The Right Price

Chapter 25

Collins

“You do know that I have to be at work early tomorrow, right?”

After Evander and I had finished defiling his office, I had gone home, told Nan the good news, then had gone to work. As much as I wanted to trust Evander enough to make all my financial worries go away, it would be stupid to give up that kind of security over some pretty words. Time would tell what Evander was made of, and I had no problem waiting it out. Though he was in a hurry to get on with our future of marriage, a house, and kids, I wasn’t feeling that same need to rush it all.

“It wouldn’t be the first time that I’ve sent you to work with no sleep,” he replied lazily, his right hand slowly dancing across my lower back.

“This is true,” I muttered back. “And to be fair, your penis is worth the lack of sleep.”

“My penis thanks you,” he replied without missing a beat.

“My vagina thanks your penis,” I quipped in return.

I felt his body shake with his chuckle. “Well, if it’s any consolation, I have to be at work early in the morning, too.”

“That doesn’t count.”

I felt Evander’s fingers slide in between my face and his chest as he lifted my chin to look at him. “How do you figure?”

“You’re the boss,” I answered. “All you have to do is call your brother and tell him that you’re taking a sick day.” He let my head drop back on his chest. “I’m pretty sure that you have enough sick time on the books.”

“As much as my brother would love to hear that I’m calling in sick because I was laid up with you all night long, handing that kid that kind of power is dangerous,” Evander joked.

“Little brothers, huh?”

Evander went back to caressing my skin with his fingertips. “I raised Holden,” he said, surprising me. “Our mother died in childbirth, and our father is an asshole.”

“Fathers suck,” I snorted.

“I can’t argue with you there,” he replied. “Early on, it was easy to tell that our father wanted nothing to do with us. We had a parade of nannies before I was finally able to take care of Holden myself. After that, the nannies had been around for legal purposes only. Our household needed an adult around while we’d been minors, and it wasn’t going to be my father.”

“I’m sorry,” I whispered, and I really was. “I used to think that never having a father in my life was bad, but I honestly don’t know which is worse. Is it worse to know that your father doesn’t want you, or is it worse to see that he doesn’t?”

“I guess it depends on the kid,” he answered. “When it all comes down to it, it’s not about our parents, whether they’re good or bad. It’s about us, and how we let them affect the people that we want to grow up to be. Sure, when we’re young, we don’t have much of a choice. However, after a certain age, you’re aware enough to know what kind of person you want to be, in spite of your childhood.”

“My Mom’s a bitter drunk,” I announced like an over-sharer. “That’s why Nan lives with me now. She and Grandpa Pembrooke worked really hard to raise me right, regardless of my mother’s influences. After everything that they’ve done for me, when Nan lost her house, moving her in with me had been a no-brainer.”

“I like your grandmother,” he stated absently. “She seems like good people.”

I lifted my head, so that I could rest my chin on his chest. “I should probably give you fair warning that…well, once my mother finds out that I’m dating you, she’s going to start coming around with her hand out, Evander.”

Evander reached up, then pushed my head back down to rest on his chest. “I can handle your mother, Collins,” he insisted. “Do you have any idea how many gold-digging vipers Holden and I have had to fend off most of our lives? As long as you don’t have any soft spots for your mother’s plight in life-”

“Oh, no worries there,” I huffed, interrupting his crazy talk. “I owe that woman nothing. No soft spots here.”

“What about your grandmother?” he asked. “I mean, that’s her daughter. Surely, there are some complicated feelings there.”

“No, I’m sure,” I told him.

“Really?”

Readjusting myself, I was practically laying on top of Evander. “When I was three-years-old, my mother, Opal, had been so drunk that she’d left me at a park. It was pure chance that Nan had been taking an afternoon walk, passing the park, and had seen me playing by myself.”

Evander’s head jerked as his face blanched. “Jesus Christ,” he swore. “Are you serious?”

I nodded. “I’m pretty sure that’s when Nan lost all her soft spots for Opal.” I rested my head back down on his chest, just underneath his chin. “Now, while I can’t remember the incident, according to Nan, that’s when she and Grandpa Pembrooke had started taking me more often.”

“Why didn’t they sue for custody?” he asked, and it was a valid question.

“They tried,” I answered. “They’d gone to see a lawyer and everything, but he’d told them that their age was going to be a huge factor in granting them custody of a three-year-old. Plus, they had no proof of Opal’s alcoholism or neglect.”

“Jesus,” he muttered.

“Of course, since Opal had drunk common sense away years ago, when Nan had threatened her with taking me away, Opal had agreed to let them keep me as much as they wanted to.”

“And what was the catch?”

I chuckled because he was smart to ask that question. “Opal got to keep all the government assistance that she received for me.”

“Something tells me that your grandparents hadn’t cared about the money.”

I shook my head. “No, they hadn’t.”

Evander let out a deep breath. “Well, right or wrong, money is capable of doing miraculous things. Your mother only has to bother us a couple of times before my lawyers will have restraining orders put in place.”

“Well…since I’m giving you fair warning, I also wouldn’t be surprised if my father popped up out of nowhere for the same reason,” I admitted. “Wealth is a hell of a motivator.”

Evander let out a soft chuckle. “I’m not afraid to fight for you, Collins,” he said, and my entire chest bloomed with warmth. “I don’t care how many unsavory characters come out of the woodwork, baby. I got you.”

Propping my head back up, I said, “You really are too good to be true.”

This time, he let out a snort of his own. “Yeah, well, I hope you still think that when we’re finally living together, and all my little life habits start to annoy the shit out of you.”

“Life habits?”

“That’s Holden’s polite way of calling me batshit crazy with my oddities.”

“So, what else might I need to know?” I asked. “I think that we have my side of crazy all accounted for.”

“I’m thirty-five, Holden’s thirty-two, and my father’s latest wife is thirty-three,” he replied easily. “Alana Flatts.”

“Oh, that’s…uh, interesting.”

“Just stay away from the both of them,” Evander advised. “You’ll be a lot happier for it.”

“Not a problem.”

“Good.”

Stretching out until I was laying across Evander’s chiseled chest, six-pack abs, and impressive penis, I said, “You know, all this talk about our crappy parents has really been a bit of a buzz kill. How about we put in some effort to make each other feel better about our short straws?”

Evander’s smirk was nothing but sexiness. “Oh, yeah?”

“Like you said, this wouldn’t be the first time that you’ve sent me to work on no sleep,” I reminded him.

He reached out and tucked a loose strand of hair behind my ear. “In all fairness, it won’t be the last, either,” he said. “As long as you’re insistent on working three jobs, sleeps going to be a rare commodity in your future.”

“We both have smart phones,” I said. “We can sync our calendars to carve out some day-sex.”

“Well, my office is soundproof,” he muttered agreeably.

“As we well know,” I teased, throwing him a quick wink.

“I love you, Collins,” he said, his voice suddenly becoming serious.

“I’m pretty sure that I love you, too,” I finally admitted.

His eyes flared with emotion. “Now, let’s see about making each other feel better.”

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