“Did you hear that?”
Still groggy from sleep, I lift my head and look at the man in my bed. He wasn’t supposed to stay over. When I invited Dylan in last night, I expected him to make my body sing from pleasure and then leave again. I lay there spent, waiting for him to leave. I was alert, vigilant, and ready to get up and say goodbye to him – still trying to prove I’m okay with what we’re doing.
Not that I’m quite sure who I’m trying to prove it to anymore, him or me.
I went to the bathroom after our last round, hoping he’d take the hint and leave, but when I came back, he’d fallen asleep in my bed. As much as my heart hurt having to do it, I tried to wake him, thinking that he wouldn’t want to fall asleep in my bed. Instead of getting up to leave when he stirred, however, he slipped his arm around my waist and pulled me to him.
Dylan is barging his way into my heart inch by inch. How am I supposed to handle this thing between us when he’s not letting me keep sight of the boundary?
Wednesday night, after our picnic, I felt my composure slipping with him. It worried me how easy it would be to let my guard down and enjoy more than just sex with him. Even my attempt to keep things in perspective by bringing up his overseas trip wasn’t anywhere near enough to drive a wedge into the blanket of intimacy wrapped around us. When he dropped me home on Wednesday, he suggested he wanted to come in, but I told him I had to be up early.
Last night, however, I didn’t have that excuse. And now, this Sunday morning, I woke up in Dylan’s arms. All the hopes and dreams of a future with Dylan that I’ve been pushing down came screaming back loud enough to hurt my temples.
I sit up, rubbing my head and wondering if the sudden pounding is inside my head or at my front door.
Another furious knock sounds. Nope, the banging isn’t in my head. Well, it isn’t just in my head. I can’t help wincing as the knocking grows more frantic.
“I’ll answer it.”
Before I can tell him it might not be a good idea for him to answer my door, Dylan is up and out of the bed, picking up his boxer shorts from the floor. He doesn’t even pause to put them on before leaving the bedroom. I get a flash of his ripped chest and arse before he’s out of my bedroom, rendering me speechless.
The moment the knocking on the door stops, another loud noise sounds.
“What the fuck are you doing here?”
“Keep your knickers on, Chase. It’s not what you think.”
“Not what I think? Not what I think! You’re at my sister’s house first thing on Sunday morning and you’ve clearly got a boner. How can it not be what I think it is?”
My lungs are failing me, as well as my heart, as I realise it’s my brother at the door. I want to die.
But there is no time for that.
“Okay, it’s exactly what you think it is.”
I get out to the hallway just in time to distract my brother from the punch he’s about to throw.
“What the hell, Claire?”
I put on my robe, but from the shock and horror on my brother’s face I might as well have been naked as far as he’s concerned. I pull the material tighter around myself and try to work out what is happening. On any other morning, it would be wonderful to see my brother. I’ve missed him. And even if his blue eyes are angry and he’s got a dark scowl on his face, I just want to smile at him and tell him how pleased I am to see him. He was supposed to be in Queensland until next month, so him turning up at my door like this is unexpected.
Subsequently, I haven’t worked out what to tell him about what I’m doing with Dylan. I’ve certainly spent time thinking about it, but I haven’t come to any firm conclusions.
“I need to wake up. Get your arse into the kitchen and let me make coffee,” I say, walking up to my brother. I give the giant hulking, scowling man in my doorway a kiss on the cheek. “It’s good to see you.”
Dylan starts walking back to my bedroom, his gaze on mine as he walks past me.
I put my hand on his arm. “Are you planning on leaving?”
“And leave you alone with that crazy bloke?” He grins at me, but I can see how much it costs him. “I’m going to get dressed.”
“Yeah, you do that,” Austin says, practically snarling.
This is Dylan’s worst nightmare and the guilt of pushing him into this confrontation weighs on me. Austin is his best friend, and while telling Austin about us at any time would be bad enough, having my brother catch us like this is by far worse than anything I imagined. The last thing I want is to cause conflict between the two men. I need to explain to my brother what’s happening and make him understand that I basically forced Dylan into agreeing to our casual relationship.
“You should get dressed, too,” Austin grumbles, his eyes flicking over my dressing gown.
I nod. “I’ll be out in a moment.”
“I should have let you answer the door. Serves me right for trying to be your knight and save you from an intruder,” Dylan says as I close the bedroom door behind me.
“Never mind. It had to come out sooner or later.”
“Later would have been preferable.”
Maybe it’s supposed to sound humorous, but Dylan’s look of misery means I don’t feel much like laughing.
I go to him and wrap my arms around him. “I promise you I won’t let this interfere between you guys.”
“You have no idea how much he’s going to hate me for this. I’ve been preparing myself for this moment and I thought I was ready, but…”
“Dylan, I won’t let him be mad at you. He can be mad at me; I can handle it. He has no right to interfere in this.”
Dylan shakes his head, clearly disbelieving me. He forces a smile before dropping a kiss on my lips. “It’s all worth it.”
Is it? What if I’m wrong about being able to convince my brother that this is what I wanted? If their friendship does come to an end, will Dylan look back on our time together as the biggest mistake of his life?
My head and heart are both pounding as I walk with Dylan out to the kitchen. The kettle is already on and Austin is sitting at my small, cramped dining table, glaring at the wall. His bad mood is so dark that I’m surprised the structure isn’t wilting under his disapproving look. I have to convince Austin that Dylan hasn’t done anything wrong here.
“So what are you doing back in Melbourne?” I ask, trying to keep the conversation light while the kettle boils.
“Annabelle had to come down for a couple of days for a premiere. Thought I’d take advantage of her time here to see my sister and mother. Didn’t realise I’d be walking in on…on this.”
I look at Dylan in time to see him wince at the absolute disgust in my brother’s voice.
Once his coffee is made, I take it over to my brother. “You need to let me explain, Austin. Things aren’t quite the way you might think they are.”
Austin throws out a hand in Dylan’s direction. “According to him, things are exactly what I think they are.”
“Yes, but you don’t know why or-”
“I don’t need to know why or anything else, Claire! The one man I trusted above all others has done the one thing he knew would break up our friendship.” He looks at Dylan. “I’ll never forgive you for this. You had to have known that when you…when you…”
I’ve never seen my brother this angry before. Even with everything Dylan’s told me, I thought he was exaggerating about Austin’s potential reaction.
“No, Claire,” Dylan says, putting his mug down and stepping towards Austin. “You were right about some things. You don’t owe him an explanation. What you do isn’t his business. And if he doesn’t want to forgive me, then that’s his choice.” His gaze is locked on my brother. “I wouldn’t take it back even if I could.”
Austin surges out of his seat, knocking the table and spilling the coffee. I jump in between the two men before Austin tries to hit Dylan again. Clearly, talking to them both at the same time is not going to help. Dylan’s words warmed me, but did he really mean them?
And does it matter?
I refuse to be the reason for the two men falling out. They need each other. Dylan and Austin have been like brothers from the moment they met.
I turn to Dylan and put my hands on his chest. “Would you mind disappearing for a bit? I need to catch up with my brother.”
The look he gives me is so protective and territorial it makes my stomach dip.
“Please,” I beg. “I need to speak to him.”
“I don’t want to leave you alone with him when he’s like this.”
“Are you fucking serious?” Austin shouts. “I’m her brother, for God’s sake; I’m not going to hurt her. That’s what you’re going to do when you leave. Does she know? Does she know you’re leaving?”
My hands are still on Dylan’s chest and I can feel the tension emanating off of him. His glare locks on my brother. I feel like I’m holding back a force of nature as I hold my ground.
“I need time to talk to him, to explain things.”
Dylan looks at me. “I told you, you don’t need to give him any explanation.”
“Yes, but I want to. Please, Dylan. I’ll call you later.”
I feel it the moment he agrees. He steps back and I relax slightly, no longer feeling like I’m trying to prevent a disaster from happening.
“I’ll walk you out.”
Dylan nods, and I follow him to the front door.
“Take care of yourself. Don’t take any of his shit,” Dylan says, leaning down to kiss me.
“I’ll be fine,” I say when he pulls back. I’m more worried about Dylan and Austin. “I’ll give you a call when we’re done.”
I watch him get on his bike and wait until he revs the engine and takes off.
Taking a deep breath, I walk back to the kitchen. Austin is pacing back and forth, and when he sees me, he opens his mouth to say something, only to slam it shut and keep pacing. He’s so angry he can’t even speak to me, which is not a great sign. How am I going to get through to him? Whatever it takes. I’ll do whatever is needed to set things straight.