Ryder (Slater Brothers #4)(7) by L.A. Casey

I was mortified.

“Stop, Ash,” I whispered to avoid hearing the tremor in my voice. “You always embarrass me when you talk about me like that.”

He chuckled. “I know, but I’m hoping the more I go on about how fabulous you are, the sooner you’ll realise it’s the truth.”

I waved him off. “Your sugar sweet words will get you nowhere with me, cowboy.”

Ash winked. “I know, because you’re loyal to the core. You’re a good woman, and fuck Ryder if he can’t see that.”

He had a very odd way with words.

I smiled, appreciatively. “Thanks, Ash.”

“You got it, Angel,” he replied.

I lost my smile and growled. “If you ‘Angel’ me one more time—”

“I’m going to bring up a patient from Peter’s ward, catch you in a few.” He laughed and jumped off the counter before I could catch him and whack him upside the head.

“I’ll be here when you get back.” I wickedly grinned and wiggled my slapping hand at him. “Waitin’.”

He only smirked at me, the challenge I set clearly amusing him. I shook my head, smiling when he went out of view. He was great and I knew if Ryder wasn’t in my life I would be fawning over him and doing almost anything to be with him because not only was he gorgeous, he was so sweet and caring, but having him as just my friend meant so much to me.

I knew he would help me get through my break up with Ryder when I eventually ended things. I knew he would be there for me. That was just the kind of person he was. He was a sweetheart.

Thinking of how sweet Ash was brought on thoughts of how different he was compared to Ryder. My fiancé wasn’t horrible… he was just different now. For the first several years, he was so sweet and caring and put me at the centre of his world. Everything between us was so incredible. Things had certainly changed between us over the last year and a half.

Every time I saw him I felt just like the first night he entered my life, and that was both comforting and soul shattering because I had to break up with him knowing that he breathed life into me from the darkness.

Five years ago..

“I’m not feelin’ Darkness tonight, Ado,” I sighed into the speaker of my phone as I twisted my waist length brown hair around my fingers. “Bee had a bad day at school today, I think she got into an argument with someone. She won’t tell me what happened, but she is really out of sorts, she hasn’t picked up her Kindle at all today and that isn’t like her.”

Aideen, my life-long best friend, groaned. “She is a big girl, Bran. If she won’t tell you what’s up then maybe she just wants to deal with it herself without her big sister pokin’ her nose in.”

That hurt my feelings.

“I don’t poke me nose into her business... I just worry.”

“Aye, mama bear, I know,” my friend agreed, “but she isn’t a kid anymore. She’s a teenager and they keep a lot of shit bottled up.”

I knew that and I knew Bronagh was almost eighteen and wasn’t considered a child anymore, but I couldn’t help but stress over her. It had been my job to worry about her for the last nine years, and I couldn’t just switch the instinct off. She was very much my little sister and baby wrapped into one.

I sat on my bed and frowned, deeply. “I suck at this parentin’ thing.”

Aideen chortled. “Don’t even go there, you’re a better parent to Bee than most people are to their biological children.”

I appreciated her saying so.

“I try very hard with her,” I sighed, “but the older she gets, the harder it gets. I’m worried sick that she will get cabin fever and go insane because she is always indoors. She hardly ever socialises, her teachers at school tell me durin’ parent teacher meetin’s that they’ve never met a girl so closed off.”

“Listen to me,” Aideen began. “There is nothin’ wrong with that girl, she is perfectly fine, she just deals with things—and others—differently.”

I glanced up at the picture of my parents on my bedroom wall and looked away when tears threatened to fill my eyes. “I don’t know of she’ll ever fully accept that they’re gone, Aideen,” I swallowed. “She doesn’t even like seein’ pictures of them, never mind talkin’ about them. I’m very concerned for ‘er mental health.”

Aideen grumbled to herself then said, “She’ll accept it eventually, it just takes longer for some people. Trust me, her hormones are goin’ to kick in eventually and she will have boy fever, you mark me words. These conversations will be replaced by typical big sister complaints like, ‘I have to re-stock the condoms in the bathroom because Bee is shaggin’ too much.”

“Aideen!” I shouted with unexpected laughter.

She cackled through the receiver of the phone, snorting every now and then.

I shook my head. “You can seriously tell you were raised with all lads, Ado. You do not speak like a lady.”

“Darlin’,” she chuckled. “I’m perfectly okay with not being a lady, a lady wouldn’t land herself a man like Skull, would she?”

I still couldn’t believe she dated someone that went by the name Skull. Even more, I couldn’t believe that before she dated him, I had a very brief fling with him. It was the tattoos that drew me to him; he had a mean as fuck tattoo on the side of his head that travelled down his neck and ended at his hip bone. If the tattoos and his incredible good looks didn’t sway me, his manners would have. Skull might look like a menacing man, but he was most definitely a sweetheart.

“His nickname still gives me the creeps,” I shivered. “Can’t you just call him Trevor when we speak about him?”

Aideen cackled. “Nah, I like how freaked out you get when I say it.”

“Bitch,” I grumbled.

She wasn’t bother by my insult.

“Can you let your sister sulk on her own for a few hours and come dancin’ with me? We haven’t had a night out in forever.”

Guilt settled in my chest. “Aideen—”

“Please, Branna,” she cut me off. “Please.”

I groaned. “You’re makin’ turnin’ you down very hard.”

“That’s what she said.”

I laughed. “Okay, loser, I’ll come out.”

Aideen whooped. “Brilliant. Wear somethin’ sexy, I want you to at least kiss some hot piece of man flesh tonight.”

I grimaced. “You’re vile, Aideen Collins.”

“I know,” she laughed. “Do you want to meet at Darkness or at me apartment?”

“Is Skull pickin’ you up?” I quizzed.

“No, he is on shift at the club tonight. He is on at ten, but we won’t be goin’ ‘til half eleven or so.”

I gnawed on my inner cheek then said, “I’ll meet you at the club. It’s already half nine and I need to shower and get ready. I’ll have more time if I just meet you there.”

“‘Kay, bitch.” Aideen cheered. “I can already taste the Vodka.”

I snorted. “See you later.”

“Byeeee.”

I lowered my phone from my ear when the beep signalling Aideen hung up sounded. I plugged my charger into the base of my phone then headed out of my room and went down the hallway to my sister’s bedroom. I knocked on the closed door and waited.

“Come in, Branna,” Bronagh called out.

I opened the door, and the sight I was greeted with caused me to smile. My sister was tucked up in bed with her covers pulled up to her chin. I glanced at her television and chuckled when I saw she was watching Supernatural. It was quite possibly her favourite television show. She watched it religiously.

“Are you okay?” I asked Bronagh when I climbed up onto her bed and settled in next to her.

She nodded. “I’m good, school was just a little... hectic today.”

I wanted to press her for information, but I knew it would just lead to an argument. Aideen was right; she would talk to me about whatever was bothering her when she was ready to.

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