I shake out of my stunned stupor and look over at him. “You did this?” I ask with disbelief.
“Well, duh. Can’t have my little sister miss her prom because of some boils. Plus, I knew this guy,” he says, pointing at our father, “wouldn’t mind him.” He takes another bite before he looks over my shoulder. “And I know he isn’t going to try to pet the cat.”
“Nathaniel Gregory!” Mom gasps.
“What? Why do you think Dad acts like he does? Just because I’m willing to say the words doesn’t mean you have to freak out.”
I look over at my mom, who has turned bright red.
Daddy laughs at her embarrassment and pulls her into his arms. “Are you sure we didn’t drop that one a few times as a baby?”
She slaps his hard stomach and shakes her head. “You look beautiful, honey. Have fun, okay?”
I smile at her and move my eyes to Daddy to judge his mood.
He just smiles at me. “I trust him. He won’t let any of those pimple-faced, prepubescent boys touch a beautiful hair on your head. Have fun, sweetheart.”
I walk over and give them both a hug, standing up on my toes as far as a can to whisper my gratitude in his ear. He’s annoying, overprotective, and possessive of his girls, but I love him and I know he comes from a good place.
“Uh, excuse me? Do I not get any little-sister love here? I’m the one running this show, you know?”
“You’re such a dork, Nate,” I laugh and give him a hug before turning back to my date.
He’s standing by the door, talking in low tones to my daddy. I can’t hear him, but he’s still smiling, so I’m guessing there isn’t any talk about dismemberment going on. He looks over, his smile deepening and the lines around his eyes crinkling. Something moves behind his eyes that darkens them slightly, but he looks back over at Daddy, finishing up their conversation.
“Ready, Dani-girl?” he asks a few minutes later, making my heart speed up again.
“Yeah. I’m ready.” Or at least as ready as I’ll ever be.
That night, while dancing to Brett Young’s “Kiss by Kiss,” I knew I would never be the same. I could feel the jealous waves coming off every female in the room as he held me in his arms. Of course, I had a man and not a boy as my date. Five years older than I am and very obviously not a teenager.
Being held in his arms was a dream come true. His scent invaded my lungs with every inhale. His eyes twinkled as his smile held me hostage. I knew I would never love a man as much as I love him.
Yeah. That was the night I confirmed what I had always known. What I had always felt.
Cohen Cage owned my heart and I never wanted it back.
Four years later
I swear to God, if he wakes me up like this one more time, I’ll kill him.
Like, really kill him.
Throwing back the covers, I jump out of bed, shivering when my bare feet hit the cold hardwood floor and the cool air hits my fevered skin. Then I march—because really, when you’re in a snit, you shouldn’t just walk. Full-on toddler-like stomping needs to ensue. The door, yanked open and flung back, bounces off the wall with a loud thwack. Then I stomp some more down the hallway until I hit his door. Then, because this is completely normal behavior for a twenty-one-year-old chick, both hands come up and I bang the hell out of his door with both fists.
“You no-good, dirty pervert! I swear to God, Nate., I hope you get a flesh-eating STD and your dick rots off!”
I can hear him laughing at me through the door. The freaking sicko.
“Turn that crap down, Nate!” I yell before a big cough takes over and I have to pause while hacking up a lung . . . or two.
Does he turn it down? Nope, not that low-down, dirty dog. He turns it up and the sounds of female moans, manly grunts, and skin slapping echoes through his doorway and into the hall.
“You’re disgusting!” I scream, doubling my efforts to break down his door so I can kill his sick porn-watching ass by kicking my feet between beats of my fist. “When I get in there, I’m going to beat your head in with your porn collection. Go to town on your thick skull with one of those DVDs until it all just explodes! Nasty dirtbag!”
“Little princess, what in the hell are you doing?”
I spin around and march over to where my father is standing. His hair is standing on all ends, his eyes looking tired, and his expression is a mixture of confusion and exhaustion.
“That in there is exactly why I need my own place. Do you know how disgusting it is waking up to the sounds of your own brother beating his junk? I swear, Daddy, I’m going to kill him!” I end my rant and instantly deflate, coughing a few times. “I just want some sleep. I feel like crap and I literally just fell asleep, and now, the king of pocket play is at it again. Can we just buy him a hooker? Please, Daddy! Let’s get him a hooker.”