“That fucker was threatening us with bad press,” Gavin growled. “Whatever he almost got, he fucking deserved.”

Quinn rolled his eyes. “Children, please, watch your language. We’re at the dinner table. Let’s talk about something more stimulating than one of Gavin’s unsuccessful attempts to control his temper.”

Gavin opened his mouth to protest, but quickly closed it when I placed a hand on his knee. He laid his hand over mine and gave it a gentle squeeze before letting go to take another bite and tell his brothers about the restoration I was doing on my brownstone.

We continued chatting with relative ease, the jazz playlist Quinn put on providing us with the perfect backdrop.

Occasionally, Cooper and Gavin would bicker in jest until Quinn broke them up and made them call a truce, but there was no venom behind it, for which I was grateful. It truly was like a family dinner, and I smiled to myself, wondering what I’d been so nervous about to begin with.

When dinner was over and the plates were cleared away for dessert, I excused myself to head to the powder room only to come back out and find Quinn waiting for me in the darkened hallway. I startled, pressing a hand to my chest, and he held out a hand to steady me.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you,” he said, his expression solemn. “I just wanted to talk with you, alone.”

I nodded. “Okay, what about?”

“I need a favor,” he said simply.

“I’ll certainly help you in any way I can,” I replied sincerely. He was Gavin’s brother, after all. And a good man by all accounts. If there was something I could do to help him, I was in.

“My brothers are both in love with you,” he said, his tone matter of fact, as if he hadn’t just dropped a bomb on me. My heart clutched in my chest, and I drew a deep, steadying breath. “I need you to choose one of them and let the other one down easy. It’s the only way we can all stay together as a family. I know this isn’t your fault and none of this was your idea, but . . . well, I’ve protected them for as long as I can remember, and I would do anything to keep us all together. I’m sure you can understand that.”

I nodded, swallowing hard to dislodge the knot of panic in my throat. “Y-you got it.” I placed my hand on his muscled forearm, hoping to apologize, to say, well, something, but Quinn took a step back as though my touch had burned him.

Without another word, he turned and headed back to join his brothers, calling out to end yet another argument between them.

For a moment, I stood in the hallway, listening to all of them laugh together, my guilt and shock overwhelming me. I’d never meant to make two men fall in love with me, let alone two brothers.

Could Quinn be right? I knew they both had feelings . . . but love?

I straightened my shoulders and took another steadying breath. I’d unpack the huge weight of this later. For now, all that mattered was that Quinn had asked me for something that I could definitely handle. And if this was what it took to keep this family together?

I would do it.

Because, strangely, I was starting to feel like part of this family too.

On shaky legs, I rejoined the guys for coffee cake and half listened to their conversation while I toyed with my food. My brain was churning, and I found myself both mentally and physically exhausted.

At last, things seemed to come to a lull. Quinn sighed, placing his hands on either side of his plate. “Well, it looks like it’s time to clear up.”

“I’m going to get us all some brandy in the library.” Cooper strode off while Quinn started bustling around in the kitchen behind us.

“Let’s get some fresh air first, huh?” Gavin asked.

I took his hand, letting him lead me through the sunken living room and out onto the wrought-iron terrace overlooking the city. I wanted to help Quinn clean up, wanted to impress him, but knew the way to do that would be to follow through on the favor he’d asked of me.

From up here, the cool breeze whipped around us, blowing my hair in my face as I smiled at the honking, beeping, and buzzing that was the city on a Thursday night.

“Are you having a good time?” Gavin asked, brushing my hair back from my face.

I nodded. “Very nice. I have to wonder, though.” I took a breath and rolled my tongue over my bottom lip, trying to figure out the best way to ask my question. “Is there something going on between you and Cooper? It’s not my business, but things seem tense, and I just want to make sure I’m not the cause of it. I know everything has been stressful since the story broke, but—”

Gavin held up a hand to stop me, then stroked my cheek. “Everything is fine, Emma.”

He went quiet and I waited, listening to the wind whistle past us. After another long moment ticked by, he finally spoke again.

“Cooper still wants a chance with you.”

“I see,” I said carefully. “Did you tell him . . .” I couldn’t bring myself to say the words. Hell, I didn’t even know what words I might have said.

“I didn’t tell him anything.” Gavin looked me square in the eye, then released my cheek from his grasp. “Emma, I want you to be damn sure that I’m the one you want.”

“I am.” I breathed out the words, barely thinking, not needing to think because it was all so clear to me in that moment.

He shook his head. “No, you’re not. Don’t answer yet. Go into the library and let Cooper plead his case, okay? Hear him out, and then decide. Because if you choose me, there’s no going back.”

There was no point in arguing. I searched Gavin’s expression for a long moment, then nodded as I slid open the terrace door and made my way back into the warm living room. Silently, I stalked down the hall to the one room whose door was still open and I crept inside, the wood floorboards creaking underfoot as I closed the door behind me.

As soon as I entered, Cooper turned to look at me, a bemused smile on his face. He nodded to a glass of brandy on the sideboard behind two massive armchairs and I took it, clinking my glass against the one he held aloft.

“So,” I said.

Cooper eyed me thoughtfully. “So . . .”

“An eventful couple of days.” I let out a deep breath, then sank into one of the leather seats.

“Yes, indeed. But I think we’ve got a lot of it under control. Just one thing we still need to figure out.” His gaze rested on mine for a moment, and I looked away, guilty and uncomfortable.

“When you told me about Ashley, you didn’t mention the drugs.”

He shrugged. “Gavin has made it clear to me I never should have told you about Ashley at all.”

“I’m glad you did,” I said quietly.

“I’m glad I did too.”

Another long moment stretched between us and I took a sip of the brandy, wincing at the sweet and smoky bite on my tongue.

“Brandy’s not for everyone,” Cooper said, apparently noticing my expression.

“I guess not.”

He let out a deep breath, glancing out the wide windows between the bookshelves before focusing on me again. “Can I ask you something?”

I nodded. “Of course you can.”

“It’s . . . personal.” He reached for the glass in my hands and set it on the table beside us. “What do you want in a relationship?”

“I’m sorry?” I asked, taken aback by his sudden shift of tone.

“What do you want? Because, the way I see it, I’m looking for someone to give me some of the love I never got. But my brother? He wants to punish women for the love he never had. Our mom fucked us up, and you need to know that you’re running into the arms of the most screwed-up one of us all.”

I blinked, unsure what to say to that. On one hand, I was outraged that he would speak about Gavin that way. But on the other?

I knew he was right, and I also knew that he would have said exactly the same thing if Gavin were in the room.

I finally settled on, “Cooper, I don’t know what to say.”

“Say you choose me. We both know I’m the better option for you, that I’m the one who can make you happy and give you the freedom you want and deserve. Do you really think you’re going to find that with Gavin?” Cooper’s eyes were pleading, even if his voice was not.



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