Brighter Than the Sun Page 10

Groans replaced the earlier chuckles and several gazes rolled upward as if pleading for mercy. Joe was also ready to roll out, but not for the reasons everyone else was eager to race home. There was only so much home, hearth and domesticity laced with a fuck ton of mushy, embarrassing rhetoric a single man could take in a day. And yet the prospect of going back to the house he now was the sole occupant of held no real appeal. Maybe he’d go grab a beer, but then again, he’d be flying solo because all his brothers, not to mention the majority of the other members of KGI, were quite happily off the market and preferred ridiculous baby talk and boasting about their progeny being the most brilliant babies ever born to going out with the guys and having a drink. Or three.

Maybe Skylar and Edge would be down for a break from the display of grown-ass men losing their fucking minds during a meeting. And if not Skylar and Edge, Dolphin was always up for a good time. Like Joe, Dolphin was single and showed no signs of settling down . . . ever. Joe wasn’t much of a party animal, preferring to spend his time with his family, even if they drove him crazy about his single status, but Dolphin’s exploits were legendary and he kept his team, as well as the rest of KGI, regularly amused by his nights out.

He didn’t even realize he was shaking his head until he caught Nathan staring inquisitively at him before asking, “Everything okay with you, bro? Why are you shaking your head looking like you want to go fuck up an entire terrorist organization?”

Right now taking down a terrorist group held more appeal than being subjected to the epic display of emotional meltdowns he’d just witnessed. Never before had he felt like an outsider in the organization founded and run by his three oldest brothers. He’d always known that after his final tour in the army was up he would join his brothers and had looked forward to it. He’d loved his time in the army. It had prepared him well to be on the level of the other members of KGI, but he’d been ready to move on to the next part of his life.

Now? He felt distinctly uncomfortable, and once again, a nagging sensation that felt strangely like envy tugged relentlessly at him. He wasn’t jealous of his brothers. He was happy as hell for them. He didn’t even want to settle down anytime soon. He had time. When he was ready, he was ready. All his brothers had known when they’d found “the one.” Before that, they, like him, were perfectly content to be single and focused exclusively on making a difference and bringing justice to assholes who’d long escaped it. But the moment their wives had entered their lives, everything had changed.

Joe hadn’t met “the one.” Sure, he dated. His sex life didn’t make him a man whore, but neither was he lacking for companionship when the mood struck. But none of the women he’d dated had stirred the fierce response he’d witnessed time and time again when his brothers had found their soul mates.

Sweet baby Jesus. Forget the beer. He needed something a hell of a lot harder. And he needed to get the hell out of here fast because he was actually standing around contemplating shit like soul mates and the fact that he hadn’t found his. That wasn’t even what he wanted right now. Was it?

CHAPTER 4

“ARE you sure this is a good idea?” Zoe asked Rusty in panic as she peeked from the upstairs window to see the dozens of people gathered below in the backyard.

When Rusty had told her that the entire Kelly family, even those considered family outside the bonds of blood, would be attending a barbecue at Frank and Marlene’s home today, Zoe had been riddled with anxiety and . . . fear. She’d come here to hide, to be as unnoticed as possible. To be in a place where she wouldn’t have to worry over discovery until she and Rusty came up with a plan for her next move.

Now she faced what looked to be at least thirty people, if not more, standing around smiling, laughing, having a good time. Children playing. Just what a real family looked like, or at least what Zoe imagined a real family to be. But what did she know? She’d had none of this growing up. Rusty was the first real friend she’d made, the first person who’d seemed to genuinely care about her, and Rusty had certainly gone to great extremes, with a great possibility of endangering her own life.

Not only did she feel terror over being exposed to so many people, she was also instilled with a fierce envy, something she hadn’t thought she could even feel after long ago accepting her circumstances. What would her life have been like if she’d had . . . this. A loving, devoted family. Happy. Loving. Smiles and laughter. A far cry from the sterile environment she was accustomed to.

Rusty slid her hand over Zoe’s shoulder and then turned her, pulling her into a hard hug.

“Stop stressing, Zoe. You know I’d never do anything that would put you at risk. This is my family. They’re loyal to their bones. They aren’t gossipers, nor do they pry into other people’s business. You’ll be welcomed as a guest, as a part of the family. No one will interrogate you, nor will anyone talk to outsiders about you or anything that happens within our family. We’ve well learned the necessity of discretion and keeping family business just that. Family business. By now everyone knows I’ve brought a friend home and it will be far more suspicious for you to spend the entire afternoon holed up in our room than if you come down and join in and, God forbid, actually relax and have fun for once. You need this, Zoe. You need to see that the way you were raised isn’t normal—it isn’t how families work. I can’t think of a better way for you to see that than to spend the afternoon with my family, who will do nothing more than welcome you with open arms.”

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