Yeah. Aidan knew this. He tossed his duffel bag in the back and slid into the shotgun position before laying his head back.
“Coffee’s for you,” Gray said, nodding to the steaming to-go cup in the console.
Aidan reached for it, sipped, and looked at Gray, eyes narrowed. “Sugar and milk?”
“Isn’t that how you like it?”
“Yeah, but since when do you care how I like it?”
Gray didn’t answer, just pulled away from the curb. Shit. Aidan set the cup down. “What’s up?”
“Who says something’s up?” Gray asked casually as he whipped a U-turn.
“When you’re nice to me, something’s always up.”
Gray blew out a breath, and Aidan’s bad feeling deepened. “Mom?”
“No, she’s fine.”
Aidan gave him an impatient go-ahead gesture.
“It’s Dad,” Gray said. “He finally caught up with some of Hudson’s messages and called me back instead of him.”
Aidan stared at his brother’s profile, totally and instantly pissed off for Hudson’s sake. “What the hell did he call you for?”
“Because he’s an asshole who doesn’t want to acknowledge Hud and Jacob exist.”
“What kind of bullshit is that?”
“Hey, I agree, but it doesn’t change the fact that he called me. He wanted to tell me why he wasn’t coming back. Ever.”
Aidan didn’t show his relief, but he was glad he was sitting down.
“Don’t you want to know why?” Gray asked.
“Don’t give a shit, as long as he stays away.”
Gray slid him a look that had Aidan’s feeling going from bad to worse.
“So you’re telling me you don’t care that you are the reason why he doesn’t want to come back or be a part of our lives?”
Fuck. “Pull over.”
“Pull the fuck over,” Aidan snapped.
Gray yanked the truck to the side of the road. For as far as the eye could see there was the narrow two-lane road and trees. Miles and miles of trees. Aidan shoved out of the vehicle and started walking.
“Where the hell are you going?” Gray yelled after him.
Aidan kept moving.
“Goddammit.” This was followed by the sounds of Gray’s running footsteps as he tried to keep up with Aidan.
“You should’ve told me,” Gray said breathlessly. “Back when it happened.”
Aidan shook his head and kept moving. No, he couldn’t have told Gray when it happened. And they weren’t going to talk about it now either.
But Gray finally caught up with him and grabbed his arm, whipping him around. “He told me you caught him,” Gray said, his hair blowing away from his face in the breeze. His eyes went hard. “And he also told me what happened after that.”
Aidan doubted that. “No. No way he’d tell you.”
“You’d walked in on him and his admin going at it at the resort. You tried to run out, but he wouldn’t let you.” Gray’s voice was low and dangerously quiet now, the way it got when he was really seriously ticked off and trying to keep his shit together. “He said that he got so furious and pissed off that he beat the shit out of you and then drank himself into a stupor and passed out. When he woke up you were gone.”
Aidan tipped his head back and stared at the sky. Azure blue. So bright it hurt. He kept staring at it.
“He beat the shit out of you?” Gray asked, sounding raw and devastated.
There was only one cloud, a white puffy cloud in the shape of an elephant, floating lazily across the sky.
“Say something,” Gray begged.
Aidan pointed to the sky. “You see the elephant, or is that just me?”
Gray blew out a breath. “He went looking for you,” he said. “Found you at home with Mom. He figured you’d told her everything, but I know you better than that. You keep your shit bottled tight.”
Aidan closed his eyes, guilt squeezing his airway so tight he couldn’t breathe.
“But apparently Mom figured things out,” Gray said, “and that’s when she went after him with a frying pan. And the rest is history. But Jesus, Aidan. All this time I had no idea you were there that night.” He paused and then said again, “You should’ve told me.”
“No,” Aidan said, eyes still closed.
“No? What the hell, man. He hit you, hurt you. I’m going to—”
Aidan opened his eyes and met Gray’s gaze. “I meant no, I didn’t keep that shit locked up.” Shame burned his throat like he was trying to talk over shattered glass. “I did tell Mom. Not about what he’d done to me, I’d never lay that guilt on her, but about the affair. Even though he’d threatened me and told me that it would kill her, I did. I wanted her to leave him right then and there and she …” He shook his head. “I’d hidden my injuries with a baseball cap and hoodie. She took them off and saw that I had a black eye and my ribs … they weren’t great. That’s when she went apeshit on his ass.”
“Good,” Gray said grimly.
“Don’t you get it?” Aidan asked. “It’s my fault she got hurt, my fault she got arrested. That’s all on me.”
“Are you fucking kidding me? You were just a kid, Aidan—”
“Doesn’t matter, I should’ve protected her,” he said. “Us.”
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