Home > Flirting with the Frenemy (Bro Code #1)(4)

Flirting with the Frenemy (Bro Code #1)(4)
Author: Pippa Grant

I probably deserve that.

And more.

“What the fu—he—heck was that for?” I spit out around a cough while I shove away from the tub though, because while I can admit to myself that I deserved that, I’m not ready to admit it to her.

I’m still pissed at her for ignoring me so effectively for the past six months.

She huddles in a corner, firmly gripping the faucet. “Get out.”

“Dad, you got bubbles on your head,” Tucker laughs. “Can I have bubbles? Can I take your picture?”

The force of Ellie’s glare is so hot I’m surprised the bubbles don’t melt. “Get. Out,” she repeats.

I swipe water off my face and ignore the stinging in my eyes. “Gladly. You’re welcome for trying to help.”

She flips me the bird.

Not the first time.

Won’t be the last.

Ellie Ryder and me?

We mix as well as water and lava.

And I don’t want to talk about how fucking good it feels to finally confirm for myself that she’s still in one piece.

That she’s still breathing.

And that she still hates me.

More so, if that was possible.

I hate that she hates me, but I also need her to hate me.

Fuck, we’re complicated.

“Can I take a bubble bath?” Tucker wants to know while I pull him back out of the bedroom, grabbing my duffel and then his suitcase from the guest bedroom too. Water sloshes off my shirt and drips onto the runner while we head for the stairs.

Fucking Beck.

He knew.

He knew she’d be here.

Dude, seriously, get the stick out of your ass, fuck your pride, and use my place out in Shipwreck. Tucker will love the pirate festival, and you’re not gonna get a more comfortable bed. Or a better chance to teach him to play Pac-Man. Or a cheaper vacation. How much are you paying in alimony? Fuck.

“That was funny, Dad. You were taking a bubble bath with a girl. Mom says I’m too old to take baths with anyone, but you’re way older than me, and you were doing it. Can we take a bubble bath together? I won’t tell Mom. Promise.”

My heart trips again, but this time, it’s an entirely different reason.

How much does he promise his mother he won’t tell me?

He’s already grown an inch and a half since I saw him for two short days last month.

What else am I missing?

Forget Ellie.

Beck’s not lying about how well she’s healing. She’ll be fine, and she can hate me all she wants.

Tucker’s the only thing I need to concentrate on for the next week while I’m on leave. And then every spare minute the rest of the summer until I have to bring him back to his mom.

“Yeah, bud. Let’s go see if there’s a big tub upstairs.”

Hopefully Ellie will clear out by morning.

But even if she doesn’t, we can avoid her. House is big, and we have tons to do in Shipwreck.

She might’ve invaded this house, but she won’t interfere with my vacation with my son.

Unless she needs me.

Not that she’d ever admit it.

And not that I want to admit it either.

I scrub a hand over my face as we step into the first bedroom on the second floor. The queen bed is decked out with a comforter featuring Beck making moon-eyes in his briefs, and the pillow shams are printed with matching pictures of him winking.

Crazy fucker.

“Dad? Why’s your friend’s picture all over everywhere? And why’s he naked?” Tucker asks.

This is going to be one long week.

Three

Ellie

My doodle pad.

I left my doodle pad in the living room.

Where Wyatt Morgan is headed with his son.

I yank my dripping phone out of the water—wonderful—and hoist myself onto the edge of the tub, stifling a groan at the ache radiating from my left hip to my knee. The scars aren’t red and angry anymore, but they’re still ugly and twisted, and I still can’t move as fast as I used to.

Especially not after slipping in the tub three fucking times. So the answer would be yes, I still need that stupid anti-slip mat.

Dammit.

After I wipe the worst of the bubbles off my face, I do my best not to limp over the towels that I toss on the ground to prevent me from slipping on the slick tile floor. The air’s cold now, but my bathrobe is warm, thanks to Beck’s towel warmer.

Once I have my slippers on—simple granny slippers with, you guessed it, grippy foot pads on the bottom—and my phone in my robe pocket, I carefully creak open the bedroom door.

There are voices, but they sound like they’re coming from upstairs.

It takes me longer than it should to get to the kitchen, dig out a box of Rice-a-Roni—no, my brother apparently doesn’t keep plain rice here—and get my phone drying out as best I can.

And then I go in search of my doodle pad.

It’s not on the glass end tables, in any of the magazine piles, or tucked into the crocheted ivory afghan on the brown leather couch. Nor is it between the couch cushions or hidden in the recliners. Not in the papers and random old mail on the coffee table, or on the fireplace hearth.

I look at the stack of magazines again, my blood pressure starting to rise.

No one gets to see my doodle pad.

Especially anyone under eighteen.

Or possibly thirty.

Or with a penis.

Or who creeps up on me in the bathtub.

My brother is getting an earful as soon as my phone’s dry.

I was doodling out here this afternoon after unloading my car, which I probably should’ve let Monica help me with, but it’s her wedding week, and I’m her maid of honor, dammit, not her friend who needs babysitting. I sat in that recliner, swiveled it to face the scenery, and drew—

Never mind what I drew.

The point is, I distinctly remember setting my doodle pad right there on the end table.

And it’s gone.

Nothing else is missing.

Just my doodle pad.

A shriek of laughter from above makes me eyeball the stairs. I could go ask Wyatt where he put it.

Or be polite and ask if he’s seen it. The tones of his voice carry through the ceiling as well, low, deep, and carefully modulated, because that’s Wyatt for you.

Always calm.

Always in control.

Always fucking right.

Even about mistakes. Oh, fuck, Ellie, we shouldn’t have done that.

I shake my head, because the two things I absolutely will not think about are Wyatt’s hot, sweaty, naked body on mine, and the sound of metal crunching on metal and glass at sixty miles an hour in the dark.

Fuck.

Fuck.

Now I’m thinking about it.

About the dark. And the cold. And the pain.

The chill starts in my left femur and spreads a shiver through my bladder and up into that spot right beneath the bottom of my breastbone. The scent of blood floods my sinuses. My vision narrows, my skin goes clammy, and I get that itch between my shoulder blades while my lungs shrink to the size of a walnut.

I’m drowning.

I’m drowning in hot metal and sharp glass and snowflakes.

This is not real.

I’m safe.

This is not real.

I grip the edge of the leather recliner and focus on a single green leaf fluttering on an oak in the front yard.

Cool summer breeze. Warm summer sunshine.

I’m safe.

I’m safe.

I’m safe.

My fingers tingle, and my legs wobble, but I can see past the tree now. My lungs expand a little wider, and the rushing in my ears fades as quickly as it arrived.

I’m okay.

I’m okay.

My skin prickles as the last of my panic recedes—it’s been two months since the last one, I should’ve been done with these by now—and a reflected movement in the glass makes me tense up harder.

“Go. Away,” I grit out.

Wyatt’s at the bottom of the stairs. I didn’t hear him coming.

But I hear Wyatt from six months ago.

Fuck, Ellie…shouldn’t have done that.

We made a mistake.

You’re a mistake.

I squeeze my eyes shut, because he didn’t say that.

He didn’t say any of it beyond we shouldn’t have done that.

But why shouldn’t we?

Didn’t take much to fill in the blanks.

I was a mistake.

First Patrick—staying together this long was a mistake. If I was supposed to love you, I wouldn’t be in love with someone else—and then Wyatt. Fuck, Ellie, that was a mistake.

“Are you okay?” he asks, and his voice prompts another round of cold chills.

But this isn’t the same panicked cold chills still making my thighs and knees quiver, and sending that ache deeper into my left femur.

Nope, that’s regret cold chills.

“Just a little naked,” I reply, because I am naked under my robe, and I’m apparently feeling like being an asshole.

I watch his subtle reflection in the window as his head jerks sideways, like he doesn’t want to look at me naked.

Who’s uncomfortable now?

“Beck didn’t mention you’d be here,” he tells the wall. “I didn’t mean to walk in on you. I thought—I thought one of his old flings had moved in.”

I’m fully aware Beck didn’t mention me to Wyatt, because he didn’t mention Wyatt to me either. I love my brother, but he’s obtuse at best and mischievous at worst. “Sounds about right.”

There. That was dignified and aloof without being a total asshole.

“Tucker’s never been to the Pirate Festival,” he adds.

I look past the trees to Shipwreck, nestled amongst more trees in the valley below.

We’re 250 miles inland in the Blue Ridge Mountains in southern Virginia, an hour outside the booming metropolis of Copper Valley, overlooking a pirate town called Shipwreck, named thus because of the legend of Thorny Rock.

Thorny Rock, the pirate. Not Thorny Rock, the mountain named after him and which this house is built on. Which is a crucial distinction, since mountains can’t smuggle pirate treasure in wagons, nor could they in the eighteenth century when Thorny Rock founded Shipwreck and supposedly buried all his gold here to hide it from the authorities who were on his trail.

   
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