Home > Flirting with the Frenemy (Bro Code #1)

Flirting with the Frenemy (Bro Code #1)
Author: Pippa Grant

One

Ellie Ryder, aka a woman in need of more than ice cream to fill the hole in her heart

When I rule the world, peppermint crunch ice cream will be available all year long, because assholes who break people’s hearts don’t restrict their assholery and heart-breaking to Christmas.

Unless, apparently, they’re my asshole.

Check that.

My former asshole.

I stab my spoon straight into the cold carton that I grabbed at the store on the way here and ignore the twinkling holiday cheer on my parents’ gigantic tree in the living room. It’s late, so I didn’t tell them I was coming over, but I don’t want to spend one more night at my house this week.

Alone.

Sleeping in the bed where Patrick screwed me—and then screwed me over—just two nights ago.

Merry Christmas, Ellie. I’m in love with my neighbor.

I leave them a note taped to the coffee pot to let them know I’m here, then stomp down the stairs—softly, so I don’t wake them—and turn the corner into the rec room, where I pound the light switch up.

And then almost scream.

There’s a lump of a man sprawled on the couch watching a black-and-white movie, and as soon as the lights go on, he winces and throws his arm over his eyes. “Christ,” he snarls.

My heart backpedals from the precipice where it was about to leap, then surges into a furious beat all over again. “What the fuck are you doing here?”

Wyatt Morgan drops his arm and squints at me. “Oh, good. It’s Ellie. Drop in to rub some salt in the wound?”

I inhale another bite of ice cream while I glare at him, because I didn’t ask him to be here, and he’s scowling just as hard as I’m glaring. “Beck’s place is downtown. Go get drunk there.” Even as the words leave my mouth, guilt stabs me in the lung.

Not the heart, because first, I’d have to like my brother’s best friend for my heart to be affected, and second, because I’m not sure I have a heart left.

I’m in a shit-tastic mood—who dumps their girlfriend on Christmas Eve?—but even in the midst of my own pity party, I know why Wyatt’s sitting in my parents’ basement, stewing himself in beer and watching It’s a Wonderful Life.

He doesn’t even roll his eyes at my order to get out.

“Beck’s having a party,” he informs me. “Didn’t want to go. Guess you weren’t invited. Or you prefer to add to the shit pile here.”

He tips back his beer, and another guilt knife attacks me, this time in the liver.

It’s entirely possible he has bigger problems than I do. I lost a boyfriend that I’ll probably acknowledge soon enough—for real, not just in a fit of anger—that I’m better off without.

The courts just handed Wyatt a final divorce decree that means he only gets to see his kid once a month.

If he travels five hundred miles to do it every time.

“Shove it, Morgan,” I tell him. “I don’t kick a man when he’s down.”

“Since when?”

“Oh, please. Like you can talk.”

It’s been like this since we were kids. My brother’s childhood best friend is the only man in the entire universe who can get under my skin and bring out my ugly faster than you can blink, and I swear he takes joy in doing it.

A ninety-five on your math test, Ellie? Why not perfect?

Nice shot, but you’re still down by eight.

Who taught you to hold a pool cue, a blind monkey?

And damn if all that taunting didn’t make me try harder every fucking time.

Because when he wasn’t taunting me, he was the first one holding out a hand to pull me off the pavement or out of the mud when I inevitably got trampled trying to keep up with Beck and his friends in soccer, street hockey, basketball, and whatever else I swore I was big enough to do with them.

He eyeballs my breasts, and my whole body lights up like the Christmas lights all over downtown.

“You gonna eat that whole carton?” he asks, and fuck, he’s not looking at my chest.

He’s looking at my ice cream, and here I am, getting turned on at the idea that he’s finally noticed I’m a woman.

I have issues.

So many fucking issues.

I fling myself onto the couch next to him. “It’s loser ice cream, so yeah, I am,” I grumble. “Here. Have a bite, you drunk asshole.”

Those gray eyes connect with mine, and dammit, that’s straight lust pooling in my belly.

He’s sporting a thick five-o’clock shadow, and even sprawled out on the worn flowery couch in my parents’ basement, he exudes power and masculinity in a way I never would’ve expected from the skinny pipsqueak peeking out from behind his grandmother’s legs on the front porch twenty-some years ago.

Or maybe it’s the tight black T-shirt, with his biceps testing the limits of the cotton and detailing his trim stomach, even sitting down, and the gray sweatpants hinting at a more substantial package than I ever would’ve given him credit for.

Plus the knowledge that Pipsqueak Wyatt grew up to join the Air Force as some kind of badass pilot who flies untested aircraft, which takes a hell of a lot of guts, if you ask me when I’m willing to admit something like that about him.

Which is apparently tonight.

You used to like him, my subconscious reminds me, because it’s forgetting its place.

I’d tell it to shut up, that I don’t go for guys who don’t appreciate me, except isn’t that what I just spent the last two years of my life doing?

He reaches for my spoon, and our fingers brush when he takes it. A shiver ripples over my skin. I look away to watch the movie while I hold the carton for him to dig out a scoopful.

George Bailey is arguing with Mr. Potter on the TV, and I can feel the heat off Wyatt’s skin penetrating my baggy Ryder Consulting sweatshirt.

I snort softly to myself.

Of course he wasn’t staring at my chest. He can’t even see it under this thing.

You’re holding the basketball wrong, Ellie.

It went in, didn’t it?

Yeah, but you could be more consistent if you worked on your form.

Damn him for sneaking into my head. Damn him for taunting me.

Damn him for being right.

Because I did work on my fucking form, and Beck—who’s three years older than I am—quit playing ball with me after I beat him in a free throw contest when I was twelve.

He said it was because he was working on other stuff with the guys, but I knew my brother better than that.

I knew he quit playing with me because I beat him.

Wyatt still took the challenge though. He’d tell me I got lucky when I won. He’d tell me what I did wrong when I didn’t.

And I worked my ass off getting better and better until I beat him every time.

And then he lost interest too.

I take the spoon from him and grunt softly while I dig deeper into the carton. “You were such an asshole when we were kids.”

He grunts back and snags the spoon again. “You were such an asshole when we were kids.”

“You were just insecure about getting your ass beat by a girl on the basketball court.”

“You just hated that you wouldn’t have been half as good without me.”

I take my spoon back and shovel in. My extra-large bite of ice cream makes my brain cramp, but fuck if I’ll let him see me hurt.

Not that I can hide it. I know my face is blotchy from crying before I drove over here, and my eyes are that special kind of dry that comes after too many tears.

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve talked to him solo since he and Beck and the guys graduated high school. He’s changed. His voice is deeper, if that’s possible. His body definitely harder—god, those biceps, and his forearms are tight, with large veins snaking over the corded muscle from his elbows to his knuckles—his square jaw more chiseled, his eyes steel rather than simple gray.

And it’s not like he lost custody of his kid because he’s an asshole.

Beck was blabbering all about it at Christmas dinner yesterday. Dude got so fucked. The military gave him orders here, so Lydia moved first, with Tucker. She hated military life. But then his orders got changed last-minute so he ended up in Georgia, she filed for divorce, and he’s been fighting the military and the courts ever since to get back to where he can be closer to his kid. He’s in fucking hell right now. And if he cuts bait on the military, they’ll toss him in jail for being AWOL. He’s fucked. He’s SO fucked.

There goes George Bailey, leaving Mr. Potter’s office to go get drunk.

Wyatt tips back his beer. A holiday brew. Like that can take away the misery of hurting this time of year. I don’t know why he’s here instead of taking advantage of every last minute with his kid, but then, I don’t know much about divorce either.

Maybe this isn’t his Christmas to see his son. Maybe Lydia’s being an asshole.

One more bottle sits on the end table next to him, but just one.

Drowning his sorrows with a broken George Bailey.

“I’m sorry about your shitty divorce,” I say.

Sullenly.

Just in case he thinks I might have a twinge of sympathy for him. That won’t do for either of us.

He sets the bottle down and grabs the spoon again.

“So you’re sharing because you feel sorry for me.”

“Maybe I’m sharing because I’m not a total asshole.”

“But I still am?”

I heave a sigh. I don’t want to be sitting here with Wyatt Morgan any more than I want to give in to the urge to go running over to Patrick’s swanky condo in the Warehouse district and beg him to give us another chance.

I was supposed to be getting engaged this Christmas.

Not dumped.

And I can’t tell if that searing pain in my chest is my heart or my pride.

Or both.

Probably both.

It’s not like the sex was even good the other night, and he rolled over and checked his email right after, so logically, I know I’m not missing anything.

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