Missing (The Brannock Siblings Book 3) (8 page)

The more she stewed about it and the longer she stared at
him, his eyes pleading with her and telling her he wanted a chance, the more
she realized that the two men were one and the same. The bad boy jerk wasn't
ever really a jerk at all since she had equally thrown her own sass back at him
and what person
wouldn't
go on the defensive?

If she was being honest with herself, and she liked to think
she was honest with herself more often than not, she liked him regardless. Even
when he was being an ass, he was being a semi respectful ass. He had never been
outright brutal to her even thought he could have been.

Yes, his job was dangerous and she didn't think she could
ever be romantically involved with a man who might not be around forever
because he was surrounded by bad guys every day, but she could be
friends
with one.

"Okay. You can come."

His shoulders slumped in relief and the smile on his face
lit her up like a Christmas tree. "Great. Lily is cooking, though,
right?"

"Yes! She is, you jerk!" she snapped and turned to
walk away.

"Hey, I'm sorry," he said quickly and grabbed her
arm again, effectively stopping her retreat. As usual.

"I know I'm a terrible cook, but for the love of God,
stop reminding me. I'm reminded every day without
you
making fun of
me."

She was getting emotional and couldn't figure out why. Maybe
it was the lack of sleep the night before or the still fresh disappointment in
losing the only man she had ever really been able to talk to only to end up
realizing he
hadn't
been the only one. Either way, her eyes were
watering and they weren't going to stop unless she took extreme measures.

"Shhh, I'm sorry," Gus cooed and his fingers
caressed her cheek before gently gripping the back of her neck. His thumb
pressed under her jaw, forcing her to lift her eyes to his. "How about
this? I promise to not make fun of your cooking anymore."

"Really?" she used her best sarcastic voice.
"And what's the catch?"

Those damn lips of his, they stretched into the most
devastating smile she had ever seen and his eyes twinkled again. Now she knew
what that twinkle meant; mischief.

"If you promise never, and I mean
never
, to make
lasagna again."

Suddenly, her emotional head trip switched into hysterical
laughter. She couldn't stop it if she tried. She laughed harder than she had in
a long time and Gus never let go of her as he stared at her, his eyes bright
and his cheeks flushed. She didn't know how long she laughed for, but when she
finally caught her breath, it was taken once more.

"You're so beautiful." His voice was gentle and
sure, almost awed.

She didn't know what to say so she decided not to say
anything in response to the most romantic words she had heard since last night
when he had said the same thing. "I promise not to make lasagna again. I
don't even like it anyway."

His eyes shifted down to her lips, "That's because
you've never had it cooked right. My sister, Ash, makes the best lasagna
around. One bite of that and you'll be converted."

"We'll see about that."

"Yes, we will," he winked and released his hold on
her.

She immediately missed his touch, but took a step back to
distance herself from him. Maybe she didn't have to lose the only guy she could
ever truly talk to, but she wasn't going back to falling for him. She could
have him as a friend. Lots of women had best friends that were men, right?

She could do that. Be friends with Gus. The cop. The always
smiling, always witty neighbor who just happened to have a million things in
common with her. She could be friends with him and maybe see about answering
one of the other few messages on her profile from men who had been interested
in her, too. The thought made her stomach crawl.

"I'll see you tonight then."

"Sounds good."

She hurried and walked away before he could distract her
anymore. Once she hit the first landing and the sound of his door clicking shut
reached her ears, she sighed heavily.

Friends. Friends had dinner together all the time.

Lily would be there anyway.

Oh great! Lily will be there.

Gus' number one fan.

"I'm screwed."

 

 

Chapter 4

Gus

It was the longest day of my life, waiting for Aiden to get
home. I knew the minute she did because I never strayed far from my door that
afternoon. I spent the morning on the phone with the captain, Pax, Eckart, and
Lincoln. None of us could really just sit back and wait so we brainstormed for
a few hours.

Turns out the security tapes at the station gave us more
than we thought they would. This guy was careful, but he slipped up, just like
Payne said he would. There was no way to see his face when the letter was
dropped, but it was
something
, and something was better than nothing.

They had several people running through additional tapes and
asking questions around the station. Even though we know he was there, he must
have made himself inconspicuous enough that no one really remembered him.

Pax and Eckart were spending the rest of the day with
business owners around the station who had security cameras on the outside of
their buildings. I still hadn't heard any word, but I didn't think there would
be much to find. In fact, as the hours dragged on, I was beginning to think
this guy
meant
to get on camera. Just to piss us off.

By the time afternoon hit, I couldn't hold off any longer. I
knew I'd be getting the call soon and I didn't want it to be during dinner so I
sucked it up.

"Gus. How's it going, brother?"

"Con."

"So? How'd it go?"

I hesitated long enough for him to understand that the night
hadn't turned out the way I hoped it would.

"That bad, huh?"

"Shit, Con. She's the neighbor."

"What? The neighbor. Who's the neighbor? The red
head?"

"Yes."

"Well, Gus, I already knew that, but I don't get how
that has to do with-" he paused suddenly and then burst out laughing.
"Wait, wait, wait! Your date was your neighbor? The red head you can't
stand?"

I growled into the phone and dropped my head into my hand,
"Yes."

"Oh, God. That's… that's just hilarious! So fucking
hilarious! Hey, Em, guess what?"

"I'm gonna go, Con. Just hold off on telling Luke. He's
going to want to put his two cents in and I'm not ready to talk to him
yet."

"Why not?" he asked with a chuckle and I heard
Emily in the background asking what was so funny.

Apparently, Ash still hadn't told him about the pregnancy
and I wasn't about to, so I let him tell Emily what was going on instead of
answering him. Her laughter was refreshing, but it was still annoying how much
entertainment they were getting out of my love life.

"I'll talk to you guys later. I've got plans tonight
with Aiden and I don't want your attitudes to mess the vibes I'm trying to hold
on to."

"Who is Aiden?"

"My neighbor."

"She agreed to see you again? After all the shit you
two have done to each other."

"Yeah. She drives me crazy, but you don't get it, Con.
I was talking to her for months and I… I can't just let that go." I wanted
to say I was falling for her, had
already
fallen hard for the side of
her I knew so well. Now, after seeing
all
of her, knowing the other side
of the woman that I couldn't stand but couldn't seem to stay away from… no way
I could shut my eyes now.

"No, Gus. I
do
get it. I told you that you were
next. Embrace it and I'll tell you what Luke told me when I was first with
Emily. Fighting it only makes it worse. It's worth it, brother."

"Thanks, Con."

His voice was muffled and the softness in his tone told me
they were having a moment together based on what he had just said. I wanted to
get the hell off the phone, but no luck.

"Em wants a word," Con said quickly and handed off
the phone.

"Gus, I'm so happy for you," Emily exclaimed. I
missed her just as much as I missed Ash. She had become a good friend to me
since she first entered our lives and she was too good for my brother, but he
already knew that.

"Nothing has happened yet, Em. She still can't stand
me, but I'm going to change that."

"A woman doesn't make plans with someone she can't
stand, Gus. From what you've told us about her, your neighbor
especially
doesn't make plans with someone she can't stand. She's good for you, I've known
all along."

I wasn't sure how, but I knew without a doubt she was
telling the truth. These women knew things that we men could never hope to
understand. It's just how God made us. At least, that's what Mom always said
and what was proven to us over and over again.

"We'll see what happens tonight. I'm not about to give
her up because of a misunderstanding."

"Good. We'll talk later then."

"Sounds good. Love you guys."

"You, too. Bye."

Yep, Emily was good for Con and my brother knew he didn't
deserve her, but he wasn't going to stop trying.

It was on that thought that I heard the voices out in the
hall.

Aiden.

Then a small giggle.

Little Aiden.

Then a knock on my door.

I didn't think it would be Aiden herself because let's face
it, she couldn't be as desperate as I was to see her. At least, that's how it
appeared. After the months we'd spent getting to know each other and realizing
we really didn't know much at all, I still didn't doubt she was the one I
wanted. I had never been so sure of anything in my life than I was in that
moment at the restaurant when our eyes connected and knowledge rained down.

It was only made clearer by her fiery attitude.

I opened the door to find Lily standing there with a beaming
smile and a hand on her hip. She was really pretty and I couldn't for the life
of me figure out why she was single.

"Someone tells me you will be joining us tonight."

I smiled with a wink and her cheeks flushed pink.
"That's right. No food here so I'm being a mooch tonight."

"That's fine with me. Come on over. I want to talk to
you while dinner cooks."

"I'll be there in two minutes."

She nodded and walked into Aiden's apartment. I grabbed my
phone and the six pack of beer in my fridge and took a deep breath.

"Don't push too hard, Gus. Just take baby steps."

Aiden was either going to be Red, my feisty, frustrating
neighbor who could throw attitude all night long, or she was going to be the
sweet I knew she had in her. Either way, I couldn't wait a second longer. Her
apartment door was left open a crack and I shook my head. These days, you can't
be too careful.

"You know, you really shouldn't leave your door open
like this," I called without entering and instead knocked lightly.

I heard a small shriek before a tiny giggle and smiled to
myself.

"Just get your ass in here Gus and stop being Mr. Macho
Detective Man."

There's my Red.

Walking into her cluttered apartment wasn't the same as last
time. It was welcoming and downright impressive. I caught a glimpse of a fresh
painting still on her easel near the window. Blue and grey swirls moving across
the canvas, but that was all I saw before a little torpedo came flying out of
the kitchen and stopped abruptly right in front of me.

"Hi!"

"Hi," I waved.

Little Aiden was almost an exact replica of her mother. With
the exception of the bright red hair and countless freckles on her nose, she
could pass for a younger Lily.

"Mommy said that you were going to eat with us. Is that
true?"

"Yep."

"Good. She said Aunty Aiden needs a friend before she
turns into a crazy cat lady. Is that true, too?"

My mouth opened and closed like a fish as I tried to figure
out what to say to this little girl, but her mother got to her first.

"Aidy! I told you to keep that a secret, sweetheart.
Secrets mean you don't tell anyone."

"But he could be her friend, Mommy."

"I know sweetie, and he is, but you still don't tell
secrets, okay?"

"Okay, Mommy."

Then she was gone, a blur of red hair and tiny limbs darting
back down the hallway and disappearing into one of the bedrooms.

"Sorry about that, thank God Aid didn't hear it,"
Lily whispered conspiratorially.

I just shrugged, still not sure how to react. That's when
she
walked out of the kitchen. Red hair straightened perfectly, white sundress
clinging to the curves I had recently discovered, and lips turned up into an
anxious grin.

Aiden was breathtaking on her worst day, and today was far
from her worst.

"Hi, Gus."

"Hi, Aiden."

Her brow furrowed and she folded her arms and leaned against
the wall. "Why do you sometimes call me Red and other times Aiden?"

I cleared my throat and kept my eyes on hers. "It all
depends on you."

Lily covered her mouth with her hand, but not before I
caught the smile that crossed her face. She was loving all the awkwardness.

"What do you mean?"

I raked a hand through my hair and tugged a little, trying
to get my head in a good place because that dress of hers was distracting and
knowing I wanted nothing more than to throw her over my shoulder and take her
back to my place was really making it hard to think clearly.

I
am
an asshole
. I'd hated this woman for
months and up until recently, she hadn't even been a blip on my radar. Now it
was like high school all over again; my thoughts were getting hard to control.

"Sometimes you are this fireball of fury and sass and
nothing can persuade you to be otherwise. That's Red."

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