“Remind me again why I said I would do this? It seems rather masochistic now that we’re in the thick of things.” I glanced over at Sophie and smiled as she plucked her ear-bud out and growled at me softly.
“What? Are you complaining about the weather again? It’s beautiful out here.” The stern look on her pretty face didn’t hold for long as she studied me.
I wiped my forearm across my head and took a deep breath as we bounded along the outdoor track near her house. Her dark brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and even without makeup, she was stunning. Where the snot-nose bully from my childhood had gone to was a mystery, but the woman that took her place was beautiful, and even scarier than when we were little.
“I’m not complaining. I was simply asking how you talked me into this.” I turned my focus back to the road ahead of us and let my eyes run across the tree line. The brilliant greens that covered the grass and treetops in Texas most of the spring and summer were finally starting to die off and bleed into the colors of fall. It had to be my favorite time of the year.
“You wanted to lose a little bit of weight, and I hate dogs. Remember? It was a win-win situation.” She popped me in the gut and started to jog faster.
“This sounds about as fun as our partnership in junior high. I wanted to lose weight and you wanted an extra ice cream cone, so my left over change became yours every day.”
“You had a crush on me. That’s why you gave up your change.” She glanced over her shoulder and smirked.
I chuckled, unable to help myself. What was it with me and cocky, overbearing women?
“I still have a crush on you.” I picked up the pace and blew past her as she yelped and tried to catch up. We’d been friends too long for anything to become of us, but it was one of the only solid relationships in my life.
“Liar,” she called after me and stopped at my side as I bent over and pressed my hands to my knees. We panted in tandem for a few minutes, before I glanced up at her.
“You know you’re like a sister to me.”
“You have a sister now, right?” She stood back up and adjusted her ponytail. “What’s her name? Bertha?”
“Don’t be like that.” I lifted my hands toward the clear blue sky and stretched. “Her name is Bethany and you’d like her a lot.”
“She’s taking my place. I hate her.” Sophie stuck out her tongue and took off again, leaving me with no other choice than to chase after her.
“She’s not taking your place. I’m a big guy with loads of free time, remember?”
“Speaking of free time.” She glanced over at me, her slate grey eyes filled with concern.
“Not this again. I’m fine. I’m going to Seattle this weekend and I’ll start figuring things out.”
“Leaving here isn’t a choice. You’ve lived here your whole life.”
“Yeah, and it’s not done me any favors. I’m twenty-eight and still without a career or a girlfriend. It’s time to start moving toward having something of my own. You know how much I hate having my dad support me.”
“Being a playboy billionaire is most little boys’ dream jobs.”
“Bullshit.” I laughed. “It’s to be a fireman or a cop or a billionaire tycoon with loads of responsibility and girls.”
“Okay, so I’m not a boy. I wouldn’t know, but I think you’re being too hard on yourself. You have the perfect opportunity to work on your art here in Dallas and live freely thanks to your dad’s money. What else is he going to do with it?”
She had a point, but I’d been trying to find myself for the better of four years and still felt like I was floundering around.
“He’s going to take care of his new wife and their future together.” I let out a loud huff as we stopped near the parking lot and walked back and forth down a short path to cool down. “I want a life of my own, I’m just honestly not sure what that life looks like, and besides, you know as well as I do that you wouldn’t be all right living off your father’s money-”
“If he had money.” She snorted and rolled her shoulders. “Find your passion, Matt. I’ve found mine. It’s reporting the news and digging deep for the story. It’s been the best four years of my life working for NBC. You should be able to say the same, but you know why you can’t?”
“Because I’m not a pretty reporter with a great rack?” I smiled and took the smack I deserved with good humor.
“Because you haven’t figured out what you want to do. Being a billionaire doesn’t mean shit if you don’t live a little with it.”
“Very true.” I ran my fingers through my hair and couldn’t help but think about my older brother. The one thing Damon wanted more than anything else in the world was a solid relationship with a woman. Was to be loved in a way that would make most men gag, and yet he kept fucking it up.
“What are you thinking about?” She reached out and tugged on the front of my t-shirt, pulling me from my thoughts.
“Damon.” I took a deep breath and glanced up at the sky. “He’s been in turmoil since Mom cheated on Dad. It’s like it changed the whole trajectory of his life.”
“But he’s with Bethany now, which by the way is weird.”
“No, it’s not.” I shrugged and brushed my hands over my chest rhythmically. “They’re a great couple, but they aren’t together right now.”
“Why? They realized they were brother and sister?”
“Why are you salty about this?” I couldn’t help but study her for the answer. She had a thing for Damon when we were younger, but he was as much of an alpha as she was. They butted heads the whole time we were growing up and almost couldn’t stand each other by the time Sophia and I graduated high school.
“I’m not. I’m just concerned that Damon’s going to end up hurt. He’s a tough guy, but I know the dude underneath all that alpha bullshit, remember?” She brushed her hand over the top of her head and locked gazes with me. “And you better be careful too.”
“We talking about Bethany wanting me too now?”
She snorted. “No, silly. We’re talking about Erica wanting to lick your skin from your bones.”
“Exactly!” I threw my hands in the air and walked in a circle, bobbing my head. “I told Bethany that Erica was a man-eater, but no one sees that but me.”
“I don’t even know the woman, but I think you think that all women are man-eaters.” She put her hands on her hips and tilted her head to the side.
“You guys are.” I gave her a goofy grin. “Let’s talk about you going over to Dubai to study the crown prince. You need to take someone with you. Period.”
“You offering to go?” She nodded toward the parking lot. “Come on. I’ll buy you a frozen coffee drink with cow hormones and white death.”
I rolled my eyes. “No, I’m not offering to go. Are you seriously still not drinking milk or eating sugar?”
“Hell no.” She bumped her shoulder against mine. “What if the prince of Dubai looks like the guy from Aladdin?”
“You know he does. Stop playing coy.” I walked around to the passenger’s side door of her jeep and got in. “You’re going over there with the hopes that he’s looking for a pretty white-skinned princess, aren’t you? Admit it.”
“Nope.” She got in and buckled up. “I’m going to make sure they’re not mixed up in some of the nefarious black market bullshit that I know their knee-deep into. I’m not looking to hook up with anyone. My career comes first, period. You know this about me.”
“It’s the reason you’re not wearing my ring. We could have pretty blond babies with blue eyes and chubby cheeks, but no… you have to be a career-driven fiend.”
“You think I’m a fiend? I like the thought of that.”
I rolled my eyes and relaxed against my seat as she hit the gas and jerked the jeep out of the parking lot we sat in. She put it in drive and ran over the parking bumps without blinking an eye. I swore the woman had more testosterone than most men I knew.
“So are you good with me thinking about moving to Seattle? I haven’t made up my mind, but getting the thumbs-up from Jonathan Luntz is a good first step. If he’s willing to showcase my work, then I might actually have a bright future up there.” I wasn’t sure why I was asking her. No one could make the decision for me. The balance of reasons to go versus not going were tied as far as I was concerned.
“I think you should follow your heart, big guy.”
“You calling me fat?” I smiled and reached over to tug on her ponytail.
“Never. You look great, and you know it. You’re a Bryant. All you guys are good looking.”
“Right, but I look more like my mother.”
“Who was beautiful.”
“Who was a cheating bitch.” I turned to watch the world go by outside the window closest to me and tried not to let my thoughts stray too far.
“That has nothing to do with her looks. I think Seattle would be a good change of pace for you. I leave early next year for Dubai for a few months. Let’s do this. If you’re not with Erica or settled into a career, then you go with me. It will be fun.”
I glanced back over at her. Memories brushed past my vision, so many of them. We’d grown up like two peas in a pod, and yet we kept to ourselves. I was grateful for Bethany in my life as a new source of companionship, but Sophia would always be first.
“Let’s just get my ticket now. My only career option is to paint for Jonathan’s studio. I can do that from anywhere in the world. I bet being in Dubai would just stimulate my creative juices.”
“Don’t say that ever again.” She laughed and pulled up to the coffee shop. “You want the caramel coffee with extra whipped cream?”
“Yep.” I pulled out my wallet as she lifted her hand.
“My treat, and this conversation isn’t over.”
“It’s my treat. I’m a billionaire though I look like a pauper.”
“It’s part of your charm, but true.” She snatched my card and ordered a few things as I tried to think through the possibility of going with her to the Middle East. Taking a break at the first of the year would be great, but I wasn’t leaving until Damon’s life was put back together and all the ups and downs with Erica were settled. Everyone wanted me to work for McKenzie and Bryant, and where some part of me knew it was the best offer I would ever get, I just wasn’t sure it was for me.
“Here.” Sophia turned and handed me a huge chocolate chip cookie and a frozen coffee drink.
“This is more calories than I burned during our jog.”
“Stop being a girl and drink it.” She lifted her light coffee in the air and smiled. “To you finally getting on with your life and not being a chicken shit with Erica.”
“To you becoming the crowned princess of the Middle East and losing your sickeningly white coloring.”
“Hey!” She turned and reached out to pinch my nipple. “You’re just as pasty as I am.”
“I’m a delicate spring flower. Stop touching the goods or I’ll charge you.”
“You let your sister touch them, I’m sure.”
“I knew you were spying on us. Bitch.”
“Always.” She smiled and lifted her coffee to her pretty lips. If she was serious about traveling around the world, I had no doubt she would steal a million hearts.
Her abilities weren’t the problem.
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