I actually had a bit of a headache, but I said, “I’m fine. You’ll never guess who called me today?”
She lifted her face. Shadows filled her eyes. “I don’t know. An ex-flame?”
“What? No.” I lowered my voice and leaned in closer. “Lake Tahoe.”
Her eyes widened. “Oh, wow. You got an interview with them?”
With a nod, I blew out a breath. “I wanted to tell you in person.”
Leaning up, she kissed me on the cheek. “This is so amazing. Congratulations.”
I was watching her face closely, so I swear I saw a bit of fear cross her eyes. Or maybe I was just imagining it.
“Are you excited?” she asked.
I snorted. “Scared shitless is more like it.” I stepped in closer to her until I could drive myself crazy with her smell. I almost told her I wouldn’t go if she didn’t want me to, but Colton raced into the room.
“Ten! You really came.”
Straightening away from Caroline, I snapped my heels together so I could send the little shit a salute. “Reporting for blackmailing duty as requested, sir.”
He giggled and then grabbed my hand to drag me from the living room, away from Caroline. I glanced back at her with a mopey goodbye wave.
She grinned and rolled her eyes, but blew me a kiss.
The football the kid found me was going flat, so we spent a good twenty minutes digging up a hand pump for it and filling it with air again. It was also covered in dust. “Well, shit. I guess you don’t toss a ball around much with your big brother, do you?”
Colton ducked his face at the mention of Gam. “He’s pretty busy,” he mumbled.
“Oh, yeah?” I wasn’t buying it. His family meant the world to Gam. I don’t care how busy he was, if he knew his kid brother wanted to play catch, he would’ve played catch with him. “You ever ask him to play?”
Colton shook his head, still staring at the ground.
“Well, you should, you know. He taught me how to do this.” The kid glanced up in time to watch me spin the tip of the football on the top of my index finger.
His eyes lit up. “Cool.”
“I know, right?” I flipped the ball into the air and caught it with one hand behind my back. “Head over there and get ready to catch this.” After he followed my instructions, I called, “You want to know how awesome Noel was at football?” I lobbed the ball his way.
He scrambled but was able to catch it against his chest. “How awesome?” he asked as he jetted it back.
I snagged the ball from the air before it slammed into my knee. “He was so awesome that he could launch a football forty yards while running away from a horde of linebackers bearing down on him in below zero weather with five seconds left on the clock while we were three points behind, and he’d still manage to win us the game.”
I continued to wow him with highlights from Gam’s college years on the field. He started to get better with his throwing and catching as he listened, and he even asked more questions, growing increasingly curious about this mysterious big brother of his.
Twilight was beginning to fall when someone else joined us, walking around the side of the house into the backyard and lifting a hand to wave hello.
I frowned, wondering who the hell this preppy, conceited-looking dipshit was. “Can we help you?” I asked, instantly suspicious.
When Colton turned and saw him loitering at the edge of the yard, recognition lit the dude’s eyes. He stepped toward Colton. “Hey there, little guy. Do you remember me?”
Instead of answering, the kid bolted to me. I caught him by the shoulder and protectively pulled him against my side. Then I set my hand on his head to reassure him. Instantly not liking whoever this douche was upsetting him, I said, “You know he’s nine, right? Not two.” But seriously, who talked to a nine year old like that, giving him the baby voice and even trying to crouch down to his level? Fucker was fishy if you asked me.
The stranger sent me an irritated glance before asking, “Are you Noel?”
I snorted. “Do I look like a fucking Gamble to you?”
He shrugged. “Like I would know. None of you have the same dad, do you?”
Yeah, I really did not like this nut sack. There was just something about his prissy, arrogant attitude and Abercrombie and Fitch clothes that pissed me off.
That’s when the back door swung open and Brandt strolled out. “Hey, I heard you guys were playing…” His voice trailed off when he saw the visitor. “You,” he snarled as he balled his swinging hand into a fist and stalked forward. “I owe you a black eye for the one you gave me, asswipe.”