Frayed Page 93

’’I do.’’ My voice is a small squeak. So much for fierce.

’’Then the next time you\ e in a bad situation, I want you to tell me.’’ He looks around the room before continuing.

’’Are we getting to the elephant in the room now?’’ I stand up straight and face him head-on.

His expression grows darker and truth be told, I feel a little scared. Not of him, of course, rather of him judging me. But I believe in Ben and I\m ready to take the first step. You have to crawl before you can walk, right? And Xander is going to be easier to open up to about Ben than River. So I take another deep breath. ’’Can we sit down? I have some things to tell you, and the first one is something I should have cleared up a long time ago.’’

We\ve never spoken about the baby since the day I gave birth. But something inside me feels ready to open up to my brother in a way I\ve never felt I could before. So I tell Xander that I actually never talked to Ben, that my attempts to contact him and tell him I was pregnant were really not attempts at all. I tell him about this summer and then meeting back up with Ben a couple of months ago. I tell him that I want to see where the relationship will go. I stay strong. I tell my brother how I feel. And surprisingly he handles it okay. He isn\ thrilled, but he isn\ disappointed in me either.

When I finish, his look is unreadable.

Then he reaches across the sofa to squeeze my shoulder. ’’You know all I really care about is that you\ e happy?’’

I nod.

’’And you know if you ever need me, no matter what the circumstances, I\ll be there for you in a heartbeat?’’

I nod again. ’’I love you.’’

’’I love you too. Now I\m going to get out of here.’’ He grins at me.

I fly across the couch and hug him. ’’I don\ say this often, but you\ e the best brother ever.’’

’’I won\ tell River you said that,’’ he jokes.

’’Oh, I tell him the same thing.’’ I laugh.

He just shakes his head at me in amusement.

After Xander leaves I hop in the shower. Then I decide a quick cleanup and a mood enhancer are just what we need for the night. Twenty minutes later there\s a knock at my door.

’’Who is it?’’

’’It\s me, Ben.’’

’’Ben who?’’

’’S\elle.’’ He sounds a little annoyed.

I\m sure he\s worried about what Xander had to say, so I cut him some slack. ’’Come in.’’

He opens the door carrying bags of delicious-smelling Italian food. He looks around. I\ve really outdone myself. Soft music is playing in the background, candles are lit around the room, and my green bikini is lying over the back of the sofa. He raises an eyebrow. ’’Déjàvu.’’

I\m in the kitchen slicing lemons with two glasses of sparkling water in front of me. I drop them in the glass and smile at him. ’’You didn\ have to knock.’’

’’I wasn\ sure if your brother was still here.’’

’’Nope, he\s gone.’’

He takes the bags and walks back out to close the door.

Did he forget something? There\s another knock on the door. Now I\m curious. I walk over and open the door just a smidge. ’’Yes?’’

He raises the bags. ’’Delivery, ma\am.’’ He grins.

My smile grows wide and I throw open the door. ’’Come in. You can set the bags on the counter, but I\m not sure I have any money to pay you.’’

’’Ma\am, I don\ take cash anyway.’’

’’Oh, good, because after we eat I know just how to pay you back.’’

’’After?’’ he questions.

’’Yes, sorry, but I\m starving.’’

He laughs. ’’Me too.’’ He crosses to the kitchen and deposits the bags on the table.

I can\ restrain myself and I throw my arms his neck.

He pushes my wet hair to the side and kisses my neck while I press the weight of my body against him. ’’You smell so good,’’ he says.

’’I wasn\ sure you\d come back.’’

He takes my face in his hands as he reassures me, ’’Nothing would keep me away from you, even your brother camped outside the door.’’

I lick the lemon juice from my fingers while giggling. ’’He wasn\ that bad.’’

He takes my hand and sucks one of my fingers still sticky with lemon juice. ’’No, he wasn\ ,’’ he agrees, moving to the next one. ’’If I was looking to get my balls served on a platter, he\d be just the guy I\d go to.’’

The laughter is uncontrollable and I start hiccupping from the hysteria. Once I\ve calmed I tell him, ’’I called everyone else while you were gone, so we should be visitor free.’’

’’By everyone else I assume you mean your other brother, the one who isn\ going to be even a fraction as unimpressed as his older brother.’’

’’What did you get us to eat?’’ I ask, pressing against him in an attempt to change the otherwise awkward subject. And then before he can answer I lift my arms and snake them around his head. ’’Kiss me.’’

He finds my mouth and kisses me deeply before pulling away and walking over to the table, where he set the bags. He takes a round container out. ’’Spaghetti and meatballs.’’ He takes out another. ’’Chicken Parmesan.’’ And then another. ’’Rigatoni.’’

’’Yum, but are you feeding an army?’’

’’I just wanted to make sure you were well fed.’’

I look up and catch his glance. His face looks perfectly content and I feel the same way.

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