When I looked up, I saw relief on Caroline’s face. Beaming at me, she murmured, “My poor Oren. It’s tough being a reformed man-whore, isn’t it?”
“Yes.” I puckered out my bottom lip to make her laugh.
Actually, the reformed part wasn’t so tough at all; it was pretending to my best friend that I still was one that sucked ass.
“So you promise not to flirt with him ever again, right?” I pressed.
“Hmm?” She seemed too distracted with kissing her way across my jaw to answer. I scowled and snapped my fingers in front of her face.
“Focus, Caroline. Hart. The flirting. You’re done with that. Right?”
She blinked and looked up at me with raised eyebrows. “Wow. You’re really jealous of him.”
“I’m not jealous,” I muttered. But she seemed so happy about the idea that I let out a long, drawn-out sigh. “It’s just that you seem so...fucking close to him.”
She shrugged. “Well...I am. I guess. I mean, we’re friends.”
“Friends,” I repeated in a dry tone as I lifted my eyebrows to stare right back at her.
The damn woman laughed at my irritation. “Well, you’re awfully close to Zoey,” she reminded me.
“And you know exactly why,” I bit out, loathing this conversation the more it played out.
With a nod, she smiled. “I do. You think of her as a sister. Well...the same holds true for me and Asher, I guess.”
I couldn’t stop a snort of disbelief from blurting out. “You think of him as a brother?” When she nodded, I cocked her a look, totally not buying it. “So you don’t find him attractive at all.”
“Oh God, yes. Asher’s freaking gorgeous.”
“Gorgeous?” I wasn’t expecting her to use quite that strong of a word. “That pencil-thin stick of a musician?”
Her fingers trailed up my jawline, distracting me. “Mmm. He has a very arresting face.”
I lowered my nose and rubbed it along hers. “But you like my face better.”
It was a question even though I worded it as a statement. Caroline’s grin spread. “What do you think? It was your room I snuck into so I could be with you, not his.”
Hearing her say that made me feel better. But I caught her hand to keep it from distracting me. “I think I’m fucking confused. He’s the one with the gorgeous body, the arresting face, the perfect voice and awesome attitude. I’m an asshole. So, why was it my room you chose?”
Her hand broke free of my grip to slide into my hair, and the other followed until she’d caged my face in her palms. “Because you’re the one I want.”
I loved hearing that. God, how I loved hearing that. But as she leaned up to kiss me, I caught her again, stopping her.
“But why?” She could do so much better than a fucked-up jackwad like me. “Why me?”
She paused when she realized I was serious. Her gaze softened and her lips tipped up into the most beautiful smile. “Do you remember the day we met?”
It was seared into my brain forever, so I nodded. “Yeah.”
“You went out and bought us all breakfast,” she started.
I’d been starving. As soon as I’d gotten off work the night before that, Gamble had gotten his distress call from home. He’d needed to borrow my truck, since he didn’t have any wheels at the time. I’d been worried about him, so I’d gone along for the ride. We drove all night to get to her and Colton and Brandt. I’d needed food before I passed out, and no way was I going to eat something from that nasty place, so I’d taken the two young brothers over to a nearby McDonalds and gotten everyone breakfast while Noel had taken care of Caroline, because her abortion had left her so sick.
Caroline drew in a breath. “While the boys and I ate on the couch, you and Noel went outside to talk, but the window was open, so I heard almost everything you said.”
I winced, trying to remember that conversation with Gam. “What’d I say?”
She smiled fondly. “Well, first you cracked some kind of joke about karma-sutra, or something like that.”
I chuckled softly. “Okay, yeah. I remember something like that.”
“And then you started teasing him about how...how hot you thought I was.”
Groaning, I tipped my head back and closed my eyes. “Oh, damn. I did, didn’t I? Sorry about that.”
“No, I liked it. I liked how you could tease him, how you were trying to get him out of his funk after the shock he’d just come home to.” Her smile smoothed out into an expression of supreme appreciation. “But then you got serious with him and made him talk out his problems. When he told you he wanted to just bring us all back home with him, you encouraged it. It didn’t matter that doing so meant three more people would suddenly be living in the apartment you shared with him and you’d mostly likely have to find somewhere else to live. You didn’t even pause to think it through. You just...supported him, and I don’t know if he would’ve gone through with what he did for us if you hadn’t been there to tell him he should. I just...” She shook her head, gazing at me as if I was something special. It made my chest feel all tight and strange. “I remember thinking I wished I had a friend like Oren Tenning.”