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“Leena, you know I wouldn’t ask this of you if it wasn’t worth it. I mean, sure, I could bring Jace with me and Alana, but I’m thinking a first date shouldn’t have a five-year-old in the mix.” It’s not even a sure thing when it comes to taking Alana out on a date. It’s been a week, and damn if it’s not enough. The few minutes in the morning, a mere ten minutes in the afternoon while picking up Jace, and talking on the phone at night. It’s not the same as being in her presence.

“Nope, no can do. I’m busy washing my hair. You’ll have to ask one of the others.” We’re on the phone. She’s at work, Jace is at school, and it’s the middle of the day on a Friday.

“They’re busy,” I grumble under my breath.

“I know. We all are. I love you, Keller, but bringing Jace around Alana isn’t the end of the world. It’s almost spring break anyways. What are you going to do when that hits and she’s off for a full week?” Leena talks a lot of sense.

“You’re right.” The acid is burning in my stomach from saying those two things.

“I’m sorry, can you say that again?” She’s practically laughing through the phone.

“I said you’re right, even though you’re a pain in the ass and a brat.” I’m on the back porch. The house had been a wreck with Jace and me home every night, me cooking, and not really picking up like I usually would. It took its toll on the house. There were toys everywhere, shoes from both of us, a variety of things just being left and not being put back in the right spot.

“How did those words taste coming out of your mouth, big brother?”

“Just you wait. When you least expect it, I’m going to get you back.” I walk inside into my kitchen, lean my ass against the counter, legs crossed at the ankles in my usual stance, looking out at the now clean house. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it’s sparkling, but it’s not bad either.

“I look forward to it, but seriously, Keller, let Alana in, all the way in, even if that does mean Jace knows you have the hots for his teacher.”

“I’m pretty sure we all know that he knows that. It’s kind of hard to keep that a secret with all of the nosey Harts up in everyone’s business, and my boy is just like the lot of you,” I tell her, thinking about the questions Jace is hell-bent on asking every day on the car ride to and from school.

“The lot? Dude, you’re right in the thick of it. Stop being a weenie and ask Alana if she would mind if you brought Jace along with you. I’m sure she’d be more than understanding, and if she isn’t, well, then maybe Alana isn’t ready. You’ll never know if you don’t try.” I’m getting advice from a girl in her twenties who’s my sister and I know for a fact hasn’t held a relationship very long is fucking scary.

“Yeah, yeah. Thanks, little sister. Get back to work before Tanner is on to you. I’m going to do some myself until it’s time to get Jace.”

“Will do. Oh, look at that bid first, please. The client has emailed me non-stop asking if we had a chance to look at it even though I said we were down a brother. Good grief, that guy is a nutcase.” That gets my hackles rising.

“How many times has he pestered you?” I demand.

“Oh my God, not like that. He’s persistent, an email here, a phone call there. Nothing like a stalker, you overprotective bear.” Leena has always been protected by all four of us—Tanner, me, Asa, and Deke, in that order. Our father never once said it was our job to be protective of her or to keep our eye on our baby sister. We just assumed the responsibility, and so far, it’s worked. Yeah, she gets pissed off every now and then, but she knows we’re coming from a good place.

“That shit keeps happening, you tell him we’re unavailable, forever. Hart Construction doesn’t need someone who’s gonna ride our asses just for an estimate and take that shit out on you. You’re a partner just like anyone else. Tell him we’ll get to him when we can, and if he can’t wait, to fuck off.” I make a mental note to let Tanner know what’s going on in case Leena hasn’t brought it to his attention, since he’s in the office more than I am.

“I know, but it’s not like we ever turn away money either,” she replies.

“Not for the cost of it bothering you, but I’ll look at it today and email him back regardless. Get a feel for the guy, go from there.” If it looks like shit and smells like shit, well, it must be shit.

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