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“I’m telling you now, I didn’t have Marlie for a few days, and I knew how much that ate me alive. I don’t know how long shit has been going on between you and Alana or how long ago you clearly ended things, but I’d fix that, or you’re bound to live a life of regret, baby brother.” He stands up from the chair he was sitting in beside my bed. Boy, do I love my family, but the fact that they’ve all felt the need to take turns in babysitting me is a damn hindrance.

“Yeah, well, her not giving me the time of day isn’t helping matters either. I’m pretty sure I fucked it all up.” I tip my head back on my pillow remembering the way she shut me down.

“Well, it’s a good thing we have a nosey little sister, and your sister-in-law doesn’t mind playing cupid, you know.” Tanner winks at me.

“Shit, if they get Asa involved in this three-ring circus, it may do more harm than good.” I take my time sliding my legs over the side of the bed, breathing through the pain. I look down at my body. It’s bruised black and blue, and my skin is scraped. “I sure did a hell of a job, huh?” Tanner’s still in my room, waiting for me, I’m sure, to stand up and be steady on my feet.

“Yep, damn near gave Dad a heart attack. I’m not going to lecture you, and if you were anyone else but my brother, I’d can your ass or put you behind a desk. Seeing as you’re my brother, a part of the business, I’m just putting you on light duty, starting next week.” Like I didn’t know that shit was coming.

“I didn’t know that was Dad calling my name, or I wouldn’t have been as stupid. I’m more pissed at myself than anything else. It would have been better if I’d just called out of work and gone to the gym. Instead, I thought manual labor would help me deal with the bullshit clouding my head.” Admitting that isn’t easy. Fuck, I have so much shit going on in my head, I’m surprised I can see daylight.

“Yeah, that would have been the smart thing to do. Now, are you ready to get out of this room and get eat some food instead of the soup Mom insists on spoon-feeding you? I swear when one of us is sick, it’s like she reverts to our toddler years.” I laugh, which also causes pain as I hold my bad arm up with my good one.

“You enjoyed it that time you had the flu before Marlie came along. I believe you were the one kissing Mom’s ass after that and sending flowers.” I forgo even attempting to put on a shirt since I’m at home. I almost stop to put one on knowing Jace is home. Of course, after Mom took him to get a telescope, sensing something was off, she brought him up to the hospital. Jace’s little lip quivered when he saw me in a hospital bed, not looking my best, until I breathed through the pain, scooted over in the bed, and he climbed up beside me. That’s also when I vowed to myself not to do something stupid like that again. It’s bad enough his womb donor of a mother dipped out on him at birth. I’ll be damned if I do anything to take myself away from him.

“Yeah, yeah, I was a bear to deal with; even I know that.” I walk out of my bedroom, following Tanner and coming up short. That’s because my house has been invaded by the Harts—Mom, Dad, Asa, and Deke. The only ones who are missing are my son, Leena, and Marlie.

“Put a shirt on. You’re embarrassing us all,” is what Asa greets me with.

“Get over yourself. I’m assuming you helped yourself to all of my beer while you’ve been here lazing around the last twenty-four hours.” I look at Deke. He smirks, giving me the answer Asa ignores.

“Oh good, you’re up and moving better. Your father and I are out of here. In fact, now that the construction company isn’t so swamped, we’re taking a vacation. This desk work Tanner has you on might be just what you need. Jace will have you to take him to and from school full time.” Mom stands up, moves towards me, and kisses my cheek.

“It’ll save me a bundle of money, too. I can’t say no to Jace when it comes to ice cream, and your mom is the same way when it comes to toys. That telescope cost a pretty penny.” He talks a big game. As many times as I’ve tried to pay him back, he just tells me my money isn’t any good to him.

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