It was both a headache and flattering that he came to me in the middle of the night when he had a bad dream. While Brandt, who shared a room with him, might adamantly refuse to let his younger brother crawl into his bed with him, I’m sure Aspen wouldn’t have kicked him out if he’d gone to her. But he always sought me. Probably because he was still a bit intimidated around Noel, and Aspen slept beside Noel. Still...I liked knowing he continued to need me in some capacity, even though letting him hog my bed, because he usually slept right against me with an arm or leg draped over me, was never comfortable.
Across the table, Brandt lifted his eyebrows. “Oooh, big sister wasn’t home late last night? Where’d you go, huh, Caroline?”
I rolled my eyes and commanded myself not to blush. “I went out with Zoey to listen to the band at the club. Duh.” And then I’d turned into a devious, dirty slut who’d hooked up with Noel’s best friend.
I cringed, and all-too-smart Brandt seemed to realize I wasn’t telling the entire truth.
“Mmm hmm,” he murmured as if he knew better. “Whatever.”
I made a face at him and then smoothed Colton’s hair across his forehead before kissing his temple. “What’d you dream about, honey bear?”
“Mama.” His soft confession had both Brandt and me sitting up straighter. Brandt even stopped chewing. “She showed up and took us away from here.” Colton shuddered and tucked his face against my chest. I tightened my arms around him and nearly dropped a tear or two. But it didn’t pass my notice that my own brother was terrified of our mother. It’d been just as long since he’d seen her as it had been for me, but I guess the fear of being forced to move back there still clung to him.
“You don’t ever have to worry about that happening,” I said. “Aspen and Noel are your legal guardians now. And even if Daisy showed up and wanted you, she couldn’t have you without going through them and an entire courtroom. And not without going through me either.”
“And me too,” Brandt spoke up. “We don’t have to worry about her ever again. Okay, bud?”
Colton nodded, but I could tell the nightmare had left him rattled. A shiver passed up his spine. I began to rub his back and he kept his cheek on my shoulder. My earlier idea of maybe moving out soon moved to the back of my mind.
Maybe I wasn’t such an expendable member of the family after all. Maybe there was something worthwhile about me, and Noel would regain some of the confidence he used to have in me. But one thing was certain; to accomplish that, I could never let him find out what I’d done with Oren...even if I did kind of want to do it again.
I stayed away from him for as long as I possibly could. Really, I did! But there was just something about Oren Tenning that kept me going back for more. I liked how he’d been all sweet and nice to me when we’d first met a year ago, but then, I also liked how he’d turned into a loud-mouthed smart-ass later on, even more. The only thing I never liked was his constant horny attention to other women. That, I could live without.
My obsession was the antithesis of healthy, but then, I’d never been known for following the healthy, correct path, had I?
By five that evening, I was craving him like a junkie tweaking for her next hit. I knew Noel had to work tonight—I’d heard him mention it to Aspen earlier today. And Asher would no doubt be on the clock. He liked to work on Saturdays since they’d become karaoke night, and anything to do with music at the club was his brainchild. But Saturdays had also become so crowded lately they now needed three bartenders instead of their regular two.
I copped a peek at Noel’s work schedule and, yep, Oren worked this evening.
That meant I needed a reason to visit the Forbidden Nightclub.
I chewed on my lip, panning through the options I gathered in my head. I couldn’t go alone; Noel would definitely know something was up. Damn, why did he have to work tonight, too?
I shook my head, shrugging off that little obstacle. It was fine if Noel was working. What was one more challenge to overcome to get what I wanted? Wasn’t like I was going to just jump Oren right there at the bar, anyway. I still didn’t want him to know I was the woman he’d been with the night before.
I just needed to see him, and it made no difference if my brother was around for that or not. But it did mean I needed someone with me—a wing-woman—or Noel might get suspicious. So I dialed up my trusty best friend.
Zoey answered on the third ring. “Hello?” She sounded a bit breathless, making me wonder what exactly I’d interrupted.