Dream Chaser (Dream Team #2) by Kristen Ashley



“Thanks,” she muttered, the lump in bed shifted, and that was it.

I stood there a second, staring at her before I turned and left, clicking the door shut behind me.

My bad.

Conditioning.

I’d conditioned her.

Like I’d done with my brother.

When I started to get niggles of concern when there wasn’t a get-together we had where he didn’t get obnoxiously drunk, I should have said something.

And then it wasn’t even get-togethers, just anytime I saw him, he’d be drinking, clearly on his way to being obnoxiously drunk, before he became that. Thinking he was funny. Or cute. Or waxing poetic about shit where he thought he was stunning all of us with his brilliance, when he barely made sense.

I should have said something then too.

I should have said, “Hey, Brian, go easy.”

Or, “Hey, Brian, what in the hell-blazin’ fuck? Honest to God, do you have to be fucked up all the time?”

I did not do this.

Like I did not tell Angelica maybe I didn’t want to be a stripper for the rest of my life. Maybe I didn’t want to need to have cash on hand to lay on her, or Brian when he came up short for the month, to help them take care of their own children. I didn’t want to feel like I had to be careful with my time so I could be free—again, to help them take care of their own children.

I wanted to flip houses.

I wanted in on that from start to finish.

From finding a great pad, seeing the bones, dreaming what I could make it, negotiating a killer deal, then diving in from demo to design, and then negotiating another deal.

That’s what I wanted.

I had a house.

A year ago, I’d driven by the perfect one, for sale by owner. Even in Denver’s OTT real estate market, I couldn’t let the opportunity pass. I’d been saving for my own place, so I went for it, and with the shape that house was in, I got it for a steal.

I started demo of the inside.

And now it had been sitting untouched for ten months because I didn’t have the money—because I kept giving mine away—or the time—because I kept saying yes to Angelica when she needed me.

And my pride (yeah, I’ll admit it) would not allow me to ask for help.

And my courage (yeah, I’ll admit that too) wasn’t up to the task of telling her, and Brian, to sort their shit out.

So now I was paying a mortgage on a house that was sitting there, rotting.

And I was still in a rental, helping my brother pay his mortgage, and his ex-partner pay his old mortgage.

It was my own damned fault.

All of it.

But when I walked down the hall to the kitchen and saw Portia helping Jethro make PB&Js for their lunch, all those curls, dark (like Angelica) and light (like Brian), it was hard to debate I’d made the wrong choice.

I looked and saw thin, little baggies filled to the brim with potato chips as accompaniment for the PB&Js and I fought back a wince because first, I agreed with my friend Evie that baggies should be outlawed, due to choking dolphins, or destroying the ozone layer, or some shit that I didn’t really care what it was, none of it was good. And I kinda wanted my niece and nephew to inherit a decent world (not to mention, the kids I’d eventually have, maybe, one day, if I ever encountered a decent man). And second, the only thing that held merit in that lunch was kinda the peanut butter.

“How about we get you two some carrot sticks to go with that?” I suggested.

“Euw!” Jethro protested.

“Really?” Portia asked sarcastically over him. “We don’t have carrot sticks. We don’t have anything. This is the last of the bread and chips.”

“Mom’ll get us chips today, she sees we’re out,” Jethro declared.

No judge (okay, warning, there was about to be a judge), but I knew that was the truth.

Angelica put on twenty pounds with Portia, and I thought she looked cute, all new-mom curves.

Jethro was a surprise and came close on Portia’s heels, definitely before Angelica had the time to lose her baby weight should she have wanted to do that. But with Jethro, she put on twenty more.

Now I’d guess she’d added another fifty.

It wasn’t my bag, telling people what to do with their lives, what to put in their mouths, how to handle their bodies.

Be curvy and sassy, if that floated your boat.

Teaching your children that hanging in front of the TV was a major way to pass your time and having chips in the house was more important than getting them properly fueled and off to school, uh…