Hooked by Love (Bellevue Bullies #3)(5)

By: Toni Aleo

“I did not!”

“Yes, you did! Like a love-sick little kid.” He laughs as Baylor wraps her arms around his shoulders. He hugs her tightly and I glare.

“I was not. I was inviting her to a party.”

“How’d that go? She turn you down?” Jayden laughs, leaning against the wall, his green eyes taunting me.

“Probably, he has no game. She was probably scared of him, all stalkerish and shit.” Lucy shakes her head in horror. “You’d think y’all would have taught him better.”

“Hey, it isn’t my fault you dropped him on his head and it messed up the ‘how to work a girl’ part of his brain,” Jude says back to her as Claire snickers.

I did like her before.

“Um, no. You dropped him.” Lucy is serious, standing as she points. “Or was it Jayden?”

“No, it was Jude,” Jayden proclaims before I cry out in frustration.

“You guys are dicks. I have game! She’s going.”

You know, when you have a best friend, you expect them to stand by you.

But my best friend isn’t like that.

Like the dick he is, Markus chuckles. “She was already coming.”

“Asshole,” I sneer as my family breaks out in gut-busting laughter.

Still smiling, Jude comes toward me, tears in his eyes from laughing so hard before he wraps his arms around me in a big bear hug. He then picks me up off the ground a good inch as he hugs me tightly. I don’t hug him back on the principle of the matter. But I don’t last, and soon, I’m hugging him back. I haven’t seen him since the beginning of summer when he came home for a weekend before he and Claire went back to Vegas so Claire could work at her burlesque club. I’ve missed him terribly and I hate that he couldn’t spend the summer with us, but he’s a married man.

But still, it’s hard growing up with a solid unit, a loving, close-knit family, and then not having it anymore.

First, it was my parents’ divorce that rocked this family to the core. I don’t think anyone is over the betrayal and hurt my father caused us yet. I think I’m the only one who still speaks to him without lawyers. No one else wants anything to do with him and I don’t blame them, but I still yearn for my dad’s attention. I don’t know why, but I do, and that’s my own personal demon to deal with. I don’t understand my siblings. I don’t ever want to tell anyone my dad and I are still in touch or ask for guidance because I know it would upset my mom—and possibly piss off my older siblings.

After the divorce, it seemed like everything was in fast-forward. Jude moved to California slash Vegas with Claire; they’re married and happy, and we only see them maybe five times a year. It’s been an adjustment and it sucks. Jude may get on my nerves, but I look up to him. Hell, I’ve wanted to be him for as long as I can remember. I’m more like him than Jayden. Jude always wanted to play first and think later, but Jayden wasn’t like that. He thinks everything out, and he is constantly worried about everyone. Don’t get me wrong, I worry about the people I love, but I’m not selfless like he is. He’s also always wanted that person to complete him. Jude didn’t, and I’m the same way. Well, Jude didn’t until Claire came along.

Make no mistake, I love my sisters-in-law, both of them, but I miss my family. Even though Jayden is still living in Nashville with Baylor, I hardly ever see him. He’s too busy being married and shit, which is cool, I get it. I know it’s a part of life, but I miss my brothers. I love Lucy but there is a six-year difference between us, and I think she’s always been annoyed by me. She’s also way past my maturity level. She’s been married, divorced, and has a kid of her own. She doesn’t have time for drama or anything along those lines. She’s got too much to worry about, and I don’t want to add to that. Plus, she suffers from a serious case of resting bitch face, so it can be hard to talk to her. Thankfully though, I know she loves me or I would be worried.

It just sucks because I remember when everyone was happy and good—together. Now, Mom is lonely, Dad is marrying the chick he cheated on my mom with—which has everyone in an uproar—Lucy hates life, minus her daughter, Angie, Jude and Jayden have found happiness somewhere else… And then there is me. Trying to find my way and make my dreams come true.

But before I can fully dwell on the feeling of loss, Jude is laughing, stealing my attention.

“Do you need me to teach you game?” he teases as he puts me down, and I flip him off.

“I have game.”

“And you lost your game—you’re married,” Claire says from the side, but Jude doesn’t pay her any mind. His eyes are teasing as Jayden wraps his arm around my neck, squeezing me tight.

“Sure, you do, Jace. And why haven’t I heard from you?”

I roll my eyes at him. “’Cause you have a wife.”

“Hey,” Baylor complains, smacking my shoulder. “You love me.”

“I do,” I say as we hug tightly, and I can’t help thinking that I really lucked out on the sister–in-law gig. My former brother-in-law, Lucy’s ex-husband, was the biggest douche canoe I had ever met, and I was only ten when I met him. I knew then he wouldn’t last, but the moment I met Baylor, and even Claire, I knew they were the other halves to my brothers. I’m closer to Baylor, though, but that’s just because I haven’t been able to spend time with Claire the way I do with Baylor. I sometimes see her more than my brother.

Which is sad, actually.

“I’m just saying,” I add, squeezing her once more as I make eye contact with Jayden. “She calls me for lunch. You do not.”

“That’s only ’cause she’s been training at the university with her dad.”

I give him a speculative look at his accusation and shake my head. “Whatever, I don’t have guilt that I don’t see you, but apparently you do.”

Jayden protests. “Please. No guilt here.”

“Well, I have guilt. Come here, brother hug,” Jude says, wrapping his arms around the both of us. “No sisters allowed!” he adds while Lucy flips us off, and everyone is laughing except me. I don’t think they understand how much I miss them, and I’m absorbing all the love my brothers are showering me with. I never thought I’d miss living in their shadows, but I do. I sort of miss them making fun of me, picking on me, and bossing me around. I don’t know; it’s just been a weird couple years.

“Losers.” Lucy’s voice holds no trace of humor, but everyone laughs anyway. It’s common knowledge that my sister is a bitch, and after all that’s happened, I don’t blame her. She’s an interior designer trying to find her way and single mom with a deadbeat ex-husband. I just wish she could be happy. That maybe someone would come along to show her what real love is like. I doubt she’s looking for him, though. I’m pretty sure we are on the same page about love.

It’s dumb.

Soon, my mom is calling us all to the table and we head toward the dining room. I’m thankful because any more of the hugging and greeting shit and I was going to scream. I hate the reminder that I don’t see these people daily like before. As I cut through the living room of my old family home, I notice my bags are packed and by the couch. “Mom, you packed my stuff?”

“You said you were leaving today, right?” she calls from the kitchen.

“Yeah, but I was gonna do it after dinner.”

“I had time,” she says, waving me off, but I know she didn’t. She did it because she is always moving. She’s never just chill; she won’t allow it. She works a full-time job as a teacher, she runs this household, and she worries constantly about all of us. Ever since the divorce, she has changed. She used to be this thick, fluffy, happy woman, but now she has lost all the fluff and thickness—and even the smile. She isn’t the woman I remember, and I wish I could bring my mom back. I just wish she’d take it easy. Find something other than her kids to make her happy.

“Well, thanks,” I call out as my niece jumps on me, and I catch her easily. Looking every bit like her momma and nothing like that douche, Angie grins at me as she hugs me tightly.

“I don’t want you to leave.”

I nod. “I know, but now we won’t be fighting over the TV.”

Her eyes light up as she hugs me tightly. “Oh yeah, but I’m gonna miss you.”

“I’ll miss you too.” I kiss her cheek before putting her back down and taking her hand. “You like school?”

“Yeah, my teacher is nice and things are cool, but I want to play hockey, Jace. Like you guys. Talk to my mom; Jayden is already trying to convince her.”

“I got you,” I say with a wink and a little guilt weighs on my chest. This summer was the last summer I had at home with Angie. I’ll be leaving soon, just like everyone else. While it’s everything I want, it’s kind of a scary thought.

“Awesome! I’m gonna play like you, and I’m gonna be the best.”

“Angie! You know I’m the best,” Jude hollers and she grins sheepishly as Jayden snorts.

“Please, I’m the best.”

Also By Toni Aleo

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