Home > New Jerk in Town (Carolina Kisses, #2)(2)

New Jerk in Town (Carolina Kisses, #2)(2)
Author: Sylvie Stewart

Her voice is so quiet I almost don’t hear her response. “Neither should an uncle.”

My back settles into the chair, and I watch her again while I rein my temper in. The fact of the matter is Felicity has had kind of a shit time of it, and if anyone deserves a break, it’s her. So I’m paying for her to go to this fancy-ass program for a trimester so she can follow her dream of becoming an illustrator. It’s a done deal.

“Look.” I sigh. “The payment’s due in a few days. I know you have pride and you’re determined as hell, but this isn’t happening unless you let me pay, Liss.”

I see the crack in her armor the moment I mention the deadline. We both know she doesn’t have this kind of money, just like we both know there’s no way her mom would pitch in a penny.

She pretends to read another page of her comic for a minute, and I wait until she shoves it aside and pins me with her brown eyes. The usual determination is tinged with sadness, and I want to punch something. “If I let you—and that’s an if—it has to be a loan. I’m not letting you pay for it outright.”

I nod immediately since this is the closest we’ve come to a resolution in weeks. We can argue about repayment later. “I can accept that,” I lie.

“Then I’ll think about it.” Felicity pushes back from the table, leaving her half-finished cereal bowl behind. The comic, she takes with her as she heads to the stairs again to finish getting ready for school. But it wouldn’t be like her to let me stay one step ahead. “You may want to think about showering and shaving once in a while or you’ll never get laid.”

I close my eyes and don’t even try fighting that battle. I’ve won one, and there are plenty more ahead.

 

 

Felicity isn’t wrong about the refrigerator—something I’m forced to admit after the milk exacts its revenge later that night. So I accept my fate and make a trip to the scratch-and-dent a couple days later on a hunt for both a fridge and a range. This means enlisting my buddy Bran since the place doesn’t deliver and all I’ve got is my Yamaha and the beater I mostly just keep around for Felicity. Bran subscribes to the school of thought that a man is more of a man if he’s got a truck, a notion I’m not about to dissuade him from since it’s currently benefiting me. Although, once I get a few beers in me, I might slip up and give him a decent helping of shit over it. Bran’s what we refer to as an easy target.

“I’m changing your offer of a beer to a case instead.” Bran’s voice is choked.

I wipe my forehead with the kerchief from my back pocket and glance around the black beast wedged between us. Bran’s wheezing like he just finished an Ironman.

“We’re not even in the first door, Nancy.” I shove the cloth back in my pocket and return my grip to the refrigerator, ignoring the pull in my thigh.

“You said you needed to pick up ‘a little something,’” he grunts through clenched teeth as he shoves his end further over the threshold. “Not an entire damn appliance aisle!”

“Hold up!” I kick a rug aside and check for more obstacles. The fridge is so wide, we need to bring it through the front door instead of using the side one that leads straight into the kitchen. “Okay, we’re good to go on my count. And we’ll compromise with a twelve-pack of Hornet’s Nest. One. Two. Three!” I pull while Bran lets out a battle cry from the other side and puts his back into it. The refrigerator resists at first and then, with a loud crack and a shower of splintered wood, breaks through the threshold and knocks me back a few steps—where my head connects with the entryway wall.

Bran’s red, sweat-beaded face appears around the side. He takes in first the ruined door trim and next my position against the opposite wall, where I’m checking out the growing lump on the back of my head.

“Uh, let’s just call it even, yeah?”

An hour later, I slam the passenger door of Bran’s black Ram 1500 and meet him on the sidewalk in front of the SWiN, a local restaurant he frequents due almost solely to the fact that he can score free beers there whenever he wants. He’s been dragging me with him a couple nights a week ever since he hunted me down upon my return home a few months back.

“Is Rayna working today?” My grumbling belly reminds me I haven’t eaten yet today, and it’s closing in on four o’clock. This is becoming a worrying trend. It’s a wonder the three cups of coffee I inhaled this morning haven’t eaten through the walls of my stomach by now.

Bran can’t hide his dumb-ass grin. “It’s Friday, ain’t it?” As if I have his girlfriend’s schedule memorized.

I don’t respond, instead holding the glass front door open for him so he doesn’t get lost in sex fantasies about Rayna and crack his head on the glass. We’ve both known Rayna since we were all kids spending summers on the beach and sneaking liquor from whoever’s parents had a stocked supply. She was way too cool for Bran back then, but Rayna’s a smart woman, so she eventually gave the guy a shot a few years back. Since he’d never stopped mooning over her, he made quick work of locking that shit down, and the rest is history. They’re set to get married next year sometime.

“Hey, Camille,” Bran croons, and I glance over just in time to see the owner of the SWiN check to make sure her hair’s in place. Which brings me to the second reason I don’t mind tagging along whenever Bran suggests stopping by. Camille Blume has a huge lady boner for my friend—well, as much as a seventy-something, half-insane woman might have one—and it never gets old.

“Brandon.” She breathes his name with a kind of reverence mostly reserved for pre-teen girls discussing boy bands.

But I’ve got to hand it to Bran. He doesn’t disappoint as he rakes a casual hand through his blond, Ken-doll hair and crosses the room to envelop the woman in a tight hug. “You look stunning, as usual, Camille.”

“Oh, stop.” She pulls back and bats at his chest, letting her hand linger for a second too long before her eyes land on me and her arm drops to her side like a heavy weight. “Mr. Papatonis.” All the warmth she’s been showering on Bran turns to ice at the sight of me.

“Mrs. Blume.” I don’t waste my breath trying to charm her because that ship has sailed—as in, it’s likely docked somewhere off mainland China by now. And, besides, charm and flattery have never been in my wheelhouse. But I need to maintain some civility, not only because she’s a senior citizen, but because she holds the key to some of the best food in Wilmington. And I’ve tried my entire life not to be stupid, with varying degrees of success.

Bran pulls her attention back. “I apologize for barging in like this, but we wanted to drop in to say hello. You see, we just finished moving some heavy appliances…” he trails off, not even pretending to hide his meaning.

“Not another word.” Camille’s smile returns, and she shoos Bran toward the bar. “You have a seat, and I’ll get Rayna out here to give you a bite and something cold to drink.” She turns to the double galley doors of the kitchen without another glance my way.

Bran makes no attempt to hide his shit-eating grin. “And that, young Jedi, is how it’s done.”

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