I remain quiet, absorbing her words. Since when did my baby sister become so wise?

“Just think about that. I’m always here for you. Whenever you’re ready to talk, I’ll be ready to listen,” she says.

Tears threaten and I squeeze my eyes shut harder, willing them to retreat. I refuse to cry. I’m not a crier; I never have been. I laugh away my pain. It’s easier that way.

“Thank you,” I whisper, my voice raspy, and I swallow hard. I wish I could tell her. But not yet. If I say something now, I could be crying wolf again. This could all fizzle out and be forgotten.

Probably not. But stranger things have happened.

“Lily, please …” Her voice drops and I know she’s dying for me to say something, reveal a little piece of anything so her curiosity is appeased. I know she worries.

I shake my head and sniff. “Don’t push, Rosie.”

She practically growls when I call her that and I start to laugh. “You’re so stubborn,” she mutters.

“Takes one to know one,” I throw back at her, and we both start to laugh. I’m so thankful for the change in conversation she has no idea.

“Tell me how you’re feeling,” I say before she can try and get something else out of me.

“I’m fine. Just sick of feeling nauseous. This baby is mean.”

“Sure. You’re going to love and spoil that baby so much when he or she is born,” I remind her, relieved that we’re talking about the baby. My chest warms and the tears fade. I’m filled with a sense of peace at the thought of becoming an aunt in the near future.

A baby to hold and love—and then hand back to Rose when the little munchkin starts fussing or becomes stinky. It’s the perfect situation. I can love on a baby but it’s not my baby.

“I think it’s a boy.” Rose’s voice drops lower. “I hope it is. I want a sweet baby boy who’s handsome like his daddy.”

“Gag,” I tell her, making her giggle. “Get over your man. He’s just all right.”

“Whatever, you jealous hag.”

She’s teasing me. We’ve called each other far worse, but there’s something about her words that hurts. Cuts me straight across the heart.

Maybe because what she’s saying isn’t too far from the truth.

“I didn’t know getting married would turn you into such a bitch,” I jab right back.

“Please. You’d better clean that potty mouth before your nephew is born. I’ll have to bust out the swear jar,” she threatens. “Between you and Caden, the child’s ears will burn from all the cursing.”

“Give me a break. You’re no saint.”

We continue on like this for another ten minutes and it feels good. Normal. I don’t feel so lonely, holed up in my hotel room in the middle of a tropical island, hopped up on pain medication and depressed.

The phone call comes to a halt when Caden arrives home, though. I can hear his deep voice, hear him ask how she’s feeling, and then everything becomes muffled because he’s kissing her. He’s kissing her and she’s enjoying every minute of it and I can hear their little murmurs of love and my heart lurches. It feels like it’s going to leap out of my chest and run off in a jealous rage, which is the stupidest thing ever, but there you have it.

Long after we hang up, long after I take another dose of pain meds and crawl into bed in nothing but my panties, wincing when I try and pull up the comforter with my injured hand like an idiot, I stare at the ceiling and ponder over all the mistakes I’ve made in my life so far. There are a lot of them. A ton.

And I wonder if I can ever find even a glimmer of what my sisters have.

Chapter five

Max

SHE’S AT THE POOL.

That long, sleek body is stretched out like an offering to the sun. Mirrored aviators cover her eyes, which should look ridiculous on her but somehow she makes them sexy.

Lily Fowler has a way of making everything sexy.

She’s completely on display, surrounded by people and not hiding in her private cabana like yesterday, allowing me to watch her blatantly. Her hand is wrapped from her mishap in the ocean, and I’m glad to see she doesn’t look too banged up. Considering what she went through, I figured there would be a few bruises and scrapes, but I don’t see a mark on her beyond the wrapped hand.

In other words, she’s fucking flawless.

There’s so much skin on display, I don’t know where to look first. The bikini she’s wearing is a joke, a strapless scrap of brightly covered fabric that barely contains her full breasts. Her dark blond hair is piled on top of her head in a messy topknot, loose, silky strands teasing her elegant neck, the smooth slope of her shoulders on display, her skin turning golden from the sun. She shifts her legs, drawing my attention, making me wish I were sitting right next to her, touching her …

Memories from yesterday hit me like rapid fire. Diving into the ocean after her without thought, without concern that she’ll figure out who I am. A risky move, it reminds me now of how I used to be when I was in the military. How that abrupt, spontaneous behavior got me into trouble more times than I can count. Most of the time those moments worked out, but when they didn’t …

I failed spectacularly.

But seeing her tumble in the waves like a rag doll, her arms and legs flailing, the look of pure panic on her face, I knew I was doing the right thing by going in after her. Somehow I fought against the waves and grabbed her, pulling her above the surface in seconds. I’d been fucking grateful to hear that first big gasp of air, just before she started to cough.

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