He blew out a breath and got up, pacing the room in front of me. “Look. I’m a selfish bastard. I knew going in to the whole deal that one day it was going to end up like this. I already knew that I would have to walk away…but I did it anyway, I got involved regardless, knowing how it was going to turn out. Hell, I’ve not had the greatest track record when it comes to relationships and women, but I see what Luke has with Emma and I want that! You know?”
I opened my mouth to interject, closing it without saying anything when he continued.
“Anyway, I think I would have ended up resenting the closeness that Allie and Jackson have. And I shouldn’t have to resent anything, especially if we are all three supposed to be making it work. I would have hated myself if I had stayed and things went south…and then I’d have nothing, not even their friendship.”
He looked over at me. “Does that make sense, or am I just a complete and total asshole?”
I shook my head. “No, I think you did what was best for you.”
We stared at each other for a minute before he blew out a breath and said, “You know, I take back my thanks, by the way. Nosy little witch…”
I gasped in exaggerated affront and reached up to smack him playfully. He dodged my limp-wristed smack, jumping off the bed and laughing when my momentum toppled me over on the mattress.
With a groan, I pushed myself up and glared at Brandon, who was still standing about four feet away, chuckling softly. I couldn’t hold my glare and ended up smiling at him until he came and sat beside me again.
“So you ready to talk about your deal, yet?” he asked me quietly.
I shook my head quickly. No one really knew the whole story except Jackson, and he really didn’t even know the whole thing. I’d left out some choice details that I wasn’t even ready to discuss with myself, let alone anyone else.
Brandon inclined his head and said, “Okay…that’s fine. But you know you can talk to me, right?”
He patted me on the shoulder and stood, stretching his arms over his head. “Get some sleep, Chloe. And take some Tylenol before you do so you won’t have such a nasty hangover in the morning.”
I stood and nodded again, yawning and then grinning up at Brandon when he laughed at me. I swatted at him and, unsteady as I was, I lost my balance and fell into him with a muffled ‘oompf’ when my nose connected with the hardness of his chest.
I felt the vibration of his laughter against my face and pushed back to look up at him. As soon as I did, our eyes locked and my breath caught, a strange headiness taking over my senses, awareness prickling over every inch of my body. In slow motion, almost like I was watching myself outside my body, I reached up and caught the back of Brandon’s neck, pulling his head down and crushing my lips to his.
I felt him hesitate and, not sure just what the hell I was doing, I sucked his bottom lip between my lips, nibbling at it before sweeping my tongue along the seam, moaning when he instinctively opened, letting me inside.
I kissed him like I was starving, a small cry wrenching from my throat when his hands came up and framed my face, and then I was lost as he took control of the kiss, drowning me in ecstasy. Lost in the moment, I moved my hands down his sides and fumbled with his shirt, pulling it up and sliding my hands along the hot, taut flesh of his stomach. His hands left my face and grasped my hips, pulling me flush against his body, the hardness of his length prodding the softness of my belly.
That’s when I froze, when reality came crashing into me with the force of a runaway train. I tore my mouth from his and pushed away from him with a whimper.
“I…I’m so sorry…we can’t…oh, God!” I cried.
He looked at me and I could see the emotions warring over his face…lust, guilt, remorse, and…something else that I couldn’t define.
I sighed. “I’m sorry, Brandon. I shouldn’t have done that. Just…I’ll see you in the morning.”
With that, I turned and made my way into the bathroom, completely sobered by the moment. After I closed the door behind me, I heard the door close behind Brandon as he left my room, headed for his.
In the morning, we headed for home, the tension so thick between us you could cut it with a knife. And it hadn’t ever gone away.
I stared up at the ceiling in the almost-darkness of my bedroom, the soft glow of the night-light that I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of just yet casting shadows around the room. My mind was racing, words tumbling over and over in my head.
I’d told Allie everything about that night. About the whole trip, actually, not leaving anything out. She never punched me like I’d expected; instead, she’d completely floored me more than she already had before I’d spilled all the details.
She’d finally pounded it into my head (she thought…I still felt like shit even though I knew she was technically right) that I hadn’t done anything wrong and then she’d cried and laughed and even admitted that she’d been jealous of me, but that she couldn’t ever really find a reason why.
I’d promptly told her that she obviously was wrong, fretting over it again, which earned me a growl and quick slap upside my head. Who knew pregnant women were so abusive?! But the words she’d uttered next are the ones that are still running through my mind. She’d hesitated a bit, choosing them carefully, maybe. I don’t know. Honestly, I was still shocked by them.
“Chloe…have things…changed for you when it comes to Brandon?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well, you guys have been friends for so long and then there was that kiss…I just wondered if maybe the things that you might have felt for him before have evolved.”
I shook my head, unwilling to even think like that. “No.” My voice was firm…or so I thought. All she did was give me a curious little smile.
The conversation had finally wound down after that and we’d been talking about other things and watching Allie’s belly move when the baby had hiccups. Out of the blue, she had turned to me, her eyes wide and sparkling.
“On a scale of one to ten, what was the kiss? I know he’s a good kisser, so that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about hotness factor…toe-curler?”
I gasped. “Allie! No! No way, no how am I talking about that with you! I’m still not over the fact that you aren’t pissed to the tits at me for even kissing him to begin with, so…” I broke off, still shaking my head vehemently, denying her question.
Allie sighed and patted my thigh. “Chloe, seriously. I’m your friend, and soon to be sister-in-law. Take my advice and get over it. So there’s a little history between me and Brandon...who cares? I’m telling you that everything is fine and that you need to get your cute little ass out there and decide if that kiss was good enough to change things between the two of you. I think you’d be good for him. And he’d be good for you. So spill it, woman! Toe-curler or just ehh?”
I threw back my head on a groan, knowing that, Allie being Allie, she wouldn’t stop until she got her answer. “Ten-toe curler with a side of panty-melter and a half,” I sighed out in resignation.
When I looked at her again, she was smiling that same curious little smile and just staring at me.