Samantha was Mason’s wife. Taylor was Logan’s girlfriend. There was a seriously sexy blonde named Heather. Who was with a fully tatted-out hottie named Channing. I wasn’t going to attempt at recalling the last names. Then there was Matteo and Grace. I was pretty sure Grace and Matteo were together together. I wasn’t totally sure, but they acted more than friends at times, and there were looks. Lots of looks.
I didn't need to worry about my own family because they only invited Graham, and he came alone. Not that I didn’t mind seeing Britney, but she was so connected to Calihan, and there was so much water running over that bridge—enough to cover it completely at this moment.
“Monson is protective of you,” Graham announced, sliding into the chair beside me. He had a pink drink in hand, kicking out a chair in front and lounging back. He threw a leg up and took a good swallow from the pink stuff.
“What are you drinking?”
“No clue.” He didn’t take his eyes off the group just across the room.
We’d eaten. Drank. There were lots of stories, lots of laughter. Gifts had piled up in the corner of the room, but we were back to the stories. I had met everyone, and everyone had been kind. So seriously kind, but an undercurrent was running through the room.
One I didn’t really know what to do with.
That undercurrent: I didn’t belong. I was the outsider.
Even Graham, he belonged more than I did. The guys treated him like he was a long-lost member of their clan.
“How are you holding up?” Graham was frowning at me.
I couldn’t help it. I looked at his pink drink. “Wishing I’d had a few of those tonight.”
He grimaced. “Did someone--”
I shook my head. “I’m fine. Everyone’s been nice. It’s just…” They were all laughing. They were all so comfortable with each other.
“I get it.”
I looked over, hearing his words. “You get it?”
“I get it.” That’s all he said.
Graham’s eyes darkened, and I turned, but I could still feel his scrutiny.
A beat of silence passed between us. I didn’t know what to say.
He leaned forward in his chair. His eyes were troubled.
There was a slight glaze over them.
My brother was buzzed.
Maybe more than buzzed.
I raised an eyebrow. “What?”
“Hmm?” He snapped back to attention, focusing on me. “Right! I wanted to talk to you about something. I don’t know if this is the right place, but I never see you, so whatever. Look, it wasn’t right what Cali did, but she feels you’re only coming into the family now because you need us.” He lifted a shoulder. “And I get that. I mean, if my dad was your dad, I’d need all the help I could get, but she’s feeling used. And she’s protective of Mom.”
“Mom?” I asked.
“Because you treat her like shit, you know? Mom gets hurt by that. You don’t even see it. You just, I don’t know what you see, but if my mom was my mom, I’d spend as much time with her as possible.” He frowned, his eyebrows pinching together. “Wait. You know what I mean.”
I didn’t, but I did.
You treat her like shit...
Was that what he really thought?
Everything was churning inside me.
“Hey, don’t sweat it. I’m drunk. Whatever nonsense I’m saying, don’t listen to me. You know me, I ramble when I’m like this.”
I didn’t know him when he was like this.
I didn’t know anyone when they were drunk, because I didn’t drink.
I didn’t drink with others.
I didn’t do anything with others.
Because of him.
Because of—suddenly, I felt alone and exposed and vulnerable. And I hated it.
Then I remembered what Graham said when he first came over. Monson is protective of you.
“What you said when you first sat down. About Nate being protective. Why’d you say that?”
He frowned, some of the glaze disappearing. He shrugged both his shoulders. “Because he is. Haven’t you noticed?”
Tonight? Not really.
I gestured to them, a half-hearted motion. “He’s with his family.”
“Yeah, but it’s more. He’s constantly looking for you. Like right now, he’s probably watching us.” He rolled his head around. “Yep. Look at him. He’s over there, sitting with his peeps, but he really wants to be over here.”
“Don’t say peeps.”
“His people. Whatevs.”
“Don’t say whatevs either. You’re not a teenager.”
Graham grinned, lifting his drink again. “I was an awesome teenager. Too bad Duke kept you away from us all. I was uber popular.”
I was cringing at the “uber,” too, but Graham was going to say what Graham was going to say.
“You know, Val died, and I miss the fuck out of her.” He leaned forward, suddenly looking sober. His eyes were dark. “But there’s been one thing good that came out of losing my little sister.” He motioned to me with his glass. “I got my other little sister back. I hate that she’s gone, but I thank her every fucking night for you. We’re not the bad guys your dad made you think we were. And we love you. All of us.”
My throat was full.
A lump was blocking me from swallowing.
He was right… about everything.
I whispered, “I really miss Val right now.”
“You haven’t told her a thing, have you?”
I was outside on the deck when Logan broached the topic. It’d been the elephant in the room, and the accusation I was hearing from him was on point. Everyone knew what was going on, and no one was telling her. They were walking on eggshells around her, a feat that our group usually never did.
Mason was on my other side. “Jesus, Logan. It’s not your kid.”
“I’m her lawyer.”
“You’re my lawyer, and I’ll tell her. He’s mind-fucked her all her life. This is not the easiest topic to broach.”
“You said you talked to her, told her it was an option. She said she knew he would go at her.”