The Keys to Jericho

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Chapter 32

Checking my phone after dinner, I notice a missed call from Rio and several texts asking about Kat and me. I decide to leave him hanging until tonight, as any best friend would do.

When we arrive at my dad’s, Hadley’s black Toyota is in the driveway. What is it with everyone in my immediate family or friends owning black vehicles? Lining them up, it’d look like a funeral procession or Johnny Cash’s entourage. Libby has a white car, which entirely validates my inner circle.

Before getting out of my car, Kat takes off her ring. “We can wait to tell your sister at the club with everyone.”

“Do not lose it tonight. If you’re dancing, I’ll hold onto the ring.”

“You won’t dance with me?”

I scowl at her hopeful expression. “I don’t do that shit.”

“Maybe Dash will.”

“It wouldn’t surprise me. As long as Dash has a goddamn audience, he’ll fucking do anything.”

She giggles. “How true. I found out his middle name. I’m surprised you don’t tease him for it.”

“With his stripper/lesbian mother, his oral obsession with shoving a stick into his mouth, his truckload of stock in Aqua Net, and his looking like Peter Pan, his name doesn’t rank up there as a go-to punchline.”

“I like his name. It suits him.”

“Yeah. Frilly and bizarre. That’s Dashiell Paris Calder, alright.”

“Be nice.”

“That was the nice version. I was going to say he’s prissy and fucked-up.”

“Jared Adam Beckett!” She laughs, and I roll my eyes. Only the trifecta coming from my father carries any authoritative weight. “What’s Rio’s middle name?”

“Gabriel.” I get out of the car and go to the garage door to punch in the code.

Behind me, Kat asks, “That’s it? Kind of a letdown.”

“He’s named after his dad, too. What were you expecting?”

She shrugs. Looking over her shoulder, Kat changes the subject, asking, “Should I get a car like your sister’s?”

Walking through the garage, I answer, “Whatever you want. I’ll teach you how to drive a stick. You’ve proven to be good at driving mine.”

She swiftly shakes her head, ignoring most of my comment. “No way.”

“Come on. It’s not hard, but it would make me hard, watching you.”

Kat laughs. “Hardly.” Entering the utility room, I hear my dad’s voice in the kitchen. Kat pulls on my shirt, and I stop before we enter the kitchen. She whispers, “Are we dating?”


She rolls her eyes. “I mean, are we friends or more since Hadley doesn’t know yet?”

“Friends, I guess? It’d be a bigger shock if it came out of nowhere, right?” I give her a quick kiss before heading into the kitchen.

Dad says, “Hey, you two. We just had dinner, but there is plenty of food left.”

“No, thanks.” I turn to Kat and ask, “You want anything?”

“No, thank you.”

I look around. “Where’s Hadley?”

“She just ran upstairs to change and call Finn, I think.” He lowers his voice. “I didn’t tell her about…” He glances at Kat’s finger, and when he sees the ring missing, he darts his gaze back to me, confused. “You still are…?”

“Yeah. Just waiting until later to tell everyone. So for now, play along.”

“Okay.” He turns to Kat. “I thought maybe you had a change of heart.” Nodding at me, he laughs. “You know, his house-building skills are kind of lacking.”

Kat says, “He’s okay. I’m still considering him to design my house someday.”

I frown at her smile. “Gee whiz. Thanks. I hope I’m allowed to drop by for a drink when it’s done.”

“Maybe I’ll have you over some Thanksgiving.”

“I’ll mark my calendar.” She laughs, and I roll my eyes.

“What have you guys been up to today?” Dad asks, turning to take a drink of his water.

Grinning, my gaze travels over Kat. He doesn’t need to know everything we’ve been doing today. When my dad turns back to us, I look at him. “Nothing. I, uh, met her dad.”

“Oh? How’d that go?”

I mutter, “It was all right.” Just a joyride through hell.

Kat says, “He was nervous.” Understatement of the millennium.

“Was not,” I protest, trying to hold on to the last ounce of my pride. “Weren’t you nervous meeting my dad?”

She looks at Dad and then to me. “I didn’t know he was your dad when I met him, so no.”

“His last name wasn’t suspicious to you?”

“My mom didn’t say his last name.”

I shake my head. “So close, yet always so far.”

“For?” Hadley asks, walking into the kitchen. We turn to see her. “Hi.”

Kat smiles. “Hi.”

I mumble, “Hey.”

Dad asks Hadley, “I thought you were talking to Finn?”

“He didn’t answer his phone.”

Sliding my hands into my pockets, I check the clock above the sink. “We have to wait to pick up Dash. He’ll be home in about an hour. His whereabouts probably involve glitter and some state of undress.”

Kat snickers, making me laugh. Hadley says, “He’s so funny.”

My laughter turns into a scowl. “If you think exasperation is funny.”

Kat laughs. “Stop!”

I shrug. “Like I said. I was being nice. I’m giving you a ride to the club. See? Nice.”

Raising an eyebrow, Hadley scoffs, “How chivalrous of you. I hope you’re not expecting favors in return.”

I roll my eyes at my sister. “I didn’t say she had to ride me. Jesus.” Already done. And will again.

“Jared Adam.” Dad takes a seat on a barstool and peruses the newspaper he still has delivered and probably will until they become extinct.

Grinning, I avoid looking at Kat since I know she’s throwing daggers into the back of my skull.

Kat says, “I just realized how not shy Dash is about showing off his body.”

Desperately trying to sound casual, I turn to her. “What’s that mean?”

“Let’s just say that when I didn’t feel like going to my driving class, he threatened me with nudity.”

I snap, “What the hell?”

Kat nods. “The carpet matches the drapes.”

Gaping at her, I then snarl, “I’ll snap that curtain rod of his in half.”

Hadley suspiciously asks, “Why does it matter if Kat saw Dash naked?”

Realizing that I’m getting off-track, I clear my throat with a shrug. “Because his mom used to be a stripper. He shouldn’t be showing himself off as a joke. It’s bad enough I’ve seen enough of his nether region.”

Dad sighs, shaking his head over his paper. “I’m not even asking.”

I cringe. “Please, don’t.”

Kat laughs. “He didn’t go that far. You know how silly Dash can be.”

“Unfortunately. Silly isn’t the word I’d use.”

Walking over, Hadley smacks my arm before hugging me. “Behave, little brother.” I feel Kat watching me, so I give Hadley a brief squeeze, and she steps back, looking at my chest. “I bought you that shirt. I like the color on you.”

Kat says, “I told him that, too.”

I grin. “It sure attracts compliments from women amongst my family and friends.”

Grabbing a water from the fridge, Hadley offers it to Kat and then one to me before getting one for herself. Twisting off the cap, Hadley asks, “Dad told me you’re helping Kat get a license?” Kat and I both nod. “How’s that going?” She looks from me to Kat, alternating, as we both glance at each other.

Kat says, “It’s going well, I guess. I haven’t run over anyone or totaled another car.”

I shoot her an annoyed look. “You’re doing great. We need to practice more tomorrow. You only have a couple of weeks’ worth of classes left.”

Hadley asks, “You also have to take a class?”

Kat nods. “Yeah. The class I took in high school was a waste.”

“Not totally,” I argue.

Hadley says, “Well, you did meet my brother. I want to apologize on behalf of the school for that.”

Kat laughs, and I shoot her another look that only makes her giggle more.

I grumble, “You two are funny. Paybacks are hell, I hear.”

Grinning, Kat says, “Indeed.”

Hadley says to Kat, “I’m so glad you’re riding with us. I don’t think I could bear to ride with him alone.”

Swallowing my water, I say, “Don’t forget about Calder. He’ll be especially on fire with you tonight since your bodyguard is off-duty. You’ll have to beat him off with a stick. Or your hand, which he’d probably prefer.” I take another sip of my water just as Hadley’s eyes fearfully widen, and I nearly spit out my mouthful of water, choking on a sudden laugh.

This time, Kat and my dad both yell, “Jared!”

Hadley’s face turns red, but she laughs. “That’s not true. Dash is just Dash. And like you’d say that if Finn were here.”

I shrug. “No, I wouldn’t have for Dash’s sake. He bruises easily.” From behind me, Kat makes a sound of disapproval, and I grin wider, amused she’s silently defending Calder, even though I want to kill him for stripping in front of her.

Kat says, “I think Finn would punch you in the face for saying that.”

I laugh. “Right.”

Hadley says, “He’d just laugh.”

I narrow my eyes at Hadley. “You don’t think he’d be pissed off at the thought of you and Dash together, even as a joke?”

Hadley shakes her head. “Nope.”

Dad asks, “Why would you think that?”

Hadley shrugs. “As long as I don’t draw attention to the fact that he has a girlfriend, he doesn’t care what I do.”

Dad frowns and sits straighter. “What?”

Hadley meekly says, “He doesn’t advertise the fact that he isn’t single.”

Seeing the cautious ire brewing in my dad’s gaze, he asks, “He’s not cheating on you, is he?”

Hadley looks away, but replies, “No.”

He says, “He’d better not be, or I’d have something to say to him about that.”

Kat says for me, “As would your brother.”

Biting the inside of my cheek, I nod at Hadley, and she dubiously rolls her eyes. I warn, “Don’t think I wouldn’t.” She watches me, still in doubt, as she takes a drink of her water. Toying with my bottle cap, I ask, “So, Finn ran off to the woods?”

“Yeah. I think. I don’t know if it’s a campground or somewhere else. They go every so often.”

“Sounds intriguing,” I drone, glad I don’t have to explain myself to him tonight.

Kat says to my sister, “I like your nail polish.”

She looks at her dark red nails. “Thanks.”

Kat frowns, looking at her nails. “I wish I had done mine. I’ve been busy.” Yeah. Doing me.

Hadley offers, “I have some remover and polish upstairs. You can use whatever.”

“Yeah, thank you. Can I borrow some hairspray, too?”

I snort. “You’re asking the wrong person for hairspray. That’s Calder’s department.”

Hadley laughs. “Sure. Come on.”

Kat smiles at me before leaving the room with my sister.

Catching me staring at the staircase, Dad asks, “What’s wrong?”


The wall phone rings, and he leans over to pick it up. Sounding work-related and boring, I go into the living room and start flipping channels while glancing at the staircase every five seconds, which makes the hour drag.

When Kat and Hadley eventually come down the stairs, Kat’s hair is pinned or something, her makeup is heavier, and her shirt is unbuttoned more. Who does she need to dress up for, going to a club? She’s practically married to me for Christ’s sake!

Hadley asks, “Doesn’t Kat look nice?” Nice? She’s walking the thin line of looking like a prostitute and a naughty schoolteacher. I love it.

I hate it.

Looking away from Kat before Hadley sees me gawking at her, I notice my sister wearing more makeup, too, looking like Kat’s tag-team partner on a street corner. I irritably ask Hadley, “Do you think your boyfriend would approve of you dressing like that, going to a bar without him?”

Hadley shakes her head, the same dark golden hair as mine, shaking over her shoulders. “Probably not, but he isn’t here, so I guess he doesn’t get a say.” And there we go. Finally hit that nerve. Smooth move, Finn. The more I hear, the more he’s pissing me off.

Raising an eyebrow at Kat, I ask her, “What about you? Don’t you think your boyfriend would have issues with you looking like that?”

She shrugs but glares at me. “I don’t have a boyfriend, but if I did, he’d know I’m dressing up for me, not to pick up guys.”

Hadley agrees. “Really. Why are we automatically trolling for men if we’re dressed up? Can’t we look nice just for ourselves?”

Kat answers her. “Silly boys.”

I roll my eyes at their female bonding, suddenly feeling outrageously outnumbered.

As my phone rings, I dig it out of my pocket. “You two can stop now.” Seeing that it’s Dash, I answer, “What the hell do you want?” Hadley gasps, and Kat giggles, which I again roll my eyes at both.

“Come pick me up.”

“Why couldn’t you just text me that?”

“I wanted to hear your sexy voice.”

Hanging up on him, I say, “Dash is ready, so if you two are, let’s go.”

After they gather their purses and start to compare shoes, I impatiently usher them to my car. They continue chattering about applying makeup or mixing cement. Could be either one.

Kat opts for the back seat with my sister, which probably is better. The downside of that is sitting next to Dash.

Pulling up to his apartment, he’s waiting for me on his porch and bounds down the stairs. Eager to see Hadley, no doubt.

Approaching the car, he already gives me a questioning look as to why Kat is in the back seat. Climbing in, before he can say something, I subtly glance at the back seat and shake my head. He looks at me with more unasked questions, but thankfully, he catches my drift.

Instead, he turns and says, “Hey, there, Hadley. No Finn?”

“Not tonight. Just me.”

As I back out of the space, I notice his crooked, amoral smile. When it comes to my sister, I believe he wouldn’t be able to control himself. He’s had a hardcore crush on her for years. If Finn weren’t in the picture, I wonder if Dash would make a play for Hadley. Though, I highly doubt he’d want me to know if he were fucking my sister since I’d kill him. On the other hand, I don’t think Hadley was ever interested in Dash to carry on anything with him. Clandestine or not.

Seeing Dash is twisted around, talking to Hadley, I swing my arm, backhanding his. “Turn around and buckle up, Calder.”

He twists and puts on his seatbelt, but he doesn’t stop talking to my sister. Hell, Kat could’ve sat up here, blowing me. Dash and Hadley wouldn’t have noticed.

This time I take the route that I want to the club. Dash is busy yammering with my sister, who surprisingly has a lot to say to him in return. I occasionally glance over my shoulder at Kat, who gives me her own inquisitive look regarding the other two. I think I need to have another talk with Calder about my rule regarding him keeping his hands and dick off Hadley. I think Finn would concur.

Shit. The things I thought were differences between my sister and me, and then with Finn and me, weren’t differences at all.

Fuck. I need a drink. Why in the hell did I volunteer to drive?

I tell Calder, “We’re not doing the karaoke shit again.” Dash keeps talking to my sister, and I grit my teeth. “Calder.” When he keeps yapping, I shout, “Dash! Are you listening to me?”

He finally swings his head to me. “What?”

“Jared, don’t be rude,” Hadley scolds.

Kat answers for Dash, “Pete will be on the second floor tonight, so he gave us a table there. My brother still owes me some favors.”

I mutter, “Yeah, a few.”

Turning into the lot and parking the car, I assume that Duquesne isn’t here yet. Late as usual.

Exiting the car, Dash offers his arm to Hadley, and she takes it, giggling, and they walk ahead of us, still carrying on their inane conversation about nothing. Even so, I’ve never heard my sister eagerly talk so much in my life.

Kat walks with me, but we still keep a distance from each other. However, since the other two aren’t looking, and I don’t see Rio or his truck, I grab Kat’s hand and lean down, snaring her lips.

Pulling away, she quickly wipes the lipstick from my mouth and steps back. “Your sister asked if we’re dating. I said we were just friends. I hate lying like that.”

“She’ll find out as soon as Rio gets here.”

“It’s just that I’m currently lying to my mother about the fire. I hate all the lying.”

“I do, too. You’re not the only one hiding things.”

She ruefully smiles at me, and I look ahead of us as Hadley and Dash stop at the door. Releasing Kat’s hand before they turn around, I shove both hands into my pockets to avoid grabbing hers again.

My sister holds the door open for me, and I give her a curious glance, but she just smiles. I mumble, “Thanks.” Upon entering, some bass-thumping song pounds in my ears. It’s crowded and not caring if Hadley sees us, I hook Kat’s arm to keep her with me. Hadley is holding onto Dash, anyway.

Once we reach the second floor and we’re delivered to our reserved table, we take our seats in a curved booth like the one we sat in upstairs. I keep space between Kat and me, but when I look over at Dash, my sister is practically sitting on his lap. Fucking shit. He’s sober, too. I shoot him a warning glare, but he’s so oblivious to anything going on outside of Hadley. If Finn saw this shit, he’d break Dash’s neck. Finn Wilder is a geyser on the verge of going off. Hadley is as clueless about Finn as I was about Kat.

As I watch Hadley and Dash, I wonder if I looked like that with Kat and didn’t notice. Maybe Dash doesn’t notice the way he’s acting with her. I’ll gladly help him realize it.

Kat nudges my leg with her hand. She leans over. “Calm down. You’re silently killing Dash forty different ways.”

“It’s sixty-two.”

“They’re just talking.”

Turning to her, I say, “You don’t get it. He has a major thing for her.” In eleventh grade, when he was at my house, I caught him gawking at Hadley and trying to hide his hard-on. He then went to the bathroom, probably to jerk off. I gave him that one pass. I’d better not see him with another hard-on for her. Next time, I won’t be so understanding.

Kat brushes her fingers through her hair, glancing over at them. “Really? I don’t see anything. He’s a friendly guy.”

“Does he sit that close to you?”

“I guess not, but he did strip some.”

“Jesus Christ. I can only deal with one issue at a time.”

“It’s just Dash.”

Rolling my eyes, I say, “He’s going to make me an uncle, he’s so close to her.”

Kat laughs. “It’s not that bad.”

“Does he stare at you like you’re his next conquest?”

She shakes her head. “He’s not looking at her like that.” I shoot her an incredulous look, and her eyes widen. “You think he wants to…?”


“Dash wouldn’t put a move on her. She’s with Finn.”

“My sister has been a sticking point between him and me for as long as I can remember. I know he’d jump on her if she were single. Hadley is Dash’s holy grail.”

“I didn’t know that.” Kat purses her lips before asking, “Would I be yours?”

I scowl at her. “You’re actually asking me that?”

She smiles at me but then looks back to Hadley and Dash. “They wouldn’t do anything. Hadley’s in a committed relationship, and she’s been cheated on in the past. She wouldn’t turn around and do it to Finn.”

“Jesus. I honestly don’t know what to think. How committed is Finn to her? Fuck. I wonder about that now. If he doesn’t want people to know they’re together, then what the hell is he doing with her?”

“Finn loves her. Do you know how fucked-up it is that our situation is similar?”

“Maybe similar on the surface, but ours is inherently different. We kept it quiet because we thought that’s what the other wanted. I mean, I’m a private person, but I didn’t want to hide it. Whereas Finn—opposite of private. He’s not a huge celebrity, but shit, he’s big enough in Richmond and beyond. He claims he likes to keep his private life private, but even so, he doesn’t acknowledge dating my sister? Me? I’m a nobody, but I’d go on TV to announce our news.”

She shoulders me. “I want to kiss you right now.”

I look around and grumble, “Where in the fuck is Duquesne? Let’s get this over with.” Looking to see if Hadley’s watching, I lean closer to Kat. “I want your lips all over me. Let’s just blow this place after the announcement so you can blow me.”

Kat whispers, “I’ll wear the bright red lipstick again.”

“Goddamn it. Don’t say that,” I complain, shifting and trying to think of anything but that to kill my looming hard-on.

Kat laughs. “Sorry.” Yeah, right.

“You just earned yourself a demerit.”

She blandly says, “Darn.”

I laugh but needing a distraction, I peer over at Hadley and Dash, who are still carrying on some kind of fascinating discussion. Hadley doesn’t give off the fuck-me vibes that Dash does, but if she gets some drinks into her, that may change. And if Dash doesn’t back off, he’ll find out that The Nutcracker isn’t just mind-numbing dancing shit.

“Hi, guys!” a familiar voice grates. Looking up, Liberty waves at us, pulling Rio by the hand to the seat across the table from Kat and me.

“It’s about time, Duquesne.”

He unevenly smiles. “Sorry. We had dinner and then got stuck in traffic.”

Liberty glances at me with a slight smile. I’m impressed she’s kept her mouth shut. Rio knows about my confession to Kat because of Calder’s big mouth, but I would’ve told him anyway since he already knew I was in love with her. Fuck me.

The waitress comes to our table for our drink orders. Looking at me, Kat touches her cheek with her left hand and shoots a look at her ring finger. I nod, and she leans in, saying, “I’m going to talk to my brother. I’ll be back.”

Catching my eye, Rio looks at Dash and Hadley, and then to me, making a face that clearly asks, “What the fuck is going on over there?”

My teeth grind, and I shake my head. Watching Hadley, I see she’s not exactly discouraging Dash. She’s just friendly. Dash is friendly too, but his friendliness leaves no breathing room between them. It’s royally galling me that he’s so blatant with my sister, especially when her boyfriend isn’t here, but her brother is.

Kat returns to the table, smiling and looking at her finger, I see why. Her ring illuminates her, inside and out. I can’t help but smile, too.

Taking her seat next to me but still careful not to be too close yet, she folds her hands together, perching them on her lap. So far, nobody notices, except for Liberty. Catching her attention, I sharply look at her, narrowing my eyes, warning her not to say anything first. She bites her smiling lip and pretends to check her phone. Again, her restraint surprises me.

Our drinks are brought to the table, and Hadley reaches for her pink-colored drink at the same time Kat reaches for her cream-looking, orange drink. Suddenly, Hadley squeals, “Kat! Where in the hell did that ring come from?”

Dash sits up, dazed from drowning in my sister’s attention. “What ring?”

Kat smiles as she sets down her drink on the table. As soon as she does, my sister grabs her hand to look closer. “Is it real?”

Kat says, “Uh…”

I shout, “It’d fucking better be!”

Hadley looks up at me with a mix of surprise, confusion, and horror.

Dash shrieks, “Blessed fuck! Is that what I think it is?”

Rio cranes his neck as Liberty giggles with tears flooding her eyes. Seeing what Hadley is gawking at, Rio immediately looks to me, mirroring my sister’s reaction. When Kat and I don’t respond, Rio asks, “Jared…?”

Kat looks up at me, and I take the plunge, kissing her in front of everyone for the first time.

Hadley shouts, “Oh, my God!”

Dash yells, “There’s no fucking way! Engaged? How’d I not know?”

Rio doesn’t say anything, which isn’t out of the norm for him. However, when Kat and I end our kiss, a hand goes to my arm, yanking on me. I get up as Rio asks, “How in the …? What…? I can’t even…” Kat shows him her ring, and he shakes his head, still in shock. “Are you serious? This isn’t a joke?”

Watching his reaction, I answer, “I’m dead serious. I asked Kat to marry me.”

He hesitantly laughs. “You? The same Jared Beckett, who doesn’t believe in love, melts smiles with a dirty look, and never has a girlfriend, is getting married?”

“I am. I can’t let her get away again. You know that.”

Nodding, he says, “I’m happy you finally took our fucking advice.” Rio grins and jerking my shoulder as a new, bass-thumping song starts, he shouts, “Congratulations, you cagey son of a bitch!”

I laugh, and Rio roughs up my hair before hauling me to him, squeezing the breath out of me. He loudly repeats, “You’re getting married!”

“I am!”

Letting go of me, he asks, “Is Kat moving to Philadelphia?”

“Uh, no. I’m moving to Virginia.”

Rio steps back. “Wait a minute. You’re following the woman you love to another state, giving up a job for her, even?”

I smile but glance down, eating my own words I had said to him. “Yeah. I am.”

“Huh. Sounds like someone else you know, maybe?”

Nodding, I sigh, looking up at him. “Yeah, Duquesne. I get it.”

“You jackass!” I roll my eyes but laugh.

“I guess we’ll be neighbors?”

“Fuck, yeah!”

Laughing, he mirrors, “Fuck, yeah! God! I’m so happy for you, Jare!” I’ve never seen a grin like this from Duquesne. He shakes his head. “Honestly. It’s about time. You’re so fucking pigheaded.”

Grinning with him, I shove his shoulder. “Bite me, Doc Pussy.”

Dash hooks his arm around my neck. “Jericho! Are you fucking kidding me? You and Kat are getting hitched? For real?”

“For real.”

“How’d I not know? What changed your mind?”

“You know why I changed my mind.”

“You two lovebirds! I’m so damn happy for you guys! This is miraculous! When did this go down? You told Kat you’re in love with her but then jumped to marriage?” He laughs. “What the hell? This just blew my fucking mind!”

I incredulously laugh. “Jesus! Slow down!” Looking at his excited expression, I can’t help but laugh again, shaking my head. “I proposed at the park while you were there.”

“You’re shitting me? That can’t be… You did it when I… How?”

Smirking at him, I shrug. “I’m that good.”

Dash rubs his hands together, looking hopeful. “Okay. The big question: Who’s your best man? Me, the suave, charming, good-looking blond, or Rio, the pussy whiz?”

Rio heaves Dash sideways. “Shut up, Douche.”

As Dash brushes his hair back into place with his fingers, I look from him to Duquesne, who only smiles, while Dash is practically prancing around like that damned fluff ball of a dog. Laughing, I say, “Consider tonight to be your audition. You’ll both want to make it good. I need a star player as my best man. I’ll let you know tomorrow.”

Frowning with a side glance, Dash mutters, “Congrats, Diet Dr. Pussy.”

“I said I haven’t decided yet, Calder.” Lie. Still, this could be entertaining.

He grabs Kat, hugging her. I want to push him away after learning he stripped his clothes in front of her, but then again, it’s Dash. Harmless when it comes to Kat. He’s helped us more than I care to admit. He wouldn’t try anything with her. I do trust him. And I’ll never admit out loud how much I need him in my life. He’s my oldest friend, who has put up with my shit forever. I’d be lost without him too. Christ.

On the other hand, he’s not so harmless when it comes to Hadley. That’s where my trust with him ends. He turns into a whole different Dash Calder. Someone who would fuck my sister if ever given the chance, single or not. I don’t doubt that for a second. He’d never give up that chance, no matter if it affected our friendship. That’s what his loving my sister boils down to. Loyalty. He’d cross the line for her. He’d cross me.

A hand goes to my arm, and I look away from Dash to the object of his damned desire. Hadley’s stunned gape is the last thing I see before she hugs me. Against my chest, she says, “I’m blown away. Congratulations.”


She abruptly lets go of me, turning to her drink. Liberty slips in and gives me an enthusiastic hug, almost making me puke from her perfume. She says some things, but I’m busy watching my sister down her drink in nearly four gulps.

Dash finishes off his drink, as well. When he sets down his glass, he nods to the bar and grabbing her hand, leads her over to it.

Pete talks to Dash while taking care of their drinks, instead of the bartender working the bar. I look on as Hadley and Dash do multiple shots, racing each other, it seems. What the hell has gotten into her tonight? First, she’s chatting up Dash like he’s her new best friend, and now she’s slamming back hard liquor with him? With me, Hadley has never been a heavy drinker, usually nursing one beer to my five. Seeing Hadley drunk with my best friend spurs me.

An arm goes around mine, hugging me. I look to see Kat watching Hadley and Dash. She states, “They are adults.”

“Adults who should not be together in any way.”

“I don’t think she’d cheat on Finn, but do you think she has feelings for Dash?”

“Fuck, I don’t know. She says he’s funny and cute.” Those leave a bad taste in my mouth.

“Maybe you should talk to her. Remind her she has a boyfriend. It might be the only time to say something to her. She shouldn’t be too far gone yet.”

I mindlessly nod, and she squeezes my arm before turning to a squealing Liberty. Jesus Christ. We’re exchanging rings and vows, not starting a new country.

Liberty excitedly squawks at Kat and still watching Hadley and Dash, I sit down as I contemplate what to do next, unsure of which one to confront first.

Rio takes the empty seat next to me. “So, uh, I just found out who your partner in crime was for this particular undertaking.” Goddamn it.

Crossing my arms, I reluctantly admit, “Yeah…”

“You’re welcome, Jare.”

I briefly glance at his grin, and I raise an opposing eyebrow, only making him laugh. Dick.

We then look on at the scene unfolding in front of us. In a matter of thirty seconds, Dash puts his hand on Hadley’s shoulder, back, and arm, which reminds me of how I always needed to touch Kat when we weren’t even a couple.

Dash offers Hadley another shot, which she guzzles before he even picks up his glass. Forget Dash. What the fuck is her problem?

When Dash finishes, his hand goes to her bare leg, annoying the fuck out of me. But when Hadley’s hand goes to his leg, squeezing his thigh, I sit straight up in my chair. Her gesture says a whole lot more than his does, and I don’t like what she’s saying to him.

Dash hops off his stool and helping Hadley off hers, they head to the dance floor for a slow song, holding onto each other, unlike mere drinking buddies. His hands go to her hips, holding her close to him while her arms wrap around his neck. Even the way she looks up at him isn’t good.

Rio ultimately asks, “What the hell is going on with them? Dash is all over your sister.”

“Finn isn’t here. That’s why. Dash has been infatuated with Hadley since we were in grade school. This is the first time she’s really given him this much attention.”

“Fuck. He’s eating it up.”

“Yeah. Dash wants to fuck Hadley. He’s not even hiding that.”

“Come on, Jare. He wouldn’t do that. For a lot of reasons.”

“You want to bet? He’d take her in the bathroom if she let him.” Rio frowns, and we continue watching them.

On the dance floor, they laugh. With his dimpled smile and affable personality, Dash could easily charm the skirt off my drunk sister. When Hadley whispers in Dash’s ear, I see his enthusiastic smile as he licks his lip, looking like an enraptured chump. Typically, Dash Calder has no chance in hell against Finn Wilder, winning Hadley’s affections, but with the way she’s behaving now, I think Finn is losing big time.

Kat rounds the other side of me and sitting down, she says, “Now I’m worried, Jared. They’re both drunk. Please say something to them before it’s too late.”

Rio says, “And we both know how Dash can’t hold his fucking liquor worth a damn.”

Grinding my teeth together as my fingers tighten into fists, I tell Rio, “You get Dash. I’ll get Hadley.”

“What do you want me to say to him?”

“Tell him if he values his life, he’ll ditch the hard-on he has for my sister.”

Rio sighs as we get up and head to the bar, where they are again. When I go up to Hadley, I strive to not start anything with Dash. In my favor is how fast Rio tows him from the bar.

Hadley avoids looking at me as she picks up another shot glass. I let her finish it before grabbing her arm and leading her out of the room. As I drag her, she shouts, “Jared! Where’re we going?”

I weave us through the crowd to the second-floor patio, overlooking a patch of trees. It’s packed but only in areas. I drag her to the corner near the doorway, trapping her against the railing. “Jesus Christ, Hadley! What the hell are you doing with Dash?”

She scowls at me, crossing her arms between mine. “Watch your mouth, Jared! We’re not doing anything! We’re just having fun!”

“While drinking! You don’t know how many wrongs can come from that!”

“We’re not doing anything wrong!”

“I told you Dash has a fucking crush on you! Why’re you leading him on?”

“I’m not trying to!”

I roll my eyes. “It looks that way from where I was sitting! Even Rio sees it!”

“Nothing is going on with him! Dash’s cute, but I never thought of him more than your best friend!”

“Until now? He’d die happy if he fucks you, Hadley! It’s like his lifelong dream! Are you enjoying being a cocktease? I’m sure Dash isn’t crazy about it!” Christ, I do not need to think of his cock.

My sister gapes at me, but she ultimately screeches, “Jared Beckett! I’m not! Why do you have to say that shit?”

“You do remember you have a boyfriend, right?”

“Yeah, I do! But it’s nice to have someone paying attention to me!”

I bitterly laugh. “Are you serious? Last time Finn was here, he more than paid attention to you! He couldn’t keep his fucking hands off you or his dick to himself!”

“Fuck you, Jared! Finn is the one who doesn’t remember he has a girlfriend!” She abruptly bites her lip and looks away from me.

I cock my head to see her face. “Shit! Is he screwing around on you?”

She shakes her head as her glassy eyes shine more. “I don’t know. He says he’s camping, and I want to believe him, but… His best friend cheated on his wife. I don’t know if Finn would do that to me, too.”

“You’re close to fucking my best friend!” As soon as I say that, I regret it, having fucked her best friend. More than once.

Hadley’s face turns red, and she explodes, “I am not, Jared! What comes out of your mouth is unbelievable!”

“You’re drunk! Things happen! If he kisses you, would you turn him away? Because if you kiss him, there’s no chance in hell he’d turn you away!”

“I would never cheat on Finn! I don’t even know who you are! One minute you’re denouncing marriage like it’s the scam of the century. The next, you’re announcing your fucking engagement! How can you marry her when you don’t love anyone? You said you don’t believe in that shit!”

“I’ve been in love with Kat since high school!”

“Right. You’ve been in love with her since then? You said love doesn’t exist! That would mean you lied and have been suffering all these years!”

I truthfully say, “Yeah. Painfully.”

She slowly contorts her face. “How come you never told anyone?”

I laugh. “Who was I going to tell?”

“Me! We used to be close! Maybe I could’ve helped you.”

“You couldn’t have.” I sigh, dropping my arms from the railing. “It was complicated, Hadley. I couldn’t even admit it to myself.” I can’t stop telling people just how clueless I was. Jesus.

Hadley drags her fingers through her long hair, looking at people milling around the patio. As she does, she muses, “I can’t believe you’re getting married.”

“Is that good or bad?”

“It’s good.”

I uncross my arms, running a hand through my own hair. “I know you want to marry Finn.”

“You said he’ll never change his mind.”

“Finn might. I did. If he’s not incredibly stupid, he’ll know you’re the one. If he doesn’t, then he doesn’t deserve you anyway.” Frustrated with her situation, I yell, “He can’t even take you out in public in his goddamn viewing area! What the fuck is that shit?”

“Forget what I told you! I’m going back inside!” She tries to dodge past me, and just like I did with Kat, I block her. She pushes on my arm. “Jared, move!”

“I’m not done with you.”

“He wants his fans to think he’s single! I don’t have a say! That’s how he wants to handle his career!”

“And you’re okay with that? What the hell is wrong with you? Where’s your damn backbone, Hadley Beckett?”

“Shut the fuck up! There! Backbone enough for you?”

“Barely.” Glaring down at her, I say, “You love him. I get that. What I don’t get is how you let him stuff you into a trunk, only pulling you out to play with you whenever he feels like it, just as long as his door is shut and the lights are off. All those fans of his think his dick is up for grabs. Do you want that?”

Hadley’s eyes well up again. “He’s not cheating on me. He…”

“You don’t know, do you?”

Her hands go to her hair, twisting it. “I want to trust him. I love him, Jared, but I’m afraid he’ll break my heart.”

“And if he does, I’ll make sure that’s the last fucking thing he ever breaks.”

She rolls her eyes. “I don’t want you getting involved in my problems. You’re my little brother.”

I laugh. “Too late. And guess what? I’m going to be your neighbor.”

Hadley lifts her wet eyes to my face. “What?”

“Next summer, I’m moving to Virginia. I’ll be working in Richmond, so there’s your warning, or his, I should say.”

“It’ll be good having you close.” She tilts her head, giving me an impatient look, but then her hand goes to her forehead as she closes her eyes.

“You okay? The alcohol?”

Hadley slowly nods. “Yeah. I don’t feel great. My head hurts.”

“We can leave. It’s probably better we do.”

“I don’t want to ruin your night. Kat might get mad.”

“She won’t.”

Hadley smiles, but it’s more of a courtesy instead of a joy. “I like Kat. I’m happy for you.”

“Thanks. I like her, too.” I grin, making Hadley’s smile widen somewhat.

Going back to the table, I see Rio sitting next to Dash in the corner, nearly pinning him to his chair. Pulling Hadley down with me, I whisper to Kat, “We need to go.”

She nods. “No problem. Is she okay?”

“Not really.”

Kat says, “Just drop me off at my apartment.”

Shaking my head, I argue, “I’m staying with you.”

“Do you have clothes at your dad’s?”

“Some, but—”

“I think you should stay at his house tonight. We’ll be together tomorrow, and for the rest of the time you’re here.”

I practically whine, “But I don’t want to.”

“Just tonight. For your sister.”

Rolling my eyes in irritation, I grumble, “Fine. I’ll be by in the morning.”

“Afternoon. We’ll have lunch.”

“Do you always win?”

“Only when it counts.” She smiles, and I kiss her. In front of everyone.

On the way home, the ride was quiet. I made Hadley sit in the front with me, so Dash wouldn’t be turning around to talk to her, but he made no sound in the car or any attempt to talk to her from the back seat. It’s not going to happen for him. I’ll make sure of that.

Dropping off Kat at her apartment, I would’ve walked her to the door, but she insisted I stay in the car, coming around to my window to kiss me goodnight.

Arriving at my dad’s, Hadley went up to her room without much said to me, which is a waste for me even staying here.

Walking into the living room, my dad looks up from his laptop. “How’d it go? Hadley didn’t say.”

I shrug. “It was okay. Hadley got drunk with Dash.”

Dad laughs. “Oh.”

I sit on the edge of the coffee table, next to his feet, and sigh. “Not good, Dad. I had to separate them.”


“Dash. We all know he’s in love with Hadley, even if he denies it.”

He rubs his chin. “Huh. Kind of like how you were with Kat?”

I roll my eyes. “I doubt it. He’s far worse.”

Dad shakes his head with a laugh. “And I doubt that.

“Hadley was downing the shots like they were running out of alcohol. She’s taking my engagement hard. I kind of feel bad now that we announced it like we did. She wants to marry Finn. Yesterday.”

“I know.”

“Finn and I had a talk when he was here. He said he isn’t ready for marriage and doesn’t know if he ever will be.”

“Really? I hope he will marry her, but it worries me that he doesn’t acknowledge her as his girlfriend. If he can’t even do that, how will he be her husband?”

I shrug. “I don’t know. He probably won’t if his career comes first.”

“I don’t want him to break her heart. Maybe I should talk to him.”

“That’s the last thing you should do. It’s bad enough she knows I talked to him.”

Dad sighs, crossing his arms. “Damn it. I really like Finn, and from what I see, he loves Hadley. But if it gets too much... If he hurts her…”

“I’ll intervene. I’ll be down there. I’ll keep an eye on her.”

“You’ll be a newlywed, Jared. You’ll have your own life to worry about.”

“She’s my sister. I’ll watch out for her.” Lowering my voice, I mumble, “I owe her.” He sighs again, eyeing me as he considers what I said. “I uh… I want to thank you for everything you’ve done for me. I appreciate it.”

Confused, he screws up his face, shaking his head. “I haven’t done anything.”

I cross my arms, and I smile, thinking about how alike my dad and I probably are. “You forced me to see what I should’ve seen years ago, and to take action before it’s too late. If it weren’t for you… Shit. I don’t know what I’d do.”

“I’ll always look out for you and Hadley. You’ll do the same thing for your kids someday.”

I nod and clear my throat. “I will. Even so, I still want you to know how much your help means to me.”

He smiles with a shrug. “Okay. You’re welcome.”

“Um, I was wondering… I’m not sure…” I mutter, “Fuck.”

Dad’s eyes grow huge, and sitting up, he rubs his hand over his graying stubble, suddenly anxious. “What is it, Jared? What’s wrong?”

Swallowing, I blurt, “Will you be my best man?”

He stares at me in shock before stumbling, “What? But… Dash…”

Shaking my head, I say, “I want you to be my best man, Dad. You’ve earned it. I’d be honored if you’d stand up for me.”

“I’ll always stand up for you.”

“I know that.”

Dad blinks his shining eyes. “Jared, I… I’d be the one who’s honored. Of course, I’ll do it.”

He sets his laptop on the table, and we both stand. As soon as he does, I yank him into a hug. “Thanks, Dad. For everything. I don’t know where I’d be without you. I truly mean that.”

“You never have to thank me for being your dad. Just know that I always will be here for you.”

“Same here. I promise.” I always keep my word.

Checking my phone after my shower, Kat tells me she asked Brenda to be her maid of honor, or whatever you’d call her since women are complicated.

A knock on my bedroom door startles me, and I set down my phone on the nightstand. “Come in.”

Hadley walks in, looking bleary-eyed and pale. Her hair is wet from a shower. So, she’s not too far gone. Walking over to me, she says, “I wanted to tell you goodnight, congratulations, and thank you for helping me tonight.”

Shrugging, I say, “No problem. It’s what I’m here for.”

She makes a face, confused, I think. “We haven’t been close in years. Now you suddenly want to look out for me?”

Anxiously tapping my fist into my hand, I say, “Yeah. That’s my fault. I’m correcting my mistakes. Is that so hard to believe?”

She smiles. “Maybe. Anyway, goodnight.” She hugs me, and I almost want to confess to her about Blair, but I don’t, especially since she’s drunk.

Letting go of me, she chuckles. “You sound like Dad, sometimes.”

I roll my eyes. “I don’t know if that’s a good thing.”

Hadley mindlessly runs her fingers along the wooden footboard. “You’ll be a great husband. I know it.”

Crossing my arms and biting my lip, I say, “Um, thanks. I hope so. I’ll try my hardest.”

She walks to the door but turns before leaving. “By the way, Dash gets hotter every time I see him. Is he working out?”

I scowl. “You’re drunker than I thought.”

“Maybe if I were single...”



“That’s it. No more Dash Calder for you. At all.”

Hadley giggles. “Night, little brother.”

“Yeah. Night, big sis.”

Jesus Christ. Finn Wilder, do not let me down.

My family tree and my sanity depend on it.

Pushing open the door, the bells attached to it ring.

“Well, well, well! Look who’s finally gracing us with his presence! It’s been way too long, Jared!”

Closing the door, I raise an eyebrow. “Hey, Victor. Dash around?”

“You’re not here to see me?” he pouts.

Tapping comes from the hall until a blonde appears in the doorway behind the counter. “Jared Beckett. I never thought I’d see you in here again.”

I shove my hand into my pocket, nodding. “Yeah, Shell. It’s been a while.”

Shell comes around the counter to hug me, and as usual, she’s wearing heavy makeup and tight clothes, never totally giving up the inner stripper. Her perfume reminds me of when Dash and I sometimes would go to the strip club after school and play around on the stage, pretending we had an audience as we acted like dumbasses. Or even Dash and I cleaning up dead flowers at her shop to earn beer money, unbeknownst to anyone over twenty-one. The smell of her perfume, flowers, stale cigarettes, and beer will forever remind me of a significant part of my childhood.

She says, “You certainly look good. You were always a nice-looking kid, though.”

Victor’s gaze appraises me. “He’s definitely not a kid anymore.” Jesus Christ. I didn’t come here to get checked out by the homosexual staff.

Dash appears in the doorway, his face going pale. He nearly stutters, “Jericho.”


Shell demands of Dash, “Why didn’t you tell me Jared was stopping by today?”

“I didn’t know!”

Leaning her arm against Dash’s bicep, Shell asks, “Isn’t it sweet? You two have been best friends since you were little boys.”

Dash grumbles, “Yeah. Sweet.”

I roll my eyes, pushing up on my hat. “Awesome.”

Victor plucks flowers from a vase, rearranging shit, but watching me. “Jared sure doesn’t look like that sweet little boy anymore.”

Shell says, “I agree. You grew up to be a hot tamale. I’d do straight again for you.”


Victor grins. “I wouldn’t.”

Dash says, “He’s engaged. Both of you, back off.”

Shell swings her head to me, appearing confused. “Engaged? To a woman?”

I nod with a grin, and Dash says, “Yeah. Kat is his fiancée.”

Victor asks, “Katriona? That pretty, little teacher who was here, helping Dashiell?”

Dash nods. “Yep. Her.”

Shell asks, “Engaged? She only mentioned she knew you, not that she’s rocking your hot bod.”

“For the love of Christ, Mom! They’re newly engaged! And that’s my best friend, who you’ve known since we were eight! And you’re a lesbian!”

She rolls her eyes and waves him off. Pushing the vase to the side, Victor leans against the counter, shaking his head. “Jared, you bad boy, corrupting that nice girl.”

I shamelessly smirk. “She doesn’t mind the corruption.”

Shell scoffs, “I bet she doesn’t.”

Disgusted, Dash says, “You’re all sick.” Looking at me, he nods over his shoulder and turning to go down the hallway, I follow him.

Walking past Shell, she smacks my ass. I spin around, a little shocked. She shrugs. “Nice ass, Beckett.”

“Thanks?” I laugh. Glancing at a sulking Victor, I’m glad it wasn’t him. He’d enjoy it too much.

Dash goes into the prep room, where we used to hide our beer in the refrigerator, behind boxes of flowers. Closing the door, he says, “I know why you’re here.”

Crossing my arms, I lean my lower back against the worktable. “Do you?”

Dash aimlessly shoves a box to the other end of the table. “Yeah. Last night. You’re picking Rio to be your best man.”

I darkly chuckle. “That’s not why I’m here.”

He looks up at me, the color draining from his face. “Oh… Shit.”

“Yeah. Oh, shit. You were all over my sister, Calder. Care to explain?”

Both of his hands go into his hair, messing it up, which is unlike him. “Look, we didn’t do anything. I just… I wanted… I…”

I inhale an impatient breath. “You’re doing a piss-poor job of explaining.”

“I just wanted to be close to her!”

“Any closer and you would’ve gotten her pregnant.”

He takes a step back from me. “Not true, Jericho.”

“You’re arguing that? If she would’ve wanted to go back to your apartment, you wouldn’t have slept with her?”

Dash adamantly shakes his head. “No…”


He inhales, looking to the window, and I see through him more than I see the parking lot he’s staring at. “I can’t help the way I feel about her.” For a minute, I feel sorry for Calder. But I can’t. He has to realize having my sister is a zero-sum possibility, even if he’s in love with her.

I narrow my eyes at him. “Let’s get this straight. Hadley’s not for you.”

Turning away from the window, Dash scowls. “Because you say so.”

“Yeah, I do. And so does Finn Wilder. Remember him? He’s the one who would pound your face into a wall first and then ask questions later.”

“I know. I still…”

“No. You don’t. It’s not going to happen. Ever. Forget about Hadley.”

“How can I? She’s your sister!”

“That’s exactly right. My sister. You won’t ever cross that line with her because of that fact.”

“A line you drew.”

“You’re damn right, I drew it.”

“And if they break up?” The hope in his eyes is sad, even I see that.

“I said no, Dash.”

“Why’re you so against your sister and me ever being together if she were single?”

“I just don’t.” I move closer to him. “And if you ever show your junk to Hadley, Kat, or even me again for Christ’s sake, I’ll fashion it into a purse for Victor.”

He rolls his eyes. “Got it.” Stepping away from him, he asks, “Does this mean I’m out of your wedding altogether?”

I scratch at my stubbled jaw. “Despite all the freakish shit you do, you’re still one of my best friends, God knows why.” Inhaling, I ask, “Would you be one of my groomsmen?”

“First one?”

“Fucking hell! You’re negotiating this?”

He throws his hands up. “No. Just asking.”

I roll my eyes. “Fine.”

“Do you know who I’m paired with?”

I grit my teeth. “No, but…”

He nods, biting his smiling lip. “I’ll be on my best behavior.”

“Uh-huh. I’ll be watching you.”

“Message received. Jesus.” He crosses his arms. “I bet Rio was stoked he got the top position.”

Putting my hands on my hips, I say, “I gave it to my dad.”

Dash gawks at me in shock. “You asked your dad to be your best man?”


“Totally unexpected.”

“I can’t do something nice like that?”

Dash shrugs. “Not really.”

“Thanks, asshole.”

He laughs. “Good move, Jericho.”

I guardedly answer, “Thanks.”

“Congratulations. Really. Can I say one thing, and I’ll never say it again?”

I sigh, tugging on my bill. “What?”

He grins like he knows it may be his last. “You’re marrying your soulmate.”

“Whatever. Now never say that word again.”

“Being in love looks good on you.”

I smirk as I glance at the table. “Well, then I’ve looked good since I was sixteen.”

“You’re admitting you’ve been in love with her that long?”

Picking up a red rose from the box on the counter, I say, “Put this on my tab. Later, Calder.”

As I walk out of the room, he yells, “I knew that, too! Damn, I’m good!”

Twirling the rose down the hallway, I mutter, “Fucking Dash Calder.”

Getting out of the Nissan, I check my watch again since I had told Kat I’d be here at 1:00. Hearing her apartment door shut, I lean against my car and cross my arms, dangling the rose from my hand. When she rounds the corner of the garage, she grins at me, saying, “Hi, baby.”

Stepping from the car, I smile and hand her the rose. “Hey, Kit Kat.”

“How sweet! Thank you!” Kat hugs me. “What’re you doing with the Nissan?”

“Felt like driving it.”

“More like me driving it.”


As I laugh, she rolls her eyes and lets go of me. “How’s Hadley doing?”

“She took our announcement a little hard. She thinks it’ll never happen for her and Finn.”

“He won’t marry her? Really?”

“I have no idea, but I changed my mind. He can, too.”

“Your heart was locked up so tight.”

“It never was locked to you.”

Smiling as her gaze rakes over me in the best way possible, she asks, “Can’t we go inside so you can come inside?” She arches an eyebrow while I steel my resolve.

“Nope.” Handing her the keys, I nod to the car. “Drive.”

She sighs. “Can I at least kiss you?”

I shake my head. “No way. I know where that’ll lead. You. Driver’s seat. Now.”

Her eyes take on a wicked gleam. “No sex in the car?”

“My grandmother’s car. I won’t even be able to get a hard-on.”

“I guess ditching my underwear was pointless.”

“Shit.” If I don’t make this her shortest drive, it’ll be my longest.

Pulling her to me, I say, “Goddamn it. Let’s get this over with. You have a fiancé to fuck.”

Kat bats her eyelashes. “I’m sorry. I don’t sleep with my driving instructors.”

“You won’t be sleeping, baby. Trust me. I can go all night with you. You’re an expert at shifting my gears.”

“What is it, zero to sixty in three seconds or something?” She licks her bottom lip, enjoying how she’s turned the tables on me.

“Fuck, you’re faster than that. Why don’t we go upstairs and race the clock?”

“Huh-uh. I need to drive.”

I glance over at her mother’s and then around us before grabbing Kat’s hand and putting it on my cock. “You’re good at revving engines. Either we go upstairs, or you take me someplace where we can fuck in the back seat.”

“In this car?”

“Yeah. Where I taught you how to drive, and we had our first kiss. It would be wrong not to christen it, don’t you think?”

“Nope. No sex in this car. Out of respect for your grandmother.”

“You’ll make this drive excruciating, won’t you?”

Kat laughs. “Maybe. Just so you’ll want me even more.”

She dives into the driver’s seat and going to the passenger side, I get in and mutter, “I brought the wrong damn car.”

Twisting, she lightly tosses the rose onto the back seat and says, “Yep.”

Moving her hand back to my erection through my jeans, she says, “I guess you learned your lesson the hard way.”

“Very funny. Both hands on the wheel, student driver.”

“Yes, Mr. Beckett.”

As she strokes me, I say, “Holy fuck. Maybe you should practice driving with only one hand. It’s practical, right?”

Putting her hand on the steering wheel, she says, “No. My instructor says both hands on the wheel.”

I lean over to her. “You can handle my stick all you want. Your next orgasm is right on the tip of it.”

She gasps and reaches for the door handle. “Let’s go upstairs. Now.”

Now that the ball is back in my court, I laugh. “Nope. Drive.”

“You’re right.” She starts the car. “Having sex in the shower with you or on the silk sheets I put on the bed would in no way be helpful. I’m so glad you set me straight.”

“What?” I mournfully ask.

She shrugs as she puts the car in reverse. “Oh, well. It’s time to focus on traffic rules, parts of a car, and driving etiquette. Did you know the first stop sign was white with black letters?”

“Goddamn it. You just sunk my fucking battleship.”

She laughs. “What in the hell does that mean?”

Resigned that we’re doing just as I had planned, I sigh, which turns into a laugh. “Just drive, Kit Kat.”

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