Home > Flirting with the Frenemy (Bro Code #1)(15)

Flirting with the Frenemy (Bro Code #1)(15)
Author: Pippa Grant

And not on Wyatt.

That kiss.

Tucker and his sweet insistence that no one else could ever draw pirates like I could.

“The parents get here tomorrow,” Monica tells me with a nose-wrinkle as we reach my car in the parking lot. She insisted on walking with me, and since we haven’t had much alone time the last few weeks aside from driving out here, it’s good to have a few more minutes of us time. “My mom still doesn’t understand the pirate wedding thing, but I think when she sees Jason sword fight the mutinous pirates who want to steal me after we say our vows, she’ll get it.”

I laugh. “I love you.”

“Of course you do. Everyone else you know is B-O-R-I-N-G.” She gives a mock eye roll, and we both crack up again, because there’s nothing remotely boring about the people I’ve known longest in my life.

Beck and half the guys we grew up with have been world famous since before I graduated high school, and it hasn’t always been easy to find the true friends from the people who just want to get close to Beck and his Bro Code bandmates. But Monica’s all country, all the way, and she always has been. She couldn’t pick a boy band out of a lineup, and she’d rather drool over Orlando Bloom in Pirates of the Caribbean and Captain Hook from Once Upon A Time than check out my brother’s Instagram page.

She also always asks me to turn the cardboard cutouts of him around whenever she stops by his house.

Or my parents’ house after Beck’s been there and left a few more.

He’s such a goober.

“Seriously, though, I will completely understand if you beg off anything with Jason’s parents. I sometimes wonder how he came out of the same gene pool as the rest of them.”

“Every family has a black sheep.” The Dixons’ is Jason. He works for a nonprofit whose mission is to provide clean drinking water in third world countries, instead of going into the banking business with his father and brother.

Or even into the socialite business with his mother.

It’s been long enough since Patrick and I broke up that I’ve finally been able to see clearly how my priorities have been messed up most of my life. I thought having a solid career, a stable husband in a complementary career, and adorable children to carry on the Ryder family environmental engineering firm was what it’s all about.

But the idea of being one-half of a power couple doesn’t appeal to me anymore.

And the more time I spend around Patrick, the more I question everything I ever wanted.

He spent half of lunch checking out his phone. He missed an entire two games of bowling for an important work call. And it wasn’t until Sloane took his phone away at dinner that he finally engaged in a conversation that wasn’t about his travel, clients, or work hours.

Or baiting someone. Like Wyatt at lunch.

The military? That doesn’t pay very well, does it? Oh, that’s right, you’re divorced. I would never let my child go a week without seeing me.

When we were together, I thought he was charmingly cynical. Now, I can see he’s truly an asshole in the way that makes Wyatt look like…not such an asshole.

And Patrick learned it from his parents.

“There’s no way I’m making you face Jason’s parents by yourself. I’ll be there, and if they get snippy, I’ll just mention how many of my other ex-boyfriends sent flowers after my accident.”

Monica sighs. “They’re just so oblivious sometimes.”

I bite my tongue.

My brother is oblivious. The Dixons are just mean.

Except Jason.

Who’s jogging into the parking lot now after stopping to help talk Pop Rock’s cussing parrot off a roof. “Sorry, ladies,” he says as he joins us. “Stubborn bird. How’s the leg, Ellie?”

“Good.” It’s almost the truth, comparatively speaking. “You guys aren’t going to The Grog without me tonight, are you?”

“Nope, we’re saving that for tomorrow after our mothers drive us nuts,” Monica replies happily.

Jason shakes his head, making his curls shake too. “They mean well,” he tells her. He gives me a sheepish grin. “And I told mine to be nice to you.”

“Don’t worry about me. I’ve been through worse. You just enjoy your wedding week.”

“Are you having fun?” Monica asks.

“Of course.”

“Don’t even try that with me. You’re one degree of separation from needing to meet Willie Nelson for a joint. Do I need to talk to Wyatt about your need for backrubs and wine this week?”

“No, he’s got that covered.”

“So what’s with the weird tension between you two at lunch? And don’t tell me you were embarrassed about the dressing, because your brother models underwear for a living. Nothing short of full frontal exposure in public is grounds for you to get embarrassed.”

Oh, fuck, she noticed? I drop my voice and try to come up with a reasonable explanation. “Tucker found my doodle pad this morning.”

When the idea of a seven-year-old looking at Dick and the Nuts doesn’t seem to faze her, I add, “While we were trying to fix Frogger.”

“Holy shit, you broke Beck’s Frogger?”

“Ssshhh! We’re going to get the high score back,” I say quickly. I have no idea how, but we will. “And did you miss the part about my doodle pad?”

“No, I’m trying really, really hard not to laugh at how Wyatt must’ve handled his son getting an eyeful of a penis cartoon. It’s easier to do when I’m concentrating on the threat of your brother banishing you from ever using his weekend house again. Remember the time we snuck up here for my birthday party?”

“Oh my gosh, and all your friends from work?”

“And the poor shaved poodle?”

“And the stripper?” we say in unison, and we both double over laughing, which sends a jolt of pain to my knee, but fuck it, laughing feels too good.

“You had a stripper?” Jason asks mildly.

“A pirate stripper,” I explain.

“A really bad pirate stripper,” Monica adds.

“He tripped over his scabbard and accidentally mooned us trying to turn on his music.”

“He was so cute.”

“In a frat boy out of his element kind of way.”

“We ended up getting him drunk and tutoring him in calculus.”

“He still emails me his grade reports. I think he’s graduating next year.”

Monica’s eyes dance. “He is? We should go to his graduation! Engineering school, right?”

“No, he decided political science was more his speed. His parents are crushed, but he’s riding a 4.0 since he switched majors.”

“We are so going to his graduation.”

“It’s a date.”

“Hey, Ellie, you need a ride home?” Grady Rock calls from the edge of the makeshift parking lot.

“Got my car right here, but thank you,” I call back, patting my white Prius.

“Still happy to give you a ride. My TV’s out. Can’t watch the game.”

“Go crash Cooper’s house.”

“Pop’s there.”

“Go see your grandfather. It’s good for your soul.”

“Not when Nana’s with him. They’re disgusting. Heard she was telling stories at Anchovies about him stripping for her. Would you want to watch that?”

“We’re going with her to make out on the couch,” Monica tells him.

“Fucking hell,” he mutters loud enough to carry. “Next time, then.”

He waves good-naturedly and heads down the road.

“Aww, now I feel bad,” she says. “Where’s he going to watch the game?”

“His TV’s not broken,” I tell her. “He’s just spreading that rumor so the rest of his family doesn’t crash his place.”

“Seriously?”

“Yep.”

“How do you know all this?”

“Spend enough weekends in Shipwreck, you’ll know what color underwear everyone wears too.”

“What color underwear are you wearing today?” Jason asks Monica.

She grins at him. “Want to see?”

“Ack, not here.” I shoo them both away. “Go on, go do your soon-to-be-newlyweds thing somewhere else. I’ll see you at breakfast.”

We pass around hugs, and I climb into my car for the drive up the mountain. The sky’s still a hazy gray-blue, but the sun’s dipped below the mountain ridge to the west and dusk is settling. I make it home without incident before darkness has fully engulfed the roads, and when I limp into the basement from the garage, I find Wyatt and Tucker snuggled on the basement couch watching the Fireballs game.

They’re oddly adorable, odd in the sense that I shouldn’t find anything about Wyatt adorable. He’s a military man through and through, his body a machine, his mind sharp, his expectations high, his hair short.

But sitting there with his legs propped up on the coffee table and his arm tucked around a sleeping, bony little boy in pajamas and messy hair, he doesn’t look like a military man.

He looks like a father.

Mortal.

Compassionate.

Vulnerable.

Holding his world.

A world I always wanted but might never have.

He glances up at me and shakes his head. “Hurting again?”

“No.” It’s habit to be a petulant ass around him, and I sigh, because now I’m frustrated with myself. “Yes.”

“Sit.”

I limp to the edge of the couch and sag into it, then dig into my purse for the over-the-counter painkillers I prefer to the prescription stuff.

He passes over a stainless steel water bottle, and I thank him politely.

Because I cannot use Wyatt as a punching bag.

I’m better than that.

Plus, my problems aren’t his fault.

And I really do need to be able to pull off looking like one half of a happy couple in front of Patrick’s parents tomorrow.

   
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