“It can’t be that bad, can it, sunshine?”
I jumped and let out a squeak as Brandon’s gravelly, deep voice broke the silence surrounding me, small drops of my cappuccino sloshing over the rim of my mug and spattering my hand. Cursing under my breath, I shook the burning liquid off my skin and glared at him.
He chuckled. “Sorry. Forgot you were so jumpy…” His words trailed off on a huge, jaw-cracking yawn. He stretched, his arms reaching up high as he arched his back, causing his shirt to ride up and reveal a perfectly delicious expanse of taut, tattooed and tanned skin and the beginning of that hot-as-sin “v” peeking out of the top of his low-slung basketball shorts. No sign of boxers or briefs…so did that mean…?
“Chloe!” Brandon sounded exasperated and a little desperate, like he’d been calling my name for a minute.
I jerked my gaze up to meet his face, feeling the scalding heat of embarrassment rise over my cheeks because I’d been caught staring, and staring hard.
“Uh…yeah? What’s up?” I stuttered, trying to smooth over the moment and doing a really shitty job of it.
He smirked and asked, “Wanna go get some breakfast? I just talked to Luke and he and Emma are going to go down to Cracker Barrel because she’s craving pecan pancakes again.” His smile turned genuine and his fondness for his sister-in-law was evident.
“Sure,” I answered, getting to my feet. “Just let me get ready.”
I moved to walk past him and he grabbed my arm, peering into my face intently. “Hey,” he said gently. “Are you still having nightmares? You look like you haven’t slept in a week, sunshine.”
A shiver made its way down my spine at the intimate tone of his voice, and the fact that he called me sunshine again. I know the old nickname shouldn’t make the butterflies go crazy in my stomach again, but it’d been so long since he’d called me that, with the exception of when we were in California, I couldn’t help it.
“I’m fine.” My voice was husky, soft, and- to my ears- entirely too telling. Shaking him off, I moved past him and made a beeline for the safety of my bedroom, glancing back only once to see him staring after me.
An hour later, I was laughing so hard I was crying, listening to Luke bemoan the fact that Emma was turning out to be the stereotypical pregnant woman.
“You laugh like it’s funny,” Luke groaned, shaking his head. He shot a pained look to his wife, who was sitting there with a shit-eating grin on her face, rubbing her protruding belly affectionately.
“Awww, Daddy is being mean, isn’t he, jelly-bean?” Emma cooed to her stomach before shooting Luke a loving look, her eyes sparkling with happiness and adoration.
Luke smiled back at her and winked before he continued his list of her transgressions. “She woke me up two nights ago at two a.m. saying that she needed some chocolate-peanut butter ice cream. I tried to tell her that we didn’t have any, which only got me yelled at. She said she knew we didn’t have any, that’s why I had to go to Meijer’s and get it. At two in the morning! And then last night it was nachos from Taco Bell at eleven!”
Brandon slapped him on the back and said, “Well, at least it was only eleven instead of two again, brother.”
Luke just rolled his eyes, grinned, and then started asking Brandon something about the inventory list at the shop.
With the guys engrossed in their own conversation, Emma turned to me, a sly smile creeping across her face.
“Sooooo…” she began, drawing the word out dramatically.
“Oh, Lord…what?” I asked her warily.
She leaned in closer and whispered, “I’m in.”
“In what?” I whispered back, thoroughly confused.
She rolled her eyes at me. “I’m in on the plan with Allie!” she whispered back, although her whisper was more of a low voice.
I shot a panicked look across the table at the guys, breathing a sigh of relief when I noted that they were still engrossed in their own conversation and not even looking our way, before I managed to growl through clenched teeth, “What the hell are you talking about? You know what? Not here, not now. We’ll talk later.”
Emma just shrugged and winked at me, grinning happily around the restaurant like she didn’t have a care in the world. It truly warmed my heart to see her like this, positively glowing and radiating happiness…and, if I’m being honest with myself, a little saddened by it, as well. I mean, that’s exactly what I want for myself but do I ever think I’ll have it? Not likely. That fuckwad Greg pretty much ruined that.
I shook my head to clear my thoughts and tuned back into Emma, who had her phone to her ear.
“No, pregnancy brain, you twit. I totally forgot!” She groaned and then laughed at something whoever she was talking to said. “Yeah, I don’t know how I spaced on that, but I’ll be rectifying that situation post haste, gov’nah,” she ended in a horrible fake British accent.
“Alright…okay…alright…I said okay, geez, Allie!” She listened for a few more seconds before ending the call with, “Kay, bye,” and then whirled on me, that sly smile back on her face.
I looked at her with a mix of dread and curiosity, knowing she was about to either ask me something or tell me something that she and Allie had just discussed. And lemme tell ya, I wasn’t wrong.
“Brandon spent the night at your place last night, huh?” She went back to whispering, thank God, but I still glanced at the guys before I answered her.
“How the hell did Allie know?” I whispered.
“Come on, Chloe, do you think Brandon thought of staying at your house last night by himself?” Emma scoffed.
“So you and Allie both knew he was coming to my house after midnight last night?” I asked, my eyes narrowing in suspicion.
Emma chortled with glee and then answered, “He waited until late? Dumbass…what if you’d been asleep?”
“Okay, seriously, what the hell is going on?” I cringed when I realized that I had spoken out loud and now had the undivided attention of all the occupants at the table, and even some at a couple tables around us.
I could feel the heat rising in my face as I glared at Emma, who was unable to restrain her laughter.
“Is this a private joke, or can we get in on it?” Brandon asked, his tone very mild, though curious.
“Nothing! So, how was your breakfast? Was it good?” Yeah, I totally suck at diversion conversation, can ya tell?
“Well, you ready to go home?” Brandon asked a little while later, after we’d finished eating and walked out to the parking lot with Emma and Luke.
“Yeah,” I answered, giving Emma a hug, and nodding when she whispered in my ear, “We’ll finish that conversation later, okay?”
Luke stepped up and gave me a hug, too, and we all went our separate ways. We rode back to my house in silence, the tension building between us again. I laid my head against the window, so sick of feeling this way, being so awkward around him. It’d never been like that between us before and I regretted the fact that I ever kissed him, even as my thighs clenched with heat at the memory of his lips on mine.
His words broke through my thoughts and I jerked my head up, nodding at him but not looking his way.