No One to Hold (The Hold series Book 1)

By: Arell Rivers

SOMEHOW I ENDURE THE first hour of the party.

No. Not party. Wake.

Two hours ago I placed a blood-red rose atop my mother’s casket on this freezing February day. Now, I’m trapped in my parents’ house, choked by a tie, listening to stories about her while pretending everything is okay. It’s not fucking okay.

When I can’t take it anymore, I collapse onto the step at the foot of the stairs, looking at all the people milling around the family room. They are eating catered food off Mom’s good china. Swilling drinks from her favorite wine glasses. Photos of her are displayed everywhere, some in frames and others in the scrapbooks that she spent hours creating.

Reaching between the spindles of the banister, I pick up a frame off the closest table. It’s a photo of Mom and me at the Grammy Awards a couple of years ago. She’s beaming, clearly enjoying herself. I trace her beautiful smile with a calloused finger.

A bunch of Mom’s high school students surround me like yipping hyenas, giving me little choice but to put down the photo, stand up and join them. They’re on the cheerleading squad Mom coached. They all seem to be talking at once, making it impossible for me to follow their conversation, and a few of the girls seem star struck to be near me. Some even cast what they obviously think are flirty, seductive glances in my direction. Seriously?

One girl points her cell phone at me while the others titter. My hand flies to block my face in a gesture I’ve perfected after years of protecting myself from the paparazzi.

Rose Morgan, my ponytailed and bespectacled account rep with the Greta VonStein PR Agency, appears at my right. I take my first deep breath since being surrounded, knowing Rose will take care of the girls.

“Ladies, a word,” she says. She’s wearing what she always wears—a skirt and blazer—this time in black. Ushering the group deeper into the family room, Rose says something that I can’t hear and then takes the would-be photographer’s cell phone. After pushing a few buttons, she returns it to the girl, who mouths the word sorry to me. Quickly, the cheerleaders disperse. Rose to the rescue. Again.

Returning to my side, Rose places her hands on my cheeks. My breath catches at the contact.

In a low voice, she says, “It’s all taken care of, Cole.”

Behind her glasses, her blue eyes are filled with compassion and some other emotion I can’t identify. They seem like they belong to someone much older and wiser than me, not to a woman who’s a few years younger than my thirty-two.

I close my eyes to block out everything except the feeling of her hands on my skin and the comfort they’re pouring into me. The intensity of the sensation startles me back to the present, causing my eyes to pop open. Clearing my throat, I say, “Thanks for the save. It’s kinda weird being fangirled here.”

Rose drops her hands and I immediately crave her soft warmth. “I’m so sorry for your loss,” she finally says. “Your mom is—was—a wonderful lady. I remember the first time I spoke with her, right after you’d signed with Greta. She couldn’t believe you had a publicist.” She shakes her head. “Her exact words were, ‘I can’t believe other people will really follow what my Cole does.’”

I laugh. It’s a rusty sound. “I can hear Mom saying that.”

Smiling, Rose says, “After you took her to your first Grammys, she sent me a lovely thank you note and gift basket. She was so proud of you.”

“Mom never got tired of talking about when she met Adam Baret there.” Mom’s teenage heartthrob sent a very nice arrangement to the funeral. I’m sure she’s looking down on us from above, blushing.

“Take some time and stay here with your father and brother.”

My gaze follows hers to the kitchen, where Jayson and Dad are hugging. It’s just us now. And Jayson’s boyfriend, Carl. “I plan to.”

“Family is so very important. Lean on each other.” Her tone leads me to believe she’s speaking from experience, although I wouldn’t know. Up until now, all of our conversations have been strictly business.

I nod. Swallowing past the lump in my throat, I say, “Thanks for making the trip from Los Angeles, Rose. And I appreciate how much you’ve kept the paparazzi away from us.”

“I wanted to be here for you.” She reaches out like she’s going to touch me again, which sends a flicker of anticipation through me, but her hand stops and returns to her side. My disappointment shocks me.

She continues, “And don’t worry about all the cards and gifts your fans are sending to the office. We’ll make sure everything receives a response, and the stuffed animals and other presents will be distributed to children’s hospitals.”