Home > Hot Stuff(6)

Hot Stuff(6)
Author: Max Monroe

Not to me, of course, but to the person who deserves it—her husband. Frankly, I’d love to be a bystander, cheering her on from the corner of the ring as she puts her verbal fists to him.

Unfortunately, though, I don’t see that in the future. Shell has a soft spot for Phil and his bullshit because they’ve been together since they were kids. She grew up; he didn’t.

“I have everything prepped, just have to finish mashing these potatoes, fixing the green beans, and pull the dressing and turkey out of the oven. You can relax.” The truth is, I have a lot more than that to do, but if anyone deserves to relax, it’s her. In addition to working like a dog now, as the eldest Carroll sister, she was always looking out for Cara and me.

“Perfect,” Phil answers out of nowhere, grabbing one of the beers out of Shell’s bags and heading out of the kitchen and toward the living room.

I spear him with my eyes, but Shell lets it slide. I’ve never been a violent person—in fact, as a doctor, I’ve taken an oath to do no harm—but man, I’d love to harm Phil Whatley a time or two. Or three. Or ten. Yeah, you get the idea.

Our other sister, Cara, the middle child and quietest of the bunch, scoots through the kitchen on her way somewhere and doesn’t slow down.

I glance over my shoulder to watch her strawberry-blond hair go, and then I get back to the potatoes with a sigh.

“I guess she’s in a super-social mood,” Shell comments with more than a hint of sarcasm.

I shrug. Her husband Pete is just like Phil, but Cara also likes to make more work for herself than is necessary. She does this in every aspect of her life—her two toddler-aged kids, her job, her house, pretty much everything. Knowing her, she’s probably been cleaning the bathroom and vacuuming my dad’s room just for the hell of it.

“Laurie, baby, would you mind adding another setting to the table?” my dad asks, stepping into the kitchen and filling Shell’s spot as she leaves to grab some more groceries from her car.

“Why?” I question and turn away from the potatoes to meet his eyes. “Who else is coming?”

“Just one of my guys. It’s his first Thanksgiving without his kids, and I didn’t want him to be a sad sack, spending it all alone.”

“And he doesn’t have any friends?”

“Laurie,” he chastises, using his favorite nickname for me.

“What, Dad?” I shrug one shoulder as I add butter to the potatoes. “It’s weird. We don’t know this guy. And we’re just supposed to have Thanksgiving dinner with him?”

“Won’t be any weirder than having your brothers-in-law here.” He snorts. “At least my guy is a hard worker. That I know for sure.”

I fight the urge to laugh in agreement. Because it’s pretty much true.

“Thanks, Dad,” Cara murmurs from behind us. It’s fair to say neither of us realized she was there when we brought up her no-good excuse for a husband.

“Well, shit, Cara,” my dad mutters. “Sorry. But you know it’s true, darlin’. Pete’s like the walking poster child for fuckups.”

“Dad!” my sister exclaims in outrage, but our dear old dad has no issues adding fuel to the fire.

“Honey, even the Catholic Church would support divorce in this case.”

“We’re not Catholic, Dad,” I point out.

“I didn’t say we were. I said that even those stodgy, old, tradition-bound bastards can get behind a divorce from Pete.”

“Pete is—” Cara starts to defend.

“A moron,” our father not-so-kindly supplies.

Cara huffs and leaves the room, and I take the opportunity to elbow my dad in the side. “Geez, Dad. You could have at least been a little more sensitive.”

“More sensitive, my ass,” he grumbles. “I’m sensitive as hell. If I wasn’t, both your sister’s husbands would be buried in a shallow grave out back.”

“Dad!”

“They’re shitheads, Laurie. I’m done with it. I just thank God you’re not with a shithead of your own.”

“Wow, thanks.” I sigh. “You always have a way with words.”

“You’re smart, Laurie. Got a good head on your shoulders and a career of your own. I hated you living in New York for so long, but you made somethin’ of yourself, you know? You didn’t wait for some sack of shit to get off his ass and do it for you. You took control of your own life. I just want that for your sisters, too.”

“They’re not exactly helpless, Dad,” I retort and meet his stubborn-as-hell eyes. “They both work hard. They’re smart. They have beautiful kids. I don’t know.” I shrug. “Maybe they’re the ones who got it right all along.”

“That’s horseshit.”

“Dad.” I sigh.

“Laurie, it’s horseshit.” He continues on his little tirade. “I’m not saying raising a family is wrong. Your mom did a great job of it while I spent my life fighting fires, and I know it. But you don’t raise a family with a dickhead. You do it with a man who cares. A man who’s there for you. A man who puts you first. That’s who you do it with. Lord knows, I love my grandbabies, but their damn fathers really tick me off.”

“So, wait. You’re saying I should marry someone like you?” I ask.

“No,” he retorts without hesitation and busies himself with the dinner rolls. “I’m saying you should find somebody a hell of a lot better than me. I may have loved your mother—and I did love her—but I sure as hell didn’t do right by her. I was gone half the time, my priorities were always at the firehouse instead of at home. I’m a good guy, but I wasn’t good enough for her, and I wouldn’t be good enough for you either.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” I roll my eyes. “You and I both know that Mom loved that you were dedicated to the firehouse.”

He shakes his head. “No. She tolerated it. Where we are now is the direct result of our choices. She’s gone. And I’m captain.” He lifts his shoulders and pats out a dinner roll before putting it on the cookie sheet. “That says it all.”

“She died, Dad. She didn’t leave.”

“She died of a disease she could have beat, baby. I know that’s not what you want to hear, but it’s the truth. And I’m the reason she didn’t fight harder.”

“Dad, you and I both know that’s a lie. You’re carrying around a burden that’s not real.”

He just sighs and focuses on those stupid dinner rolls.

This isn’t the first time we’ve had this conversation, and, seeing as he’s choosing to ignore my words, it certainly won’t be the last. Because he’s completely wrong. Multiple sclerosis took its toll on Mom’s body until she could no longer fight it. And my dad was there for her the entire time. Sure, he was still working, still running a firehouse, but he was by her side every step of the way.

My nose starts to sting with tears, and sarcasm fills my veins so full that some of it has no choice but to spill over. “Boy, family holidays sure are fun.”

My dad pats the top of my head and then smooths a hand over the trail of my hair kindly. It’s almost comical that he can smile at me the way he is after the heavy shit he just tossed my way.

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