Bound, Branded, & Brazen(8)

By: Jaci Burton

“Never,” Valerie said. “Brea. Are you dating anyone?”


“When was the last time you did?”

“Don’t remember.”

“Do you even like guys?” Jolene asked.

Brea dropped the book in her lap. “Of course I do. I’ve had sex before. I’m not a virgin. For God’s sake, I’m twenty-eight.”

Jolene shrugged. “Just wanted to know if maybe your tastes ran elsewhere.”

“You’re such a bitch, Jo.”

Valerie laughed. “No, I’d say she definitely likes guys. Didn’t you see the drool on her chin at supper tonight every time she looked at Gage Reilly?”

Brea’s eyes widened. “I was not drooling over Gage.”

“Yes, you were. You couldn’t take your eyes off him. Not that I blame you. He’s gorgeous. All that lean muscle, and his face is gorgeous with his short brown hair and ocean blue eyes. That’s one hell of a sexy package. Any woman would drop at his feet. You might try to hide behind your hair, but I saw who you were looking at.”

Brea picked up her book. “I’m not even going to dignify this ridiculous conversation by participating in it. It’s juvenile.”

“Coward,” Jolene said. “Always hiding on your computer and in your books. Some things never change.” She poked Brea’s shoulder. “Real life is out here, Brea. You should try living it.”

“Fuck off, Jolene.”

In so many ways, this was just like their childhood together. Petty bickering, never seeing eye to eye on anything. Two of them would always gang up on one, and which two would always change—sometimes hourly—depending on which sister needed picking on.

“I see you and Mason still get along well,” Jolene said, turning her attention from Brea to Valerie. “You two hardly said a word to each other over supper. And you did your best to avoid eye contact.”

Brea peeked over the top of her book.

“Let’s not go there, Jo.”

“Oh, I see. It’s okay to take jabs at me and my nonexistent love life. But yours is off limits,” Brea said, picking up the gauntlet.

“I’m not going to talk about Mason. It’s ancient history.”

“Is it?” Jolene asked with an arch of her brow. “Didn’t look or feel that way to me over supper. The tension in the kitchen was thick as morning fog.”

“I mean it, Jolene. What is all this animosity about? You invited us here.” Valerie felt the pressure building in the room and knew she had to do something to try and diffuse it before things got out of hand.

“And it’s about damn time you two slackers showed up. This is your ranch and I’m tired of making all the decisions about it while the two of you sit on your asses and do nothing.”

“Hey!” Brea said. “You need us, we’re here. All you have to do is ask.”

“I’ve asked plenty. And you told me no at least five times in the past year.”

Brea looked down at her lap. “I’ve had projects. I’ve been busy.” “Bullshit. You avoided coming here, just like Valerie.” Jolene turned her gaze to Valerie. “You and your I’m-such-a-busy-doctor routine are just as bad.”

“Oh, come on, Jolene,” Brea said, standing. “Valerie was doing her residency.”

“And she never had time off? Just like you. Everything is more important than coming home.”

“I’ve had about all I’m going to take from you, Jolene,” Brea said, her fingers curling into fists.

Valerie had reached the end of her rope, too. “You must be itching for a fight tonight, baby sister. You need to take a step back and knock this off.”

“Or what? You’ll punch me out? You’ll hurl insults at me? Please. I can kick your ass.”

“In your dreams.”

Brea crossed her arms and moved up next to Valerie. “Are you going to take us both?”

Jolene tilted her head back and offered up a smug smile. “Bring it on.”

“Okay, you three. Enough. You’re acting like children.” Lila walked in cradling a huge cardboard box.

Their squabble instantly forgotten, Valerie moved to the other side of the room to help her. “That looks heavy. Let me help you.”

Lila ignored her and dropped the box on the floor, then swept her hands together and placed them on her ample hips. “Now, you three quit bickering with each other and go through this.”

“What is it?” Brea asked.

“It belonged to your mother.”

“What’s in it?” Jolene asked.

Lila gave her a pointed stare. “If you go through it, you’ll find out. There’s wine and glasses in the bar. Go have a few drinks and remember why you love each other. You’re family. Not enemies.”

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