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UnWanted by Piper, M. (1)

 

 


All rights reserved under the International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. 

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, organizations, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

This book is for sale to ADULT AUDIENCES ONLY. It contains substantial sexually explicit scenes and graphic language which may be considered offensive by some readers.

 

Warning: the unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in prison.

 

Copyright 2017 M. Piper

Cover design © 2017 Inked Imprints


When you can't make them see the light, make them feel the heat.”

 

-Ronald Reagan


 

Remember that dedication to you in Ford’s book.

I told you it’d happen…


TWO YEARS AGO

 

“You have everything?” My mom’s worried hands rub my arms like it’s winter and I’m going to catch a cold if I don’t warm up. But it’s not. It’s spring and hot as fucking balls already. My dad watches us with narrowed eyes and I almost feel guilty for doing this, for making them feel like this, but I have to.

“Mom. I’m fine. I’m moving two hours away, not to the other side of the country.”

Her worried eyes search mine and her arms wrap around me.

“I don’t understand why you’re doing this,” she whispers and my heart breaks the slightest. “But I’m letting you go. For now. Just be warned, if you stay gone too long, I’m sending both your brothers up there to bring you back to us.” She pulls back and her hands clasp on to mine. My mother; always the worrier. How she raised the three of us without suffering massive panic attacks I’ll never know. She’s the strongest woman I know, and I hope this new chapter of my life will help me turn in to a woman more like her and less like the girl I’m starting to see. Someone who cares too much about what boys think about her and eats way too much chocolate while looking at cat memes on her phone. I used to get out a lot on the weekends, hell even on the weeknights. But that was back when both my brothers were single bachelors and we were each other’s wingmen. Now that they’re married, I have no best friends to go out with. The only girl I’ve ever called a best friend moved to Chicago months ago. So, naturally, I’m moving in with her. Taking on the big city without living under my parents’ roof. I need to get out and grow up at some point. I’ve been running the same touristy boutique I’ve worked at since I was old enough to work, and at twenty-five years old, I feel absolutely stuck in life. When my dad handed ownership of the family business over to the three of us siblings, I never realized how suffocating it would end up feeling. Working in the same small building, day in and day out, with no change in routine for the rest of my life? Where’s the adventure? Where’s the excitement? Hell, the most excitement I get anymore is when I babysit my almost seven-year-old nephew, Carter. I need out. Lincoln, my oldest brother, refuses to let me sign over my rights to it so I’m having to hand over management to my longest running employee, praying he doesn’t fuck up the boutique. I should stay…sure. But I can’t. I need out. It’s suffocating being the youngest West in Springfield.

“You better come back next month. And I’ll shoot anyone who looks at you wrong up there. People from Chicago suck ass,” my brother Ford mumbles, wrapping his arms around me. I take a deep breath and smile, pulling back.

“I can take care of myself. You taught me, remember?” I pat his cheek and look at Lincoln. Ford and I always partied together, but Lincoln and I…we had something different. A close relationship built more on respect and responsibilities than the friendship Ford and I created. With him becoming a father at such a young age, he needed me probably just as much as I needed him. Or so I thought. 

He didn’t. He doesn’t now. But the look he’s giving me breaks my heart the most. It’s like I’m disappointing him.

“You’re sure about this?” he asks, eyeing my packed car, the same car my dad bought me when I turned sixteen. I smirk and shrug.

“I am.” I blink away a few ugly tears threatening and rush him, wrapping my arms around him. “I’ll miss you,” I whisper.

“I don’t get why you’re doing this, Reag,” he mumbles, tightening his arms around me. All I can do is shake my head. My brothers are homebodies. They enjoy the small town life. They enjoy having their own families and big family get-togethers at my parents’. I love my family and they’ve never done me wrong, but that’s not me. I need freedom. I need my own space. I need to prove that I can do it on my own. I’ll never get any of that living in this city. Not when the West name is better known than the Mayor’s.

I pull back and press a kiss to Carter’s forehead before he runs off to play with the dog.

“Alright.” I clap my hands and take one long look at the family I’m leaving. I’m excited. I’m nervous. I’m a little sad, but I know this is what I need. “Time to head out.”

I head towards the door of the car and pop it open.

“Drive safely,” my dad blurts.

“Text when you get there,” my mom says immediately after.

“Don’t get pregnant!” Ford yells as I duck into my car, laughing.

I wave to them all, blowing kisses, then pull away.

It’s time to start my new life.


Present Day

 

There comes a time in everyone’s life where that old saying ‘shit or get off the pot’ really rings true.

Now’s that moment in mine.

It’s amazing the amount of trouble someone can get themselves into in such a short amount of time, but I guess if someone’s going to fuck something up it’s going to be me. I’ve definitely proven that over the last two years. I never should’ve left home. I never should’ve left the security of my family and the business…but I did. And now I’m paying the price.

“Do we have a deal?” Vinny, says through my boss’s speakerphone. Vinny’s the owner of the club I work for and he’s a very powerful man. Dean, my boss and Vinny’s nephew, is sitting across from me glaring at the phone. These men practically live for bending the law, but the minute I’m caught doing something I’m not even really doing, they lose their shit. They say there’s footage of me with it from the security camera at the apartments where I dropped it off at, but I have yet to see it. Now I’m left with an ultimatum. All because I was dropping my stash at a friend’s house and they caught me. I wasn’t dealing. I’ve never dealt. I didn’t take shit for it; I just wanted it out of my apartment. But someone I work for saw the exchange, wanted to rat me out to try to get ahead of me at the club, and now I’m the bad guy. Fucking figures.

“I need to think about it,” I answer, taking a deep breath. He’s making me feel like I have an option in this, but I don’t. I can choose to say no, but I know they’ll go straight to the cops then I’ll be toast. Or, I can say yes…but is that really the girl I am? Hell, I don’t know what type of girl I am anymore.

“I need an answer, Reagan,” Vinny says and my eyes fly to Dean for help.

Dean raises an eyebrow in question and I glance at the clock.

“I need to start my shift,” I mumble, standing from the chair. The leather sticks to the bare skin on my legs and I cringe. I fucking hate this place.

“I’ll be waiting for an answer by the end of the night, Reagan,” Vinny snaps, then the call ends and Dean glances at me with pity in his eyes. He crosses his arms and shrugs.

The man’s not much older than me. His dark skin, dark hair, and perfect jawline still intimidate me. Even after all we’ve been through. I grin at him and blink away the nasty words I want to throw his way. That’s never gotten me anywhere in the past, it won’t start now. Especially since his uncle is the one who makes him this way. He’s just the middleman. The evil, sexy, middleman.

“I think you understand what the right answer to this is,” he says. “He doesn’t offer many girls this opportunity.”

“Yes, Mr. D’ Angeli.” I give him a smartass grin and his eyes narrow.

“Dean. Reagan. I told you to call me Dean.” He stands and crosses the room, eyes locked on mine and before I can break away and leave, he’s got me pinned against the door. His body towers over mine, pressed against me and my breath hitches. His smell is intoxicating, and I want to hate him but he’s capable of too much for me to fight back now. “I thought we were past the professionalism of the labels, Reag.” 

My eyes flutter closed as his fingers trail my jawline. I used to crave his touch. Now I know what he’s capable of and his touch is like fire on my skin.

“I need to get to work, Dean,” I whisper, turning my head away just as he dips his head to kiss me. He growls, slamming his fist against the wall, startling me. He pushes away from me and I feel immediately cold, and it has nothing to do with the skimpy uniform we’re forced to wear.

He storms back to his desk, not throwing a glance my way. I slip out of the office and keep my head down on the way to the bar. Every time I come in to work I wonder why the hell I’m still doing this, and it always comes down to proving myself. Proving to my family that I can do it, proving to my friends that I’m not spoiled like they always said, and proving to myself that I don’t need my family to help me survive.

I can’t even count the times over my life that I’ve tried moving out of my parents’ house to live on my own, just to fail and move back home months later. It’s embarrassing, especially because my brothers are both doing so well in their lives. So, every time I’ve had to back down and crawl back to Mom and Dad’s, a little piece of me died inside. I’m lucky my family is so happy and quick to help…but I can’t be that person anymore. I’ll prove to all of them that I can do this.

Distance is the only way to do that.

My shift flies by. Tips tonight are enough to pay my car payment for the month and hopefully tomorrow night I’ll cover rent, then the rest of the month goes to savings pretty much. It helps working at the most popular club in Chicago. It helps even more I was blessed with a chest plump enough to fill a C-cup bra and a flat stomach. I’m one of those girls who most girls hate. I can eat whatever, drink whatever, and never work out but I have the body most girls would die for. You wouldn’t think it’d be hard getting a guy to stick around, but it’s hell, really. I’ve all but given up on that chapter of my life to be honest. I’m tired of being heartbroken over assholes.

“You ready to cash out, Reagan?” Dean’s leaning on the end of the bar watching me, arms crossed, muscles bulging out from under the black short sleeve shirt. At some point in the night he stripped off his dress shirt, probably around the same time the VIP club upstairs locked its doors for about an hour. He doesn’t think anyone notices, but we do. I’ve only been up there once, and after that experience I never want to have to go back. Not even what Vinny is offering is as bad as that VIP room. It reeks of sex and the drugs that flow through those doors are life threatening if done wrong. No thank you. I bite back the snarky comment that wants to come out about having a choice in the matter, in anything really, and paste on the smile I know he appreciates.

“Ready when you are.” I take a step back from my drawer and he walks over, unlocking it and pulling out everything he needs before walking over to an empty booth. His body is a force to be reckoned with as he pushes past me and I make it a point not to roll my eyes at him, as hard as it is.

“You did good tonight.” He nods, pulling out the wads of cash then opening up the register on his iPad. “Really good.” His eyebrows push together and he glances over at me, his eyes landing on my tits first.

“I guess the new uniforms are working out,” I mutter, crossing my arms over my bare midsection. I want to cover up but we’re not even allowed to have jackets out here on the floor. The skimpy black boy shorts and deep purple push up bra that only recently became mandatory leave nothing to the imagination. If my family knew this was where I’m working they’d lose their shit. I told them I was still working at my friend’s dad’s club, Danz, but that job came and went within my first six months in the city, as did the plush apartment I shared with the owner’s daughter. I was out on my ass the minute they realized I was quitting. Dean found me one night at work and recruited me for Club 24, the most prestigious club in the city, and at the time I found it very hard to say no to the man. The pay is double what I was making at Danz and the tips are through the roof. I haven’t had a hard time paying bills since starting here, but I’m still having a hard time with the morals of the whole thing. Working in my underwear for money is borderline stripping and if there’s one thing I never thought I’d see myself doing, it’s taking money for taking my clothes off. I thought I was raised better than that, but desperate times called for desperate measures.

When I started here it was all fun and games. I thought Dean and I had something special. A few weeks in I realized what we had, he also had with all the other waitresses here. The fight ended with an ultimatum: walk away from it all, or become the lead bartender and don’t run my mouth to upper management. I.e. - Vinny can’t find out about it.

I chose the latter of the two evils and am still paying for it today. I could have walked away, but that would have left me jobless in a very expensive city to live in. Not the type of ‘making it on my own’ that would withstand the test of time. And groceries.

“Reagan, you’re the hottest girl we have working here.” He clears his throat as he finalizes cashing me out, then holds out a wad of cash. “The money talks.” He shoves it at me. “Twelve hundred in tips alone,” he whispers, leaning in closer. “So I think you need to thank me for the mandatory uniform.” His breath is warm on my ear as my hand goes around the money. I try to pull it out of his grasp but he’s got such a tight grip there’s no fighting him. “I haven’t heard it, Reag,” he whispers, my body tensing when he steps closer to me, now flush against me but I’m not letting go of my money.

“Thank you,” I mutter, rolling my eyes behind closed lids. I hate that his body feels good pressed against mine. I hate that he smells so good. I hate that I’m even thinking these things right now.

He chuckles low, the sound rumbling through my body, then backs away, letting go of my money finally. His eyes narrow at me and a grin spreads on his face.

“Come on back. We have a call to make.” He picks up his things from the table and starts to walk towards his office.

“I need to get home, Dean,” I call after him.

“You will. As soon as you accept the offer my boss has graciously offered you.” 

I don’t move. I can’t. Because I know the truth of the situation is that he’s right and I’m about to take a step in a direction I never thought I’d be going.

Whoring myself out for an entire weekend? Not on the top of my bucket list, that’s for damn sure.

“Now!” Dean’s voice bellows down the hall, though he doesn’t break stride in his steps to his office. He knows how hard this is on me, but in some way I know he enjoys it.

I shove the wad of cash in my bra and take a deep breath.

“She’s walking in right now. Girl had a busy night tonight,” I hear Dean say when I make it into his office. He’s beaming at me, but not one of those ‘I’m so proud of you’ looks. More like an ‘I fucking won’ look.

“Good. We need more like her. Reagan, have you thought about my offer?” Vinny’s voice comes through the speakerphone leaving chills tinkling down my spine.

“I have,” I manage to say through a thick throat. I’ve always put up a strong façade in front of these men. But in reality, I’m as weak as they come. I start to pick at the nail polish I just applied this morning, my brain attempting to wrap itself around the fact that I have to say yes to this.  

It’s only for a weekend, Reagan. One weekend. And it’s not like I’m literally whoring myself out. I’m not going as a sex slave…just for companionship. So I’m told.

“And your answer?” he asks, like he’s not asking the hardest question of my life.

When Bobby Mueller asked me to marry him in the third grade, I said yes immediately.

When both of my older brothers told me jumping off the garage roof at nine was a good idea to see if I could fly, I didn’t hesitate.

When I took my first drag of a joint, I needed no time to stop and think about it.

This is a little different, though.

“Reagan?” Dean’s voice cuts through the silence in the room and my eyes flit up to his. He’s not joking. There’s no amusement in the look in his eyes right now. And he’s scaring me.

“Fine,” I whisper, locking eyes with Dean. His narrow ever so slightly and I notice the short intake of air when the words leave my mouth and smirk. “I’ll do it,” I say a little more confident. Something about his reaction to my decision made me want to do it more. He doesn’t want me to say yes, but he knows I have to.

“Good. My driver will pick you up at nine a.m. Friday. Don’t be late, Reagan.” The call ends after Vinny’s sharp orders and I furrow my eyebrows.

“This weekend?” I ask Dean. “Two days away?”

“Yep.” He sighs and stands up. “You’ll be fine. I won’t. I have to find a new bartender this weekend. Fuck,” he growls, shaking his head.

“Ford, my brother, is coming in to town this weekend,” I stammer, suddenly feeling sick to my stomach.

“And you, my girl, are going to spend it at the biggest party Vinny’s ever thrown.” He shrugs. “A free weekend out of the bar scene, Reagan. The Gold Coast of Chicago, nonetheless. You’re about to see things you’ve never dreamed of. Look at it that way. You were caught dealing, and you’re being rewarded with a free vacation.” He rolls his eyes and walks around his desk, leaning back against the front of it and looking down at me, still in this fucking leather chair.

I want to scream at him it’s not a free vacation. It’s a weekend being the club owner’s arm candy. Probably being fondled by a bunch of drunk men while wearing the mandatory barely there swimsuit set I’m sure I’ll be forced to wear and not making any fucking money. 

“Monday afternoon you’ll be right back here. Making all the tips again. And it’ll be like nothing ever happened.”

Doubtful.

I push up and move around the opposite side of the chair, heading straight for the door without another word. It’s late. Or early, whichever way you look at it. But I’m tired, and tomorrow I have to tell my brother he can’t come visit me.

And then I have to lie to him. Again.

“Hey, I have some bad news,” I say, falling to my mattress. This thing is the nicest thing I own, and only because sleep is the second most important thing in my life. Second only to making sure I make it in this city.

“I feel like you’re full of that lately.” Ford, one of my older brothers, says. “My dog died, Reagan. And Mack and the twins are going to Florida to visit her parents for the week and I can’t because of work. So please, if you’re canceling on me, just go ahead and send the knife all the way through my chest. I can’t be alone. You’re my only hope,” he whines. Legit whining. I groan and sigh, feeling overwhelmingly guilty for cancelling on him again. Last time it was a weekend I was supposed to visit home for his birthday party, but work came up, again, and I couldn’t get off.

Sometimes it feels like when Dean knows I have something with family going on, he makes sure it’s ruined. Neither of my brothers have met Dean nor do they know the type of people I work for, and it’s probably for the better. Ford’s not too protective, but Lincoln…he’s worse than my own father.

“Fuck, you’re dramatic, big brother.”

“Is it working?” I hear the smile in his tone and shake my head.

“No. I don’t have a choice in the matter. The boss is bringing me along on a business trip.” The lie feels horrible, but I can’t exactly tell him I’m being blackmailed into spending a weekend as my boss’s whore. He’d have me locked in his house with no way out within hours.

“Your boss? I didn’t think you liked the guy?”

“I don’t. But, he’s my boss and I can’t exactly tell him no. Plus, it’s a free vacation, Ford.”

“Can I come with you?”

“No. Idiot.” I laugh. “Are you seriously down in the dumps? I’m sorry about Yellow. He was a good dog.” I close my eyes and try not to let the knot in my throat force the tears through. I didn’t make it home to see him. And I haven’t made it home since. Talk about a sucky sister.

“Nah,” he chuckles. “I’m fine, just giving ya a shit time. I think I’ll steal Carter for a bit so Lincoln and Wren can have time alone with the new baby.”

I laugh and can’t help the tear that falls. God, I miss home.

“That’s sweet,” I say. “Hey, I gotta go, ok? I’ll call when I get back next week?”

“I’m coming up there when you get back. Be ready,” he warns.

I laugh and end the call, then groan and roll over in bed.

In thirty-six hours I’m leaving for a weekend I wish was already over. And I still have to pack…but sleep sounds so much better.


 

“This is fucking ridiculous.” I punch the unlock button to my car a little harder than needed, but it’s hit that or hit something else and I don’t need another broken hand. I’ve done that before and it was a pain in the ass.

“Just for a few hours. And if I know our uncle, he’s going to have the boat stocked with girls.” Gabriel, my younger brother, nudges me and grins. “You know what that means?”

“STDs?” I quip, laughing it off. “But seriously, Gabe. Those chicks are all strung out looking for their next hit. We’ve seen it how many times before? The New York party two years ago almost landed us in jail with those strung out bitches. Never anything decent worth picking from.” I pull out into Chicago traffic and roll to a stop almost immediately, puffing out air in frustration.

“You’re the one who wanted to live here Nico. Can I just point that out?” He shakes his head, rolling down his window and lighting up.

“Fuck, Gabe. Put that shit away. There are cops all over this road.” I smack him and he holds it low, grinning at me.

“Want a pass?”

“No, fucker.” I shake my head and glance down at my watch. I have an hour to get to work, and that’s after dropping this dipshit off at our apartment.

I’ve been applying for jobs with drug agencies to be a traveling salesperson and I finally landed one. I thought I wanted to come to Chicago a couple years ago, but all I really wanted was a change. Now that I’m here I want out. Crazy how the grass is always greener.

“Misty’s coming over tonight.” He takes another long drag and breathes deep, sighing on the exhale.

“I’ll head out for a bit,” I grumble, tapping the steering wheel as traffic starts to move ever so slightly.

“You don’t have to. We’ll turn the radio up.” He winks over at me and I chuckle, shaking my head.

“I’m good.”

“You’re too good, Nico. You’re a D’ Angeli. Be wild. It’s in your blood.” He nods at my briefcase in the back seat. “That shit’s not gonna get you too far with this bloodline. Just so you know. Accept it, man.”

“I’m not like her, Gabe. I’m getting out.”

“Suit yourself.” He pats me, leaning back in his seat.

Thankfully traffic opens up and I drop him off with just enough time to get to work.

“Tomorrow,” he says, nodding at me and giving me the look that says I better not back out. I roll my eyes and pull away from him, wondering why I was cursed with the family who likes to dabble with the illegal shit to have fun.

I was born the unfortunate son of Maria D’ Angeli, unwed and no father in sight, my mother raised us as best as she could. With her brother’s, my uncle’s, help of course. He’s a wild card, and I only trust him about fifty percent of the time. I’ve seen him seriously dick some people over, but he loved his sister, my mother, and would do anything for us.

I think. My childhood was pretty rough. When Gabriel came along I was almost five years old and let’s just say I had to grow up pretty fast. I watched my uncle be the man he is, and early on formed a love/hate relationship with him. He’s not a horrible man, but he’s done some pretty dark shit. Never to me, but I’ve never been stupid enough to cross him either. I’d like to think that he wouldn’t turn his rage to me if I ever fucked up, but with my mom gone I’m not sure what he’d do anymore. Her death changed the dynamic of this family.

This party tomorrow at his Gold Coast mansion is his yearly celebration. Fuck if I know what he’s celebrating, but I do know that he does it every year and it’s always a blowout event. Between the booze, the drugs, and the women any man would die happy on that property. Not this man. Not this time. I have a drug test coming up next week so the fun will come with a limit this weekend. Hell, ever since New York the parties have come with a limit. I’m not about ending up in jail, or dead with a needle in my arm, and most of his girls are walking petri dishes, full of diseases.

So no, I guess you could say I’m not looking forward to this party tomorrow.

Not. At. All.

“Wakey, wakey!” Gabe jumps on my bed, splashing cold water all over my face.

“The fuck, dude?” I groan, wiping the beads off my eyes and glaring at him, swinging a punch that lands on his bicep.

“Party time!” he yells, running out of the room. The man’s a twenty-one year old child.

I grumble to myself, grabbing a pair of trunks and sandals. I emerge from my room to Gabe sitting at the island, drinking an energy drink already and flipping through the half-dressed girls on his dating app.

“The fuck you doing up so early? The party doesn’t start for hours.” I grab a coffee cup and toss it under the instant coffee maker I insisted on buying when we moved in. My brother doesn’t drink coffee and I need it right away in the morning so it worked out perfect.

“Uncle Vinny texted last night. He’s got a new batch of fresh faces ready to party this morning. They’re up bright and early and ready to party.” He wiggles his eyebrows and smacks his gum. “New faces, man.”

“New meth head faces you mean?” I chuckle behind my fresh coffee mug. “No thank you. But,” I take a sip. “I know I can’t get out of it, so let’s get going. Maybe I can get so black out drunk I’ll just pass out and not have to deal with anyone.”

“That’s the spirit!” Gabe clasps me on the back and laughs.

The drive to my Uncle’s property is about an hour away from our apartment. By the time Gabe has his wardrobe for the day picked out and we make it through traffic, we’re arriving just before noon and already there’s a slew of people here. This building and the three around it belong to my uncle. The crowd he’s hosting this weekend isn’t out of the ordinary, but it always blows my mind that he knows this many people.

“Boys!” Vinny calls as we make it to the roof-top social area. Honestly, it’s more of a party pavilion, with fully equipped stereo system, tapped kegs, and all the drugs you could possibly imagine.

“Hey Uncle Vinny,” I say, going in for the hug he never lets us get away without. “Huge crowd this year.” I grab a glass of amber liquid from a passing cocktail waitress and glance down at her ass in the tight black shorts she’s wearing. She’s not bad.

“Way bigger than I anticipated.” He pats my brother on the back. “Gabe.” Vinny glances at him and they exchange a look. One I know too well. I nod at both of them and walk away, because they’re about to embark on a conversation I don’t want to be involved in.

My brother grew up under Vinny’s wing. When we moved here from New York, Vinny leaned on Gabe as the go-between for a lot of the family business issues that I didn’t want to be involved in. Gabriel gets paid well; he’s a smart kid. I’ve tried talking him out of the drug dealing, but he’s happy doing just what he’s doing. It used to break my heart, watching him deal with those people, but now I just want out of it all. Break the ties and set out to make a name for myself.

The party’s filled with faces I remember from parties in the past. I never have a choice in coming to these, and not that I care too much because all the free food and drinks for an entire weekend is well worth it. But this year it feels different. This year is the first year that I have a real plan for my life. It’s the first year I can say that I have a career and a job to go home to, and that makes a difference.

“Your glass is empty. Want another one?” A waitress, full tits and nipple piercings pushing against the bright white bikini top she’s forced to wear, is staring at me with a tray full of drinks.

“I do,” I say, replacing a full glass from the tray with my empty one. She bites her lip watching me take my first drink and I lock eyes with her. She’s cute. She’s a worker bee here, which means she’s more than likely not carrying half the shit my uncle’s girls are. Maybe today won’t be so bad after all. I’d like to see those piercings in person without the cloth barrier.

Her eyes go wide when they land behind me and her stature straightens.

“Mr. D’ Angeli,” she says, nodding to him. All flirtatious features suddenly gone at the approach of my uncle and I roll my eyes, taking a long drink of the beer she handed me.

“Ms. Danielle. I see you met my nephew.” He puts his arm around my shoulder and I go stiff. He smells like day old booze and it’s only lunch time.

“Yes, sir.” She flicks her eyes to me. “I’ll see you around.” She scurries off and leaves me standing there with the one man I’d rather not be around today. I needed an easy in, easy out. Being around him isn’t easy.

“Take a walk with me, boy.”

I start to walk with him because he’s giving me no choice with his hand firm on my shoulder. He moves us towards the doors to head inside, into what he calls his ‘pad.’ He’s never brought me in here before, but I’ve never been too eager to see the other side of these tall glass tinted walls. 

“I heard you have good news for me,” he says, stepping inside and grabbing a waiting cigar.

“I do. I actually just got hired at Johnston and Steele.”

“I heard! A reputable company. Congratulations. They’ve been around the prescription drug world for what, ten or twenty years now?” He walks me into a large room scattered with people and snaps his fingers.

“Yes, sir,” I say, watching as a woman immediately walks over to him on his command.

Not just any woman, either. A woman he wouldn’t normally bring to something like this. A woman who doesn’t look like she wants to be here, nor is she strung out on any drugs. There’s no track marks on her arms. Her face and eyes are clear. Her eyes hit mine when she makes it to his side and my dick jumps to attention.

Well, I’m fucked.

“This is Reagan.” My uncle’s arm grips her wrist and pulls her closer to him. She stumbles and I want to reach out and help her.

“Nice to meet you, Reagan.” I’m trying not to stare at her, but she’s utterly exquisite. A pinch of a badass, but when her eyes hit mine I see the sweet girl hiding inside. How, I’m not sure. I’ve never looked this close at any of my uncle’s girls before. But this one’s different.

This one doesn’t belong here.

“She’s yours. Think of her as a congratulations on the new job,” he says, nodding at her then glancing at me. Her eyes go wide and panic sets in as her features all tighten. This chick would be terrible at poker.

“Mine?” I cough out mid drink. “I’m sorry, what?” I have to let out a laugh. Women don’t ‘belong’ to men like he thinks. He can’t just hand her off like that.

“Of course…I mean I could always keep her.” He looks at her again and before I know what he’s doing, he’s reaching out and groping her tit. Right there in front of me! Her eyes close briefly but when they open, they’re on me and they’re a fire of fury and rage. My eyebrows shoot up briefly before I’m able to mask my surprise. I’ve never seen him bring someone so…vanilla…to one of these parties. My uncle chuckles, realizing she’s not reacting the way he desires, then probably just to prove a point, reaches between her legs and cups her hard, making her gasp.

“I’ll take her,” I blurt to distract him, seeing her obvious discomfort.

I’ve watched him manhandle and fondle girls before, but they all wanted it. They all begged for it.

This girl wants nothing to do with it.

“Good. I almost regretted letting go of her,” he says, a fake pout falls to his lips then he’s removing his hand from between her legs and bringing it to his nose, his eyes glaring at Reagan as he takes a deep breath. Her eyes stay locked on me, wide and pissed. His interest has switched from me to that poor girl, and as nice as it should sound it makes me fucking rage. Because she doesn’t deserve to be treated this way.

“Can I get you a drink?” I blurt to her, my words not making sense in my own head but I need to get her out of this situation. She’s too good for these people, and the more drunk my uncle gets the more handsy and forceful he gets. It won’t sit well on my conscience knowing I didn’t try. I can take her back to my room and make the best of the weekend. Whatever that may be.

The girl lets out a small growl and her fists clench.

“You can’t just—” she starts to yell but Vinny holds his hand up, effectively shutting her up immediately.

“I can, though. Remember?” He grins when her shoulders slump and winks at her before nodding at me and I feel like I could vomit with guilt.

Taking a girl like this? This isn’t me. I’m not a fucking pig!

Her eyes roll and I sigh. She’s feisty. She’s sexy. She’s snarky. She’s also not going to last all weekend with my uncle. I can take her. Keep her safe in my room. Then get her back home safe on Monday. Easy. 

“Thank you, Uncle Vinny.” I watch the girl’s eyes narrow and know I need to get her out of here before she makes a scene.

This better be worth it.


 

Furious doesn’t begin to explain it.

I’m not fucking cattle. I’m here because he’s blackmailing me. That’s it. He’s been crossing the fucking line all day, though, and Dean’s going to get a fucking earful when I get back. And probably a lawsuit threat. He can’t fucking treat someone like this. We’re rapidly reaching a point where I’d rather have dealt with the legal ramifications of having those drugs on me than being here.

Vinny’s been pissed at me since I showed up here this morning with a suitcase packed full of clothes, dressed in old sweatpants and a t-shirt from my brother’s college that’s since been turned into my painting shirt. He didn’t find it funny at all, and soon had me stripped down by one of his assistants and handed this tiny fucking bikini to wear all weekend. He even took my phone, and by the anger on his face when he had to do it, I’m not certain if I’ll be getting it back. Like I said earlier, I’m pretty good at fucking shit up.

I was told I’d be a gift tonight. That I’m useless to Vinny since I’m his employee and he doesn’t want that lawsuit, but instead I was being used as a gift to a family member. I had assumed it’d be an old wrinkly asshole I’d have to hide in the bathroom from. What I didn’t expect is the good-looking nephew to come walking up.

The nephew hesitantly takes my hand when I offer it to him, trying to play up the fact that I want to be here even though I want to rip Vinny and Dean’s balls off right now. If there is a bright side to this, it’s the fact that I’ve been handed off to the nephew. The hot, ripped, nephew. Dark skin, dark eyes, dark hair…and a happy trail that dips into those swim trunks and makes me want to dive in after it. I can deal with this all weekend.

We make it to this guy’s room and I’m a ball of nerves. What lies beyond those doors I can only imagine, but at this point anything is better than being groped and fondled by Vinny one more time.

He opens the door and I glance at him. The guy’s really hot, and as much as I shouldn’t, I can’t help but wonder what he’s got planned once we’re alone and for the first time today, I’m not scared of the unknown. It’s been a while since I let loose.

The door slams behind me after the two of us walk in and my eyes fly around the room. It’s about three times larger than mine with an attached en suite bathroom and closet about as big as my whole apartment.

Holy shit. It must pay to be family. 

“I’m Nico, by the way,” he says, flipping the lock on his door. “You want a drink?” he asks, walking across the room to the wet bar.

“No,” I say, walking over to the chair and plopping down in it. “Why’d you do that? Take me like that? You know I’m not sleeping with you tonight, right?” I spout off, my attitude cutting short when Nico spins and lifts an eyebrow at me. God, does he get those bad boys waxed? He studies me, his eyes falling to my chest that’s just barely fucking covered and I glance down, then cup my tits with my hands, forcing him to chuckle.

“You’re not the usual type my uncle brings to things like this.” He pours two glasses of amber liquid and clinks an ice cube in each of them. “And from the looks of it, you need this.” He pushes a glass over to me after I watch him walk across the room. He can’t be any older than I am, but he owns this room in the way I’d never be able to. If he’s related to Vinny, he’s probably also a fucking tool. A hot tool. With an incredibly chiseled jawline and abs for days. Those swim trunks he’s sporting aren’t leaving much to the imagination, either, and if I’m being honest with myself I kind of regret telling him we’re not fucking.

“I don’t need it.” I shake my head, my hands still covering my tits. His teeth scrape his bottom lip and his mouth turns up into a smirk.

“Drink, Reagan. We’re in this room together all weekend. You’re not going to fuck me, apparently…but we have a plethora of free alcohol to go through.” He puts his glass to his lips and sips, then curses. “It’s not drugged, okay?” he says when I still refuse to take the glass. He brings his lips to the glass he’s offering me and takes a sip. “See?”

I groan and grab the glass from him, because he’s right. I do kind of need it. I haven’t been allowed to touch anything since I’ve been here and I’ve been wound tight without a way to release. A buzz will help.

“Why are you being nice to me?” I ask, curling my bare legs under me, goosebumps rising on my skin and I shiver. It was warm outside, but this room is freezing and the lack of clothes I was allowed to keep with me means I have no option than to be cold.

“Because you’re not like the others.” He walks over to the bed and pulls the blanket from the foot. “You don’t really want to be here.” He tosses the blanket on my lap and my eyebrows crease together in confusion.

He’s being nice.

“Does that really matter?” I bring the glass to my lips and the cold liquid burns as I drink it down in one gulp. Nico’s eyes are wide and he’s trying not to laugh, but fails.

“I guess not.” He nods, then walks over to the bed, sitting back against the headboard and stretching his legs out in front of him. “So then, tell me something that does matter, Reagan. Why are you here?” His legs cross at his ankles and he watches me as I shift the blanket to cover me. It doesn’t cover everything I’d like covered, but short of moving to the bed with him and hiding under the blankets this is as good as it’s going to get.

I shake my glass, contemplating what I’m going to tell him. I don’t know the guy, I barely trust him yet, but all I know is he saved me from having to be around Vinny this weekend so he can’t be all bad guy, even if he is a D’ Angeli.

“Oh Nico,” I say low, watching my ice cube spin in my glass, the clink of it against the side the only noise in the room. I glance up at Nico and he’s still watching me intently. “It’s just business.” I finally say, and the corner of his lips lift.

“I like the way you say my name.” He brings his glass to his lips, not taking his eyes off mine and suddenly I’m burning up. There’s a hunger in his gaze. One that makes this blanket feel like a thousand pound weight. “You’re not a Chicago girl by heart, are you Reagan?”

I narrow my eyes at him.

“Why would you say that?” I’m not sure what Vinny knows of my home life or my family, but I’d like to keep everyone in Springfield out of this mess.

“You’ve got that innocent Midwest, small town girl thing going on.” He smirks. “It’s not a bad thing. Trust me.”

I shake my head and toss the ice cube back into my mouth, crunching it and watching Nico stare at me. The room’s silent. I’m burning up. His eyes are eating into me and turning me on. Holy fuck it’s going to be a long weekend in this room.

“I need a refill,” I finally mutter, standing and walking to the wet bar. I don’t hear the bed shift, but next thing I know he’s right behind me, his body pressed into mine, and he’s reaching around me.

“Let me help,” he whispers, his breath warm on my ear and his body pushed firm against me, and God it feels good. I watch the muscles in his arm tense as he lifts the glass decanter and tilts it, filling my glass for me. I take a deep breath and notice his scent. It’s cool, if that’s possible for a scent. Reminds me of summer time. And crisp. Not stuffy and heavy like most men’s colognes I’ve smelled over the years.

“I could have done that myself,” I manage to fight through the lust rolling through my body for this stranger.

When I think he’s going to step away, his touch gently glides down my neck, leaving a trail of goosebumps in their wake and I take a quick breath, my head instinctively rolling to the side to allow his touch, even though I shouldn’t welcome it. My body keeps betraying me today.

“You’re welcome,” he says close enough to smell the scotch on his breath, then he steps away and I’m back to feeling like it’s winter in here. My body shivers and I turn, leaning against the wet bar and watch him move back to the bed, his back to me so I can admire the muscles on this man. Maybe he’s not my age. Maybe he’s older. I’ve never seen someone my age look like…that. I grin, inwardly thanking the gods that he hasn’t put a shirt on yet.

I start to walk across the room and look at the chair, then glance over at the bed where he’s stretched out again on one side, watching me with curious eyes. Silence fills the room and when he pats the bed next to him, his eyes narrow and I swear he’s trying not to smirk at me. I bite my lip in consideration, weighing the options.

I could move back to the chair and cover up, probably falling asleep while we stare at each other in silence. Or, I could slide over to the bed. The nice, warm bed…next to the nice warm, hot body and possibly learn a little more about this curious man who saved my ass this weekend.

Letting out an annoyed shake of my head, I walk over to the empty side of the bed and sit, right at the edge.

“You think I’m going to bite?” he asks, staring at me and spinning the liquid in his glass. His knuckles almost white from the grip he has on it. 

“Are you?” I raise an eyebrow at him and bring my glass to my lips. The cool liquid ignites a fire on its way down.

“Do you want me to?” His voice is low, his eyes filled with much more than curiosity. I set my glass on the bedside table, my hands trembling, and turn to face him, tucking my legs under me. He cocks his head in amusement and shifts, facing me.

“What are we doing here, Nico?”

“What do you want to do, Reagan?” He shrugs. “I was offered a girl who needed my help, so I helped her.” He finishes off his glass and reaches behind him, setting it on his side table. His muscles stretch and move beneath his tanned skin and when I glance back at his face he’s more than amused that he just caught me checking him out.

“Why’d you help me? You don’t know me. You don’t even know if I needed saving or if I’m a good person. I could have come in here and tried drugging you.”

He scoots inches closer, our knees almost touching, and locks eyes on me.

“That’s adorable,” he says, his tongue darting out and licking his bottom lip. “I highly doubt you have it in you to drug anyone, though.”

I laugh. “True. So true.”

He reaches out and draws a line on my thigh with his fingers, watching as his hand falls off my leg. My skin prickles at his touch and though I shouldn’t, I want more. More touches. More time. More being in this room with this man I don’t even know.

I watch his hand move up my thigh and my brain is screaming at me to get off this bed. That fucking Vinny D’ Angeli’s nephew isn’t a good idea, but my body isn’t listening to my brain. He draws a circle on my thigh, just one finger…that’s all it takes to ignite the need inside me. Well, one finger and a couple glasses of scotch.

“You keep touching me,” I whisper.

“Does it bother you?” he asks, almost a whisper. He’s watching his finger draw figure eights on my leg and every time he leans in a little closer until we’re face to face. Nose to nose. My God this man smells amazing.

“You’re a stranger,” I whisper, my eyes fluttering to his lips.

“That’s sometimes a good thing, Reagan.” I notice the slightest shake of his head, like being this close to me is an inner battle he’s fighting or something. “I barely know you.” He backs off a bit and lifts his eyebrows. “So how about we play a game?”

“A game?” I ask, my heart beating wildly. “What game?”

Nico reaches back to grab his drink and again, I’m caught checking out the muscles in his abs. He smirks again and I roll my eyes. I mean come on, that’s model worthy. Can’t blame a girl.

“Simple. You lie to me, I get to touch you.” He shrugs and brings the amber liquid to his lips.

“That’s…you’re not going to know whether or not I’m lying. This game is stupid.”

“Did you come on your own free will this weekend?” He asks, ignoring me altogether. I glare at him.

“Yea,” I whisper, wide eyed because no. I fucking didn’t. But in his uncle’s eyes I did because I agreed to it.

“See, I told you I’d be able to spot the lie.” His hand reaches out and he trails his fingertips along my jaw.

“You just want to touch me,” I whisper, my skin tingling in his finger’s path.

“You’re soft. Innocent. Can’t blame a man.” He pulls his hand back. “Your turn.”

“Same rules apply?” I ask and he nods once. “If I walk out of this room right now, what will happen?”

“You’ll be escorted straight back to my uncle, who by now probably has about three other girls slobbing on his dick. You’ll probably be forced to sit there and watch. More than likely while he fondles you in one way or another.” He grits his jaw and cuts himself short, anger rising to the surface as his eyes grow redder.

I nod silently, blinking through the buzz from the alcohol.

“So what you’re saying is it’s safer in here?”

His head bobs. “One hundred percent safer.” He finishes his glass and stands from the bed abruptly, walking to the wet bar and grabbing the bottle of scotch. “My turn,” he says returning with it. “What do you do for my uncle?”

I take a deep breath and hold out my glass for him to refill.

“I’m the lead bartender at Club 24.” I mumble the words that feel so foreign tonight. This weekend feels so far away from my real life. 

“Here or New York?” His eyes narrow as mine grow wide at the question. Does it matter if he knows where I live? Really? I could tell him the truth, but…but then it doesn’t get me what I want. No touches. No contact.

“New York,” I whisper, glancing at the wall so I don’t feel quite as bad for blatantly lying.

“How long?” he asks again and I cock my head at him.

“About a year, maybe?” I shrug.

He smirks and chuckles low, shaking his head. His teeth scrape along his bottom lip, something I’ve noticed he does a lot but it makes him even sexier, and he raises an eyebrow at me. Shifting in bed, I watch his hand move towards my arm and I freeze.

“I used to work at that club, you know. The one on the East side?”

“Yeah?” I say too breathlessly waiting for his touch. “It’s a good one.”

The minute the words fall from my lips his hand opens and wraps around my arm softly. Then he starts sliding his hand up, eliciting goosebumps on my skin as he goes. When he stops on my neck I let out a sigh as his thumb swipes across my bottom lip. My mouth pops open slightly and my eyes fight to flutter closed.

“There is no club on the East side, Reagan,” he whispers, his eyes flicking to my lips. “You’re lying on purpose now.”

I pull my lip between my teeth, wanting to taste his thumb. Wanting to slam my lips to his and taste his mouth. His skin.

“You like my touches,” he says again, bringing his other hand up to cup my face, his eyes searching mine. “But we’re not fucking tonight.” He smirks and pulls back immediately and it’s then that I realize just how turned on I am. The bottom of this swimsuit is soaked, my pussy is tingling with need for attention, and my heart’s about to jump straight out of my chest.

I clear my throat and sit up straighter, closing my eyes to try to calm myself down but I can’t seem to do that when I’m this close to him. I should get out of here. I’ve never had this type of reaction to a man before. I’m not a whore, but I’ve been with enough men to know that the attraction to Nico isn’t normal. But these aren’t normal circumstances.

“My turn,” I finally manage and his eyes narrow on me. “What are you doing here? You’re not like your uncle.” I grab the pillow and wrap my arms around it, hoping that having something to hold on to will stop him from noticing how turned on I am. I’m sure my nipples are about to cut through this thin bikini top.

“Neither of us are here by choice tonight, if that’s what you mean.”

“He blackmailed you too?” I blurt the words so fast I don’t realize what I’ve said until it’s too late. Nico’s eyebrows are on the top of his fucking forehead and I groan, falling onto the bed and covering my face with the pillow.

“He’s blackmailing you? Are you in danger, Reagan?” He pulls the pillow away, worry tracing every feature on that beautiful face, and for the first time tonight I don’t look at him and see a bad guy who’s related to Vinny D’ Angeli. I see someone who doesn’t think the same way as those thugs. Someone that…cares.

“No,” I mumble into the pillow. “Everything’s just fine. Your turn.”

“Hey,” he shifts to lie next to me, his hand pushes the hair out of my face and he grins at me. “Hi.”

“Can you forget I said that? Please? If word gets back to him…” I trail off and shake my head. I really don’t want to think what would happen if word got back to him. I always knew Vinny wasn’t a great man. I knew he did bad shit. But this weekend has shown me a side of him that makes me fear him. And that’s not something I’m too fond of.

“I’m not going to tell him. Trust me. He’s my uncle, I’ve grown up figuring out how to get around the man.” Nico starts rubbing my arm until I relax enough to shift and lie on my side, facing him.

“I don’t get it. You’re one of them. You’re supposed to be bad too. But I don’t think you are, are you?”

“I’ve tried my whole life not to get wrapped up in their business.” His brows crease and he pauses, his eyes searching mine. “It was definitely worth it,” he mumbles almost unintelligibly.

“What?”

“Nothing. I mean it’s worth it. What I’ve done in the past to stay out of his way. Worth it. Absolutely.”

I smile. “That makes me happy.”

“Being in this room with you makes me happy,” he whispers and I can’t help but smile wider.

“Me too.” I fall silent when his hand stops moving on my arm.

“Hey Reagan?” He asks, watching his hand that’s stalled on my arm.

“Yeah?”

“Are we still playing the game?” His gaze hits mine and I pause, watching him. “Because that wasn’t a lie, I don’t think. But I really don’t want to stop touching you.”

I pull my lips between my teeth and bite down, suppressing a grin.

“So don’t,” I finally say.

And that’s all it takes.

His lips crash into mine, a tidal wave of tingles roll through my body as we tangle together in the bed sheets. He dips his hips against me and he’s already hard. He pulls my tits from the cups of my bikini and I shove off his swim trunks just as his teeth latch on to my nipple. He pushes my boobs together and shoves his face in between them before crawling down my body. His lips trail their way straight between my legs as soon as he yanks off the bottoms to my bikini. He sucks and kisses his way straight to my core then slides two fingers inside me with ease. He continues kissing me, his tongue darting out every now and then to tease me more. His lips suck at the apex of my legs and when they wrap around my clit, his teeth nibbling and his tongue flicking, he curls his fingers up and I almost shoot off the bed.

“Holy fuck!” I scream, not even realizing it could feel this good.

He chuckles into my pussy, the vibrations sending electric waves through my body and I arch my back, pushing into his face harder.

My God, this man has magic fucking lips.


 

Her pussy tastes so good. Too good. I didn’t think this would happen when I brought her in this room, but now that we’re here and my mouth is covered in her juices and my dick so painfully hard for her… Fucking hell, this is heaven right here.

When she comes unglued her entire body trembles and she belts out notes I’ve never been able to pull from a woman before. I can’t get enough of this, so I don’t stop. Her moans and sighs turn into laughter once her body stops shaking and her hands grip my hair.

“Stop!” She laughs, her thighs clenching together and my dick jumps to try to get to her. I pop my head up and grin at her from between her legs. Her face is flushed, her hand is covering her eyes, and her nipples are so hard they could cut glass. I crawl up her body, licking my trail and latch on to each nipple on my way. She moans and instinctively pivots her hips to arch into me again. When my lips connect to hers and my dick’s pulsing to get to her, she freezes.

“Condom.” Her annoyed whisper makes me chuckle but more so how fucking cute she is. I push my lips to hers once more, enjoying the way she reacts to me, then I crawl off the bed and open the drawer that’s stocked with condoms and toys. “Oh shit,” she laughs, moving with me to see the plethora of shit that’s in here. “Look at this!” She pulls out a big black dildo and barks out a laugh. “I mean, this thing’s not human size. This thing is huge. Men don’t have dicks this size. This should be called the pussy annihilator or something.” She wiggles it in the air and I laugh, gripping it and pulling it away from her.

“No more fake dick wiggling, okay?” She pouts and rolls her eyes. “Thank you. Anyway, there are dicks this size, by the way.” I smirk when she scoffs at me, then grab her by the wrist and push her hand between my legs where my dick’s currently swinging hard and free. One grip from her soft hand is all it takes to make me moan. And when she gasps, I nod.

“This…” She sits up and her eyes go wide and they fly between my legs as I stand there. “Oh my God, Nico.” She shakes her head, looking down at my dick again. “That’s not going to fit.” She nods at my dick and I bark out a laugh, crawling back over her on the bed.

“It will. Trust me,” I whisper, pushing my lips to her neck.

“It won’t,” she shakes her head in a panic.

“I said trust me, Reagan. You’re so fucking wet already.” I lick her nipple, then the other and she gasps. “And the more I do this,” I say, biting onto her neck and enjoying the tiny pricks of her skin and the moan that comes with it, “the wetter you get.” I push my lips to hers after fishing a condom out of the drawer. Sliding it on I grip the backs of her knees and push her legs up, opening her up for me as I nudge against her entrance. Her hands grip the headboard tight as I slide into her, and the face she makes when she realizes she was wrong is hot as fuck.

“Oh,” she gasps when I dip my hips harder, balls deep inside her. “Oh my God,” she pants. I go at it again and she gasps, her eyes going wide. I shift back on my heels, buried deep inside her, and grip her ass, bringing her up at an angle while I pump into her. Her hands grip the headboard and her back arches as I push into her again, burying myself inside her. This is my fucking favorite, because I fucking know it’s hitting exactly where she needs it. Plus, I get to look down and over her tits to get to that beautiful fucking mouth. Those lips…fuck.

I reach down and shove my thumb into her mouth and she moans, closing her lips around me and sucking.

“Shit,” I hiss, thrusting harder into her. It’s so tight, I can feel her pussy start to clench around me and I growl then pump into her harder. My hand grips her tit hard and she starts to wriggle underneath me.

Her eyes close tight, her whole body goes rigid, and as soon as my orgasm starts to spurt out of me she comes again, her pussy milking my dick for all it’s got. Her thighs clamp around me, her entire body shakes, and she screams so loud I’m sure everyone in this place heard her.

“Holy… Fuck,” she pants, letting her ass fall back to the bed as she giggles. “Oh my God,” she breathes heavily, trying to catch her breath as her thighs still tremble from my touch. 

I lean down and kiss her, unable to get enough.

“I’ll be right back, Ten,” I whisper, giving her nipple one last pinch before hopping off the bed. She laughs and swats at me.

“Ten?” she asks as I walk towards the bathroom.

“That shit right there topped the charts, Reagan. I think a ten is low, personally, but that’s the rating scale. What’re ya gonna do?” I shrug and smirk at her and she laughs, twisting herself in the blankets.

When I return from the bathroom she’s got the lights turned off already but she’s not sleeping. She’s watching me stand in the doorway of the bathroom and my gut twists for this beautiful girl. She’s twisted in my uncle’s world. The one world I’m trying to get away from. The best thing would be to distance myself right away. The fuck was good. But getting closer could be detrimental.

I walk back over to the bed and slide in next to her. She grins at me, bringing her hand up to touch my eyebrow. One touch is all it takes for me to realize it’s going to be hard to distance myself from this girl. No matter how far apart.

 Fuck me.

“How’d you get this?” she asks, her finger tracing the scar above by eyebrow.

“Fishing accident when I was nine,” I say, pulling her tight against me.

“What happened?” she mumbles into my chest, her arms wrapping around me.

I close my eyes and picture the day I got that scar. I was boating with my uncle when he decided to teach me what not to do with the fishing hook by showing me what happened if I didn’t take the danger seriously. One fishing hook through the eyebrow was all it took for me to hate fishing the rest of my life.

“Accident,” I finally say and she hums.

She feels too good against me. Like we’ve been doing this for years, but we haven’t. We just met each other and I mean nothing to her other than a couple really fucking fantastic orgasms.

She falls asleep within minutes of curling into me, but I don’t sleep a wink. Every time I start to doze off I wake myself back up, wondering what’s going to come of this. I think I genuinely like this girl, and that’s a problem.

An entire weekend with a stranger like Reagan does weird fucking things to a man. It’s already Sunday and I’m not entirely certain how we got here. One minute she was pushing away all my advances, and the next we’re fucking like rabbits, only coming up for air when room service delivered our meals. It’s been intense, but it’s exactly what we both needed.

“The weekend’s going to be over soon. Then it’s back to the real world,” I whisper, not wanting it to be true, but it is. In a few hours she’ll be heading back home and I’ll be getting ready to really dive into this job. Two totally different lives.

She turns to her side and pulls the blanket up to her chin. She’s so fucking cute when she’s not trying to be sexy. It’s a mind-fuck. Cute and sexy? I wasn’t even sure that combination was fucking possible. Most of the girls I’ve ran with in the past have tried way too hard for the sexy and weren’t cute enough without the effort…but Reagan’s not like those girls. She’s normal.

“I don’t do this, Nico,” she whispers, then laughs. “I honestly have no clue what we’re doing right now. I feel like I’ve known you a lifetime, but I just met you Friday. I know very little about you! This is insane!”

I grin, because as much time as we’ve spent together in this room, we haven’t really talked. It’s been a lot of fucking, sucking, licking…and then sleeping. There was a shower together in that mix, too.

That was fucking hot.

“So ask,” I say, shrugging. “I’ve got nothing to hide, Reagan.”

Her eyebrows pull together and she grins.

“You’re not married?” she asks and I bark out a laugh.

“No! Why would you ask me that?”

“Someone who looks like…you…” she waves her arm in front of her. “I mean, I don’t see many like you who are still single. I thought these types of parties were where men came when they wanted to cheat on their wives.”

I can’t help but grin and shake my head at her. She’s right about that part. But I’m not one of those guys.

“No. Not married. No girlfriend. No one at home to warm the bed.” My eyes lock on hers and I can’t help but reach out and touch her cheek. Something about this girl that’s…different. And I can’t place it.

“So what do you do for a living, Nico D’ Angeli?”

“Well, I graduated last year with my degree in Biology and actually just got hired on at Johnson and Steele. I just started, actually. Traveling prescription drug salesperson for now, but hopefully moving up the ladder in the future. Gotta start somewhere, right?”

I grin at her expression as it morphs from boredom to surprise. Her eyebrows shoot up and her mouth pops open like she wasn’t expecting that answer.

“Wow,” she whispers. “So you don’t…” she nods towards the door and I shake my head.

“I’m not like them. How many times do I need to tell you that before you accept it?”

“Sorry, it’s just hard. Vinny’s kind of scary. He’s intense. I figured all his family would be forced to be a part of the business.”

“He’s tried, but it’s not for me. He can’t force me, Reagan. Just like he shouldn’t have forced you to be here this weekend.” I raise an eyebrow at her and push the topic because I don’t like that my uncle apparently blackmailed her into coming this weekend.

“I asked you to drop it,” she whispers, narrowing her eyes.

“Are you in danger?” It sounds ridiculous coming out, but I have to be sure.

“No!” she laughs. “Fuck, Nico, I had some shit on me I was dropping at a friend’s. Illegal shit, okay? Your uncle caught me. He told me he was going to turn me in if I didn’t come this weekend. I took his offer, because I really didn’t want to go to the cops.” She rolls her eyes and falls to her back, staring at the ceiling. “No danger. Just me paying the price for being so fucking stupid.”

“Hey,” I say, scooting over to her and resting my hand on her bare, flat, so fucking soft stomach. My God, I can’t keep my hands off this girl. “You’re not stupid.”

“You don’t know my story. If you did, you wouldn’t be saying that.”

“So tell me.” I rest my head on my hand, propping myself up to look at her and she shakes her head.

“It’s a long one.” She closes her eyes and I bring my fingers to her lips, tracing them. Her mouth falling open slightly as she takes a quick breath.

“I’m a good set of ears,” I whisper, drawing my hand back down to her stomach, my fingers tracing over the curve of her breast on the way, watching her skin pebble in the wake of my touch. Goddamn this girl. 

Don’t ask me why I’m pushing her, but I want to know more. I want to be close to her…even if that’s a goddamned stupid move.

She sighs heavily and her eyes open to stare blankly at the ceiling.

“God, they were so mad when I moved out.” She lets out a puff of air and I lay silent, watching her force herself to spill whatever’s inside her. She’s battling something, it’s just what that something is that I’m not sure of. “I love my family, I do. We were always one of those ‘so cute and happy it makes you want to puke’ families,” she whispers, her lips turning up into a smile. “They all live down in Springfield, one happy go lucky bunch of assholes, but they’re my assholes.” A smile brightens her face and I can see the sparkle in her eyes, the love of her family shining through and while I don’t know what that feels like, I understand it. “My two older brothers are pretty awesome. They looked out for me. Growing up they were my best friends.” She turns to her side and looks at me. “They were terrible wingmen, though. Dating fucking sucked around them. I was twenty before I had a steady boyfriend who they didn’t scare off. Before that I ran the gamut of boys, just to bring them home then never hear from them again.”

“Isn’t that what brothers are for?” I ask.

“Yeah, I guess so.” She sighs. “Anyway, I had the steady boyfriend, then when he dumped me out of the blue I started thinking it was me. I got real tired of being broken up with so I started dating around, not finding anyone worth the heartache, and was slowly becoming a cat person, if you know what I mean.”

“I can’t see you as a crazy cat lady.” I reach over and trail my fingers down her shoulder. “Hottest cat lady I’ve ever seen.”

She giggles and lets out a sigh.

“Well, I didn’t want that. And to top it off, I wasn’t making it on my own down there. I tried moving out plenty of times, then I’d end right back in my parents’ house months later. I was failing everyone around me, and I was failing myself. So I moved.” She shrugs, the happy completely gone from her face now. “I’ve been out of their house and on my own two years now. Just…making it, I guess.”

“Just making it, you guess?” I furrow my brows, resting my hand on her smooth hip. “That’s all you’re doing up here? Making it?”

“Aren’t we all?” Her eyes show more than she wants to, I’m sure, but I know she’s holding back. She’s probably already shared more than she wanted to with me, but I’m happy she did.

“Reagan, what’s Chicago offering you that you can’t get at home?” I’m not sure why I’m pushing this, but the way her eyes sparkled when she talked of her family tells me she misses home more than she’ll ever say out loud.

“Freedom?” She grins and wiggles her ass. “I’m proving to everyone what I couldn’t do down there.”

She’s determined. I barely know this girl, but I know she’s determined and from the look in her eye she’s also stubborn as hell.

“You need to go home, Reagan.” I whisper finally when she falls silent.

She laughs sharply. “I can’t.”

“From the sounds of it, you’re wanted there. They miss you. You miss them. What’s stopping you?”

“Pride?” she asks, shrugging. “I fuck things up, Nico. It’s what I do. Friendships, relationships- romantic or not-” She shrugs. “Moving out was supposed to prove to everyone I can do it on my own. Moving home will remind everyone that I can’t.”

I stare into her eyes, full of regret and sadness, and all I want to do is make it go away. This girl just needs to go home. She’s homesick, that’s what it comes down to.

I move towards her and slowly press my lips to hers before pulling back and wrapping my body around her.

“I believe in you, Reagan. You should too.”

“I’m tired,” she whispers, clinging on to me. A stranger I’ve known less than a full weekend, but she feels like home.

And that’s the scariest thought I’ve had in a long time.

“Favorite movie?” she asks, curled into me after one of the best orgasms I’ve ever had.

“Man on the Moon.” I twirl her hair around my fingers and caress her arm with my other hand. “Yours?”

“The Notebook,” she says, hiding her face from me.

“A romantic,” I say, grinning at her embarrassment.

“Don’t mock me. I know it’s bad but…God, it gets me every damn time.” She laughs and moans, stretching her legs out. “I’m not sure I’ve ever had this much sex,” she says, laughing harder.

“We’re almost out of condoms,” I say, glancing over at the lone packet on the nightstand.

“And we still have to try out those toys.” She whispers, her fingers dancing across my chest. “I think I need a shower.”

I chuckle and sit up.

“Come on then,” I say. “Up.”

“No, I’m comfortable,” she groans, curling tighter to me.

“Up, Reagan. It’s been thirty-three hours in this room. It’s time to shower.” I laugh, trying to pull her off the bed. Her naked body’s twisted in the blankets and just seeing her like this, sated and limp from another orgasm, makes my dick twitch for her again.

“Short shower. Only the necessities,” she mumbles, finally sitting up.

I smirk at her as I pull her off the bed to standing in front of me.

“Sure. Whatever you say.” I wink and slap her ass before pulling us into the bathroom. It’s easy with her, like we’ve been doing this for years but we haven’t and the thought crosses my mind that maybe we could make this work… But I don’t think we could. We’re different worlds, different people. Which fucking sucks, because I’ve never felt like this around anyone before.

The steam billows out from behind the glass door and after she brushes her teeth with what I think was supposed to be my toothbrush left in here by housekeeping, she grins at me and wiggles her eyebrows.

“You gonna help me shave, too?”

“You don’t need to shave.” I scoff. “Come on. The bed’s way more comfortable than standing here, let’s get a move on it.”

I crack open the shower door, letting the steam out and into the room before slipping in after her, closing it tight to hold in as much warmth as we can.

The water beading on her skin and cascading down her breasts as she arches back to wet her hair makes me harder than I was before, but I can’t fucking help it.

I reach out and my fingers circle her nipples and the look she gives me makes me laugh.

“What?” I say, pulling my hand back and feigning innocence.

“Strictly to get clean.” She raises an eyebrow at me. “Shampoo please?”

I grin and squirt some in to my palm.

“Turn around,” I say, my voice betraying me as it’s full of lust and need. I just need to touch her. She cocks her head at me like she knows I have ulterior motives so I give her the same look back. “Strictly to get clean.” I repeat her words back to her and grin when she slowly turns around.

I take my time working the shampoo into her hair. Every now and then she moans as I massage her scalp and her ass inches closer to me every time she moans.

“Those noises aren’t ‘strictly to get clean’ noises, Reagan,” I whisper, finishing up with her hair and letting my hands rub the suds into her shoulders, then slowly I reach around and cup her breasts. She hums and pushes back against me, my dick sliding between the wet, sudsy globes of her ass.

“Those hands aren’t strictly get clean hands, Nico,” she murmurs, her head falling back to my shoulder as my hands cup her tits and my thumbs flick her nipples.

“So fucking soft,” I murmur, my hands trailing down her stomach and reaching between her legs. “And wet,” I growl, slipping a finger between her folds.

She lets out a breath of air when I rub my finger over her clit and I grin as she grinds on my hand. “But strictly to get clean,” I murmur in her ear and pull my hand back.

“Wait,” she snaps, grabbing my wrist. I let out a low chuckle and press my lips to her neck, making her melt back to me.

“Yes?” I whisper.

“Don’t stop,” she breathes.

“Put your hands on the wall,” I order, rubbing my hands over her backside. She obliges and her ass pushes back against me and in one stroke I’m inside her.

“Fuck yes,” she moans, meeting my every thrust. She’s so tight. Wet. Hot.

I reach around her and pinch her nipples, her breasts bouncing heavily. The warm water from the shower’s starting to cool off, but the minute it hits our heated skin it feels like heaven. She feels like heaven.

“Oh fuck,” she whimpers, slapping the wall. “Oh my God.” Her eyes squeeze closed and her pussy starts to tighten around me. She’s tense, the noises she’s making are enough to make any sane man crazy with lust, and she needs this release more than anything right now.

“Come, Reagan,” I grunt, trying to hold on to my release a little while longer as I pump into her hard and fast.

She screams, her legs buckling under her and I grip her hips to keep her up as her pussy pulses around my dick.

“Fuck!” I bellow, pulling out of her and spilling my orgasm all over her ass. “Holy fuck,” I manage through heavy breaths.

She stands, leaning completely against the wall, a lazy smile on her face.

“My God,” she breathes. “That…” She lets out a sigh. “Wow, Nico.” She smiles back at me. “Wow.”

She goes home today.

She’s leaving. 

“Morning,” she mumbles, nuzzling into me and twisting her legs around mine.

“Hey you,” I say, still groggy. I can’t get enough of touching her, so as we lie there trying to wake up, I trail my palm down her back, then gently back up. She shifts a few times, only to make my dick think she’s asking for it and I groan.

“You’re going to need to stop wiggling against me like that,” I whisper, making her giggle and push against me harder.

“What if I don’t?” The lust filled voice that comes out of her makes me even harder for this girl and I groan, pulling her on top of me in one swift movement, making her laugh. Her hair’s cascading down around her face and she’s wearing nothing but that damn cute smile. Her palms rest on my stomach and she bites her lip, then starts to grind slowly on me, rubbing her pussy on my shaft. I grip her thighs and let out a growl. She bites her lip and pivots her hips.

“I think you kn—” I’m cut off by a knock at the door and her eyes go wide as her body freezes in fear. “It’s locked,” I whisper to her then yell towards the door, “what?”

“Breakfast time,” my uncle’s voice booms through the door. “Let’s go, lovebirds.” 

Reagan groans and rolls off me, hopping off the bed to find her bikini.

“This is awkward,” she says, grinning at me. “Right? I mean…they all know what we’ve been doing in here.”

I chuckle, standing from the bed. She’s a loud lover, which is fucking sexy but she’s right. They probably do know. Anyone within hearing distance will know…which is fucking fine with me. They now know whom she belongs to.

“Nobody out there cares,” I say, walking over to her and cupping her face in my hands before pressing my lips to hers.

Her eyebrows crease. “I’m sorry,” she takes a step back and shakes her head. “I mean…this whole weekend.” She takes a deep breath. “I’m not a whore, Nico.” Her hands are trembling and I watch her silently struggle to get her bikini top tied correctly. It’s like the knock on the door reminded her of the world outside this room. All weekend she didn’t have a care in the world, but so fast she was just shoved back into reality and now she’s starting to regret it.

“Let me,” I whisper, taking her shoulders and turning her around, then grabbing the two strings form her hands.

“Thank you,” she whispers.

I tie them tight for her and before she can turn around, my lips make their way to her neck and she melts back into me. She feels better than any other girl I’ve been with and that scares the shit out of me.

“I know you’re not a whore, Reagan.” I say so close to her ear my lips brush it and my dick twitches against her ass. “But don’t discount this weekend. It was more than just a good time.”

She spins in my arms and shrugs, her big worried eyes looking up at me.

“Nothing can come out of this, Nico. You’re my boss’s nephew. And I live in Chicago while you’re going to be traveling the country.” She stops herself and bites her lip when a grin spreads across my face.

“I knew you were lying,” I say, letting my fingers trace her collarbone.

“This is insane,” she finally says.

“I completely agree.”

She takes my face in her hands, small and soft, and presses a light kiss to my lips before taking a step back. “We really should get to breakfast. Knowing my boss he probably scheduled me to work tonight.” She rolls her eyes and takes a shirt from my suitcase. “I’m taking this.”

“Wait,” I blurt, watching her open the door. “Just… Here.” I shove my phone at her. “Give me your number.”

She raises her eyebrows and laughs.

“Demanding much?” She takes the phone from my hands and types something in, then locks it and hands it back to me. “Can we go eat now?”

“Yeah,” I say, smiling stupidly like I’m fifteen and my crush just gave me her number.

But I’m definitely not fifteen again. And she may just be the girl I’ve been looking for my entire life.

She just doesn’t know it yet.

One full week of work at a new job. One week of sitting in training and learning the ropes of the company that I’m hoping will be the start of a new life.

I work the Midwest region, meaning I’ll be doing plenty of traveling as soon as training is over. My boss is way too excited to have an upbeat, excited person to join the team.

By the way, it’s fucking exhausting to be an upbeat, happy person all the damn time.

I toss my briefcase on our counter and yell for my brother, but the place is silent so I head for the shower.

I glance at my phone and shake my head, remembering the ‘note’ I found in it after Reagan left the party last week.

“You know how to find me.” Was typed on the notepad that was left open when she locked the screen. I remember how much it made me panic, then laugh because she’s a fucking smartass. Of course I know how to find her.

Club 24 in Chicago.

But working full time doesn’t really allow me to drop in for a drink randomly one night. Maybe this weekend. 

I strip my suit off and turn on the water, glancing at myself in the mirror as the water warms up. My finger traces the scar on my eyebrow and I remember how her fingers felt on my skin. How she acted like she truly cared, and wanted to hear about my life.

The water cascades down my body in warm trickles and somehow it reminds me of Reagan and how her fingertips touched me softly at first then left trails of heat in their path. All my fucking thoughts are of her this week. Those lips. Those eyes. Her fucking tits. I lather the soap in my palms and start to clean myself, but soon enough my fist finds my dick and I’m pumping. Hard.

“Fuck,” I pant, resting an arm on the side of the shower and squeezing my eyes closed. Her face pops into my mind and the way her hands gripped my dick. I think back to how her pussy was so fucking tight and warm and my fist pumps faster. I pick up the pace and when I come, I come hard. My heart’s beating out of my chest and I rest my forehead against the shower wall while I catch my breath.

Fuck.

I need to get up to the club. This is getting ridiculous.


 

 

“Come on, let me see!” I grab Ford’s phone and laugh when I see the picture he’s swooning over. Ford’s the middle kid in our family. He and I have always been a little closer than Lincoln and I, but Lincoln had to grow up very fast at a young age. Ford and I bonded after that. It was just us left.

“Mackenzie’s taken more pictures of these kids since they’ve been born than she has in her entire life.” He laughs. “I miss them.”

“You’re a sap big brother,” I toss the phone on the table next to him and head for the fridge. “Drink?”

“Nah.” He’s still smiling at that damn phone, and yes the picture was adorable, but it’s a picture. Franklin and Kennedy, his twins, on the beach next to a sandcastle. Adorable. Typical.

Holy fuck, Chicago’s making me a cynical evil aunt.

“Hey, so I was thinking maybe you could bring them up here sometime.” I say, bringing my water bottle to my lips. Maybe if he brought them closer to me more often I wouldn’t feel as home sick.

That’s a lie. I miss everything about Springfield. Right down to the fucking grass.

“They’d like that. There’s plenty to do here.” He nods. “Maybe you could also take longer off work than a weekend to entertain us?” He grins. “I mean, they barely know you, Auntie Reagan.”

“I know,” I groan. “But I told you, it’s not as easy for me to get off work as it is for you. Whole different world.”

“You know, if you came back to West House you’d be able to get time off whenever you wanted.” He raises his eyebrows at me, standing and leaning back on my kitchen table.

“Were you sent here to try to trap me into feeling bad and coming home?” I cock my head in question and he shrugs so I throw my water bottle at him, making him laugh.

“You can’t get mad at me for trying! Life’s not the same without you there to pester. Lincoln pouts too much. He’s no fun anymore.”

He’s right. Life’s definitely not the same anymore.

“He’s old. Leave him alone.” I laugh. “I gotta go to work soon.” I frown. “I’m sorry.”

“I’m coming with you, sis. You can’t keep me away. I told you I was coming in to town this weekend. You should’ve tried getting off.”

“I did try. You gave me two days’ notice, Ford. It doesn’t work that easily.”

I smile at him, hiding the nervous twitch. He’s going to kill me when he sees me in that uniform. He’s going to either cause a scene and get me fired, or he’ll take the news home to Mom and Dad and Lincoln and then I’ll definitely have to quit.

“I can hang out with you there, then.” He shrugs indifferently but I can tell it’s annoying to him to have to hang out at a bar when he doesn’t drink. I don’t push it, though, and mainly because I need to get to work. No way in hell I can be late today.

“Great,” I snip, leaving the kitchen before yelling at him for being so clingy. Normally I enjoy Ford coming up to visit, but I’ve been on edge since leaving the party last weekend. Like something wasn’t finished. Like I’m waiting for the ball to drop. I’m full of anxiety and feel like I’m missing something. I’m nervous. I’m antsy.

Add to it the look Ford gives me when I walk out of the break room without the pants or coat I walked in here with and I know tonight’s not going to end well.

He keeps to himself most of the evening, hanging out at the end of the bar with his glass of water, eyeing me with pure anger in his gaze. Every time I have a free moment I walk over to him, crossing my arms in front of me and trying to make small talk, but I can tell he’s not happy. What brother would be with a little sister using her body to get tips?

“You cold yet?” he asks, almost a growl, as he glares at me over his glass of water.

“Nope.” I shrug. “I told you not to come tonight.”

“Right,” he nods. “So I wouldn’t find out my sister works in a strip club?” He waves his arms around, pointing to the barely dressed girls on stage.

“It’s not a strip club,” I hiss. “Lower your voice. Please. I can’t get fired from here.”

He shakes his head.

“I don’t get it, Reagan. You weren’t raised like this. You don’t fit in here.”

I roll my eyes. “I’m not having this fight with you tonight, Ford.” I watch the room for a brief moment and sigh. “Just please don’t tell everyone else, ok? I’m trying to get my foot in the door for something bigger and better than bartending. I promise. I just…I don’t want them worrying.”

He shakes his head, his sad eyes hitting mine.

“I can’t lie to them. But I won’t make it a point to tell them if they don’t ask.”

I curse and walk away when a patron stumbles up to the bar with his bill.

“Fifteen eighty two,” I say, holding my hand out. He pays me a few dollars extra then stumbles out and I feel like I should have called him a cab, but that’s not my job. It’s simple. Get in, get tips, get out.

I wipe the counter down then head back to the staff room to calm myself down. Having Ford here means nothing. He’s not going to make me quit. He’s not going to make a scene. Sure, the uniform sucks but it makes good fucking money. He doesn’t see that. I need to calm down before Dean calls me out for not being on top of my game tonight. There’s plenty of other low level waitresses here who would kill to have this gig.

The cold water from the sink feels great on my heated skin and calms the nerves rolling through my stomach. I bring it to my lips and take a few drinks of water before really looking at myself in the mirror.

And I don’t even recognize the girl I used to be anymore. The girl who laughed more times than not during the day. The girl who didn’t feel like the world was weighing down on her shoulders.

I miss that girl.

I walk back out to the bar and roll my eyes as Ford watches me the entire time.

“You’re making me uncomfortable,” I grumble, walking over to him and refilling his water.

“Me? Think about how I feel watching my sister walk around in her fucking underwear at work.” He shakes his head and I feel like I could vomit.

“I know, okay? It’s not ideal. It’s not safe like the boutique. But it’s what I want.”

He raises an eyebrow at me and I can’t look him in the eyes. I’ve never been able to lie to his face. Not my big brother. My best friend. 

“It’s not. And I’m not sure when you’re going to stop being so stubborn. Something’s gotta change, Reag.” He stands from his stool. “I’m gonna head back to your place, I can’t watch these drunks ogle you like this the rest of the night. What time you off?”

“Nine,” I mumble, taking a deep breath. I’ve been worried about the way my family would react to finding out where I work, so I’ve hid it from them pretty well. They knew a bar, but no one knew the extent of it. Now that he does, he’s looking at me with pity, and anger, and worst of all…disappointment. What good is moving away and making it for myself if I’ve absolutely disappointed my family in the process?

The rest of the work night is boring, and it may be because my brain isn’t at the club. It’s back at my apartment with my brother. My best friend.

It’s back at home in Springfield.

It’s back in that bedroom with Nico. The last place it should be.

It’s almost the end of my shift when the door flings open with force. I’ve almost made it my entire shift without trouble, I’d rather not start with the drunks now. Let the closing crew handle that tonight.

My stomach plummets when Nico walks in, heading straight for Dean’s office.

I panic, glancing around the bar wondering if anyone else can see the Greek god walking across the back of the bar before he dips into Dean’s office.

A new kind of fluttering feeling starts in the pit of my stomach and I suppress a smile, knowing Nico’s not here for Dean. When he walks out of Dean’s office and heads for the bar, eyes locked on me, I can feel my palms start to sweat.

“Reagan,” he says and I can’t stop the smile from spreading. Oh, I like the way he says my name.

“Nico,” I say, smiling. “You found me.”

“Did you think I wouldn’t?” He winks at me and Dean walks up to us, completely ignoring Nico.

“Cash out time,” he blurts, storming to the back of the bar. He pushes around us and grabs my drawer and I roll my eyes, silently following him to the offices.

“I’ll be back,” I say to Nico as I pass him, wanting nothing more than to reach out and touch him but I don’t.

“We don’t need you tomorrow,” Dean says the minute I get into his office.

“What?” My eyebrows crease together and I cross my arms in front of me. “I was the closing lead, Dean. I need those tips. I was out a full weekend of tips last week. That’s not fair.”

He glances up at me and shrugs. “You’re busy. I found someone else who’s not as distracted.” He pounds away on his tablet and pulls out a wad of cash, standing up and walking over to me.

A few weeks ago I reacted to his touch in ways I hated. Now it just creeps me out hardcore. I should fight back, but I’m over fighting him. He’s trying to push his power over me, and I’m not going to fight it. I’ll let him think he has the upper hand. Then as soon as I find a better job, I’m out. Fuck him.

“Thank you, Dean,” I whisper, gripping onto my tips for the night. He doesn’t let go, though. Instead, his hand wraps around my wrist and he pulls me to him.

“You didn’t tell me you fucked my cousin,” he all but growls at me.

“It’s not your business,” I hiss. “Let me go.”

“It is, though. Everything you do is my business.” 

“Why does that matter to you?” I ask weakly, tired of this shit show.

“Because you matter to me, Reag,” he whispers, leaning in and pressing his lips to mine.

Months ago this would have made me weak in the knees.

But now it pisses me off. I want to punch him. I want to knee him in the balls.

But I can’t lose this job just yet.

“I have to go,” I whisper, pulling away quickly and taking my money with me. I stop by the break room to grab my jacket to cover the parts of me I don’t want to show off in public, then head back to Nico at the bar. As much as I want to go out with him tonight, Ford’s at my house and he’s already ready to kill me. If I ditch him tonight for a guy, that’ll be the end of him coming to visit me I’m sure.

“Nico,” I say, walking up to him. God, why’s he have to smell so amazing again?

“Reagan,” he says, grinning at me. He bends down and presses his lips to mine, then curses under his breath. “I needed that. This week’s been…weird…to say the least,” he whispers.

“You could say that again,” I mutter.

I haven’t been able to get him off my mind, and that’s not normal for me. I’ve dated plenty of losers, been crushed by a few of them…but there’s something about Nico that’s so different from any of those boys.

Maybe that’s it. They were all just boys.

“You free tonight?” He smirks at me, his hand coming to rest on my elbow as I glance into those beautifully dark eyes.

“I’m not,” I whisper, hating myself for being such a good sister at this point in time. Nico sounds like way more fun than my pouting brother. My eyebrows pull together. “I’m sorry.”

“Can I see you soon?” He’s trying to hide the disappointment but it’s shining through and I feel horrible. Guilt. It’s a natural feeling for me.

“Hey, why don’t you come with me? It’s not anything huge, just movie night, but my brother’s in town and would kill me if I didn’t pay attention to him.” I grab his hand and pull him to leave.

“Already meeting the family?” He boasts, laughing as we head to the front door. “Are you sure about this? I can hang out with you another night.”

“No. No, it’s fine. It’ll be boring, though. I’m sure of it.” I ramble, heading for my car then pausing. “You want to follow me? You probably drove here right? Are you sure you want to do this? It was kind of presumptuous. I’m sorr—“

Nico stops me with his lips to mine, making me melt into him in the parking lot. His soft lips are sweet relief from a night full of anxiety and stress, and even the scruff of his facial hair is a welcome feeling. One I’d missed all week. One week since our weekend together and I feel like my world’s been tilted upside down. I spilled my guts to him last weekend. I’ve never done that before with anyone. Ever. Not even family. But there was something about him that made me feel comfortable enough to tell him everything I did without worrying he was going to judge me.

“I’d love to come back to your place and meet your brother, Reagan.” He says, pulling back and letting his hand snake to the back of my head. “I’d also love to do things to you that I’m certain your brother wouldn’t accept, so I’m going to need to see you again after tonight. Deal?”

“Deal,” I rasp, wondering how this guy’s gotten to me so easily.

I’ve been dumped more times than I can count. I’ve dumped a few of my own. I’ve run the gamut of hipsters, businessmen, nerds, and everything in between with no luck and I hate it, but I’m really trying to guard my heart from this man in front of me.

That’s a lie. But I should.

Nico follows me back to my place and on the way I call Ford.

“Glad to see you made it through another shift alive,” he grumbles and I roll my eyes.

“It’s not a bad place to work,” I say, not really believing my words anymore.

“Right,” he scoffs. “You on your way home? I’m waiting to start this movie. With popcorn.”

I grin awkwardly, happy he can’t see me, then cringe as I tell him about Nico.

“So, I have a friend with me,” I say slowly.

“A friend?”

“Yes. Friend. His name’s Nico and please be nice to him.”

The line falls silent and soon Ford’s laughter comes through the line.

“Reag. You realize you have the worst taste in names, right? What the fuck type of name is Nico?”

“He’s incredibly nice, and I think Italian. Or something. Anyway, he’s hot… I mean he’s here. With me. Behind me. He’s following me…home.” I groan and laugh when Ford’s boisterous laugh echoes throughout the speaker in my car.

“Fuck Reagan, calm down. Be cool. It’s fine. But I hope he likes Bad Moms, because I haven’t seen it and I need it in my life,” he says, laughing.

“Oh my God,” I groan, tossing on my blinker to pull into my neighborhood.

I don’t live in a terrible part of the city, but it’s definitely not the best. In the dark it’s a lot scarier than in the daytime, so when I park in front of my apartment after hanging up with Ford, I’m happy Nico’s right behind me.

“This is where you live?” he asks, standing up and looking around. He closes the door of his black Beamer and I shrug.

“It’s not terrible. Better in the sunlight.”

He walks towards me and takes me by my hips, pulling me towards him. His body tight against mine as his hand runs down my cheek and his eyes lock on mine. This man’s able to put a spell on me each time we touch, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. He leans in and breathes deep. 

“You’ll be calling me every night on your way home from work and I’ll walk you in,” he says against my lips before kissing me. I pull back and furrow my brows. I definitely know how I feel about that.

“For your information, I’ve been coming home to this place for over a year now and nothing bad’s ever happened. I can take care of myself.” I start to walk away, trying not to get annoyed with him but that was an incredibly sexist thing to say. He must sense my tension because he rushes after me and grabs my hand, stopping me. I spin and glare at him.

“You’re not allowed to walk up here and assume I need saving, Nico. Got it?” I blurt, pissed.

“I’m not,” he says, grinning. “I worry. That’s all. I know you can take care of yourself, Reagan. Trust me.” He chuckles. “But fuck, you’re sexy when you’re mad.”

I roll my eyes and try not to grin at him.

“Let’s go. My brother knows you’re here so he’s probably waiting by the door with a knife or something.”

“Oh, so he’s crazy?”

“Nah,” I say, chuckling. “Just…protective. He’s not that bad, really. It’s my other brother, Lincoln, who you may need to worry about. In the future. You know. If you want a future…” I trail off and my eyes go wide. He stalls next to me and gives my hand a squeeze.

“Stop overthinking things, Reagan,” he whispers, then nods towards my apartment window. “I’m guessing that’s your place?”

I groan when I see Ford waiting by the window, blinds wide open, glaring at us.

“That’s my place. And that’s my crazy brother.” I take a deep breath and walk towards my door, opening it and stepping in. “Ford, come out of the window. We know you were watching us.”

“I was watching the trees, for your information.” He walks over and shoves his hand out to Nico. “I’m Ford. And while I may not be as good looking as you, I’m older, smarter, and stronger and I will murder you and make sure no one knows where to find your body if you hurt my sister.”

Nico’s eyes are wide as he nods, taking Ford’s hand in his.

“I’m Nico. And I’m happy you think I’m good looking.” Nico winks at Ford and Ford busts out a boisterous laugh, then brings him in for a bro-hug.

“But for real. I’ll kill you if you break her heart,” I hear Ford say to him in a low tone before pulling away.

“I can accept that.” Nico nods.

“Right,” I say, clasping my hands together and trying to chill my nerves. Ford’s never done that before. Ever. And he’s met some mega douchey guys I’ve dated before. “I’m gonna go get changed. I’ll be right back.” I nod to Ford, giving him a warning look to ‘be nice’ then run down the hall to strip from these work clothes and toss on something more comfortable. I worry about leaving Nico with Ford so soon, so I make quick work and am back out to the living room in no time and not surprisingly, the two of them are still standing there, awkward as ever. “So Nico’s never been here before. I’m going to give him the quick tour, Ford. You want to get the popcorn ready?”

Ford salutes me then marches away towards the kitchen and I relax a little.

“He’s serious, isn’t he?” Nico whispers, grinning down at me.

“Deadly. He’s never killed anyone before, but he’s got a right hook like no other.”

“I can believe it,” Nico laughs.

I walk him down the hallway, showing him the bathroom, the closet, then finally my bedroom at the end of the hall. I step in and show him the bathroom then shrug.

“So that’s it. Not a big place, but it’s home. It’s mine.” I grimace when I see the mess I left on my bathroom counter. Ever since I’ve moved here a tidy place has been low on the list of priorities.

“This is where the magic happens,” he says with a grin, glancing around the room and his eyes land on the bed.

“If by magic you mean sleep, then yes. Absolutely.” I grin and scream when he charges me and flings me to the bed.

“Your bed is lumpy,” he says, lying on top of me. I laugh and tickle his sides, trying to get him off me.

“I can’t breathe!” I laugh, soon turning it into a wrestling match on the bed but he’s got me pinned and is hovering over me, my arms immobile with his hands around my wrists pinning them to the bed. It’s hot as fuck, and I try to grind up against him because I could really go for one of his orgasms right now, but he shakes his head.

“Keep wiggling underneath me, Reagan. I dare you,” he growls, his eyes darkening.

I want to. I want him to take me right here…but the door’s open and my brother’s right down the hall from us.

“Popcorn’s ready!” Ford yells from down the hall. “I swear to God if you two are fucking I’m pouring this hot popcorn all over you!” I hear him walking down the hall and I’ve never seen Nico move so fast to get up.

“You wouldn’t dare put those crumbs in my bed,” I yell, laughing as Nico helps me up and we emerge from my room just as Ford’s a few feet away. He stops in his tracks and narrows his eyes at both of us.

“I would. Don’t test me. It’s time to watch these moms be bad and make me feel a little better about my parenting skills.”

He spins and heads back to the living room and I follow with Nico behind me. More than once I have to swat his hand away when he grabs for my ass and we tumble to the couch in laughter when he starts to tickle me.

“I’m going to vomit you two, knock that shit off,” Ford bitches, starting the movie.

“So you have kids?” Nico asks him, shifting on the couch to get comfortable.

“I have twins, yeah. They’ll be two this winter. A girl and a boy.”

“That’s awesome! Are they here with you?” He glances around and I smile at his genuine interest he’s taken in my family already.

“They’re at home with my wife this weekend. They went to Florida last week to visit my in-laws and I was supposed to come up here then, but Reag here can’t say no to her boss, apparently, and ended up getting a free vacation out of it so she had to cancel on me.” He kicks my foot from his chair and my eyes go wide.

Ford doesn’t know who Nico is. He doesn’t know we met last weekend. He doesn’t know anything about that part of my life, because he doesn’t need to.

And I pray that Nico doesn’t ruin that tonight.

Maybe bringing him before we really got to talk wasn’t a good idea.

“I’ve heard she’s the most dedicated worker bee they have at the club,” Nico says after noticing my stiff posture. Hopefully he can read me better than I thought.

Ford lets out a harsh laugh. “How about we don’t talk about her work right now,” he says in a warning tone while giving me the look that he’s not done with the topic but the conversation he wants to have is best suited when there’s no company around.

“What do you do, Ford?” Nico asks, casually moving onto the next subject without missing a beat.

“Well, I’m not sure what Reagan told you of us, but we’re kind of a big deal.” He says it with a cocky grin and I throw a couch pillow at him.

“He’s a cocky asshole, Nico, I’m sorry for him,” I say, making them both laugh.

“No but seriously, I’m kind of shocked Reagan hasn’t told you about us all yet. The three of us, Reagan, Lincoln, our older brother, and I own West House in Springfield, Illinois. The hottest historical site in the city. I run the banquet hall, my brother runs the museum, and dear old Reagan here used to own and run the boutique.”

I nod, accepting that it had to come out at some point. I don’t like to think about it, because when I think about it, it makes me sad. Because I do miss it. I miss it more than I ever thought I would.

“You own a business in Springfield, but you’re bartending in Chicago?” Nico glances at me and I nod, shrugging.

“I… Yep.” I say, leaning across to Ford to grab a handful of popcorn. “Thanks, asshole,” I whisper to Ford as I lean over his popcorn bowl.

He shrugs. “Just filling the poor guy in on a part of your life you apparently didn’t find important enough to tell him. It’s a pretty big part, Reag.”

“She told me about her family. She actually talks very fondly of you all. I know how much she loves you. She just conveniently left out the part about owning a business. That’s amazing, Reagan.” Nico’s smiling at me with so much pride for a moment I want to soak it in. No one’s ever looked at me like that before.

“Thank you,” I whisper. “But I haven’t been there in years. These two, Ford and Lincoln, keep it running for me. I tried signing it over to them but they refuse.”

“Hey, Mackenzie’s been having a blast running the store. No need to ruffle any papers the way it’s sitting.”

“Wait, hang on,” Nico blurts, cocking his head and pointing to me. “Reagan.” He points to Ford. “Ford.” And his eyes narrow like it finally clicked. “And Lincoln?”

“He’s the oldest, yes,” I say then roll my eyes at the cute, confused face Nico’s wearing. “Oh and yes, we’re all named after presidents.”

“Oh my God,” he says, laughing. “So…so you’re all a bunch of history nerds?”

Ford barks out a laugh.

“I like you, Nico. Way more than my sister. Please, don’t dump her. She needs someone like you.”


 

Reagan’s eyes are wide. Beautiful, but wide, and her mouth keeps flapping.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” I say, trying to backpedal. “There’s nothing wrong with being a history nerd! I wish I knew more about our presidents!” I laugh when she hits me with a pillow and Ford can’t stop laughing from his chair.

“Oh hey, hey, it’s starting!” he yells, turning up the TV. Reagan huffs and I pull her to me. She’s trying to act like she’s mad, but about ten minutes into the movie she relaxes into me and gets comfortable.

Not going to lie, she shocked me when she asked if I wanted to meet her brother tonight. I mean, I’m happy she did, but it wasn’t expected. I spent all week worrying that I’d show up at the bar and she wouldn’t really be there. Or that she wouldn’t want to see me or wouldn’t remember me. What we had last weekend was way more than just a fun time, and when she saw me today I saw it in her face that she feels the same way.

The movie goes on and though I’m laughing at the appropriate parts, I guess you have to be a parent to really enjoy something like this. It’s funny, but nothing ridiculously funny. I’m more enjoying the way Reagan’s wrapped herself into this cute little ball at my side.

“I have to pee,” she says, standing and stretching. My eyes go to her legs immediately, and right as I’m telling my arm to reach out and grab her ass, I catch her brother glaring at me so I halt my movement, running my hand through my hair instead and trying to act cool. Like I wasn’t about to grope his sister in front of him.

“I’ll pause it,” Ford says, eyeing me as she walks out the room.

We sit in awkward silence for a minute. One long, painful minute. He’s a good guy, but he’s intense. A little wacky, but intense.

“She tell you she’s moving back yet?” He tosses a piece of popcorn into his mouth and watches me.

“Um… No. She’s moving?” I don’t want to let on that this is really the second time ever we’ve hung out, mostly because I’m not sure what she’s told her brother and I know I’m feeling way too much for a girl I still need to get to know.

Last weekend I got to know her physically very well. But most things beyond that are still cloudy.

“Nah,” he says, laughing. “But we all want her back. This isn’t the city for her.”

I actually agree with him. The way her face was lighting up when he started talking about the West House and the store… I’ve never seen someone look so happy before.

“I’ve told her she’s homesick and needs to think about moving home.” I shrug. “I mean, I haven’t known her that long, but what I do know is that she’s stubborn headed. She’s not going to do something that goes against what she’s trying to prove just because someone else told her to.”

Ford nods. “But you’ll work on her? Maybe if we start pushing a little harder we can get her home.”

“I’ll do my best. But you can’t force her. Don’t let her living two hours away from you put a wrench in your relationship. You guys are the only family ya’ll have.”

He narrows his eyes at me and takes a bite of popcorn.

“So he’s pretty and he’s smart. Interesting,” Ford mumbles, making me chuckle.

“What’s interesting?” Reagan asks, walking back into the room.

“Nico, my friend.” Ford clears his throat, grinning. “Has Reagan ever told you about any of her past disasters in the dating world?”

“Ford, no,” she blurts, eyes flying to him. “No, Ford,” she warns again like he’s a dog, pointing her finger and all as Ford sits forward in his chair, a grin sweeping across his face.

“She dated a guy named Dot, Nico,” Ford blurts, laughing. “Dot!”

“That’s… Wow…” I trail off and try not to laugh. Reagan’s smiling at me a smartass smirk and I notice the tiniest of dimples just to the right of her nose. How did I not notice that last weekend? I glance over at Ford and then back at Reagan. The resemblance is uncanny between them. The genes definitely run strong in this family.

“He was a tool, Nico. And Ford, you’re going to be sleeping in your car your last night here if you don’t drop this shit. What does it matter the names of the guys that I date?”

“It doesn’t. I just really like to make fun of you.” Ford laughs again and starts the movie back up.

Reagan sighs and I pull her to my side again, wrapping my arm around her.

Somewhere before the end of the movie she dozes off with her head on my lap and I end up finishing the movie with her brother who’s actually a riot to be around. Something about him makes me feel like I’ve known him my whole life. He’s carefree. It’s that same comfort feeling I got around Reagan when I first met her. I can tell he still has his reservations, but he wouldn’t be a good brother to her if he didn’t.

“I’m hitting the sack,” he mumbles, standing and clicking off the TV. “You got that hot mess?” He nods to his sister and I grin.

“Yeah, absolutely.”

He mumbles something I can’t understand and heads to the bedroom. I let my hand rest on Reagan’s hip and she shifts, humming in her sleep. She’s fucking gorgeous, and probably way too good for me but I don’t care. I know she’s going to fight it, but I’ll make her mine, because I’m already hers.

“Oh hey,” Ford blurts, walking back into the room and startling both of us. “If I even hear the slightest hint that you two are fucking tonight, I’m pummeling your ass. Got it, Luigi?”

“Point taken,” I laugh. “And it’s Nico.”

“Luigi. I’ll get you a hat. And a mug.” He winks at me before heading back to his room and Reagan groans, sitting up rubbing her eyes.

“My God, no. Not a mug,” she mumbles, then laughs. “Oh my God I’m sorry I passed out so hard.” She yawns and stretches out and I stop myself from going in for the kiss I want so badly.

“It was nice,” I whisper, watching her stand up.

“So I’m kind of dead tired,” she whispers, her bottom lip sucking into her mouth while she suppresses a grin. “You wouldn’t want to stay the night, would you?”

“We’re not fucking,” I say and she laughs.

“Hey, that’s my line!” She smiles again and that little dimple comes out in full force. “But seriously. You’re the best snuggle partner I’ve ever had. And last weekend I slept like a baby.” She shrugs. “You don’t have to. Again, presumptuous.” She lets out a laugh and I stand, grabbing her by the hand and pulling her to me.

“I’d love to stay here with you tonight, Reagan.” I push my lips to hers briefly before pulling back to eyes full of lust, swirling with emotion, and so tired she can barely keep them open.

I walk her back to the bedroom and she yanks a shirt out of the drawer, tossing it on after discarding her yoga pants and sweatshirt she put on when we got here.

I strip off my jeans and t-shirt, laying them on the chair in the corner of her room neatly and she grins at me.

“Is your apartment clean?” she whispers, glancing at her clothes on the floor.

“Yes?” I answer. “It is…” My eyebrows pull together as she nods silently.

“I’ve never dated a guy who kept his place neat and clean,” she says, pulling the covers back then pausing. “I mean…if we were dating. If we dated. If we…fuck,” she huffs.

“We’re not fucking tonight,” I say, earning another laugh from her and she groans in frustration. She gets herself worked up so tight and it’s cute as hell. When she rambles and gets frustrated like that, I see it rolling off her and I love it. I love the fight in her.

“Right,” she says, sliding under the covers and lifting it for me. “Come on then, pillow with a heartbeat.”

“That’s creepy, Ten,” I mutter, sliding in next to her and bringing my arms around her.

“Really? You’re going to stick with that nickname?”

“Absolutely. It’s fitting, like I said.” I push my lips to hers briefly, wanting more but knowing if I take it any farther I won’t be able to stop, and I don’t want to fuck shit up this early with her. Not with her brother in the next room.

“You’re nice,” she mutters, her head resting on my bare chest. All of my focus is on where our bodies are meeting. Her hand tracing lazy lines on my stomach. Her legs wrapped into mine. She feels fucking perfect right now. 

“I’m trying,” I whisper when I know she’s finally fallen asleep. I kiss her head and take a deep breath.

In one week, I without a doubt know this girl’s turned my entire world upside down and there’s no coming back from it.

“Morning, Ten,” I mutter, walking up behind her and pressing my lips to her neck. She hums and wiggles back against me, giggling. She woke before me and came in to make breakfast. It took me a little while longer to get rid of the morning wood I woke up with. Next time I wake up next to her better not be with company in the house.

“Knock that shit off,” Ford blurts and I break away from her and spin around to see her brother standing in the doorway. “Ten?” he asks.

Reagan spins from where she’s making the eggs and her eyes go wide.

“Um. Coffee?” Her eyes fly between Ford and me and I can’t help but chuckle.

“He called you Ten.” His eyes narrow at me and I shrug, moving for a coffee mug she set out for me.

“Yep. Coffee?” She pastes on a smile and nods at the mugs. “I have your favorite mug here.”

“I’m guessing I don’t want to know?” he mumbles, still watching us confused but moving towards the coffee maker.

“Exactly,” Reagan says, giggling at me. “Sit. Food’s ready.”

I take a spot at the table, watching the two of them bicker like siblings should.

“So when’s the last time you’ve been home, Reagan?” I ask. We’re almost through breakfast already and it’s been strangely silent at the table.

Ford’s eyes shoot up and fly between the two of us and Reagan’s hand stalls halfway to her mouth.

“Uh…” she mumbles something unintelligible and I glance at Ford who shrugs.

“Probably been over six months,” he says, shaking his head then standing abruptly. “A lot can happen in six months,” he says before dropping his dishes into the sink and heading down the hallway.

“What’s his problem?” I ask, watching her for a reaction that shows me she misses home. What I get is a blank stare and walls being thrown up in all directions.

“No clue,” she grumbles, shoving more eggs into her mouth. She finishes eating silently and it’s all I can do to stop myself from barging into her life any more than I already have. I want her to be happy. I want her close. But it’s painfully obvious that close and happy aren’t going to happen.

The girl doesn’t belong in the city.

“So I head out for the week tomorrow morning,” I say, helping her clean up from breakfast.

“Cool,” she says, loading the dishwasher in a very stern rhythm.

“Going down to Alabama,” I say. “You ever been there?”

“Nah,” she says again. All her answers are short and she’s not looked at me since her brother walked away from the table.

“I’m heading out,” he says, walking into the room with his bag on his shoulder, and I watch Reagan stop and take a deep breath.

“Thanks for visiting, Ford,” she says, not turning around. She takes a deep breath and I stand there and watch the showdown. She slowly sets the glass in the dishwasher and stands straight, taking a deep breath, the sadness etched on her face breaks me.

Ford curses and drops his bags on the floor then walks over to her and she immediately spins and goes for a hug.

“I don’t want you to go,” she says.

“I gotta get home, Reag. My family’s there. Your family’s there.” He clears his throat and shakes his head. “We miss you, Reag.”

She falls silent and wraps her arms around him, squeezing hard. This girl’s too stubborn for her own good.

“I’ll visit soon. Promise.” She clears her throat then backs up and punches him in the arm.

“What the fuck?” He winces, laughing and then looks at me. “She’s got a mean right hook. Don’t let her fool you.”

“I learned from the best,” she says, winking at me before turning back to him. “Text when you get home?”

“Absolutely.” He hugs her once more then glances over at me. “Nice meeting ya, Luigi.” He salutes me and I just laugh.

“That’s not his name,” Reagan says, rolling her eyes and I just laugh.

“He’s got that Luigi ‘stache goin’ on, sis. Connect that shit, Luigi.” He winks at me and I rub my facial hair, shaking my head because he’s just trying to stir me up but it’s not working.

“You’re just jealous, man. You said yourself I’m better looking than you.” I shrug, grinning at him as we head to the front door.

“Got it, Luigi. Gettin’ ya a mug!” he yells, grabbing his bag and closing the door behind him before I can retaliate.

Reagan’s shoulders slump slightly as she blinks away the extra moisture that’s gathered. I walk over to her and wrap my arms around her front, pushing my lips to her neck.

“You know, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if you moved back. You obviously love them.”

She takes a deep breath and spins in my arms.

“I’m here to prove I can do it. Moving home proves nothing.”

“It proves you love your family. And that you can accept defeat.”

“I’m not defeated!” she barks, backing away. “Maybe you should go home.”

“Nah, I’m good.” She doesn’t want me gone. She wants me to agree with her and be a pushover, but that’s not me. When I see someone I think I could actually care deeply for being so miserable, I’m going to say something.

“Well I’m going to be boring today,” she mumbles walking past me but I catch her before she can and pull her against me. Fuck, I love how her body feels against mine.

“Boring is the best way to spend a Sunday,” I whisper.

“Really. Really boring.” She says. “I may not get out of bed all day,” she whispers, her eyes locking on mine and that grin spreads across her beautiful face.

“Maybe you should start by getting back in bed, then,” I growl, pulling her tight against me and grip her ass. She giggles and shoves off me, turning towards the hallway.

“I think that sounds amazing,” she says, then pulls her shirt over her head and drops it to the floor as she walks. “Don’t worry, my maid will pick up after me,” she calls behind her as she disappears into her bedroom. Two seconds later, her panties and shorts fly out the door and hit the wall, dropping to the floor.

I crack my neck and grin down the hall, then take long strides to join her in the bedroom, leaving the mess for another time.

When I round the corner into her room I stop dead in my tracks.

“What the fuck is that?” I say, laughing and yet somehow incredibly turned on.

“Oh this?” she asks, wiggling a very large dildo in the air in front of her. She’s spread out on the bed and sexy as fuck, completely bare and my dick is instantly hard for this girl. “I bought it last Monday,” she says, shrugging and bringing it to her lips, locking eyes on me.

“Why?” I growl, rubbing myself through my jeans.

“Suddenly I just had a hankering for big dicks.” She puts it in her mouth and pops it out again before sliding it down her body, teasing her pussy with it.

“Any particular reason for that?” I rasp, my voice full of lust and I fucking know it but fuck my life she’s beautiful.

She pushes it inside her, whimpering slightly, then her eyes flutter closed and I lose my control.

Making it across the room in two strides, I strip off my shirt and shove off my jeans before pinning her to the bed. Taking her wrists in my hand, I hold her arms above her head and nudge slightly on the dildo that she impaled herself on with my thigh. She moans and bites her lip, her eyes fluttering closed again.

“God,” she breathes, her back arching and legs wrapping around me as she uses my body to get the pressure she needs. I dip my head and latch onto her collar bone, leaving a mark for her to remember me by and almost feeling guilty for it, but the moaning that’s coming out of this girl right now makes it totally worth it.

I lick and suck her nipples until they’re hardened peaks, then kiss my way down her stomach. I grab onto the dildo and slowly start to pull it out. She’s so tight I can feel the resistance when she clenches around it and moans, so I push it back in and her back arches.

“Fuck,” she huffs, her hands gripping tight onto the blankets. I grin and dip my head, sucking onto her thigh as I fuck her with this fucking dildo. I’d much rather it be my dick, but toying with her is way too fun.

I pull it all the way out and lick one long stroke up her pussy, dipping my tongue inside her and moaning at her taste. Her hand goes to my head and grips onto my hair, so I oblige by nuzzling my face into her core, sucking on her clit, licking her core, lapping up every sound that comes out of her.

The dildo’s soaked from her juices so I glide it over her tight hole, making her whole body go tense.

“What are you doing?” she whispers, but I don’t stop gently rubbing it over her entrance.

“Have you ever played down here?” I whisper, dipping my head and licking it, then rubbing my finger over it. She moans then tenses again, but when I rub it again she moans louder and shifts her hips towards me.

“No,” she pants. “Fuck,” she moans as I keep rubbing her. I slide the dildo in her pussy again, my tongue starts to flick her clit, and I let my fingers press lightly against her ass.

“Holy fuck,” she whines, her fists gripping onto my hair so hard it hurts, but I’m not about to let up. Especially since she’s never experienced ass play before.

I’ll warm her up to it.

Her hips pump up towards me and every time I push my finger harder against her puckered hole she moans louder.

“Oh God, I’m gonna come,” she pants, her body tightening, which is my sign.

I latch onto her clit with my teeth gently, flicking it with my tongue and slowly push my finger inside her ass, then pull it out making her scream.

So. Fucking. Loud.

Her entire body quakes, her thighs grip my head as she comes undone beneath me. I glance at her face while she unravels and something in my chest flops.

She’s fucking radiant.

I slowly pull the dildo out of her, making her whimper, then giggle as I rub it against her already very sensitive core.

“Fuck, Nico,” she pants, her head thrown back on the bed and eyes closed. She raises her hands and wiggles them in the air. “I can’t feel my fingers!” she says, laughing and I grin, making my way up her body until she’s pinned underneath me. Her eyes flutter open and when they hit mine, they’re more beautiful than I’ve ever seen. Which I wasn’t sure was even possible. “What did you just do to me?” she whispers, breathing hard and smiling so fucking bright.

“I believe it’s called ‘ruining you for any other man,’” I say, smirking and she groans, covering her face with her hands. “Hey,” I say, nudging her hand away with my face and resting my forehead on hers.

“I…you just…down there…” she stammers and I chuckle.

“And you loved it, no?”

“Oh my God, I did. I’m sad I’ve been missing it for this long,” she whispers, eyes wide. “Am I gross? Does that make me gross?” Panic starts lacing her features. My deep laughter rumbles through the room and I push my lips to hers.

“No fucking way, Reagan. That makes you like ninety percent of the population that’s realized how fucking delicious anal play feels.”

She bites her lip and grins, then slams her lips to mine and with all of her force, manages to flip me over on the mattress and straddle me. She slides down my body and wraps her lips around me, taking me all the way to the back of her throat and I almost nut right then.

“Shit,” I puff, squeezing my eyes closed and forcing myself to make this last. I want to be buried deep inside her pussy when I come, but fuck her mouth feels like heaven. She sucks me, strokes me, and right as I feel the fucking orgasm start to betray me, she pops her mouth off and grins at me when I groan.

“We need a condom,” she whispers, lazily stroking my dick like I’m not about to come.

“Fuck,” I groan, waving my arms around because the whole room is starting to spin in the best way possible. “Pants. Wallet. Somewhere,” I manage to say, but my focus is only on her hand currently teasing my dick.

She hops off the bed and I shift up to leaning on my elbows, watching her ass as she bends over to grab my pants and pull my wallet out. She smirks back at me and wiggles her ass and I moan, gripping my dick.

She pulls the condom out and drops my wallet on top of my jeans. The way her hips sway on the way back to me puts a strain on my self-control. I want her to take control, but damn if it’s hard stopping myself from fucking her like I’ve wanted to all week.

She slides it on with practiced precision and straddles me, lifting herself right over me then biting her lip. My hands grip onto her thighs as she lowers herself onto me, one delicious fucking centimeter at a time.

“Fuck,” I huff. “Can you literally go any slower,” I whisper, trying my hardest not to push up into her in the one swift movement it’d take. She chuckles and shakes her head, lifting up slightly.

“My game,” she whispers, reaching her hand up and pinching her nipple and moaning as she starts to lower herself down onto me again.

“Your game is maddening,” I grunt, gritting my teeth and using every muscle in my body to stop myself from taking over.

“I mean, we can stop.” She shrugs, lifting up again and making us lose contact.

She grins down at me and just as my control is snapping, she sinks over me and I groan loud, louder than I normally get during sex but it feels so fucking good.

She moans, pinches her nipples again, letting her head fall back.

And then she starts to rock.

“Reagan,” I pant, gripping her hips tight as she rocks over me. “Fuck,” I manage, right before she leans down and slams her lips to mine. She’s fucking me fast, her hips pivoting and I can feel her tightening around me.

Her breath shudders and I hold her tight against me as her hips rock back and forth on my dick. She moans, her movements becoming harder and faster.

“Come, Reagan,” I growl, her head dipping to my shoulder so I grip her hair and nip her earlobe. She moans and rocks back on me harder. “Fucking come,” I whisper.

She tightens around me and the minute her pussy starts to clench around me, I come undone.

“Fuuuck,” I groan, letting her milk me as I hold tight to her.

She’s panting, her hands start rubbing up and down my arms, and the small hums coming out of her are music to my ears.

“Fuck, Nico,” she finally whispers, rolling to the side of the bed. I grin at her, swiping her hair away from her face and pushing my lips to hers.

“Hold that thought,” I whisper, then hop off the bed and head to the bathroom to toss the condom. I pause while inside, and smile at the mess on her counter. I’ve gone ape shit on my brother for leaving messes smaller than this on our bathroom counter. But here?

It’s cute. It’s endearing. She’s not perfect, but in some way…she is.

“You know what’s funny,” she says, scaring me and I whip around to see her standing there, sheet wrapped around her, leaning on the doorframe and looking at the mess on the counter.

“What’s that?”

“I used to go to Ford’s house every week to clean his bathroom because he wouldn’t ever do it. I thought it was so gross.” She laughs. “Mine’s clean…it’s just…cluttered.” She shrugs and smiles. “No one comes in here but me, so uh…sorry for the mess.”

“Don’t apologize to me for it,” I say. “However, you lied to me.” I raise an eyebrow and pull her to me, crashing my lips to hers before she pulls back.

“I did?” Her eyebrows push together and she looks up at me.

“You said you wouldn’t be getting out of bed today. And you promised for a boring day. Both of which I haven’t seen yet.” I grin at her and she rolls her eyes. “You do that a lot, too,” I say.

“What?”

“Roll your eyes. Like the attitude is just bursting at the seams to get out of you.”

She laughs and steps back.

“It isn’t. Trust me. I let it all out when it needs to come out.”

She walks back to the bed and I can’t stop smiling. I’ve never had someone like this in my life. Someone who I’ve felt so comfortable around. Someone who I wanted to know every single layer of their life, and be there for the future layers. And it scares me, because I’ve barely cracked through the surface of this girl and already I’m becoming addicted.

 


 

“You got the bar for a minute?” I ask Brittney, tossing her the towel.

“Go. We’re dead, take your time.” She winks at me and smacks my ass with the towel as I move past her to grab my cell phone from the back room. Immediately, I unlock it and grin. Two new texts and a missed call wait for me.

It’s been two weeks of almost non-stop communicating between Nico and I, and yet I still feel like there’s a ton of shit I need to learn about him. He’s more than I thought I wanted in my life, but I’m not mad about it. I head out back to the alley and lean against the brick wall, grinning as I open the texts.

 

Nico: Dear Ten. Missouri sucks balls. Illinois is where it’s at.

Nico: I miss you.

 

I try to suppress my grin but it doesn’t work. All I know is I’m way too giddy to be typing out this message right now. With him traveling so much for work he’s barely here, so most our conversations have been through the phone. I’ve become that girl who’s constantly checking her phone to see if he’s called or texted.

At least I’m not the cat meme girl anymore.

 

Reagan: I’d say I miss you too, but that’d be a pretty pansy thing to do. So I’ll say ‘I miss your face.’ That sounds less weak.

 

Nico replies almost immediately and I can’t wipe the stupid smile off my face.

 

Nico: My face, huh? Nothing else about me you miss?

 

Me: Nah, nothing HUGE that I can think of.

 

Nico: har har. How’s work?

 

I grin and turn on my camera, snapping a selfie. It’s actually not bad. In the dim lighting of the alley and the good hair day I’m having, it’s a pretty fucking sexy picture if I must say. I hit send and before he can reply, a video call starts to ring in.

And of course, it’s my nephew.

I can’t not answer Carter’s call. Lincoln’s been begging me to video call him lately but I just haven’t had the time. Carter is Lincoln and Wren’s son. Well, one of them. That family likes to produce boys, for some reason. He’s the oldest, and he loves me. His auntie Reagan. I can’t ignore the kid.

I swipe to answer, making sure it’s neck-up only on the phone screen.

“Hey buddy!” I answer cheerfully. His face scrunches behind the glasses he’s had to start wearing and his eyes squint.

“Why can’t I see you good, Aunt Reagan? Where are you?”

“I’m on break at work, buddy. What are you doing Face-timing me at ten pm? Do your parents know you’re doing this right now?” The kid’s almost seven, he’s almost old enough to be kind of self-sufficient, but it’s still odd for him to be up this late.

He grins wide and flips the camera and I can’t help but laugh.

“Daddy, Mommy, and the baby fell asleep on the couch a while ago,” he says, showing me the sleeping pile of humans. “I’ve watched a full movie and made myself some toast because I’m hungry.” He shrugs. “I miss you, Aunt Reagan.”

“Buddy, you need to go to sleep,” I say, panicked because he’s not old enough to be using a toaster by himself. Is he? “Wake your dad up.”

“He’s snoring. Can’t you hear him? When are you coming home?”

“Oh my God,” I mutter, rubbing my forehead.

“Reag?” I hear Lincoln’s voice and the phone screen dips before his face comes on the screen. “What are you doing?”

“Your son’s been taking care of himself for over an hour, Lincoln. While you guys sleep on the couch. Then he called me.”

“Why are you in the dark? Where are you?”

“Work,” I snip, annoyed that he’s not seeing the danger in this. “Lincoln, you can’t just let your kids stay awake without you awake with them!”

“Oh my God, Reagan, chill,” he says, laughing. “He’s fine. And we were right here. What do you know about raising kids, anyway? You ran away from the only kids you’ve ever had the chance to be around.”

He raises his eyebrows at me and I’ve got nothing. Nothing to say, because he’s kind of right. I don’t have kids of my own. I don’t know what it’s like. I used to help with Carter a ton when I lived at home, but ever since I moved I’ve made it a point not to be involved in their lives and the longer I go without them in mine, the more it hurts.

“You’re right,” I whisper, shifting back on the wall. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I’m proud of him for being able to take care of himself. When I left he wasn’t that self- sufficient.”

“Yeah, and when you left he was two and a half years younger. A lot can happen in two years, Reag. Kids grow up fast.” Lincoln’s eyebrows push together. “Reagan? What the hell are you wearing?” he growls. My eyes fly open when I realize I’ve been lax on holding the phone and my big brother can see my uniform…or lack thereof.

 Fuck me.

“I gotta go, break’s over. Love you guys, bye!” I yell, ending the call as quickly as I could.

A new message is waiting for me and though I should head back inside, I bite my lip and grin, allowing myself a little longer break than I’d usually take.

 

Nico: Instantly jealous of every other guy who walks into that bar tonight.

 

I laugh and start to type my reply, but before I can hit send the back doors fly open.

“Reagan, what the fuck?” Dean growls, storming over to me. “Since when do you take breaks in the back alley?” He stalks his way to me, like a lion stalks its prey, and stops in front of me.

“Am I not allowed to take breaks back here?” I ask, raising my eyebrows and sliding my phone into my back pocket.

Dean’s eyes narrow and he swipes around me, grabbing my phone out of my hands and reads the texts from Nico.

“Fuck,” he says, letting out a low whistle. “Think he’d mind if I sent myself this picture?”

“Dean, Stop,” I blurt, trying to grab my phone but he blocks me, then with one hand slams me back against the wall while he texts himself the picture I took only for Nico. My head hurts from where it hits the brick wall, but the pain is nothing compared to the panic starting to set in.

“Vinny know about this little romance you two got going on?” he whispers, reaching around me and pushing the phone back into my back pocket. These tiny boy short pockets are nothing, so the phone barely fits, but he makes sure to give it a good feel to be sure it won’t fall out.

“It’s not his business,” I hiss, trying to push myself away from the wall.

“But it is mine, because it’s taking up your time on the clock. I should dock you for all those minute you spend flirting with your boyfriend when there are paying customers inside wanting to pay you to flirt with them.” His tone grows louder as he talks and by the end he’s furious. “No more phones on the floor!” he bellows, slamming his hand against the brick wall. “And no more back alley breaks, Reagan. There’s scum out here.”

“There’s scum in there, too,” I growl, trying to shove him off me but he pins me tighter to the wall and leans so close I can smell his breath.

And it doesn’t smell good at all.

“Talking to me like that’s the quickest way to find yourself flat on your ass, Reagan. Without this job, you wouldn’t survive here in this city.”

I grit my teeth because I know he’s right. A small part of me, the part that’s clinging on to the girl I used to be, is screaming that I don’t need this job. But I shove her away.

I do need it. Because I have everything to prove.

I storm back inside the minute he lets go of me and finish my shift in a haze of anger, leaving before he can even hand me my tips from tonight. I’m sure it wasn’t the smartest move, but the minute he took my drawer to the back room I was gone.

On my drive home my hands are shaking on my steering wheel. I’m nervous, but I don’t know what for.

I grab my phone, and call Nico. Even though it’s almost midnight.

“Ten,” he says, making me grin immediately.

“I thought you said I was more of an eleven?” I joke, hitting the wipers as the rain starts to come down.

“It’s the guidelines, Ten. I’m sorry. They didn’t make it go any higher. Plus, I can’t exactly call you eleven. That’s just a weird nickname.”

“Right, sure. And Ten isn’t.”

“Not at all.” He says. “How was work?”

“Fine. Good. Crazy. Dumb. Fucking Dean’s the antichrist.”

“Whoa,” Nico laughs. “So was it fine, good, or horrible?”

“All of the above. I’m sure I made good money tonight in tips, but I walked out before I got them.”

“You quit?” he blurts and I groan in frustration.

“No. Just left at the end of my shift without waiting for tips to be allocated. I’m sure I’ll get them tomorrow.” Maybe. Probably not.

“What’d Dean do? I can get him fired. You want me to call our uncle?” I can hear the smile in his voice and I let out a strangled laugh/scream/growl. “Well then. That about sums it up,” he jokes. “Seriously, what happened, Reagan?”

I groan and park my car in front of my apartment.

“Dean’s just a fucking jerk.” I groan, then proceed to tell him everything that happened tonight. Every little thing. “And to top it off, the rest of my shift he sat in a booth near the bar and glared at me. Like he’s pissed I have a social life outside of work or something. It’s never been this bad before with him. I mean, he’s got the whole slew of waitresses to fuck around with, why’s he gotta latch on to me?”

“Because you’re the only one who’s not available, probably,” Nico says, his tone serious.

“I’m not available, huh?” I ask, getting out of my car with a dorky grin on my face. “Mind telling me why not?”

The phone falls silent and I glance at it, making sure we didn’t disconnect.

“Nico?”

“You’re not, are you? Seeing other people?”

“What? No!” I scoff, laughing. “I was joking, dude. Chill out.”

“It’s just hard, not being there, you know? Relationships that start out long distance, or pretty much long distance with as much as I’m gone, are bound to fail miserably in the pits of hell.”

“Oh is that a scientific fact?” I ask, unlocking my apartment door and sliding inside and out of the rain.

“It is.” He says, chuckling. I click the door closed and pull off my shoes. “Did you lock the door?” he asks and I pause, grinning.

“How do you know I’m home already?” I pull off my jacket and put him on speakerphone as I undress right by the front door, dropping my clothes to the carpet.

“It takes you twelve and a half minutes to get from work to home. And I know the sound of your car door shutting. The length of time it takes to walk from the car to your front door. And the fact that you just slammed your front door. Now, again. Did you lock it?”

“I did,” I mutter, pausing and throwing my hand to my hip. “Wait, you know all of that about me? That’s kind of creepy, Nico.”

“Not creepy, just a little obsessive. I worry, Ten. You don’t live in a fantastic neighborhood. I don’t like you being alone, walking in alone at night. Plus, we’ve done this phone call every single night the past two weeks when you’ve gotten off work. I’ve waited up for you every time. I remember things pretty easily.”

I shake my head and walk back to my bedroom for a t-shirt, unable to wipe the smile off my face.

“You know, some girls wouldn’t like that,” I say, taking the phone to the kitchen with me and grabbing a bottle of wine out of the fridge.

“What about you? You’re the only one who matters, Ten.”

“I don’t mind it, I guess. It’s nice to have someone looking out after me. I don’t have that much here.” I spin the glass after pouring it full and sigh. “I had that a lot at home. Someone always checking in on me and needing to know I was safe.”

The phone falls silent again for a brief moment, then I hear him take a breath as I bring my glass to my lips.

“Reagan, why don’t you want to move home?”

I squeeze my eyes closed, because lately that seems to be the big question everyone’s wanting an answer to…and I don’t have a good one.

“Because,” I whisper.

“That’s not an answer, Ten.”

I take a few deep breaths and roll my eyes.

“Because I’m stubborn. I need to prove to them that I can do it.”

“You need to prove to them? Or to you? Because to them, you’ve been doing it for two years now. On your own. Without their help. You can do it, and you have.”

I nod. “I’ve never looked at it that way before,” I say, glancing around my bare bones apartment.

“You miss it there,” Nico says with confidence.

“I do,” I mutter, standing from my stool and walking over to my laptop. “A lot.”

“So why don’t you do it? Move home. There’s a job waiting for you. There are plenty of apartments there. You don’t have to move back in with your parents. You’ve made it on your own there in the big city, you can do it in that small town.”

“Hah,” I bark. “Springfield is not a small town. Have you never been there?”

“I can’t say that I have,” he says and I can hear the smile in his voice.

“You should visit one day,” I say.

“I’d like that. Maybe when I help move you into your new place?”

“Alright funny guy, enough. I get it. You think I don’t belong here. But I’ve got two very scary bosses who think I do. You know for a fact Vinny and Dean aren’t going to let me quit without a fight.”

“They don’t own you. And if they’ve got a problem with it, they can come through me. Those clowns aren’t anything.”

“So I gather you and Dean don’t have the best of relationships for being cousins.” I pick at my nail polish, staring at my computer screen. The first time Nico came into the club, Dean was on edge. Ever since he found out I was seeing Nico, he’s been on edge. What Nico said earlier about him makes sense, but I feel like there’s something else there.

“He’s my second cousin. We’re all related somehow. And dude’s never liked me, Reagan. He’s just a class A jackass.”

“A scary one,” I mutter, making Nico sigh.

“I’ll take care of them. Don’t you worry.” He yawns. “Hey, Ten. I’m tired. And I have an early day tomorrow. I’m happy you’re home safe.”

“Thanks for walking me in,” I whisper, opening the browser on my computer.

“Night, Ten,” Nico says.

“Night, Nico.” I end the call and smile.

For the first time in years, I finally understand the saying ‘Home is Where the Heart Is.’

I’ve tried making Chicago my home, but Nico’s right. I don’t belong here.

Because I left my heart and soul in Springfield.

“You’re what?” Dean’s voice blasts through the empty club and I cross my arms in front of me.

Two weeks ago I decided, with the help of a little nudge from Nico, that Chicago isn’t the place for me. He was right. I did it. I showed everyone I can survive on my own and I sustained that life for two years.

But now it’s time for me to go home.

“I’m putting in my two weeks’ notice,” I say, raising my eyebrows. “So, anything else? Or can you let me get this bar open?” I start to walk away, because there’s no use fighting him anymore.

“You’re not allowed to quit!” he screams, waving my resignation in the air as he follows me to the bar.

“I am allowed. And I am quitting, Dean,” I say, flipping barstools off the bar and setting them right in their spots.

“I’ll ruin you. I will never give you a good reference to any other bar you go to. You’ll never work in this city again.” He’s red faced and angry as hell, but I won’t let it affect me. I’m getting out of here.

Finally.

“No need, Dean.” I smile. “See, I already own my own business with my brothers. My two very strong, large brothers. They taught me how to fight. It’s my time to take back my part in the family business. I’m sure you understand.” I smile sweetly at him and he crumbles the paper in his hands.

“Get out,” he growls.

“Excuse me?” I say, laughing. “You’re firing me?”

“Get the fuck out of here,” he says again and I laugh, shaking my head.

“Dean, I’m not leaving the girls here in a scramble on the busiest night of the week because you’re pissed. Go nap it off in your office. Or head up to the VIP club. I’m sure that’ll release some stress.” I start to wipe down the counters before logging into the system for the day. He’s standing there, glaring at me, body rigid with anger.

When I glance over at him, he’s wearing a sinister grin on his face.

“You’re right, Reagan. I was acting out of anger. So please, don’t leave. I have a better idea how you can serve your final two weeks here at this club.”

His eyes flick to the VIP stairs and my stomach flips.

“I’m not going up there again. I told you that after last time.”

“You’re refusing to do your job?”

The doors fling open and Nico comes confidently striding through and my eyes fly from him to Dean. This has become a routine I will definitely miss. Our schedules haven’t meshed too well, but he’s made it a point to hang out at the bar on nights he’s home if I’m working. He sits at the bar, keeps me company, then follows me home. Or back to his place. It’s comfortable, really, knowing he’s here looking out for me.

“Sup, Dean?” He says, giving him a pat on the back, then turning his gaze to me and makes a face. “What’s his problem?” he asks, loud enough for Dean to hear him.

“Don’t get him riled up, I just gave him my notice.” I laugh and Nico’s face shines bright like the sun as a smile creeps up on it.

“You really did?” he asks, smiling so big his eyes crinkle in the corners. “You’re really going home?”

“I am,” I nod. “Sorry I didn’t tell you. These past few weeks have been a blur. But I’ve got a place lined up and a moving van rented. And it’s all because of you.” I lean over the bar and press my lips to his. “Thank you,” I whisper.

“Get the fuck out!” Dean bellows from behind us. I roll my eyes and Nico chuckles.

“Want me to call my uncle?” he whispers and I shake my head.

“Nah. That’d just make matters worse. He’ll cool off.” I nod towards Dean. “Hey, Dean. Doors are open. You may want to take the anger somewhere else. Don’t want to scare business away.”

He grumbles something then storms off to the offices, slamming the door hard behind him.

“I think you pissed him off,” Nico says with a bright smile.

“Just a little. Ya think?” I grin, biting my lip. “I’m nervous.”

“Why?” 

“I’m not going back to Springfield the girl I was when I left.” I shrug. “This place has changed me.”

“It’s for the better, you know. I didn’t know the girl that you left as, but I bet she was pretty cool. Nowhere near as badass as the girl in front of me is, though.” He smiles. “I’m proud of you, Ten. But I’m not going to lie and say I’m happy we won’t live so close anymore.”

I pout my lip out. The one thing that almost held back my decision to stay was that right there. I’m not going to see him much anymore. Granted he works a ton and travels a lot, but I’ve really come to look forward to those nights we do have together.

Now… Well now it’ll have to be planned weekends and stolen nights. It’s going to suck, but I have to do what’s right for me. Family is right for me. I get that now. It’s not all about me; it’s about being where I’m needed. Where I need to be.

“I’m going to miss you,” I whisper, rounding the bar and letting him wrap his arms around me. “I’m going to miss these hugs, too.”

“Anything else you’re going to miss,” he whispers, pushing his lips to my neck and sending goosebumps down my arms.

“Nah,” I whisper, pulling back from him and biting my lip. “Nothing huge comes to mind.”

He chuckles as I walk back around the bar.

“So have you told your parents yet?” He asks as I pour him a drink.

“I video called the whole family at their Sunday night dinner,” I say, smiling. “There isn’t even a good way to explain how excited they are. God, I miss my mom’s food.”

“Your family has Sunday night dinners? Like, every week?” he asks, taking his glass from the bar.

“Weekly dinners. Lately I think they’ve been doing it Sunday nights, but as long as they do it once a week they’re happy.”

“That sounds awesome,” he says, sipping his drink.

“Does your family have any traditions like that?” I feel guilty that I’ve never asked about his family before, but with limited time and high sex drives, we don’t do a ton of talking.

“My mom died a few years ago,” he says, no emotions at all. None. It’s like…blank.

“Oh my God, I’m so sorry,” I say, reaching over and covering his hand with mine. He shrugs it off and shifts.

“It’s fine. From the sounds of it, you and I had two totally different childhoods.” He chuckles. “Family dinners for us always meant someone died. Or we were moving again.”

“Did you guys move a lot?”

“Enough,” he shrugs. “When Dean’s dad went to prison my mom was convinced she would be next. That was when I was about nine or so and we had to up and move across the country until she thought she was in the clear,” he says, shaking his head. “Most of my family’s only ever there for me if they want something from me. Even my own brother.” His eyes hit mine and there’s a hint of sadness in them. “Count yourself as one of the lucky ones, Ten. You’ve got an entire army behind you compared to what I grew up with.” 

I furrow my brows, because if there’s one thing I’ve always relied on it’s my family. To have one like he’s explaining would kill me. Family is all a person has, really. Without them, I’d be…nothing.

“Well, next time you’re in Springfield you should meet the rest of mine.” I wink at him and he smiles. I like his smile. Way too much.

“I’d like that,” he says, spinning his glass on the bar. “I’d like that a lot.”

Nico spends the rest of the evening at work with me, talking to patrons, keeping me company, and when the night ends he walks me out to my car, just like he’s done for the past month when he’s able to.

“I’m going to miss this,” he finally says, wrapping his arms around me and resting against his car.

“Me too,” I whisper the truth so easily it almost makes my stomach hurt. “Want to come over tonight?” I murmur in his chest, my arms tighten around him.

“I’d love to,” he says, pulling back and giving me a small smile. “I’m proud of you, Reagan.”

“Why?” I make a face. “It’s just moving.”

“It’s way more than that. It’s finally seeing the right choice.” He pushes his lips to mine then pushes off the car. “Even if it sucks donkey balls,” he grumbles, making me force out a laugh.

“Maybe I’ll take you fishing at my gran’s house. Teach you to love it again,” I whisper, letting my fingers trace the scar on his eyebrow.

He grunts and shakes his head, then pulls me back and opens the car door.

“Come on, let’s get you home. I only have a few more days left with you before you leave me. I gotta make the best of my time.”


 

 

“What’s your problem?” my brother asks as I glare at my phone.

“Don’t have one,” I say, watching the time tick away until I have to go help Reagan move home.

I’m happy for her. I’m glad she’s doing what she needs to do to be happy again. But she’s moving away, and I don’t like how much it hurts.

“Good. Hey, I got a girl coming over later. You gonna be home?” He leans against the counter, typing on his phone and I furrow my brows at him.

“I told you last week I’m gone this weekend. That’s why I’m off work today. You don’t remember that?”

“Nah,” he says, sliding his phone into his pocket. “Hot date?”

“More like moving my girlfriend two and a half hours away,” I grumble and stand, heading for my shoes.

“So there is a problem, then,” he says, following me. “She must not be that into you if she’s moving that far,” he snickers.

“Fuck off,” I growl, fisting my hands at my sides.

D’ Angeli men are known for their temper and my entire life I’ve felt like the exception to that rule. Right now, though, I want to punch the pretty off his pretty boy face.

“That serious, huh?” He lifts an eyebrow. “You’ve never been that serious about a chick before. She fuck good? Maybe I should take her for a ride.”

I don’t think. I swing. Hard. Knocking my brother against the wall with a jab to his jaw he didn’t see coming.

“Fuck, man,” he whines, kicking me as I step over him.

“Don’t fucking talk about her,” I growl, pulling on my shoes and heading for the front door. I gotta get out of here. I need to get to Ten.

The drive to her place is short compared to the distance we’re about to put between us. I shouldn’t be this upset about it. We’ve only known each other a little over a month. We’ve been dating for a little less than that. I shouldn’t be this addicted, but I am and it’s not good. It’s distracting, but I don’t want it to stop.

When I park at her apartment the moving van is already closed tight. We spent the last three days loading that thing and it’s finally time to drive it to her new place. Two hours away from here.

God, the way I’m thinking one would think she was moving across the country. It’s not the fucking end of the world, Nico.

Before I can knock on the door, she swings it open and practically jumps on me, wrapping her limbs around my body and slamming her lips to mine.

I chuckle, but briefly pull myself together because this may be the last time in a long time I get to do this.

I grip her ass and carry her inside her place, slamming the door behind us.

“I’m going to miss this ass,” I whisper on her lips.

“Yeah?” she breathes heavy and I slam her against the door.

“Reagan?” I hear a man’s voice and freeze, pulling away and seeing the smirk on her face as I narrow my eyes.

“In here!” she yells, biting her lip. She mouths ‘my brother’ and I move so fast to disconnect with her she almost falls into a heap of laughter on the floor.

I try to blink away the lust and shove down the feelings of disappointment that I won’t get one more fuck before she moves. When the man who belongs to the voice rounds the corner I do a double take.

“Lincoln,” Reagan says, nodding to the man who could easily be her twin. “This is Nico. Nico, my oldest brother, Lincoln.”

He gives me a once over and nods at me from across the room.

“Sup, man?” His eyes fly to her, then back to me and I see the questioning gaze he’s got.

“Not much. Good to meet you. I’ve heard a lot about you.” I shove my hands awkwardly into my pockets and smile at Reagan. “You about ready to hit the road?”

“Yeah,” she sighs, looking around her almost bare place. “Just a couple boxes for the truck and we’re good to go.”

“I’m going to head around the corner for some coffee and breakfast. Nico, want anything?” Lincoln asks, tossing a hat on and grabbing his phone off the counter. It’s uncanny how much they look alike.

“Um, no,” I stutter. “Thanks, though.” I watch him leave and when the door closes I look over at Reagan who’s in a fit of giggles.

“You dropped me!” she says.

“He could be your twin, Ten. Fuck, you guys have good genes,” I say, walking over and wrapping my arms around her.

“He’s old. Don’t let the body fool you. That head is full of grey hairs.” She hugs me tighter. “Hey Nico?” she whispers.

“Yeah, Ten?” I say, resting my chin on her head as she tucks herself into me.

“We’re going to be okay, right?”

“Absolutely, Ten,” I whisper. “Always.”

“Sorry I didn’t tell you about my brother being her. He surprised me early this morning after he took the train to get up here so he could help drive the truck home. Ford’s pissed because Lincoln didn’t tell him he was doing it and I guess he wanted to come up. It’s a hot damn mess. One of us has to stay at the West House, so Ford was forced to stay home. He’s a little jealous right now.”

I force out a chuckle. The only one who’s jealous is me. Because in a few hours, she’ll be spending every day with her closest family and friends and soon enough I’ll be a distant memory.

Fuck.

“It’s ok. I completely get it.” I pull back slightly and press my lips to her forehead. I want to ask her not to go. I want to tell her I’ll help her find a better job if she stays, but that’s not fair. She needs her family. Maybe if I had a better family life growing up I’d need the same thing, but I don’t know what it’s like to need someone like that.

Other than Ten. Ten’s the only person I’ve ever felt this connected to. And even she’s leaving me.

“So my brother’s going to drive the U-Haul and pull my car behind it. I thought you and I could take your car and the final few boxes with us?” She grins up at me. “If you don’t mind.”

“Not at all. But the driver gets to pick the radio station.” I smile, wiggling my eyebrows. She rolls her eyes and chuckles, pushing away from me.

“Fine. I’m sure you have great taste in music.”

“Oh, you just wait.” I crack my knuckles and start to wander around her apartment. It’s bare. I mean, it was never really cluttered, but seeing it this bare aches. It’s amazing how quickly I became accustomed to her and all her quirks. Like the way she squeezes the toothpaste from the middle of the tube instead of the end. Or how she leaves her clothes all over the floor and it never bothered me. Even the way she put the dishes in the dishwasher wrong. In a month she’s changed me.

In a month, I’ve fallen harder for the girl than I ever thought I would.

She’s my Ten.

Lincoln walks into the apartment moments later with food and coffee in hand. He sets it all on the counter then glances at me and asks Reagan to help him with something that shifted in the truck.

She slides on her sandals and heads out, clicking the door shut behind him. As I stand there, I notice his phone exploding on the counter and, because I’m nosy as fuck, I walk over to glance at the screen.

 

Ford: Be nice to him, dude. She really likes him. This one’s different than the others, bro. I’m telling ya. You haven’t seen it.

 

I grin and step away, glancing at the door when it cracks open again. Reagan smiles over at me and Lincoln makes a beeline for where I’m standing.

“You hurt her, you may as well leave this part of the country.”

“Fuck, Linc,” Reagan blurts behind him. “You said you’d be nice!”

“That is nice!” he boasts. “You’re my little sister and you’re not the best at the whole relationship thing. Whatever this is,” he says, waving his arms between us. “Is fine, I guess. But Nico, if you fuck her up, we’ll fuck you up ten times worse.”

I chuckle.

“I appreciate your loyalty to your sister, Lincoln.” I shake his outstretched hand. “I promise not to fuck her up.”

Reagan rolls her eyes and I grin at her. “Not in a bad way, at least.”

“Gross,” Lincoln mutters, heading for his coffee and checking the message on his phone. He grins and nods, sliding it into his pocket. “You two ready for this?”

“Let’s do it,” she says, unable to tame the excitement written on her face.

It takes us two and a half hours, one pee break, and some of the worst music I could stand to listen to, but we made it.

Parked out front of the three story apartment building in the middle of Springfield, she’s staring at it with wide eyes and I can’t peel my eyes off her. This girl wears her heart on her sleeve.

“You ready to get into your new place?” I ask. She turns to look at me and her eyebrows push together.

“Yeah,” she whispers, reaching across the car and tracing her fingers down my jawline. “Thank you,” she whispers.

“For what?” I rest my hand on top of hers and press my lips to her fingertips.

“Making me see it was okay for me to come home. For supporting me. For getting me out of that fucking bar,” she ends with a laugh.

“You did all that on your own, Ten. I’m just here to watch.” I pull her to me and press my lips to hers. “And to touch,” I mutter on her lips.

She giggles and pulls back before opening the car door when her brother pulls in behind us in the U-Haul.

“Hey!” I hear someone yell and glance across the parking lot to Ford and a girl walking towards us. “The princess returns!” he wraps Reagan in a hug and laughs. “Holy shit,” he says, the smile on his face contagious.

“I’m Mackenzie. His better half,” the girl Ford walked up with says, holding her hand out to me.

“Nico,” I say. “Nice to meet you.”

“We’re burning dry time here, people,” Lincoln yells from the back of the U-Haul. “Rain’s comin’ and I’m not unloading this fucker in the rain.”

Ford glances at Lincoln then over to me.

“Luigi!” he yells, walking over and hugging me. “And you connected that shit!” He rubs the scruff on my face and I roll my eyes.

I didn’t mean to connect it. It’s just been a few days since the last time I’ve cared to shave. I can’t say I’ve been in the best of moods lately and energy to do shit like shaving is null.

Ford takes off towards Lincoln and Reagan smiles at Mackenzie.

“Where’s Wren?”

“Working,” Mackenzie smiles. “She booked her first big show at the gallery downtown. Been working nonstop to get the paintings just perfect.”

“Oh my God that’s amazing! When’s the show?” Reagan asks, linking arms with Mackenzie.

“Few months still. You have to come,” she blurts and Reagan laughs.

Goddamn I love that laugh. It’s real. I’m happy that Reagan’s got her family and friends here, but I feel like an absolute outsider.

I follow everyone’s lead, letting the girls start to grab some of the smaller boxes while the three of us guys grab the heavier shit. Lincoln’s definitely the more serious of the two brothers, but throughout the day I feel like I’ve gotten to know both of them pretty well and can hold my own against Ford’s crazy ways.

“Mom’s expecting everyone over for dinner,” Ford says, pulling his phone out. “In an hour.”

“We’ve been moving and unpacking all day,” Reagan whines. “I’m gross. And I need to get clean before I go over there.” She glances out at the truck. “It’s empty, right?”

“Yep,” I say, nodding. “You’re officially all moved in, Ten.” I grin and I hear Lincoln walk up behind us.

“Ten?” he asks.

“Don’t ask,” Ford blurts. “You don’t want to know.” He fake gags and I laugh.

The gang heads out shortly after to go home and get cleaned up for dinner and when the front door closes and it’s just the two of us, I let out a sigh.

“My God, your family’s busy,” I say, chuckling and falling to the couch that’s in the middle of what’s supposed to be Regan’s dining room. I’m absolutely exhausted and if it weren’t for the promise of one of Reagan’s mom’s home cooked meals, I wouldn’t be leaving this apartment tonight.

“Just wait till tonight. There’s more kids than I can count,” she says, grinning and walking over to me, straddling my legs as she sits on my lap.

“Do we like kids?” I ask, pushing the hair out of her face.

“We like these kids,” she says, nodding.

“Good, good,” I whisper, looking into her eyes. “You’re beautiful, you know that?”

“I’m not,” she says, wiping her hands down her face. “I’m sweaty. Gross. I stink.”

She giggles when I push my fingers into her sides, then sighs and rests her forehead on mine. “Thank you for helping today,” she says, her hands on my shoulders.

“Thank you for letting me. I’m going to miss you, Ten.” I mentally punch myself for saying it again. I don’t want her to feel bad for moving. I want her happy for this. This is good for her.

“Well, we have an hour before we have to be at my parents’.” She bites her lip and grins at me. “We can christen the shower.”

“Fuck yes, I like that idea,” I growl, standing from the couch and carrying her with me, hands gripping her ass firmly as I start to move. “Where the fuck’s the bathroom?” I ask, pacing around the damn apartment. How the hell did she find one so big? She laughs and waves her hand to the left.

“Somewhere that way,” she says, laughing in a haze of lust as I grip her ass and hold her against me tighter, letting her feel my erection against her core.

It’s a race to strip away all the layers of the day and as the water warms up, her nipples bead and I dip my head, flicking my tongue around them.

She squeaks and laughs when she almost slips, but I hook my arms under hers and lift, pushing her against the shower wall.

“This isn’t getting clean,” she whispers, then gasps when I push into her in one solid thrust. Her legs wrap tightly around me and her hands grab for something to help hold her up as I pump into her.

“Gotta,” I grunt, “get dirty first,” I pant out, fucking her harder and faster.

“Oh my God,” she gasps, slapping her hand to my back when she wraps an arm around me. The water’s warmed up and steam starts to billow around us. Her pussy’s tight as fuck and she’s making noises I’ve only ever heard in porn. The good ones, too. Not those fucking lame, low budget ones.

“Fuck, your pussy’s too good, Ten,” I huff, slamming my lips to hers. She moans and arches into every thrust, her breathing becoming erratic and her pussy starts clenching around me. I grunt, pumping into her until she starts to cry out and her pussy clenches so tight around me I almost blow my load inside her, but I pull out and set her on her feet, pushing my hand between her legs to feel how wet she is.

“Oh God,” she groans, then starts to laugh as I rub her sensitive clit. Her hooded eyes hit mine and she smirks, then drops to her knees right there in the shower. The water cascading down her body, down my body, mixing together when her lips wrap around my dick and she damn near swallows me.

“Fuuuck,” I groan, resting a hand on the wall to steady myself. “I’m not gonna last like that, Ten,” I rasp. Her head bobs and every time her mouth retreats back her hand follows it, making constant contact and sending waves of energy flowing through my body. “God,” I grunt. “I’m gonna come, Ten,” I huff, making her speed up until I’m squirting my release down the back of her throat and she’s humming as she swallows it down.

“Delicious,” she hums, standing and wiping her lips as she smiles at me. “We’re going to be late,” she whispers, whipping around and getting to work to finish the shower while I try to catch my breath.

“Do I look okay for this? Are you sure we aren’t supposed to dress up for this shit? Why are you wearing yoga pants?” I’m shuffling through my bag with about two minutes left until we have to be at her parents’ house and I’m too nervous to think straight. “Ten!” I blurt, glancing up to see her standing in the doorway of her bedroom, trying not to laugh.

“You’re adorable, you know that?” She says, popping a carrot into her mouth. “I needed an after sex snack. You want one?” She holds one out for me and my eyes go wide.

“We’re late. This is a horrible first impression. And you’re not dressed yet.”

“Whoa there, Nancy. Calm down. This isn’t a fancy dinner. This is just like any other family dinner,” she says and walks over to me and shuts my suitcase. “So we’re good to go whenever you’re ready.”

“Forgive me, I’ve never had a family dinner night like this before,” I grumble nervously. I don’t like being late and I don’t like being nervous about the unknown.

“Hey,” she says, taking my hand in her hands and I immediately calm down. “It’s okay. You’ve met the hardest part of my family. Lincoln. If you can get past the old protector, you can get past my parents. They’re going to love you.” She presses her lips to mine and I relax a little more, cupping the back of her head with my hand.

“Your brother wasn’t so bad,” I say, nudging her nose with mine and trying to remember every little thing about her before I leave at the end of the weekend. “They’re just looking out for you. I mean, you’ve said yourself that you’ve had a pretty shitty dating life. I’m sure they’re just worried, that’s all.”

“They’d worry about my hair turning grey if I didn’t keep my life interesting for them. I swear, sometimes having two older brothers really put a wrench in my sex life.”

“You love them though,” I say, following her out the front door.

“I do.” She locks the door and we head to her car.

The drive is quiet. She takes my hand the minute the car starts and gives it a reassuring squeeze. She can tell I’m nervous and it makes me mad. I shouldn’t be nervous over something like this. It’s just parents. And family. And meeting them all right before I leave her here to go back home. Without her.

Fuck.

“Here we are,” Reagan says, pulling to a stop in front of a large brick house. I glance around and can’t help but grin at how tidy and perfect her parents’ neighborhood is.

“Did you grow up here?” I ask, glancing over at her.

“Yep,” she says, sighing. “Moved out when I moved to Chicago. Have only been back a handful of times since.”

“This explains a lot,” I mumble to myself when we both move to get out of the car. She was raised upper class by the looks of it and she probably never wanted for anything in her life. The need to make her own way makes complete sense now.

“My parents are excited to meet you, so I’m apologizing right now if they come on too strong,” she says, gripping my hand tight and walking up to the front door that swings open before we even make it to the porch.

“My girl’s home!” Reagan’s mom emerges from the house, arms open wide, and rushes her, wrapping her in a tight embrace. I shove my hands into my pockets and give them a moment. Out the front door walks Ford and Lincoln, followed by a boy that’s about half Lincoln’s height and a spitting image of him.

“Luigi!” Ford says, walking around Reagan and patting me on the back. “They’re gonna be a while. Come on, I’ll get you a drink.” He pulls me inside and brings me straight to the kitchen bar where there are plenty of alcohol choices. “What’s your poison?”

I chuckle. “Rum and coke?” I ask, earning a nod from him.

“Good choice. Used to be a go to drink for me.”

“Used to?”

“I don’t drink, man.” He smiles at me and hands me a glass. “Drink up, Luigi. You’re gonna need it.”

The minute his words finish a screaming starts, and thunderous footsteps run through the house and Ford laughs.

“That’s my assholes,” he says, patting my back and stepping aside as two small kids come running through the house. Really fucking small. Followed by the boy who was out on the porch when we got here.

I laugh and sip my drink while I try to keep out of everyone’s way, eyes wide at how insane this house is but it isn’t seeming to bother anyone. It’s alive and busting at the seams.

“You must be the new boyfriend. I’m Reagan’s old man,” a man says, walking into the room. It’s uncanny how much this family looks alike.

“Yes, sir, Nico D’ Angeli. Nice to meet you. Your home is amazing, Mr. West.”

“Please. Call me Morris. Mr. West was my father.”

I let out a nervous laugh and mentally kick myself for sounding so nervous. I’m a grown man, I shouldn’t get so nervous meeting the girlfriend’s family.

“So Reagan tells me you met at a work function? What is it you do?”

“My uncle was her old boss,” I say, uncertain what type of work function she told them she was at. I’m quickly learning she wasn’t completely upfront with her family about her life in Chicago.

“Ah, I see,” he says, nodding. “You work at the bar, too?”

“No sir. I’m a pharmaceutical rep. I travel the Midwest region selling prescription drugs for my company.”

Her dad’s eyebrows shoot up in surprise.

“Decent job. Respectable. Who do you work for?”

“Johnson and Steele, sir.” God, it feels good to feel proud of a job. A job I earned without any influence from my uncle or family members. 

“I’ve heard of them. Very nice.” He looks at me curiously. “Let’s go see what the women are up to. They’re being too quiet.”

He pats my back and I follow him, feeling like I just passed a very important test. As we walk into the living room the girls emerge from the hallway, laughing and talking.

“My parents turned my room into a hot box for weed,” Reagan says and everyone bursts out laughing.

“It’s a greenhouse!” Her mom yells. “We don’t grow illegal things here!”

“I’d buy it,” I hear Ford mumble on his way through the room and his dad scoffs.

“Ladies, it’s about time to eat if you’re finished gossiping.”

“We had to show Reag what they did to her room, Dad,” a girl I haven’t met yet says and I watch her glance at me then over to Reagan. “You gonna introduce us to the flavor of the month?” she says and my eyebrows shoot up.

“Jesus, Wren,” Reagan blurts, shaking her head. “He’s been the flavor for a while now, thank you very much.” She grins and winks at me and I smile back, though this whole ‘Reagan having a ton of boyfriends’ is starting to be a little unsettling.

Why can’t this girl keep a guy around? The thought that maybe she’s just not into the whole ‘love’ and relationship thing crosses my mind, but that’s not her. She wants this.

Right?

I swipe my palms on my jeans, watching Reagan roll her eyes and walking over to me. I don’t want to become one of those boyfriends on her list of failed attempts. I want to be it, I think. I’d rather not be another notch or flavor.

“Wren,” Reagan says, taking my clammy hand. Her eyes crease briefly at me and she gives my hand a gentle squeeze. “This is Nico. Nico, my sister in law, Wren. She married the old cranky one.”

“Ah, Lincoln’s wife,” I say, nodding and laughing when everyone else in the room starts laughing.

“What’s so funny?” Lincoln walks in and looks at everyone and Wren’s trying not to laugh at the expense of her husband.

“You’re old and cranky,” Mackenzie blurts, laughing.

“I’m not cranky,” Lincoln says, eyebrows creasing together.

“We know, babe. It’s fine.” Wren walks over and pats his cheek. “You’re just serious. Stressed.”

“Sexy,” he says, grinning down at her and wrapping his arm around her, grabbing her ass.

“Gross,” Reagan fake gags and pulls me out of the room. “Sorry it’s so intense. I was hoping we’d get here before everyone else did so it wouldn’t be like this.”

“We were late for a very…delicious…reason,” I whisper to her, leaning in to smell her.

“Break it up!” Ford yells, coming in. “We’re eating!”

“Food!” The kid next to Ford yells and I smile, nodding at him.

“Yours?” I ask Ford.

“Fuck no,” he blurts laughing, and Reagan’s face lights up.

“Swear jar!” she yells, clapping and high-fiving the boy. Ford bitches, but doesn’t fight it as he pulls his wallet out and pulls out a $5 bill. The boy takes it with a smile on his face.

“Thanks Uncle Ford. I’ll bring it to the jar for you.” He walks away with the money and Ford glares at Reagan.

“You can go back to Chicago now.”

“You missed me.”

“Guys, who does that kid belong to?” I ask, still confused. “This family’s too big, guys. It’s not normal.”

They laugh and Ford wraps his arm around my shoulder and walks me into the dining room where everyone is starting to settle down into their spots. He starts pointing everyone out and I try my hardest to remember names to faces.

“That’s Lincoln as you know with Wren, his wife, and Carter their boy and the baby is Grant.”

“Keeping up with the presidential names, I see,” I say, chuckling and Ford nods.

“Yep. That’s my beauty Mackenzie, who you already know, over there with the twins Kennedy and Franklin. Again, you see the pattern.” He points to his parents. “That’s Mom and Dad. And the empty spot is for the old lady. But she’s not here, she’s out hiking with some friends.”

“Old lady?”

“Our grandma,” Reagan says, walking past us and taking my hand. “She’s a wild card.”

“Your family is huge. And happy,” I say, walking to the table.

“Why shouldn’t they be? They’ve got love. Families. Kids.” She shrugs.

“Do you want those things?” I blurt, regretting it when the table automatically falls silent and all eyes are on Reagan. I squeeze my eyes closed and shake my head. “Never mind. Sorry.”

“She doesn’t,” Lincoln finally says, breaking the silence. “I mean, sure everyone wants to be loved. But ever since Reag was a kid she’s been firm on never wanting kids.”

“That a deal breaker?” she asks, wincing. Her face scrunching up and that cute dimple makes another appearance.

“Not at all,” I whisper, sitting down next to her. And even if it were, I’m not starting it right here. That’s not a conversation for us to have with her whole family watching.

Fuck, I wasn’t even aware we were that serious. And I don’t know why I asked that.

Yes I do.

I don’t want to accept it, but I’m in love with the girl.

 Simple as that.

When we finally make it back to her place I’m tired from the busy day but it’s been forever since I touched my girl. She pulls her shirt over her head and unhooks her bra as she walks into her bedroom, dropping her clothes on the floor as she goes

“Fuck, Ten,” I groan, following her to her room. 

Her head flips back around and she smirks at me, giving her ass another quick shake.

“Sorry, does that bother you?” she does it again and I rub my hardening dick.

“Only makes these pants really fucking uncomfortable,” I say, eyeing her as she moves to the bed.

She crawls on all fours when she gets on the bed, my eyes fall between her legs and focus on the one thing I want most right now. The only thing between me and her pussy is a small wisp of fabric from her thong. She bites her lip and shakes her ass at me again.

“You gonna do something about it?” She reaches between her legs and moans, her eyes squeezing closed as she rubs her finger down the fabric of her thong and I lose it. My clothes practically melt to the floor and the bed dips when I kneel on it behind her.

“Fuck, Ten,” I whisper, dipping my head and kissing each ass cheek. “I’m going to miss this,” I murmur as my hands make large circles on her soft skin.

“Me too,” she pants, moaning when I run my finger down her slit.

“You’re fucking soaked, Ten.” I chuckle low, enjoying how wet she already is. Pushing the fabric aside, my fingers push inside her warm, soaked pussy and I moan, gripping my dick with my other hand. “My God, babe.” I pump my fingers in and out, a rhythmic motion.

“Yes,” she hisses, pushing back against me. “Fuck me, Nico.”

“I gotta get a condom,” I say but she reaches back and grips onto my thigh.

“No. I want you raw. I fucking hate condoms and I’m on the pill. Now can you please just fuck me?” she growls and I chuckle.

“If you insist,” I say, bending down over her and nipping her ear, making her gasp.

I push my lips to her neck as I nudge against her entrance, the fabric from her thong in my way but I’m too far gone now to really care. She moans and pushes back on me slowly. So fucking slow.

“Yes,” she whispers. “Oh fuck,” she moans, pushing farther back onto me.

“God, Ten. You’re so fucking tight.” I close my eyes and sit up, watching my dick sink into her. My balls tighten when I’m fully inside her and she moans loud, then starts pivoting her hips and my vision blurs. “Fuck, Reagan,” I growl, gripping her hips and pulling almost all the way out before slamming into her once. Hard. So fucking hard she screams out and her hand slaps her headboard.

“God, yes!” Her moans echo through the room as I set a pace that will have me coming in no fucking time, but it’s been too long. As much as I want this to last, I need this more than she does.

I reach around her and grip her throat, feeling her swallow and moan, then sit her up on her knees so we’re both kneeling on the bed as I fuck her senseless. Her hands grip my forearm and I tighten my grip on her neck slightly.

“This pussy is mine, Reagan,” I whisper in her ear. She moans and nods her head.

“Fuck yes it is,” she rasps, her eyes fluttering closed as her pussy starts to tighten around me and her moans get louder. “I’m…oh fuck I’m going to come, Nico,” she whines.

“Do it. Come on my dick.” I grunt, my balls tightening on the fucking cusp of an orgasm.

She starts to come, her legs shaking, her screams loud, and her pussy clenching tight around me.

“I’m close, Ten,” I huff, one hand on her throat and one hand squeezing her tit. “So fucking close.” Holding off this long has been the best type of torture.

“Come in me,” she pants, moaning and bucking back against me until I blow my load inside her, the best fucking feeling ever.

I fall to the bed next to her, wrapping my arms tightly around her and holding her close. Her body’s so relaxed against mine I think she’s fallen asleep until she takes a deep breath and sits up on her elbow, pressing a kiss to my nose.

“I don’t want you to leave tomorrow,” she whispers, looking straight through my eyes and right into the depths of my soul.

“I know,” I mutter, pulling her tight against me again and pushing my lips to her forehead.

 


 

“So how’s it feel to be back in town?” Mackenzie asks, propped on the counter of the shop. I glance around, so much has changed since I’ve been gone but I’m not sure what I expected. I left for over two years and I made sure everyone knew I didn’t want anything to do with this place. They’re all taking it surprisingly well that I came back with barely any notice and am taking over again.

“Weird,” I say. “Not gonna lie, I didn’t think I would ever come back here. Let alone be happy about it.” I laugh, grabbing a box to put in the back room and pausing when I pass Mackenzie. “Hey thanks for taking care of everything here. You did a kickass job. Probably better than I would have.”

“That’s what family’s for, right?” She shrugs. “As long as you don’t fire me now that you’re back we’re golden. I’ve come to enjoy this place.”

“I’m not kicking you out,” I say, walking to the back and setting the box down. “But I may have you start working opposite hours as me so I don’t have to be here as much.” I nudge her and she laughs.

“Fine by me,” she laughs.

“How’s my two favorite ladies doing today?” Ford blurts, barging in with a stack of coffees.

“Not your normal mugs, I see,” I say, taking one from him. “Thank you.”

“My mugs are a home-based commodity now. Plus, the new coffee shop down the corner that opened, though very hipster, makes some killer Nitro coffee.” He shrugs and hops over to Mackenzie, kissing her quickly before handing her the coffee he brought for her. “So, what’s on the agenda today gals?”

“Um, you go to work and leave us alone,” I say, laughing at the expression on his face. “Seriously, Ford. I’ve been back three weeks and every day you walk in here like we’re going to hang out. We’re not. You work almost a full city block away from me.”

“It’s not that far,” he scoffs. “Plus, it’s a Wednesday. Wednesdays in the banquet hall are boring.”

“Go bother Lincoln, then. I’m sure he could use some help with the tours today.”

“Hey, how’s Nico,” Ford asks out of nowhere. I pause mid drink and narrow my eyes at him.

“Good. Why?”

“You haven’t talked about him much since you’ve been back. Just making sure you two are ok. He was a good guy.”

“He still is a good guy,” I blurt. “I mean, he’s fine. We talk. A lot.”

“Do you miss him?” Mackenzie voices her worry and looks at me through pity filled eyes. I don’t want their pity, but I know they’re going to so I don’t fight it. Truth is, it fucking sucks without him here.

“Would you miss Ford if you didn’t live together?” Both of their eyes fly open and I raise my eyebrows. “What?”

“You’re saying you feel about Nico the same way I feel about Ford?” she asks, trying not to smile.

“No,” I blurt. “Not at all. Just… God!” I storm to the offices and grab my phone, checking to see if he’s messaged yet today. It’s nine am. I think he’s still in Chicago today…maybe. “Fuck,” I huff, sitting down. This is way harder than I thought it would be. I thought we’d facetime fuck all the time and text all the time and I’d be able to see him at least once a week, if not more, but I haven’t seen him since he left here three weeks ago and while we talk every day, we don’t get near as much time as I thought we would.

“Hey,” Ford says, leaning on the doorway. I glance up at my older brother and want to make a snarky comment about staying out of my love life, but I don’t because the look on his face grounds me. He’s my brother. I can’t throw walls up keeping the people I love most out.

“This sucks,” I finally say, tossing my phone onto the desk. “I don’t want to be that girl…but I’m being that girl.”

“You’re allowed to be that girl, but don’t let it get you down. Miss him. Be mad about missing him. Then do something about it.”

“Like?”

“Show up at his place,” he says, walking in and sitting in the chair across from me.

“Just show up? Randomly. On a Wednesday?”

“Why not?”

“Um…well work, for starters. And…bills. And work.”

Ford cocks his head at me like I’m an idiot for thinking he’s stupid at life.

“Reag, I know for a fact you were making bank at that strip club in Chicago.”

“It wasn’t a strip club,” I defend myself.

“Whatever. Potato, Potahto. It’s all the same. You were walking out of there with more money than you knew what to do with, and you didn’t move a ton of shit home meaning you either wasted it on male hookers or you’ve been saving it.

I roll my eyes leaning back in my chair. “Your point?”

“Take a day off.” He takes a sip of his coffee. “I mean, you’re the owner. Mack out there is your employee. You’re back to getting your share of the business profits now and we can afford to let Mack work a few days while you get some D.”

“Gross, Ford,” I mumble, mulling over the situation.

“I know, it tasted bad coming out.” He shudders and takes another drink. “Just think about it. It’ll be good for you.” He pauses. “You really like this one, don’t you?”

“Really,” I whisper, staring at the picture of us on my phone screen.

“I hope everything works out this time for you two, Reag. I really do.”

‘Thanks, Ford.” I sigh and unlock my phone. If he’s not going to put in the effort I expect, I may as well show him what it takes to keep us alive.

 

Reagan: Morning hot stuff. I miss you.

 

I hit send before I chicken out. In the past three weeks, every time we’ve talked I’ve tried to keep the ‘I miss you’ out of our conversations. I don’t want to make him think I regret moving back, because I don’t. I’m happy here…but I’d be happier if he were here with me. And that’s not fair to ask. Not yet. I just didn’t want him feeling bad.

My phone rings as I’m standing from my desk and I smile as his picture illuminates the screen.

“Hey you,” I say, not holding back the smile as I close my office door.

“You miss me?” he says with a whispered tone.

“I do.” I nod, taking a seat again.

“I miss you more than you even know. God, Ten.”

“Is it insane that we only knew each other a short time before I moved but I feel like I left my best friend?” I ask, kicking my feet up on my desk.

“Not at all. I feel like I lost my best friend when I came home to an empty place.”

“Your place wasn’t empty,” I laugh.

“May as well have been. My brother wasn’t here. You weren’t anywhere near. It was…dumb,” he says.

“Are you at work right now?” I ask, glancing at the clock.

“Ah…uh…” he pauses. “I actually called in today,” he says, then I hear why. The cough that comes out of him sounds deadly.

“Oh my God, are you sick?”

“I think so.” He clears his throat. “Either way, taking whatever this is into doctors’ offices today and spreading shit isn’t the smartest move. I used a sick day and am staying in bed.”

I pout my lip out. “I’m coming over,” I blurt, standing so quick from my desk that papers fall to the floor.

“What?” Nico says, and then starts coughing again. “Ten, you’re too far away to do that.”

“Nonsense. I’m coming over and taking care of you.”

The line goes silent and I hear him clear his throat again.

“This isn’t a pretty sight, Ten. There’s all kinds of gross and germs going on over here and I’d hate myself if I got you sick.”

“I’m invincible. It’ll be fine. Now, go back to sleep. I’ll be there in a few hours. I gotta run home and pack some things.”

I end the call and rush out to the store where Mack and Ford are making out.
“First things first,” I say, pointing to them. “Not again in here. Not when we’re open, closed, or otherwise. That shit’s not for my eyes,” I say, half grinning at Mackenzie and I wink at her, making her bark out a laugh. “And second, I’m leaving. I’ll be back tomorrow. Or this weekend.” I toss her the store keys. “Call Ford if you need anything. He practically just chased me out of town so he has to deal with the repercussions.”

“Chicago,” Mackenzie whispers, grinning.

“It’s calling my name,” I say, too excited.

After dropping by Lincoln’s office to break the news to him, he takes it surprisingly well and I call my mom and dad on the way home to grab some things.

“Hey guys. Just wanted to let you know I won’t be home the rest of the week. Nico’s pretty sick and I’m going to head up and take care of him.”

“That’s so cute!” my mom practically squeals with excitement. “You like that boy, don’t you?”

“A lot, Mom. Yes.” I smile. “He’s just…”

“Perfect for you? Yes,” she blurts. “I agree. Treat him right, Reagan. And keep him in line. Will you be back for dinner on Sunday?”

“I wouldn’t miss it,” I say, smiling as I end the call.

I’m on a mission so it doesn’t take me long at home to pack a bag. On the way out of town I stop by the grocery store to pick up some necessities for Nico. Soup, cough drops, meds, and a few rental movies just in case he doesn’t stream Netflix.

Which, let’s be honest, if he doesn’t stream Netflix we’re going to have bigger issues. Like what twenty five year old guy doesn’t have Netflix?

I arrive at his apartment complex a little after lunch time and am so giddy on my way up I drop my car keys twice before making it into my purse.

“Hey, I know you,” Gabriel says, grinning.

I’ve only met Gabe a handful of times, and he’s ok. Just okay. For the most part he just seems like a party animal that loves to show off. Which is totally okay, but he’s the complete opposite of his brother. I’m still not certain how they’re cut from the same cloth.

“I called your brother earlier and he said he’s sick,” I say and he gives me a look.

“No he’s not.” He laughs. “He’s playin’ you. Maybe he’s got some other girl up there and just didn’t want to talk.”

My heart rate spikes and I want to run as fast as I can to catch him in the act, then I roll my eyes at myself for thinking that way about him. I know him better than that. 

“Shut up,” I grumble, letting him help me into the apartment. “Thank you,” I say.

I head to the table to drop off my things and when I don’t see Nico on the couch, make my way back to the bedroom. The door’s closed and what Gabe said to me earlier crosses my mind but I push it back.

“Nico,” I whisper, cracking the door open. He’s curled into his bed, snoring lightly and one hundred percent alone and a weight’s been taken off my shoulder. I yell at myself for even considering what his brother said. He’s not the type of person who would do something like that. Even if he used to be, which I have a hard time believing, he’s not with me. When the door creaks, he shifts in bed and his eyes try to open, making him groan.

“Gabe turn the fucking light off, I feel like mother fucking death.” He pulls the blankets tighter around him then he coughs again and it’s apparent he’s more sick than he let on.

I frown, sneaking inside his room and clicking the door closed behind me.
“It’s me, babe,” I whisper, walking over to him. His eyes open a little more and I feel so bad for him. “You look pretty rough,” I whisper, trying not to laugh.

“You’re actually here?” he reaches out and touches my arm. “I miss you, Ten. I think I’ve got the ‘missing Ten blues.’”

I reach over and touch his forehead. “What you have is a fever,” I say. “I’ll be right back.”

I slip out of the room and grab the bags I brought, bringing everything into his bedroom and ignoring his brother when he tries talking to me. I’m not a mean person, but his brother struck the wrong chord today and I don’t have time to put up with it.

Grabbing the aspirin from the bags, I pull out a sports drink and crack it open.

“Here, babe. Take some of these, it’ll make you start to feel better.” I hold out the drink for him and he grunts, bringing it to his lips and taking a sip then wincing.

“God, it feels like knives,” he grumbles.

“I think all those patients at those doctors’ offices you’ve been visiting have gotten you sick in the worst way,” I whisper, holding out the medicine for him. He takes it and swallows it down then lies back in bed, his glassy eyes finding mine.

“You came,” he whispers again, smiling at me.

“I told you I would. I keep my promises, Nico.”

“I knew you were an eleven.”

I push my hand through his hair and he sighs. “I’m glad I’m here,” I whisper. “I’ve missed you.”

“I miss you,” he mumbles. “Lie with me, Ten.”

I smile and push off my shoes and pants and slide into bed next to him. He shifts slightly, letting me wrap my arm around him and he rests his head on my stomach. He’s burning up and I want to pull the covers off him to cool him off, but I know how it feels to have a fever and pulling them off him would be wrong right now.

Even sick he’s a good snuggler. I can’t believe how it only took a few weeks for me to become addicted to his snuggles, but I didn’t know what I’d be missing when I moved away. I do now, and it sucks because I’m actually happy being home. I don’t miss Chicago at all.

I just miss the man who lives here.

The night turns dark outside before Nico wakes up again. I lie in his bed the majority of the day with him, running my fingers through his hair and rubbing his back. His skin starts to cool after an hour or so and shortly after that I fall asleep for a bit.

When he shifts to move, he groans.

“My God,” he grumbles, pulling himself off me. “I think I’m dying,” he whispers, sitting up slowly and cradling his head in his hands.

“Well, that’s not really the improvement I was looking for.” I chuckle, sitting up next to him and resting my hand on his back. “I’m glad you’re sitting up, though. You hungry at all?”

He looks at me and all he does is smile softly and nod.

“I could maybe eat something light.”

“Soup? I brought chicken noodle.”

“Sounds amazing, actually. I may try to take a shower first.” He runs his hands through his hair and coughs, cursing and shaking his head. “This shit’s annoying.”

“I know.” I frown. “I’ll heat it up for you after I make sure you make it to the shower without passing out.

“I’m not going to pass out on you,” he grumbles, trying to laugh but ending in a coughing fit.

“The steam will be good for you,” I say, helping him off the bed. “When you get out I’ll have tea and soup ready for you on the couch. Then I’m changing your bedsheets.”

“You’re too good to me, Ten.” He smiles at me. “I really, really want to kiss you but I’m dying and I don’t want you to die. So save me a kiss for later. When I’m better. Ok?”

I chuckle. “Okay Casanova. Take a shower.”

He shuffles to the bathroom slowly and closes the door behind him. He always acts so tough and sure of himself, and seeing him knocked this far down is really sad. I feel horrible for him and at this point in the game I’d love to take it away for him and bear the sickness myself.

What’s that say about what I feel for the guy, huh?

Fuck. What does that say?

I’m not a bitch, but I’ve never wished sickness upon myself in the past. But now I honestly would rather have whatever this is than Nico having it. This shit’s confusing. Relationships are confusing. And there’s only one person I know that might have an answer for me.

So I text Lincoln while the soup heats up.

Reag: What’s it mean when I wish I were sick instead of Nico?

Lincoln replies almost immediately.

Linc: You’re in love, sis.

I narrow my eyes at my phone.

Reag: I don’t even know the first thing about loving someone. How would that constitute as love?

Linc: You’d rather be sick so they could feel healthy again? If that’s not love I’m not sure what is. And I’m the expert on love and relationships.

I laugh loud and Gabe walks into the room.

“What’re you laughing at?” he asks, picking up a cracker I set out for Nico and popping it into his mouth. I narrow my eyes at him but instead of punching him in the throat, I smile sweetly and hope he gets my sarcasm.

“Nothing,” I say, shrugging and turning to stare at the microwave. I’d rather look at these cancer rays then converse with this kid.

“Hey, so he’s really sick,” he says it sounding surprised and I spin to glare at him.

“How the hell do you live with someone, your own flesh and blood, and not even know they’re sick. He’s been like this for a day now. You didn’t think to check on him not coming out of his room?

“I didn’t think it was a big deal. I thought he had a chick in the—“

“We’re fucking dating! He wouldn’t cheat on me!”

“He’s never had a serious girlfriend before, okay? God, you’re intense.” He grumbles, walking away. But I’m not done, so I follow him.

“Just because he’s never had a serious one before doesn’t mean he can’t be serious now,” I say, following him into the living room.

“I’m just not used to him being all love struck, okay?”

“Love…love struck?” I blink at his choice of words, my hands crossing in front of me.

“Yes. Struck by love. Love struck.” He falls on to the chair and grabs the remote.

“Love?” I whisper, more to myself out of astonishment.

“He hasn’t told you yet?” He looks up at me with confusion in his face. “Reagan, that man’s loved you since the first time he set eyes on you. He didn’t know it back then but I sure did. I’m surprised he hasn’t said it yet.” He chuckles. “Of course he’d fall in love with the one girl who moved away from him the minute the feelings started to catch.”

I growl and walk back to the kitchen to try to calm my wildly beating heart.

 Love. Love wasn’t ever in my vocabulary when it came to relationships. Sure, everyone wants to be loved, but could it be true? Could Nico and I really be in love?

He comes into the kitchen five minutes later in his dark grey sweatpants and no shirt and I can’t help but check him out as I hand him his tea. He’s definitely got the perfect olive skin tone and dark hair that makes those sweatpants look sexy as hell. Add to it the abs and that V…holy shit that V.

“Thank you,” he whispers, taking the mug of tea from me and drinking it down. “My god that’s amazing,” he says. “Is that honey in there?”

“I found some in your pantry I hope you don’t mind.”

“Not at all. Make yourself at home.” He takes another drink.

“How was your shower?” I ask, grabbing my mug I made for myself.

“Felt amazing but I’m pretty weak right now. Drained me.” He rolls his neck and sighs. “God, I hate being sick.”

“Well that’s why I’m here to take care of you, silly. So the soup’s ready. I’ll bring it into the living room. Go get comfy.”

He smiles at me and looks like he wants to say something but doesn’t, then turns and heads into the living room. When he’s out of sight, I grab my phone and shoot my brother a text.

 

Reag: Hey expert. What happens when you moved away from the only person you’ve ever been in love with?

 

I hit send on the text and head to the living room where we spend the rest of the evening watching pointless TV shows and movies, laughing together and getting to know each other a little more. It’s nice. My phone dings and without thinking, I open the text right next to Nico as I’m snuggled in next to him.

 

Linc: Hard decision there, little sis. You’re not allowed to leave Springfield again so… Good luck with that.

 

“What’s he talking about?” Nico asks, reading the text before I can put the phone down.

“Nothing. He’s just mad I left work today,” I lie, sliding the phone under my leg.

“You should get back,” Nico says sadly.

“No can do. I’m here until you’re better.”

He grins at me. “What if I never get better?”

I chuckle.

“Then I’ll have to look into euthanasia, I guess, because my brothers won’t let me be gone forever.” I shrug and his brother barks out a laugh.

“Fine, Nic, you can keep this one. But only because she can casually smartass better than you can.”

“I’m sick,” he grumbles, working on his soup.

I watch him with a smile on my face. He’s got a man cold, and as much as I’ve always heard dreaded things about the man cold… I’m not able to say I feel the same way. This is fun. This is nice.

This is…love.

Holy fuck this is love.

“Hey can I talk to you for a second?” Wren asks, walking into the shop.

“Sure. I’ve got a video conference with a potential seller in a few moments but you’ve got my full attention now.” I smile at her and before I know what she’s doing, she holds her camera up and snaps a picture. “What the hell?” I rub my eyes, the flash blinding me. “Wren, what was that for?”

“A secret. But you should be excited!” she squeals and runs out of the building.

I narrow my eyes at her but before I can respond my phone rings from the office. I grin and head to the door, flipping the sign to closed before locking it.

“Coming,” I yell after answering it on my phone. I head to the laptop to open it and see Nico’s smiling face looking back at me.

“Beautiful as ever, Ten,” he says, grinning madly.

“How’s the patient?” I ask, shutting the blinds to my office and getting a rush of excitement.

“I’ve been better for over a week, Ten. I’m just happy you didn’t catch it.”

“I told you, I’m like wonder woman.”

“You’re way hotter than Wonder Woman,” he says, chuckling.

“That’s so mean to her!” I gasp, laughing. “I’d tap her if I had a penis.”

“Well,” he laughs loud. “I’m sure as fuck glad you don’t have a penis.”

I laugh and smile at him, relaxing back in my chair but feeling less worried about this. We’ve never done this before. And our timing only worked out together to video chat in the middle of the day.

And it’s been almost a month since I’ve last had sex.

So…

“Are you alone?” I whisper for no reason. He wouldn’t do this with a fucking crowd. Fuck, Reagan.

“I am. Are you?”

“All locked tight.” I bite my lip. “Where are you?”

“My car,” he says, laughing. “I’m in a parking garage and there’s literally no one else around. But I didn’t have time to go home and I wasn’t about to miss this.”

“Have you ever done this before?” I ask, my hands trembling with nerves.

“No.” He laughs. “I mean, I’ve sent pics and shit. But I’ve never video called like this.”

“Are you touching yourself?” I whisper, sliding my hand down the front of my pants. I even wore leggings today to help with the ease of access.

“I am, you wanna see?”

“I do,” I whisper, gasping when my hand hits my clit. I hear him sigh and he lowers the camera and a ping of need shoots straight between my legs. He’s got his dick hard and he’s stroking it already, his breathing heavy.

“Doesn’t take much to get hard for you, Ten.” His hand fists his dick and I slip two fingers inside me. “Show me how wet your pussy is,” he whispers, a shrill of excitement rolling through me.

I grin and stand up from my chair and he groans.

“Pants still?” he whines.

“I’m in my office,” I laugh.

“And I’m in a car in public with my dick out. Take your fucking pants off, Ten,” he huffs. I grin and shove my leggings down, panties and all, and lift my leg, resting a foot on my desk.

“Like this?” I whisper, running my fingers down my opening. “So wet, Nico,” I murmur.

“Fuck, Ten,” he groans. “Shove a finger inside yourself.” His fist starts to speed up slightly and I do as I’m asked, the camera angle catching everything, even the slight glisten to my pussy.

“God,” I pant, sliding another finger in and getting lost in the sensation. My palm pushes against my clit and my hips rock forward to find the friction I need.

“That’s so fucking hot,” Nico mumbles. I glance at the screen and his hand’s a blur, making me giggle. “What?”

“Nothing,” I say, stifling my laugh and fucking my pussy with my fingers again, curling them as best as I can to hit my g-spot.

“What’re you laughing at, Ten?” he growls.

“Your hand’s a blur on the screen!” I laugh, but as soon as I do I start to feel the tingle of my orgasm starting in my toes and end my laugh in a moan. “Holy fuck,” I pant.

“I wish this was you on my dick, Ten,” he groans, the camera shifting a bit. “Fuck,” he huffs. “I’m close, babe.”

“God, me too,” I pant, grinding into my hand. My eyes squeeze closed, then fly open when I hear him huffing and I watch his hand milk his dick just like I wish I could be doing right now. My toes start to tingle and my stomach tightens and as soon as it starts it peaks. “Oh my God, I’m coming!” I scream as my orgasm explodes through me, making my knees buckle and I fall back down onto my chair, trying to catch my breath. Everything’s spinning, my pussy feels amazing, and my toes and fingers are numb.

I watch the screen as Nico comes, his growl loud through the speakers and his come spurts all over his stomach. I bite my lip, wishing I were there to help him clean it up. Swallow it down.

But I’m not. And as good as that was, I still prefer the real thing.

“Holy fuck, Ten,” he pants, the phone moving back up his abs and focusing on his face. “You look beautiful,” he whispers, his eyebrows pulling together. “I miss the fuck out of you.”

“I know,” I whisper. “It’s kind of insane.”

“When do I get to see you next?” he asks.

“Soon,” I say. “I promise.”

“Are we insane for trying to make this work, Ten?”

All I can do is shake my head, because the longer we go without seeing each other the more I think yes.

We are crazy for thinking this will work.


 

“What’s your favorite color?” she asks me on one of our many late night phone calls we’ve been having lately. Time apart sucks, but we’re making it work.

“Green. Like your eyes,” I say, grinning stupidly and tossing my shirt in the hamper.

“Cute,” she hums. “Mine’s black.”

“Black’s not a color. Try again, Sherlock.”

“Hey, I can like black if I want.” Her attitude makes me smile.

God, I miss her.

“That’s very gothic of you,” I say, making her laugh and it’s music to my fucking ears. Work’s been stressful this week. I feel like I was thrown into the lion’s den without much prep, and while I’m doing well, it’s probably adding to my grey hairs.

“I’ll have you know, I went through a gothic stage for a couple weeks in high school.”

I bark out a laugh. “Please tell me there are pictures.”

“I’ll never tell,” she says, laughing. “Ok, ok. I got another one.” She hums while she’s thinking and I smile to myself as I lie in bed.

It’s been almost a month since we last saw each other. I’ve been insanely busy and she’s tried coming up here a few times but my schedule at work won’t let up. I’ve been traveling nonstop and even tonight is spent preparing for another trip out of town tomorrow. It’s almost the holidays, though, and I really hope things let up a bit so I can see her more.

“Ok, what’s your favorite childhood smell?”

“What?” I ask, laughing. “A childhood smell?”

“Yeah! Like crayons. Plastic. Doll hair?” she says.

“Uh…” I chuckle. “Is pot an acceptable answer?”

“Pot’s not a childhood smell!” she shrieks.

“It was a pretty typical one for our household,” I say.

“Well that’s depressing. God, way to make this game suck.”

“Hey, you brought it up!” I laugh. “Ok, what about… Pancakes. My grandma always made us pancakes on the nights we ended up there. They’re my favorite.”

“You never told me pancakes were your favorite,” she says. “I can make you some. I make pretty mean pancakes.”

“You do, huh?” I stretch in bed and pull the blanket over me. “Why do I have a hard time believing that?”

“Fuck you, funny guy. I make badass pancakes. And bacon, I’ll have you know. Next morning together you’re getting them. And you’re going to love them.”

“Sure, okay. I surrender.” I take a deep breath. “I leave at eight am,” I whisper. “Again.”

“Where to, now?” her tone’s changed almost immediately since I brought up my job.

“Wisconsin,” I say, rolling my eyes then chuckle to myself because before Reagan I never did that shit.

“When’s your next weekend off?”

“I think in two weeks,” I groan. “Fuck, Ten. This job is killing me.”

“You could always move here. We’d have a job for you here,” she blurts and I let the line fall silent.

“Reagan,” I whisper.

“Nevermind. I’m sorry, I just… I wasn’t thinking,” she stammers and I sigh.

“I’ve got to get to bed, Ten.”

“Yeah. Goodnight, Nico. Safe travels tomorrow.” She mumbles, ending the call immediately.

Fuck.

I want to tell her how I feel. I want to tell her I love her. That I’ve loved her this whole time. I want to say ‘fuck yes, I’ll leave my job and move to your city for you,’ but without knowing how she really feels I’m not putting my life on the line like that.

I click the light off and it feels like ten minutes pass when my alarm’s going off. I groan, stretch, and head for a quick shower before moving my ass to the airport.

On the way, my phone rings.

“Yeah,” I grumble from the backseat of the cab.

“All flights are cancelled to Madison, Nico,” my boss blurts and I furrow my brows.

“I’m not driving,” I say.

“I know,” he laughs. “I’ll re schedule this trip. It’ll be fine, it wasn’t that pressing anyway. You’ve been rocking it lately, we’re doing good this quarter.”

“Thanks,” I mutter. “So what am I supposed to do the rest of the week?”

“Take a break?” he says, laughing. “Monday morning you fly out again, but take a long weekend. A few days to re-juice yourself. You’ve been burning at both ends lately, Nico.”

“You don’t have to twist my arm,” I say, a smile creeping up on my face.

“Oh hey, I almost forgot. All the paperwork’s been signed. We’re officially opening a Springfield branch.”

“Springfield, Illinois?” I eagerly interrupt him.

“Yep. Isn’t your girlfriend there?”

“She is,” I say, nodding. “When’s it open?”

“Not sure yet. I’ll keep you updated.”

“Thanks, man.”

“Have fun this long weekend. Don’t do anything stupid and don’t miss your flight Monday.”

“Got it, boss.” I end the call and stare out the window after telling the driver to take me back home. I’m trying not to focus on the fact that a move to Springfield and keeping my job might actually be in the cards. I try to focus on the now. The present. Reagan’s been slowing down on the texting lately and I’m starting to worry she’s pulling away. I know it’s been a long ass time since I’ve been down to see her and even longer since she’s been up here. I miss her, and we’ve been trying to video chat more. We went as far the other night to facetime date, each of us watching the same movie and eating popcorn together…but it wasn’t as good as the real thing.

And finally, I have an entire four days with no work. And I know exactly what I’m going to do.

“Luigi!” Ford yells as I get out of my car at the West House. I had to call Ford to get correct directions and he’s had strict instructions not to tell Reagan I’m coming. I’ve only driven past here once and I can honestly say it’s a little intimidating. Knowing she owns part of this. Knowing it’s her family’s legacy. Fuck if my family ever had any legacies this big. This is amazing. The large plantation style house, huge wrap around porch and all the other buildings on the property are stunning. I’m anxious to see the inside. 

“Hey, Ford,” I say, walking up to him on the porch.

“I have something for you!” He runs inside a set of glass doors and I check my phone.

Ten has no clue I’m here right now and I can’t wait to surprise her.

Ford comes running outside with a wide smile on his face, trying not to laugh.

“Here,” he says shoving a box at me.

“I’m scared,” I mumble, making him laugh. He watches with a grin on his face as I crack the box open and busts out laughing as I pull the mug out.

“You got me a Luigi mug,” I say, chuckling.

“It’s got your weird facial hair on it!” He laughs. “This is the best day ever!”

“Hey, be nice, man. I grew that shit in after you made me feel like a tool.” I rub the scruff on my face and he pats my shoulder.

“Good man, good man.” He nods towards the house. “Want a tour?”

“I want to see your sister,” I say, making his eyebrows raise in amusement.

“Okay then,” he mumbles. “I see where I lie on the list of importance.”

“Sorry. I mean… Yeah. I want a tour. After I see Reagan.”

He chuckles and I glance around as we walk inside. This place is exquisite. Modern with a touch of the original character that I’m sure made this place what it is today.

“She’s down the hall, down the stairs, and out the back door. You won’t be able to miss the shop.” He nods after we walk through what I’m assuming is the banquet hall.

“It’s like a maze,” I mutter, glancing around. “Beautiful.”

“Hey, I tried taking you on a tour. But noooo…something about Reagan’s p—” He chokes on his words. “I’m sorry. That’s my sister. I can’t talk about that shit with you.”

He walks away and I chuckle, rolling my eyes at him. He’s a good guy. A little quirky but a good seed. I haven’t had many friends like this family in my life. Ever. Not that I had it rough, but I didn’t have the connections to anyone like the West family seems to come by easily. It’s nice, finally having people I can call friends and actually rely on.

As soon as I make it out the back door I zone in on her shop. The brick’s been painted white. There are flower baskets under each front window and the purple door at the front adds to the charm. This looks more like something she’d enjoy doing. Not bartending.

When I walk through the doors, the small bell on it rings and I’m greeted by a small dog, jumping at my feet.

“Be right there!” I hear Reagan yell from somewhere in the back. I grin to myself and pick up the puppy, letting it lick at my face.

“You’re just a tiny ball of adorable, aren’t you?” I say, laughing when it tries to climb on my shoulders. It’s so excited its butt is wiggling as fast as it’s licking me and I can barely keep a hold of it.

“Sorry about that. What can I do fo—” she stops short as she rounds the corner and sees me. Her eyes go wide as she stares at me, but the smile I wanted doesn’t grace her face and I’m worried I fucked up. Maybe I shouldn’t have come today. Last night’s conversation ended awkwardly and I hope she’s not upset about it, but I can’t tell her what we’re going to do because honestly I don’t know yet. God, she’s beautiful. I want to drop the dog and rush to her, but this little man’s kind of stolen my heart.

“How much for the dog?” I ask, grinning and pushing past the nerves.

“You… You’re…” Her mouth flaps and she shoves her hands in her hair, walking over to me. “You’re here? What are you doing? You’re supposed to be on your way to Wisconsin. Why didn’t you text?” Her eyebrows push together and she pauses, then a small smile pulls on her lips and I’m trying not to be hurt she’s not more excited to see me. “Sorry I look like this, it’s shipment day. Shipment days suck,” she mumbles, shaking her head. I stand there and watch her fuss with her clothes and my heart swells for this girl. It’s right then, when she’s wearing no makeup and hair a mess yet I still find her to be the most beautiful creature on this earth, that I know what I’m feeling for this girl is more than lust. It’s more than a passing attraction. It’s love. I fucking love her.

“It was cancelled. I thought it’d be nice to surprise you.” I grin, finally letting the dog back on the floor and taking Reagan into my arms. “I’ve missed you Ten.”

“Yeah,” she whispers into my chest with my arms tight around her, but she barely returns the hug. I pull back and look into her beautiful eyes, but something’s missing and I can’t fucking place it. My hand snakes behind her head and I pull her to my lips, pushing mine to hers gently as if testing the waters. She’s hesitant, but she kisses me back finally and when her body melts into mine I think I’m finally going to get the reaction I wanted when I surprised her.

Then her hand goes to my chest and stops everything, pulling back and looking up at me.

“We can’t here,” she whispers, her eyes finding mine full of need.

I nod, my dick screaming to be let out but she’s right. We can’t here. But fuck my life it’s been too long.

“Tonight,” I say. A promise. She grins and bites her lip, nodding in agreement. “So whose dog is that?” I ask, watching its tail wagging like I’m the first human he’s seen in ages.

“Mine,” she chirps, cheering up the slightest at the mention of the dog. “I bought it today.”

“No you didn’t,” I laugh, calling it over to me and all she does is smile at me.

“I did. It’s a Puggle.” She tosses a ball and the thing runs to retrieve it and is back in no time flat dropping it at her feet.

“A Puggle?” I laugh, leaning down to pet it. It’s cute. “The hell is a Puggle?”

“A Beagle Pug mix.” She picks it up and kisses it before setting it back down and letting it run around the store.

“I like it. What’s its name?” I ask.

“Monroe,” she says and I laugh.

“Another president’s name,” I say, grinning.

“I mean, I figure I’m probably not having kids at this rate, so this is the closest I’ll get.” She stands up straight and throws her hands to her hips, sighing and all I can do is watch her. “I have a ton of work to do today,” she winces. “But the rest of the week I’m free from this place if I need to be.”

If she needs to be? God, she’s making it sound like I’m an inconvenience being here.

“Can I help you today?” I step towards her and my hands cup her face and she smiles softly at me.

“You don’t have to if you don’t want to. It’s just unloading stock and getting it all into the system. Boring. Daunting. But it’s gotta be done.”

“I can handle a box cutter like no one else before me,” I brag, backing up. She turns and reaches over the counter, grabbing a pair of scissors, her ass perfectly on display in those tight as fuck pants she’s wearing.

“This is all I have,” she says, smirking.

“Don’t care. If I get to look at your ass in those pants all day I’ll die a happy man.”

“Hands off the goods, funny guy,” she says, turning and shaking it for me and I groan, adjusting myself in these jeans. Fuck, this is uncomfortable. Before I can reach out and grab her ass, the door dings open and Ford barges in, hands over his eyes.

“Stop fucking, I’m here!” he yells.

“Ford!” Reagan yells, making him uncover his eyes. “Don’t be a pig.”

“Just watching out for my sanity,” he says then points at me. “You done here? Can I take you on the tour?”

“He’s not here for you,” she bitches at him.

“He’s not here for your grumpy ass, that’s for certain. Come on Luigi.”

“Ford. Go away.” Reagan rolls her eyes at him, hands crossed in front of her and I force out a chuckle.

“You two are fighting over me. With me right here. You realize that, right?” I smirk and Reagan rolls her eyes.

“This bro-mance you’re forming makes me uncomfortable,” she grumbles.

“That’s a bold faced lie and you know it,” Ford blurts, walking over to me. “Let’s go, man. Pick me.”

I scrape my teeth over my bottom lip and smirk at him, shrugging.

“I already promised her I’d help, buddy.” I pat his head, ruffling his hair. “Another day. I’m here for four days.”

“Dumb!” he yells, stomping out of the store and leaving Regan grinning at me.

“You two are adorable. Weird…and I don’t get it…but adorable.”

“He’s a good guy.” I grin at her. “Now where were we?” I walk over and grip her ass in my hands, making her squeal in laughter.

“We were about to unpack today’s shipment. And not fuck in the boutique.”

“Right. No fucking. You’re the queen of that phrase, you know.”

“At least I’m the queen of something.” She wiggles her eyebrows and heads to the back.

We spend the rest of the afternoon working side by side and it’s not as bad as it sounds. Her mood seems to lighten a bit and she opens up to me a bit more as the day goes on, but something still seems off. I’m hoping it’s the fact that I surprised her and nothing else. It’s hard not being here daily, not seeing her daily, not being able to touch her daily. It’s hard not knowing what she’s thinking, and when she doesn’t offer that information up willingly I’m not sure what to think. All I know is the day with her, working in her shop, seeing her in her element… It’s fun. Maybe it’s the fact that I love the girl, but even something as mundane as opening and unpacking boxes with her was a good time.

“Thank you for all your help today,” she says, locking the front door at the end of the day and gripping Monroe’s leash tightly.

“I wouldn’t have missed it. I came here to be with you, and if that includes unpacking boxes for the next four days I’ll happily do it by your side.” I nudge her, then take her hand in mine, lacing our fingers together. From day one I’ve never had much control when it came to being around her. If she’s near me, I’m touching her. Period.

We head back to her place after she drops in and grabs us a pizza for dinner. I tried paying but she insisted, still distant and strange like she was when I arrived. She’s quiet while we eat, but she also turned on a movie when we started so I’m hoping that’s why she’s not talking much.

When we finally make it to bed, without the sex I wanted so badly tonight, she sighs heavy, lying flat on her back and staring at the ceiling. I reach over and rest my hand on her stomach, snaking up under her shirt to feel her soft skin, but she shifts to her side and faces me, forcing my hand away from her.

“What’s got you so distant tonight?” I ask, nerves wracking my insides because she’s being so weird. 

“Long distance relationships suck,” she says, letting out an annoyed laugh and pushing her eyebrows together.

“I know.” I push my lips to her nose gently and back up. “We’ll figure it out, babe. I’m just happy I’m here with you now.”

God, Ten, don’t pull away from me now.

“I can’t move back to Chicago, Nico,” she says and my heart sinks. I know what she’s about to ask me, but I don’t have an answer for her. I can’t right now.

“I know.” I push a kiss to her head again and smooth my hands down her back, pulling her tight against me and she allows it, thank God. “It’ll be fine I promise.”

“How? How will it be fine?” She pushes the topic and I sigh.

“It just will be, babe.”

Fuck my life. I love this girl, but she’s pulling away and I don’t know how to fix it.  

The next morning I wake up with her ass pressed against me and I pull her closer.

“I could wake up like this every morning,” I murmur in her ear. She hums and turns in my arms.

“You could move here.” She bats her eyes at me and I chuckle.

“I wouldn’t have…” I pause mid-sentence. “Hey did I tell you Johnson and Steele is opening up a Springfield branch?” I crease my brows and watch her face light up.

“They are?” She’s got hope written all over her face and it’s adorable as fuck. This is the happiest she’s looked since I got here yesterday and for once during this trip I have hope for us.

“Yeah. Don’t know when or where yet, but I just found out yesterday. My mind got sidetracked when I saw you in those pants and it was pretty hard to think of anything else.” I grip her ass and pull her tighter against me.

“You should ask about it. Maybe ask to get transferred. That’d be amazing.”

I watch her, letting the elephant in the room settle in the corner for now and press my lips to hers. I’ve barely talked to my boss about it. I’m not going to give her any false hope.

“Hey I’m gonna hop in the shower, then we can start the day. You can show me the sites of the city?”

“Sounds fun,” she grumbles, rolling her eyes. “I’m going to drop Monroe off at the shop with Mack before we go so he doesn’t piss all over the house. You know. While we’re out acting like tourists. So much fun. Sounds like soooo much fun…” she groans.

“It does.” I smack her ass. “Just because you’ve lived here your whole life doesn’t mean I have. I’ve never seen this shit. Presidential shit.” I stand.

“It’s pretty cool the first time you see it, I guess. After all these years of it, it gets kind of mundane.”

“Well, power up, Ten. We’re going on an adventure.”

I head into the bathroom before my resolve breaks and I spend the rest of the day in bed with her. As much as I’d like to, we don’t get time like this just to be a couple much. I want this time with her, and I will be selfish about it.

“Hey my brother just called asking if I could watch Carter today for them.”

“Isn’t the kid in school?”

“They’re on fall break and the sitter flaked. Wren’s got her huge art show coming up soon so she’s busy and Lincoln says he gets bored at West House all day.”

“Kid’s gonna endure sightseeing with us today, I guess.” I grin and shrug. I haven’t been around kids that much as a grown adult, but I’d like to think I’d do okay around them.

We pick Carter up from the West House after dropping Monroe off with Mack at the store, and start our day at the Lincoln Museum and presidential library. The place is huge and strangely enough I’m enjoying learning more about Lincoln…the president.

Reagan’s pulling away from me. I can feel it, and I’m starting to get panicked. I’m a fucking dumbass for not telling her how I feel about her already, but right now isn’t the best time either. She didn’t hold my hand in the car. She didn’t make small talk. Something’s on her mind and I wish I fucking knew what it was.

Tonight. I’m going to tell her how I feel tonight. After we get back to her place. And if she doesn’t feel the same way, that still gives me two days to try to get over the love of my life breaking up with me before I have to go back to work.

Fuck, Nico. Pull your shit together. The girl’s madly in love with you. It’s written all over her face. 

At least it used to be.

“Did you know this isn’t really where he was born,” Carter says and I fall in step next to him as we walk along.

“I did not. Tell me more.”

I see her watching us from across the gallery as Carter goes into a long, almost memorized, speech on the life of Abraham Lincoln. It’s adorable and endearing that someone his age is so into presidents and politics. Gives me a little more hope for our future.

“You sure do know your stuff,” I say, nudging him.

“I once did a report on the similarities and differences between my dad and Abraham Lincoln,” he says like he’s a big shot.

“Oh yeah?” I chuckle. “And how’d that go?”

“Horrible. The only thing they have in common is their name.”

I laugh and Reagan walks over to us, mussing up Carter’s hair.

“Lunch time, anyone? You still like those dissolvable puff things, right?” She asks Carter and he cringes.

“Aunt Reagan, I haven’t liked those for years!”

“Oh, so steak? A nice steak dinner?” She smirks at him and he rolls his eyes.

“How about a burger and fries?” I say, falling into step next to him and his face lights up.

“And a shake?!” His voice echoes throughout the gallery and Reagan laughs, shushing him.

“I’m playing with you guys, God. Let’s go, we’ll head to Allister’s.”

“Oh my God I love Allister’s!” Carter says, practically running in front of us to get there.

We eat a good-sized lunch and spend the rest of the day seeing all the other sites Springfield has to offer. I rubbed Lincoln’s bronze nose at his tomb, saw the inside of the State House, and had some amazing barbeque joint for dinner that Carter and Reagan raved about.

By the time eight o’clock rolls around I’m exhausted and Carter’s zoned in the back seat.

“We’ll drop him off then head back to my place. Mack stole my dog for the night,” she says, pulling down a street of brick houses.

“That’s nice of her,” I whisper, reaching across the cab and taking her hand in mine, practically forcing her to touch me.

“Hey, Monroe is awesome,” she says. “Needy. But awesome.”

When she parks in her brother’s driveway, I get out and walk up to the door with them.

“Hey,” Wren blurts, covered in different colors of paint when she opens the door.

“We’re back and he’s tired,” Reagan says, leaning down and giving Carter a hug before he shuffles inside.

“Hey is that Reagan?” Lincoln asks, coming to the door and pulling it open more. “Nico, awesome. I heard you were in town. How’d today go?”

“Great,” Reagan mumbles, walking past him inside the house. “I have to piss.”

“You know where it is!” Lincoln calls out after her then shakes his head at me.

The three of us stand there in awkward silence before Wren clears her throat.

“I’m going to get back to work. It was good seeing you again, Nico.”

“Same,” I say. “Have a good night.”

She walks away and Lincoln steps out onto the porch, closing the door behind him.

“Hey, how serious are you and my sister?” he asks, crossing his arms and leaning against the door. No small talk. Just straight to the chase.

“I’d say pretty serious,” I say, mimicking his behavior against the porch post.

“You love her?” He raises an eyebrow at me and I nod.

“I haven’t told her yet, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Why not?” he asks again and I furrow my brows at him. “I’m just saying…my sister isn’t like other girls. She goes through guys like crazy because she’s… I don’t know. I can’t explain it. She’s just had shit luck and I think that shit luck has taught her to preserve herself before getting her heart hurt. Like, breaking up with guys before they can break up with her makes it hurt less or something.”

“You’re saying she’s going to break up with me?” She wouldn’t. This isn’t that type of relationship.

“I’m saying she misses you. A lot. And she’s miserable when you’re not here.”

“She tell you this?” I shove my hands into my pockets, uncomfortable at the route this conversation is taking.

“She doesn’t have to, we all see it.” He pauses. “Just…don’t let her blow it, okay? I think you’re a good guy. One of the best she’s ever had in her life. She needs you.”

I nod. “I need her,” I mumble just as the door’s opening.

She steps outside and glances between us.

“What’s going on out here?” Her confused look bounces back and forth between her brother and I and Lincoln laughs lightly.

“Just threatening him within an inch of his life if he breaks your heart.” He gives her a brief hug. “Thanks for helping out with Carter today.”

“I missed him. Gotta make up for time lost, right?”

“Yep.” He says, then glances at me. “Night, Nico.”

I watch her stand there as the door closes behind him and she slowly looks over at me.

“You ready to go home?”

I smile. “I am,” I whisper, taking her hand in mine and gripping tightly.

I’m going to do it. When we get back to her place, I’m going to tell her how I feel. There’s no way in the world I’m letting her slip away because I was afraid of rejection. Fuck, I sound like a pansy.

The drive home is silent and I’m hoping it’s because she’s tired, but the words Lincoln said keep replaying in my head.

Breaking up with guys before they can break up with her makes it hurt less.

I have to believe we have more than whatever she’s had with every ex-boyfriend of hers. I have to.

When we make it inside, I head to the couch and she brings us each a beer, already open for me.

“Thanks,” I say, setting it down after taking a swig.

“No problem.” She smiles at me, her eyes searching mine for something.

“Ten, I have to tell you something.” I shift to face her, her eyes looking deep into mine. My heart’s hammering out of my chest and nerves skyrocketing. I’ve never muttered these words to anyone other than my mom. Not my brother, not my uncle, and definitely not any girl.

“I love you,” blurts out of my mouth at the same time her beautiful lips are muttering the words, “I’m breaking up with you”.

Her eyes go wide and I feel like I could vomit.

“You what?” I say, blinking too much but I can’t honestly believe she just said that.

“I… you love me?” she whispers. “Love, love?”

“You’re breaking up with me?” Fuck. Holy fuck.

“I…” she shakes her head and my rage starts to boil.

“Reagan, you’re breaking up with me?” My fists clench at my sides and my heart feels like it’s in my throat. “What the fuck…why?!”

“I can’t do it, Nico,” she mumbles, looking up at me as I stand from the couch.

“Holy fuck.” I start to pace, hands on top of my head, trying to make sense of this.

“It’s for the best. You’re never free to be here. Let alone free enough for me to come up there. You’ve got your life. I’ve got mine. And they’re painfully separate,” she whispers the end and her eyes start to glass over with unshed tears.

“Why the fuck did you let me spend the day with your family, acting like everything was fine? I look like a total fucking tool! When the fuck did you know you were doing this?” I’m whining, I’m sweating, and there’s a fucking knot in my throat and I mother fucking hate it. She doesn’t say anything, she just sits there. God damnit. “I love you, Reagan,” I say with more resolution that maybe I can talk her out of this fucking idiotic move. She nods and I fall to pieces at her next words.

“I know,” she whispers and I feel like my world is shattering all around me and I’m walking on the glass pieces. I storm down the hall and try to stop my shaking hands as I move into her room. I shove my shit into my suitcase as fast as I can, unsure what’s even happening right now other than I need out of here. I need to breathe. I need to figure out what this means. “Nico, we can still be friends. I don’t—“

“Don’t be fucking delusional, Reagan,” I blurt, interrupting her. I stop and my jaw ticks. So much I want to tell her. So much I want to yell about.

But I don’t.

“I’m sorry,” she says, her head shaking.

I let out a harsh laugh, my heart ripping through my chest. With legs I’m not even sure will carry me to my car, I grab my bag and storm towards the front of the apartment. When I turn, she’s standing in the hallway, arms crossed in front of her, watching me.

“Bye, Ten,” I whisper before leaving out the front door.


 

“What’s wrong with you?” Ford asks, barging into my apartment.

Nico left. He left and I haven’t found it in me to move yet. And I’m not sure I ever will again. He really fucking left. I mean, I broke up with him. I told him we wouldn’t work.

But he didn’t fight for us…

Holy fuck I’m messed up.

“Reag?” Ford says.

“What’s her problem?” Lincoln asks, walking inside and closing the door.

“I…” I whisper, shaking my head and staring at the floor.

“Where’s Nico? I bought him this hat.” Ford smiles wide, pulling a Luigi hat out from behind him and I lose it. The tears come. The sobs start. I fall apart.

Because I pushed away the only person I’ve ever loved.

And for what? The fact that he didn’t immediately jump at the opportunity to leave his cushy job and nice paycheck just to live closer to me? Or because he’s busy making a living?

“Oh no,” Lincoln says, walking over to me. His hands go to my arms. “Reag?” he whispers and all I can do is nod. Because he fucking knows what I did. “Oh God, Reagan,” he huffs, pulling me in for a hug. “Why?”

“Be… Be…” I try to talk but everything comes out a choked sob.

“He’s gone.” Ford says flat. “Another one bites the dust,” he mutters, making me cry even harder.

“Dude. Not now.” Lincoln says, then shuffles me over to the couch. He sets me down and grabs a blanket, tossing it over me.

“Want some whiskey?” Ford asks and I shake my head, trying to dry my face but it feels like for every tear I dry, ten more fall from my eyes.

My brothers sit with me while I completely lose my shit. I’ve never cried this hard in front of anyone. Not even my mom. I was the younger sister to two very rough and tumble boys. I had to learn to keep up or I’d be left in the dust. Being left behind was never something I took too nicely to.

When I finally calm myself enough to take a solid breath without hiccupping through it, Lincoln speaks up first.

“What happened?”

His words are like a knife to the gut, because I know what happened and it’s all my fault.

“He told me he loved me,” I whisper, trying to pinch off the tears that keep threatening.

“Wow,” Ford says, sitting in my chair across the room. “And you said?”

“I want to break…to break up with you,” I stammer, letting the tears fall again.

What the fuck is wrong with me? I finally found the one who could have been the one, and I shove him away. Just like that.

Ford whistles and Lincoln curses, leaning back on the couch.

“Why… Why are you two here?”

“Well we were going to see if you and Nico wanted to go late night mini-golfing. They’re having a party down there for the end of the season. However…” Ford cracks his knuckles. “I guess that’s not going to happen now.”

“And we can’t even kick his ass, either man,” Lincoln says. “Because he didn’t do shit wrong but fall in love with our sister.”

The boys chuckle at my expense and I punch Lincoln in the arm.

“Why’d you do it,” Ford finally asks. “Why’d you break up with him?”

“Yeah, I thought you were in love with him?” Lincoln adds and I roll my eyes.

“I don’t know.” I shrug. “I asked him this morning to move here and he ignored it. Every time him moving here came up he ignored it. He doesn’t want to be closer to me… How can we make that work?” I groan, throwing my head in my hands. “I fucked up,” I mumble. “I fucked up so bad.”

“Yeah, you did.” Ford pulls out his phone. “Where is he now?”

“On his way back to Chicago,” I whisper, worried I’ll never see him again. I’ll never get the chance to fix this.

“Why didn’t you say it back, Reag?” Lincoln speaks up.

I shrug. “I don’t know.”

“You love him, though.” He says it so firmly, like he’s even pissed I did what I did.

“I do,” I say.

“But instead, you broke up with him?”

“I know,” I mutter. “I know, fuck,” I squeak, lying my head on the arm of the couch.

“His phone’s going straight to voicemail,” Ford says.

“Probably blocked all of us,” I whisper. My head’s pounding and I want to curl up and die.

“He wouldn’t block me. He loves me.” Ford scoffs then pauses. “I mean, he loves you, too.”

I groan and pull the blanket over my head. I can’t think straight right now. I can’t move. I don’t want to sleep but I don’t want to be awake.

I don’t even want to be.

“Hey Nico. It’s me. We’re going on a week and I haven’t heard anything from you. We need to talk. Please. Please, call me back.” I end the call and stare at my phone. Maybe he’s not getting the calls. Or maybe he’s calling back and I’m not getting them. Either way, I’ve never felt like death before now.

“You ready, sis?” Ford asks, standing in the doorway of his bathroom.

I came over here to get ready with them since we’re driving to Wren’s art show together. Plus it means I get to help with the twins and I’m starting to grow pretty damn fond of my tiny aliens.

Mackenzie hates when I call them that, but no matter how old they get they’ll always be those tiny aliens that came out of her.

“Yep,” I mutter, taking a deep breath and telling myself it’s going to be okay.

He can’t ignore me the rest of his life.

Hopefully.

The car ride is quiet. Mackenzie and Ford both know I’m not up for small talk.

Work’s been shit this last week.

My family doesn’t want to be around me when I’m like this.

Hell, I don’t want to be around me when I’m like this. I don’t want to be like this, but I don’t know how to fix it if he’s not going to talk to me.

When we park, I help Mack get the kids into the stroller and follow them inside but Wren stops me at the door.

“What’s up?” I ask, shoving my hands into my pockets. There’s a chill to the air tonight and it feels like it could rain.

“Before you walk in, just remember I love you.” Her eyes are sparkling with excitement and she takes my hand, giving it a tight squeeze.

“Okay?” I say, laughing as she pulls me inside. 

Immediately, I see why she looked so worried.

“Wren,” I gasp, my hand flying to my face.

“Is it ok? I mean…it’s gotta be ok. Because it’s already done. But if it’s not ok, I won’t sell them.”

“Sell them?” I mutter, walking closer to the first painting. “Wren… I’m speechless.”

I stare at the painting of myself from years ago and still recall the memory. I remember that day like it was yesterday. My twentieth birthday. Wren hadn’t been in my brother’s life that long when we had this party. The ones following take my breath away more than the first. As I walk along, Wren’s perfectly depicted the major points in my life. Fifteen paintings in all, and the last one stops me in my tracks.

“Wren,” I whisper. “No.” I shake my head, tears forming in my eyes.

“I’m sorry,” she says softly. “I was going to pull it from the show but it’s the centerpiece of all of it. It’s what makes the show what it is.”

“Why’s the show called ?” I ask, glancing back at the paintings.

“It’s Italian for ‘loveable.’” She shrugs. “I thought it was fitting,” she whispers.

“Because he’s Italian,” I mumble, unable to tear my eyes from the last painting. Her centerpiece.

“Well, Italian-American. I’m sure there’s Italian somewhere in his blood. But yes. And it sounds pretty.” She rubs my back. “Sorry about not telling you. I wanted it to be a surprise. I thought having you two here would be cute… But…”

“I got it,” I stop her from making this even more horrible. “You’re selling these?” My eyebrows pinch together. Who would want a painting of me in their house?

“I’ve got offers in for three of them so far,” she says, nodding. 

I fall silent, walking the gallery again, taking in each picture. It’s crazy she did this without me knowing. The picture she took in my store a few weeks back, when I was wearing the brightest smile because I was about to do God knows what with Nico over Facetime, is painted in bright beautiful sweeps and makes me look beautiful. Happy. The picture she took of my brothers and me on the day Ford’s babies were born portrays me as the best aunt there is. I don’t feel like I looked this…happy. Then there are the darker ones. She must have slipped some photos of me when I would come in and visit on break from Chicago. Or the weekend she and Lincoln came up to visit me. The mood of those is drastically different than the mood of the others. The ones when I’m with family.

Or Nico.

The entire fucking show is me.

“I can take that last one down,” she says.

“No,” I whisper. “But it’s mine when the shows over.”

“Of course.” She gives my hand a squeeze and Ford walks up, wrapping his arm around my shoulder.

“It’s perfect, right?” he says, nudging me.

“Yeah,” I mutter, unable to rip my eyes from the paintings. “So perfect.”

I pull my phone from my pocket to make sure I didn’t miss anything and my shoulders slump when there are no missed calls or texts. It’s becoming an addiction I need to learn to break.

“He’ll come around,” Ford whispers.

I hum, sliding my phone back into my pocket, and my eyes find the final painting again.

The one of us. Nico and I. I’m not entirely certain when Wren found us like this but it looks like we’re on my brother’s back porch and his arms are wrapped around me. The smile on my face as I look up into his face…it’s real. His arms are tight around me and the sun it setting over us. It’s beautiful. It’s perfect. It’s love.

And I can’t be here anymore.

“I need to head out,” I blurt, walking away from the group.

“You okay?” Lincoln says, finding me walking out the front door. The tears are about to spill over and I nod furiously, needing out of here.

One room, full of reminders that I fucked my life up.

I fell in love. Then I ruined it.

I push my way outside and take a deep breath, leaning against the building.

“She does good work,” Lincoln says, startling me. “I’m sorry I didn’t warn you about it. She threatened no sex for a month if I let it slip.” He chuckles but I don’t.

“I didn’t know you followed me out here,” I say, wiping at my eyes. He leans against the wall next to me and shoves his hands into his pockets. “Why can’t I keep anyone in my life, Lincoln,” I mutter.

“I can’t answer that for you, little sis,” he says. “But I saw the love on your face every time you talked about him. Every time you were near him.”

“I can’t get a hold of him, Lincoln. I think it’s really over,” I whisper, pain radiating through my entire body. “This feels horrible,” I say.

“So try harder, Reagan. You’ve never been one to lie down and take it when something isn’t right. Why start now?” He raises his eyebrows at me and shrugs. “You’re two hours from his place, right? It’s Friday night. No work until Monday. What’s stopping you?”

I blink a few times and nod. “Yeah. You’re right.” My eyebrows furrow. Could I really do it? Could I show up at his place after what happened?

“Hey guys,” my dad says, stepping outside. “That’s some of her best work in there,” he says, watching me carefully.

“She’s so talented,” Lincoln agrees. “Words don’t even express how proud I am of her.”

“You should be, Lincoln. I know I am,” my dad says, then looks at me with pity in his wrinkled eyes. He’s aged more than I’d like to admit in the last few years.

I can safely say my dad has a better relationship with my brothers than me. Ours is strained by many attempts at me trying to get out of his house and failing miserably. He’s put up with a lot when it comes to his only daughter, so when his eyes hit mine and I see the pity in them I almost break again. He walks over to me and wraps his arms around me.

“You’re amazing, Reagan,” he whispers, pulling back. “But you’re also stupid for letting that boy get away. That girl in those paintings? Those happy, carefree paintings? Nico did that to you.”

“I know. Trust me.” I nod, drying my eyes.

“It’s not too late, you know.” He sounds so confident but I know better.

“It may be. He won’t answer my calls or texts.”

“My grandma used to tell me all the time some people are in your life for a season and some are in it for a reason.” He smiles. “Your mother was in my life for a reason. Because I couldn’t, as you call it now, ‘adult’ without her.” My dad stops and laughs, then pins me again with those pity filled eyes. “Reag, Nico’s not just another season. You’ve gone through more seasons than we get here in the Midwest in a year. He’s your reason. He brought you back to us. He brought our little girl back, happy, smiling… Nico is your reason, Reagan. Don’t let him get away this easily. You screwed up, yeah.” He nods. “But you can still fix it.”

“Thanks, Dad,” I whisper, taking a deep breath. “Hey, I’m going to head out,” I say, glancing at Lincoln. “Can you tell Wren thank you for me?”

“I can, but didn’t you ride here with Ford?”

“Shit,” I say. “Yeah, I did.”

“I’ll give you a ride home then come back. Your mom’s inside so proud of her daughter in law, and her daughter,” he nudges me. “So she’s bragging to whoever will listen to her.”

“Thanks, Dad.”

I need to get home and pack some necessities. I think I can make it before midnight if I leave soon.

The knock on Nico’s door comes at eleven thirty at night. I made it before midnight, and I’m slightly proud of myself. I’m also nervous as fuck. And feel like puking.

But I’m here.

“Hang on!” I hear someone inside yell but it doesn’t sound like Nico.

The door swings open and his brother, shirtless and mussed hair is staring at me like he’s seen a ghost.

“Hi,” I say.

“Fuck,” he whispers, eyes wide.

“Uh… Is Nico here?” I ask awkwardly and full of nerves.

“Shit.” he glances behind him and I worry immediately there’s a girl in Nico’s room. “Fuck, um. Come on in,” he blurts, opening the door the entire way for me.

I step inside and take a breath, one smell of his place reminds me of a happier time.

Nico. It smells like him.

“Is he here?” I ask, wringing my hands in front of me.

“No,” he says. “I’m sorry, Reagan. He left early for a business trip. Said he needed to clear his head.”

I nod, taking a deep breath.

“Oh,” I whisper. “Okay, thanks.” I reach for the door handle but he stops me.

“Wait,” he blurts. “It’s midnight. And I know you’re a few hours away. Just…stay. You can sleep in his bed.

“I can’t do that,” I say.

“Then the couch.” He’s looking at me with more compassion I’ve ever known the guy to have. I was around him enough times before I moved to know this kid is only looking out for himself, but right now he looks like he genuinely cares about something, which is rare.

“Okay, fine,” I say. “But only because I drove here on pure adrenaline and it’s run out and I’m fucking tired,” I mumble.

“I’ll grab you a pillow and blanket.” He walks away and I make my way to the couch. His invite to sleep in Nico’s bed was tempting, to be wrapped in his smell, but at this point in my life that’d just be torture.

I sit down and stare out the window. The same window we used to stare out when we were snuggled on this couch. I take a deep breath and sigh. God, I was so stupid.

“This is all we’ve got,” Gabriel hands me a blanket and pillow. “It’s from his bed. I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine. Thank you.” I take it and wrap it around me, inhaling and letting his scent wash over me and crush my heart. Gabe stands there, staring at me awkwardly.

“Can I ask you a question?” he finally says and I close my eyes to hide the eye roll.

“Shoot.”

“Why’d you do it?”

My eyes fly to him and his face is stone.

“Why’d you break my brother?”

“I didn’t…” I trail off and glance around the room and it all clicks. It’s a disaster. Not like what Nico would keep it.

And then I see it. His phone. On the side table. He doesn’t even have it with him. He’s not obsessing like I am. He… Does he not care anymore?

“You broke him, Reagan. That man loves you, and you shattered him.”

“I’m tired,” I whisper and he curses.

“Yeah. Okay. I leave for work at eight am. You need to be gone before I leave.”

He walks out of the room and I lie down, pulling Nico’s blanket over me. If this is the last time I’ll get to sleep this close to him, I’m not going to waste it. When his brother looked at me when I opened the door I should have known. I didn’t just ruin my life. I ruined his. And he’s never going to forgive me for it.

“Your dog pissed on my shoe,” Ford grumbles, carrying Monroe into the shop.

“Sorry,” I mutter, taking him and giving him lovins.

“You’re spoiling that thing. Yellow… Yellow was nice and trained. Monroe just pisses everywhere.” He reaches out and pets him and I pull him away.

“No puppy loves if you can’t be nice. He’s little. He’ll get it.”

“Sure,” he laughs. “Hey, we’re heading to grab dinner before trivia night tonight, you want to go?” He shoves his hands into his pockets and watches me carefully. I’ve been on a short fuse since I got back from Chicago last weekend. Short and angry, all the fucking time.

“No, thanks.” I set Monroe down and walk around the counter to my phone, picking it up to see the same old black screen saver. Nothing new.

“You’re coming tonight, though. Right?”

“No.”

“You love trivia nights!” he barks, leaning on the counter. “Come on, Reag. We need you!”

I raise an eyebrow at him.

“I used to love them. Back then. But right now all I want to do is sleep.” I shove my phone into my pocket and glance at the time on the wall. “Closing time. Excuse me.”

He curses and lets me go because he knows it’s a useless fight. I grab Monroe and head to my car, stopping by the gas station on the way home. After cracking the windows, I head inside to grab a soda and chips for dinner.

“Excuse me,” I blurt, opening the door to someone standing in my way.

“Sorry,” he says and that voice reminds me of someone. I glance up and look at the man.

“Dot?” I ask, laughing immediately. “Holy shit, how are you?”

“Fuck me, Reagan West.” He mumbles, grinning. “How the hell have you been?” His eyes travel my body, currently layered in too big sweats and my brother’s old coat. Hot fucking mess and zero cares.

“Fine,” I say, nodding. “You?”

“Busy. Working at a startup firm downtown. Making good money. Can’t complain.”

His smile is still the pretty boy smile from way back when. God, it’s been years since I’ve seen him and I chuckle to myself, letting my mind wander. I thought I could be in love with him back then. I was crushed when we broke up. I never thought I’d be loved again…that I was purely unwanted by the male species.

Then…then I met Nico. And everything changed. Now I know what it’s like to feel utterly demolished after you lose the love of your life.

It’s something I’ll never get over.

“Cool,” I say, stepping around him.

“It was good seeing you, Reagan.” He follows me a step and I pause.

“You too. Take care.” I grab a cup and start filling it.

“Hey, you wouldn’t want to grab dinner tomorrow night, would you?”

I stare at my cup, my soda flowing over the top as I stand there frozen. He’s really fucking asking me out right now?

“I’m okay,” I say, taking a deep breath.

“You taken or something?”

“No,” I laugh harshly. “Not into the whole dating thing.”

“Then just hang out with me. As old friends.” His smile is and always has been contagious.

“As friends. Only friends. No fucking,” I say and his boisterous laugh rings through the gas station.

“Yes. Absolutely just friends. And no fucking. Promise.” He winks at me and I roll my eyes.

“Fine,” I say. “But only because you’re buying and I want a free meal.”


 

Broken.

Dying inside.

Absolutely useless.

That’s my life. At least that’s how it’s been since Reagan left me.

Those two days I had until I had to be back at work I was useless. I went straight home and broke. That’s about how it went. Walk in, grab the liquor, and break. My brother didn’t understand what was wrong with me. Hell, I didn’t understand it. I thought she loved me. I thought that was it.

Apparently I was wrong.

Then Lincoln called, and put everything into perspective for me. He talked me off the cliff I was dangerously perched on. He helped me understand why she does what she does, even if he doesn’t fully understand it. I get wanting to save yourself. I grew up with a mother who cared more for herself than her kids.

I absolutely get that part of it.

What I don’t understand is how she got that way. She’s got an amazing family, a great support system, and she has me. Someone who loves her…but she still pushed me away.

And holy fuck it pissed me off.

I was so close to attempting to close the Reagan chapter of my life, even though I’m sure I never would be able to, but Lincoln talked some sense into me. I went to work that Monday with a new outlook. I’d make her miss me. My boss agreed to let me transfer here after forty-eight hours of begging for it, even though he really didn’t want to see me go. I tried smiling more, even though I was miserable. I went back to the gym even though I didn’t feel like it.

I lived without her for what felt like an eternity, absolutely miserable on the inside. A sadistic part of me wanted her to suffer a bit.

I counted every call. Every text. Daily.

I thought I was doing the right thing. I’d make her realize she needed me and she was wrong. But not just in the way that she missed me. In the way that she literally ached for me. I wanted her to want me because of something more than infatuation. I know she’s capable of it.

Everything was going as planned…up until four days ago…when she stopped texting. She stopped calling. 

Now, one week later, I’m moving to Springfield with no fucking clue what I’m about to walk into. Other than a shit-show of emotions. Because today I’m finally realizing my plan of attack might have been the wrong fucking decision. Who ignores the woman they love just to try to make her miss them?

Fuck.

“Alright. Well that’s all we need. See you Monday?” My new boss, Kelvin, delivers a firm handshake.

“Absolutely. Thank you.” I smile wide, looking around the building.

The building nestled in the business district of Springfield, Illinois and only about a ten minute drive to the West House is now my new place of employment. I fucking fought to get here, and now that I am there’s no going back. I’m getting my girl. 

I’m fucking taking her back.

I knock on her door and wipe my hands on my jeans, my palms sweating profusely. The door swings open without a care in the world and when the face that meets me isn’t her face I want to rage.

Pure rage.

“Hey man. You got the pizza?” This guy. Tall, scrawny, bearded man-bun hipster fucker is glancing around like I’m the mother fucking pizza delivery guy.

I clench my fists and hold back the anger.

“No,” I growl. “Is Reagan here?”

“Wait, you’re not the delivery guy?” He points at me.

“Do I look like a fucking delivery man?” I blurt, then take a deep breath.

“Kinda,” he shrugs, chuckling. “Hey Reag. Someone’s here for ya,” he yells behind him, eyeing me. I hate that he calls her that. Her family calls her that. This douche doesn’t look like family.

Family wouldn’t look at me like I’m about to steal their girl.

“Who is it?” she asks, pulling the door open wider and all the color drains from her face when she sees me.

My God, two weeks away from her and one look brings back every emotion. Every feeling of love. Every comfortable feeling. I want to wrap my arms around her and drown myself in her happiness. In her love. In her life.

I want everything with this girl, and no time apart will lessen that.

“Nico,” she whispers finally finding her voice.

“Ten,” I mutter, not liking one bit that this tool’s still standing here watching us.

“We were about to have dinner and movie. You can come in if you’d like,” he says, and I blink away the anger coursing through me.

She moved on.

Holy fuck.

“I just came by to say hi,” I lie, her eyebrows dipping in confusion and her hands tight at her side. She’s more affected by seeing me than I originally thought. I smirk and shrug like I’m not about to fight to my death for this girl’s attention. For her love. I will. And I am. “I’ll see ya around, Ten.”

“Ten?” I hear the man mumble as I turn and walk away.

I gotta get out of here. I gotta get away from her before I pummel that asshole’s face in. I storm past my apartment door and straight to my waiting Beamer, dialing Ford immediately.

“Hey,” he answers. “What’s up?”

“She’s got a boyfriend,” I blurt.

“What?” He laughs. “No she doesn’t.”

“There’s a guy at her place right now, Ford. Who’s the guy?”

“Chill out. Where are you? You’re here already? I thought we had another week?”

I told them I was moving here the minute I heard word of it being final, but I made them promise not to tell her. They weren’t happy with it, but they understood. I needed a grand gesture. Buying the apartment below hers, I thought, would be grand enough. Being that close? Amazing. But seeing her with that tool tonight… Holy fuck.

“No, idiot, this weekend,” I growl. “You could have warned me!”

“She didn’t move on, Nico! I fucking promise. I don’t know who the guy is. She’s still the mopey, sad Reagan we’re all learning to love again.” I groan and hit the steering wheel, cursing. “Come on over. We’ll figure this shit out. She’s not herself without you, so even if there is a guy there it’s not the right guy.”

“Yeah. Fine,” I grumble, shaking my head and ending the call.

I can’t believe this. My brother told me this was the stupidest idea I’ve ever had, but I didn’t want to believe him. I wanted to believe that I knew what was best. I wanted to believe she’d be waiting to take me back. It’s only been two weeks…

I knock on Ford’s front door shortly after ending the call and grabbing his address. Mackenzie opens the door and immediately wraps me in a warm hug.

“Oh my God it’s good to see you,” she says, giving me a tight squeeze before letting go.

“Thanks,” I say, walking inside. The kids are running wild and Ford’s sitting on the couch wearing a tiara and holding an ax. “Hey,” I chuckle, walking over to him.

“I’m a princess knight. You must bow to me,” he says in a crazy accent so I do a fancy bow that makes the kids die in fits of laughter.

“Come on you two. Bath time.” Mackenzie says, shuffling them out of the room. The minute they’re out of eyesight Ford tosses the tiara and ax across the room, chuckling.

“Kids, dude. They’ll ruin your sex appeal.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

He glances at me and nods.

“So there was a guy there?”

“Yep,” I say, exaggerating the p at the end. “Tall. Scrawny. Had a man bun and a hipster beard. Thick black glasses. Typical fucking hipster douche.”

Ford’s eyes go wide.

“No,” he says, shifting to pull out his phone and swiping through it. “This guy?” He holds out his phone screen, a replica of the man I just faced on it.

“Yep. That’s him.”

“Mother fucker!” He growls, typing out a text.

“What’re you doing?”

“Getting his ass out of there. That’s fucking Dot, dude. The ex.”

“Her ex-boyfriend was at her house for pizza and a movie on a Friday night?” My heart sinks. “Fuck.”

“Yeah fuck. We gotta get him out and you back in.”

I nod silently. She moved on that easily?

Then I was wrong all along. She didn’t ever love me.

You don’t move on from the love of your life in two weeks.

That shit doesn’t happen. Not unless you never loved him like he loved you.

“You know,” I say, standing. “I’m going to head to my apartment, get a good night’s sleep, and tomorrow maybe I’ll wake up and my life won’t feel like it’s crumbled at my feet again.”

“Fuck, Nico. Stop. It’s going to be fine. She’s not in love with him.” He laughs.

“She’s not in love with me either, apparently, Ford.” I head for the door.

“She is, though,” he says and I pause.

“And she’s told you this?” I ask, raising an eyebrow.

All he does is nod. A silent movement that brings a tiny sliver of hope to my otherwise dreadful future.

I head home and strip my clothes off then lie on top of the blankets after turning the music up loud enough that I can’t hear anything going on around me. I fucking hate apartment buildings like this where you can hear everything going on in everyone’s lives around you.

Didn’t like it in Chicago, and tonight I hate it even more here.

I’ve slept like shit lately and I was hoping for tonight to be better. I was honestly prepared for her to take me back. I was prepared for a fight, then the hottest make up sex ever.

I’m a red blooded male. I haven’t had anything other than my fucking hand since our last time together. I need her, so I was on a fucking mission tonight.

Then hipster fuckwad ruined it.

Now I’m lying here, pissed at the world, and finding my lame ass attempt at a good night’s sleep laughable.

 Because sleep never truly comes. Not without my girl.

My alarm goes off while the room’s still dark and I reach over to slap it, but it doesn’t turn off.

“What the fuck,” I mumble, prying my eyes open and trying to find the culprit. The noise is relentless, and soon enough I realize it’s not my alarm, it’s my phone ringing.

Over and over again. I clear my throat and grumble, answering it.

“What?” I growl, lying back in bed without checking caller ID.

“It’s Ford,” is all he says and just from his tone I can tell something’s wrong.

“What happened?” I ask, suddenly wide awake, shooting up in bed.

“It’s our dad…” he curses, his voice pitch changing. “You need to get to the hospital, Nico.”

He ends the call and seconds later I get a text with the name and address of the hospital. I throw on my clothes and rush to my car, putting the address in the GPS with shaking fingers.

Fifteen minutes later I’m pulling into the parking lot of the hospital and swerve into the first spot possible. I rush into the ER waiting room and immediately my stomach drops.

It’s silent. But it’s not empty.

Every West family sibling is there, along with their significant others and the kids.

Everyone has someone, except Reagan. She’s solo. All alone. And I feel like the biggest fucking asshole in the room. Everyone’s staring at me but her. She’s curled in a ball, head on her knees and arms wrapped around her legs, staring blankly at the floor.

She’s utterly heartbreaking.

“Guys,” I whisper, already knowing what they’re about to tell me. That’s not the look of ‘he’s going to be ok’ written all over their red rimmed eyes and pale faces. Reagan’s head lifts and she bites her lip hard when her eyes hit mine.

“Shit,” I huff. “God, Ten.”

She stands and rushes me, slamming into me and throwing her body around mine. It takes all I have not to topple over, but I hold firm for her.

The doors swing open and the doctor comes walking out with their mom, her face streaked with tears and her hands gripping onto a tissue so tight she’s almost obliterated it.

“Mom?” Ford whispers and all she does is shake her head.

That’s all it takes to break a room of Wests.

Mackenzie’s arms go around Ford, Lincoln curses and holds onto Carter tight, and Reagan pushes her face into my shirt. She sobs into my neck. Her body shaking from the tears. The others start sniffling and I glance at Ford who’s stone face is glaring at the tile floor. Lincoln’s holding Carter on his lap, fast asleep, tears rolling down his cheeks while the baby sleeps in the carrier. The twins are asleep in the stroller and Mackenzie and Wren are sitting firm in their spots next to their husbands.

This is the disheveled sight of a family who just lost their dad in the middle of the night emergency room trip.

“He’s gone,” Reagan hiccups through her tears and I smooth her hair down.

“Shh, it’s okay,” I say, not wanting to let her go. Ever. I want to take every ounce of pain from her. I hurt when my mom died. I know what it feels like losing a parent, and my mom and I were nowhere near as close as Reagan and her dad were.

“It’s not,” she shakes her head, still buried in my neck. Her arms grip tighter around me and she tries to silence her cries but it doesn’t work.

“Come on, Ten. Let’s get some fresh air,” I say, eyeing the babies in the stroller who are starting to stir with all the commotion.

She lets me walk her outside and the cool air helps my nerves a bit, but not much.

Reagan sits on the bench next to me and I wrap my hands around hers. She’s cold.

“Here, take my jacket,” I say, pulling it off and putting it over her shoulders.

“He’s gone,” she keeps saying and my eyes fill with tears for her. For her mom. For her entire family.

“I know, Ten.” I pull her to me, pressing my lips to her head. “I know.”

There are no words I can say right now that will make her feel better. Nothing to take away the pain. So I sit with her while she stares at the ground and her tears drip to our hands. 

“He had a heart attack,” she finally whispers. “Massive…sudden…” she trails off. “I was just talking to him earlier today and he was fine. Then my mom called and… God. They got him here and he was still alive…”

“At least he didn’t suffer too long,” I say, hating this. This isn’t how we were supposed to get back together after all this time apart. This isn’t supposed to happen. No girl in her twenties should have to bury her father. Ever.

I pull her tighter against me, taking in every word she’s saying and not offering any empty words of encouragement to her. She doesn’t need them, and I know she doesn’t want them. When my mom died I hated people asking me how I was doing, or wanting to know every detail of her death.

She’s gone. It doesn’t matter. And I wasn’t doing well.

Not at all.

“Hey guys,” Ford says, walking out the hospital doors. I glance over at him and give him a small smile, but even that small of one feels wrong right now. “It’s cold out here, you sure you don’t want to come back inside?”

“I want to go home,” Reagan whispers, her eyebrows pulling together as she looks up at him. “Can I go home? I need to go home.” She stands and I stand with her.

“Uh… yeah. I think we’re all about ready to. Mom… She had some things to clear up.”

“Okay,” Reagan says, taking my hand. “Take me home, please.” Her eyes hit mine and I don’t even ask if her car’s here. I don’t ask about the guy she was with because it doesn’t matter. I don’t say anything other than, “Okay,” then I look at Ford. “I’m sorry, man. Call us with any updates.”

“Yeah,” he says, nodding. “Sure thing.”

She grips onto me on the way to my car like her life depends on it, pours herself into the passenger seat and buckles slowly, on autopilot almost. When I get in, her hand stretches to mine and she’s got no words the entire drive back to her place.

I take the keys from her trembling hands to unlock her door and walk in to her apartment right behind her, locking the door behind us.

She’s miserable and my chest physically hurts because there’s nothing I can do for her.

“I’m going to go to bed,” she mumbles, walking to the bedroom.

I pause, because while I know I’m not going anywhere, I’m also not sure if she wants me in there or not.

“Okay,” I finally say, watching her walk away. She pauses and turns, her eyes filled with tears.

“Can you lie with me please?” Her voice is so weak my throat tingles as I nod.

“Of course,” I whisper, following her to her room.

I wrap myself around her and listen to her quietly cry, earth shattering tiny noises come from her, and there’s no relief from the gravity of the situation in sight.

She cries herself to sleep in my arms. I listen to her slow, even breathing. Her hair smells like what I remember her smelling like, her body feels better than it ever did pressed against me. But I hurt.

I hurt for her, and I hurt for us.

Because I have no clue what to do from here.

I fall asleep like that, wrapped around Ten, and we don’t wake up until the sun’s full in the sky.

“Hey,” I whisper, pushing the hair out of her face. I woke up with her wrapped around me and it feels amazing lying here like this with her.

“Hi,” she mumbles, blinking blankly.

“You feeling up for coffee?”

“A shower,” she says, then stands from the bed and walks in to the bathroom, closing the door behind her.

“Fuck,” I huff, texting Ford.

 

Nico: Hey

Ford: We’re all at Mom’s. When you’re awake you guys should come over.

Nico: Absolutely.

 

I watch the bathroom door and when I hear the shower turn on, I head out to the living room to find Monroe asleep in his kennel.

“Oh buddy, you’ve been in there so long,” I say, walking over to him. I immediately smile at how big he’s gotten since the last time I saw him. His tail thumps the side of the kennel and I pull him out, snapping the leash on top of his collar and taking him out to use the bathroom. It’s cold out here and all I have is the t-shirt and jeans I rushed here in but the cold air feels amazing. Refreshing. Reminding me I’m still here, alive, on this earth and I need to make the most of my life.

Death always puts things into perspective for me. It sounds terrible, but realizing you could die any moment makes me want to live every moment here on earth to its fullest and I’m going to, starting with making sure Reagan’s okay.

He does his business almost immediately then is whining to get back in, so we head in and I find his water and food bowl and fill them for him before getting to work making coffee. It’s strange, I haven’t been here too many times but it feels more like home here than it did at my Chicago apartment. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve wanted to move out of that place since earlier this year, or maybe living with my brother doesn’t allow the place to feel all like my own, but being here is a much more comfortable feeling than I ever had there.

Even under these circumstances.

I hear the water to the shower turn off and pour her a large mug of coffee, making it just the way she likes it, and walk into the bedroom. She opens the door to the bathroom wrapped only in a towel around her body and one on her head and she gives me a very weak, faint smile.

“Thank you,” she says. “For everything.”

“I made your coffee and took Monroe out for you.” I walk across the room and set the coffee on the dresser near her, really testing my self control because all I want to do is lean over and kiss her. “And don’t thank me. Please.”

“Thanks. Sorry,” she whispers, eyeing the coffee. “You… You don’t have to stay here. I’m okay now. I’ll be okay.” She takes a deep breath and her eyes hit mine and my stomach flops. God, I love this girl.

“I’m not leaving your side. And if your boyfriend comes around, I may just have to beat him off,” I mutter, walking back to the bed.

‘Boyfriend?” her eyes narrow then the realization dawns and she chuckles. “Nico, that isn’t my boyfriend. We’re trying to be friends, but even calling him a friend is pushing it.”

I watch her cross the room and shake her head, taking a sip of coffee while she picks out clothes from her drawer.

“He’s not your boyfriend?”

“Dot?” she says, turning around. “No. Years ago he was, but he’s a tool. Not my type.”

“Do you have a type?”

She rolls her eyes and I catch myself grinning at her, and then feel guilty because this isn’t the time to be talking about this. Her dad just died hours ago. I shouldn’t be pushing this, but I love this girl and I need to know if I even have a chance with her anymore.

“You know I do,” she whispers, her eyes pausing on mine, then turns around to finish finding her clothes before silently returning to the bathroom and closing the door behind her.

I grin to myself and pull out my phone, scrolling through my e-mails to pass the time until we leave to go to visit her mom.

“You ready for today?” I stupidly ask. No one’s ever ready to bury their parent and that’s on the list of questions I hated people asking me when my mom died, but it came out stupidly because after that conversation in her room the other day she’s been so closed off and I haven’t known what topics are safe talking about with her. She’s either been at her mom’s, spending time with her, or she’s been home sleeping. She doesn’t want to talk. She barely wants to eat. I know the feeling of losing a parent, but I don’t know the pain she’s going through because I was never as close to my mom as she is to her parents.

I want to kiss her. I want to touch her. I want unlimited touches…but I can’t have those yet.

I want to talk about us, but the timing just fucking sucks.

I want to tell her about moving here and the job, but I fear anything about my life that’s happy may set her off because she’s so down right now.

I just want her to be happy, and I know it’ll come with time.

Time. We all need a little more time.

The wake last night was rough, but she made it through it without too many break downs. She slept for thirteen hours that day beforehand, which I know she needed but I was starting to worry. Now, the day we bury her dad, she was up at five am, running around the house cleaning like a mad woman. 

“No. I’m not ready,” she blurts, tossing shit out of her drawer. “Where are they?” She yells, opening and slamming drawer after drawer, socks and underwear flying behind her.

“Hey,” I say, walking over to her and resting my hand on her lower back. The dress she’s wearing is pitch black and she’s got a black fur thing to go over it. I thought she was ready, but apparently she’s not.

“The socks,” she whispers, then the tears start again. “He got me unicorn socks last year. I never wore them because I thought they were stupid. I need them.” She cries. “But I think I lost them in the move.”

My chest aches more for this girl and I turn her in my arms, taking her in my embrace.

“We’ll find them. You didn’t lose them, I’m sure,” I whisper, holding her tight until she calms herself down enough. When she stands straight, adjusts her dress, and hits me with those painfully beautiful eyes, I smirk. “I’ll find them. You sit.” I nod to the bed and she rolls her eyes.

“You just want to go through my drawers.”

“It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.” I chuckle when she pouts and retreats to the bed, watching me shuffle through her drawers.

This would be a fuck ton easier if she would keep her shit organized, but I’m not going to start in on her for that right now.

“Here,” I say, pulling out a pair of socks. “These?” I toss them to her and her face lights up.

“Oh my God, thank you.” She smiles tight and takes a deep breath. “I’m ready to go now.” She shoves the socks into her purse and I want so badly to ask what she plans on doing with them but I don’t push it. She has her reasons.

I take her hand as we walk towards my car, making her smile at me.

“You’re beautiful, Reagan. And you’re strong. And you’re a badass.” I grip her hand tighter. “We’ll get you through this.”

All I get is a smile from her and it breaks my already shattered heart.

“My father was a strong man,” Lincoln starts in and already I feel the knot in my throat. I hate funerals. I mean, who in their right mind really enjoys them? They’re morbid and sad as fuck, but for most people they’re a necessary part in grieving. It’s not for the deceased as much as it is for the living who are mourning their loved one. “His entire life, all he wanted was for the people he loved most in his life to be happy.” He gives the crowd a small nod then glances at the casket. “I’d like to think he got his wish.” His eyes fly to Reagan and she goes still next to me, then he glances at me before clearing his throat. “I remember when we were kids, the three of us, Ford, Reagan, and I, would always give him a hard time because he worked too much and wasn’t home a lot. My mom raised us the majority of our childhood. I never understood why he wasn’t there. Why he cared more about the House than he did us.” He shakes his head. “I get it now. I got it when my son was born, but I get it more now and I’ll regret every day that goes by that I’m not able to tell him thank you. Because without his hard work, none of us would be here still, where we belong. I’d probably still be out in Seattle. Ford would probably be in jail by now,” he says and everyone laughs. “Reagan wouldn’t be home, I’m sure. She’d be living it large still in Chicago.” He shrugs. “But our dad instilled early on in our lives the importance of hard work. And family. And love. All of which I like to think start here. In Springfield. With our parents.”

Lincoln goes on, telling stories about the past, his siblings, and his relationship with his father but I tune him out because I can’t take my eyes off Reagan and how beautiful she looks. The cloudy morning made way for a sunny afternoon and the way the sun’s glowing on her face right now makes my heart have so much hope that she’ll be okay after this. That we’ll be okay after this.

I watch Ford give his speech, and while it’s got a little more life and humor to it than Lincoln’s, it’s still emotional and heartfelt. He ends it in tears but I don’t think there’s a dry eye in this place at this point.

Then Reagan gets up to talk, and before she does she gives my hand a quick squeeze.

My heart’s hammering out of my chest because I hate how much she’s hurting and to get up there and say something to this group of family and loved ones when she’s hurting that much isn’t something anyone wants to have to do.

“Hey,” she says, waving and I grin because she’s a goof and absolutely adorable. “I’m the youngest trouble maker for those of you who don’t know.” She nods and mumbles something about nerves and I pull my lip between my teeth to calm my own nerves for her. “My dad gave me these socks,” she says, waving the unicorn socks in the air. “And…” she takes one of them and holds it, showing that they’re still attached by that plastic thing the store uses to keep pairs together. “I always thought I was too cool for them. I’ve had these in my drawer for over a year now, unworn and unwanted, because I’m not a kid anymore. I shouldn’t be wearing unicorn socks.” She clears her throat and takes a deep breath and Ford glances over at me with a curious look. I shrug, because I have no clue where she’s taking this.

She hasn’t really talked much these last few days.

“It didn’t hit me hard until this morning. When I was in the shower, I remembered that Lincoln had told us yesterday morning we’d have to do this speech, if we wanted. Well, I couldn’t say no and let my brothers stand me up like that,” she rolls her eyes, making some people chuckle. “I know, I’ve been that stubborn my entire life. But this morning, I realized I had nothing prepared.” She breathes deep, trying to calm the tears at bay. “Then I remembered the socks. And I remembered how excited my dad was when he gave them to me because he thought they were so funny. And I remember thinking that they were funny, but I was too cool to show that I thought that, so I tossed them into a drawer and forgot about them.” She looks at me. “But when I went to get them… I couldn’t find them. And I panicked. Because the last thing I had in my life to remind me of my dad was gone. Like that.” She nods at me. “But then Nico found them. And my entire life seemed okay for a brief moment.” She rolls her eyes and dries the tears that have fallen. “Sounds ridiculous, right. Letting socks make or break a day like this? And it probably is…but that’s ok. Life’s ridiculous, and I’m ridiculous for thinking these socks weren’t cool enough for me. Like keeping these socks and wearing these socks would make me less awesome. Like it would bring me down.” She laughs and kicks off her shoes, then breaks the plastic piece and slides the socks on her feet. Her mom sniffles on the other side of Lincoln and I watch him wrap an arm around her. “These socks are way too cool for me,” she says, wiggling her toes and making people chuckle. “My dad was a pretty awesome guy. The best dad a girl could ask for. I never wanted for anything, I pretty much always got what I wanted, and most people would say he spoiled me. I knew he did it, and I drank it in. I wasn’t always the nicest to him and I definitely gave him a hard time, but I’d like to think in the end I made him proud. Hopefully.” She wipes a tear and takes a deep breath. “These socks are too good for me. They’re way cooler than I am. Honestly, I don’t deserve these socks. I almost lost these socks. But they came back to me this week.” Her eyes hit mine and I furrow my brows because I feel like she’s talking more about us than the socks right now. “I’m keeping them, though. And I’m going to cherish them, because they mean the world to me. I love these socks. And if my dad taught me anything in life, it’s to hold tightly to those things that you love.” She turns to the casket about to be lowered into the ground. “I love you, Daddy. Thank you for giving me everything a girl could ask for in life.” She blows a kiss to it then her brothers meet her at the front and wrap their arms around her and I have to look away, wiping the tears away from my eyes before they fall.

She walks over to me, her face red and eyes moist, and when she sits down in her seat as they lower the casket, she smiles at me.

“Thank you,” she whispers, then rests her head on my shoulder and somehow I know right then that we’re going to be okay.

“Thank you for being there for our sister, Nico,” Lincoln says, man-hugging me.

“I’m glad I could be. For all of you. Your dad was a fantastic man to raise such amazing kids.”

“I’m the best one out of us. He did the best on me,” Ford blurts, grinning while Lincoln jabs him in the arm.

“He only had to because you were the biggest trouble maker.” Reagan says, laughing.

A real laugh and a real smile that I’ve only seen once in the past few days.

“When’re you heading back to Chicago?” Ford asks and he grins, raising his eyebrow at me.

I stammer at first, stopping myself from looking like a mumbling idiot because I never told Reagan I actually live here now and Ford probably knows it.

“Uh…”

Reagan starts to drift away, talking to a few other family members that have yet to leave the house.

“I’m not,” I say loud enough for her to hear. “I’m taking the lead role at the new branch here. So looks like you’ll be seeing more of me,” I say, watching Reagan turn and attempt to act unfazed by this news.

“Congrats, man,” Ford says, winking at me. “Hey Linc, wanna go raid Dad’s cigar stash?”

“Seriously?” He chuckles and I watch Ford pull him away from us.

“You… You live here now?” she says, confusion written all over her face.

“Looks like it.” I nod.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Her eyebrows dip.

I glance around and see there are still quite a few people here.

“Can we talk about this outside?” I signal towards the back and she nods then walks out the back door and onto the patio. The weather’s cooler than it usually is this time of year but I don’t mind it.

“So you’re here? For good?” She sits on one of the patio chairs and tucks her legs under hear.

“I am.”

“And you were going to tell me when?”

“I came to your house that night to tell you. To win you back. Because I can’t live without you, Ten.” I sigh. “But then I saw you with that guy.”

“Dot,” she mumbles, shaking her head. “I knew something was up that night. I should have texted you.”

“Why’d you stop?” I ask making her look at me in question. “You called or texted every day for the entire time but then it just stopped. Why’d you stop?”

She bites her lip. “Honestly?” she says and I raise my eyebrows at her, waiting patiently. “I figured you were over me.” She shrugs.

“Impossible,” I whisper. “I could never stop wanting you.”

“Why didn’t you answer me then?”

And there it is. The question of the hour.

“I don’t know. I was hurt. Very hurt. I’d admitted how I felt about you and you broke up with me.” I shake my head. “My pride was damaged, but my heart was shattered.”

She nods silently. “I’m really sorry,” she finally whispers.

“Me too,” I say. “I should have answered. Everyone told me to…” I shake my head. “But I was so angry, Ten. So fucking angry.” I run my hands through my hair and let out a low growl. “I’m sorry, Reagan. I’m so sorry. And I can’t say it enough.”

She looks at me and stands, walking over to where I’m leaning against the house.

“I love you, Nico D’ Angeli,” she says, absolutely taking me by surprise.

I blink a few times, then nod and shove my hands through her hair gently, cupping the back of her head. Goddamn I’ve missed touching her.

“And I’m still one hundred percent madly in love with you, Reagan West.”


 

I smile, a foreign feeling lately, and blink slowly a few times.

“I missed this,” I whisper, enjoying too much the feeling of being this close to him but not wanting it to end.

“Me too,” he says, his eyes flicking down to my lips. He sighs and shakes his head. “Ten, I don’t know what to do here.” His voice is gruff and he’s fighting a battle he wants to lose, I can feel it.

He’s trying not to kiss me. But a kiss is exactly what I need.

“Kiss me, Nico.” He shakes his head again and I bring my hands to his cheeks, physically calming him. “Kiss me.”

This week’s sucked fucking balls. Nothing will ever make better what I endured this past week, then add to it the two before it and I feel like I could go to bed and never wake up.

I need his touches more than he thinks.

He stares past my eyes and straight in to my soul, then dips his head and softly presses his lips to mine. Gently. With so much need I don’t know what to do with myself. Guilt washes over me, because I shouldn’t be feeling this right now. I shouldn’t want him like this. Not after everything. Not after what today was.

I pull back slightly and he rests his forehead on mine, breathing deep, slow breaths, white puffs coming out from his mouth. His fingers slide from my head down to my shoulders and chills roll through my body. I’ve missed his touches. I’ve missed being close to him. I’ve missed him so fucking much.

“I didn’t want us to be brought back together like we were,” he whispers. “I never would have wished for it to happen that way. Fuck, Ten,” he says and I bring my fingertips to his lips.

“Can we not talk about it right now? It hurts too deeply and I’m in too good of a place right now.”

“On your parents back porch in the cold?” he asks, grinning at me and I roll my eyes.

“Next to the man I love, when I’ve spent the past two weeks thinking I’d never see him again,” I say truthfully. Yes, I ache so bad for what happened to my dad. I’ll never get over it, I don’t think. But right now, with Nico, things seem like they may end up being okay. Baby steps.

All he can do is smile, and that’s okay. I know he’s worried about me. Hell, I’m worried about me. But I think I’ll be okay.

Okay.

That word’s come up a lot in the last few days.

Are you okay?

I hope everything’s okay.

You’re going to be okay.

I hated it every time someone would mutter those words to me, but right now I finally believe them.

“I’m hungry,” I say finally, though I could probably stand out here with him all night. In there…in that house…there are too many reminders. Too much pain on the fresh wounds.

“Let’s get you something to eat,” he says, rubbing his hands down my arms.

“Sounds good,” I say, taking a deep breath. “Then I need to go home. Because I can’t be here much longer.”

“I get it,” he says, taking my hand and walking inside. “When my mom passed I was so done with social gatherings, even as small as ours was compared to this, that I didn’t leave my house for a week after everything settled down.”

He glances back at me on our way to the kitchen with a worried look on his face.

“What?” I say.

“Nothing. I just…” he shakes his head but before he can say whatever it is that’s on his mind, Ford walks up and pats Nico on the back then eyes where our hands are still wrapped together.

“How you two doin’?” he asks.

“Fine,” I say. “Hungry. How’s Mom holding up?” I glance across the room where my mom’s sitting in her chair, talking with some of her closest friends…but her eyes are trained on my dad’s empty chair. Ford sighs and rubs his neck as we watch her.

“She’ll be okay.”

“Maybe I should move back,” I whisper. “She’s all alone now. Maybe I should move home to be with her. Keep her company.”

Ford laughs and rubs the top of my head.

“I think that may just make her a little crazier than she’s already gone.”

“You’re hilarious,” I grumble.

“We’re all having breakfast at Lincoln’s tomorrow morning. You guys should join.”

I glance at Nico and shrug.

“We’ll see. I feel like I could eat a cow then sleep for a week, so it just depends.”

“Got it.” he winks at me. “Mack and I are going to get the kids home.” He gives me a tight hug and I hold on a little tighter and longer than usual.

“Thanks for being such a kickass big brother, Ford,” I mutter.

“You made my life hell since the moment you were born, sis. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.” He steps back, musses up my hair, then brings Nico in for a bro-hug. “And you better legit be living here. I miss my Luigi time.”

“Dude, I don’t have a Luigi mustache anymore,” Nico says, laughing.

“First impressions, Luigi.” Ford says, then does the Mario hop and punches the air above his head, making us both laugh.

Laughing feels…good.

I haven’t done enough of that lately, either.

Nico helps me get my plate, sticking by my side the rest of the night while my aunts and uncles all pay their respects and try to barge into my life. The awkward topic of ‘who is this handsome man next to you’ comes up plenty of times, and each time I’ve introduced him as my boyfriend even though we haven’t talked about it yet. It may be presumptuous of me, but it’s easier when dealing with long distance relatives.

By the time we’re walking back through my front door, I’m exhausted.

Then the barking starts.

“Oh my God, why did I get a dog?” I whine, throwing myself onto the couch. Nico laughs and heads to his kennel.

“Hey bud. Let’s let Mom rest, okay?” I hear him click on the leash and smile to myself when Nico walks by and plants a kiss on my cheek. “I’ll take him out, then it’s bath time and bed for you,” he whispers.

I mumble something, but my eyes are already getting heavy. There won’t be a bath tonight. And I think I’m sleeping on the couch because I don’t have the energy to move to my bed.

Suddenly this tiny apartment feels like a mansion and it’ll take too much time and effort to move around it.

The door opens back up shortly after they leave through it and Monroe’s a ball of energy. He licks my face, jumps on me, and at one point shoves his head in my butt to sniff it and the whole time I let him. I just don’t have the energy right now to correct him. Instead, I close my eyes and let him try to destroy me. Because apparently that’s how puppies like to play.

I hear Nico chuckling and manage to open one eye, though by now my hair’s been shoved in my face and I think the dog’s currently sitting on my head but I zoned out there for a bit.

“Wow,” Nico laughs again. “This is a sight.”

“I believe it,” I mumble. “But he’s so hyper. And I’m so…not.”

“Come on Monroe,” he calls to the dog, clicking his tongue and Monroe hops off the couch immediately, sitting in front of Nico.

“How’d you do that?”

“I’ve been alone with him a lot the last few days. I needed something to do.” Nico’s amused voice feels too good to my ears right now. I sit up and rub the hair out of my face.

“He’s sitting by your feet,” I say, confused. “He doesn’t do that for me.”

“What does he do for you?”

I shrug, thinking back to the last few weeks with him.

“Lets me cry on him. Lets me snuggle him. Doesn’t mind eating my leftovers when I can’t find it in me to get out of bed.”

“Wow, Ten. That’s pitiful.” Nico grins at me and I roll my eyes. “Come on,” he says. “I got your bath ready.”

“You drew me a bath?”

“While you were napping I cleaned up the place and drew you a bath. And started some dishes and laundry.”

“I napped?” I glance at the couch. “I… I just laid down to rest. I didn’t nap.”

“Ten, you don’t snore when you’re awake.” He smirks and then holds his hand out to me. “Up and at ‘em, let’s go.”

I take his hand and on the way to the bathroom notice how clean the place is. He even changed my bedsheets.

We walk into the bathroom and all the lights are off. He’s got candles lit and sitting on every surface and it smells like eucalyptus and minty, almost.

“Holy cow, Nico,” I say, smiling at him. “You did all this?”

“You need it. It’s been a hell of a month for you.” He presses his lips to my neck and I sigh, rolling my head back to him. “In the tub. Get your relax on. I’m going to finish some laundry and cleaning.” He pats my ass gently and I smile at the tub as he leaves me be and closes the door behind him.

The water feels amazing, and as exhausted as I was when I got home, the whole scene he set here rejuvenates me. It’s peaceful, it’s relaxing, but I don’t fall asleep. I lie in the tub, the warm water hugging me until my fingertips turn into prunes. Then, and only then, do I shift to start cleaning and washing off the grime from the last few days.

Not literal grime, but the emotional stress. A few tears slip out of my eyes for my dad, then as soon as they hit the water I laugh, because if my dad knew how much I’ve cried these last few days he wouldn’t be too happy.

He raised much stronger kids than I’m feeling lately.

After everything’s been cleaned, shaven, and soaked thoroughly, the water’s just starting to cool when I stand and stretch. I have no clue how long I’ve been in here, but it was exactly what I needed.

Wrapping my robe around me, I towel dry my hair and brush it through then brush my teeth for bed. I’m so relaxed from that bath I feel like I could sleep for weeks.

The door opens and I smile when my eyes land on Nico walking into the room with a basket full of already folded clothes.

“Hey you,” he says, setting the basket on the bed and walking towards me. “How’d that feel?”

“Perfect,” I say smiling. “You knew exactly what I needed. Thank you.” I smile at him and his face brightens.

“You’re welcome. Now hop in bed. I’ve got some nighttime tea going for ya. As soon as I get this load of laundry put away I’ll grab it.”

“Nico you didn’t have to do this,” I say, unable to wipe the soft smile from my face.

“I don’t have to do anything, Ten. But I do it because I want to.” He presses his lips to mine gently and I melt into him. I miss his body, and if I wasn’t so drained right now I’d be stripping this robe off and letting him enjoy mine.

But I just don’t have it in me tonight.

“Bed,” he whispers on my lips and I obey, simply because the fresh sheets look amazing.

I crawl under them and pull them up to my neck, sighing at how soft they are. How did he make them so soft? These can’t be my sheets. And honestly, it doesn’t even feel like my own bed. It feels a hundred times better. I take a deep breath and try to tell myself to stop worrying about things. Everything’s going to be okay. My mom still has all three of us to keep her busy. And she’s got my grandma who I feel has found the fountain of youth. That woman will probably end up burying all of us. It’ll be just fine.

Curling tighter into the blankets, I close my eyes and sleep finds me way easier than I thought it would.

When I wake, I’m burning up and it’s bright as hell.

“Oh my God,” I groan, pulling the blankets off me but they don’t budge. I yank, huff, and pull until I hear Nico chuckling next to me. “I’m stuck,” I mumble, giving up and succumbing to the heat.

He laughs and shifts in the bed and when he’s hovering over me, grinning at me, I finish melting into these blankets.

“You’re a burrito. And you stole all the blankets.”

“And now I can’t get out,” I mumble. “It’s hot as fuck under here. Can you please help me?” I wriggle and he grunts, pulling the blankets out from around me. The cool air hits my body and I sigh, stretching out under him. “God, thank you,” I moan, but he freezes, his lip tight between his teeth. “What?”

“You’re beautiful, Ten,” he whispers, then dips his head and pushes his lips to mine. His body’s warmer than the blankets were but it’s a welcome heat. One I haven’t experienced in too long.

One touch from him ignites an urge in me and I kiss him back with reckless abandon. When his hands slide up my stomach and cup my tits, I don’t think about anything that’s happened this week. All I can concentrate on is where he’s touching me. His hips dip slightly and I feel his erection through his briefs and moan, arching into him.

“Fuck, Nico,” I whisper, my hands cupping his face. “I’ve missed you so much.”

“I know, Ten.” He dips his head lower and latches onto my nipple, making me gasp.

Nico’s hands work their way around my entire body like he can’t get enough. I know how much he loves touching me, and I don’t hate it. His hands are magic. Fucking magic.

I manage to reach down and shove off his briefs and when he slides into me, so slowly it aches, I moan and hold on to him like my life depends on it.

His lips press to mine, his hips pivot and thrust, slowly and sinfully bringing me to the edge before backing off and teasing me a bit more. Our bodies pressed tight together, every inch of skin that can be touching right now is, and it feels like heaven.

“You’re it for me, Reagan,” he whispers, his breath hot on my ear while his cock rubs that perfect spot inside me, over and over again. I pant, sucking on his neck and meet his thrusts with my own. “God, you’re tight.” He grunts and picks up his speed and that’s when I feel it. The familiar tingle that starts in my toes and shatters the numbness that’s taken over my body these past few days. My legs quake and I come so hard I see stars, my entire body shaking under him as he lets his own go.

We lie there, twisted together after the hottest sex I’ve ever had. It wasn’t just sex. It was way more. So much fucking more.

“You’re right, you know,” I whisper, my hands playing in his hair as he rests his head on my stomach, trying to catch his breath.

“About what?” he pants, smirking up at me.

“You ruined me for other men.”

“Did you try that theory out in the past two weeks?” His eyebrows dip and I laugh.

“Fuck no, I didn’t. I didn’t even want to. I had no drive without you here. It’s like, I see you and I want to fuck you. I see any other hot guy and think ‘meh, Nico’s better.’”

He barks out a laugh and slams his lips to mine, shifting to the bed and wrapping his arms around me.

“I fucking love you, Ten,” he says, laughing.

“I love you, Nico,” I say, grinning ear to ear.

“Are we going to your brother’s today?” he finally says, breaking the comfortable silence.

“I feel like we should, but I don’t want to leave this bed with you.”

“Me either, Ten.” He kisses my forehead. “Me either.”

“Then it’s settled. You’re all mine today.”

“I’m all yours every day, Ten. I’m not going anywhere.”

We spend the rest of the weekend locked in my apartment, only going out to take Monroe outside. It feels amazing spending this much time with him and not worrying about him going back to Chicago. It’s still surreal knowing he lives here now, and I feel horrible about it at the same time.

Because he did all this for me.

“Hey Nico,” I say, sitting on the couch under three blankets with him next to me and the dog on my lap.

“Yeah?” He’s been absentmindedly playing with my fingers for a while now and I pause, gripping his hand tight.

“You moved here for me,” I say. “When we weren’t even together.”

“I knew I’d win you back,” he says, grinning.

“You’re pretty presumptuous, you know?” I giggle.

“I love you, Ten. And I knew deep down you loved me too.” He shrugs. “I checked in on you once or twice, just to make sure you were okay. Your brothers were more than happy to reply. Granted, they also texted me death threats if I didn’t start answering your calls, but at least I knew you were safe.”

“My brothers?” I ask. “You talked to them but not me?”

He blinks a few times at me, then slowly nods.

“I had to make sure you were okay, even as mad as I was.” He sighs. “I was angry. I was hurt. I didn’t want to talk to you because I didn’t trust myself. But I still loved you, that never stopped. I just…I had to know how you were doing.”

“I was doing shitty.”

“Yeah, me too.”

“I figured. When I visited last week I saw how bad the apartment had gotten.”

“You visited last week?” He shifts and his eyebrows furrow in confusion.

“Yeah,” I say. “Your brother didn’t tell you?”

“No,” he blurts. “When? Where was I?”

“Another business trip, I guess.” I shrug. “I was coming to claim you back. But then you weren’t there and it was midnight so I slept on the couch and left to go home the next morning, defeated and convinced you wanted nothing to do with me.”

“God,” he huffs. “That’s why my shit was on the couch when I got home. I thought I was going fucking insane thinking your smell was on my pillow.” He laughs.

“Nope. Just me.” I shrug and grin.

“You’re never just you, Ten. You’re more than a ‘just me.’ You’re everything to me. My entire world. And how someone can become that to a stranger in six months is insane to wrap my head around.” I shake my head. “But you have. And you’ll always be.”

“Where’s your apartment?” I ask, petting Monroe absentmindedly. He winces and his face scrunches.

“Don’t think I’m creepy, okay?”

“Why would I think you’re creepy?” I laugh nervously. “What did you do? You do have a place to live, right?”

“I do,” he nods. “Uh…”

“Nico…”

“Downstairs,” he blurts.
“You live in my apartment complex!?” I shriek, eyes so wide they’re practically bugging out of my head.

“I do. Surprise!” He waves his hands in the air with a cute as fuck grin on his face and my mouth falls open.

“Nico… I…” I laugh. “You’ve been staying in my place without telling me your place is right downstairs.”

“To be fair, you’ve had a shit-tastic week, Reagan. The last thing I wanted to bother you with was mundane shit with my life.”

“Yeah but…” I shake my head. “Wow. So you’re close.”

“I’m close. I’m as close as I can get without moving in with you.”

I bite my lip. Him moving in does sound nice…

“One day,” I whisper. “Maybe when we can get out of apartments and get a real house.”

“Just no lakes. I refuse to learn how to fish.”

I laugh, feeling so happy it makes me want to vomit.

Six months ago my life was going downhill fast. It was shit, and honestly I didn’t have it in me to care. All I had in me was the pride that I was taking care of myself.

But I wasn’t. I wasn’t taking care of myself at all. Not the right way.

And then I met Nico, and somehow I’m living a completely different life than was my future back then.

And I’m happier about it than I thought I’d ever be.

“Come on, Monroe,” I say, lugging in the presents and the dog and just waiting to slip on ice on my way up the stairs.

The front door swings open and Ford yells.

“Aunt Reagan’s here!” and I roll my eyes.

“Maybe you could help before they pummel me and these presents all break.”

He laughs and grabs a few boxes from the top of the pile and follows me inside. I drop the presents by the massive spruce and unclick Monroe’s leash, letting him run free in the house.

“Think you bought enough?” Ford asks, laughing at me as I start to organize the gifts.

“It’s Christmas, big brother. And ya’ll are the only people I have to buy gifts for.” I shrug, standing and looking at the haul of gifts. “I think I did pretty good this year.”

I smile at him and he smiles back, nodding.

“When’s Luigi getting here?”

“His plane lands at ten,” I make a face. “I doubt he’ll make it here tonight, but he’ll be home for Christmas.” I wiggle my eyebrows and watch the kids run through the living room screaming and chasing Monroe. “You ready for their birthday?”

“No,” he says, laughing. “They’re growing up too fast,” he mutters, laughing again as they run to the opposite side of the house after the dog.

“You guys want anymore?”

He gives me a look and I pat his back, nodding. I know what they went through to make it to where they are now so it’s not surprising that he doesn’t want to push for more.

“What about you?” he asks, nodding to the kids. “Ever think about having any rugrats of your own to ruin your sex life?”

“Stop,” I laugh. “It’s not that bad.”

“Nah, it’s not. But I’m serious. You’ve got a good guy,” he says, shrugging. “Would it be the end of the world?

“Ford, I finally feel like I’ve got my life somewhat on track. Can I live a little like this before having to make the big decisions? Marriage…kids…it’s all just too much right now to even try to think about.”

My mom walks into the room, wearing that same smile she’s worn since we were kids but there’s something missing now and all of us know exactly what it is.

This is her first Christmas without Dad.

“How do you think she’s doing?” I whisper to Ford as my mom laughs and follows the kids down the hall. He watches her and shoves his hands into his pockets.

“I guess fine. She’s been calling more than usual lately but I know she’s getting lonely at home. Mack’s been trying to have her over once a week, Linc’s been stepping up letting her babysit more. She’ll be okay. She’s got us.” He smiles at me and I roll my eyes.

“That’s sometimes not a good thing.” I head to the kitchen to grab a drink and Mackenzie and Wren are already two wine bottles into the evening.

“The baby’s here!” Wren yells, walking over to me and hugging me tightly. “Where’s the stud?”

“Oh my God, Reagan. Seriously. That boy’s ripped.” Mack’s eyes are glassy and I chuckle.

“He is, isn’t he?” I bite my lip and they erupt in laughter.

“What’s so funny?” Lincoln walks in, trailed by Ford. The three of us girls stand there, laughing, but Wren and Mack are so far past the point of retreat their laughs turn into loud obnoxious giggles in no time.

“Who let them drink already?” Ford says, chuckling and grabbing the empty wine bottles.

“Oh we’re fine,” Mack scoffs, slapping the bottles out of his hand. “Just showing our appreciation for the male form, that’s all.”

“Peen?” Ford blurts, making all three of us bust out in laughter again.

“This is a family Christmas, ladies,” Lincoln says, grinning as he winks at Wren. “Maybe I should take her home. Ya’ll are good watching the kids for an hour…or three…right?” Wren bites her lip and walks over to Lincoln, wrapping her arms around his side and he chuckles, wrapping one of his around her.

“Oh! I have a present to give your sister!” Wren gasps, pulling away from Lincoln and shuffling into the living room.

“Hey, so where’s Luigi? I thought you said he’d be here?” Mack pouts and I laugh, because as much as he says he hates that nickname he’s pretty happy that it stuck.

“His plane doesn’t land until late,” I say, sticking out my bottom lip. “Stinks he’ll miss this tonight, but it’s awesome he’ll be home for Christmas.”

“You two doing ok?” Mack asks, resting her elbows on the counter and leaning down.

“More than okay,” I say, smiling bright. “He’s just…” I shrug and grin, making all three of the grown adults in the room ‘aww’ for me.

“A baby in loooove,” Mack swoons and Wren walks back into the room.

“Here. It’s for you.” She shoves a large square present at me and I squeal.

“I love presents!” I say, ripping open the wrapping paper. “Oh my God,” I whisper when the painting from her show is staring back at me.

“You said you wanted it. But just so you know, I had an offer for about five grand for that painting, so you two better be worth the money I lost.”

“Oh my God,” is all I can say over and over again. “It’s beautiful,” I manage through a thick throat.

“You two are beautiful,” she says. “I’m happy you two worked it out, Reag.” She hugs me again and I smile.

“Me too. Thank you.”

The evening winds down with drinks by the fireplace after the kids have gone to sleep in their parents’ laps. Just as I’m about to call it a night, tired and missing Nico, the front door cracks open and he steps in, covered in snow and wearing the brightest most brilliant smile ever.

“Nico!” I yell, hopping up from the couch and running over to him, plowing into him with my full force.

I haven’t seen him in almost a week with his work schedule sending him all over the country to get some final sales of the year in before the holidays hit, and oh my God he smells good.

“Hey, Ten,” he murmurs, holding me tight against him.

“You made it.”

“Of course I did.” He pushes his lips to mine briefly before pulling back and glancing behind me where everyone’s watching from the living room. “Hey guys,” he says.

“Luigi!” Ford whisper screams with a sleeping kid on his lap. Nico chuckles and rubs his scruff.

“I’m so happy you’re here,” I say, smiling.

“I wouldn’t have missed it, Ten. You know me, there’s only one girl I want to be with on Christmas Eve. It took moving a few mountains, but I got here.” He grips my hand in his. “Now, point me to the alcohol. I’m in need of a few drinks after that cab ride.”

I laugh and take him to the kitchen where my mom still keeps the place stocked. While the kids have all passed out for the night, we adults stay up talking and reminiscing until almost midnight when everyone decides to call it quits for the night.

“Hey Regan,” Nico says as we curl into bed for the evening.

“Yeah?” I murmur, almost asleep in his arms. His warm arms, full of power and love.

“I love you, you know.”

“I love you more, Nico.”

He presses his lips to my forehead and holds me close. I can breathe easy knowing he’s home for Christmas. Home with me.

Nico wasn’t the type of person I ever thought I’d end up with. I was at a point in my life where I didn’t think I’d end up with anyone, and if I did it wouldn’t be the happily-ever-after lives both my brothers were lucky enough to have.

But I guess my dad was right. Nico was in my life for a reason. He was shoved into my life to show me I was doing it all wrong.

I wasn’t loving right. I wasn’t living right.

Now I am, and it feels amazing.


Nine Months Later

 

“One more push, babe,” I tell her, pushing my lips to her forehead. She groans and shakes her head.

“Fuck no. I’m fucking done.” She pants and throws her hands to her hips, so sexy with beads of sweat dripping down her temple. She’s glowing, but it’s strangely hot as fuck. “This fucking car isn’t gonna make it. I knew it was time to buy a new one last winter when it died on me.” She pats the hood and hops up on it, leaning back and basking in the summer heat. “I think I’m dying.”

I chuckle and push her knees apart, my hands resting on her bare thighs and fingers dipping under the hem of her shorts.

“I told you I’d help you out, Ten,” I say, grinning at her when she goes up to her elbows and glares at me.

“I’m not taking your help,” she says. “I can afford a new car, I’m just cheap. And…” She shrugs, sitting all the way up. “My dad bought this one for me. It was my first car. I know I need a new one, okay?”

I nod, knowing how much the small things mean to her. Those unicorn socks are still her favorite pair.

“Then how about we head back home and get cleaned up, because it’s hot as balls out here, then maybe we can hit up a dealership and see what you can get?”

“Yeah,” she huffs, hopping off the hood and pulling her phone out to check the time. “Sounds good. When do you leave again?”

“Five,” I say, biting back a grin. She thinks I’m going to Chicago tonight for an early morning work meeting, but I’m really going to prep my newest purchase for her and make sure everything’s perfect.

These past nine months have been amazing. More amazing than I thought they could be. She moved into my apartment in February when her lease was up, and only mine because the bathroom is bigger, and since then we’ve been inseparable. She’s traveled with me to some of my work weekends away and I’m at the shop any time I can when I’m in town. I’ve grown to count her brothers as some of the best friends I’ll ever have in my life, even if the damn Luigi nickname stuck like it did. Her family took me in when I really didn’t have much of a family left of my own, and they saved me in a way. Getting out of Chicago was the best thing I could’ve done for myself, and for our relationship.

“Do you know what type of car you want?” I ask when we make it back to the sweet air-conditioning of our apartment.

“Nope,” she says, then pulls her tank top off and grins at me. “I don’t feel like car shopping tonight anymore.”

“Oh yeah?” I bite my lip as I watch her shimmy out of her shorts.

“I don’t really feel like leaving the house tonight.” Her eyes hit mine and she winks before taking off for the stand-up shower in the main bedroom.

I let out a chuckle and shake my head, tossing off my clothes as I go and leaving a trail behind me.

Living with Reagan’s taught me that messy houses are sometimes okay. And by sometimes, I mean why the fuck would I put off fucking her to pick clothes up from the floor.

When I make it into the bathroom the shower’s already going and I pull the door open to her lathering up her tits and looking at me through hooded eyes.

“Took ya long enough,” she says, her soapy fingers circling her nipples. Her eyes trail my body unabashedly and she smirks at my erection that I’m currently gripping.

“You brought lube?” I ask, chuckling at the bottle on the shelf.

“Sure did,” she says, grinning and playing with her nipples as she stares at my dick.

“Soap me,” I say, stepping under the flow of the water.

She takes the body wash and drips some into her palms then starts rubbing my chest, down my abs, then back to my shoulders and down my arms. She laughs when I raise my arm and rolls her eyes as she scrubs my underarms.

“Thank you,” I say, laughing at the look on her face.

“Most couple’s foreplay doesn’t typically involve underarm cleaning.” She laughs.

“We’re not most couples, babe.” I push my lips to hers and she slides her hand between us, gripping my dick with soap in her palm. “Fuck,” I murmur on her lips.

“Gotta get everything clean,” she whispers, her hand snaking down and massaging my balls. When she tries to move further back I cock my head, my hand stopping hers.

“That’s far enough for now,” I whisper, chuckling when she pouts.

“One day you’ll enjoy it.”

“That one day isn’t today. And more than likely won’t be during my lifetime, Ten.” I let my hands roam her ass and she moans when my lips suck onto her neck. “Turn around and grab your ankles.”

She does as I say and I moan, stroking my dick. The spray of the water hitting my back and her ass wiggling in front of me makes all my senses go wild.

“Do you know how happy this ass makes me?” My hand roams the globe of her ass and she moans.

“I don’t,” she moans. “You should show me.”

I nudge the head of my dick against her and her head flies up, a moan escaping her.

“God, yes, Nico,” she pants as I push against her opening. She’s been insatiable since the first time we did this, begging for it with the sex drive of a teenager. I reach to the shelf and grab the lube and massage some around her tight opening and her moans and curses when my finger pushes in slightly are enough to make me blow my load before this even starts. Fuck, I love the fact that I’m the only one to touch this ass.

“Relax, Ten,” I whisper, spreading her cheeks and pushing my dick against her.

“Shit!” she yells, her legs shaking already as I nudge into her. I push into her so slow I worry I may not even make it one thrust before I’m emptying my load into her ass. She hums and moans and reaches between my legs like a fucking contortionist and massages my balls as I push deeper into her. She’s tight, she’s milking me, and when she starts to scream out and her fingers move to her clit, I realize she’s already coming.

“Fuck, Ten,” I growl, pushing into her again before slowly pulling out. Over and over I pump into her, each thrust slow and each moan that rips through her bringing me closer to release.

“Come in me, Nico,” she says, turning her head and looking at me with those beautiful fucking eyes. Her hair’s dripping wet and as she meets me with every pivot of my hips, I let go, letting my orgasm spiral through my body.

“Shit, fuck,” I growl, my hands so tight on her hips I’m probably leaving marks.

She hisses when I pull out slowly, then I bend and kiss her ass cheek before she stands and wraps her arms around my shoulder.

“I love you,” she says, pushing her body against mine.

“I love you more, Ten.”

“Luigi! The fuck you doin here?” Ford’s sitting at a table in the banquet hall with seven different types of coffee mugs in front of him.

“More like what the hell are you doing?” I walk up to the table and see his choices and chuckle. “Seriously, man?” I grab the one with the dancing bacon on the front and shake my head. “An almost thirty year old man having a tough time choosing between dancing bacon and a rainbow coffee mug?”

“Don’t hate. I can only pick one to bring home. Mack will kill me if I keep cluttering the cabinets with these bad boys.” He stares at them and picks one up and grins. “This one.” He holds it out to me and smiles.

“A smurf?”

“It’s vintage.” He holds it tightly and glances at me. “Why are you here? Isn’t Reagan off today?”

“She is,” I nod. “Wren’s taking her shopping in the city today.”

“And you’re here because you want to take me out to lunch?” Ford grins and I laugh.

“Nah….actually I was hoping Lincoln was here. I got a question to ask.”

“Boys’ weekend?” He blurts, standing from his chair. “Yeah! Come on, he’s in his old man office.”

“Ford, it’s not a boys we—”

“Oh! We can go golfing! I’ve always wanted a boys’ weekend golfing!” he interrupts.

“You don’t golf,” I say, letting out a laugh as I follow him to Lincoln’s office.

“I could,” he says, pushing open the door. “Yo, boys weekend. You in?”

“Ford, it’s not a boys’ weekend,” I say, shaking my head. “Hey Lincoln.”

“Hey, isn’t Reag out today with Wren?” He looks as confused and I nod.

“Yep. I’m here for you two.” I sit in one of the chairs and Lincoln’s eyebrow raises.

“For what?”

“Apparently not a boys’ weekend,” Ford grumbles, plopping into the seat next to me.

“Well,” I take a breath and reach in my pocket, pulling out a set of keys. “I bought a house.”

“Oooh holy fuck,” Ford says. “Does my sister know about this? You’re moving out on her? Fuck, Luigi, why you goin’ and ruining a good thing?”

“Dude,” Lincoln says, grinning and relaxing back in his chair. “Does she know?”

“No,” I say. “Not really. She loves the house. She’s only told me so a hundred times since it’s gone up on the market. So I bought it.” I shrug.

“You just have that type of money laying around?” Ford blurts, surprised.

“I’ve always been good at saving money. Never had anything huge to spend it on until now.” I shove the keys back into my pocket then reach in the other one, pulling out the box. “So…” I crack it open and both Lincoln and Ford go silent. “Do you think it’s too much?”

The platinum engagement band holds a single, princess cut diamond that’s sparkling in the light of the room. The minute I saw it a few months ago I knew it was perfect for her, but the way her brothers are looking at me is making me think twice.

“Holy fuck,” Ford says.

“Have you guys talked about marriage?” Lincoln asks, his reaction incredibly hard to read right now which makes me nervous.

“Uh… I mean, not specifically. You think she’ll say no?”

“I think you just bought our sister a new house and a huge fucking ring, and I’d like to be a fly on the wall when all this goes down.”

“She’s gonna be pissed,” Ford adds in and I roll my eyes.

“No she’s not,” Lincoln says. “In all seriousness, that’s a huge step. And months ago I would have told you she’d never be ready for it…but I think you’re there. I think she’ll be fine.”

“She’s gonna kick your ass, Luigi. You can sleep on my couch.”

“Ford,” I say then laugh. “Thanks, but I don’t think I’ll need to.”

“When’re you doing it?” Lincoln asks, smiling.

“Tonight. She thinks I’m on a business trip today but I’m about to go to the house and set everything up for the proposal.”

“Good luck, man. She’s a lucky girl to have someone like you.” Lincoln says and Ford stands from his seat.

“I’m happy for you two. I hope she doesn’t kill you, but I’m also happy. If she says yes are you taking her last name? She’s gotta stay a West, so that’s the only option.” He shrugs and I bark out a laugh.

“Uh… I…” I shake my head. “One step at a time, man. She’s gotta say yes, first.”

“Right. And not kick your ass.” He pats me on the shoulder as he heads for the door. “Oh, and I’m still pretty bummed about no boys’ weekend. So we should make that happen soon.”

“I’m broke, man,” I holler back at him, laughing.

“Har fucking har,” he yells, walking out to the hallway.

Lincoln’s watching me and trying not to smile too much. He’s not as old and stuffy as someone who doesn’t really know him might think. He’s actually pretty fun, and the way he loves his family shines bright in everything he does.

“So you really think she’ll be ok with it? Are you guys ok with it? Fuck, should I have asked you for permission first?” I blurt, eyes wide that I fucked up.

“No,” Lincoln says, chuckling. “It’s not the olden days, Luigi.” I roll my eyes and he laughs more. “I’m serious, I think she’ll be fine. Just…be gentle. Lube it up first, don’t just ram it in.”

“Right. Lube first.” I nod, grinning. “Thanks, man.”

“You’ll let me know how it goes?”

“Absolutely.”

The house is ready. The lights are off, candles are ready, and flowers are in place. Now I just have to get her there. She texted that she was home a little while ago so when I knock on the door, she swings it open not expecting me home yet. Her eyes scrunch together and she glances at the clock.

“Hey,” I say, grinning from ear to ear and trying to tamp down the excitement.

“What’re you doing home? I didn’t think to expect you till later.”

“I uh… I wasn’t on business.” I blurt. That wasn’t the plan, but I can’t lie to her. It just doesn’t feel right.

“You weren’t gone for work?” Her eyes narrow and stance goes rigid. I expected this part. The fight or flight, and in the past she would take the flight route and be gone. She’s done it before.

“No,” I say, reaching in for her hand. “Don’t be mad, okay?”

“Nico, what’re you doing?” she blurts as I pull her out the door and lock it behind us.

“I have something for you.” I say, my hand clammy in hers.

“Why… what the hell’s going on?”

“Just…shh.” I grin and hold up a blindfold when we get in the car. “Please put this on.”

“If this is some freaky sex shit, I’m on my period.”

I bark out a laugh and let out a grumbles sigh. “Ten, just go with me on this, okay? Put it on. It’s not freaky sex shit, I promise.”

She looks at me confused as she takes it out of my hands and slips it over her eyes, adjusting the strap and huffing with her hands in her lap.

“Okay,” she says. “If you’re killing me, you know my brothers will find you and murder you slowly, right?”

“Fuck, Reagan,” I laugh. “This is a good surprise. I promise.”

She nods, flipping her hand palm up in her lap, her sign that she wants to hold mine and I grin, reaching over and intertwining our fingers together.

The ride is silent and I can tell she’s trying to figure out the turns I’m taking so I make sure to take a few to turn her off from our destination. When I said she’s mentioned in the past about wanting this house I meant it. At least three times a week she mentions it. When it went for sale last month I knew I had to act fast. The older two-story brick home with black shudders and a wraparound porch is Reagan to the T. When I park in front of it my stomach flips with nerves and I take a deep breath.

“Don’t remove the blindfold, okay?”

“Yeah, sure.” She doesn’t like surprises; I learned that the hard way a few months ago when we tried surprising her for a birthday dinner. I’m hoping this time is different.

I help her out of the car and up to the front door. She’s quiet, trying to figure out where we are. Knowing her, she’s already figured it out, but she’s playing along nicely.

I unlock the door and let it swing open, then step in before her and guide her in.

“Don’t move,” I blurt, running over to light the candles. Happy with the set-up, I drop to one knee, taking a deep breath before pulling the ring out of my pocket. “Okay, take it off.”

Her trembling hands are the telltale sign she knows something’s not normal about this little surprise, and when she slowly pulls the blindfold off, I smile wide and her hands go to her mouth.

“What…” she shakes her head looking around the house, then behind her to the outside of the house, then back to me. “Nico…” Her head shakes and she drops to her knees in front of me, biting her lips together.

“Ten, you’ve given me a life I never had. You’ve given me family, friends, and love. Love I never knew existed. You’ve made me a better man, and I’ll forever be grateful for that. But better yet, you’ve made me realize what type of man I want to be. I want to be yours. Forever. I want whatever you want, I love whatever you love…minus olives on my pizza…” she laughs and I grin. “I want you forever. I want whatever you’ll give me, for the rest of my life. But I’m really hoping you’ll give me the honor of being my wife.”

“Holy fuck,” she says, giggling and glancing down at the ring when I crack the box open. She gasps and her eyes go wide. “Holy fuck, Nico!”

“Will you marry me and move into this house with me, Ten?” I’m not sure I’ve ever said more difficult words in my entire life.

Her head starts to bob and a sob escapes her. “Fuck yes I will!” She finally shrieks and she lunges at me, knocking us both to the floor and slamming her lips to mine. Her hands are still trembling as they rake through my hair and I drop the ring box to grip her ass and kiss her deep.

Her legs rest on the floor as she straddles me and moans, then laughs, then sits up and looks around and laughs again, her face bright.

“Holy fuck!” she shrieks. “Wait, where’s my ring?” She looks on the floor frantically and I laugh, grabbing the box and pulling the ring out for her.

“I’ve never felt so happy, Reagan,” I say, sliding it on her finger.

“You bought me a house. And a beautiful ring. And I get you for the rest of my life,” she whispers, bending down and kissing me again. “I fucking love you, Nico D’ Angeli.”

“I love you, Reagan West.”


 

“Mom! I’m hungry!” Madison screams from downstairs.

“God that girl’s got a set of lungs,” I mumble, wrapped in Nico’s arms too warm and cozy in our bed to even think about getting up. She’s fifteen. She can figure it out on her own.

“Takes after her mom on that one,” he says, his voice sexy as ever for just waking up.

“We should feed them.” I sigh.

“She’s old enough to make herself and her brother some damn eggs or something. It’s the weekend. I’m not leaving this room for a while.” He pulls me tighter and I smile, but I know we won’t have that luxury for too long before the kids barge in here.

Step one when preparing to have kids? Accept the fact that you’ll never be fully alone again.

Ever.

I groan and stretch out, my hand grazing over Nico’s erection and he moans.

“Don’t start something you won’t be able to finish,” he whispers, pushing his lips to my forehead.

“It’s been a week,” I pout.

“Trust me, I know,” he says, sighing and bringing my hand to his lips.

Marriage didn’t suck the sex out of our lives. Growing up and adding responsibilities did. It’s still as hot and fun today as it was on day one, but it’s limited now. Between the West House taking up all my time, running kids everywhere they need to be and Nico’s new position at the company, by the time we hit the bed at night both of us are exhausted. A week is too long, though. Simple as that. Just when I’m about to get up and lock the door, it swings open and the inevitable happens.

“Madison won’t let me eat!” Hayes grumbles, storming to our bed and crawling up, wedging between us. “It’s morning. Get up. It’s snowing. Can we go outside today?”

I smile and kiss him on the nose. My tiny four year old surprise. I used to hate surprises when I was younger… Now, they’re not so bad.

We didn’t try for either of our kids, really. It was a ‘whatever happens, happens’ scenario with Madison. She just happened very early in our relationship. Like, a month after we got married, early.

Hayes was a little different, a little shocking, but I can’t say I’m mad about it. Something about the momma’s boy that makes my heart melt. His big sister’s a little shit to him most of the time, but I’m hoping that’s just teenage hormones making her like that. If she grows up to be a bitch we’re going to have issues.

“Want me to kick her ass?” I say, making Nico snap.

“Language, Mom!” His eyes narrow and I grin.

“He knows not to repeat it, right little man?”

“Don’t say ass. Got it.” He gives me a tiny thumbs up and Nico chuckles, standing from the bed and pulling on a pair of grey sweats that look way too good for being sweat pants. I spend a moment too long letting my eyes linger on the body that he’s kept in shape all these years and when he clears his throat I make it to his eyes and he’s grinning wide.

“Come on, squirt. Let’s let mom have some peace and see how much of a mess we can make in the kitchen.” He grabs a giggling Hayes from the bed and I smile, especially when they close the door on their way out.

Spending time in bed with Nico was what I wanted, but being able to curl back into these blankets for a few moments longer? That’s amazing. Having a family like mine, solid, sturdy and loving with a husband as attentive at Nico?

That’s perfection.

 


 

 

Thank you so much for reading my West Family Saga. I’m so in love with this family that it’s very sad to see them finished! I truly hope you’ve enjoyed reading them as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them. Please don’t forget to drop your review at Amazon and Goodreads to let other readers know what you think of the book!

 

And if you haven’t officially met Lincoln and Ford yet, get them here:

 

UnPlanned (Lincoln):

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