“That was you?” he asked suspiciously.

I nodded gleefully and popped the noodle in mouth, happy to find it was done. I moved methodically around the kitchen, straining the water out, adding milk, butter, and the day-glo orange cheese powder as Brandon scowled at me.

“That wasn’t very nice,” he muttered.

I shrugged and grinned at him again. “Maybe not nice, but it was pretty funny,” I said smartly. “And speaking of niceness, why should I be nice to you when you weren’t nice to me?”

“What are you talking about?” he asked. “I was very nice to you this morning!” he said, deepening his voice and waggling his brows at me.

I rolled my eyes at him. “No, Cassanova, that’s not what I was talking about. Perv. I was talking about the fact that you lied to me. Seriously? A client?”

He rubbed his hand over the back of his head and sighed before shooting me a sheepish smile. “I panicked and it was the first thing I could think of.”

“Yeah, well, next time, you might keep in mind that we’d already had a whole conversation about you being off today.” I winked at him, letting him know that I wasn’t mad.

He peered over my shoulder as I spooned a healthy helping of mac & cheese into a bowl and then watched as I took a big bite. “Can I have some of that?” he asked.

“Nope,” I said succinctly.

“No?” he repeated, staring at me incredulously.

“That’s what I said,” I replied, taking another big bite.

“Why not?” he asked petulantly.

I walked by him and smacked him in the arm with my spoon, leaving an orange smear on his skin. He stood there gaping at me as I strolled into the living room and curled into my favorite spot on my couch.

He followed and leaned against the door frame between the kitchen and living room, crossing his arms over his chest. He motioned with his hand, an impatient gesture to indicate he was waiting for my answer.

“You were supposed to bring me breakfast this morning and, well…where’d it go?” I cocked my head at him, partly being a playful smartass, but also genuinely curious.

He’d left after Allie and Jacks had shown up to drop Grady off to go to McDonald’s because I was craving a bacon, egg, and cheese bagel. I’d let the pup into the house while I stood in the driveway talking to them, which is apparently when Grady had gone on his soap hunting expedition.

Brandon hadn’t been holding anything but ‘Santa-dog’ in his hand when he’d come back, and there’d been no bag on the counter, so what the hell?

He shot me a guilty look. “I went through the drive through and got everything. So I thought, anyway. I didn’t realize until I pulled into the drive that they’d forgotten to give me your frou frou coffee thing. I ran in to tell you before I went back up to get it because I didn’t take my phone with me and…well…”

“Well?” I asked, wanting the rest of it.

“Your bagel was good?” he said sweetly, the end of it rising like a question, giving him an innocent boyish air.

I gave him an evil look and asked, “And what about my frou frou coffee drink, as you so politely called it?”

“Uh…” he said, drawing it out. “I might have drank that, just a little bit.”

I gasped and then, glaring at him, spooned up another bite of macaroni, shoving it in and chewing as angrily as I could. Which was kind of hard to do. It’s hard to angry eat. I managed to knock the spoon against my front tooth when I shoveled another bite in and then scowled even harder when Brandon laughed his ass off at me.

He moved in front of me and leaned in, lightly kissing the scrunched up tip of my nose. “You’re so cute,” he said, smiling at me.

I smiled back at him, letting him know I wasn’t really mad (which he obviously was aware of…either that or I’m not very scary when I’m ‘mad’), and tilted my face to receive his chaste kiss on my lips. “Okay, you can have some macaroni,” I sighed.

He shook his head at me. “Nah, I’m still pretty full from eating my breakfast and yours.”

“You ass!” I yelled, laughing at him again.

Chapter 14

Emma had called a little later and asked if we wanted to have a cookout and a bonfire with them that night. She said she’d been craving s’mores, too, so that’s what we were instructed to bring. We ran by the store and bought double everything to make sure there was enough and then went back home and loaded Grady up to head over.

We pulled up and Doug was sitting on the porch, looking decidedly pissed off for a dog. I got out of the car and padded up the steps, stopping beside him to scratch his head and ask him what was wrong.

Brandon just shook his head at me and let Grady out of the backseat.

Doug stared up at me with doleful eyes, then threw his head back and let out a ululating half-howl, half-growl/groan. I made sympathetic noises to him and he kept “talking” to me, letting me know about whatever injustice had been done to him.

When he’d gotten it off his chest, he looked up at me expectantly. I told him, “Quite the story there, huh?” He gave me a sneeze/snuffle that shook his head in what looked like a nod and then trotted off to follow Grady, who was galloping through the grass at full speed.

“Damn dog,” Brandon said affectionately as he watched Doug go.

We walked into the house to see Luke standing on one side of the counter in the kitchen, a jar of peanut butter in one hand and a jar of pickles in the other. Both hands were raised above his head and he was shaking his head vehemently at Emma, who was on the opposite side of the counter. She was mean-mugging the hell out of Luke and yelling at him.

“Give me back my peanut butter and pickles, Lucas Tyler Crimshaw! Right now or else I’ll…I’ll…aaiiiyeeeee!” She shrieked in frustration and stomped her foot on the floor.

“No, Emma Marie Crimshaw! I won’t give you back the pickles and peanut butter! I draw the line at pickle butter milkshakes. It’s just wrong, woman!” Luke yelled back at her. He caught sight of us standing in the living room, watching the drama unfold.

“Brandon, tell her! Tell her that she can’t do that to my daughter!”

Emma whirled around and stomped over to Brandon. Well, stomped as much as she could. It was more like a heavy-footed waddle. “If you know what’s good for you, dear brother-in-law, you’ll go in there and get my pickles and my peanut butter and you’ll like it!”

Brandon tried to keep a straight face as he replied, “I’m not getting in the middle of this. It’s too entertaining to interrupt, but could you wait until I make some popcorn to finish arguing?”

Emma’s face screwed up and a tear streaked down her cheek. Brandon’s mouth dropped and he backpedaled, trying to assure her that he would get the stuff from Luke, begging her not to cry. In the kitchen, Luke dropped his arms and set the jars down, shaking his head in what I figured was defeat.

I was wrong.

“Bro…no. She’s playing you. She’s completely hormonal and can cry at the drop of a hat, almost on command. It’s a new talent she’s exploited far too often,” he emphasized, loudly, “and you’re playing right into it,” Luke told Brandon.

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