"What are you going to wear?" Arabella asked.
"I'm not going," I said.
"She needs something new," Catalina said.
"We can't afford it," I said automatically.
"You have to go," Leon said. "It's Mad Rogan."
No, that's why I couldn't go. I'd done my best to avoid the man, but somehow he just . . . kept popping up. Most recently, in the form of the glossy invitation sitting in the center of the kitchen table. A ball that all of Houston and half the Herald had been talking about. One that would involve all the important Houses. And, apparently, me, if I wanted.
"It would be a good place to make connections," Mom said. "Maybe gain some new clients."
"Yeah, because a room full of Primes will want anything to do with me."
"I can think of one Prime who wants something to do with you," Grandma said.
"And, let me tell you, if I was your age and he looked at me like he looks at you--"
I stood up and stomped out of the room.
"Give the boy a chance!" Grandma called after me.
Later that evening, Bern found me in my room. He was the only one who hadn't been there when the invitation arrived, but, judging by the dress bag he carried, he wasn't on my side either.
I sighed. "Why does he keep doing this?"
"Do you really want him to stop?" Bern lay the dress on my bed and sat next to it.
No. Maybe. I didn't know. Rogan sparked things in me that no one else ever had. Losing that . . . would hurt. But every time I gave in to him, I worried I was stepping closer to something that I would never be able to back away from. And, in the end, I would lose him, too. It wasn't worth the risk.
"It's one ball," Bern said.
One ball, one more time I didn't quite say no to him . . . one step closer to the edge.
You're going, the text said.
It would kill you to ask instead of command?
A pause. Then:
I sighed, and didn't text back. Rogan saying please . . . was it all just part of the game? What did it matter to him, really?
The phone rang. I didn't answer.
"You're afraid," Rogan said. It was the next day and I had been peacefully working in my office for the last two hours. Of course, it couldn't last.
I sighed. "Who let you in this time?"
He sat down across from me. "It's a business. You can't keep clients out."
"You're not a client."
"If it makes you feel better, I'm sure I could come up with . . . something for you to investigate." He murmured the last few words and I felt a jolt of heat rush through me.
"Stop that," I said.
He grinned and held his hands up. "It's not me."
But it was. He didn't have to use his sensate powers to make me want him. And it just got worse and worse every time I saw him. Soon I would only have to catch a glimpse of him and I'd melt into a pile of goo.
Which would at least solve some of my problems.
He leaned towards me. "Nevada."
I hated it when he said my name.
"Let me prove myself to you. You can't just push me away forever."
"It's one evening," he said. "You can't resist me for one evening?"
"But why? I don't fit in with all you Primes."
"I wouldn't be so sure of that."
My eyes narrowed. "You can't make me into something I'm not."
He reached forward and took my hand in his. "One evening."
"Fine," I said, and immediately regretted it.
The dress was beautiful, of course. I had expected that. And the deep blue looked wonderful on me. What I hadn't expected was the strand of diamonds that had been draped around the hanger.
I can't accept these. I texted to Rogan.
No reply, of course.
"You look beautiful."
I turned to see my mom in the doorway. My hands still clutched the diamonds. Her eyes immediately snapped to them, and the expression on her face . . . she looked almost sad.
"Here," she said, and stepped forward to take them. "Turn around."
She gently brushed my hair off my neck and clasped the necklace on me.
My fingers drifted up and caressed the diamonds. "I can't keep this."
"Oh Nevada," she said.
I turned to face her. "I shouldn't go, right?"
She smiled. "No, you should stay home, and never take risks and stay my little girl forever."
"Sounds good to me," I said.
"You should go," she said softly. "He is not a safe man, but . . . you should go."
"But--" And I cut myself off because there were too many ways of finishing that sentence. He kidnapped me. He's a Prime. And I'm still not convinced he's not a psychopath.
She kissed my cheek. "Go."
Rogan waited in the kitchen. He was wearing a tux and surrounded by my family. He was chatting with Bern as if he belonged, as if he was a part of the family. When he saw me, his eyes lit up, and I took a step backwards.
He grinned, and I knew he would see my hesitance as some kind of triumph.
"You look wonderful," he said.
"It's the dress," I said. "And I'm not keeping the diamonds."
He held his hand out to me. I walked over and took it, feeling the usual jolt of electricity between us.
"Ready?" he asked.
"Wait!" Grandma Frieda jumped up from the table. "I need pictures!"
"This isn't prom," I called after her.
But of course we stood and posed, and Rogan seemed to enjoy following her instructions. And then the family said their goodbyes and left us alone together.
Just me and Mad Rogan in a tux.
"Hey," he said softly. "It'll be okay."
I took a deep breath. "This doesn't change anything, you know. I still don't trust you. We're still not together."
"I know," he said. "Come on."
And I let him lead me out of the kitchen.