Brian didn’t answer because his gaze had gone beyond her. It flashed wary before becoming hostile, which had alarm crawling down her spine. She turned, expecting to see someone about to rob them…
Everything around her faded when she saw Josh leaning his big body against the front fender of the black F-150 that had been parked in her driveway for the past year. She’d assumed it was her uncle’s but had never seen him drive it. Now she knew why. It belonged to Josh.
Though, at that moment, he looked as if everything in sight belonged to him. He had his arms crossed in that pose he favored, his head bowed slightly, his hard stare focused on the man next to her. He was wearing his usual uniform of boots, loose-fitting jeans, and his cut with a black T-shirt under it.
“Get back inside,” Brian murmured as he slid a hand to her hip to pull her behind him. “I can’t read the cut. Hurry, before he—”
“No,” Tish interrupted as she saw Josh’s eyes narrow on the hold. “He’s okay. He’s mine. Uh, my friend. My, uh, that’s Josh.”
“Josh?” Brian squinted. “He’s out?” He was still talking quietly, though Josh probably wouldn’t have been able to hear him from thirty feet away even had Brian used his normal voice.
“Yes.” Isn’t that amazing? she wanted to add.
Josh raised his arm then. Didn’t call out, or change his unfriendly expression. Just raised his arm and crooked two fingers.
The memory of her wretched weekend tried to slide away, the tears, the worry, the suspicions. She attempted to hold onto something so she wouldn’t be the stupid, gullible sucker she was terrified of becoming where this man was concerned, but she failed.
With her and Nina’s conversation ringing in her ears, Tish obeyed the arrogant summons.
She stalled after a couple of steps and turned back, remembering her manners at the last minute. “Congratulations, Brian. Tell Meredith I’m so happy for you guys, and I’ll call her soon, okay? If I don’t catch her before, I’ll see her on Nina’s birthday. Goodnight.”
“Are you sure you’re gonna be okay?” he asked as she began walking again.
“Absolutely.” She waved back at him, and by the time she came to a stop five feet away from Josh, her knees were weak and she had a nervous tremble in her belly that was spreading out to her extremities.
The first thing she noticed was his black eye. The second, the bruise on the side of his jaw that she could see through his goatee. She immediately wanted to kill someone. She also wanted to smother him with what-happeneds and oh-my-God-are-you-okays. She didn’t. She didn’t even take the hand he once more extended.
He sighed and dropped it to his side. “Don’t touch the kid again.”
The low rumble of his voice brushed over her skin and caused a wave of warmth to roll through her that was a combination of hurt, annoyance, lust, and a crippling love she found difficult to keep contained.
“You threw yourself into that hug. I don’t care if he just won the Powerball, you don’t do that again.”
What a bully. “For your information, Mr. Hot and Cold, he was telling me he got engaged to one of my good friends. I was congratulating him.”
“Then shake his fuckin’ hand next time and be done with it. No need to give him a hard-on he’ll never have the chance to use on you.”
She gave an unladylike snort and hiked her backpack higher onto her shoulder.
“Don’t be silly, Josh,” she said mockingly. “That talent of mine is reserved especially for you. That must be why you’re here. You in need of a refill? I can make sure you’re extra stiff this time so you can take it elsewhere and let some other tramp benefit from it.”
A dash of humor crossed his expression, then regret, but it was respect that triumphed in the end. “You just implied you’re a tramp, honey.”
She gnashed her teeth together—because she had—and remained silent.
“That where you think I’ve been? Fuckin’ some other pussy? Did you not hear anything I said to you the other night?”
She’d heard him, but she couldn’t let herself believe.
She felt her chin wobble as she looked at him now and knew right then if he admitted he’d been with someone else, she would never be able to forgive him.