“But he was,” she insists. “He was all of those things.”

“And he made me laugh. And we had fun. And yes, I’m really in love with him, and love makes you do crazy things, like go for it with a guy. Like drive two hours for a friend when you can’t get through on her cell phone, right?”

“That was reasonable. You could have been dead, remember? Besides, I’m a cop. That’s what I do. Make sure my people are safe.”

“Like I said. Love is crazy. And love makes you do things like keep a secret because you want to protect this person you love.” I reach for her hand, squeezing it, needing her to know she’s my person too. “I wanted to protect you because I knew you’d worry about me. You always have.”

She tightens her hold on my hand, and the look in her eyes is so fierce. “Because I love you like you’re family. Because I want the world for you. Don’t you get that?”

My throat tightens. “I do, I totally understand it. And I want the same for you. I wanted it for you when you were falling for Derek. I want you to have everything. I understand why you do what you do. I understand why you haven’t wanted this to happen.” I shrug helplessly. “But my heart’s been his for a long time. For years.”

She nods as if she’s trying to absorb all this new intel. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

I give her an arched eyebrow of disbelief. “Seriously?” I nudge her elbow. “Who’s the crazy one? You’d have cackled. Said he’s not good enough for me, even though he’s your freaking brother.”

She straightens, her nostrils flaring. “But he’s not good enough for you. Yes, he’s a great brother. Yes, he’s a great guy. And yes, if I were in trouble, he’s the one I’d call. Well, before I met Derek.” Perri takes a beat, her voice softening to a worried whisper. “But he’s not a committed type of guy. He’s a ladies’ man. You want something real. How can he give it to you?”

I draw a deep breath, wishing I had the answer. But I do know I won’t find it in Perri.

The answer is in my heart.

And in Shaw’s, if he wants what I have to give.

“I do want something real, and I want that to be with Shaw. I’m willing to take that chance. I haven’t been able to get him out of my heart or my mind for years. And yes, I slept with him last night, and I’m not going to apologize for that. And I’m not going to apologize for enjoying it.”

She pretends to retch. “No more details, please. I’m begging you.”

I hold up my hands in surrender. “I won’t give you any more details.”

“Please never do.”

And because I can’t resist needling her, I whisper, “But it was amazing.”

She slams her hands over her ears. “La la la la la.”

I peel them off. “But I am sorry I kept my feelings a secret from you and that I didn’t talk to you before this happened. Except . . . maybe it needed to happen this way. Maybe Shaw and I needed to be forced together to confront how we feel. And maybe I needed to have this chance with him without involving you. So I could do it for me. Learn for me. Discover if what I felt from afar was true up close too.”

She hums as if she’s thinking about all of this. “Do you know how he feels for you?”

Nerves fly through my body, chased by wishes and hopes. “I don’t know, but I have a good idea, and I hope I’m right. He said he’s crazy about me.”

“He said he’s crazy about you?”

Smiling, I feel a little giddy at the memory. Crazy for you isn’t love, but surely it’s a start. It’s something to build on. “I’m willing to take a chance.”

“But what if it doesn’t work out? What happens to us?” she asks, and that’s when I understand Perri’s biggest concern. Us. Somehow, this crazy loon thinks a man could ruin our friendship.

I scoff and laugh at the same time. “Do you really think we’re not going to be friends if it doesn’t work out?”

“Yes. He’s my brother. I can’t change that fact. And what if it doesn’t work out and you’re done with me by extension?”

Cracking up, I rap my knuckles on her temple. “You’re insane. You’re not getting rid of me so easily. No matter what, we’re still friends, and that’s not going to change.”

She exhales deeply, and her remaining hard edges seem to soften. “I don’t want him to hurt you. If he does, I will have his you-know-what in a sling.”

“I don’t want him to hurt me either, but I also don’t want to spend the rest of my life wondering what might’ve happened with him. I don’t want to compare other men to him. I want to know if we can be what I want us to be. And I want your blessing.”

Tags: Lauren Blakely Romance
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