Gambin leaned forward.
A couple other guys had come in, but they held back. There was another couch on the other side of Zeke, so we had a tiny bit of privacy. Good. I was on edge. I wouldn’t have handled that well. Although Aspen somehow made everything okay.
Jesus. What was my problem?
What was I becoming? I’d never needed a girl to calm me down, but Aspen was suddenly that person for me—more and more every time I saw her. How long ago had I told her I couldn’t date her, and now I needed her touching me to get through a room? It was unreal, but I wasn’t a moron. I wasn’t going to fight it. I was going to hold on to her, keep her as long as she would stay.
Because that was the situation.
She was going to go away. Eventually.
Not today. Not tomorrow, but some day, and it was for the very reason Zeke had been teasing me about. I was the biggest dick here. I’d been physically abused, and that shit had happened for a reason. It was like Griffith knew there was bad in me, and he needed to beat it out.
I grunted, the sound low in my throat, because he’d failed. It was still in me, just pushed down far enough that it only came out in pieces. Aspen was my salve. I was a blistering, angry wound, and I needed her covering me to dull the pain, just a little.
Always fucking angry. What a shitshow I was.
“B.” Zeke moved his foot, nudging mine and motioning.
Gambin watched me, an intense look on his face.
Aspen stiffened at my irritation.
I took another shot of whiskey and ran my hand down her back until she was soft again. She nestled into me.
“I was asking how things are with your brother now?”
This cocksucker. He had a sly look in his eye, like he knew something I didn’t. He had an angle. That’s what it was, and hell no. That was personal shit.
Aspen raised her head to watch me.
She knew I was ready to blow, again.
“Who are you?” I asked.
Zeke’s eyes got big, and he fell back into his couch, smothering a laugh.
Gambin straightened. His face got hard, and if he could’ve thrown a punch, he’d have made a show about threatening it. But the guy was weak. He knew it, as we had a whole stare off, and he flushed before lowering his head, because he could tell I knew it too.
I wasn’t some rich, pretty punk.
“You don’t have to be a prick,” he said.
“But that’s what I am.” I flashed him my teeth. “I don’t know you. Who the fuck you think you are, asking about my brother and me? It ain’t your business. And go run your mouth, I dare you. Let’s see if you have a mouth to run by the end of the night.”
The room fell silent.
The bass from the music filled the space, but after staring at me, measuring me, Gambin clenched his jaw and turned to stalk off. Two guys that had been lingering by Zeke’s bed followed him. Lackeys.
Brian whistled under his breath, moving over and kicking his feet up on the coffee table in front of him. “That was cold.”
“You know if he sees your brother in Roussou, he’s going to start something,” Zeke added.
I snorted. “That’d be dumb of him. It’s just me here. Cross has his whole crew.”
“The fuck?” Zeke glowered at me.
He shook his head. “It’s not just you. Christ. When you going to get that through your skull?”
I knew what he was saying, and I forced myself to calm down. “Yeah. Thanks.”
Zeke expelled a harsh breath, but he smiled. “Damn straight. Finally.”
Brian lifted his chin, tipping his drink toward me before he took a drink.
“So are you and your brother okay?” Zeke asked.
I took a pillow from the couch and flung it at him. It hit him square in the face and bounced to hit Brian, who snagged it. When Branston, who I hadn’t noticed before, started laughing behind him, Brian threw it at him.
Branston caught it and put it behind him in the chair. “Hmmm. I could fall asleep like this.”
I surveyed the group, noting two people missing. “Yo. Where’s Ashlome and Conway?”
Brian stilled and shared a look with Zeke.
They didn’t answer, not right away.
Zeke’s shoulders lifted for a moment. “Conway’s with Daniels tonight.”
Brian pointed up. “There’s a whole group upstairs. All the girls are there.”
Zeke’s grin was wry. “I’ve been cut off as long as I hang out with you.”
His words hit me, and I began to laugh.
Mara was trying to ice me out from the guys by using sex against them, the lack of sex.
I shook my head, still laughing. “You going to do it?”
Zeke scowled. “What the fuck?! Did we not just go over thi—”
“You going to give up pussy for your best friend?” I held on to Aspen as I leaned forward. Her arms wrapped around my neck. “When I know you get so much pussy from Roussou that you don’t even know you’re banging a Roussou chick until I tell you.”
Zeke chuckled. “Oh. Yeah. Well, you know. FCA pussy is golden or something.”
I rolled my eyes. “Mara’s an idiot.”
“You know it won’t work.”
I nodded. It wouldn’t work, but I knew it wasn’t the only plan she was going to implement. She’d soon learn I didn’t care who was sliding between her legs, and that’d piss her off. And Zeke wouldn’t toss me away. Take my friends from me? I really only had one. But I had to admit, since they were here this evening, not upstairs, Brian and even Branston were starting to grow on me.
“Ashlome and Conway are weak,” I said.
They never stood up to Zeke. Now they were up there, boning my last girl.
I was ready to leave.
Mara would eventually hear that I was here. She’d come down. She’d see Aspen on my lap, and she’d probably have a foursome to get back at me. I liked Mara, and I cared enough about her to want her not to do that. She’d regret it later.
And if she took the fight to Aspen, I didn’t know how to stop that.
I wasn’t sure Aspen knew how to handle that. Mara wouldn’t come alone. She had the other five in their group.
“Stop worrying,” Zeke said, indicating Aspen. “Make up with your brother. Have his girl come around. Those chicks won’t fuck with your girl. They ain’t dumb.”
It… I had to stop and make sure I’d heard what I heard. And I had.
I scowled at him, but there was no heat. There was merit in Zeke’s suggestion. Bren Monroe was a fighter. She fought dudes. She could more than handle the girls.
“One mistake in that scenario,” I said after a moment.
I held Aspen close. “No way am I hanging out with my brother this summer. He doesn’t get my summer.”
Aspen tensed and lifted her head. She was watching me, and for once I avoided her gaze. I didn’t want her to see inside of me, and I knew she would. I felt stripped raw in front of her. Then she caught my chin and made me look her in the eye.
Her eyes were fierce.
I tried to look away.
“Hey.” She leaned in, resting her forehead against mine. “He doesn’t get anything else. It’s not like that. You got a brother. That’s what you get.” She lifted her head, bringing her mouth to my ear. “And you got a dad. A good dad.”
See? Straight to the bone.
I closed my eyes, looking away, but I stroked the side of her face. Rubbing a thumb over her cheek, I looked again, and she had paused—literally in the palm of my hand—the sight moved me. I started to melt. I didn’t know what it was, like that whole thudding feeling I’d felt a week ago, when something clinked into place.
It was deep.
It was strong.
It was life changing.
And it scared the piss out of me.
I let out a sigh. “Maybe we should go?”
Her eyes dropped to my mouth. “That sounds good.”
I groaned as she stood, and I moved right behind her. I had a hard-on to hide, though every jackass in this room knew what I was sporting. My hands remained on her hips, and I let her lead us out of the room.
“You taking off?”
Zeke held up his hand as we passed him.
I met it with mine. “Catch you later?”
Aspen kept going, so he watched us as we moved through the room.
“Party tomorrow night?”
That would be Saturday night before graduation, and when Aspen almost stumbled over a step, I remembered there was a situation there. But I’d wait to ask, like I was waiting on addressing the issue of her parents. Timing had to be perfect.
“Let’s talk tomorrow,” I called over my shoulder.
He nodded. “Got it. Have fun.”
Aspen started out into the hallway, but I caught her hand and moved ahead. Guess my dick was going to lead us.
“Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,” Zeke called.
My hand squeezed Aspen’s. “That’s virtually nothing.”
His laughter sounded behind us as I took her out through his patio doors and skirted around the far side of his pool. It saved us from going through the house, but we still came around the side of his house as a group walked up the driveway.
They saw us and stopped. Whatever had been said, whoever was laughing, all of it died.