We eat on the couch, sharing the sandwich, juice running down my wrists as I try to bite into the overfull sandwich. I get up twice for napkins and more beer, our conversation dancing over, but not touching, my activities last night. Paul prefers to not discuss the existence of Stewart. While Stewart approaches their shared split of my time as he would a business merger, coolly and unemotionally—it is much harder for Paul. I have all of Paul’s heart—surfing and his career taking a backseat to me, to my happiness. I’m sure he struggles with that—having half of me while giving me all of him. But I was with Stewart first, gave him that half of my heart before Paul ever came into the picture. Paul was just sex to me, a warm body to f**k my body and occupy my days while Stewart worked. But somewhere, over a year ago, Paul took the other half of my heart and I fell for him as well. I know it bothers Paul. I know that he is competitive and possessive and wants me to be only his. But he will not give me up over that desire, so he doesn’t fight it. He goes with the flow, and only asks for my happiness.
We eat, we watch tv, and then f**k—starting in the shower and taking the activity to our bed. Then we spoon, the sound of waves lulling us to sleep.
The definition of a secret is something not meant to be known by others.
What do you do when you discover a secret? Do you have a responsibility to share it? Or is the responsibility in the keeping of the secret?
I think it all depends on the outcome of sharing the secret. Some cause harm, some good. I need to find out more about this secret. To know what outcome it harbors. So I will watch. And try to find out as much as I can about this woman. And why she has latched onto these men, who hold my heart as much as she holds theirs.
I don’t know if she loves them or if toying with them. The chances of both of us loving them are too slim, too incredible to be a coincidence. What I don’t understand is why. Why these two men?
With the millions of men in Los Angeles, why date brothers?
I watch Stewart sleep, the rise and fall of his strong chest. He is so rarely still, so rarely calm. Intensity is his standard; peace is a rare moment for me to view. At a time like this, when his eyes are closed and his breathing is soft, I feel protective of him. As if I have some responsibility for his world, for his happiness, for his life. I love him, there has not been a question of that for some time. I fell quickly for this brilliant man—a man who has no time for anything more than bites of time and affection. He will never bounce our child on his knee or take me to the doctor when I am sick. Those are his limitations and he realizes that. Is regretful for that shortcoming but unwilling to change. He has chosen his lifestyle, and accepts the restrictions that come with it. Maybe one day he will change. Maybe one day his brow will relax and he will smile easily, laugh more often, and lose the suit and tie. Maybe he will be able to do more than f**k me senseless and kiss me before leaving me alone to sleep. Maybe he will have a life outside of work, and maybe I will still be around when that time comes. Life is too unpredictable to plan for that. What I do know, as I watch this beautiful man sleep, his face relaxed and body still, is that I love him. Just as much as I love Paul. And that, one day, will be a problem.
10 YEARS EARLIER
The fire burned hot, a wave of heat pushing Jennifer Brand back from the pit, her feet sinking in the thick sand. She tripped, stumbling backward, and was caught by strong arms, her gaze looking up and catching on gorgeous green eyes and a cocky smile.
She blushed, gripping his forearms and pulled herself to solid sand, brushing off her legs. “Thanks.”
“It’s Jen, right?”
“Jennifer.” She hated Jen, hated the childish lilt of the name.
“Cool. Having fun?”
She nodded enthusiastically, her eyes drawn to his body, to the ripped six-pack he proudly displayed.
“We were actually about to jet. Head to a house party over in Summerset. You seem pretty cool... would you want to come?” He flashed a smile that any warm-blooded teen would be crazy to resist, a grin that displayed his dimples to perfection, his white teeth flashing at her in the dark.
Yes, I would love to come. I would love to do anything your perfect self deems necessary. She hesitated. “I’ve got to ask my brother, I came here with him.”
He stiffened slightly. “Really? Who?”
He stepped back a pace, surprise on his face. “Really? You’re Paul’s little sister?”
Nodding, she blushed at the impressed look he shot her. “Yeah.” It’s my birthday... so he brought me along.”
His look turned wary. “Eighteenth birthday?”
“Yeah,” she lied. “The big one.”
He nodded with a smile. “I knew your sister, Dana. You look a little like her. Prettier.” He flashed another smile, this one a little awkward, as if he regretted the comment. There was a shout, and he turned, waving absently at a group that passed. “Well... ask your brother. Summerset party. We can drop you wherever when its done. And tell him I’m a fan. He is lethal on that board.”
Stuffing her hands in the front pockets of her jean skirt, she nodded, watching his profile as he turn and jogged through the sand, effortlessly catching a beer that was tossed his way. Then she glanced around, looking for Paul.
He was by the dunes, a blonde head underneath his, his body stretched out over a form she couldn’t really see. She hung back, unsure about interrupting, glancing back at the fire before hesitantly calling his name.
There was a groan from the two bodies, and a muffled whisper, then Paul rolled, coming to his feet, his back to her, his hands adjusting the front of his swimsuit before he turned, an irritated expression on his face. “What’s up Jennifer?”
“I’m ready to leave.” The words spilled out without premeditation, but she saw the brilliance in them as soon as they came out, Paul’s expression fighting hard to disguise the frustration at the statement.
“Now? We haven’t even been here an hour.”
“I know. There is a big group headed to a house in Summerset to hang out. I could go with them – and you could just pick me up there when you’re ready to leave here.” She said it casually, as if she didn’t care either way. As if her entire love life wasn’t resting on his answer.
His eyes lit up. “Really. Summerset? Who all’s going?”
“Just some girls I’ve been talking to. But I think it’s a big group. So it’ll be safe.”