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Tap (Lovibond #1), Page 2

Georgia Cates

  Texting the sister. Hearts and flowers. I’m a smart guy. I can wing charm and brotherly love. I got this.

  Lawrence Thorn

  Ollie isn’t answering his phone. Again. “Oliver Thorn. This is the third time I’ve called this week. Are you ever going to call me back? I’m starting to think you’re avoiding me. And it’s pissing me off. Big time.” I press end and drop my phone on my lap. Disgusted.

  I’d normally never interrupt an outing to the beach with the girls to call my brother, but I thought I’d have a better chance of catching him since it’s Sunday. This is always his day off. He should be answering.

  “We haven’t spoken in a week. I’m worried.” We’ve never gone this long without checking in with one another since he moved to Alabama.

  Ivy leans up from the backseat. “I thought you said he’d been texting.”

  I don’t want texts. I need to hear my brother’s voice. “Hazy messages. That’s all I’ve gotten from him this week.”

  Ollie has been acting strange the last few months but his behavior has been different this week. So much . . . weirder.

  “The brewery has grown a lot this year. That has to demand a lot of his time.” I’m sure Ivy is right. Lovibond is busy banging out a shit ton of beer.

  “I understand he has a lot on his plate, but he always makes time for me. Lately, it feels like we’re a million miles apart instead of four hundred.” I don’t like it. Not one bit.

  Kelsey briefly takes her eyes from the road and looks over at me. “What do you think is going on if he’s not tied up with the brewery?”

  “I know exactly what’s wrong. He hasn’t gotten over what that damn Eden did to him. “Don’t make me say her name. I’ll want to get in my car and drive to Birmingham to kick her ass.” I admit I suffer from a severe case of overprotective sister when it comes to Ollie. But I have the right after everything we’ve experienced.

  “I can’t see him being upset over a woman. Stout is a fun-time guy. A manwhore.” I don’t like hearing Ivy call my brother that, even if it’s probably true.

  “It’s been months since their relationship ended. He must have loved her if he’s still upset,” Kelsey says.

  Ollie loved her with all his heart. That isn’t a gift he gives easily. “He told me he thought she was the one.”

  Ivy punches the back of my seat. “Get out of here. He said the one? For real? I can’t imagine those words coming out of his mouth.”

  I love Eden. I’m going to ask her to marry me. “I know. I thought I’d heard him wrong when he told me.”

  “I can’t see him settling down for anyone. I thought he loved being the life of the party too much for that.”

  “She changed everything for him. He thought he’d found someone he could trust with his heart.” Instead, she shit on it. I’m devastated for Ollie. I know how hard it was for him to open his heart. I’m the same.

  My brother and I are alike in so many ways. Both so careful in who we choose to connect with and how. It’s a lesson we mastered very early in life thanks to Jimmy and Christie. We learned how to emotionally disconnect before we knew our ABCs.

  God, I need to talk to my brother so badly.

  “Call Porter. Tell him to have Stout get in touch with you.”

  I could, and I will if it’s my only choice, but the thought annoys the piss out of me. I shouldn’t have to go to that extreme when all he has to do is return my call. “I’ll think about it.”

  Kelsey pulls into the public parking area for the north beach, taking the last spot. “Looks packed today, girls.”

  No surprise there; it’s crowded every day in the summer. Vacationers come from all over to visit Tybee Island Beach.

  Kelsey pulls in and backs out, driving forward again to the left, maybe scooting over all of one inch. “How does it look over there, Law?”

  I bet she’d be directly in the middle of the parking spot if we took measurements. “Looks perfectly centered to me.”

  “Think there’s enough room so they won’t hit my car with their doors?” I carefully swing mine open to measure while holding it to ensure I don’t tap the car beside me.

  “I think you’re good.”

  Kelsey bought this brand new BMW 6 Series after she got a raise at work a few months ago. She’s so proud of it. Babies the thing like it’s her child. Can’t say I blame her. I’d probably treat one the same if I had a car this nice.

  Except I’d never drive a gas guzzler. Only electric for me.

  Oppressive heat envelops us as we gather our beach paraphernalia from her trunk. “It’s going to be a scorcher today. I hope one of you remembered sunscreen because I completely forgot the brand new bottle I bought for today.”

  “I brought some SPF 60.” I don’t play around when it comes to getting sunburned. I haven’t since I was seven years old.

  “Mommy, my skin hurts so bad. It burns.”

  “Well, maybe you shouldn’t have been so stupid to stay out in the sun all day like an idiot. Serves you right. Now get out of here and shut the door so I don’t have to hear your whining. Or his. It makes my head hurt.”

  It was mid July. The inside of our rented trailer was blazing hot because the power had been turned off. Jimmy and Christie had chosen to buy heroin instead of electricity that month. It never mattered how miserable Ollie and I were as long as they were able to get high.

  By some miracle, our water hadn’t been turned off. It was the only relief we had during that unforgiving July. And one of the few ways we were able to have fun.

  I was a kid and had never been taught about sunscreen or why it should be used. Not that Christie would buy any for us anyway.

  Ollie’s skin was red and covered in watery blisters by that night. Mine too. I’m so sorry, Ollie. It was all my fault.

  He was only four but had already learned to cry silently so he didn’t bother Jimmy and Christie. One beating from our sperm donor was all it took for Ollie to learn how to hold his tongue. Do your best to not be seen or heard, but most importantly, don’t disturb the monsters for fear of their wrath.

  No lotions or aloe vera. No type of pain medication. No relief. We had nothing to ease our pain. Except briefly when we were lucky enough to fall asleep. But even that didn’t come easily. Not when you heard screaming and fighting most of the night.

  “Look what I brought.” Kelsey lugs the cooler out of her trunk. “I don’t have sunscreen but I do have ice-cold Pale Hazel.”

  “My personal favorite.” My brother and Porter knocked it out of the park when they created this one.

  “And perfect for a hot day at the beach.”

  She’s right. It’s light and non-filling. “Totally agree.”

  We have a ton of stuff to carry, so I’m drenched with sweat and petered out before we even reach the beach.

  Ivy comes to a dead stop right in front of me, almost causing me to crash into her. “This sucks. We need some guys to carry our stuff for us.”

  I consider myself an independent woman who can handle most things on my own, but even I wouldn’t turn down an offer of help at this point. “I could go for some help right about now.”

  Kelsey calls out behind me, “Hey, you, the one up there complaining. You want to tote the cooler of beer? ’Cause I’m happy to trade you this heavy bastard for whatever you’re carrying.”

  “Don’t worry. You’re not doing more work than anyone else. The bags I’m carrying weigh as much as that cooler.” Ivy is full of shit. She has the lightest load of any of us.

  “I doubt that, hooker.”

  I hate bitching. “Suck it up. We’re almost there.”

  We reach the top of the wood-planked walkway and discover the huge crowd of people. “Shit. I think everyone decided to hit the beach today.”

  “More people means better odds of meeting cute guys.” Ivy always has one thing on her mind. Men.

  We luck out and find three free loungers for rent. I’m surprised, considering the swarm of people. />
  Ivy takes out her Bluetooth speaker and works to connect it to her phone. “What kind of music are we listening to, ladies?”

  “I could stand some James Bay or Jack Savoretti. Something along those lines.”

  “How ’bout we do a James Bay station and switch it to Jack Savoretti in a little while?”

  “Sounds good.”

  “Move Together” is the first song to play. “I love this one.”

  “I didn’t like James Bay’s music the first few times I heard it, but now I can’t get enough.”

  Ivy is so weird. “I don’t know how anyone could dislike his music.”

  “He sort of reminds me of Ray LaMontagne.”

  “I can agree with that.”

  I’m the first to go for the cooler. “Who’s ready for a cold one?”

  “Me,” Ivy and Kelsey reply simultaneously.

  I dig through Kelsey’s bag for plastic cups since glass containers aren’t allowed on the beach. “Too bad we can’t have frozen frosty mugs for these beers.” That would be divine.

  Ivy pulls her cover-up over her head and tosses it in the direction of her beach bag, overshooting by a full foot. She didn’t miss her calling for the WNBA. She adjusts her boobs in her top but they’re not the issue. “Ivy. The camel called. He wants his toe back.”

  Kelsey holds up her hand placing a barrier between her and Ivy’s crotch. “Dear Lord. Do something about that.”

  She looks down to inspect her bikini bottom. “Sorry.” She inconspicuously makes the appropriate adjustments. “Better?”

  “Yeah, but are you sure that thing isn’t going to be see-through when it gets wet?” I can never bring myself to trust a white swimsuit.

  “It’s fully lined. It’ll be fine.” She’s braver than I am.

  “O . . . kay. Whatever you say.” I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

  The heat is fierce, and I down my Pale Hazel quicker than I should. Sheez. One beer and my head is buzzing. “How much alcohol is in one of these bastards?”

  I fetch a bottle from the grocery bag we’re using to collect trash. “Damn. Eight percent.”

  Ivy swallows the last of her beer. “Oliver has always known how to brew a stout one.” He didn’t get that nickname for nothing.

  I’m ready for something else cold to drink, but not another beer. I flip the top on the cooler and dig for a bottle of water. “Anyone ready for another drink?”

  “Pass a water my way,” Ivy says.

  “What about you?” I know Kelsey. She’ll ask for one the second I close the lid.

  “Nah. I’m still nursing this one since I’ve gotta drive.”

  I wipe the water and sand from my hands and check my phone. Again. “Still nothing from that little shit.” He’s avoiding me, and I want to know why.

  Kelsey points at our makeshift trash bag. “Dig those bottles out and let’s take a pic with our beers to send him.”

  “Let’s do it. He always gets a kick out of that.” The girls love sending Ollie random selfies of us drinking Lovibond beer. I guess it’s sort of our where will your beer show up next? groupie project.

  “I’m pretty sure he won’t mind getting a picture of the two of you in bikinis.” That will gain his attention if anything does.

  Kelsey calls out to our neighboring beach goer, a middle-aged gray-haired man with a huge potbelly. “Excuse me, sir. Will you take a picture of my friends and me?”

  “Of course. Happy to.” I bet Kelsey just made his day. Probably his year.

  Our three-girl posse strikes a pose with our empty Pale Hazel bottles, each of us pointing to the label like always.

  “Say cold beer,” the man says.

  “Cold beer,” we repeat in unison.

  I hear several pings from my phone. “Some mighty pretty girls in that picture.”

  “Thank you. That’s a sweet thing to say.”

  “I took several. You might want to take a peek and see if you like them. I have three daughters so I know all too well how you girls can be about the way you look in pictures.”

  “It’s just going to my brother so it doesn’t have to be perfect.” I can hardly make out what it looks like with the sun shining on my phone. I see little more than a dark screen. “Looks good to me. Thanks.”

  “You’re quite welcome. You girls have a fun day and stay safe. Don’t have too many of those beers. They can get you into a heap of trouble.”

  This man sounds like my dad. “Yes, sir.”

  Kelsey holds out her hand for my phone after our amateur photographer returns to his lounger. “Gimme. You’re not sending that if I look like a fat ass.” But it’s to Ollie. He really won’t care. She’s like another older sister to him.

  Kelsey is gorgeous but has this ugly little habit of only seeing negative things about herself. It’s the one thing I really dislike about her.

  She doesn’t use self-criticism as a ploy to gain compliments like a lot of women. The girl truly believes she’s overweight. Too curvy. That’s what she calls herself but she couldn’t be more wrong. She’s a lovely size.

  “You’re so full of shit. You haven’t taken a bad picture in your life,” Ivy says.

  “I think not.” She uses her hand to shade the screen. “It’s not terrible, best I can tell.”

  “Hey, you need my approval too.” Ivy swipes my phone from Kelsey and studies it. “Well, I won’t be putting it on my Christmas cards but I guess it meets my minimal requirements.”

  “I’m not posting it publicly. It’s just going to Ollie.”

  Having a brewski with K & I at Tybee. Wish you were here. Miss you.

  I send my message and attached photo before either can change their minds about the picture. “If he doesn’t reply this time, one of you is lifting your top and letting me take a picture of your boobs to send him. I won’t tell him which one of you it is and he’ll have to respond to find out. Boom.” Ollie thinks Ivy and Kelsey are hot so I guarantee that will be an instant response.

  “I nominate Kelsey.” Ivy pats her chest. “I doubt he’d get very excited over these B cups.”

  Our nominee’s head spins in Ivy’s direction. “I don’t think so.”

  “Okay. Then my vote is for you to get in your car and take your ass to Birmingham to see what his problem is if it’s bothering you so bad.”

  Ollie is twenty-seven years old, no longer that little boy I have to shield from real-life monsters. But no matter what happens, he’ll always be my baby brother in my eyes. I’ll never stop worrying about him.

  I haven’t been to Birmingham in a long time. Too long. “It could be time to pay the boy a visit.” We have things to discuss.

  “His big beer fest is coming up next weekend. It would be the perfect time to visit.” Lovibond is hosting this year so I’m certain it’ll be a blowout. Ivy could be onto something.

  “Lawrence should show up without any kind of warning.”

  “No. We should show up without warning. All three of us. Make a girls’ weekend of it.” Kelsey is always up for a party.

  “I can’t go. I’m on next weekend.” Ivy always has to work when we want to do something.

  “Take off.”

  “Don’t be dumb, Kelsey. You know I have to request vacation time six weeks in advance at the hospital.” Ivy loves what she does but isn’t blessed with the luxury of making spur-of-the-moment plans like Kelsey and me.

  “Whoa, Nelly,” I interrupt. I need to give this a little thought. “I’m not sure Ollie will be all that happy about me showing up during one of his busiest events.”

  “Probably not, but do you really care if he gets pissed?”

  Yeah, I do. He wouldn’t be angry to see me, but he might wonder why I’d choose to come knowing he wouldn’t have time to spare. “As adult siblings, I think we should maintain a level of respect for one another.”

  “He’s crazy about his big sister. He won’t get mad.” I think he might but he’d get over it quickly when I tell him why I’ve co
me. I don’t want to discuss our birth mother or what she wants over the phone. It needs to be handled in person.

  Ollie has a way of hiding his emotions—another lesson we learned early in life. I need to read his face so I’ll know his true feelings about Mommie Dearest’s request.

  “Do it, Law. You’ll feel a ton better after you see everything is all right with him. And you’ll have a good time at the festival while you’re there.”

  “I guess I could schedule Wynter to manage the store for a few days.”

  “You’re the owner. You can do whatever you want.” True. But leaving the shop for three or four days means I have to put my confidence in someone else to run my business. Can I?

  “Wynter is the best employee you’ve ever had. She can handle the boutique without you for a few days,” Ivy says.

  Wynter is young but does an excellent job of managing my business. She handles most things the way I would.

  “You’re going to work yourself to death if you don’t delegate jobs to your employees. That’s why you hired them.” I’ve been hearing this for three years from Ivy and Kelsey. And my family.

  “I know.” But it’s so much easier said than done. And I know it’s right if I do it myself.

  “Give Wynter a chance to prove herself. It isn’t possible for her to run the place into the ground in a few days. If she screws up, never leave the responsibility in her hands again.”

  I haven’t gotten away in so long. I think a break would do a world of good for me. And I haven’t been to Birmingham in . . . a year. Wow. Has it really been that long? I should be ashamed for not getting over there sooner. “Okay. You’ve talked me into it.”

  Lucas Broussard

  Stout’s phone dances like a little bastard on my desk. Again.

  “Motherfucker.” It’s her again—the relentless texter. It’s Sunday. Doesn’t she ever give it a rest?

  One call. One voicemail. Three texts. That’s probably not excessive to most people but it’s nearing harassment in my book. If this were a woman I’d fucked, she’d officially be blocked by now.

  I lift the phone to see what the chatterbox is saying this time and am pleasantly surprised to see a photo of three women in bikinis. Each is holding a Lovibond beer in her hand. A variety pack. Not the beer, the women. One redhead. One blonde. One brunette. “All right. All right. All right. This is the kind of text I don’t mind receiving.”