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“Ram a stick up your ass, Blaise.” I thought about that. “And don’t make a sexual joke about that. You are with my sister, and she’s right next to you.”

“Ass,” from Nova.

I cursed under my breath. “Let’s hope that’s not one of her new words.”

Aspen started laughing. “You’re at the stage when you need to start watching your language, pops.”

“Thanks,” I bit out.

Aspen said as if I hadn’t been a sarcastic ass, “Also, Blaise won’t. I have my fingers on his tit. If he makes a joke, he’s getting a titty-twister.”

Blaise started laughing until his voice went three octaves higher. “OW! Aspen.”

She was laughing. “We’re here for my brother, not you. Stop flirting.”

I rolled my eyes.

“Move your hand off my leg.”

Blaise growled. “Nate, talk. I’m up, and the titty-twister got me horny. Let’s figure your shit out so I can handle my shit here. And side note, that’s how you handle females. There’s a problem, you deal with it. But you gotta remember, things you don’t think about saying are exactly what you should be saying to them.”

“That makes no sense.” Also, “Stop cursing.”

“It makes perfect sense.”

I clamped my mouth shut, but the growl was there. I couldn’t stop growling, then I heard a softer growl come from Nova’s chair.

I started laughing.

“Was that Nova?”

“Yes.” I was laughing harder. “She’s picking up my habits.”

She growled again, then started laughing.

A layer of tension eased up, but there was so much underneath. My sister was right. I hated to admit this, but I might need some Blaise-wisdom. He did tend to understand women the best out of our family circle.

“Did you tell her you loved her?” From Blaise.


“That’s your fucking problem.”

“Stop cursing,” I said.

Aspen spoke up, “Just go back and talk to her. Tell her your feelings. Tell her everything.”

“Clean her jar. Clean your jar. Clean things that you don’t even think are relevant. They’re probably completely relevant.”

“Clean the jar, huh?” What a fucking phrase. I shook my head but hit the turn signal and slowed down.

It was time to head back. Nova was happy, and I had a game plan.

“If you don’t feel emotionally clean, then it’s not clean. Go with that as your guideline and remember, say the shit you don’t think about saying.”

“That doesn’t help him.” She added, “And watch the language with Nova now picking things up. She’s a sponge.”

“I don’t care. About Nate, not Nova. He has to learn. Why are we teaching him how to be in a relationship? He’s ancient compared to us.”

“Because he’s been a fuckboy most of his life.”

“Aspen.” My mouth was open. “I can’t believe you called me that.” And also, “Language.”

“Sorry. So sorry. It’s—I was around Logan and Taylor a lot last week. He kept telling her he was an eff-boy when he was young, just like you. She kept saying, ‘I know. I don’t get why you keep telling me this.’ And it’d repeat. I have no idea what was going on, so I was quiet, but I picked up the word.”

“You know who else is a reformed fuck—AH! That hurt! Fine. Eff-boy?”

I could hear my brother-in-law’s smirk from across the ocean.

“He’s giving me the look,” Aspen said to me.

“It’s a twinkle. I twinkle.”

“It’s a look. He’s smoldering at me.”

“I think most guys smolder,” Blaise commented.

Aspen laughed but added, “Tell her you love her. It’ll be fine. And Nova was probably just picking up the tension in the house. Kids feel everything and watch everything. It’s their job. Love you, Nate. I want to be the first to know when you need help picking out the ring.”

“The ring?!”

But Aspen hung up, and I pushed that thought aside.

One thing at a time here.

First things first, clean the jar.



I came out to the kitchen and found Nate and Nova not there. He left a note, but I looked at the food he’d been giving her. None of them were her favorites. They were all her least favorites, so I switched out a few and put her plate back in the fridge. He’d be able to get her to eat just fine when they came back.

Grabbing a bottle of wine, a corkscrew, and a wineglass, I took it with me downstairs. There was a sitting room with patio doors that overlooked the backyard. The pool was covered by now, but the landscaping had been top-notch, and all the lights were soothing to view.

I settled in on a comfortable couch with a blanket wrapped around me. The lights were off where I was sitting as I poured myself a glass of wine.

I was a few sips in when I heard them come back.

Nate walked in. Nova’s little pitter-patter of feet. She was in the mood to run. She must’ve woken up from a small nap. She’d have so much energy now.

Nate was talking to himself, but I couldn’t make out the words.

A chink of glasses. The sound of something being scraped against a plate.

Nova’s little pitter-patter again, then silence.

Nate was chuckling.

Nova was talking up a storm. Miss Penguin. Mama. Dada. Batty.


Had I heard that right?

Nate’s bark of laughter told me that I had.

I drank more wine. It coated my insides, relaxing me, soothing, and taking away some of the pain from before. For the next hour, I listened to them above.

Nate fed her. Did the dishes.

I could hear the water being run for her bath.

His footsteps in her room. He stayed in there a bit.

Then he was on the move.

He went… He went to my room? Then to his room.

To the kitchen.

Living room.

He went outside, crossing to the pool house. He looked inside, but the light was off, and he turned around. He was coming back around.

Maybe I moved? I didn’t intend to, but suddenly, he turned and looked right at me.

I held my breath, a shiver going through me, and my mouth went dry.

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