“Chloe, it’s not you. I swear. It just…well, fuck it, it honestly hurt when I heard that you guys had finally taken that step. I know I pushed you into this whole thing and told you there was nothing to feel guilty about, and there’s not. Don’t you ever feel that way, and I should never have done or said anything to wipe away that gorgeous smile of yours that was plastered across your face. I’m happy for you. I really am,” she said earnestly.

She smiled, a small, hopeful smile. “Forgive me?”

I smiled back at her and nodded slightly. “Yeah. And I’m sorry for springing it on you like this, but-”

She cut me off. “You didn’t actually say a word, if you remember. You just stood there and grinned at me like a goofy idiot,” she said wryly. “And I was happy at first and then it kicked in and it stung a bit, but…forget about my stupid feelings. Seriously. Beyond the sting of it, I realize that this is a good thing, and that I really am happy for you two. There’s no one else I’d rather see him with, or you for that matter. You’re going to be great together.”

I pulled away from Emma and grabbed Allie, pulling her into me for a big hug. We held on to each other for a minute before she pulled away and asked, mischievously, “So did he put it on you good?”

“Allie!” Emma cried, aghast. “You can’t ask her that after you just…you know what? Hell with it, I wanna know, too,” she said, turning to me. “Spill it, woman!”

We all laughed and the tense moment was broken.

“It was good,” I said, grinning.

“Uh, just good?” Emma asked, sarcastically.

I rolled my eyes. “Okay, so it was great. Phenomenal…God, it was awesome!” I said giggling as I gave in to the glee bubbling up inside me again.

We laughed and teased for a bit before I admitted, quietly, “I told him I was falling in love with him. That I love him.”

Both of them watched me with wide eyes, waiting with bated breath to hear what he said back. They prompted me silently and then smiled at me when I finished, “He said he was falling in fucking love with me, too. His words.”

They both laughed and hugged me. Allie held me just a little bit longer and I could sense the sadness still clinging to her, but I didn’t begrudge her that. I couldn’t. This was definitely a unique situation, but I had faith that we would all be okay. Some people would probably never understand the dynamics of our little group, but we would, and that’s all that mattered.

The conversation finally petered out and Emma left to go to the shop with the guys. Allie and I finished the day working with the easy camaraderie that had built between us, all traces of the emotional morning washed away.

With the store closed down for the day, I headed for my car to go home. My phone beeped and I pulled it out to see a text from Brandon.

Hey, I have to stay a little late at the shop. Want to come here and wait for me? We can get dinner after I’m done.

I hit reply and sent: Sure. On my way.

I pulled into the shop and walked inside to see him sitting at the counter, looking over some papers with Luke.

“Hey!” I said in greeting to them both.

Luke looked up and gave me a warm smile, winking at me when Brandon got up from the stool he was on and came around the counter to pull me into his arms. I wound my arms around his neck and rocked onto my toes to meet his kiss, feeling his smile against my lips at my eagerness.

He kissed me briefly, although it definitely wasn’t chaste, and squeezed me tight against his chest before he loosened his hold enough for me to drop off my toes.

“So, you mentioned me inking you sometime. I have about an hour before my next client comes in because someone just chickened out.” Brandon waggled his eyebrows at me exaggeratedly, which made him look like one of those cartoon villains.

I laughed. “I said I might have you ink me sometime, I never said when!” I exclaimed, although I already knew I was going to agree.

Luke laughed and shook his head at us. “You’re gonna let that bozo ink you?” he asked, jokingly. “Come on, we all know that I’m the better artist here,” he said, shooting a mocking look at Brandon.

Brandon scowled in mock anger and dropped one arm from me long enough to punch his brother in the arm. Luke just laughed again and walked back to his office, saying, “I’ve got some paperwork and inventory to do. You kids behave, you hear?”

“Dick,” Brandon muttered under his breath, leaning in and pecking my lips once more. “Whatcha think?”

“Mmmm,” I murmured against his lips. “I think you could just kiss me for the next hour…” I sighed.

He chuckled and pushed me back. “I’d love to be able to do that, baby, but I think Luke would probably get jealous.”

We waited for his next client, bantering back and forth with Luke and Emma, who’d come back to the shop lugging a box of tacos from Taco Bell. Luke had muttered under his breath about her obsession with the restaurant, giving Emma an innocent look when she glared at him and dared him to say another word.

I sat with Emma when Luke and Brandon both had to go back with clients, talking and laughing until they were done. When they closed the shop up, Luke and Emma headed home and Brandon and I headed to dinner.

Chapter 13

The next couple of weeks settled into a routine. My days were spent working or hanging out with the girls, and my nights were filled with Brandon. It still seemed so surreal to me to think that we were together, that we had moved beyond friendship into something more.

He’d been so attentive, and the sex? Off the charts, HOT.

I’d been hanging out more and more with Emma and Allie because Leah had been seeing Ian non-stop since the night she met him. He’s seems to be good to her and she’s so stupidly giddy every time she talks about him, which is the only reason I don’t smack her silly for abandoning her best friend. Of course, since Brandon and I got together, too, I was guilty of the same thing.

But who could blame me? Just this morning he woke me up with his mouth kissing every inch of my body and didn’t stop until my eyes were crossed and I thought my toes would never uncurl.

A snuffle at my feet caught my attention and I looked down to see Grady sitting, pretty as you please, in front of me. Allie and Jackson were going to Cincinnati for the night (for real, this time), so they’d asked me to keep Grady. It was Saturday, Allie’s mom, Daisy, was watching the store today, and it’s closed on Sunday, so they weren’t coming back until morning to get him. I didn’t mind, but I’d made sure they brought his crate this time.

His furry little face was so angelic that I had to smile. Then, I shit you not, he opened his mouth and grinned at me, just like his father does! I laughed at him, but it died pretty quickly when I realized he had the remnants of something that looked suspiciously like a bar of soap stuck all through his teeth.

“Grady…” I sighed. Then, so I could pull him closer to see what it was, I cooed, “And just what did you get into, boy? Huh? Did you find my shameful stash of hotel soaps?”

He wiggled in my hands and yipped in excitement, so I picked him up, muttering at the fact that he’d grown and definitely gotten heavier. He was probably closing in on fifteen to twenty pounds now and came to my knees. His paws were roughly the size of saucers (okay, maybe not quite that large) and I figured he would probably be as big, if not bigger, than his furry father.

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