I loved living with her, I loved waking up to her each morning, falling asleep next to her every night, and even showering with her on occasion. There were adjustments—her clothes were always strung everywhere, longs strands of blonde hair tried to smother me in my sleep each night, and feminine products littered my dresser top—but we survived them and usually had fun in the process.
I continued to show up at the coffee shop every Saturday morning, but Gamble never did. Caroline learned about my Saturday routine and how I kept waiting for him to forgive me and just...show up one of these days, so she came one morning and sat with me instead.
I would never in a million years admit it to her, but I did miss the stubborn son of a bitch Gamble. He’d helped me get over my sister, he’d been with me when I’d started this phase of my life. Fuck, he’d been the one to dub me Ten. He was responsible for a lot of who I was, and I missed just hanging out with him and flipping shit back and forth.
But I wasn’t about to give up anything with Caroline to admit that.
When she got a call from him one Saturday evening, I tried not to act interested, but she turned to me after hanging up with him as if she knew I craved every detail.
“They’re all going to Rainly Park tomorrow,” she said. “They asked me to come.”
She looked sad about that, so I frowned. “Well, that’s cool. Why aren’t you smiling?”
With a sigh, she patted my arm and turned away. “Because I’m not going.”
When she tried to move away, I caught her around the waist and tugged her right back around. “What do you mean you’re not going? Go!”
She shook her head. “No. Not unless they invite you too.”
I groaned and rolled my eyes. “Baby, you know that’s not going to happen. Just go and have fun. You haven’t seen those blackmailing little shit brothers of yours in too long. Don’t worry about me, just go.”
That stubborn Gamble blood of hers wouldn’t give in, though. It was going to bug her all weekend, and in turn, it’d bug me, so finally, on Sunday morning, I dragged her out of bed and into the shower, saying, “Let’s get ready. We’re both going.”
She brightened after that, and I knew I’d done something right. But the fucking drama started as soon as we showed up.
Noel scowled at me, then his narrowed eyes moved to where I was holding Caroline’s hand as we strolled up the front walk to meet them in front of their house.
“This is a family outing,” he said, making it clear I wasn’t invited.
“And I’m family,” Caroline argued, lifting her chin.
He seared her with a scowl. “I didn’t say you couldn’t come.”
She glanced at me, and I knew exactly what she was thinking. She was considering whether or not to drop the “we’re married” bomb on him, see if he’d deny I was family then.
I shrugged, letting her decide if she wanted to reveal anything or not.
“What?” Noel demanded, noticing our byplay. “What the fuck was that look about? Oh God. Please don’t tell me you’re pregnant.”
A moment of awkward silence followed his question before I exploded. “What the hell, douche bag? You know she can’t get pregnant.”
Gam immediately closed his eyes and winced. “Shit. I forgot. Sorry.” When he opened his lashes, Caroline took a step away from him.
She gave a small shake of the head. Then she glanced at Aspen and her younger brothers. “You guys have fun. I think I’m going to stay behind this trip.”
She turned away from them, and me too, but her asshole big brother rushed after her, catching her arm.
“Caroline.” His voice was desperate and regretful. He pulled her back against him so he could squeeze his eyes shut and press his lips to her hair. “I’m an idiot. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’ve been so concerned with getting you away from him so he can’t hurt you, I end up hurting you, myself. I don’t know how to do this, how to back off. I’m used to being your big brother—and a surrogate parent—it’s second nature for me to want to jump in and pull you away from anything I think is dangerous. It’s scary as shit to watch you walk into something I can’t protect you from. And I don’t know how to...I just keep fucking it up. But what I know for sure is that I can’t lose you. You’re a part of this family. I don’t want you to leave us just because I’m having trouble behaving myself. If...” He sent me a scathing glance. “If you want to bring someone else along with you, fine. But it can’t be a real family day without you.”