in the middle of a loud and smelly city when he could be living the rich life at the top of Hawthorne Tower?
It was time to leave and solve my problem on my own, since Jace was clearly not going to be as helpful as I had hoped. He was too far gone down the path he’d taken, and I doubted even a few million dollars could bring him back now. He’d told me once that he actually enjoyed being homeless, and it was at that point that I’d probably lost most of my respect for him.
Such useless brothers…
What was I supposed to do now? Jace was getting to his feet and tucking his book in his jacket, and I was so not about to sit in Central Park for a few hours where people kept staring at me like I was some spectacle.
“Can I come stay at your clinic?” I asked quickly. When he frowned, I added, “Just for a few hours. Until Rohan is done with work, then he’ll come pick me up.”
Jace glanced around the park, and he seemed to realize he couldn’t just leave me here. “Fine. But only for a few hours. We’re at full capacity right now, so we don’t have a lot of space for you.”
I suppressed a shudder. I hated hospitals, and their clinic was even worse. Not that I’d been there, but I could picture it pretty well. All of the patients probably had the same dead eyes I had seen in the cancer ward before we moved Dad back home with hospice care. Even if they’d had space for me, it was not the sort of place I wanted to spend a lot of time in.
“Come on,” he said and started walking, and I barely held back a groan. I didn’t know a lot about my brother’s way of life nowadays, but I was pretty sure he did not own a car, nor would he pay for a taxi. We would be walking to his clinic, and my feet already hurt.
I had spent my life in luxury, and this was not going to be easy. But then, nothing had ever been all that easy for me.