A Perfect Ten

Page 112

She just sighed, looking a little ashamed, as if embarrassed she’d ever had anything to do with such a brainless douche.

“Ten?” Noel strode over, scowling hard. “What the hell are you doing? Aspen called at work, saying you were beating the shit out of some stranger in our backyard. So, I come home to find this. Who is this guy?”

I couldn’t help but smile. “Well, why don’t I introduce you, buddy. This here is Sander Scotini.”

Noel pulled back in shock and stared at Scotini before a small smile lit his face. “Is he really?”

I nodded. “And Sandy,” I said, picking the little shit up off the ground, by his hair. “Meet Caroline’s overprotective, homicidal big brother, Noel Gamble.”

The back door opened again. “Noel?” Aspen called, looking worried while Noel cracked his knuckles and stepped menacingly toward Scotini. “Is everything okay? Should I call the police?”

“Who’s she?” Scotini asked.

“That’s my wife,” Noel intoned. “Don’t fucking look at her.” Then he called over his shoulder, “No, baby. We got this.”

Scotini glanced at me. “If he’s Noel, then who’re you?”

“I’m Ten.”

He blinked, honestly clueless. “Ten what?”

“Ten seconds away from putting your parents out of their misery for having an idiot for a son. Jesus. Catch up, already.”

“Wait, did he piss his pants?” Noel asked, suddenly taking a cautious step back.

I lifted my hands, proud of myself. “Of course he pissed his pants. I’m a badass motherfucker. I got this intimidation shit down.”

Noel shook his head, seemingly disappointed. “Well, hell. I can’t hit him now.”

“Can I hit him?” I asked.

“Ooh.” Brandt eagerly jumped forward. “I want to hit him, too.”

Noel sighed and set his hands on his hips as he gazed at the pathetic-ness that was Sander Scotini. “What the fuck is he even doing here?”

“Mommy and Daddy finally got tired of his shit, I guess, and cut off his play money, so he came crawling to Caroline to beg for some of her hush-hush-go-away payment.”

“Oh, hell to the no,” Noel murmured. “You are not getting one cent from her, you little fucktard. And if you want to live to see your next breath, you will leave here now and never come back. In fact, if you ever try to contact Caroline again, you’re dead. Got it?”

When Scotini didn’t respond within two seconds except to glance beseechingly at Caroline, Noel growled. “Damn it, you looked at her. Brandt, go inside and get my gun.”

“Shit!” Scotini yelped, holding up his hands and backing away. “Oh, fuck. Don’t shoot. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’ll go. I’ll never come back again. I’ll never talk to her again. I swear to God.”

“Then go,” Noel roared.

Scotini turned tail and half sprinted, half hobbled from the yard.

After he was gone, Brandt glanced up at Noel. “I didn’t know you had a gun.”

Gam shrugged. “I don’t.”

We all had to chuckle about that. When I couldn’t help it any longer, I let my attention slide to Caroline. She seemed to be okay after what had just happened, but I still hated the fact that I couldn’t physically go to her.

As if feeling my gaze on her, she blew out a breath and looked up.

“How much of that money do you really have left?” I asked, needing a reason to talk to her.

Her scheming grin was downright gorgeous. “Oh...about fifteen grand.”

My mouth fell open. “Holy shit.” Then I smiled and shook my head. “Sweet.” I held out my hand for a congratulatory fist bump. I wanted to grab her, yank her close and kiss the fuck out of her when she pressed her knuckles to mine. But yeah...Gamble was right there.

“Why don’t you two go inside,” he ordered Brandt and Caroline, motioning them toward the door as if he were herding cattle. “I gotta get back to work. I left Quinn at the bar alone.”

Caroline sent me one last glance but finally nodded and followed her brother into the house.

I watched her go as a sinking feeling struck that Gamble was going to start talking the moment the door shut, leaving the two of us alone out here. Scared he’d seen something in the way I’d looked at her or could tell how I felt about her from the way I’d treated Scotini, I sucked in a bolstering breath and faced him, ready for a punch in the gut, or face, or—God I hoped not—the junk.

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