I ignored all of them and said to Tanner, “If I am sleeping with your brother, I don’t understand how that’s your business.”
Tanner snorted. “You kidding? How is it not our business?” He flung a hand in Kai’s direction. “You never should’ve been pulled in in the first place.”
“Uh, hello?” Brooke shook her head, blinking. “I pulled her in, not Kai.” She held a hand out. “If you’re going to blame anyone for Riley, that should land on me.”
Tanner turned to her. “You didn’t know what you were doing. Kai—”
“Kai,” Brooke raised her voice, speaking over her brother, “was following a lead. That was it. I pulled her in.” She tapped her chest. “Me. I did that. Not Kai, and of course he’s going to follow up. She works for the 411 Network. Their whole mission is helping people disappear. If he’d showed up and asked all nice, there’s no way she would’ve helped.” She snorted. “Kai had no other choice, and you know it.”
Tanner glared at her. “You’re supposed to be on my side.”
“No.” She held her hands up, palms toward him. “At this point, I’m on Riley’s side. You all love me. For her, I have to make it right. Sorry. Don’t ask for blind support, because you ain’t getting it from me, not in this instance.”
Tanner rotated his head, seeking out Jonah.
“Uh…” Jonah laughed beside me. “Not here, brother. Not with this one.”
Tanner cursed. “You both suck.” He looked at Kai, then me. “You all suck.”
Kai sighed, his shoulders suddenly relaxing. “You’re not angry at me for pulling in Riley. You’re not angry that I’m sleeping with her. You’re not even angry that Brooke ran away.” He went to the kitchen counter, putting down the drink Brooke had given him and pouring himself a glass of bourbon. “You’re mad because you don’t want to be a Bennett, but you are.” His tone went soft. “We all are.”
I held my breath as I gazed around the room.
There were identical expressions of resignation on all of them. The only one who had a flicker of mutiny was Tanner, but after staring down Kai for another beat, that flame went out.
He lowered his head, tightening his hold on his drink, and tossed it back. “Fuck that.”
He dropped the glass on the counter, letting it slide and bounce toward Brooke, who caught it before it could shatter on the floor. Grabbing the rum, he left the room.
“Fuck you all,” he added as he disappeared.
After a moment, Kai came over to the table.
“She’s okay?” he asked Jonah.
Jonah was looking the direction Tanner had gone, but he turned his attention to Kai. “Yes. Yes.” He blinked a few times, shaking his head. “She seems fine, better than how she was at the house. She needs lots of liquids and rest.” He pointed where Tanner had gone. “Is he going to be a problem? Because, I mean…” He glanced at Brooke. “We’re all Bennetts. I hate this too, but it is what it is.”
Kai was looking at me, his eyes warming. “No. He’ll be fine.”
“Kai—” Jonah started.
“I’ll handle him. Remember, you and Brooke get a semblance of a normal life. He doesn’t even get that.”
There was a lot I didn’t understand, and a part of me was dying to know more, but another part was just glad nothing else had happened.
Kai nodded toward me. “Just make sure she’s all right.” He left without a word to anyone else.
Brooke waited a moment before picking up two glasses and bringing them over to us. She perched at the table, wide and eager eyes darting between Jonah and me.
“Is now the wrong time to tell you Levi proposed to me before?”
Jonah had picked up his stethoscope, but it clattered to the table. He pinched the bridge of his nose, groaning. “Brooke. For fuck’s sake.”
She looked between us, asking again. “Bad timing?” She lifted a shoulder, still smiling, and changed topics.
“So, you’re fucking my brother?”
? ? ?
“Do I want to know what that was all about?” I asked Kai later in his study.
I’d stayed downstairs with Jonah and Brooke. Brooke kept inventing new drinks, making us try them, and he and I spent most of the time playing rock/paper/scissors to see who’d do the tasting.
Jonah took most because he kept insisting I needed water, not booze, but I still participated. I had a good buzz going by the time I went to find Kai.
The study was bathed in a deep pine aroma, which fit with the massive paintings of forests and mountains hanging on the wall. A tan-colored rock chimney climbed the far wall.
I’d come into the room on the first floor, but I looked up to see the second floor lofted above. The entire back side of the room was floor-to-ceiling bookshelves—a book lover’s paradise.
Kai sat behind a grand desk facing the chimney, the rest of the room, and where I’d come in through the doorway.
I’d asked about earlier as I walked into the room, but I had a different question in mind now. “You don’t have a ladder that I can use to swing from one side of those books to the other, do you?”
He stood. “No. Why?”
I shrugged, walking in a circle to take everything in. “No reason, just a fantasy from another world.”
He came to stand next to me, but slid his hands into his pockets.
I wished he had moved closer. I wished he would touch me, but he didn’t so I didn’t, and things felt confusing for a moment.
He watched me, his eyebrows raised. “You’re drunk?”
“Tipsy.” A pause. “More than tipsy.”
“Brooke’s influence.” He sighed.
“Yes.” I nodded. “But also yours, Jonah’s, even Tanner’s. And mine. I decided to be Brooke’s test bunny.”
Now he smiled. “Test bunny? I’ve not heard that phrase.”
I lifted a shoulder. “I like it better than guinea pig. But I like guinea pigs too. They’re funny when they run and hop. Did you know they did that?”
“I didn’t, no.” His mouth wasn’t smiling anymore, but his eyes were.
I began to feel self-conscious, but in a good way, because someone I liked was giving me attention and making me happy. Butterflies were out en masse.
“I haven’t felt those in forever.”
“Those what?” Kai tipped his head, a little tilt to his mouth. He was enjoying this conversation.
I flattened my hand over my stomach. “Nothing.” I grinned, looking down. I could feel my face getting hot. “Nothing.”
“You’re teasing me.” There was a lilt of a laugh in those words. “I don’t remember the last time someone teased me.”
I’d hit his arm before I realized it. Then I blanched. “Oh—oh! Hi.” My face had to be beet red by now.
That’s when the laughter started.
And once I started, I couldn’t stop. I laughed enough that I needed to hold on to Kai’s arm.
“I”—ha!—“don’t”—hee hee—“know what’s”—snort—“gotten into”—hiccup—“me!” I gasped, sucking in air to try to drown both things at once. Once I started hiccupping, it was the same result. I was done for.
Kai stared as if my skin had turned green. Patting my back, he asked, “Am I supposed to scare you? Something with peanut butter?”
That made me laugh harder.
I shook my head, holding a hand up, which he took in his.
God. That made me swoon and laugh at the same time.
This was not something Kai had dealt with before; that was obvious. Finally, with tears streaking down my cheeks, I was able to respond. And I was officially embarrassed. I’d never laughed like this, not even with Blade or Carol.
“Sorry. So sorry. I’m under control again.”
I pulled my hand from his and rested it on his chest.
This felt good. This felt right, standing here, so close, just being normal.
I swallowed over a sudden lump.
“Sorry.” I wiped the back of my hand over my cheek.
He used his thumbs to clear the rest of my tears away. His heart picked up under my hand, and I tipped my head up, our mouths so close together, but so far apart at the same time.
He just needed to lower his an inch, or I could’ve leaned up, and our lips would’ve met.
Heat rushed through me, spiking my pulse.
He lifted his hand, touching where a lone tear lingered at the corner of my mouth. “You’re happy tonight.”
Yes. In some ways. I tilted my head back, meeting his gaze. “It was like old times with Brooke. She’s happy.”
He nodded, his eyes falling to my lips. “And that makes you happy?”
“I was hurt by her lying to me, but yeah. It does.” My throat swelled as I remembered my time with her. “She made me feel normal when I roomed with her.”
But it was more than that.
“She didn’t look at me with guilt or fear, or like she knew a secret about me that I didn’t know myself,” I continued. “That’s what all the adults did, and I wasn’t allowed friends. Not really. My mom didn’t want anyone at the house, and my dad didn’t want me at other people’s houses. He couldn’t control what I’d say.” I nodded to myself. A smile tugged at my lips. “Brooke was my first friend. She was the first to give a damn.”
“And I took her away.”