He nods, hearing the respect in my voice and accepting it. “Obviously, don’t talk about her ex, the famous Vane Winchester. You’re already in the con column because you’re three years younger—”
“Two! I’m almost twenty-two!”
“—and a college student. He’s got a voice like honey and a megawatt smile women scream over.”
Thoughts of Vane make my hands twitch. “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
“Don’t forget your manners.”
I spread my hands, exasperation rushing in as I recall the night I took her home. “I try.” Maybe I tried too hard? Yeah. I was overbearing. Damn.
“Don’t stare at her tits.”
She barely has any. And I don’t care. I just want my hands on them. I recall her against the fridge, the silky feel of her nipples in my mouth—the way she came on my fingers.
“Don’t bring up the L word.”
My eyes jerk to him and my throat dries.
“Don’t ask if she wants to go to a strip club.”
“Dude… I am not that bad.”
“Don’t mention that you want ten kids. That should be introduced around date ten.”
I gape. Kids? Maybe in the future—after I’ve found my groove in the NFL.
“Don’t reply to any texts from other people.”
“Jesus. What are you, Dear Abby?”
“Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain. You do it a lot. On that note, don’t ask if she’s found Jesus. Granny was pretty insistent about that one. She was a hardcore Bible thumper but wasn’t in your face about it, and she respected other people’s religion.”
I know what he’s doing. He’s seen me in a weird funk for the past few weeks and wants to lighten me up.
“Make her laugh. Best way to bond. Women like funny guys.”
“And if her nana comes up, see if you can wrangle an invite to their chicken and waffles again.”
I arch a brow at the wistful tone in his voice. He misses Granny. “Nana is a little different.” Like Serena.
“The best ones are.”
“Is that all, o wise one?”
“I’ll come up with more later.” He pivots to leave, singing “Witchy Woman”.
After he’s gone, I dash to the bathroom and try to fix my hair, running a hand through it. She likes my hair…right? I falter, my hand dropping. I brush my teeth, again, and study my reflection.
“You’re pretty enough,” Troy calls as he darts in and edges around me, grabs the cologne and lets loose a long spritz, spreads his arms and walks through it. “Ah, yeah, that’s it. The smell of salt and sun, come to me.”
I choke as some of it drifts over and hits me in the face. “Winter Soldier dabs on gasoline and gun oil before he goes out.”
Troy freezes. “She won’t even talk to me.”
No need to ask who…
“Ah, sorry. Maybe dress all in black? Leave the cowboy hat at home. Tame your hair.”
“You know what I mean. You look like a wild man with that frizz. Bigfoot,” I say with a laugh, thinking of Serena. “Use some product.”
He scrunches up his face and looks at his hair, then digs around on the counter and holds up a tube of gel. “This?” He reads the text on the container. “Strong hold, brilliant shine, style versatility… Are you sure?”
“You’re a cowboy, so let me educate you.” I squirt out a dab and run it through the top of my hair in quick, expert movements, pushing the longer strands back, pulling on it a little to create volume at the top. “Just a little. You don’t want that wet gigolo look—”
Bambi appears at the door, phone in hand as she snaps a pic. “Grooming with Dillon and Troy. Think I’ll post this. Oh, and send it to Serena so she can see what girls y’all are.”
Sawyer’s voice comes from the den. “Tried to stop her from snooping!”
“Guys use gel,” I say defensively.
She grins, her nose wrinkling delicately as she taps on her phone then shoves it in Troy’s face. “Here’s a pic of the Winter Soldier. Look how he scowls—do that. Got any black football cream for your face? He’s got it around his eyes. Looks emo to me, but Chantal likes it. She talks about him a lot.”
Troy’s face flushes, his jaw working. “Nah, hell nah. Not wearing any makeup!” He takes her phone and stares at it. “He is dressed in black…” He stares down at his green shirt, blows out a breath, and stomps out of the bathroom.
“You’re welcome! Any time you need style advice, I’m here all day,” she calls out, gives me a smirk, and then heads back out to the den.
My phone rings and I make a dash for my bedroom as my stomach jumps, wondering if it’s Serena.
The phone screen shows it’s Mom, and my chest squeezes. “Mom! Hey! How are you?” It’s been several weeks since I heard her voice. Sure, we text periodically, but it’s on the surface stuff. How are classes? Are you eating well?