Noel’s gaze zipped back to me. “Really?” he said slowly. “So what is Caroline trying to hide? Hmm, Caroline?” Then he crinkled his eyebrows with concern. “Have you been crying?”
When he instantly turned to Oren as if it was his fault, I stepped between the two guys and held up my hands, facing off with my brother. “You know, just because you’re the legal guardian to those two, doesn’t mean you’re one to me any longer. I don’t have to tell you anything that’s going on in my life.”
Ripping his narrowed gaze away from Oren, Noel shot me a surprised blink. “I may not be your legal guardian, no, but you do still live under my roof. And I don’t appreciate my own sister keeping secrets from me, or paying off Brandt and Colton to keep them from me either.”
“Well, then I guess it’s time for me to move out.” I straightened my spine and sent him a little ha, take that! smirk.
He lifted his eyebrows. “Wow. So, this secret is so important that you’re willing to move out just to keep it from me. Thanks, sis. Really, I’m feeling the love here.”
“Good Lord, Noel. I’m not saying I don’t love you. I’m just saying maybe it’s time I leave the nest and get a little independence. I’m sure Zoey and I could rent a place together.”
“Whoa, hey. No.” Oren lifted his hands, stepping forward to interrupt. “Blondie’s fine where she is.”
When I sent him an incredulous glance, he shrugged guiltily. “What? She cooks, and cleans, and keeps Hamilton perpetually happy and off my back. She ain’t going anywhere.”
“Oh God,” Noel blurted out, horror dawning on his face as he spun to me. “Please don’t tell me you’re pregnant again.”
“Hey!” Oren boomed and shoved him back hard enough that he stumbled in reverse, just as Aspen gasped, “Noel!” from the doorway.
As Oren demanded to know what Noel’s problem was, and Noel wanted to know why Oren had shoved him, I reached for the counter to support myself as all feeling once again drained from my body, leaving me cold and exposed.
Everything I’d learned at the doctor’s office came rushing back, all the words I’d heard, the feelings I’d experienced, the absolute, crushing regret. My chest heaved as I tried to pull in a steady breath, while Oren stepped into Noel’s face, looking livid.
“I fucking shoved you because that was a douchebag thing to say to your own sister.”
I wanted to call him off; he was going to get us exposed if he kept acting like an enraged boyfriend standing up for his girl who’d just been insulted. But everything else just hurt so bad.
“Who the hell do you think you are, telling me how to treat my family?” Noel snarled. “And given her past, it was a completely legitimate question.”
“Noel!” Aspen stormed forward to poke him in the chest
But before she could berate him as well, I said, “You know what, it was a legitimate question. Who knows when Caroline will get herself knocked up again? But you’ll be happy to know, big brother, that I can never bother you with another pregnancy scare ever again. The doctor just informed me today that my baby-making equipment is permanently out of commission.”
His mouth dropped open. “What?”
I couldn’t explain any more to him. Whirling away, I raced from the room.
Watching tears fill Caroline’s eyes right before she rushed from the kitchen and not being able to chase after her had to be one the hardest things I’d ever fucking done—or not done, in this case. Or maybe restraining myself from knocking Noel’s teeth down his throat was the hardest. I couldn’t quite decide. But I’ll tell you one thing; standing there like a dumbass and doing nothing slaughtered me.
I shook—literally vibrated—with the need to react, while Gamble lifted his hand and spun in a circle, looking to all of us for answers. “Will someone please clue me in on what the fuck just happened?”
I turned away from him and grabbed the edge of the counter, squeezing as hard as I could to keep from choking him and telling him how much he’d just hurt Caroline.
“I don’t know about the baby-making equipment thing,” Brandt insisted, lifting his hands in innocence.
“Ten?” Gamble said, his voice hard.
Still facing the cabinets, I clenched my teeth. “I just know what I overheard her telling your wife.”
Gamble sighed. “Aspen?”
Her voice sounded irritated when she answered. “Like she told you, she just got back from the doctor.”