Home > When Stars Collide (Chicago Stars #9)(7)

When Stars Collide (Chicago Stars #9)(7)
Author: Susan Elizabeth Phillips

He crossed his arms over his chest. “How about you refresh my memory? Exactly what am I supposed to have done to her?”

“I don’t know what the legal definition of sexual assault is, but what you did was close enough. I begged her to go to the police, but she refused.”

He clenched his teeth against his rising fury. “Now there’s a surprise.”

“You could have had any woman you wanted, but the easy ones weren’t the ones who appealed to you. They weren’t the ones who made you feel like a big man.”

He couldn’t listen to any more, and he turned away only to come to a halt as he reached the door. “You don’t know me, lady, and you don’t know a damn thing about my character. You also don’t know your old friend Alyssa as well as you think, so keep giving me the cold shoulder because we don’t have anything more to say to each other.”

* * *

Thad pounded down the service stairs to the second floor, his sneakers assaulting the stair treads. He’d never needed the gym more.

“Thaddeus Walker Bowman Owens!” He’d been twelve years old, in the car with his mother, and full of himself. They were on their way to his basketball practice when he’d called Mindy Garamagus a slut.

His sweet, mild-tempered mother had pulled to the side of the road and let him have it. A smack right across the face. The first and only time she’d hit him.

“Don’t you ever say that about a woman! How does a girl get to be a slut? Ask yourself that. Does she do it all by herself?” Tears had filled his eyes as she’d looked at him as though he were some kind of worm. “The only men who use that word against a woman are weak, men who feel powerless. Don’t judge what you don’t understand. You have no idea who she is!”

His mother was right. Even then he knew that the only thing wrong with Mindy Garamagus was that she made him feel like the immature twelve-year-old he was.

That night, he’d gotten a similar lecture from his dad. It was long before the word “consent” had become part of the zeitgeist, but the message was loud and clear.

Even without his parents’ lectures, he couldn’t imagine himself ever taking advantage of a woman. How could sex be fun if you weren’t both into it?

He’d once again forgotten his phone, but no way in hell was he going back to get it.

* * *

No matter how much money Marchand had offered her, Olivia would never have signed that contract if she’d known she’d be traveling with Owens instead of Cooper Graham, as she’d originally been told. Graham had a wife, kids, and a squeaky-clean reputation. Traveling with him would have been a nice distraction, something she’d never needed more than she did at this point in her life.

The tension headache that had been lurking for days was back. She exchanged her dress for black yoga pants and a long white top, lay down on the bed, and reached for the headphones she always traveled with. Moments later, she heard the soothing sound of Bill Evans’s “Peace Piece.”

She tried to relax, but not even the evocative harmonies of the man who’d been one of the world’s greatest jazz pianists could soothe her. Something about the unflinching way Owens had looked at her made her uneasy. More than uneasy. “You don’t know me, lady, and you don’t know a damn thing about my character.” But she did know his character!

Didn’t she?

She couldn’t stand the uncertainty. She turned off the music and reached for her phone. Alyssa picked up her call on the second ring.

The two of them had once been close, but now that her former roommate was immersed in motherhood, they’d drifted apart, and it had been at least a year since they’d spoken. “Hey, famous lady!” Alyssa said. “I’ve missed you. Hunter, get down from there! Jesus . . . That kid . . . Honest to God, Olivia, don’t ever have kids. I’ve been to the emergency room twice with him just this month. Do you have any idea how many things a three-year-old can stick up his nose?”

As Alyssa detailed the exact objects Hunter had stashed in his nasal cavity, Olivia remembered how Alyssa’s irreverent humor used to make her laugh.

“So what’s up with you?” Alyssa said. “Ready to tackle Tosca yet?”

Olivia’s mezzo-soprano wasn’t well suited for that role, but Alyssa had never had more than a rudimentary grasp of opera. “A temporary gig,” Olivia said. “I signed on to promote Marchand watches.”

“Marchand? Tell me you’re giving out free samples.”

“Unfortunately not. Also . . .” She gripped the phone tighter. “There are two of us on the road together promoting the brand. I’m traveling with Thad Owens.”

“The football player? That’s hysterical.”

An icicle slithered down Olivia’s spine. “‘Hysterical’?”

“The soprano and the quarterback. What a combination, right? Is he still hot? That man was gorgeous.”

Olivia shot to her feet, dread pooling in her stomach. “Alyssa, I’m talking about Thad Owens. The football player who tried to rape you.”

Alyssa laughed. “God, Olivia. You knew that was bogus. Remember? I told you all about it.”

“You didn’t tell me any such thing!” Olivia exclaimed. “You said he backed you into the bedroom. Pinned you down. You came home crying. And you talked about it for weeks afterward.”

“I only cried because Kent walked in on us, and I only talked about it when he was around. Remember how suspicious he was. I can’t believe you’ve forgotten.” She pulled the phone away. “Hunter, stop it! Give me that!” She readjusted the phone. “Anyway . . . So I met Thad at a party just when Kent and I were getting serious. Kent went off to shoot pool or something, and Thad and I started talking. One thing led to another, and we were making out. Then Kent walked in on us, and I needed to come up with an excuse quick. I told you all that.”

“You didn’t tell me anything!” Olivia felt sick. “I tried to get you to go to the police.”

“Oh, yeah . . . Now I remember. I was afraid if I told you the truth, you’d tell Kent. You were always the righteous one.” Water ran in the background. “Here, Hunter. Have a drink.” The water shut off. “Can you believe I walked away from a chance at a relationship with Thad Owens because I didn’t want a loser like Kent to dump me?”

Olivia sank back down on the side of the bed and dug her hand into the mattress. “The only loser, Alyssa, is you.”

“What are you getting so upset about? It’s not like I accused him or anything.”

“You did accuse him. To me.”

“Did you say something to him?”

“Oh, yes. I said a lot.”

“Shit.”

“Shit, indeed.” In her rush to judgment against Thad Owens, Olivia had forgotten that Alyssa could be both self-centered and manipulative. That was exactly why Rachel had never liked her. Olivia should have trusted her best friend’s opinion. She pressed her hand to her stomach. “False accusations have consequences, Alyssa. They make real rape victims afraid to speak out because they don’t think anyone will believe them.”

“Ease up, okay? Stop being so judgy.”

Olivia’s voice shook. “Wrong is wrong, and lying like you did is a betrayal of every woman who’s been assaulted.”

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