“Congratulations,” he said quietly. Calmly. As if it mattered not one bit, when they both knew it mattered a whole hell of a lot.
“It’s not a done deal,” she said.
“They’re going to pay her beaucoup bucks,” Anna said. “She’d be crazy not to take it.”
“You deserve it,” Josh said quietly.
“Okay!” Anna said, turning her chair away from the table. “So who’s ready to go home?”
Grace stood up and went through her purse for cash to cover their bill. Josh put a hand on hers and turned and sent a look in Jan’s direction.
Jan jerked her chin in acknowledgment. She’d put it on Josh’s account.
In the parking lot, Grace hesitated. She figured Anna would go with Josh, but Anna was at Grace’s car, struggling with her chair. Grace looked at Josh. “I’ve got her.”
Jaw tight, he stepped forward and helped Anna get into Grace’s car before turning to his.
Twenty minutes later, Grace had dropped Anna at home and met Toby at the bus stop. They’d no sooner walked in the door than Josh showed up.
“Hey,” Grace said, surprised, “you done with your shift?”
“No. I drove over there but I need to do this. Where’s Anna?”
“In her room.”
She could hear his phone going crazy in his pocket. Josh ignored it and headed down the hall. Not wanting to be near the impending explosion, Grace took Toby into the kitchen, setting him up with carrots and yogurt dip. But as it turned out, voices could carry.
“Just tell me what the hell you were doing alone on the highway like that,” came Josh’s voice.
“Coming home from Devon’s.”
“I told you not to see him anymore.”
“That’s not your decision to make,” Anna said.
“What happened there, Anna?” His voice was low and controlled. Angry.
“You don’t want to know,” she said.
“I do want to know.”
Their voices were escalating. Grace shoved more carrots at Toby, then looked around for Tank, thinking the pup could be counted on for a good diversion. Surely he’d be chewing on a piece of furniture or doing something bad. But Tank was sitting at her feet, looking wistful and sad at being left out of the carrot party.
Where was a loud “arf arf” when she needed one?
“Puppies like carrots,” Toby said.
“Choking hazard,” Grace said.
“Talk to me,” Josh said to Anna.
“Fine!” came Anna’s raised voice. “I was going to lose my virginity today! Happy now? Are you thrilled I told you?”
“Anna.” Josh’s voice sounded tight, like he was having trouble getting the words out. “You can tell me anything, you know that. But this…with him? Jesus. How stupid can you be?”
Uh-oh, Grace thought. He’d just waved a red cape in front of the bull.
From down the hall, silence thundered, so thick Grace could scarcely breathe through it.
But apparently Anna could. “I can do what I want with my life. I’m a grown-up.”
“Then act like one.” Josh wasn’t yelling like Anna, but he was close. “And you’re not a grown-up until you can support yourself.”
“Daddy’s mad,” Toby whispered.
Grace again looked at a calm, quiet Tank. “Are you kidding me?” she asked the puppy. “Really, you’re going to behave now?”
“This is stupid!” Anna yelled at her brother. “It’s not like you’re a saint! You don’t have to follow any rules or listen to anyone! You get to do whatever—and whoever—you want.”
“Anna—” He broke off, and Grace imagined him shoving his fingers into his already disheveled hair in frustration. She felt the frustration as her own because she knew that everything he did was for his family. Anna knew that too. Grace waited for him to say so, even as she knew he wouldn’t.
“The way I live my life,” he said, “the things I do, aren’t up for discussion. Period.”
“Even the babysitter?”
Grace sucked in a breath. Toby looked at her with a thoughtfulness that belied his five years, while she did her best to look innocent. “More yogurt?” she asked desperately. “Jedis need strong bones. Here, have some milk too.”
“Tank’s sad,” Toby said. “He wants a carrot.”
Tank spun in circles before sitting and offering a paw and a hopeful smile.
“See?” Toby said. “He’s saying please.”
Grace gave up and went to the cabinet for a doggie cookie.
“I just wanted to be normal,” Anna flung at her brother, her words booming down the hall. “I wanted to feel like a woman, Josh. And Grace said—”
“Wait a minute. Grace knew?”
“She guessed,” Anna said. “And it’s not like I could tell you. You couldn’t possibly have understood because you’re like a machine. No feelings allowed.”
This was followed by another thundering beat of silence, during which Grace hoped Josh wasn’t killing his sister. But he’d taken an oath to save lives, so probably he was just grinding his teeth into powder.
“If that’s how you feel,” he finally said, sounding very tired, “then you should go.”
“That’s what I’m saying! I want to go to Europe!”
“No, I mean go. Move out. If you can’t be happy here, or at college, then you need to go figure your life out and learn to support yourself.”
Another silence, this one loaded with utter shock.
Grace grimaced. Perfect—an ultimatum, which, hello, never worked, especially on angry twenty-one-year-olds. Plus, Anna was so similar to Josh, down to every last stubborn hair on her stubborn head. How could he not see that?
Granted, Grace didn’t have a whole hell of a lot of experience with blood ties. Actually, she had zero experience with blood ties. But even she knew that no one could tell Josh what to do. So why would he think it’d work on the sister who was so much like him?
Grace started down the hall with some half-baked idea of trying to butt in and somehow finesse the situation and ran smack into Josh coming out of Anna’s room. “Sorry,” she said. “I thought maybe I could help…”
“You can’t,” Anna said from her doorway, eyes flashing. “No one can help because he’s an overbearing, uptight, rigid asshole who doesn’t listen.”
“I always listen,” Josh said. “You just don’t like what I say.” He looked at Grace for backup, and she hesitated.
“Jesus,” Josh said, and tossed up his hands as Anna wheeled past them both, heading toward the door. “Where are you going?” he asked her.
“What do you care? You told me to move out.”
“Oh, for chrissakes, Anna. I didn’t—”
The door slammed.
Josh inhaled sharply and turned to Grace.
She tried a weak smile. “Well that went well, huh? Talking it out…” She trailed off when he rolled his eyes. “Okay, so it didn’t. But an ultimatum, Josh? Really? You’re a doctor. You’re supposed to be smarter than that.”
God save her from annoying alphas. “Oh, come on,” she said. “You lost that fight the minute you tried to tell her what to do instead of discussing it—”
“Discussing it never works with her.”
“Are you sure you actually gave it a shot?” Grace asked.
Josh’s eyes narrowed. “I’ve tried everything over the past five years. Asking, telling, begging…”
She doubted the last part. She couldn’t imagine Josh begging for anything. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. The night Mrs. Porter had died and he’d been drunk, he’d begged a little then. Don’t stop, Grace. Oh fuck, please don’t ever stop.
He probably didn’t want to be reminded of that right now.
The truth was, his parents’ deaths had thrust him into some uncomfortable, unnatural roles—being his sister’s parent, the head of household, protector…everything. He’d been wearing all the hats and working an incredibly demanding job on top of it. It’d taken its toll on their relationship.
But Anna wasn’t that same sixteen-year-old anymore either. “She’s growing up,” Grace said. “She’s old enough to make her own mistakes.”
“And you’re an expert on family now?” he asked. “You, the queen of running away from your own family problems?”
“Okay, now that’s not really fair,” she said slowly, stung. “I didn’t exactly run away—”
“No, you just lied rather than tell them your dreams don’t match theirs.”
She opened her mouth but he wasn’t done. “You took Anna’s side.” He said this in his quiet, calm voice. His professional, detached voice, and that really got to her.
Her parents talked to her in that same voice when she’d disappointed them or had somehow—no matter how inadvertently—stepped off the expected path.
No judgment, never that, but no real emotional attachment either. No feeling.
She processed the unexpected pain of that as well.
Josh mistook her silence for something else. “You took her side,” he repeated, “over me.”
She found her voice, which was not void of emotion, thank you very much. She was getting pissed off. “I didn’t realize we were taking sides.”
“And then,” he went on, “you pulled the passive-aggressive card by going behind my back about Anna—”
“Now wait a minute.” She realized he’d been spoiling for a fight since he’d walked in the door, and ding-ding, he’d just gotten one. “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said. “And I’m not passive aggressive. I just…”