"I don't understand why I have to be there," Teagan whined from where he sat at his desk. Textbooks and note pads surrounded him, along with empty snack bags and soda cans. I crossed my arms over my chest and glared at him through narrowed eyes. He couldn't be serious, right? There was no way.
"Are you for real?" I demanded.
The look I got in return told me he was. I uncrossed my arms and slammed my hands down onto my hips with a growl. "I can't believe you! You're honestly going to sit there and tell me you don't know why?"
"Aislinn, baby," he sighed as he sat back in his chair. "I have to finish my notes up, read three chapters for a class, and start on the diagram for my group project," he explained. "Plus, I still have practice today and I picked up a late shift at the club tonight." He paused as he scratched the scruff along his jaw. "So unless this is life or death, I don't see why I need to be here this evening," he finished with a shrug.
I started to respond that he needed to be there because I wanted him to be, but stopped myself. In light of him detailing his agenda it occurred to me I might sound a little self-involved. I lifted a hand and rubbed my forehead. "I'm sorry, baby. It's just..." I tried to think of a way to explain, but everything seemed so trite. "I don't know, nevermind."
He frowned. "No, don't do that," he warned me. "What's going on?"
"I just wanted my boyfriend to be there. I mean, you keep going on and on about how Ryan could be a problem if I'm not careful," I explained, trying to find the right words. "I figured it'd be best if you were there with me, you know?"
He sighed and tilted his head back for a moment. "That doesn't explain why, though," he stated, the frustration clear in his voice.
I gaped at him. "Because I want him to see how happy we are!" I exclaimed. Although right now, the idea of strangling him sounded pretty damn appealing. "But I'm starting to rethink that right now."
I saw his lips twitch as he fought not to smile and pointed at him. "I swear to God, if you laugh..." I let the threat hang in the air unspoken.
He smoothed his face into a serious expression, but his eyes were bright with amusement. I gave him a dirty look that had him glancing away. He didn't move fast enough, however, and I caught the grin he tried to hide.
"That's it!" I turned on my heel and started toward the door. "For that one, I'm making dinner tonight," I announced.
Teagan froze for a moment and stared at me in shocked surprise. Next thing he bolted up from the chair and raced toward me. With a shriek, I bolted for the door in an attempt to escape before he reached me. Teagan, unfortunately for me, was much quicker. Before I could get through the door he had me swung up, around and dropped on to the bed. I sat up and pushed my hair out of my face to see him standing at the foot of the bed. He had his arms crossed and a stern look on his face.
"What?" I asked innocently, already knowing what was coming.
He pointed at me with a grin. "That was an unnecessary threat, young lady!" He then started crawling up the bed toward me. "It's cruel and unusual punishment."
At that statement, I busted out laughing. I lay back on the bed as he moved up over me and looped my arms around his neck. Still giggling, I pulled his head down to mine for a kiss enjoying the way everything about him fit everything about me.
After several long minutes of extremely hot kisses, Teagan pulled back and smiled down at me. I blinked up at him, dazed and not quite sure what year it was. "Still need to rethink that happiness thing, baby?" he asked, smug and sure of himself. The problem was, he had reason to be, the little asshole.
I gave him a light slap on his arm. "Whatever."
He leaned down and rubbed his nose along mine then gave me a soft, quick kiss. "You know we're happy," he murmured. "Or, at least, I know we're happy."
At those words it felt like my heart skipped several beats before it started to pound with a heavy rhythm. My face broke out into what had to a goofy grin and I threaded my fingers into his hair. "Yeah, we're happy," I agreed. "I'm sorry I tried to guilt trip you."
He shook his head and let out a wry chuckle. "Just don't joke about cooking again, okay?"
I nodded. "Deal." I glanced over at the clock on his nightstand and frowned. "What time did you need to leave? It sounded like you have a busy day."
"Yeah," he said with a sigh. "I'm supposed to meet my project partners in thirty minutes. I need to start getting ready." He dropped a kiss on my lips before he pushed himself up and off of me. "What time is Caldwell supposed to be here?"
I shrugged. "I don't know, around four. We're just going to watch the movie, work on the translations some and then he's going to leave," I explained. I perked up when a thought occurred to me. "Do you think Conn will be home by then?"
"I don't know, babe," he answered as he tossed his study materials into his bag. "Maybe? I think he said something about hanging out over at Troy's tonight, though."
I groaned. Don't get me wrong; I really liked Troy and his fiancé, Cassia. They were the first ones besides Penny to give their seal of approval on Teagan and I being together. The problem, however, was that whenever Connor went over to their place, he usually didn't come home that night. Troy was a bartender at the club where Teagan worked, so he kept a well-stocked liquor supply.
"Aislinn, I'm sure if you ask, he'll stay here with you, baby," he reassured me.
"You think so?" I asked eagerly.
He nodded as he shouldered his book bag and grabbed his lacrosse gear. "Yeah, I'm sure. Just give him a call." He reached and grabbed his cell phone and wallet and put them in his pockets. "Besides he probably won't want his little sister left alone with Caldwell," he stated.
I watched him as he did a quick catalog of everything before he stepped over to the bed. I quickly got up onto my knees, kneeling in front of him. He leaned down and gave me a lingering kiss before he straightened and smiled at me. "I love you," he said, his voice rough. "Sleep here tonight.
"All right." I pointed to the door. "I love you, too. Now, get going!" I ordered.
With a grin he gave me one last quick kiss before he pivoted and strode from the room. I flopped back down into the bed and slung an arm over my eyes, exhausted. I hadn't gotten much sleep the night before. I blushed at the memories as they danced through my mind. It had been worth every moment of lost sleep.
I was just about to doze off when I felt something wet on my other hand. I jerked my arm down and looked over to find pitiful golden brown eyes staring at me. I said it before and I'll say it again. Zver was a master at puppy dog eyes. My eyes narrowed as my options were considered and tossed, one by one, as he whined softly. There was truly one choice at that point.
My ass had to get up and walk the damn dog.
I was going to kill Teagan.
I saw down on the couch with the two bowls of popcorn and frowned at the tension that was evident between the two men in the room.
I glanced between my brother and Ryan and saw that they were in the midst of a stare down. Jesus! What the hell had I missed in the four minutes it took to make the popcorn? I cleared my throat in an attempt to get their attention. When that didn't work, I decided to be blunt.
"So, what's up with the testosterone display?"
Connor shot me at look that spoke volumes loud and clear. I had to swallow a laugh. I'd known that my brother didn't care for the football player. However, it seemed there was something that brought out all of Connor's big brother instincts. It was highly amusing.
Surprisingly, it was Ryan who broke the staring contest. "I figured Aldridge'd be here, too," he said with a derisive tone. "Where is he?"
"He had some stuff to take care of," I responded as I reached to grab the DVD remote.
"Stuff to take care of, huh?" he repeated. "Would that stuff have to do with his kid?"
I choked on the sip of the soda I'd just taken at the bluntness of the question.
"What the fuck?" Connor exploded. "How? What? I don't!" he spluttered.
Ryan held up his hands. "Chill, dude! I haven't said anything to anyone." He then pointed both index fingers at my brother. "But you need to be more careful, bro."
Connor frowned. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"Because," Ryan drawled, "I found out from you."
"Uh, no," Ryan corrected. "I overheard you on the phone. You're not exactly subtle or quiet."
Connor glared at him, but didn't say anything. It's not like he could really defend himself in the present situation. My brother had what I called 'cell phone voice,' meaning he felt the need to stop just short of yelling into a cell phone. He was convinced the person on the other end couldn't hear him otherwise. I've told him repeatedly that people in Canada could hear him loud and clear without a phone he was so loud.
This unfortunately proved my point.
"But hey!" Ryan continued. "I haven't told anyone and I won't. It not my business to share, you know?"
Connor studied him, debating whether he was being honest or not. He finally sighed and scrubbed his hands over his face as he nodded. "Okay, man. I appreciate you not saying anything. Teeg isn't ready for everyone to know yet."
Ryan nodded and then looked at me. "How are you doing with all of this?"
"She's fine. They're fine!" Connor answered, defiant.
I turned and glared at him. "I'm capable of answering for myself, you know?" I looked back at Ryan. "I'm good. We met his daughter last night. I think it went pretty well." I settled back into the couch and gestured at the TV. "But we're supposed to be working on our assignment, so let's get busy."
Ryan reached over and took the bowl of popcorn I handed to him. As he sat back, I felt Connor dive into the bowl that sat between us. I looked over just in time to see my brother shovel an entire handful of popcorn into his mouth. I grimaced as he continued to eat like that, stuffing it in until his cheeks puffed out.
"What?" he demanded, mouth full of food.
I jerked back from him, half convinced that food was going to end up all over me. "Jesus, Conn! What the hell? Mom raised you better than that!"
He grinned and blew me a kiss. "Mom tried, you mean." In went another heaping handful of popcorn.
I shook my head in disgust. "How the hell do you get any girl to give you the time of day when you're eating like that?"
He shot me an evil grin. "It ain't my popcorn eating skills they're interested in, sis," he informed me with a wink.
Oh God. "Ew! Gross! TMI." I was pretty sure I was going to be ill at that point.
Ryan started laughing. "You two sound like me and my sister!"
"I guess being an asshole is an universal big brother thing," I muttered.
Ryan chuckled. "It's our job."
"Whatever," I pointed the remote at the DVD player and pressed play. "Let's just watch the damn movie!" The male laughter did not help the situation, nor did it improve my mood.
"That movie," Connor said as he closed the refrigerator door, "sucked." He turned to face me with a juice in his hand. "Don't ever ask me to do that again."
"Mm..." I hummed in response, my mind on other things. Teagan had come home in a foul mood the night before. It seemed that while he was at work, Lauren had shown up and proceeded to start introducing herself as his girlfriend. As in, his current girlfriend. As in, I was gonna throat punch a bitch.
"Ash, is everything okay?"
I pulled myself from my thoughts to see Connor staring at me in concern. I shook myself and forced a smile. "I'm fine. Just tired." I ran a hand through my hand, frowning as my fingers encountered snarl after snarl. "And that movie did not suck!"
"Aislinn," he replied patiently as if he were speaking to a five year old. "It wasn't even in English!"
I raised an eyebrow. "That would be because it was for my Russian class, doofus."
He started to respond when we heard Teagan coming down the stairs, yelling.
"I don't give a shit! There's no reason why you should have done that. What the fuck were you trying to accomplish?" he demanded.
Not even going to lie, I was now eavesdropping like a mother. A glance at Connor showed him doing to the same. I got up and quietly moved to the door in an attempt to hear more and almost peed my pants when I heard him start shouting again from directly on the other side of the door.
"Let's get something straight right now," he growled. "There is no 'us'! There hasn't been an 'us' since high school. The only reason we are associating now is because of my daughter. Are we clear on this?" He was silent for a moment and I strained to hear anything. Then he snorted. "Leave her out of this. Aislinn is none of your concern. I'll talk to you later."
With that he stormed into the kitchen, coming to a sudden stop when he saw Connor and I standing in there. He took one look at me and opened his arms. I didn't hesitate, and all but jumped into them. He buried his face in my neck as his arms wrapped tight around me. There was an unusual tenseness to him that I didn't like. I didn't like how Lauren was affecting him.
Despite being held in an embrace that did nothing but show me how much he loved me, I felt cold. There it was again, that impending sense of disaster. And underneath it all, the chilling suspicion that things wouldn't turn out as planned haunted me. I tightened my arms around Teagan in fear; fear of the coming days.