** The Admiral commanded a family dinner and a fight this week. Brandon and Jared had a story to tell. If you haven’t read it yet, buy links are in the books tab at the top. I really do love these guys, and I hope you’re entertained as they continue their story. Enjoy!**
The one and only time we’d all been together had been the weekend Jared and I admitted our feelings. Because it was so new, everyone had been on their best behavior. Brian had barely teased, Zane had cooked up a storm, and Audra had been the consummate hostess. It had been pleasant if reserved and not exactly natural.
But apparently that had been a onetime deal.
Brian and Zane had been snarking at each other practically since the moment Brian and Cas got off the plane. Zane had been the one to pick them up so that I didn’t have to go out. Ever since the first episode of Robber Barons aired, the paparazzi spotted me whenever I was in public. It was a wonder they didn’t invade the house, but so far they hadn’t found me. Jared was really good at losing any tails we picked up.
But Zane had left me in charge of the bubbling lasagna while he ran out to get them, and Casper had informed me when they walked in the house that the two of them had been sniping at each other the whole time. It didn’t stop when Jared made it home and greeted everyone. Even as Zane set the table and called us all in to eat, it continued.
I didn’t know what had gotten into my brother, but I didn’t like it. I tried to catch his attention and beg him to stop with my eyes. We’d always been close, and B could usually read me with just a glance. But he was purposely ignoring me and avoiding my gaze. I was going to have to talk to him about it if he didn’t get his act together. A kernel of dread formed in the pit of my stomach at the thought.
“Lasagna is an interesting choice,” Brain said after we all sat at the table. His tone held an edge of derision. “Given how hot the weather is, I would have thought you’d go for something lighter.”
Zane’s smile was all teeth. “It’s one of Brandon’s favorite meals. I make it whenever he needs a little comfort. Which I know he could use right now. Things have been stressful.”
“Isn’t that sweet?” Brian’s voice was dripping with sarcasm. Hearing it made my stomach clench. I set down my fork. “It’s a crock of shit, but it’s really nice, just the same.”
“Brian,” Casper chastised, but the words were already out there. I sent up a silent prayer that Zane would let it lie.
No such luck.
“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”
“Enough, Zane,” Jared ordered. But Zane was exactly like his brother, and there is no way he’d let that go.
“That Brandon would lie and tell you it’s his favorite, just to make you feel better,” Brian said, heedless of his husband’s chastisement or Jared’s censure.
“N-n-not true,” I said quietly, hating the arguing and the attitude, but not able to let it lie there. “I l-love l-lasagna.”
The entire room went silent at hearing me stutter and I felt the blush burning as it crept up my neck and inflamed my face. I hated that I couldn’t control it. That when I was nervous or uncomfortable, my words stumbled over themselves trying to get out of my mouth. I hated even more that everyone knew what it meant.
“Now, look what you did,” Brian hissed venomously.
“Me?” Zane was incredulous, and his eyebrows lifted. “It’s your fucking fault, baiting me and being rude. Who in the hell do you think you are?”
“I’m his brother, you little shit. Which is more than you can say–”
“Enough.” Jared stood, his voice deep and commanding. He didn’t yell. He didn’t need to. His bearing, his face, everything screamed that he was not to be argued with. His word was law and everyone at the table needed to heed it. Hearing it gave me comfort, and usually turned me on. Any other time, and I would have been on my knees and sucking him off.
The thought was inappropriate for the situation, and that made me blush even harder. When Jared’s hand came down on the back of my neck to lightly squeeze, I relaxed and let the tension go. He had a way of calming me no one else did. Not even Brian, who was only three hundred and sixty days older than I was, could manage what Jared could with a look and a touch.
Jared had control, and his brown gaze was assessing as he stared down first his own brother, and then mine. Audra sat back, her face slowly relaxing now that Jared was taking care of things. Casper was staring at Brian, disbelief all over his face. I could practically tell what he was thinking, because I was wondering the same thing. How could Brian act like this? It was out of character for him. Zane too, for that matter.
Jared sat, pulling my chair closer to his with a strong hand. Then he dropped an arm across my shoulders. I snuggled into his warmth, and barely restrained myself from turning my face into his neck and inhaling deeply. I loved his smell, and it never failed to calm me. But we were still at the dinner table so I didn’t.
“Would you care to explain yourselves?” Jared asked, but it was barely a question. Both Zane and Brian looked up in disbelief.
“J-Jared, m-maybe we d-don’t–”
“No,” he interrupted gently, pulling me in tighter. “They want to bicker like children, then they can be treated like children.”
Silence stretched on, neither Brian nor Zane saying a word. Neither man looked anywhere but at their plates. Audra started to fidget with a lock of her hair, and Cas sat back and crossed his big arms over his chest. I grew more uncomfortable as the minutes ticked by. How long was Jared going to let this go on?
Finally, I couldn’t take the tension anymore. I turned into Jared’s body, tucking myself tightly up against his side and burying my face in his neck. He would do what he wanted, what he felt was right, but I couldn’t handle it. I took a deep breath, and started to get up, to flee the kitchen and the tension until it was resolved, but Jared knew I was ready to bolt. He wrapped his arms around me to comfort me.
“You are both grown ass men,” Jared began, his voice steady. “I know you both love Brandon. But you don’t have to compete as to who takes better care of him.”
I startled. Was that what they’d been doing? Cas’s soft, warm chuckle and B’s indignant sputter confirmed Jared’s assessment.
“It’s a moot point anyway,” Jared said with a hint of finality. “I take care of him. The rest of you are on the periphery.”
There was another silent moment, and then Cas and Audra burst into laughter. It broke the tension, and the mood in the room eased immediately. I took a deep Jared-scented breath and let it out slowly, finally feeling like I could breathe.
Jared’s hand cupped the back of my head, and then slid around until he could take hold of my chin and lift my face to his. His smile was bright, the kiss he gave me sweet but chaste, and when he pulled back I could see love and affection in his eyes.
“I love you,” he whispered.
“I love you too,” I answered immediately.
His gaze slid sideways, and I followed with my own, taking in the scene. Brian and Zane were still a little grumpy, but it was easing with every second that passed, and regular dinner actions were taking place. Audra was pouring dressing on her salad with one hand and passing the basket of garlic bread to Cas with the other. Zane was serving perfect squares of lasagna. And Brian was pouring the iced tea. It was all so normal. I almost couldn’t believe that just a few minutes ago, Brian and Zane had been at each other’s throats. I looked back at Jared. He was grinning.
“It’s family. What are you going to do?”
My grin couldn’t be contained. Family indeed.