“Look,” Brady said, scratching the back of his head, “that stuff you said at the wedding during your speech. We haven’t really had a chance to talk since then. You didn’t really mean that you thought you’d been living in my shadow, did you?”

Clay scoffed and shook his head. “It was hard, being your younger brother, Brady. I meant every word, but I’m cool with it now. You do your thing, trying to take over the world or save it or whatever. I’ll do mine.”

“From what I hear…you’re doing some good yourself,” Brady said.

“Where I can,” he said honestly, thinking of the side projects he’d been working on with Gigi.

“That’s the Maxwell way.”

“What are you boys getting on about in here?” Liz asked, coming down the stairs again just as the doorbell rang.

“Nothing, honey,” Brady said.

Andrea rushed to open it as Liz joined them. Chris walked through the front door, and Brady walked over to greet his best friend.

“Nothing, honey,” Liz repeated with a roll of her eyes. “Why do I feel like you’re up to something?”

“Because we usually are,” Clay said with a wink.

Liz poured herself a drink from one of the bottles on the table and took a sip before eyeing him carefully. “I do have one thing to say about all of this.”

“And that is?”

“Maybe you’re not as big of an idiot as I thought you were.”

He sputtered and laughed. “That right?”

“I mean, I know you’re an idiot but maybe not as big as before.”

“Oh, I’m as big as before.”

She rolled her eyes again. “You know what they say about the ones who brag about it.”

“Last I checked, you knew firsthand.”

“You’re a scoundrel,” she said with a laugh.

He touched her shoulder and stared into her baby-blue eyes. “It would have never worked out with us, love.”

She rolled her eyes again.

“I know you’re still beating yourself up about it.”

“Oh, yeah, totally,” she said sarcastically. “Those three weeks in Bora Bora…really upset.”

“I’ll always be the one who got away.”

“Obviously,” she said with a giggle. “Now, tell me everything about how this happened.”

So, Clay launched into the story with Liz as his house slowly filled up. At some point, Gigi, Ethan, and Cash all showed up and stopped in to say hi. Andrea actually pulled Gigi aside to give her a tour. Gigi looked frightened as shit but went regardless. She was still wary of Andrea after the two times she’d thought she’d fucked things up for them. Clay just hoped Andrea would push Gigi in Chris’s direction now that he had moved to D.C. Andrea’s friend Jamie showed up with her husband, and she and Liz traipsed off to discuss the artwork all over the house. And then a bunch of Clay’s coworkers at Cooper & Neilson and people Andrea knew through her art business all filled the space.

Andrea looked way more relaxed now that everyone was here than when they’d first started arriving. She was mingling in the living room with a group of her coworkers whom she’d introduced to him, and he left her to it. He wandered into the kitchen and over to Ethan and Cash. He hadn’t had much time to see them lately…not since he hadn’t been boozing it up like before.

“Hey, guys. Glad you could make it,” Clay said, shaking hands with first Ethan and then Cash.

Ethan held up his beer. “Wouldn’t have missed it.”

“Yeah. Never thought we’d see the day when Andrea actually pussy-whipped you quite this bad,” Cash said.

“He has a point,” Ethan said with a laugh.

Clay went still. Rage filled him from head to toe. He’d always gotten along with the guys. They’d had their differences, and he’d grown tired of them over the last couple of months, but he couldn’t handle this shit any longer. They’d always talked shit about Andrea before, and he just couldn’t allow that anymore.

“It was my idea to move in together actually,” Clay said. His tone was dangerous and filled with warning.

Ethan seemed to get the message, but Cash had always been an idiot.

“Man, she even has you convinced that you want this shit. That old ball and chain. Hope you’re still fucking some hot pussy on the side.” Cash took a huge swig of his beer.

It took everything in Clay not to punch Cash in the face. It had been a while since this anger had filled him so completely, but he wasn’t going to brutalize his own friend.

“Don’t fucking talk like that in my goddamn house,” Clay growled.

“What the fuck, man?” Cash asked.

Ethan smacked his arm. “Dude, I think he’s serious.”

“Yeah, I’m fucking serious.”

“Aw, come on,” Cash said with a laugh. “I am just joking. Weren’t we just joking, Ethan?”

“No, you weren’t,” Clay said. “And you’re not going to joke about Andrea anymore. I’m putting my foot down. You have always treated her like shit and talked shit about her, and I will no longer fucking tolerate it. You don’t know the woman that she’s become. You clearly don’t know shit,” he said darkly. “So, fucking think before you talk like that again about my girl. If it’s you or her, I’m choosing her. Every time. So, get fucking used to it.”

“Hey, I’m sorry,” Ethan said quickly. “I hope you don’t think we’re serious about Andrea. We always knew she was your girl. Just…thought things were back to the way they were.”

“Well, they aren’t.”

“Don’t get all uptight about it, Clay,” Cash said quickly. He seemed to have realized that he’d actually gone too far. That was a real feat. “We get it. You’re a one-woman man now. We’ll back off.”


Clay took a deep breath and then reached his hand out to his friends. They each shook his hand again, and then the conversation shifted to the law jobs that Ethan and Cash had at the same firm uptown. It was easy to fall back into that conversation with them, but he was glad he’d laid down the law. Things had changed, and they needed to know talking about Andrea that way wouldn’t be tolerated, but he didn’t exactly want to give up his friends. They were idiots, but they were his idiot friends. Every group had at least one.