“You fucking prick!” he roared. “First, you’re fucking my sister behind my back, and now you have some twin I’ve never even heard about? It’s like I don’t even know you. And why the hell are you guys holding me back like you’re trying to protect him?”
He shook away Pick, Lowe and Hart when they tried to restrain him again.
Pick held up a calming hand. “Noel, man. You just need to calm down.”
“Calm down?” His mouth fell open before he looked down at me where I was keeping myself planted on the ground and then back to the men around him. “Holy fuck,” he breathed. “You really are protecting him. He betrays me, and you take his side. Thanks, guys. Thanks for having my back.”
“It wasn’t about siding with you or him,” Hart spoke up. “Caroline wanted him, and he treats her right, so...” When he shrugged, Noel narrowed his eyes.
“You say it like you’ve known about this for a while.” His eyes flashed wide. “Holy shit. You’ve known about this for a while. How the hell many of you have known about this?” When he glanced around, everyone lowered their gazes. A sound of denial crackled from his throat.
A worried-looking Colton glanced up at Brandt. “Does this mean we have to give back all the money Ten paid us to keep quiet?”
Gamble shook his head and laughed hollowly. “And you even paid off my brothers? Nice, man. Nice. Next you’ll be telling me my own wife knew.”
When Aspen shifted a step back, he zipped his gaze to her. She covered her mouth with her hands, and his eyes flared wide.
“Oh God,” he croaked. “Aspen?”
“I’m sorry.” She shook her head as if to deny it even as she kept apologizing. “I’m so sorry. But Asher’s right. He made her happy again. Caroline was so sad when she first came here, and then suddenly, she was happy. Ten...he’s good for her.”
“Yeah, he just so fucking great. He had to sneak her around like a cheap, dirty slut that she’s not, but no...he’s awesome.” He spun away and stalked out of the backyard.
Aspen buried her face in her hands and started to cry. As Brandt and Colton moved to comfort her, Caroline tore herself away from Blondie. She hurled herself at me, and I caught her around the waist, then buried my nose in her hair. “Are you okay?”
“No. Oh God. How could I be okay? He was so mad. Did you see how mad he was?”
“Yeah. I saw.”
When tears fell from her eyes and she sniffed, I lost it. Anger infused me.
Why did he have to go and be like that? Didn’t he even care I was who Caroline wanted? Or try to find out if I was any good for her or how I treated her? I was supposed to be his best fucking friend, and yet he so easily assumed I was another Sander Scotini.
Well, fuck him.
Unable to help myself, I untangled my arms from her. “I’ll be right back.” After kissing her hair, I raced after Gam.
He was striding down the sidewalk away from his place when I caught sight of him in the front yard.
“Hey!” I yelled.
He slowed and gradually turned around.
“I’m supposed to be your best friend. Why is it so awful to think of me being with her?”
“Because I know you! I’ve known you since the first day I came to this town. And in the four years I’ve known you, not once have you ever shown a single iota of respect for any woman.”
“What the fuck ever. I respect plenty of women. What about your wife?”
Noel barked out a harsh laugh. “Oh, yeah, you respected her enough to hop onto a coffee table and ask a crowded room full of her students if she liked to dress up in schoolgirl clothes so I could play the professor. That was so respectful.”
Fuck, maybe Shakespeare had been a bad example. “Man, I was drunk.”
“She ended up getting fired from her job, and the coach posted a topless picture of her on the locker room wall.”
“Okay, fine.” I lifted my hands to shut him up. Shakespeare was definitely a bad example, no matter how much I’d made up with her.
I changed tactics. “What about Ham’s woman then? I let her fucking move in with us.”
“Oh, you mean the girl you went on a date with where you got her drunk for her first time until she was flirting with a guy who was already dating someone else and then ended the night by puking up her guts in the club’s bathroom. Yeah, great example.”
Fuck, I really wasn’t going to get anywhere with him, was I? I thought of my sister, and uncertainty filled me. The one girl I’d loved more than anything, and I’d failed her; the worst thing in the world that could possibly happen to her had happened. Who the hell did I think I was to try to be anything to Caroline?