Page 49

"Zoe, are you crying?" he asked, feeling like he'd just been kicked in the balls.

"No!" she said, sounding outraged, but he didn't miss the way she ducked her head or tried to wipe her eyes on the back of her sleeves. "I just have something in my eye that's all."


He messed up on the gift. Damn it, maybe he should have just gotten her that little German Sheppard puppy that he'd spotted in the pet store. The damn thing looked so small and lonely and he knew that Zoe would just love the damn thing and Toby would probably like a little friend. Well, it looked like he'd be hitting the mall again and picking out a different gift.

It was all Jason's fault.

The bastard, he thought as he picked up a particularly large chicken drumstick and held it up to taunt the bastard only to spot Jason holding up a large juicy looking rib. There were ribs? he wondered, licking his lips. Zoe's small little sniffle brought him back. Focus. Zoe first, ribs second and oh, there would be ribs.....lots and lots of ribs.

He reached across the table to take the e-reader out of her hand. "I'll take it back and get you something else--ow!" he yelped, pulling his poor battered hand away from the crazed woman.

"Mine," she said, hugging the e-reader to her chest as she glared at him.

"But, I was just-"

"Mine," she said more firmly.

He held up his hands in surrender. "Fine. It's yours," he said, secretly pleased that she liked it enough to attack him. Always a good sign when giving a woman a gift, although he couldn't remember any of his past girlfriends, not that Zoe was his girlfriend, willing to harm him if he threatened to take a gift away from them. Not that he ever gave them anything more than a gift card for their birthday or Christmas, but still, he was taking it as a good sign.

"Thank you, I love it," she said, sounding close to tears again. Ah hell, he'd rather have her attack him than cry.


"I'm fine," she said, wiping at her eyes again. "I just need to use the bathroom," she announced, getting to her feet and reluctantly putting her gift down. "Thank you," she said, again, looking even closer to crying.

"You're welcome," he said, wishing he could take her into his arms and make her feel better. Maybe he should back off on their arrangement and let the poor woman get some rest. He really couldn't have her crying over every little thing, especially now that he decided to get her that damn puppy.

Which he was naming, damn it!


She felt so stupid.

Why the hell was she crying all the time? Okay, so it wasn't really all the time, but it was a lot more than she normally cried, which was pretty much never. Then again she was pretty tired lately, but she was pretty sure that had nothing to do with the reason why she was crying now.

Trevor had given her the nicest gift she'd ever received. Growing up in foster care she'd gotten a small gift from whatever family she'd been staying with for birthdays or Christmas, but it was never anything much or personal, most of the time it was just something that they probably grabbed while they stood in the checkout line. The few boyfriends she'd have over the years had given her some flowers or candy, basic dating fair, but she couldn't actually remember any of them giving her an actual gift, which probably had something to do with the fact that she usually didn't have a boyfriend around her birthday or Christmas. She'd received a few little token gifts from friends over the years that she really loved, but no one had ever given her a gift like this.

The gift was thoughtful and sweet and something that she truly wanted. No one had ever taken the time to buy her something special for absolutely no reason at all before and god help her, but she feared she was a little more than halfway in love with the big jerk.

"That's just what I need," she mumbled to herself as she pressed the cold wet paper towel to her eyes. It would just be her luck to fall in love with a man who would never see her as anything more than a convenience.

Unfortunately knowing there was never going to be anything more didn't stop her from doing something completely stupid like fall madly in love with him.

When this was all over she knew she would be broken and losing Trevor was going to hurt more than anything she'd ever experienced before, but right now she was pushing that rather depressing thought aside and focusing on the here and now. Right now she had a great job, a great apartment, and a great guy to spend time with as long as they kept it simple.

Although it was actually starting to hurt that he wanted to keep their relationship, well it really couldn't be called a relationship, secret she realized that in the end it might be for the best. When this was over she didn't want anyone to look at her with pity.

Hell bent on enjoying her new gift, spending a little more time with Trevor and hopefully getting answers to a few questions that kept her up late at night, Zoe forced all the depressing thoughts out of her head and left the bathroom and came to a skidding stop.

"You can't ban us over that!" Jason said, holding Cole, who was happily devouring a cookie, on his hip as he was being herded out the door by what appeared to be a manager and several very nervous employees. Granted, she'd be nervous too if she was responsible for coming between not just one Bradford male, but all of them from the looks of it.

Seriously, what the hell had they done?

She was only in the bathroom for five minutes, ten minutes tops. How was that enough time to get an entire family banned?

Trevor, glaring at several young men who were obviously Bradfords, gestured for her to walk over.

"Can you hold, Elizabeth?" Haley said before she could take so much as a step in the direction of the exit, startling her.

Zoe readied her arms automatically for the sleeping baby girl. She was so adorable and clearly favored the Bradford side with her coloring. She really was a pretty little girl.

"I can't believe she slept through all of that," Haley whispered, sounding a little freaked out. It was then that she noticed the woman was trembling.

"Haley, are you okay?" she asked, wondering just what the hell happened.

Haley forced one of her smiles, but it didn't quite meet her eyes. "Do you mind carrying her out for me?"

"Of course," Zoe answered, for the first time noticing the horrified expressions on the rest of the customers' faces as they watched all the Bradford men as they were herded out of the building.

Suddenly she wasn't so sure that she wanted to know what she'd missed.

Chapter 25

This arrangement wasn't working for him any longer, he realized as he stepped over his boys fighting over that damn pretty pink princess chew toy. He hung up their leashes and headed up the stairs only to come to an abrupt halt when his sleep hazed mind remembered something.

Grunting at Toby and Max to keep it down, he walked into Zoe's kitchen. He yawned as he grabbed a glass, dropped some ice into the cup and filled it with ginger ale. As he was leaving he shot a glance at the clock stove and nearly groaned. It was nearly eight o'clock in the morning and if he didn't leave soon he'd probably miss out on the fresh baked muffins his aunts made every Thanksgiving morning, but he should be able to make it in time for the huge breakfast spread they put out.

If he didn't haul ass soon he wouldn't have the proper nourishment that helping prepare Thanksgiving dinner for his family required. He had about three hours of peeling, chopping, dicing, washing dishes, and at least one emergency run to the store for whatever ingredient the women of his family needed to complete the insanely delicious dinner they'd serve at one o'clock promptly, but first he wanted to check on Zoe and tell her that things just weren't working out for him anymore.