Secrets That We Keep by Linda Kage

He rolled his eyes. “Oh, come on.” Lifting his voice to a ridiculous falsetto, which in no way resembled my actual voice, he mimicked, “Can you come over? Like, right now. I really need you tonight.”

“That is so not how I said it,” I ground out. “And besides, that call wasn’t meant for you.”

“Yes, I was always fully aware of that. But…” He shrugged. “Here I am. So you might as well talk.”

He licked the push pop again. My gaze followed the slow, languid path of his tongue, unable to look away until he popped the whole thing back into his mouth and broke the spell he had me under.

Dude, what was wrong with me tonight?

Mentally slapping myself away from lusty thoughts, I blinked my expression into a scowl. “If you knew I’d called the wrong person all along, then why the hell did you come over?”

He shrugged again. “Don’t know. Bored, I guess. And antsy. Anyway…” His brown eyes probed mine. “Why can’t I help you just as well as anyone else? We’re family; that’s what we do.”

I snorted. “Buddy, you and I are in no way related.”

“You know what I mean.” His voice was dry and unimpressed. “We’re part of the group. The inner circle. Our parents are closer than blood. Face it. We’s family, baby.”

He was right, so I just rolled my eyes and remained stubbornly mute.

Finishing the push pop with a satisfied sigh, he chucked the empty container remains across the room toward my open trash can. When he made the shot perfectly, he turned back to me, grinning proudly.

Until my glare caused him to falter.

“Come on, Bells,” he encouraged. “You can talk to me. I’m a professional, remember? It’s my job to help people.”

I snorted over his stretch of the term professional. But when he just kept gazing at me with that steady, unrelenting stare, I squirmed in my seat.

“I’m bloating and have horrible cramps,” I muttered, hoping that would scare him off-topic. “In fact, I might just be experiencing the worst period in the history of all periods. And stop calling me Bells. That’s a—it’s a stupid nickname.”

Except I kind of liked it.

Almost as much as I liked the way he said it.

It brought out the butterflies in my belly.

What was worse, the bastard only winked at my whiny demand. He just had to look super-hot when winking, too.

“Nice try,” he said, his voice all husky and deep and male. “But I have a sister. Lady problems don’t rattle me. And anyway, you have to admit; Bells is a hell of a lot better than what I used to call you.”

I furrowed my eyebrows, unable to remember what he used to call me, so he rolled his hand. “Isabella,” he sang softly. “Has a bad smell-a. Got diarrhea and pooped Nutella.”

“Seriously!” I gasped. “You’re the evil cretin who came up with that awful chant?”

When I grabbed an orange that was sitting in a basket on the table between us and chucked it at him, he laughed and dodged, deflecting the fruit off his muscled forearm.

“What?” he asked with fake innocence. “You were a mature twelve to my ten. I had to level the playing field between us somehow.”

“I was thirteen when you were ten,” I argued because I needed something to argue.

“Twelve and a half,” he allowed.

I shook my head. “You were such a little shit.”

He nodded in satisfaction as if proud of the label. “Yeah, I totally was. Good times.”

“And you haven’t improved all that much, either,” I goaded, “hiding my damn push pops from me. That’s unacceptable, you know.”

“Then, how about this?” He batted his lashes playfully. “I’ll buy you a whole new box of push pops if you tell me what’s wrong.”

I pulled back in surprise, realizing he honestly wanted to know what was bothering me. Gracen wouldn’t have pried like this. He’d either already know, or he’d be patient and chill and wait for me to tell him when I was ready.

I wasn’t sure how to handle being pressed to open up. It made my chest feel hot and achy. Swallowing hard, I grew tempted but also extremely unsure.

“Well, that’s the problem,” I finally admitted as I picked up another orange so I could toss it between my hands and combat the sudden anxiety rumbling through my stomach. “Nothing’s actually wrong. I’m not even on my period. I was just feeling—I don’t know—grumpy and lonely and depressed, I guess, and reliving bad decisions.” In men. I glanced across the table at him. “Gracen would’ve understood.”