Home > Flirting with the Frenemy (Bro Code #1)(3)

Flirting with the Frenemy (Bro Code #1)(3)
Author: Pippa Grant

I’m panting, my breath loud in my own ears, when he suddenly freezes.

“Oh, shit,” he whispers. He pushes up to his knees, pulling out so quickly and covering the goods so fast that my vagina almost gets whiplash. “Fuck. Ellie.” He shakes his head, gaze darting in a panic around the room. “We shouldn’t have done that.”

The words take a minute to sink in.

And he takes advantage of my dumbfounded silence to hop back into his clothes. “Fuck. Sorry. I—”

“Shut up.” I lunge for my own clothes. Tears are flooding my sinuses, and they’ll be leaking out my eyeballs in approximately two seconds if I don’t get myself under control. “Just shut up.”

I dive for my clothes too.

“Ellie—”

“Shut. Up.”

That sympathy. That regret. That this was a mistake. It’s all in the two syllables of my name on his lips.

Fuck. Fuck.

He moves toward me, but I shove him in the chest until he backs off.

He’s right, of course.

It’s Wyatt.

He’s always right. If this was a mistake, if I’m a mistake, then yeah, clearly I’m a mistake.

A mistake who thought that screwing her brother’s best friend was the solution to heartbreak.

I don’t look at him while I dash for the door.

“Ellie,” he calls in a hushed whisper, but I ignore him.

I’ve already been someone’s mistake recently.

And as I barrel into the cold winter night and throw myself into the car, I vow to myself that I’ll never be anyone’s mistake ever again.

“Never again,” I whisper as I start my car.

“Never again,” I whisper as I gun it on the way down my parents’ street.

“Never again,” I’m whispering through tears five minutes later on the I-256 loop.

I see the movement flying up the entrance ramp next to me a second too late.

There’s a flash, sparks, a crack, a jolt.

Spinning.

Crunching.

Glass shattering.

Metal buckling.

Pain.

Blinding hot pain.

Never again.

It’s my last thought before everything goes black.

Two

Six months later…

Wyatt Morgan, aka a single dad military man unaware that an unresolved piece of his past is lurking in the bathtub

The house is too quiet.

Probably because Tucker quit talking as soon as he saw the socks and bra hanging on the chandelier in the foyer. I give myself a mental pat on the back.

Way to go, Dad. Introduce him to party central at a young age.

If Beck Ryder wasn’t the closest thing I had to a brother, and if just being here didn’t already bring back the same lingering guilt that’s been with me the last six months, I’d be plotting to put Icy Hot in those briefs he models right about now.

Instead, I give the living room a cursory glance and stifle a sigh while I kick my sandals off on the entry mat and nudge Tucker to do the same. Books, magazines, robot toys, and empty mugs and glasses are scattered over every flat surface of the spacious living space, from the end tables to the wide-plank maple floor. The mess ruins the effect of the tall bay windows overlooking the spruce and oaks sloping down the side of the mountain to the little landlocked town of Shipwreck, Virginia in the valley below.

A subtle scent of wood smoke hangs in the air, and the massive stone fireplace separating the living room from the dining room needs the ashes cleaned out. The kitchen is just as much a disaster, with dirty plates, cups, mixing bowls, and pots and pans scattered all about.

Use my weekend house, Beck said. Somebody should.

Go clean my weekend house, he meant.

He needs to be more careful with who he lets in here when he’s gone.

A family picture on the mantle catches my eye, and I do my best not to wince.

The guilt is still there. The guilt, and the lie.

I pissed her off.

That’s all I told Beck about what happened before Ellie’s accident.

Of course you did, Levi had said, because he’d also been lurking at the hospital when I showed up to check on her as soon as I got Beck’s text the next day. I’d never been so glad to have a buffer, and felt less like I deserved one, and after what I grew up with before my mom finally moved us to Copper Valley, that’s saying something. Levi hadn’t cracked a grin when he’d added, Pissing off Ellie is what you do.

Fuck, man, you got your own problems, Beck had told me. Don’t put this on yourself too.

And just like that, I was forgiven.

By them, anyway.

Not by her though.

And not by me.

It’s gotten easier to get back in the groove of participating in the group texts with all the guys from the neighborhood, but being here, in Beck’s second—third? fourth?—home, surrounded by reminders of his sister, makes me tenser than I’ve been in months.

Coming here was a bad idea.

But I’m not here for me.

Not entirely.

I squeeze Tucker’s shoulder. His gaze has drifted from the chandelier to the life-size cardboard cutout of Beck in his skivvies standing in the corner.

The air-brushing on that thing would be hilarious if my son wasn’t gaping at Beck’s six-pack. I turn the thing around, then nod toward the hallway beyond the kitchen. “C’mon, little dude. Let’s go find the bedrooms.”

He nods back. Sort of. I guide him past the kitchen and down the hallway toward the two bedrooms on this level. His suitcase goes into the guest bedroom, and I’m about to fling my duffel inside the master, but the rumpled sheets on the king-size four-poster bed, the glass of water on the heavy nightstand, the open suitcase next to the stone fireplace stuffed with—parrots?—and the flowery scent tickling my nose give me pause.

But it’s the soft light flickering in the bathroom doorway that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

I put a hand out to stop Tucker from coming closer. “Stay here,” I murmur, my pulse suddenly hammering.

Since Christmas, it’s been just me. Alone. Except the one weekend a month I’ve flown to Copper Valley to visit my son.

Checking out an intruder? Twenty-eight days a month, I can handle that.

But on the first day I get Tucker for the summer? When it’s not just my neck on the line?

This is not how our week of vacation is supposed to go.

I slide my phone out of my pocket and creep softly to the bathroom door, one hand held back to remind Tucker to stay and be quiet.

He’s seven.

This isn’t going to end well.

But just as I decide getting the hell out of here and calling a sheriff is probably a better idea, I see what’s lurking in the bathroom.

A woman.

Alone.

In the corner tub.

Her dark hair is piled in a short ponytail on top of her head. The faint sound of country music drifts out of her earbuds. Candles line the tub shelf and the platform it sits on, causing the flickering glow. The bath bubbles are so high I can’t see her face.

My heart gives a squeeze and shoots out guilt, but I tell it to knock it off.

Beck lets anybody who asks use this house.

It’s not Ellie.

Her hair’s too short and too dark. Ellie always has blond streaks in her hair.

I step onto the cool tile floor, and I’m about to clear my throat to get her attention when Tucker exclaims, “A bubble bath!”

The woman shrieks, straightens, and spins, wide blue eyes connecting with mine for a split second before she disappears.

One second, she’s gape-mouthed and goggling like she’s just as shocked to see us as we are to see her, and the next, there’s a splash that sets my heart spiraling into a panic, because fuck me, that’s Ellie.

A flurry of foamy bubbles shoots into the air as she goes under the water. Her arm flaps up, then the other, waving wildly like she’s trying to find purchase to pull herself up. I dash across the slick tile to grab for her in the deep tub. My hand connects with soft wet flesh, and suddenly I’m getting a fist to the chest as she breaks through the water. “Back up, asshole. I’ll fucking cut you!”

Fuck, that voice.

It’s coming out of a face covered with bubbles from the top of her head to the foam sticking to her eyelashes all the way down to the droopy bubble beard, but I know that voice, and it has my pounding heart suddenly beating from somewhere around my voice box.

“Ellie. Are you—”

The bubble eyes blink. “Wyatt?”

The shriek is amplified by the hard surfaces in the bathroom, bouncing off the glass window over the tub, the mirror, the hard floor.

She gasps, looks down and flings her arms over her bubble-covered chest, and ducks back down, but then she shrieks and disappears under the water again, arms flailing again, and what the fuck is she soaking in that’s making the tub so slippery?

I bend at the waist to reach into the tub and grab onto her arm and pull, but no sooner does she surface than her eyes narrow. “Let. Go,” she sputters around the bubbles cascading down her face.

“So you can drown?” Christ, she nearly died the last time I saw her. I’m not letting her drown.

No matter how much she irritates the fuck out of me.

Or how—

Nope.

Not thinking about Ellie in any other way than the annoying and alive ways.

Still, we’re so close, I can count the specks of midnight in her blue irises and the new list of reasons she has to hate me.

And I know she’s naked under those bubbles.

Fuck fuck fuck. Think about my kid. Remember Beck. Think about Beck in his underwear…

Her eyelids snap up and down, more heat—anger, not interest—surging out of them. “I’m not going to—fu—”

Her words are cut off as she slips and flails again. She doesn’t go under, because she grabs a handful of my shirt.

And pulls.

Hard.

The floor slips beneath me, and suddenly I’m falling face-first into the bubbles.

Wet heat crashes over my face and soaks into my T-shirt. I choke on a lungful of soapy water and come up sputtering.

   
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