I knocked once on the door before trying it to find it unlocked. So I let myself in.
Zwinn sent me a sympathetic smile as if they knew everything. Then they pointed down the hall. “He’s in his room.”
I headed that way. As soon as I stepped through the doorway, hungry hands pulled me against a hard, hot chest. He kissed my forehead before grasping the hem of my shirt and yanking it up, over my head.
“I thought this wasn’t a booty call,” I said as I lifted my arms to help him along.
He reached around for the back clasp of my bra. “It’s not. No talking.”
After discarding the bra, he leaned in and kissed the top-most swell of my breasts. Then he removed my pants. Yeah, this sure as hell felt like a booty call to me. I expected him to go for my panties next, but he shocked me senseless when he urged one of his huge T-shirts over my head instead. It smelled like him, and I couldn’t help but to inhale the heady scent.
Then he took my hand and led me to the bed. Once we’d crawled under the covers and he’d positioned my head to rest on his shoulder as he wrapped his arms around my waist, he finally released a sigh and all his muscles loosened under me. “There,” he said, sounding satisfied. “That’s better.”
I smiled and closed my eyes, letting his strong, solid heartbeat echo into my ear. It really was better. But he made it even more amazing by threading his fingers through my hair and rhythmically stroking my long locks.
“Mmm. That feels good.”
I could fall asleep to this, no problem. I could just forget everything and let him take care of me.
And in the morning, my womb would still be barren. My brother would still be in the dark about the greatest relationship of my life, and Oren...Oren still wouldn’t know just how strongly or how long I’d loved him.
“Tell me about your childhood.”
His soft question had me fluttering my eyes open. “Why?”
“Because I want to know. Gamble never talked about it. I knew next to nothing about you, except that you existed, until the day I met you.”
“It’s not very glamorous.”
“I don’t care. I just...I want to know what it was like for you. Had you lived in that trailer house your entire life?”
“No. I mean, yes, we’d always lived in trailer houses, but not that one specifically. We stayed in a little bit nicer, three-bedroom place until Noel left for college. My mom couldn’t keep up with the bills, though, so we downgraded to the one you met us in.”
I felt him nod, but he kept petting my hair as I described my life to him. “Noel basically raised us. My mother was gone a lot, and when she was home, she didn’t pay a lot of attention to us. I remember her snapping at me when Brandt and Colton were little, telling me to keep them quiet because she had a headache or something. Noel buffered a lot. He’s such a natural leader.” I smiled. “Still is, kind of bossy sometimes, but I wouldn’t trade him for the world. He always made sure we were fed and clothed and entertained. Looking back now, I’m amazed by how much work he went through to keep the three of us happy. I mean, he couldn’t do much, but he...he tried, you know. He really tried.”
“He’s a good brother,” Oren murmured.
“The best,” I agreed.
“Were you mad at him when he left for college?”
“No. Not at all.” I remembered how petulant Brandt had been, but I’d known Noel needed to go. I’d been ready to take over and do whatever I had to so he could make something of himself. I’d been so proud my big brother was going to get a college degree with his football scholarship. “I didn’t realize quite how much stuff he took care of until he was gone, though.” Until I’d had to step in and try to do what he’d always done.
“How old were you?”
“Fifteen. And I really tried to use the money he sent home wisely. I paid the bills he told me were the most important first, and I got the groceries we needed, but sometimes...I don’t know. I’d splurge when I shouldn’t have, and I’d get Brandt and Colton some toy they really didn’t need or me a cute outfit that cost way too much. But I kept trying to fix every mistake I made, except each one seemed to set us back just a little bit further.”
“You did the best you could.”
“And yet I never achieved the Noel Gamble level of perfection.”
Against me, Oren snorted. “Who could? Trust me, I played ball with the guy for four years. No one can be as great as ESU’s almighty football star.”