“You sure you’re going to be okay without me?” I smiled down at Erica as she stood encircled in my arms tightly. “I’m the only one that knows how you like your coffee in the morning.”
She laughed, but the sound was far from joyous. Something was wrong and had been since the fucking art show. I couldn’t pry from her what was going on, so I’d forced myself to stop trying over the last week. I’d just love her through it, and when she was ready to talk – if ever – she would.
“I’ve been making my own coffee for many years before you came along, Matthew Bryant.” She lifted to her toes and pulled me down for a long kiss.
Every cell in my body work up and begged for me to push the moment farther.
“You know I love you, right?” I reached up and cupped the side of her cheek as the sound of my father’s private jet roaring to life stole her attention.
She turned and looked toward it before stepping back from me. “I know. I love you too. Please be careful, okay?”
“I will.” I pulled her in again for a long string of kisses. “Zek likes his soft food in the morning and his-”
She popped me in the chest and laughed. “He’s my dog! I know what he likes. Get your fine ass on that plane before you get into trouble.”
I lifted an eyebrow. “Can you give me your definition of trouble first?”
“Go. Have fun talking with your dad about everything.” She crossed her arms over her chest, and some of the light in her eyes died.
“Erica. You want me to cancel the trip, baby? I can tell something isn’t right.”
“No.” She shook her head. Her expression tightened, and I could tell that whatever was going on, it was one hell of a battle inside of her. I could only pray it had nothing to do with me. “Go and get all of this stuff cleared up with your father and Damon.”
“And you’re okay that I’m stepping back from McKenzie and Bryant?”
“Yes, Matt. I’ve told you a thousand times that you need to follow your passion for painting. You made ten million dollars in one night.” She dropped her hands by her side and gave me a cute smile. “Who does that?”
“I guess I’m more of a Bryant than I thought.” I leaned down to pick up my bag, checking out her long legs on my way back up. My cock twitched in my shorts and my heart fluttered. Damn… I was a lucky man. Nothing would ever outdo the joy I had over me and Erica getting together.
Now I had to keep her until I could get a ring on her finger.
“Get on the plane. Call me later?” She moved in for one final kiss. It was too short, but the pilot was hovering just behind me on the stairs to the jet.
“Alright. Love you.” I turned and walked up the stairs, nodding at the guy and walking into the fancy ass plane. No matter how much money I made in life, there were some things that just seemed to be a torrential waste… like a private jet.
I dropped my bag by a large leather seat and walked over to find Erica already gone. Fuck. Something was horribly wrong, and I needed to find a way to get her to talk to me.
Calling her best friend, Lanie, seemed like one plausible way to do it, but I’d really hoped we were growing close enough to share ourselves without outside interference.
My only other choice was to pry the information from Erica myself. I knew someone who was rather good atthat sort of thing, seeing that the bastard had been prying information out of me for my whole damn life.
My older brother, Damon.
“Well, did you ask what was wrong?” Damon gave me a sideways look as we drove out to dad’s house. I’d explained Erica’s odd moodiness over the last few minutes, and of course, my brother being the practical ass that he was, asked the most obvious of questions.
I brushed my fingers by my chin and forced a contemplative look. “Nope. I didn’t even think of that one. Ask her what’s wrong.” I turned and gave him a ‘you’re a dumb ass look.’ “Of course I asked her what was wrong. She blamed it on work like she always does.”
“It’s not work. I talked to her a few days ago, and she’s doing great with her team and her projects.” He tapped the steering wheel and shook his head. “Why the fuck do women have to be so complicated? Men just need sleep, sex, food and a little bit of respect. Nothing else.”
“Don’t speak for all men, please. I need love.”
“Cause you’re a girl.” He smiled, lightening the mood in the car.
“I wish. I’d have my hand down my pants all the time.”
“And that would be different from now how?”
We laughed as he pulled into the circle drive at dad’s place. A few cars were already sitting near the house, all of which helped me identify who was there. Family. My whole family. Warmth filled my chest over the idea of spending the evening surrounded by them. The only person missing was my woman.
“Kendal is coming over tonight too.” Damon gave me a stern look as he parked the car.
“Alright. Is that supposed to mean something?” I opened the door and got out, immediately feeling the difference in the weather from Dallas to Seattle.
“He’s just not doing so well.” Damon walked to the front door with me in tow behind him.
“Because of Mandy’s death?” I stopped short as he paused before opening the door and turning to face me.
“Something happened with Dana.”
“Like what?” I slipped my hands into my jeans pockets as my heart dropped. Kendal was Damon’s best friend, but he was like family too. He’d lost his little sister to multiple sclerosis recently and seemed to have shit going on in his personal relationship and at work too.
“Dana ended up being Ana’s sister.” Damon opened the door and walked in as I stood in the entryway in shock.
“Wait. Like Ana, the girl he almost lost his job over a few years back?” I forced myself to walk down the hallway toward the sound of laughing.
“Yeah. He’s fallen in love with his ex-girlfriend’s little sister. And he didn’t have a clue.” Damon moved over to Bethany and gave her a quick kiss.
“Matthew!” Bethany moved around my brother and plowed into me.
I picked her up in a big bear hug. “You still letting the Neanderthal touch you?”
“Watch it,” Damon mumbled and moved past us. “Maria is off today. We’re doing burgers for everyone.”
“Where are mom and dad?” I set Bethany down and glanced around.
“They went away for a few days together.” Bethany shrugged and slipped her arm into mine before dragging me to the kitchen. “Tell me all about the art show.”
“I already told you all about it.” Damon glanced over his shoulder as we walked into the kitchen. “He lost his million-dollar virginity that night.”
I rolled my eyes and moved to sit down at the breakfast nook. “Dumb.”
Bethany laughed and turned to stand across the counter from me. “Did you enjoy it? Was it everything you thought it would be?”
“Yeah.” I smiled. “Erica was brilliant, but she always is.”
“Hey. Speaking of Erica…” Damon turned and tilted his head to the side. “What the fuck was going on with you and that painting you did of her?”
Anger swam in my stomach as I thought about the situation with Mitch. “I didn’t want Mitch to have the painting.”
“What painting?” Bethany asked.
“The one of Erica naked.” Damon moved over to stand beside Bethany. “Why do you care who ended up with it? It was painted to sell, right?”
“Yeah.” I glanced down and let out a tight sigh. “I don’t know what it is about that guy, but I don’t like him. I didn’t want him to have the damn thing.”
“And where were you going to get five million dollars to buy the thing?” Damon snorted.
I glanced up. “I would have figured it out. The fucker is lucky he backed off when he did.”
“So Mitch just decided to stop bidding all of a sudden?” Bethany asked, looking between me and Damon.
“You know Mitch?” I turned my attention to my stepsister.
“Of course she does, nimrod. She works at the firm. He’s a new director. We had dinner with him a few weeks back. He spoke highly of you and Erica.”
I snorted. “Of course he did. He’s interested in her from what I can tell.”
“He should be. She’s beautiful.” Damon turned and walked back toward the fridge. “Not as pretty as my girl, but she’s alright.”
I laughed and shook my head. “Anyway, the bastard didn’t end up with the painting. That’s all that mattered.”
“And you did instead?” Bethany leaned toward me, pressing her forearms to the counter between us.
“No. Some young guy I’ve never seen before ended up with it.” I shrugged. “It was a great piece of art. Maybe one day I’ll get it back.”
“Or you’ll do another one.” Damon pulled out his phone. “I need to get this. Keep an eye out for Kendal. He should be here any minute.”
No sooner that Damon had walked out of the room, someone knocked on the door behind us.
“I’ll get it.” I stood and walked to the door, not quite sure what to expect. Kendal had been like a brother to me and Damon for years, and the poor guy had been through far too much as of late. He was private and usually didn’t share his hurts though, which made it hard to help.
I pulled the door open to see dark circles under Kendal’s eyes, and his complexion was washed out. He looked like me during my bullshit drama with Erica a few weeks back. I was thrilled to be through with all of that madness.
“Dude. Good to see you!” I smiled and reached for Kendal, pulling him into a warm hug.
He wrapped his arms around me and patted my back. “Hey man. Good to see you. Seattle treating you okay?”
“Better than you.” I stepped back and gripped his shoulders. “Damon said that out of all of the women in Dallas you ended up with Ana’s sister? That’s just so far beyond fucked up. I’m mind blown.”
“Matt! Really?” Bethany moved up beside me and reached for Kendal’s hand, pulling him past me. “I swear you have no filter what-so-ever.”
I rolled my eyes and walked into the kitchen behind them.
“How did you not put two and two together?” Damon walked in from the other opening in the kitchen and turned his attention onto Kendal.
“I don’t know. How could I have?” Kendal grabbed a beer from the fridge and glanced around. “Anyone want a drink?”
“Yeah. Toss me one.” I took a seat at the breakfast nook and caught the beerhe threw at me.
“You and Bethany want one?” Kendal asked.
“No. We’re holding out for wine.” Damon turned and leaned against the counter, crossing his arms over his chest as his dark eyes narrowed. “Is there a reason why you’ve been avoiding me along with the rest of the world?”
Bethany popped him in the chest and then went back to cooking something over the stove. “Leave him alone.”
“Yeah. Leave me alone.” Kendal walked over and dropped down next to me. “I’m still trying to figure it out, to be honest. How in the fuck did Dana end up being Ana’s sister? They don’t even look alike.”
“Mixed family?” Damon offered up and moved to stand in front of us. “You guys want all the fixings for your burgers or what?”
“Where’s your mom and dad?” Kendal glanced around.
“They’re out of town. Spending quality time together.” I wagged my eyebrows and took a long drink of my beer.
Damon made a gagging sound that caused my lip to lift. “Anyway. Jeez.” He rolled his eyes and turned his attention fully on Kendal. “You know this isn’t that big of a deal.”
“Hey.” Bethany moved up beside him, wrapping her arms around him and glancing up.
Kendal sat stiffly next to me, but I could feel the pain rolling off the poor guy. It was a big deal to him. Falling for his ex-girlfriend’s little sister was actually a big deal to anyone with blood pumping through their veins.
“Hey what, pretty girl?” Damon turned in Bethany’s arms and leaned down, nipping at her lips.
“Gross. And you think mom and dad going off for some quality time together is disturbing? At least they keep that shit in the bedroom.” I moved off my stool and walked toward the living room. “Call me when dinner’s done.”
I sat down on the couch and pulled out my phone, wanting to text Erica, but figuring I’d look needy if I did.
“I am needy,” I mumbled and leaned back, closing my eyes.
The sound of the front door slamming caused me to jump. I stood and walked into the kitchen to find my brother and Bethany talking in hushed tones about Kendal.
“What happened?” I glanced around, confused.
“He’s just overwhelmed by everything.” Damon wrapped Bethany in a hug.
“You want me to go after him?” I asked.
“No. It’s alright. Just grab some plates. Let’s eat and try to have a chilled night. I think we all need it badly.”
“I couldn’t agree more.” I walked over to grab a few plates. “When is dad coming back into town.”
“Not sure. Why?”
“I’m quitting M&B. I can’t do it anymore.” I turned to face my brother.
“And what does Erica think about that?” He lifted his eyebrow.
“She’s all for it.”
He nodded. “Good woman then. Good woman for sure.”
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