Page 23 of Rule (Marked Men 1)

“What?” Something crinkled under my hip as I moved while my brother chuckled in my ear.

“Did I interrupt something?”

On a plain piece of sketch paper I had laying around for drawing up designs for clients she had written in her neat, girly scrip:

Best birthday gift ever! Thanks

She didn’t sign it, didn’t say she would call or ask me to call her. It was plain and simple and I wasn’t sure if it made me elated or furious. My brother was still waiting for a response so I shook the cobwebs loose out of my head and sat up in the bed. It smelled like sex and her.

“No I just didn’t sleep good last night.”

“That’s what happens when you bring strangers home with you, you have to make sure you sleep with one eye open so they don’t rob you or stab you while you sleep.”

I groaned. “Dude you need to get out of the Army. Not every stranger is an insurgent.”

He muttered something under his breath that I didn’t catch. “Hey I’m gonna come to Denver for the week. My shoulder is acting up and I need to touch base with my Orthopedic surgeon plus mom is getting on my last nerve. Shaw refused to come over for lunch today because mom wouldn’t invite you as well and now she’s convinced you’ve somehow corrupted her darling girl. I keep telling her she needs to see someone and dad even agrees but she’s just so stubborn, I guess that’s where we get it from.”

I winced a little; glad the conversation was happening over the phone. I was sure guilt colored my face. My mom would freak out to extreme levels if she had any clue just how thoroughly I had corrupted Shaw.

“How much longer before you have to go?”

“I have to be medically cleared first and I’m supposed to meet with a VA counselor to make sure there isn’t any PTSD from the accident. I have to have a clean bill of health all the way around before I go back.”

“Well it’ll be nice to finally get a chance to hangout without all the family drama.”

“Yeah, I’ve been calling Shaw all morning so I can take her out to dinner or something for her birthday. I’m sure her moronic parents didn’t do anything again and I hate the idea that she probably had to spend it alone. You should get off your lazy ass and come with us if I get ahold of her.”

I started to choke a little. It was on the tip of my tongue to tell him that she most definitely hadn’t been alone but this was Shaw and as close I was to Rome he didn’t need to know what we had been doing in this room last night.

“Naw, I think she’s had enough of me. I ran into her a few weeks ago and I see her around here and there. I think it’s a nice break for her not to have to deal with me every weekend.”

He laughed a little. “You’re probably right. I’m gonna crash with my buddy Drew since I don’t think the shoulder is up to sleeping on your shitty couch and he has the room but I’ll hit you up when I roll into town. If I can’t get in touch with Shaw you and I can go grab dinner somewhere and you can disgust me with all the tales of your latest conquests.”

I rubbed a hand over my tired face and shoved Shaw’s note into the nightstand. I could still feel her hands moving all over me.

“You need to get off your butt and start pulling some conquests of your own. You’re a hero dude, chicks eat that stuff up.”

“I’m not like you Rule; I’m not twenty two and living life by the seat of my pants. I’ve seen the worst humanity has to offer, in the last four years I’ve buried more friends than I’ve made, I get out of the Army in less than two years and I don’t know what the future holds for me so nailing every pretty girl in my path is pretty low on my priority ladder. Right now I want to get healthy, get our family back together and finish this tour up without any more dead bodies. One day you’ll understand.”

He wasn’t wrong. My priorities were very different from his. I made good money, had a ton of savings, drove a nice car but I was viscerally aware that the majority of my time was spent trying to outlive the shadow of my dead twin. I wallowed in superficial relationships so no one could get close to me, no one could judge me and find me lacking. I sought out girls that were easy, that had zero expectation beyond what I offered, a good time and a few mindless minutes of release but I had never had a girlfriend, never let anyone all the way in because I was scared I wouldn’t be enough once they got down to the core of who I was. I knew it was messed up, knew I was an emotional train wreak and the thing with Shaw was just bound to make it even worse.

“Whatever. A good time never killed anyone. Call me later.”

I tossed the phone on the bed and went into the bathroom to take care of business. When I went into the living room Nash was sprawled on the couch watching the early game on the flat screen. He had a mug of coffee in one hand and a doughnut in the other.

“Morning.”

He flicked his gaze up to me. “What’s up?”

“Nothing. Did you see Shaw this morning?”

He nodded and held up the doughnut. “She left these. So what’s the deal with that? She was in the kitchen this morning so I assumed she stayed the night with you. I thought you were going to put her in a cab.”

“Where did the roommate end up?” I tried to change the subject as I got my own coffee.

“I offered to bring her back here to wait for Shaw but she was having a good time so we had a few more drinks then I called her a cab. She seemed to think it was a brilliant idea that her very intoxicated friend was going home with you, why is that?”

I grunted and sank down on the couch next to him.

“I dunno. Shaw and I have all kinds of twisted history, who knows?”

“But she spent the night with you?”

“Yeah.”

“And I’m assuming because I’ve known you since forever that you didn’t spend the night discussing politics and watching TV?”

I glowered over at him. “No.”

He shook his head and made a tisk, tisk sound. “What were you thinking?”

“I wasn’t, clearly.”

“Dude, she’s not one of those girls. You can’t just have me escort her out in the morning and never talk to her again.”

“Hey I woke up alone this morning. I didn’t make her go anywhere.”

“But you would’ve and Shaw is way to classy and smart to do a walk of shame. Man I can’t believe you hooked up with your brother’s girl. You really do have some problems, that’s a whole mess I wouldn’t even jump into no matter how hot the girl was.”

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