Crushed Page 37

They, like Scott, probably assume we’re together, but I don’t really give a fuck.

I tug Chloe into the house, in through the back door, then back out to the front yard, which is jam-packed with cars but blissfully free of people.

I release her hand and turn to face her. She’s already drunk a quarter of the margarita. Her tongue sneaks out, taking a little lick of salt, and I look away.

“What’s going on?”

“What do you mean?” Her expression is all innocence.

“Don’t even. Unfortunately, I’m beginning to know you all too well. Where’s Devon? Your sister?”

She presses her lips together and glances around, avoiding my eyes. I move closer. “Chloe.”

“Devon went back to his parents’ house.”

“In the middle of a party?”

Finally her eyes come back to mine, and the panicked confusion on her face throws me a little off balance. “They broke up.”


I rub a hand over my face, feeling … something.

It’s not a surprise. Not after my conversation with Kristin yesterday, and especially not after my conversation with Devon today. I figured it was coming. Someday.

But not today.

Chloe isn’t ready for this.

“Who told you?” I ask.

She slurps at her margarita, and I reach out, taking it from her hands and having a sip myself. Partially because I need it, partially because she’s drinking way too fast.

“Neither. I heard it happen.”

“You eavesdropped.”

She shrugs. “Basically. My mom sent me on a rescue-Kristin mission, but when I got up to her room, they were fighting.”

I hand her back the margarita, feeling an itchy feeling between my shoulder blades that has me wanting to escape this fucked-up soap opera I’ve wandered into. The last thing I want to deal with is my half brother’s girl drama, and he definitely has some.

This is not why I’m here.

I’m here for …

My gaze lands on a troubled Chloe.


She looks both hopeful and completely lost. I hate that I know firsthand what she’s going through. When I learned that Ethan and Olivia had broken up, I felt a ripping sense of regret for my best friend, even as I felt that surge of selfish joy. For the first time in my life, Olivia was free to love someone other than Ethan.

And Olivia moved on. It just wasn’t to me.

I hate the thought of that happening to Chloe.

“I should go talk to my sister,” she says, her finger swiping a trail of salt from her glass before she licks it from her finger.

“Do you think she wants to talk to you?”

“Probably not. But she has to talk to someone. I need to be there for her.”

I’m 90 percent sure that Kristin wouldn’t be there for Chloe if the situation were reversed, but I don’t say a word. Chloe’s one of those obnoxiously good people. She’ll do the right thing even when it doesn’t make any sense.

“You can entertain yourself for a while?” she asks, handing me the mostly empty glass.

“Been doing it all day.”

“Oh, poor you,” she says, with a fake smile “Having to flirt with half the females here. Come on, you know that’s the only reason you tagged along.”

I toss back the rest of the watery drink. She doesn’t know the first thing about why I tagged along to this ridiculous party. And I have no intention of telling her.

“Okay, go preen, Beefcake. I’m going to go check on Kristin.”

But before she turns away, her eyes latch on to someone over my shoulder and she gives a quiet, under-the-breath groan. “Great,” she mutters, before her face breaks into another of those big smiles. This one, at least, is mostly genuine.

“Hi!” she says, her voice all enthusiastic warmth, as she pushes past me to go hug the newcomers.

I turn and see an older couple walking toward me. The woman is petite and blond with chin-length hair. She’s about the same age as most of my clients, but I don’t think she spends a lot of time in the gym. There’s a maternal softness about her that’s lacking in the rest of the cougar crowd. She hugs Chloe like she’s found her long-lost daughter. Must be yet another aunt.

I shift my gaze to the guy who’s looking at his wife and Chloe with a fond, indulgent expression.

The shock rocks me to my very core.

I know that face.

I’d spent hours on Google, trying to find every corporate bio, every fund-raising reference, every candid society photo.

He was the reason I came to Texas.

The reason I came to the party.

Tim Patterson.

Devon’s father.

My father.

I try to focus on what they’re saying. Mariana Patterson is laughingly explaining that their twenty-minute “catnap” turned into a three-hour siesta that had them nearly missing their own party.

Chloe laughs along with them, and I want to bark at her not to be fooled by their happy faces. I want Chloe to know that twenty-four years ago, this guy knocked up a married woman. My mother.

Instead, I take the coward’s way, alternating between staring into the distance and staring at the man whose blood runs through my veins.

I’m not sure how much time passes … ten seconds? ten minutes? … before Chloe gestures me forward for introductions.

“Mr. and Mrs. Patterson, this is my friend Michael St. Claire. He works at the club, and since he just moved to Texas from New York, I insisted he tag along and see how we Texans do patriotic holidays.”

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