“Hey.”

Perri snaps her gaze to me, and her jaw hits the floor in shocked surprise. She stumbles back, grabbing the doorjamb.

“What the what?” she sputters, as she widens her eyes at my attire, such that it is. “Why are you in your boxers?” She whips her head to Vanessa—“Why is my brother in his boxers?”—and back to me. “You were supposed to be helping her with the cabin, not doing a striptease.”

“I helped, and we spent the night,” I say, since there’s no point lying about that. It’s motherfucking obvious. “We spent it together.”

Vanessa parts her lips, nibbles on the corner, her eyes widening with guilt. I wonder if I spoke too soon. If we were supposed to lie. But fuck it, I don’t want to lie about my feelings for her anymore.

Perri squeezes her eyes shut, as if she’s snow-blind, then opens them. “Are you two . . .?”

She can’t even finish.

My heart nose-dives, my chest has an elephant in it, and my gut feels like I ate bad chili.

While I don’t feel a snick of guilt for spending the night with Vanessa, I do feel a ton of it for going against Perri’s wishes.

Even if I don’t agree with them.

Because I should have told her first. I should have told her how I feel. My sister is crazy and intense, but I love and respect her, and the look in her eyes screams her abject disappointment in me.

Though that’s nothing compared to the gaze she casts Vanessa. My sister’s green eyes are now the color of hurt. “Are you guys—”

She seems to be at a loss for words.

Vanessa reaches for Perri’s arm, her voice breaking as she tries to reassure her. “It’s not what you think.”

I step in the middle of things, sweeping over to the open door. “It’s freezing outside. Just come in.”

Vanessa ushers the visitors inside, cold swirling in with them like a trailing perfume. Once the door shuts, my sister stares at me, and she’s no longer shocked, or even surprised. She’s hurt. Just plain hurt. Tears, a mere hint, flicker in her eyes.

“Are you guys together?” she whispers, like she can’t believe we didn’t tell her first.

I lick my lips and look at Vanessa. She gazes back at me. This isn’t how I wanted to tell her I’ve fallen in love with her. I spoke first before so maybe I ought to wait for Vanessa to answer.

But before either of us can reply, Perri shifts again to a frown. “Shaw. I’ve told you to stay away.”

I snap.

That’s all it takes. “Why the hell am I not good enough for your friend?”

Just like when we were younger, Perri gives it right back to me. “Are you for real? You’re standing here in your boxer shorts. That’s why. If you were going to do right by her, you wouldn’t be half naked. You’d be dating her. You’d be taking her out. You’d have told me how you felt. Now can you please get dressed, because I can’t have this conversation with you flapping around in your underwear.”

“We’re not done with this,” I mutter.

I retreat to the bedroom, with Derek following behind, trying to figure out how to unmake this mess.

13

Vanessa

I sink onto the couch, and my first instinct is to say I’m sorry. But I believe that women say they’re sorry too often and for the wrong things. We say we’re sorry for our life choices, for asking for help, for our sexuality, when we should only apologize for the things we’ve actually done to hurt someone else.

I’ve hurt Perri.

As she slumps onto the cushions, wiping a rebel tear from her cheek, I try to take ownership for my wrongs.

“I’m sorry this is how you found out about my feelings for him. And I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner, but if I was going to, I’d have told you years ago that I’m in love with your brother.”

Slowly, as if this moment were unfolding in a jar of molasses, she turns to meet my gaze. “For years?” Her voice is quiet, but each word is clear. Like she’s testing the full weight of them.

Relief overwhelms me, flooding my heart. Telling her tastes like freedom. “Since high school. You probably think it’s crazy. Maybe it is crazy. And the thing I feel worst about is I kept it a secret from you. I love you so much, and you and Arden are my best friends, and that’s why it tore me apart at times to know I had these intense feelings for your brother.” I feel lighter already. “But yes, I’ve felt this way for him for a long, long time.”

She swallows. “You’re really in love with him, and have been since he was a cocky, mouthy, corny, class-clown-meets-jock high school guy?”

“You’re such a sister,” I say with a little laugh.


Tags: Lauren Blakely Romance
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