Priceless (Forbidden Men #8)

by Linda Kage


AGE 13

“Get out of my bed!”

Jolted awake by the hand shoving my shoulder, I bolted upright with a gasp. “What? Huh?”

An irate sister jostled me again. “I said out, you little dweeb.”

Damn it. I collapsed back onto the mattress. She was home.

With a groan, I rolled over to flop onto my back and yawned up at the darkened ceiling of our bedroom as I tried to rouse myself enough to crawl off her bed. But against my will, my eyes drifted shut and sleep tried to reclaim me.

“Brandt!” Caroline snarled through an irritated whisper. “I’m serious. Get out. What’re you doing on my bunk anyway?”

“What do you think I’m doing? You weren’t home, and Colton’s sick.” I wasn’t sleeping anywhere near that kid when he had a torrential flood of green shit gushing from his nose. Besides, with his fever raging, he’d been hot as hell to lie next to.

It seriously sucked ass that I had to share a room with both my older sister and younger brother, but to have a single bunk bed to sleep on between the three of us was even worse. To top that off, the bottom twin-sized mattress Colton and I used had become a tight fit in the last year since we’d both hit a growth spurt.

When I’d seen Caroline’s empty top bunk, I hadn’t been able to resist hogging a mattress all to myself for a while.

“Well I’m home now.” She ripped the warm covers off me. “So, move.”

I cursed as the cool night air stole through me, settling straight into my bones, and tried to reach for the blankets again, but Caroline was having none of that. As we started a snarling tug-of-war, I muttered, “Jesus, why couldn’t you have just stayed the entire night with your rich prick boyfriend?”

The douche probably had a king-sized bed all to himself too. Bastard.

“Goddammit, Brandt.” She let go of the sheets so abruptly that I went sailing backward and landed with an oomph onto her mattress, all the covers piling on top of me.

Batting and spitting cotton out of my face, I lurched upright to give her a piece of my mind. She was the one who’d left me alone with a sick-as-hell eight-year-old so she could prance off with her new, jerk-of-the-century boyfriend. I deserved this bed for the entire night. But as soon as I opened my mouth to rant, she sniffed and wiped the back of her hand over her nose.

I squinted through the dark to see her face better and finally caught sight of the tears dripping down her cheeks. Fuck.

“What’d he do?” I demanded.

“Nothing,” she answered quickly. Too quickly.

“Nothing my ass.” I wasn’t an idiot. We heard all the juicy high school gossip down our middle school halls, and no one was talking about how the rich Sander Scotini was dating trailer park trash, Caroline Gamble. So that meant he was making her keep their relationship a secret. The jackass was using her big time. If she was crying, it was his fault.

“Just...give me my bed back, all right?” She sounded tired and beaten.

This time, I hopped over the side without complaint, landing on the floor next to her. “Do I need to kick his ass?”

She blurted out a hard laugh and wiped at her eyes. “As if you could.”

I straightened in indignation. “I totally could.” Scotini might have five years on me, but no way could that douche take me.

When my sister surged toward me unexpectedly and wrapped her arms around my neck, I stumbled a couple steps back before I could catch my footing. We weren’t exactly the hugging type, so having her hug me now was...odd. But then she sniffed again, and her tears soaked through the shoulder of my shirt as she said, “I love you, Brandt,” and I found myself squeezing her back as my worry peaked.

“Seriously, Care. What’d he do?”

“Nothing I want to talk about.” She pulled away, wiping at her eyes once more.

Yep, I was definitely going to beat the shit out of Sander Scotini.

“Thanks for giving me my bed back.” She turned toward the ladder but before she could climb up to her bunk, Colton sputtered out a rattling cough in his sleep. Caroline stooped down to press her palm to his forehead. Sucking in a breath, she said, “He’s burning up. Did you give him any medicine before bed?”

“Yeah, but...” I shrugged. The medicine wasn’t working.

Caroline sighed as if she were seventy instead of seventeen. “I shouldn’t have left you home alone with him.”

I found myself shrugging again as if it were no big deal. The resentment I’d been feeling toward her all night for leaving me stuck with Colton just kind of slipped away. She was a kid too and shouldn’t have to put her life on hold just to take care of us. She should get to go out with a boy if she wanted to.

It was our fucking mother’s job to take care of the sick eight-year-old, except Daisy hadn’t been home in...oh, was it four or five days now?

Who knew?

Who cared?

Life was easier when she wasn’t around.

“He’d still have a fever if you’d been here,” I said lamely, trying to make Caroline feel better.

She heaved out another sigh and rubbed her face. “I wish Noel was home.”

Me too. Our older brother might’ve been stricter on us than Caroline was, but he had kept an order to things. Bills got paid, groceries never ran out, broken things were fixed, and sick members of the family healed quickly. Though he sent home every extra penny he made since he’d left for college and called on the daily to check in on us, things around here were definitely slipping since he’d been gone.

“What? You think he could miraculously heal Colton?” I tried to tease. Noel was awesome, sure, but he wasn’t that awesome.

Caroline sent me a dry look. “At least I wouldn’t have to be the one to deal with this.”

It was funny, I realized, or maybe it was just sad. But neither of us wanted our mother to come home to shoulder the responsibility. We hadn’t even considered her as a form of help.

“Get some sleep,” I said, awkwardly patting Caroline’s arm. “Maybe it won’t suck so bad in the morning.”

“As if.” She snorted, letting me know she totally didn’t believe my words any more than I did. But she climbed up onto the top bunk anyway. “‘Night, bubba.”

“‘Night.” I helped pull the blankets up over her and then I stood there a moment, watching both her and Colton on their respective mattresses—safe and sound, for now—before I turned away and slogged from the room.

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