Hello, lovely ARC reader. With all of the issues we’ve had getting the review files out over the past few days, this seemed like the easiest way to share the promised epilogue to Riot Reunion with you.
As always, this content is for YOU, so please do not share it.
This epilogue will be included in the release version of Riot Reunion in 2 days’ time. I hope you enjoy reading the last little puzzle piece to this story, and you’re looking forward to future works in which the boys might find themselves a cheeky cameo or two 😉
All the best,
RIOT REUNION EPILOGUE
THREE DAYS LATER
“I’m calling the cops.”
“You are not calling the cops. She’s fucking fine.”
“Didn’t you hear that scream? He’s trying to murder her.” Elodie looks stricken, face pale as ash.
Sitting opposite her at the dining table, Wren laughs, huffing down his nose, as he holds his beer to his lips. He pulls deep from the glass rim, and then says, “Hate to break it to you, Little E, but I make you sound like that sometimes.”
“Gross.” Mercy Jacobi, who randomly turned up in the night, uninvited naturally, motions sticking her fingers down her throat, pretending to gag.
“I do not sound like that,” Elodie objects.
“My brother might be disgusting for talking about his sex life in front of his sister, but he’s right, I’m afraid,” Jacobi’s twin says. “I thought a cat was being slaughtered when I snuck in here at three a.m.”
Wren slams his drink down on the table; a jet of beer sloshes out of the bottle. “Will you fuck off, Mercy!” His vivid, too-green eyes glitter with malice. “I swear to fucking god, one more bitchy remark out of you and I will end your life.”
“You’d hate that.” Her retort comes quickly, already on the tip of her tongue. “Not being a twin would be so ordinary.” Mercy glances around at the rest of us like we’re pathetic creatures, hardly worthy of her pity. She’s on the verge of adding to her comment when her focus drifts to the hallway and Pax, who pads barefoot through the door into the kitchen, wearing nothing but a pair of black sweatpants. A spark of something unholy flares in Mercy Jacobi’s eyes. “Well, hello there, Mr. Davis. That photo I saw of you on the Kingston’s Photography Journal did not do you justice. And I do believe that you were naked on that cover, no?”
“Fuck off, Mercy,” Pax snaps.
“I’ve been telling her to do that all day,” Wren mutters.
“For the first time since we all sat down at the dining table in our flat, Carrie, curled up in my lap, lifts her head from my shoulder casts cold eyes over Mercy. “How the hell did you even know where to find us? We didn’t exactly leave a forwarding address back in New Hampshire.”
“That’s true,” she agrees. “But the internet’s super fucking useful. All I had to do Google Lord Lovett ancestral seat—”
I nearly bolt up out of my chair and dump Carrie on her ass. “You did not.”
Mercy shrugs, smiling innocently. “Surrey’s lovely this time of year. Your family really go all-out for Christmas, Dash. Your father made me feel very welcome.” She pops a slice of apple into her mouth, giggling like the viper that she is.
“You spent Christmas…at Dash’s family estate?” Carrie looks like she’s about to launch herself across the table and claw Mercy’s eyes out. I threatened her with having to visit the estate back when we first moved here, but she wasn’t ready. We’ve been talking about making the trip back home in February, maybe. And now Mercy has beaten her to it?
“Sure,” Mercy says, smirking. “What’s the big deal? We’re all family. Dash, your aunt gave me this glorious tennis bracelet.” She holds out her wrist, flashing the string of diamonds like the bracelet is a quaint little trinket and not a family heirloom that used to belong to my grandmother.
“What the fuck.” Carrie glowers at me like this is somehow my fault. “Why the hell would they give Toxic Goth Barbie a gift like that?”
“Oh, I think I might have implied that Dash and I were dating. Just as a joke, y’know. Plus, I didn’t want to have to get a train back to London in the middle of the night. It was cold and snowing, and they’d just served cocktails—”
“You are the fucking worst, Mercy.” My girlfriend is channeling anger rather than hurt; she might have everyone else fooled, but I can tell that Mercy’s antics have actually bothered her. “Why bother coming here at all if you successfully hijacked the Lovett family Christmas?”
“If you must know, I’m here out of necessity,” Mercy says, pouting. “Our father, the right honorable General Jacobi has cut me off. And without access to my accounts, I have nothing better to do than annoy you lot. So…” She winks provocatively at Pax. “Damn, Davis. I don’t think I fully appreciated how hot you were until…well, now. I’m very progressive. I don’t mind that there’s a red-headed peasant sleeping in your bed. I, for one, appreciate a good orgasmic scream. If you can tease that kind of racket out of a girl, then you must be pretty talented in the sa—”
Everyone gapes at Pax. No one said a word when he picked up the vase from the bookcase. No one warned Mercy to shut the fuck up as he hefted it back, ready to launch it. I don’t think anyone believed that he’d throw it, least of all Mercy. She ducked just in time, barely avoiding the glass projectile as it sailed over her head and shattered against the living room wall behind her.
We all stare down at the splinters of glass on the ground.
“That was a housewarming gift,” I say flatly.
A startled bark of laughter rips out of Carrie.
Wren opens his mouth. He looks like he might say something chiding about our friend trying to decapitate his sister, but Pax points at him with his index finger. That’s all it takes, and Wren appears to decide against it. He shrugs nonchalantly instead. “Honestly, I wish I’d done that three hours ago.”
“Fuck! What the fuck! You’re really gonna let him do that?” Mercy wails.
“Bait a lion, expect to get bit, fuckhead,” Pax growls. “How much money will it take to get you to disappear and forget any of us exists?”
“Thirty thousand dollars.” The number rolls off Mercy’s tongue too fast, her ire forgotten.
“Do not give her thirty grand.” Wren downs the rest of his beer, setting the empty down on the table.
“Someone should give her thirty grand,” Elodie mumbles.
“If you give her money, she’ll only be back, asking for more in a week.”
“Hey! It’d take me at least a month to get through that!”
“How have you been cut off, anyway?” Wren gets up from the table. Rather than grabbing another beer from the kitchen, he goes straight for the hard stuff. He sets out five glasses on the bar cart and begins spooning sugar into a mixing glass. A lot of people would be pissed about a guest making themselves so at home, but Wren isn’t a guest here. He’s family. He knows he’s welcome to anything he wants or needs here. “You got your inheritance just like I did. Our father doesn’t control that money,” he says to Mercy.
Mercy looks at the table. Her nails. The stormy seascape that Wren painted for us hanging on the wall above the fireplace. Anywhere but at her brother.
A mass of black waves tumbles into Wren’s face as he spins around to look at her. He sweeps his hair back casually, and Elodie Stillwater ducks her head, averting her eyes like the action just made her toes curl inside her shoes. “Mercy, you didn’t. There’s no way.” If I’m not mistaken, that’s genuine shock strewn across Jacobi’s face right now. “You can’t have blown it all.”
“It wasn’t my fault!”
“Millions. Eleven million! How?”
Mercy snorts. “Come on. Like I didn’t invest. I doubled my money in three months after the old guy kicked the bucket.”
I have to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from wincing. Wren doesn’t hide his reaction as well. “That’s even worse!”
“I may have tied up my funds in something…unstable,” Mercy says briskly. “I’ll be getting it back. It might just take a couple of months. In the meantime, I’ve been forced to rely on my allowance from our father. You know he’ll do anything to manipulate us—”
“What did you do?” Wren returns to his task, dashing bitters into the mixing glass. He must have planned this earlier, because the silver ice bucket to his right is already full; he dumps a bunch of cubes into the mixing glass, then free-pour bourbon on top of the ice, bitters, and sugar.
“Hell’s teeth, Mercy. Spit it out,” I snap. These two have bickered since the dawn of time, but this is getting out of hand. I earn myself a glower from the Jacobi of the female variety.
“I didn’t graduate,” she snaps. “All right. There. Are you happy now?”
Wren drops the bar spoon he was holding with a clatter. He doesn’t say anything at first. Shoulders inched up around his ears, he pours the golden liquid into the five glasses he laid out on the bar cart. Once he’s done, he spears a couple of cherries onto toothpicks and drops them into two of the glasses. He takes these Old Fashioneds and hands one to Elodie and one to Carrie. He hands me one, and then one to Pax, who takes it with a grunt and downs it in one.
“Why the hell do they all get drinks?” Mercy gripes.
“I’m in love with Elodie. Carrie and Dash own this place. And Pax didn’t put his fist through your face, even though you deserved it. Owing to the lack of medals lying around the place, I’m rewarding his restraint with alcohol instead. Explain, please. How the hell did you not graduate?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that my best friend went missing. And then my brother was fucking our English Professor and got himself caught up in the very same friend’s murder scandal!”
“Best friend? Please. You didn’t give a shit about Mara. You bailed on Wolf Hall so many times before any of that, you gave everyone whiplash. You were in and out of the place like a whore in a VD clinic—”
“Sex worker.” Mercy corrects him tartly. “We don’t call people whores anymore. And we don’t shame people for working in the sex industry.”
“I wasn’t shaming anyone for being a sex worker! I was shaming them for being stupid enough to keep catching venereal dis—urgh, fucking never mind! What the hell is the matter with you?”
“Look. I won’t have access to my money until certain assets have been sold by parties outside of my control. I can’t get my allowance from our father until I graduate. Which means that I need thirty thousand dollars to enroll in a disgusting, low-class high school up in Washington State—”
“Why do you need to pay them thirty grand? I thought public schools were free,” Elodie asks.
“Eww! I said low class, not pedestrian. The place is still private.”
I watch the back-and-forth take place with mild amusement, thoughts swirling around in the forefront of my mind. This is how things were so often, when the three of us lived at Riot House. Peace was a foreign concept. If Wren wasn’t fighting with Mercy, Pax and I were brawling over something stupid. Or Pax and Wren were going at it. Wren and I never really fought, but there were times when I wanted to strangle the fucker. I’m sure there were times when he wanted to do the same to me. No matter what, though, Riot House was home. It’s only now that we’re here, in the UK, that I’ve realized that it wasn’t the house that was home. It was these people.
“I’ll give you thirty grand to get that bracelet back, Merce,” I say quietly.
Everyone stops talking. My friends look horrified that I’m giving in to her, but the thought of her sauntering around with my grandmother’s tennis bracelet on her wrist has my hackles up. If anyone should be wearing that bracelet, it should be Carrie. And the sooner Mercy gets her fees paid and back up to Washington, the better for everyone.
“But I like it.” Mercy pouts. “It’s so shiny.”
“Your call. Take it or leave it.” Sipping on the Old Fashioned, I feign nonchalance…which does the trick with Mercy every time.
“Fine. Transfer the money and I’ll give it back.”
I hold out my hand.
“Money first, Lord Lovett.”
I arch an eyebrow at her.
“All right, fine.” She unfastens the bracelet and slaps it into my palm. She watches me like a hawk as I initiate an instant transfer from my phone, and then squeaks when she checks her banking app and sees the money hit her account. “How much is that thing worth anyway,” she asks.
“Two hundred and fifty thousand.”
Her mouth falls open.
“Pounds,” I add.
Outraged, Mercy balls up her fist and slams it against the table. She’s in no position to complain, though. I’m about to tell her that she can use some of the money I just sent her to get herself a room for the night at the nearest Holiday Inn, but my phone starts blowing up in my hand. Carrie feels it vibrating against her leg and bites my earlobe suggestively. “Couple of inches higher and I might find myself getting a little antsy,” she whispers.
“If you two are gonna fuck, at least have the decency to go and find a room like Pax and the redhead did,” Mercy grouses.
“Aren’t you supposed to be leaving now?” Pax demands.
“Aren’t you supposed to be in Japan?” she fires back.
“I’m not going back. They weren’t big fans of the ink.”
“Urgh. I’m gonna go ask Pres what she wants for dinner,” Carrie says under her breath. “Back in a second. And you should get that. Seems important.” My phone buzzes again, another string of text messages coming through. I block out the bickering racket going on around me as Carrie leaves the room, checking the phone, grateful for the distraction.
Odette’s Country Farm Kitchen: Congratulations! You’ve won our summer sweepstakes!
Odette’s Country Farm Kitchen: We’ve updated our local prize winner details!
Odette’s Country Farm Kitchen: Only took one finger.
Only took one finger?
Am I confused? Hell yeah, I’m confused. Fucking bewildered, more like it. Odette’s Country Farm Kitchen is not a diner in the deep south, though it might sound like one. It’s a name Michael sometimes texts me from, the business name a pseudonym created for what he called ‘safety reasons.’ Normally, he messages me about Carrie, the content of the message veiled but obvious enough that I get the general gist of whatever he’s trying to communicate. But this time, his message is too confounding to figure out.
Odette’s Country Farm Kitchen: You got the job! Your new role’s commencement date is July 15th. We look forward to seeing you then.
ME: What job???
Odette’s Country Farm Kitchen:
WORLD-CLASS PIANIST PIOTR RICHEC LOSES FINGER IN FREAK ESCALATOR INCIDENT.
My heart hammers out of my chest. Piotr Richec lost a finger? What the actual fuck? I click the link and feel bile rising up the back of my throat. Good job I’m already sitting down.
“The career of one of the world’s most promising concert pianists, Piotr Richec, is over before it even started today. Richec, who won the coveted Rider Award at the age of just twelve years old, was earmarked as the upcoming generation’s next Argerich. That is, until this morning, when the now twenty-two-year-old Czech national was involved in a tragic accident involving an escalator. Reports from St. Peter’s Hospital, Seattle, are vague, stating only that Richec’s right hand was badly injured, resulting in the loss of a finger. Which finger is unclear, but that detail is irrelevant, according to Damien Loughborough, of the New York Academy of Music. “A pianist without ten fingers is like a five-foot-eight basketball player. Sure, they can still participate in the game, but they’re never gonna be as good as LeBron. I don’t mean to sound callous, but that young man’s career is over. I know it. You know it. Richec knows it. He’s already surrendered his position at the Seattle Composition Conservatory—”
ME: YOU CUT OFF HIS FINGER?!
Odette’s Country Farm Kitchen: At Odette’s Country Farm Kitchen, we pride ourselves on our workplace safety. Employees at Odette’s are insured to upwards of six million dollars should any personal injury take place while at work. Rest assured that here at Odette’s, we have your best interests in mind.
Six million dollars? Richec was insured for that much? The money doesn’t change anything, though. Michael mutilated someone without a second thought. Because of me?
ME: You’re insane! You did that? Why the FUCK would you do that?
Odette’s Country Farm Kitchen: Our new home cooked recipes are very COMPLICATED, but there’s A GREAT REASON behind every ingredient!
Why the fuck can’t he call me from a payphone and just talk to me like a normal paranoid person? This is too much.
ME: I need more information.
Odette’s Country Farm Kitchen: We’re open 8 am – 7 pm, Monday through Saturday. Feel free to reach out to us during business hours, and we’ll be happy to assist you with your inquiry.
It is the middle of the night in Seattle. He should have waited to message me until he could talk properly, though. What am I supposed to do with half a story? My mind races as I close out my messages and open up my email account. Sure enough, there’s a new email from the PNW Institute, sent five hours ago, waiting to be opened. I scan through its contents, unsurprised by what it says.
“Chinese food,” Carrie says behind me. “I think that’s the general consensus. That okay with everyone?” She looks at me and tilts her head, frowning a little. “Everything okay, babe? You’re looking very serious.”
“Yeah, everything’s cool.” I hand her my phone, though, so she can read through the email as well. Her eyes dart from left to right, taking in the information. To paraphrase, due to unexpected circumstances, the Summer Conservatory placement is now being offered to me.
Carrie only gets halfway through the email before she looks up at me. Her excitement is right there in her eyes; she masked it as best she could when we found out we wouldn’t be moving to Seattle for the program, but I knew she was secretly a little disappointed. “Is this for real?” she asks.
“And you’re gonna take it? We’re actually gonna go?”
It’s extremely fucked up that I’m benefitting from the end of another talented musician’s career, but hell. I’m not going to turn the placement down. I’d be mad to even think about it. I nod again, and Carrie squeals. “Oh my god! Holy shit! YES!”
“Hey. What’s going on?” Presley has emerged from the bedroom, her hair neatly brushed, make-up perfect. She clearly took some time to straighten up after Pax got done with her, but she looks immaculate now. The two of them haven’t quit sneaking off to fuck since she brought him back here on Boxing Day morning. They can’t seem to keep their hands off one another.
“Dash got that placement back in Seattle after all!” Carrie beams. “We’re moving back to the States!”
Excitement swells in the living room, six people all chattering at once. Questions volley at me from left to right. Plans are sketched out.
“We can all meet up again over Easter,” Elodie says, beaming.
Pax stands behind Presley, placing his arm around her, holding her in a loose but unmistakably protective way. “I suppose we could stand to meet up again in a couple of months.”
“Vancouver. New York. Anywhere but New Hampshire,” Wren says.
Carrie bounces on the balls of her feet, her grin spreading from one ear to the other. I haven’t seen her this happy in a long, long time. She didn’t see the final text message that came through when she handed back my phone so that I won’t ruin her mood. For now. I’m shit at keeping secrets, and this one’s a doozy.
Odette’s Country Farm Kitchen: Great news! Odette’s now hires students! Your part-time position with us will never conflict with your studies, and we think you’ll find our benefits program to be extremely competitive.
Me: I’m NOT working with you, Michael.
Odette’s Country Farm Kitchen: We can’t wait to start your onboarding process soon. In the meantime, rest up and enjoy the holidays!
Michael isn’t the kind of guy to take no for an answer. It looks like I just got press-ganged into working for Zeth Mayfair…