Home > Flirting with the Frenemy (Bro Code #1)(16)

Flirting with the Frenemy (Bro Code #1)(16)
Author: Pippa Grant

They’re the worst, and they’ll throw the sharpest darts.

I lift the footrest with the controller sitting in the couch’s cupholder and look at the screen after passing Wyatt’s water back. “Do I want to know who’s winning?”

“Maybe if you’re a Pittsburgh fan.”

The inning comes to an end with the Fireballs striking out, and I wince as the score flashes on the screen. “Can’t win them all.”

“Still three innings to go.”

Tucker snores, and a gentle smile softens the hard angles of Wyatt’s face. I turn my attention to a commercial about jock itch. “Too much fun wore him out?” I ask without looking their way.

“He’s an amateur.”

A surprised laugh slips out of me, because fun and Wyatt aren’t two things I usually put together.

Except they probably should be. Anyone who hangs out with my brother knows a thing or two about fun.

“I’m sorry about Patrick,” I tell him.

He shifts, and I realize he’s watching me, puzzled.

“For him being so rude at lunch,” I clarify.

“Happens,” he says with a shrug. “Not your fault.”

“It was my fault I dated him,” I mutter.

“True enough.” The puzzlement fades into a frown. “Think I deserve to take some shit. I still haven’t said I’m sorry for what happened. Six months ago. For making you upset enough to leave. But I am. Sorry, I mean. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

I freeze for a half a second, because he’s not supposed to say he’s sorry. “Can’t live in the past,” I say quietly.

I should go check my phone to see if it’s working yet, but I want to sit for a little bit longer first. Not for the company, I tell myself, but for the rest.

The game comes back on, and he shifts. “Before I forget…”

He holds out my phone.

A shiver rolls through me, because was the man reading my mind?

“It works, and I didn’t prank call anyone.”

I stare at the device stupidly for longer than I should before taking it. Our fingers brush like they did over ice cream at Christmas. I remember the feel of his lips against mine, and a flush heats my entire body. “Thank you.”

He frowns. “You okay?”

And there’s more stupid staring going on as I blink blankly at him, because there’s something in his tone that’s not quite normal.

“You didn’t yell at me for not letting you do it yourself,” he clarifies.

“Twenty-something years of yelling at you hasn’t worked, so maybe it’s time I give it up.”

He shifts to lean over and touch the back of his hand to my forehead. Tucker grumbles in his sleep, but doesn’t wake up.

“Yep, definitely warm,” he says. “You should probably strip.”

“Excuse you?” I gasp.

He grins. “Ah, there she is. Just checking.”

“You’re trying to annoy me?”

He looks down at Tucker, glances at the game and winces as Pittsburgh gets a double off what should’ve been a single, then looks back at me. “You remember we used to play basketball at the Rivers house?”

“I remember you used to think I couldn’t keep up.”

“You couldn’t, but that’s not the point.”

My breathing is coming easier as we slip back into the old habits. “You are so lucky that innocent child is sleeping on you right now, or you’d be dead.”

“I used to wait until you’d sink the perfect shot, and then I’d tell you that you could’ve done it better, just to watch the steam roll out your ears. And it’s still that easy.”

I gape at him, because he does it on purpose?

And what does it say about me that I still take the bait?

“You-you’re—you’re an ass,” I gasp.

Tucker stirs, and I slap a hand over my mouth.

Wyatt just shrugs, but not the shoulder that would disturb Tucker. “I have to have some flaws. Otherwise I’d be insufferable.”

That is not the guy who’s been Beck’s best friend for over twenty years. I narrow my eyes at him, but I don’t call him on it. Because I have the oddest feeling that’s exactly what he wants me to do.

But I can’t resist asking, “Why only to me?”

He holds my gaze longer than I expect. “Because I was so fucking tired of being coddled, and you gave it right back, every time.”

Just because I don’t know what he’s talking about doesn’t mean he’s not telling the truth. And there’s a truth so clear in the ring of his words that I get a bone-deep shiver.

“Who coddled you?” I ask.

He shakes his head with a snort. “Better question is who didn’t?”

“Why?”

He glances at the TV, and just when I think he’s not going to answer, he does.

“Last guy my mom dated before she finally realized what she was doing to both of us and moved in with my grandma to reboot her life was a first-rate asshole,” he says. “Let’s leave it at that. But it meant my gran went around the neighborhood looking for any parents who had enough control over their kids to make them look after me.”

“Beck didn’t coddle you.”

“At first he did. All of them did. I might’ve been small and damaged, but I wasn’t blind.”

My heart’s starting to hurt, because no kid should ever feel damaged.

“Didn’t mean I could take care of myself though. That I didn’t need it. Wasn’t big enough for that.” He shakes his head. “Thought I could. But I couldn’t. And Beck saved my ass when I got into it with his best friend. Could’ve left me behind. Instead, he dropped him. Hard. Broke his nose. Got a detention in sixth grade. And then he thanked me for showing him what a douche Andy Brentwood was. Dude all but saved my life and thanked me for it.”

I swallow hard. I remember Andy, vaguely, but I never gave any thought to why Beck stopped talking about him. “That’s not coddling you. That’s doing the right thing.”

“I started it. He got detention. I got chocolate chip cookies and milk. From your mom. From Mrs. Rivers. From my grandma. I shared so the Wilsons would teach me to lift weights and so Davis would teach me his Tae Kwon Do moves. I didn’t want to be fucking helpless.”

The groan of the crowd carries through the television, even at low volume, and I glance at the game, almost relieved by the distraction.

I had no idea I’d been being an asshole to a kid who’d had enough asshole in his life.

And that doesn’t make me feel any better about my life choices.

Two-run homer. Fireballs are down by six now.

In the fifth inning.

It’s going to be a blood bath.

Copper Valley’s home team has never won a World Series, but they’ve never been quite as bad as they are this year either.

Even with Cooper Rock and his unbelievable gymnastics at second base.

“I always appreciated that you didn’t cut me any slack, and I admired your determination,” Wyatt says, speaking so softly I half think my ears are playing tricks on me. “If you could be that determined, then I could damn well be that determined too.”

When I glance at him, he’s still staring at the game.

But I know he said it.

And I know he knows I heard.

He settles deeper into the reclined seat at the other end of the couch. Tucker sighs and snuggles closer to him.

Little Tucker, safe, happy, and loved.

I overheard Wyatt telling Beck once, about eight years ago, that he didn’t want to be a dad. He didn’t know how. He was going to fuck it all up, and it wouldn’t just be himself, it would be him and a wife and kid.

But Tucker?

That kid is so very, very loved. With two parents who might live in different states, but still happy. Well-adjusted. And loved.

And I realize I need to go.

Not so I can check my email and any messages that came in while my phone was drying. Not so I can call Beck and give my brother grief for sending Wyatt here during Monica’s wedding week.

No, I need to go before I start seeing Wyatt as the man I glimpsed the night we hooked up in my parents’ basement six months ago.

The angry father who just wants to be with his son.

Because that man is dangerous to my heart.

Eleven

Wyatt

There’s exactly one sound that I will move heaven and earth to stop, and that’s the sound of my son in pain.

Except as I sit here with Tucker sleeping peacefully on me, listening to Ellie limp up the stairs, I want to tear something in half to make her pain go away too.

I shouldn’t. We’re not exactly the enemies we were as kids, but we can’t be much more than casual friends, or one of us will start wanting something the other can’t give.

And she won’t be the one unable to hold up her end of making something work.

No, that would be all me.

I hear every step as she makes her way slowly from the kitchen to the bedroom upstairs. Not because she’s walking loudly. Not because there’s a lack of insulation. But because I’m listening for it. When the distinct sound of running bathwater carries through the pipes behind the walls, I get hard as a brick.

She’s taking a bath again.

And there’s nothing I can say to my dick to convince it she’s getting wet and naked for therapy and that there’s nothing sexy about her soaking in a tub of hot water and bubbles.

I don’t have enough fingers to count the number of times I’ve heard someone say Ellie’s annoying, or god knows, the number of times I’ve thought it myself in my lifetime, but at Christmas, and again now, I’m getting pissed thinking about it.

She is smart. She is brave. She is strong. She is determined.

Why does that have to translate to annoying?

Why does she have to be disparaged for wanting something and going after it?

She’s not power-hungry. She doesn’t tear people down. She just wants her own bar set higher, and she doesn’t apologize for it.

   
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