“I don’t want to hear it,” he bit out, cutting her off. Whatever justification she was going to make for how Alex hadn’t had it easy either, Ian didn’t want to know.
Avery nodded, looking up at him with sad eyes.
“I don’t mean to take it out on you,” he said. “Go hang with everyone. I’ll be in soon.”
“Just remember, you always have us.” She hugged him again.
Because she was the youngest, he often forgot to take her seriously enough, but she was his sweet sister, and she had a big heart.
“Thanks.” He squeezed her hand, and as she headed back to the family room to join their sister and brothers, he turned to the windows once more.
As more time passed, it became clear they weren’t coming. The more Ian thought about it, the more he was sure Alex was responsible for his half siblings’ rejections. The son of a bitch was pissed about Ian’s relationship with Riley, and he was making his feelings known in the most conspicuous way possible. Although what Alex had to resent Ian for was beyond him.
As clear as day, he remembered the days after he’d found out about his father’s other family. Ian had taken a friend’s car his father wouldn’t recognize and driven the two hours out of his hometown, wanting to see for himself. And sure enough, there was the father who had no time for Ian and his siblings, playing football on the front lawn with his other son.
With the memory vivid in Ian’s mind, embarrassment and frustration rose larger inside him. Embarrassment that he’d gone to such extremes, ordering in an expensive menu, and opening his home, as well as himself, to Sienna, Alex, and Jason, only to be humiliated in front of the people he loved the most.
And if it wasn’t enough that they all weren’t here, where the hell was Riley? He’d made it clear he wanted her here. Thank God he hadn’t outright told her he needed her to hold his hand through this damned thing or he’d feel even worse.
Once again, when a choice had to be made, Ian had lost out to his half brother.
* * *
Once home from dinner, Riley couldn’t stop wondering how things had gone with Ian and Alex. She decided to check in with her friend, hoping he’d give her good news about how he and his half brother had made inroads in their relationship.
She dialed his cell, and Alex answered on the first ring. “Hey, Ri!”
She heard his teammates in the background and frowned. “Where are you?”
“Had some of the guys over.”
“After you came home from Ian’s?” she asked.
He laughed hard. “Are you kidding? Why the hell would I go over there? He screwed you—literally.”
She cringed. “You’re wasted.”
“You could be too if you’d come party with us,” he said.
She closed her eyes and groaned. For a man who stepped up when she needed him, he could also be such an overgrown child. The result of his big contract and the fact that his parents hadn’t been all that strict.
“You waited years for an opening with your half brother,” she said, trying to reason with Alex. “Why wouldn’t you meet him halfway?”
“Be right back!” he called out to his friends.
She assumed he was going somewhere quiet, because the noise level surrounding him died down.
“Because I don’t trust his motives. I don’t trust him with you. What if he’s using you to piss me off?”
She winced at the implication behind his words. “Flattering. Very flattering.”
“You know what I mean! He doesn’t deserve you. And the fact is, I don’t fucking trust him, period.”
Riley glanced heavenward. “You can’t begin to know whether you can trust him until you get to know him. If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for me.”
Heavy silence followed, which meant, at the very least, he was listening.
“Don’t know if I can do it, Ri.”
Pain twisted her heart.
Although she hadn’t known Ian long, she wasn’t finished getting to know him. She didn’t want to be. But