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Things We Left Behind: Chapter 14

Red Flags


Did you at least hide the body, Sloaney?” Nash asked when I entered the kitchen. He was rubbing Lina’s shoulders while she topped off glasses of wine.

“He’s still breathing. I see you two made up,” I said to Knox, who had Naomi caged between the counter and his chest. His hands were tucked into the back pockets of her jeans, an expression of wolfish anticipation on his handsome face.

“I’m impossible to stay mad at,” Knox said.

“All it takes is for him to load the dishwasher the right way and I’m a puddle of forgiveness,” Naomi said. Her engagement ring and wedding band winked in the light.

“Do you two have a minute to talk about something?” I asked Naomi and Lina.

Both women extracted themselves from their men and followed me into the living room on the other side of the kitchen.

“I don’t like the sound of this,” Knox grumbled as we left.

“They’re absolutely going to eavesdrop on us,” Lina warned, dropping into a chair and swinging her legs over the arm.

Naomi perched on the couch and patted the cushion next to her. “Is this about the mercurial pain in your ass?”

Lina choked on her wine.

I shook my head. “We’ve called a truce, and no, before you ask, I don’t wish to discuss the terms of said truce.” I heard the back door open and close, followed by the low rumble of male conversation. “This is about what we were talking about regarding legal aid. I wanted to run something by you two.”

I gave them the bare bones of the Mary Louise case.

“I think Allen did something stupid or got caught up in the wrong crowd and his mom protected him. And no one deserves twenty years for protecting their kid. Obviously, I wouldn’t just go and commit your money to anything without discussing it with you first. It might not be the right fit for what we want to do, but I’d at least like to go talk to her and get some more details about her case and her sentencing.” I took a breath and scrubbed my hands over my knees. “So what do you think?”

“I think this is an amazing idea and your dad would be so proud,” Naomi said, squeezing my hand.

“Agreed,” Lina said.

“It could cost a lot. Like more than we have. There wouldn’t be anything leftover for anyone else,” I warned.

“It’s a woman’s life,” Naomi said. “Of course it’s worth it.”

“If you’re sure, then I’d like to meet with her and hear her side of the story if she’s willing to share it.”

“Where is she incarcerated? I’ll go with you,” Lina volunteered.

“Me too,” Naomi agreed. “I’d like to meet her.”

“The fuck you three are.” Knox stomped into the room followed by Nash. Lucian lingered in the doorway.

“Now, Viking—­” Naomi began.

“Don’t you, ‘now, Viking’ me, Daze,” her husband shot back. “You’re not going to prison, even if it is just to have a chat.”

Nash had his arms crossed over his chest and his gaze locked on Lina. She shook a finger at him. “Don’t you even try the bossy-­pants, alpha-­male routine, hotshot. I’ve interviewed prisoners before.”

“Oh, I’m not siding with my dumbass brother. But if you’re goin’, I’m goin’, Angel,” Nash said amicably.

“How about I save everyone a whole lot of marital strife? I’ll go by myself and—­”

There was a resounding “No!” From everyone. Everyone including Lucian.

A flare of temper winked into existence. “To be fair, none of you have any right to tell me what I can and can’t do. I understand the intricacies of relationships, and you all can deal with that yourselves. But I don’t owe that consideration to any of you.”

“You’re not going,” Lucian said as if he had any right whatsoever to make such a decree.

“Can I speak to you outside?” I said through clenched teeth.

“I’ll go with you,” Nash interrupted.

“Well, if you two are going, I’m definitely going,” Lina argued.

“Ahem! This is our money for our initiative,” Naomi reminded the men. “Ergo, we are the ones who get to make the decisions.”

Knox held up a finger like he was about to start yelling and then left the room instead.

His booted footsteps echoed through the house as he stomped away and then back again.

He returned with a checkbook and a pen in hand, Waylon and Piper dancing at his heels.

Knox scrawled ink violently across a check, then ripped it free. “Here. Now I get a say, and you’re not going.”

“You can’t just throw money at everything, Knox,” Naomi pointed out, getting to her feet. “This woman deserves a real second chance.”

“She probably does,” Knox agreed aggressively.

I held up a finger. “Wait. I’m confused.”

“No one’s arguin’ that this isn’t a good cause. But I don’t want to deal with the fallout of you three going in there and getting your hearts broken over some sad story about how life ain’t fair.”

Knox Morgan couldn’t stand tears and brokenhearted females. They were his kryptonite.

“You don’t want us to try to do something good because you’ll be inconvenienced by our feelings?” Naomi looked as if she’d forgotten all about Knox’s dishwasher-­loading prowess.

“That’s not what I said, Daze.”

“Actually,” Lina interjected, “it kind of is.”

“Not helping, Solavita,” Knox said under his breath.

“Don’t take a tone with her, or I’ll kick your ass and then arrest it,” Nash warned his brother.

I stood up on the ottoman and whistled. “Everyone shut up!”

They all shut their mouths and looked at me.

“Obviously, this is a hot-­button issue. Let me do a little more research, and then we can discuss this like rational adults.”

There was a grumbling chorus of “fines” and “okays.”

“Hey, what do you guys like to take for cramps?” Lina asked me suddenly.

Knox and Lucian vanished from the room like someone had just suggested we form a trust circle.

Nash ran his hands over Lina’s hips. “You okay, Angel?”

She winked at him. “Yeah. I just wanted to get the testosterone out of here so I can interrogate Sloane about her dating app.”

“On that note, I’m out.” But he didn’t leave before planting a steamy kiss on his fiancée.

“Wow,” I said, fanning myself.

“Yeah. Wow,” Lina said dreamily as we all watched Nash leave. He really did have a butt that didn’t quit.

The haze disappeared when Nash’s ass did. I flopped back down on the couch. Waylon the basset hound hurled himself into my lap, pinning me to the cushion. He let out a snorty sigh as I played with his silky ears.

“So how’s the app going? How many men are you talking to? Any dates lined up?” Lina asked.

“I think I might not have completed the profile correctly. I haven’t matched with anyone. No messages, no matches, no unsolicited dick pics.”

“You must have just missed a step in the setup process,” Naomi said loyally.

“Lemme see,” Lina said.

I opened the app and tossed my phone to her.

Lina’s eyebrows arched. “I’m sorry. Are you trying not to get laid?” she asked.

“What are you talking about?” Had I accidentally uploaded the wrong picture? Maybe someone had hacked my account and said I was into ritual sacrifice and attending spelling bees.

“It can’t be that bad,” Naomi insisted. Lina turned the screen in her direction, and my friend winced. “Okay. She’s definitely self-­sabotaging.”

“What exactly is so wrong with my profile?” I demanded, struggling with the dead weight of the snoring basset hound.

“Let’s ask the experts,” Lina suggested.

“Don’t you dare!”

But it was too late. The men, who had obviously been eavesdropping again, appeared in the doorway.

“Someone say experts?” Nash asked with a charming grin.

Lina held up my phone. “Tell me why you wouldn’t click on this profile.”

The Morgans leaned in and then out again in unison.

“Jesus, Sloaney. What are you trying to do, repel dicks?” Knox said.

I withered in embarrassment as Lucian glanced at the screen. Unlike his friends, he didn’t flinch. He smirked.

“What’s the first problem?” Lina asked as if she were instructing a class.

“Cat,” the brothers said together.

“Wait. What about the cat? Cats are cute,” I argued.

“A cat in the profile picture says crazy cat lady,” Nash explained.

“And cat in the username screams it,” Knox added, stroking his beard. “Then there’s the hair color.”

Waylon snorted out another snore, vibrating my lap. “It was Santa Story Hour. The red and green were temporary,” I said defensively.

“Wild hair colors in the main profile picture is a clue that the woman could be high-­maintenance and—­” Nash said.

“Attention whorey,” Knox added.

I grabbed my dyed ends. “That’s rude.”

“I’m not sayin’ it’s true. I’m sayin’ what you put in a dating profile is what you think are your best qualities. And all your ass is sayin’ is that you like cats and weird hair.”

“Then there’s the fact that you’re dressed in an elf costume,” Lina piled on. “Sloane, you’re a smart girl. Why in the hell would you ever pick this picture?”

“The lighting was great. I liked my smile. And the angle made my cheekbones look more defined. Besides, I thought showing me with a cat would tell guys that I’m nurturing.”

“Why the fuck do you want to look nurturing?” Knox asked, horrified.

“Because she’s ready to settle down and start a family,” Naomi told her husband.

“I need a drink,” Lucian muttered under his breath. He left the room.

“No offense, Sloaney, but this profile doesn’t make you look like marriage material. It makes you look like a human red flag,” Nash said.

“Are these rules written down somewhere?”

“Yeah, on a place called the internet,” Knox shot back.

“Great,” I muttered. “So how do I fix this?”

“Now, that we can help you with,” Lina announced.

By the time Lucian returned to the room with a tumbler of liquor, I was standing against the stone fireplace holding a glass of wine—­which according to Naomi said responsible but fun—­with my hand on my hip, pretending to laugh at something self-­appointed art director Knox was saying while Lina took pictures.

Nash had removed a lampshade from a floor lamp and was angling the light bulb in my face.

“I’m hilarious and you’re having the best fucking time,” Knox insisted on a near snarl.

“Maybe if you’d tell me a joke,” I suggested, wondering if I should have just skipped over dating and gone straight to the sperm bank instead.

“Hmm. Do you think we should show more boob or more stomach?” Lina asked, cocking her head and studying me.

“Boob,” the Morgan men said in unison.

Lucian was looking at me with a strangely murderous expression on his face. I stared back.

“Oh, I think we’ve got one. You look all smoldery and sexy,” Lina said, studying the phone screen.

Naomi peeked over her shoulder. “Yet approachable and interesting.”

Knox and Nash leaned in to give their opinions.

“Hot, but not too hot,” Knox decided.

“You’ll land a husband in no time,” Nash agreed. “And we’ll make sure he’s worthy when you do.”

“Let me see,” I demanded.

I glanced at the screen when they held it up and felt heat rise in my cheeks. I’d been giving Lucian the side-­eye. That was how I looked when I looked at him? My chin was jutted out, lips parted, eyes smoldering. I looked hot…and horny.

Damn. I actually looked good.

Lucian approached and, to my humiliation, peered at the photo. His gaze returned to me, and I knew he got it. He knew that I’d been looking at him. That that look had been just for him. What was one more secret between the two of us?

“I need a real drink,” I muttered, putting my untouched wine down on the coffee table.

Wordlessly, Lucian handed me his glass and walked out again. I gawked down at it in surprise.

Naomi nudged me. “Look at you two playing nice.”

“Told you electrocuting them wasn’t stupid,” Knox said.

“It’s just a truce,” I said. Then I helped myself to a slug of what turned out to be very nice bourbon.

Waylay sauntered into the room and threw her arm around Naomi’s waist. “What’s going on in here?”

“I thought you were fixing your teacher’s laptop,” Naomi said, brushing Waylay’s hair out of her face.

The girl shrugged. “I finished that in, like, ten minutes. People really need to pay attention to their virus software. Easiest thirty bucks I made all week. Anyway, you guys sounded like you were having more fun than I was. I came to snoop.”

“We’re helping Sloane with her dating profile,” Naomi explained.

“Cool. Can I have more cobbler?” Waylay asked.

“Only if you get me a second helping,” Nash called from where he was putting the shade back on the lamp.

Naomi opened her mouth, but Waylay held up a hand. “Sorry, Aunt Naomi. But a grown-­up already said I could and I’m not willing to wait for a second opinion.”

“Fine, but I’m coming with you and making sure your second helping doesn’t weigh half a ton,” Naomi conceded. They headed for the kitchen just as Lucian returned with another glass.

“Let’s talk about this username,” Lina said, drawing my attention away from him and back to the topic at hand.

Nash peered over her shoulder, his hands settling on her hips. “Four-­EyedCatLibrarian?”

I winced. Okay, even I had to admit that wasn’t my finest moment of creativity. “What do I want my username to say about me?”

“That you’re not crazy,” Knox said, settling himself on the couch. Waylon hopped up next to him and flopped over on his back.

While my friends decided on a new username, I sipped bourbon in a wingback chair by the fire and wondered why I was so bad at this. I could rock a grant application like a boss. Put me in a social situation, and I could charm the pants off a cute, single guy in record time. But having to market myself in profile form felt overwhelming and stupid.

“You’re holding your wrist,” Lucian said, his voice low and grave.

I jolted. I’d been so lost in thought I hadn’t felt him approach.

“What?” I glanced down and realized I was absentmindedly rubbing my right wrist with my opposite hand.

“Does it still bother you?” His voice was soft, but there was something brittle about the words.

“No. Of course not,” I said, dropping my hands.

Naomi reappeared. “Did you hurt yourself?” she asked, proving that becoming Waylay’s guardian had given her superhuman hearing.

“Is it carpal tunnel?” Lina asked.

“I, uh, broke my wrist in high school. It was no big deal,” I added quickly.

Knox frowned. “I don’t remember that.”

“You had already graduated. It happened right before summer break.”

“I forgot about that,” Nash mused. He pinned me with a long, inscrutable look. As chief of police, Nash would have access to all those old records.

“How did you break it?” Waylay asked.

I purposely didn’t look at Lucian, but I could still feel his attention on me. “The same way a teenager breaks anything. With a lot of clumsiness and a flair for drama.”

“And it still bothers you?” Naomi asked me.

“No. I barely think about it anymore.”

Lina hooted. “Guess who just got three matches and two DMs?”

“Who?” I asked, perking up.

“BlondDirtyBookReader,” she said and triumphantly tossed me my phone.

Three photos of reasonably attractive, not insane men stared back at me.

“You guys are miracle workers,” I told them.

“Look at that. You’re practically married already,” Naomi teased.

On a low growl, Lucian abruptly left the room.

“What the hell crawled up his ass?” Knox wondered as he stole Waylay’s spoon and helped himself to some of her cobbler.

“Maybe he had to fart,” Waylay suggested.


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