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Then I sat in my truck like a goddamn stalker and waited. No ‘Stewart from the office’ ever showed up. The lights went out, and her house went dark and silent.

I’m pissed that she’s using excuses to push me away, but I’m even more pissed that she isn’t letting me be there when I know she needs me. She’s slipping so far away that I’m not sure anyone will be able to catch her this time.

I can tell she’s going through some heavy shit. Izzy and Axel have finally worked out their issues. The boys and I have a running bet on how long it’s going to take for those two to either get hitched or knocked up. I know she is happy for her friend; she genuinely looks happy when she’s around Izzy, so whatever her issues are, they have nothing to do with jealousy.

With their reconciliation, Izzy moved out of the condo she shared with Dee. I could tell Dee’s heart was breaking when she helped her best friend pack up her life and move in with Ax. No one else noticed because she kept the smile in place and the laughter flowing. But I knew. I saw it the second I walked in the door and all I could think about was taking her in my arms and easing her hurt. The worst part was the fear in her eyes when everyone went to leave. I could feel the terror rolling off of her, but she just smiled weakly and shut the door.

Looking down at the mess I’ve made out of the kitchen table I’ve been busy putting together, I throw the screwdriver against the wall and stand up from the garage floor. Note to self, no home improvement projects when I’m pissed off.

“Goddammit!” With a kick that would make David Beckham proud, the table I’ve spent the last two weeks making from scratch is nothing but a good, wood burning pile.

“What’s that wood done to you?”

My head shoots up, and I watch as Coop walks into the garage and picks up a piece of wood before laughing softly and dropping it back into the ruined remains.

“Didn’t work the way I thought it would.” Ha. How true is that?

“You talking about the little Tim the Tool Man project or Dee?”

“That transparent, huh?” I huff, and walk over to the fridge I’ve got set up outside and grab two beers.

“Yeah, Beck. Not sure why you even waste your time when you can have different pussy every night.” He lifts up his drink, giving a toast to the fact that he’s a complete man-whore.

“Not everyone is content waiting for the next outbreak of crabs.”

He laughs awkwardly before adjusting his crotch. Disgusting. If I didn’t know how anal he is about getting checked, I might be concerned that he is really worried.

“Funny. You need to wake up out of this funk you’ve been in. What happened to the guy that couldn’t wait to get to a new town and start fresh? Hell, you didn’t even really date back in Cali.” He shakes his head and laughs. “No pussy is worth this much work.”

“Damn, Coop. I didn’t know you were such a giant douchebag.”

He doesn’t even flinch at my sarcastic tone. If anything, his smile gets larger.

“Nope. No way in hell I’m a douche because I don’t want my nuts tied down.”

“Yeah, you pretty much are. I’m not even sure how you get chicks in the first place, but I promise you this, you’re the last person I would take relationship advice from.” I start picking up the heap of wood and cleaning up the results of my temper tantrum.

“You’re going about it all wrong, Brother. I’m going to give you some free, Coop ‘the Cooter King’ special advice. You need to make her see what she’s missing. Right now, she’s playing hard to get. You know… Working the power of the pussy. She thinks she has you wrapped around her little finger. Make her see you aren’t her bitch.”

“Did you just refer to yourself as the Cooter King? Jesus Christ, what the hell is wrong with you?”

He just shrugs his shoulders. I shake my head and continue cleaning up. As ridiculous as it is to take advice from him, I’ve got to give him some credit. He makes a little sense.

He finishes his beer before letting himself in my house, calling over his shoulder that he’s using my shower AND my shit to get ready to go out tonight.

I keep cleaning up and continue thinking about what he just spewed out. Normally, when Coop starts running his mouth, we all just roll our eyes and ignore him. But, what if he’s right? What if Dee is just playing hard to get?

My whole body feels the charge of determination. It’s game on time. Coop might be full of shit most of the time, but he really has a point. All Dee sees is me, waiting and chasing. She hasn’t even seen me look at another woman. Hell, I’m not even interested in another woman.

I can see it in her eyes when we’re in the same room. She wants this just as badly as I do.

Well, Denise Roberts… get ready, because I’m coming for you.

****

After Coop finished primping like a damn woman, we headed off to Heavy’s to meet up with everyone. I feel like I’ve been pounding energy drinks all day. The anticipation of making some headway with Dee has my senses going haywire.

My body craves her. And ever since she’s cut me off and started avoiding me, I feel like I’ve been living in hell on earth.

Coop laughs when he sees me check my phone, again, to see if she texted me back yet. Her messages earlier today were more of the same.

Me: Why did you run out of the office before I could see you?

Dee: Needed to take care of some work things.

Me: Really? Using work as an excuse again?

Dee: Yeah, sorry just really busy.

Me: You coming to Heavy’s tonight? I get that you’re busy but I would like to spend some time together where I’m not chasing you around like some stalker.

Dee: Funny, Beck. I’ll be there but not sure if I’ll stay long.

Me: Save me a dance?

Dee: We’ll see.

Me: We could always go out tomorrow night. Like we used to.

That’s all it takes for her to go back to her silence. The second I mention just the two of us doing something, she turns cold. It’s been almost a month, and she hasn’t made it possible to be alone in the same room with her. It’s as if Izzy’s attack turned some switch in her brain that has her afraid of her own shadow.

When the light turns green, I throw my phone into the cup holder. Coop is rambling on about this new bartender at Heavy’s, something about how he just knows she is the one. Yeah, the same douchebag that was talking about not being tied down earlier is now convinced there is one woman that he would spend some extra time with.

Sure, maybe he would devote an extra day to her.

“You know, you could actually make an effort with one? Test the waters. It isn’t a hardship to enjoy the company of the same woman. I don’t know, maybe grow a real relationship?” He snorts, rolls his eyes, and then continues on.

“You know, I’ve tried every trick in the book, and she won’t budge. Not an inch. I’m going to enjoy breaking this one.”

“How are we friends?” Shaking my head, I laugh when I think just how different Coop and I are. Don’t get me wrong. I love the little shit like a brother, but we couldn’t be more different.

“Because I’m the king of the fucking world?”

“You’re delusional.”

I turn the radio on to distract myself and to try to calm the anticipation fueling my nerves. It’s time to make my woman understand she wants me.

****

Heavy’s is packed when we arrive. When we walk in the door, Izzy waves us over, and we begin picking our way through the crowd. Ever since the girls brought us here the first time, this has become the place of choice when we all want to get together for a little ‘family dinner’. Of course, that always turns into pitchers and pitchers of beer, and before we know it, someone is being carried out.

The classic rock is already turned up, and since Coop and I are late to arrive, it looks like the alcohol is already flowing freely.

“We ordered a bunch of wings for you two.” Emmy smiles up at me and moves in so I can squeeze past her. Dee has effectively blocked my chance at getting close to her by holing herself between Izzy and Maddox. I try to make eye contact with her, but she’s looking everywhere but at me.

“Have you been here long, Em?”

She shakes her head, and the light blush that we all find so adorable covers her face.

“No, not too long.” She peeks up again and looks over at Maddox. I laugh softly, which earns me her wide-eyed shock. It’s no secret that she has a major crush on our resident Mr. Untouchable. He’s either clueless, which I have a feeling isn’t the case, not with Maddox, or he just doesn’t want to see sweet Emmy change. He’s not an easy man to deal with, and even I worry that her little crush could end up going sour. One of these days, she’s finally going to come out of her shell though and give that man a run for his money.

“That’s good, Sugar.”

“Yo! Who’s ready to get this party started?” Coop screams when he finally detaches himself from the blonde that grabbed him before he had two feet in the door.

Leave it to Coop to break the ice and have us all eating, drinking, and laughing in no time. I look over at Dee again to see her smiling and joining in, but like always, I see right through her. She’s laughing, but not like she used to. She’s smiling, but it doesn’t come close to making her eyes dance. She’s eating, if you call picking up a fry every few minutes and nibbling, eating. How is it that everyone else is blind to the fact that she needs someone to lean on?

I take another long swallow of my beer, wipe my hands against my jeans, and settle in. I’m just biding my time before I take a risk and try to shake some sense into her.

Let’s just hope I’m not making a huge mistake here.

Thirty more minutes, and I’m getting out of here. Normally, I have no issues being around Beck, but after last weekend, seeing the devastation wash over his face when I told him Stewart was coming over, almost had me giving in.

It’s been so hard to stay away, to keep my distance, and try to squash this thing between us. I feel like my mind and heart are in a constant battle, each wanting something different. But deep down, I know I’m doing the right thing. There is just too much at stake if we give in and attempt a relationship.

For the last hour, Izzy’s been sitting on Axel’s lap, and I’m pretty sure if they could, he would be bending her over the table. It feels so good to know she is finally happy, but watching them is almost nauseating.

I reach out to take another drink when I remember the pitcher went dry a little while ago, sending Coop and Beck to the bar for refills. I lean back in my seat and pick up another French fry that I know I won’t eat.

“Want mine?”

I jump when Maddox’s question tickles my ear.

“Jesus, Maddox… Scare much?”

His lips tip up slightly, and he shrugs.

“I’m not drinking it, if you want it.” He holds out his full glass, and I gladly snatch it from him. The longer I stick around, the more tempting getting fall down drunk seems.

After a long pull, I look around the room again. Where the hell is he? Just when I’m about to give up my stupid search for Beck, my eyes hit the bar and the couple I had overlooked the first sweep through the crowd.

***

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