Brawler by Keira Blackwood

new

I’ve always been in love with my friend Shaundra. But she chose my brother, not me, and shifters mate for life. It doesn’t matter that it’s hopeless–Shaundra is my mate.

We stopped in front of my car. Lacey scooted around me and held up a picture in front of my face. “Look, Mom.”
I forced a plastic smile and looked at her paper. On it was a drawing with sharp deep lines and softer flowing ones. The deep lines were Lacey’s. She had a rough and scribbly style. The softer lines had to have been made by Brick. They’d drawn a blobbish shape together with a face and legs, so it was supposed to be an animal. The horn in the center of its head suggested unicorn.
“Very creative,” I told her. “Hop into the car.”
“Uncle Brick drew the bear claws.” She beamed at him.
Bear claws? I didn’t see that in the drawing, but it seemed to make her happy.
“That’s great,” I said, and pointed to the back door.
She skipped over and climbed in, leaving Brick and me standing there, staring at each other. In the stress and confusion, I hadn’t realized earlier how much better he looked than when I’d seen him on Saturday. His cuts were healed, as was the majority of the bruising he’d had on his face just two days ago. His beard was trimmer than it had been, better highlighting the strong lines of his chiseled jaw.
Heat rose up into my ears and cheeks, because I was upset, not anything to do with him. Except maybe it did have something to do with him.
He wasn’t moving, but somehow he seemed to be getting closer. Like I could feel the heat of him on my skin even though we were too far apart for that to be true. And we sure as hell weren’t touching.
“Oh, you said you wanted to talk to me?” I rubbed my palms over my arms, and told myself it was because of the breeze.
Brick watched me, then glanced at my daughter Lacey who was tumbling around in the back seat.
“You have your hands full,” he said. “How about I come by later.”
“Yeah. Later.” Why did I feel so foolish? Why did I feel so raw? Right, because I was just fired. We both knew I was barely holding it together, and we were both pretending everything was fine.
“Dinner?” he asked.
If I didn’t know better, it almost sounded like he was asking me out.
He ran a hand through his thick beard and didn’t break eye-contact, even for a second. “Can I bring you and the girls dinner?”
“Right, yes.” I shifted my footing, feeling even more awkward than before. “That’d be great, thanks. We’ll talk later. And have dinner.”
I hurried around to the driver’s door and smiled a weird-ass smile that I hoped would mask the fact that I was running away. And then I sat down inside and buckled my belt.
Brick was still just standing there watching me.
“I get it now.” Lacey popped over my shoulder and poked my cheek then pointed at Brick. “There’s the scar, from your story, right?”
“What?”
“You told me about the slide, and how you punched that boy in the head. Uncle Brick is the one you hurt, and he hurt you because he loves you.”
Clearly she hadn’t gotten the point of my story. I’d tried to explain why we don’t hit people.
“It’s time to buckle up,” I said.
Lacey sat down and did as I said, making kissy noises from the back seat.
It was ridiculous, crazy even, to think Brick had any kind of feelings for me. I wasn’t convinced he had feelings at all.
I pulled out of the parking space and drove away a little quicker than absolutely necessary, with Lacey’s words repeating in my head. He loves you.