A Perfect Ten

Page 135

“Noel, Ten just gave me the nickname Shakespeare. Don’t you love it?”

I glanced around to find him leaning against the kitchen entrance now, his eyes narrowed as he watched me pull glasses from his cupboard.

“Since when did you two become such good friends?” he asked.

I opened my mouth to tell him that was none of his damn business but Shakespeare said, “Since I helped him with his resume a few weeks ago.”

I pressed both hands to my heart and grinned as annoyingly as I could. “We bonded. It was beautiful.”

Gamble contorted his face into an expression of supreme confusion. Then he glanced at his wife. “He didn’t hit on you, did he?”

She sighed and rolled her eyes. “Noel. Really?”

“Yeah, Noel,” I echoed. “Really? I was a perfectly respectable gentleman.” Then I winked at Shakespeare. “After we put our clothes back on.”

Gam’s face turned dark red. “You motherfucker!”

“Oh my God, Noel!” Shakespeare grabbed his arm and started laughing. “He was joking. It was a joke.” She sent me a wide-eyed, cut-it-out look. “I don’t think he thought that was so funny, Ten.”

I shrugged and snagged a chip from a bowl on the table. “Well, it sure amused the hell out of me, which is all that counts. Some people,” I arched my eyebrows at Gam, “just take things way too fucking seriously.”

“Where is everyone?” Aspen asked, desperate to change the conversation. “Colton! Brandt! Caroline! Supper.”

Colton came torpedoing into the room first with Brandt right on his heels. They both skidded to a stop when they saw me. Their eyes went wide as if they were sure I was going to call them out for what they’d done earlier.

But I simply sent them a big grin. “Hey, guys. Long time, no see.”

Brandt cleared his throat, ducked his face and hurried to a chair. Colton followed with similar meekness. I waited until they were both seated before I took the chair between them and slid down. They grew even more restless, and I almost busted a gut laughing. But damn, I loved fucking with them.

As I was settling in, a breathless Caroline swept into the room, only to jerk to a halt when she met my gaze.

She wouldn’t stop gawking, so I sent her a cringe and pointed to myself. “I’m sorry, did I steal your chair?”

“What?” She blinked and glanced around at the places. “No,” she started, only to shake her head. “Well, actually yes, but you’re fine. It’s fine.” She sent her older brother a puzzled glance. “Uh...I guess we’re having a guest for supper.”

“He invited himself,” Gam intoned dryly.

Caroline shook herself again and finally took the last free chair available.

And so began our supper together as one big, happy family.

I was halfway through my second taco when Gamble frowned suspiciously at me and leaned across the table, squinting. I shrank away from him, hoping I wasn’t sporting a hickey or anything.

“Do you have a new black eye?” he finally asked.

I totally wasn’t expecting that question, so I said, “What?”

Brandt started choking on a tortilla chip. While I patted him on the back, Gamble turned his attention to his middle brother. “You okay?”

Brandt couldn’t look him in the eye while he nodded. “Mmm hmm. Fine. Great. Wonderful. Splendorific.”

Gamble glanced at his wife. “Why’s he acting so weird?”

While Shakespeare shrugged, honestly clueless, Caroline answered, “Probably because he’s a dork.”

I laughed. “I’ll second that.”

Caroline glanced at me, her eyes sparkling with mischief. “All in favor?”

She and I both raised our hands. When no one else seemed to catch on that we were voting on Brandt’s dorkhood, I grabbed Colton’s arm and lifted it for him.

“Three against two,” I said. “It’s official. Brandt’s a dork.”

While Brandt cried, “Hey, that’s not fair,” Caroline and I grinned across the table at each other...until her smile fell. “Oh my God, you really do have a new bruise. Right around your left eye. The one Zoey gave you was around your right.”

“See, I thought so.” Gamble pointed victoriously. Then he snickered. “Who’d you piss off this time?”

Brandt’s head snapped up, his eyes huge. He must’ve thought I was going to rat him out. But I just shrugged. “It’s hard to tell. I’ve gotten so many lately, it’s impossible to keep track without, like, a spreadsheet or something. Honestly, I think they’re starting to spawn and have babies together.” Colton giggled at that. So I kept going, pointing at my throbbing eye. “I swear this one’s the great-grandkid of the one you gave me last year, Gam.”

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