Brighter Than the Sun

Page 58

Thanks, baby girl. Thank God he wasn’t having to hold this conversation by speaking or he’d never be able to get the words out around the huge knot in his throat. Gotta run now. We’re wrapping up now so you have about ten minutes to prepare.

Love you, Joe.

Love you too, sweetheart. Take good care of yourself and my niece or nephew.

On cue, Allie wrapped up her session and then stepped back, indicating to Sam that the floor was his. Already everyone else was shuffling, picking up stuff they had with them and starting to inch in the direction of the doorway. Sam sighed and merely said, “Dismissed. We’ll readjourn at oh nine hundred tomorrow morning.”

Nathan hesitated, and Joe clapped him on the shoulder. “Don’t bother, man. I can read you like a book. You’re not taking on Sam in my place so I can get home and figure out my game plan for tonight. We’re both going out the back way. Fuck Sam. He can wait until fucking tomorrow.”

Nathan grinned. “That’s not a bad plan. Shea said she had a surprise for me when I got back, and her surprises usually involve sexy new lingerie.”

Joe groaned. “Dude, really? Can we not go there?”

“Gladly,” Nathan said in satisfaction. “You are not getting any intel on how my woman looks in Victoria’s Secret shit.”

Joe cast him a baleful look. “It was you who brought up her lingerie to begin with. Remember?”


ZOE’S stomach was full of butterflies as she finished applying the sheer lip gloss and smacked her lips together as she surveyed her reflection in the mirror. No messy bun tonight. Instead she’d brushed out the long strands, leaving them loose down her back. Despite her earlier concerns about lengthening her hair, she had to admit she liked it. A lot.

When this was all over with and the extensions came out, she had a goal to grow out her hair just as long as it was now. Embarrassment forced her gaze downward as she was unable to even meet her own eyes in the mirror. It was humiliating to admit that she’d worn her hair to a precise length because that was what her father had required. He was very exacting in his requirements. Right down to manner of dress, precise wardrobe, hair, makeup and even jewelry and accessories.

“What you are is a wuss,” she accused the reflection staring back at her. “A spineless jellyfish who’s scared of her own shadow and possesses absolutely no gumption.”

“You’re awfully hard on jellyfish,” Rusty commented dryly from the doorway.

Zoe spun around, horrified that she’d been overheard talking to herself.

“Relax, Zoe. You look frozen stiff. You have to relax, and for God’s sake, cut yourself some slack.”

Zoe sighed. “My life is a mess. It’s always been a mess, and the fact that I’ve never done a single thing to correct that or stand up to my father is beyond mortifying.”

Rusty lifted an eyebrow. “Is that not what you’re doing now? I’m pretty sure dear old dad doesn’t have a clue where you are, what you’re doing or who you’re doing it with.”

A smile glimmered on Zoe’s lips. She fought it but it continued to tug at her mouth until she let out a laugh. “Very true.” Then she giggled harder. “Can you imagine bringing Joe home to meet my dad? My dad would be all pompous and condescending and Joe would be like, ‘I don’t really give a fuck what you think.’”

Rusty broke into laughter, her eyes sparking in merriment. “What’s bad is I can totally see it. I could see it with any of my brothers. Especially Garrett.”

“Is it also bad that I suddenly feel one hundred percent better about tonight’s date?”

Rusty grinned. “You have a liking for rebellion, do you?”

“I guess,” she murmured. “Who knew I’d become such a wild child. I swear for the entirety of my life until now I was a study in obedience and subservience.”

“You had reason,” Rusty said gently. “It’s not a crime to want love and acceptance. Especially from the people who are supposed to give it freely and without condition. I’m not too ashamed to admit that I would have done anything to please my mother and even my shithead stepfather until I finally realized it was pointless and the only thing that had been successful was the deterioration of my self-respect.”

“I know that feeling,” Zoe said glumly.

Rusty checked her watch. “Joe should be rolling up any time now so you need to finish up and head downstairs. If you make him wait tonight, I’m worried he’ll come up the stairs and carry you out over his shoulder. Cut him some slack, Zoe. He was all out of sorts when you had your meltdown after he kissed you. The poor guy was too pitiful even for me to give shit to.”

Zoe rolled her eyes but hurried to complete her makeup. A few minutes later, she stepped back from the mirror.

“That’s as good as it’s going to get.”

“You look perfect,” Rusty said warmly. “And I hear Joe, so not a moment too soon. Let’s go.”

Zoe allowed herself to be herded down the stairs, but she refused to meet Joe’s gaze. It was too embarrassing after freaking out on him the night before. She whispered good-bye to Rusty, Frank and Marlene and then walked out to Joe’s truck with him. He opened her door for her and helped her up before walking around and getting in the driver’s seat.

He cranked the engine but didn’t immediately drive away. He reached over and curled his hand around hers then picked her hand up and pulled it to his mouth to kiss each finger. She stared at him in shock.

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