Home > Flirting with the Frenemy (Bro Code #1)(14)

Flirting with the Frenemy (Bro Code #1)(14)
Author: Pippa Grant

“Aww, that’s so sweet of you, but I have to eat with—”

“All of us,” I interrupt.

“We get to have lunch together!” Tucker says. “Captain Monica says so. Can you teach me to draw a—”

“Pirate?” Ellie exclaims desperately. “Yes. I can teach you to draw a pirate. Or a parrot.”

“The golf man’s parrot said a dirty word.”

“Aw, Pop Rock’s working at Scuttle Putt today? His parrot usually does say dirty words. He’s a very salty bird.”

Our table is called, and we head inside with Tucker proudly holding Ellie’s hand. “Be careful, there’s a chair,” he tells her, steering her around one of the thick wood tables in the treasure-themed dining room.

“Thank you so much, gallant sir,” she replies, then adds under her breath to me, “Why are you here?”

“Serendipitous timing. And fate, of course. I sensed you’d be here, and I missed you.”

She looks at me closer, and there’s a gleam in her eyes like she’s gearing up to top me in the lovey-dovey new relationship game.

Which shouldn’t be a big surprise. She’s always been bright.

“Here, Miss Ellie. You sit on the end so you can put your foot up if you need to.”

Tucker helps her gracefully into a chair—as gracefully as a seven-year-old who barely hits four feet tall can—and gives her a funny look when she replies, “Thank you, kind sir, you may kiss my hand.”

“It’s what gentlemen used to do for ladies,” I whisper to him.

He wrinkles his nose at me like I’m asking him to hug an eel. “Dad, I like her, but I don’t want to kiss her.”

“Here. No cooties. Like this.” I bend over, take Ellie’s hand, and press a loud, smacking kiss to it, but I also trail my fingers down her palm.

Lightly.

Where no one can see.

Goosebumps visibly travel up her arm, and there’s a tremor in her hand before I lower it, still holding on.

“See?” I say to Tucker. “Nothing to it.”

I help Tucker into his chair on her other side and take the liberty of sweeping her short, dark curls back from her cheek before I pull out my own chair and sit.

Something squishes under my ass, and I register cold liquid on my left butt cheek the same moment a woman behind me shrieks.

I leap up as fast as I can, bumping into a passing server, who dumps a pizza all down the back of the woman who just got sprayed with—with what?

Whatever it is, it’s red and sticky and why the fuck is there a bottle of ketchup in a pizza joint?

“Oh my god, you sat on the French dressing!” Blond Caveman’s girlfriend says. Her eyes are round like she’s both horrified and trying not to laugh.

“French—what?” Tucker asks.

“The French dressing,” Ellie tells him, and I can hear her trying not to laugh as she scoots her chair, winces, and tries again to rise. “They put it on the pizza here, and—oh. Right. Bad time. Sorry.”

“I’m so sorry. Oh my gosh, ma’am, I’m so, so sorry,” the server is babbling. “Sir. I’m so sorry. I don’t know how—why—”

I try to help her pick up the pizza. “My fault,” I tell her. “Should’ve looked before I sat.”

Ellie’s sucking her cheeks in, face pointed at the ground. Tucker looks like he can’t decide if he’s supposed to laugh or cry.

“Daddy made a big boo-boo,” I tell him.

“This isn’t funny,” Monica whispers, like she’s talking to herself, while her face contorts with the effort of holding in laughter.

Her fiancé is on the ground helping me, lips twisted in a wry grin. “Could’ve happened to any of us, man. Ellie, sit. We got this.”

A manager rushes over, and Blond Caveman’s girlfriend leaps into action, checking the woman behind me for pizza burns. “I’m a nurse,” she says, like she just remembered. “May I?”

“Wyatt?” Ellie whispers in a strangled voice.

“Yeah?” I grunt while I swipe at melted cheese on the old wood floor.

“I’m sorry you’re having a shitty day.”

All of a sudden, the woman we’ve accidentally assaulted with French dressing and pizza bursts into laughter. “What are the odds?” she says.

“I’m really sorry, ma’am,” I say again.

“Honey, I was just sitting here mad because I have to go see my sister-in-law, who’s always talking about all the terrible calamities that happen to her, like getting a wart on her knee, which is a pretty lame calamity, but that’s my sister-in-law for you, and now I got a story that’ll top her for life.”

“Ma’am, we’re still going to have to comp your pizza and give you a coupon for more. And a free T-shirt,” the manager says.

“Can I get one of those glow-in-the-dark cups and a pirate mug too? I’ll pay for it, but I’m telling her I got it all for free.” She cackles as she rubs the French dressing on her shirt with a napkin. “She’s gonna be so jealous.”

“Her mug’s on me,” I tell the manager.

“I’ll buy her an Anchovies hoodie,” Jason pipes up.

“Put one of them squeezy treasure chests for her on my bill,” a grandma two tables over calls. “This is the best entertainment I had since Blackbeard stripped for me two nights ago.”

Half the people in the restaurant groan. “Didn’t need to know that, Sandy!” someone calls back.

“There are kids in this place, Nana,” the manager chastises.

“A stress chest? That’s it?” someone else says. “Cheapskate. I’m getting a whole set of mugs for her.”

“And I’m buying that table’s dinner,” another voice chimes in, pointing at us.

“Root beer all around!” someone hollers.

Despite sitting on French dressing for the next hour—the remains of which Ellie slathers all over her pizza and talks Tucker into trying too, after she’s taught him how to draw a pirate face—lunch is just as much fun as Scuttle Putt was, except with more sea shanties and souvenirs. Monica’s toned down the shrieking about Ellie and me dating, and instead is peppering me with questions about being a flight test engineer. Except for the occasional snide comment about my pay grade, the Blond Caveman keeps his attention focused mostly on his phone. Jason tells us all about the last time he went to Africa with the nonprofit he works for, and then brags on Monica’s recycled artwork.

And Tucker gets to color a pirate ship that Ellie draws him on the paper placemat, which keeps him happy long after he’s done eating. He’s loaded down with more loot than he picked up at the parade by the time we leave.

“This town is crazy,” I mutter to Ellie once we’re back out on the street, stuffed with the best thin crust pizza in the entire state.

“Customer service and reputation above all else,” she replies. “Welcome to the Shipwreck family.”

Two pirates on unicycles are juggling back and forth right in the center of Blackbeard Avenue, and the Sea Cow Creamery across the street is handing out free samples to anyone willing to shout Ahoy, matey! to distract them.

Everyone’s smiling despite the pirate insults flying.

Everyone except the Blond Caveman.

He’s scowling at me.

And I’m ignoring him.

“You guys are coming with us to Cannon Bowl, right?” Monica says.

“Wyatt promised Tucker a trip to Davy Jones’s Locker,” Ellie says with just enough regret in her voice that I almost hope Tucker announces he’d rather go bowling.

He doesn’t, of course.

Kid loves a good water park.

But I make sure to kiss Ellie goodbye before the bridal party departs. A good kiss.

The kind of kiss that suggests there’s more waiting where that came from.

And fuck if I wouldn’t kiss her longer if I could.

Blond Caveman glares at me.

And I decide I’ll be perfectly content playing her boyfriend for the rest of the week.

“Dad, friends kiss, right?” Tucker asks as we head to the car for the swim bag and more sunscreen.

“Grown-up friends do sometimes, yes,” I tell him.

“Does that mean you’re getting married too?”

Fuck, I never should’ve gotten married the first time, but I thought it was the right thing to do. No chance in hell I’ll do it twice.

I squat down to his level. “You know you’re number one in my life?”

“Behind your job.”

I shake my head. “I do my job to keep you and your friends and your friends’ families safe. Because I love you first, even when my job keeps me away. I miss you every day. And I might have special friends come and go, but you will always be most important. Okay?”

He frowns like he wants to ask more, but just says, “Okay.”

And once again, I wonder how much I’m messing him up.

But this is my life in the Air Force. I move. I make new friends. They leave. I make more friends. Then I leave. It’s the life a lot of military kids live too.

You have to say goodbye a lot, but you meet a hell of a lot of good people along the way.

I’ll miss it when I’m done, which will be sooner than I ever wanted, but the odds of me having a long career in the Air Force close to Tucker are slim to none.

“We’re pretty dang lucky,” I tell him. “We got to share lunch with a bunch of people who think you’re awesome.”

He grins at me. “That’s ’cause I am awesome, Dad.”

He sure fucking is.

Ten

Ellie

I spend the rest of the day feeling weirdly lonely despite being with Monica and Jason.

Yes, and Patrick and Sloane too, but it’s weird to hang out with a man I’ve seen naked, knowing he gets naked for someone else now, so I’m concentrating on my best friend instead.

   
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