Straight Up Love (The Boys of Jackson Harbor #2)(10)

“I’ll try.”

She exhales heavily. “I’ll take it. I need to get on the treadmill. I’m afraid I’m losing my appeal for Colton.”

Levi grunts. “Then Colton’s an idiot.”

Ellie shrugs. “He’d never say that. He doesn’t have a death wish. Anyway, I’ll see you all later.” She walks away, and Levi watches her go like the lovesick puppy he is.

“Don’t do that to yourself,” I say.

“Do what?” Levi asks, as if he has no idea what I mean. Look at us, both pros at pretending we aren’t in love with the women we’re not allowed to have.

I lie back on the bench and wrap my hands around the barbell. “Ellie thinks she and Colton are going to get engaged soon, so if you’re going to tell her how you feel, do it now.”

Don’t be like me and wait until it’s too late.

Levi tears his gaze off Ellie and looks at me. “Tell her what?”

I grunt and un-rack the barbell for my first set.

“What are you going to do about Ava?” he asks, coming to stand behind my head to give me a spot I don’t need. “Does that fuck with you a little? Knowing she’s going to start a family on her own?”


“Do you know you’re a terrible liar?”

I focus on my breathing as I finish my set, exhaling as I push the bar up, inhaling as I bring it down. When I hit my tenth rep, I rack the bar, sit up, and look at my brother. “It fucks with me,” I admit. “But it doesn’t change a damn thing.”


My front door groans as it opens and closes, and I hear someone walking through the foyer.

There are only two people in my life who let themselves into my house without knocking—Ellie Courdrey and Jake Jackson. After this morning’s basketful of awkward with the baby thing, I’m grateful to hear the sharp tap of Ellie’s heels instead of the softer thump of Jake’s boots.

Ellie rounds into the kitchen, a wrapped gift in either hand. “Happy birthday to you,” she sings, a grin on her face as she slides the presents onto the kitchen counter.

I push my papers to the side—work will wait—and walk over to hug my friend. “You didn’t need to bring me anything.”

She shakes her head. “I feel like an ass for missing last night. I’m so sorry.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” I was already at Jackson Brews with the girls when I got Ellie’s text saying she wouldn’t make it.

She looks away. “No. I don’t.” When she looks back to me, her smile is wobbly. I’m grateful that my brother brought Ellie into my life—I barely knew her before she started dating Colton—but I wish he’d grow up a little. Half the time I want to tell her to break up with him because she deserves better.

“I know my brother isn’t perfect,” I say, studying my friend. “You don’t have to pretend around me.”

“I’m no saint either, but we’re fine. I promise.” She nudges the stack of gifts on the counter. “Open these.”

More presents. There’s no topping Jake’s gift, but I’m all warm and fuzzy about being spoiled by another awesome friend. “You really didn’t have to.”

“But I wanted to.”

Grinning, I unwrap the first gift, pulling off the paper and opening the box. Inside, there’s a black teddy made of the softest lace I’ve ever felt. “This is gorgeous.” I try to keep the what the fuck from my voice. The gift is gorgeous, and if I had someone to wear it for, I’d be really excited to show it off. But I don’t, and it’s not exactly the kind of thing you wear to binge-watch Netflix by yourself. Never mind the fact that if all goes according to plan, this won’t fit me in a few months.

“I know what you’re thinking,” she says. “You’re thinking you don’t have a man, so you don’t need this, but I fixed that. Open the next gift.”

“If you got me an inflatable boyfriend, I swear I’m never speaking to you again.”

She chuckles. “I thought about it, but I think we can do better than that.”

I pick up the next gift. The box is light as air, and when I pull the lid off the box, I realize why. There’s nothing inside but a slip of paper. I unfold it and stare in disbelief. “Ellie, you didn’t.”

She beams at me. “I did.”

I’d like to think I’m keeping the cringe off my face, but I’m terrible at hiding my emotions, so more than likely she knows how I feel about her gift. It’s a voucher for Straight Up Casual, a local dating company that hooks up area singles for casual, low-pressure blind dates that have only one requirement: you start your date with a shot of hard liquor to “loosen up.” I always thought the idea was absurd, but since the service introduced Ellie to Colton, I’ve kept that opinion to myself.

“I love that you want to take your life in your own hands,” she says. “I get it. You’re thirty now, and you’re afraid it’s too late for love, but I promise you it’s not. Don’t rush to the sperm bank yet.”

I study the piece of paper, even though it has no new information to offer. “I have different priorities than you do, Ell.” Ellie’s young. She and Colton might get married sometime soon, but Ellie isn’t like me. At twenty-five, babies are likely the furthest thing from her mind. When I was twenty-five, I was engaged. A year later, Harrison and I were newlyweds trying to get pregnant.

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