The Family Simon Boxed Set (Books 1-3)(8)

By: Juliana Stone

Jason Bentley had called her a few times after that but didn’t have the balls to face her brother again. End of story.

As Abby settled in to T-off, she glanced up and caught sight of Tucker watching her. He stood a few feet back with his brother Beau, and Betty Jo. All three of them watched her, expectant looks on their faces.

Tucker offered a smile.

She narrowed her eyes, lingered just long enough for him to know she was still pissed, and then looked down at the ball.

He sighed.

She glanced back up at him.

He shoved his hands into his pockets and grimaced as Betty Jo said something that Abby was too far away to hear.

Abby relaxed her wrists and focused on her pretty neon pink golf ball. She stared at it for a few seconds, inhaled, then swung her driver back, nice and easy like—as if she was opening a door—and drove the ball over two hundred yards down the middle of the fairway.

“Wow! Great shot, Abby,” Beau said with a wide grin. “Man, you whacked that ball harder than most guys I know.”

Abby slid her driver back into her golf bag and shrugged, her smile sweet as sugar pie. “You just need the right technique and sometimes a little motivation helps.”

“Yeah?” Beau said with a grin. “What’s your motivation?”

Betty Jo snorted and elbowed Tucker in the ribs, who scowled in response and said something not fit for the golf course.

“I just pictured Tucker’s face on the ball and went for it.”

Betty’s snort ended in a full bodied laugh as she tugged on Beau’s hand and propelled him toward their cart. “I knew I was going to like her.”

Abby walked around the cart she shared with Tucker and slid onto her seat, waiting for him to join her.

“Nice shot,” he said as they started down the fairway.

She didn’t reply because her throat was suddenly so tight she didn’t think that she could. She fingered the cracked T she’d just used, palming it and looking pretty much anywhere other than in Tucker’s general direction.

Beau and Betty Jo were several yards ahead of them, speeding toward Betty’s bright orange ball when all of a sudden Tucker brought their cart to an abrupt halt.

“Whoa, Tucker.” She glared at him, throat suddenly clear. “Maybe I should drive.”

He took a moment and when he spoke he sounded calm, though his hands gripped the steering wheel so tightly that his knuckles were white and she knew he was as riled as she was.

“Can we talk about this?”

She didn’t have to ask what this was because this had been festering since breakfast.

“Right now?” she asked incredulously. “You want to talk about this right now?”

He nodded, eyes dark as he stared her down. “Yeah. I do. I get it. I was a dick last night and this morning…”

“Last night you were a dick, but this morning you were an outright asshole and out of the two, I prefer the dick.” She gulped, cheeks bright. “And I know what I just said, so shut up.”

Tucker sighed and leaned back in the seat, his eyes on his brother and girlfriend as Betty Jo argued with Beau—loudly—about what club to use. Betty was thinking the nine iron while Beau was gently suggesting she needed something with more power considering her drive had barely made fifty yards.

Abby followed his gaze and felt a flutter inside her when Beau leaned down and stopped whatever the heck Betty was trying to say with his mouth. He kissed her slowly as if he was taking his time to taste every little bit of her that he could, his hands cupping the sides of her face as if she was something to be cherished.

Something he couldn’t live without.

The flutter expanded, leeching into her chest painfully. God, how Abby wanted that with someone.

Who the hell was she kidding? Dick or asshole or whatever, she wanted that with Tucker.

“I didn’t mean what I said earlier.” Tucker said roughly and she turned away from his brother, cheeks heated and heart still flopping around like a rubber chicken. Boing. Boing. Boing.

Tucker was watching her, his dark eyes soft, tugging on something inside of Abby. Something attached to her stupid, bouncing rubber chicken of a heart. How the hell did he do that? With just one look?

“I just…my family has always been real hands-on, if you know what I mean. They like to be in my business.” He frowned and shook his head. “No, that’s wrong. They need to be up in my business, but sometimes it’s too much.”

Abby got that. She had six brothers, so hell yeah she got that.

“They’re just looking out for you, Tucker. That’s what friends and family do. They care about you, and sometimes that kind of love gets messy.”

“I know. Of course I know that, but it’s so goddamn suffocating at times. After Marley, it got worse. I didn’t need Beau calling me ten times a day to make sure I showered or my brother Teague dropping by for breakfast, lunch, and freaking dinner, because he didn’t think I’d be responsible enough to eat. I didn’t need Mom coming by to do my laundry or Dad trying to get me out for a round of golf or to watch a game.”

“I didn’t need it. I would have survived on my own.” He exhaled slowly. “But I took it…because that’s what they do…that’s who my family is. They’re loud and opinionated and every single one of them would go to the wall for me, you know? But it’s not about that anymore. It’s about other shit. It’s about my mom freaking out because she thinks I’m going to turn into a guy who sits in his apartment by himself for days, watching porn and ordering pizza every night. Hell, she was ready to order me up a prostitute, because she thinks I haven’t been laid in forever.”

“Guess she’s not up on the parade of Barbie dolls you’ve brought into my bar,” Abby said softly.

“No,” Tucker said quietly. “No she’s not.” He shrugged and ran his hands across the top of his head. “I don’t know why I’m being such an asshole.”

That damn lump was back in her throat and as much as Abby wanted to be pissed off at Tucker for the entire day, she just couldn’t.

“I don’t want to be that girl…” Shit. “That friend,” she said quickly, dropping her eyes back to the T in her hand. “You know the whiny, annoying friend. But I’m helping you out here, Tucker, so the least you could do is treat me like I matter and not as if I’m some lame-ass afterthought.”

“Jesus,” he said under his breath. Tucker leaned toward her and Abby froze. Everything inside her stopped working.

Her lungs. Swoosh, they went.

Her heart. Bouncy rubber chicken stopped boinging.

Her ears. There was nothing but white air.

Nothing but Tucker’s warm brown eyes with lashes as thick as molasses. Nothing but his thick dark hair, that full, almost feminine mouth, the cleft in his chin and the masculine scent that was all him.

In those few moments, there was only Tucker Simon because the world around them stopped moving too.

The two of them stared at each other for a long time, not saying a word. Tucker looking intense and Abby…well, she was hoping she looked like she had her shit together. There was something going on here, right now between them, and she had the feeling that it could be something really, really important…

Or maybe really, really, painful.

She just didn’t know which.

She wasn’t exactly sure when the world started moving again or when her lungs decided to start working or when her heart started beating. But eventually the things in the background came into focus once more.

“Abby, look, I’m sorry if I offended you this morning. I didn’t mean to. I just…there will be an expectation from them and I guess that’s what I’m trying to avoid.”

“Expectation?” she managed to say. Abby cleared her throat and tossed the T that was still in her palm as her rubber chicken heart began to beat again, the rhythm sad and kind of pathetic.

“I’d hate for my mom and dad to get their hopes up.”

She knew what he was getting at, but some masochistic part of her needed to hear it.

“What do you mean?”

Tucker settled back in his seat and gripped the steering wheel once again. “They’ve been through a lot. They loved my wife and when Marley…left, when that happened, it didn’t just happen to me, you know? She happened to my whole family.” He paused. “My parents will like you. They’ll like you a lot because they’d be crazy not to, and that’s what has me worried because you and I know that this weekend means nothing. At least nothing more than two friends hanging out, trying to have a good time.”

Something hot pricked at the corner of her eyes, and it took a lot of effort for Abby to keep it cool. To not react.

Tucker’s eyes finally moved back to the green ahead as he slowly applied pressure to the pedal, and the golf cart began to move. The thing between them was still there, heavy and thick in the air, but it seemed as if Abby had read it all wrong.

“Betty Jo has us sleeping together and her mouth doesn’t know what a filter is. My mom is going to take one look at you and see wedding bells.”

He stopped the cart a few feet from Abby’s ball.

“I should have just come by myself. What the hell was I thinking?” He groaned. “How am I going to get her to see that we’re just friends when she’s going to have her wedding goggles on?”