Rival Page 4

“No,” she answered. “One week. Tops. I love Madoc, but this is your family, and they need you. You’re not getting off the hook. I already have two teenage boys. You know what they do when I try to impose a curfew? They laugh at me.” I fought between smiling out of amusement and clenching my fists in irritation.

“I’m here,” she continued. “I want to help, but he needs you!” Her whispers were futile. It was impossible to try to order my father around and be quiet about it.

I shot a look to Jax and noticed that he’d stopped his video game and was watching me with a quirked eyebrow.

Shaking his head, he joked, “I haven’t obeyed a curfew in my entire life. She’s cute about it, though. I love that woman.”

Jax was Jared’s half-brother. They had the same father but different mothers, and Jax had spent most of his life either with their sadistic dad or in foster homes. Late last fall, my father had helped Katherine get Jax out of foster care and into her home. Jared and Jax’s father was in jail, and everyone wanted the brothers together.

Especially the brothers.

And now that Jared, who’d been my best friend all through high school, had found his soul mate and love of his life, he wasn’t around as much as he used to be. So Jax and I had grown closer.

“Come on.” I jerked my chin at him. “I’m grabbing a bottle from Jared’s room, and then we’re going out.”

• • •

“I want to see your biggest balls,” I ordered in the deepest voice I could muster. My eyes were narrowed, and I had to press my teeth together to not laugh.

Tate’s back straightened, and she slowly spun around with her chin down and eyes up. It reminded me of how my mother looked at me when I had pissed in the pool as a kid.

“Wow, I haven’t heard that one before.” She widened her eyes at me. “Well, sir, we have some quite heavy ones, but they all take two fingers and a thumb. Are you that skilled?” She had an expression on her face like we were talking about homework, but I could see the smile playing at the corner of her mouth.

“I’m so skilled,” I teased, my tongue suddenly too big for my mouth. “You’d be jealous of what I could do to that ball.”

She rolled her eyes and approached the counter. Tate had been working at the bowling alley since last fall. It was almost a court-ordered requirement that she get a job. Well, not quite. It probably would’ve been court-ordered if Jared had pressed charges. This five-foot-seven, one-hundred-twenty-pound bit of nothing had taken a crowbar to her boyfriend’s car in one of her famous violent fits. It was pretty nasty and pretty awesome. The video was on YouTube and had practically started a feminist movement. People did their own renditions of it and even put it to music. They titled it Who’s the Boss Now?, since Jared’s car was a Mustang Boss 302.

It was all a misunderstanding, though, and Tate paid for the damages. She grew up. Jared and I grew up. And we were all friends.

Of course, they were sleeping together. I got no such perks.

“Madoc, have you been drinking?” Tate put her palms on the counter and looked at me like a mom.

“What a stupid question.”

Of course I’ve been drinking. It’s like she didn’t even know me.

Jerking her head up, she looked over to the lanes behind me, and I was afraid her big blue eyes would actually fall out of her head.

“You got Jax drunk, too!” she accused, clearly pissed now.

I twisted around to see what she was looking at, stumbling when my foot got caught in the legs of the stool next to me. I let a holler rip from my throat.

“Whooooo!” I shouted, holding up the bottle of Jack Daniel’s in the air when I saw what Tate saw.

A crowd of people was gathered in front of one lane, laughing and watching Jax run and do slip and slides down a bowling path. “Hell, yeah!”

The bottle was torn out of my fingers, and I turned to see Tate stuff it under the counter, pressing her angry lips together and scowling.

“Why is the whiskey gone?!” I imitated Captain Jack Sparrow and pounded my fist on the counter.

Tate stomped down the aisle toward the door leading out to the lanes. “You’re in deep shit when I get over this counter,” she whisper-yelled at me.

“You love me. You know you do!” I laughed and sprinted away through the maze of tables and chairs around the concession stand to where Jax played. A couple of other guys had joined in and flew down the lanes, much to the delight of the Saturday night crowd. At this hour, there weren’t too many families out and about, and the only people not entertained were the single dudes who spent their older years lamenting their beer bellies and how lucky they were to escape marriage. They just watched and shook their heads.

“Fallon’s home. Don’t go home.”

I swallowed down the whiskey that kept creeping back up and threw my head back. “Woohoo!” I bellowed, before pounding down the light-colored hardwood floor, leaping onto the lane on my belly and sliding down the alleyway.

My heart pounded, and excitement bubbled in my chest. Holy shit! These lanes were crazy slippery, and I just laughed, not caring that Tate was pissed at me or that Jared’s fist would leave a permanent mark on my face for messing around at his girlfriend’s work. All I cared about was what got me from one moment to the next.

I can’t go home.

The crowd cheered and yelled behind me, some of them jumping up and down. The only way I could tell was because I felt the vibrations under me. And when I rolled to a stop, my legs dangling into the next lane, I just lay there, wondering. Not about Fallon. Not even about whether I was too drunk to drive home at this point.

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