Timing(6)

By: Mary Calmes


“Yeah, it was,” I smirked at him, which sent him into choking laughter. I wasn’t the only one who thought that Charlotte’s big brother was an ass.

Later that night, Rand had stopped on his way into the house to say good night to his family and found me sitting between two of his uncles, drinking beer, talking, all three of us with our feet up on the railing of the porch. More of his cousins were crowded around us, everyone laughing. I was the only one without a cowboy hat on.

“You comfortable?” he asked snidely after he told everyone else he was heading up to bed, since some people had to get up early in the morning to work the ranch. “Think you’d still be if everybody knew?”

“Knew what? That I’m gay?” I asked him, grinning like crazy. “I dunno, maybe.”

Watching his face fall was priceless.

“Stef told us about that,” his uncle Lincoln told him. “I say what a man does in his own bed is his own business. Ain’t that right?”

“It’s just like a man that likes big women.” His uncle Tyler shrugged. “If that’s your taste, why not, I say.”

“He likes big girls,” Lincoln assured everyone, in case any of us had missed it.

Rand’s sky-blue eyes were locked on me as he spoke under his breath. “You’re lucky my family is full of open-minded, good-hearted—”

“Except you,” I cut in, then took a quick breath and smiled wide even as I saw his jaw clench. “No one ever accused you of being a good guy, huh?”

He pointed at me. “You’re a cocky piece of—”

“Aww, are you tired? Is that why we’re name-calling?”

If looks could kill, I would have been dead right there.

“Better get on up to bed, Mr. Holloway. We wouldn’t want you to be tired in the morning and be a dick or anything.”

“You know, one of these days you’re going to get yourself in a mess that—”

“Oh.” I waggled my eyebrows at him. “I love a good mess.”

Everyone laughed, and he stalked across the porch, fuming, fists clenched at his side.

“Stefan Joss, you cannot leave me!” The whispered threat brought me back from my wandering thoughts to Charlotte.

“Please.”

Who was she kidding? I would never, ever leave her.

I rolled my eyes, and she leaped into my arms, wrapping herself around me as tightly as she could.

“Uh-oh, look out. Your man’s coming,” I said, putting her down.

We both turned to see Benjamin Cantwell crossing the room to us. He was dodging people trying to talk to him, making sure he didn’t get caught in someone’s clutches, and finally broke into a jog to get to me. It was easy to see, by the way his eyes lit up and his pleased smile, that the man really liked me. I opened my arms for him, and he lunged at me. The hug was hard and hurt a little, so that way I knew it was real.

“You’re late,” he said when he let me go, shoving me away from him. “I was worried you weren’t coming until Thursday or something and by then my girl’d be a basket case.”

“Oh shut up,” she snapped, smacking him in the arm before moving to my side, leaning against me. “I’m perfectly fine.”

I kissed the top of her head as I squeezed her tight. “Aww, Char, you know I had to show. I mean, who else is gonna watch out for your man at all the strip clubs?”

She laughed, and it was deep and throaty, one of many things I loved about her. I gave her a last hug before I let her go and she went into Ben’s arms. She wrapped hers around his waist, and he anchored her there next to him.

“I was sorry to hear that your guy couldn’t make it, Stef,” Ben said softly, sympathizing.

I squinted at him. “What guy is this?”

“Oh.” He sounded surprised. “Um, Cody, right? Wasn’t that his name?”

“Oh, Ben, Cody is so six months ago.” Charlotte chimed in.

“Less,” I corrected her, “but yeah, he’s done.”

“Need a damn scorecard to keep up with these guys, Stef.”

I shrugged.

“He’s just picky,” Charlotte defended me.

“So.” I squinted at her. “You were kidding on the phone, right?”