The woman was tall, wearing stretch leggings and a big red bulky sweater. Even though it was thick, it left no doubt that she filled it out a lot better than I filled out mine. Dolly Parton to my . . . well, let’s just say that the greatly endowed wagon had passed me by. Her blonde hair was cascading in glorious waves around her shoulders instead of hanging in tight curls like mine. She no doubt knew her way around a curling iron.She was resting a hand on Aunt Sue’s shoulders like they were the very best of friends. I couldn’t explain it, but I took an immediate dislike to her. Probably because Brad couldn’t take his eyes off her and was starting to drool. “Hey, everyone, this is Cynthia,” Aunt Sue announced, like we should all care when I definitely did not. “She’s staying at the condo next to yours. This is my niece, Kate, my nephew, Sam, and their friends.”“It’s great to meet you all,” Cynthia said a little too breathlessly, her voice having a little squeal to it, like she was trying really hard to sound sexy but she just came across sounding like a cat whose tail had been stepped on.
A snowball unexpectedly and painfully pounded hard into the back of my head. “Ow!”Putting my hand back there, rubbing the sore spot, I spun around and could hardly believe my eyes. My irksome brother was standing on the deck, a huge cocky grin plastered on his irritatingly handsome face.Why had I gotten stuck with the red hair and freckles like Mom while he had not a freckle in sight and had inherited Dad’s dark hair? I tried to take consolation in the fact that he wouldn’t hold on to that beautiful thick hair forever. Eventually, hopefully, it would start to disappear like Dad’s was now doing.“You’re building a snowman? What are you, like, two years old?” he taunted.I was stunned. My brain wouldn’t function, no words would come forth. Because standing right beside him, grinning as well, was . . .Brad Connor.“You’re one to talk,” I finally tossed back at him when my brain kicked into gear. “Throwing snowballs. What are you, like, one?”Okay, so maybe my brain was still in lock-down mode. It was trying to putter along, but it obviously wasn’t warmed up yet.“God, Kate, your comebacks are sharp enough to . . . well, heck, I guess they aren’t sharp.
I mean, Joe hadn’t bothered to thank me once for all I’d done for him that afternoon. And he was a lousy patient. Most guys are from what I understand. But he became the worst after he woke up from his nap, like he was trying to drive me away. Adjust the afghan, bring me some water, bring me some juice, hot chocolate, apple cider, turn up the TV, turn it down, change the DVD. Honestly, you’d think he was completely helpless.Okay, so he was pretty helpless. I’d actually spent some time in my bedroom moving around using only one leg, trying to raise my sympathy level when I got really frustrated with him.
You know, Kate, I’m here for you if you ever need me.”The strange thing was, I knew he meant it. Sure, he was usually clueless, but he was my brother, and I knew he loved me—as much as I loved him.“Thanks, Sam.”He stood up and tucked the part of the quilt he’d borrowed around me. “Don’t stay out here too long. Don’t want to find you here in the morning, a frozen statue. Who’d cook me breakfast?”“I love you, Sam.”“Course you do.” He gave me his usual arrogant grin. “What’s not to love?”Before I could start listing all the things, he disappeared into the condo, leaving me alone with my thoughts. I realized there were times when Sam wasn’t half bad as a brother. So maybe I could understand why Allie had hooked up with him. Of course, I’d never tell him that!
Seriously, you’re okay with me and Allie?”“I question her taste in guys, but yeah, I’m okay. Is that the reason you weren’t acting like a couple tonight? Because you thought it would freak me out?”“I was a little uncomfortable. Stupid, I know. But it’s a little strange liking someone who stays up all night whispering to my sister about personal things. I mean, admit it. You talk a lot about guys.”“Sure, we do, but not the really personal stuff. She won’t reveal your secret handshake.”“It’s not my handshake I’m worried about.”“Pretend it is, because as far as I’m concerned, that’s all the two of you do. Shake hands. Even if I see you two kissing? In my head, I’m going to tell myself that you’re shaking hands.
You okay?” he asked quietly.“Sure. Why wouldn’t I be?”“Brad. I know you were crushing on him, and now he’s packed it up and moved next door. I wanted to make sure you weren’t having trouble dealing with it.”“I can’t believe Allie told you about my crush.”“Give me a break, Kate. I’ve known since family weekend. When was the last time you wanted to take a picture of me? Document my freshman year? What? Do I have clueless tattooed across my forehead?”Narrowing my eyes, I leaned toward him. “Yeah, I think maybe you do.” Even in the shadows I could see him grin. This was so totally weird. Sitting out here, having an almost normal conversation with my brother.“He’s not your type, Kate.”I scoffed. “How do you know my type? I don’t even know my type.”“Trust me, when you do figure your type out, you’re gonna realize it’s not Brad. I mean, I like him, and he’s a great roommate, but what I want in a friend and what you need in a boyfriend aren’t the same. He’d just end up hurting you. Then I’d have to beat the crap out of him.”I couldn’t stop myself from smiling. “Would you really do that for me, Sam?”“You know I would.” His voice was totally serious.And I realized that he was so not joking. His revelation stunned me almost as much as Joe’s kiss. No, wait, nothing would ever throw me off balance as much as that kiss.“You do know that, don’t you, Kate?” Sam asked. “You’re my sister and I . . .” He waved his hand. “That L-word. You know.”“Love?” I asked.“Don’t make me say it, okay? Just know it’s true. I know I give you a hard time, but hey, that’s what brothers do. It’s part of our genetic makeup, a little chip inside our brains that gets activated when our parents shove a screaming baby sister in our face.”“Like you’d have a memory of that moment. You were only fifteen months old.”“Whatever. Look, I’m out here right now because I’ve been a little worried about you, and I haven’t really been able to get you alone to talk.”“You’ve been able to get Allie alone.” And for a lot more than conversation.He grimaced. “Yeah, she told me you know about us. Are you okay with that?”“What if I’m not?”“Then tough. Get over it.”“Some understanding brother you are.”“I’ve got my limits.”“So you really like her, huh?”“Yeah, I have for a long time, but geez, she’s my sister’s best friend. How weird is that?”“Totally weird. When she described the way you kiss—”“What?” Horror echoed his voice. His eyes were wide, his mouth open.“Payback for the snowball,” I said snidely.“I already paid you back for that.”“So? Maybe there’s a little chip inside a girl’s brain that gets activated when her brother is a jerk and erases paybacks as soon as they happen so we need a steady stream of them.”“You’re definitely not playing nice, Kate.” I heard him heave a sigh. “You know, that’s part of the reason I’ve steered clear of Allie. I don’t want her discussing my . . . moves with my sister.”“Yeah, like you’ve got moves.”He gave me a cocky look. “Hey, I’ve got moves.”I held up a hand. “Definitely don’t want to hear about them.”“Definitely don’t want you to hear about them.
Are you driving?” I asked Sam.“Nope. I plan to do some drinking,” Sam said.“You’re not old enough,” I reminded him.“Never stopped me before.”“Sam!”He halted and glared at me. “What? You gonna tattle to Mom and Dad?”Was I? No. But he didn’t know that. Besides, as irritating as my brother was, he was good for one thing: blackmail. And it was payback time for the snowball he’d hit me with yesterday.“Not if you make a contribution to the Kate-have-a-good-time fund.”“Ah, Kate, come on. I’m not hurting anyone. I’m a responsible drinker.”“How can you be responsible if you’re breaking the law?”“I don’t drive when I drink. No one gets hurt except me, if I happen to fall flat on my face.”“You get that drunk?”“I’ve got better things to do than discuss my life with you.” He reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. “How much?”“Twenty should do it.”“Five.” “Ten.”He held out the bill that had one of my favorite presidents on it. “You know, Kate, no one likes a snitch.”I snatched it from his fingers, folded it up, and shoved it into the front pocket of my jeans. “Payback’s a bitch, Brother.”“What?”“I wouldn’t have tattled. But I didn’t like getting hit with a snowball yesterday, either. So now we’re even.”He snapped his fingers. “Give it back.”“Nope. Possession is nine-tenths of the law.”“You don’t even know what that means.”“And I suppose you do.