Are you ready to meet Banks Carmichael?
Here’s Chapter One. Enjoy!
“Do you want to hear my idea or not?”
Milk drips from the edge of my brother Maddox’s spoon, splashing into the bowl of cereal below. “No.”
“Oh, come on, Mad. This is a great one.”
He scoops a heaping pile of Fruity Pebbles into his mouth, chewing deliberately. The crunches echo around his kitchen like he’s trying to make a point. He makes the point. But that doesn’t mean I have to take it.
“They’re plastic spiders. Fifty in a bag. And—”
“Banks, no.” The spoon hits the bowl with a ding. “I’m married now. I can’t risk life and liberty every time you want to fuck with Jess.”
A slow smirk slips across my face. Maddox pales.
My shenanigans used to be split evenly between our brothers Jess and Moss. They have never been directed at Foxx. Well, aside for one or two that didn’t end well for me. I was forced to abandon Moss as a target when Brooke moved in. Jess moved Pippa in, so he’s not as fun to mess with anymore. That only leaves the last Carmichael standing as a target—Foxx.
“I don’t even want to know,” he says, holding a hand in front of him.
Too bad. “Not Jess.” My smirk grows larger. “Foxx.”
“You’re out of your fucking mind.”
“It’s time.” I move out of the way as Maddox takes his bowl to the sink like a good little husband. “We’ve never done anything to Foxx.”
“Because we don’t want to eat through a straw.”
“Whatever. He probably feels left out.”
Maddox lifts a brow. “Really, Banks?”
“I know I feel left out now that you and Moss and even Jess have all decided we don’t need to be the fearless foursome anymore.”
“We were never the fearless foursome.” He shakes his head. “What’s wrong with you?”
“I’m bored,” I say, opening his refrigerator and taking out his last can of Dr Pepper. “And lonely. And I have a lot of time on my hands these days.”
“Well, I don’t. I have a real estate office to run and a wife to enjoy.”
I crack open the drink and stare at my brother. “Ashley ruined my life.”
“No, she didn’t.” He laughs.
“Yeah. She did.”
Maddox looks at his phone and motions for me to wait.
I take a sip of my soda and gaze around Maddox’s kitchen. We had a lot of good times here. Late-night pizzas, football parties, and one wrestling match that almost ended in a trip to the emergency room. Thank God for Jess’s skills with permanent glue and silver tape.
But that’s all changed now. Everything is changing. No one wants to have fun anymore.
Everyone grew up.
“Sorry about that,” Maddox says, slipping his phone into his pocket. “My appointment got moved up thirty minutes. Love when that happens.”
“Is the problem that it’s spiders?”
He laughs. “No, Banks. It’s not that it’s spiders. It’s not even that it’s Foxx. It’s that I don’t have the energy for the drama right now. The last night you got one of these big ideas, we wound up in jail.”
“But not because of the stickers.”
“The point is the same, Banks. I’m over all of that now. I’m a newlywed, for fuck’s sake. I want to spend time with my wife.” He grins. “Have you seen her? She’s hot.”
“Yeah, I’ve seen her.” I roll my eyes. “But she’s going to cost you me, you know. I’m going to replace you as my best friend, and I’m not sure you’re ready for that.”
“Go for it.”
Go for it? Go for it? “What do you mean go for it? Aren’t you jealous?”
He shakes his head.
“Not even a little bit?”
“No, Banksy, I’m not. This is good for you, buddy. You can spread your wings and fly.”
I glare at him. “I’ll fly right through your window and take back my spot on your couch.”
“Just don’t drop any glitter on the way in.”
Maddox chuckles, way more entertained with himself than I am. “How was work? Did you find anyone to rebuild that carburetor you told me about?”
“Yeah. I got a name of a guy from someone at the marina. No one works on those things anymore. Such a headache.”
“What?” I ask.
“Nothing.” His attention slides over my shoulder. “Hey, babe.”
My shoulders slump as the scent of Ashley fills the kitchen.
She smacks the back of my head as she walks by. “I’m happy to see you too, Sparkles.”
“I never get him all to myself anymore.”
Ashley laughs as Maddox pulls her into his chest, cupping her ass cheeks in his hands, and kisses the shit out of her.
As much crap as I give them about their relationship, I love it for them. They are two of the best people I know. Maddox is loyal and responsible. Ashley is a best friend stealer but otherwise funny and sweet—which is why I went to jail for defending her a few weeks ago. She’s family, whether I like it or not.
I do like it. But I really do miss my brother. It’s so much more fun getting into trouble in pairs.
“I’m over all of that now. I’m a newlywed, for fuck’s sake. I want to spend time with my wife.”
He’s over all of that now. Well, I’m over him being all over it.
“Did you ever do anything with your roommate ad?” Ashley asks. “I’ve been watching your Social account to see if you posted it.”
“Nah, it needs a few tweaks.” I settle my gaze on Maddox. “I need to add a line that I’m looking for a new best friend.”
He throws up his hands with a sigh.
“I’m kidding.” I down the rest of my drink and then toss the can in the trash. “But, no, I haven’t done anything with it. Maybe I should, though. It worked for you and Brooke.”
“And Pippa,” she says.
“Yeah, and the Pipster,” I say, remembering how Jess snagged his dream woman. “I’m thinking about just getting a dog.”
Maddox’s eyes widen. “Don’t do that.”
“Banks. You don’t even know how to feed yourself. It would be reckless for you to take responsibility for another living thing that can’t fend for itself.”
“Ye of little faith.”
Maddox’s phone buzzes. His pointed look lingers before it switches to his phone. “I gotta go. I’ll be home in a couple of hours. Love you, Ash.”
Ashley kisses his cheek. “See you then.”
“Bye,” I say as my brother walks by.
I lean against the counter. Ashley bebops around the kitchen, taking out various vegetables, a package of meat, and a few pots and pans.
“How was your day?” I ask, not really feeling like going home.
She smiles at me over her shoulder. “It was really good. I spent the day with your mom, actually. If I tell you something, you won’t say a word to anyone, right?”
“Say it. Promise me,” she says.
“I promise you I won’t repeat whatever top secret information you’re about to tell me, super sleuth.”
She rolls her eyes. “We went looking at couches.”
I smack my forehead, making her laugh.
“Did you talk her out of whatever she was looking at?” I ask.
“Yes. You know I did.”
“This couch situation is going to be the end of me. I feel like we’re all sneaking around like double agents.” I raise a brow. “I wasn’t built for this level of stress, Ash. I just wasn’t.”
My phone vibrates, and I look down.
Maddox: NO TO THE SPIDERS.
Me: I noted your feelings on the situation.
Maddox: I mean it, Banks. And, for the love of all that’s holy, don’t do anything to Foxx. I can’t save you from him. I’ll have to live with that guilt for the rest of my life. You don’t want to do that to me, do you?
Me: You shouldn’t text and drive. It’s unsafe.
Maddox: It’s called voice-to-text.
Me: I refuse to participate in your attempts at self-harm. Come see me later.
I put my phone in my pocket and ignore the series of vibrations afterward.
“What are you making for dinner?” I ask, peering over her shoulder.
“I’m roasting a chicken with some root veggies.”
I step back, giving her room to work. “Oh.”
“Do you want to come for dinner?”
“I mean, yeah.”
She tries not to smile.
“I aired your tire up this morning,” I say, sitting at the bar. “It was low. Tell your husband to start checking that for you.”
Ashley sets the veggies down and turns around, leaning against the counter. “That was very nice of you.”
“Because I’m a nice guy. And I like when you’re nice to me back. And when you invite me over for dinner. And when you tell me I can stay and watch a movie with you guys.”
She laughs, grabbing a towel and drying her hands. Her phone begins to ring. “Hang on.” She lifts her device. “Hello?”
I take my phone out and surf the interwebs. What did people do in situations like this before there were cell phones with the internet? Did they just sit and stare at the person on the phone? Did they carry books around with them as a diversion? How could you pretend not to listen to the conversation happening in front of you, because obviously, you are, if you have nowhere else to direct your attention?
I’ll ask someone old. I’ll ask Foxx.
My fingers fly across the screen.
Me: Hey, what did you old people do before you had phones with internet and were in social situations where the other person was talking and you had to pretend not to listen?
Foxx has silenced notifications.
“No, Maddox can’t,” Ashley says. “He has a showing right now. Can it wait like two hours?” Her brows pinch together. “Oh. Crap.”
Sounds like someone is having a bad day.
I click on my Social app and scroll through.
“Is Jess home yet?” Ashley asks.
“Nope. He and Dad are at an auction. They’ll be gone until late,” I say.
“He’s not home,” she tells whomever she’s talking to. “Moss and Brooke are both still at work and we’ll pretend Foxx doesn’t exist.”
A 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO? Nice. I click the post and check out the pictures.
“But Banks is here,” Ashley says carefully.
It’s the way she says it that stands the hair on the back of my neck on end. I don’t have to look up to know she’s looking at me.
The energy in the room shifts, and I know the change well enough to know she’s going to ask me to do something I don’t want to do.
I slip off the stool and start toward the door.
“Maybe,” she says, her voice rising. “It won’t be that bad.” She pauses. “Beggars can’t be choosers.”
I try to get out of the door before she says another word. My pace quickens—but not enough.
“Hey, Banks,” she says.
I stop in my tracks but don’t turn around. Not making eye contact helps not to get roped into stuff. “Yeah?”
“Can you do me a teeny, tiny little favor? Pretty please?” she asks.
“Do you a favor, or whoever is on the phone a favor?”
“It would technically be doing me a favor either way.”
Fuck. “So it’s not for you.”
It’s for her.
My chin tips to the ceiling. A rough exhale drains from my body in the most dramatic fashion I can muster because I know who this is for … and I definitely don’t want to do it.
She sighs. “Banks, please.”
I turn around slowly as if it’s killing me—because it kind of is—and narrow my eyes.
“She’s in a bind,” she says, frowning as if that’s going to help.
Which it will, but I’m going to hold strong until it kills me.
“Is that … Sara on the phone?” I ask, curiously.
“Then no,” I say, smiling and pivoting on my heel to leave.
“What?” I groan and face her again. “Call someone else. Whatever it is, call someone else to help her. I’ll even pay for it. It’ll be cheaper than the therapy I’ll have to endure after seeing her.”
“She needs help.”
I cross my arms over my chest. “Oh, I know that. I rode with her all the way to Orlando and back to pick up someone’s shit when they moved in with Maddox.”
I sigh back at her.
We watch one another. Neither of us says a word. But Sara? Sara says lots of words, many of which can be heard through the phone dangling in Ashley’s hand from across the room.
If Sara had called and asked for my help, I wouldn’t answer. The woman is hell on wheels. She’s headstrong and thinks she knows everything. Her aversion to physical labor is astounding.
If I’m water, she’s oil—oil that hasn’t been changed in a hundred-thousand miles. And I’m basically holy water, so it’s a no-go.
But it’s not Sara who’s asking for my help. It’s Ashley. And Ashley is family.
Oh, fuck my life.
I blow out a long, hasty breath.
“I’ll let you come over for dinner tomorrow, too,” Ashley says, luring me in with her fluttery lashes.
Still, I hold strong and think it through.
Even if I put up an argument and do my best to resist her pleas for help, I’ll give in. Arguing will only delay the inevitable. At worst, Ashley will call Maddox, and he’ll call me, asking me to go. And I can’t say no to Maddox because he never says no to me.
Except for the spiders.
“Three dinners,” I say. “And movie nights with you guys every Saturday for a month.”
She grins and thrusts the phone my way.
I take it, glaring at her. It only makes her giggle.
I sigh again, just to set the stage. Can’t let Sara think I’m happy about this.
“Hi, giant pain in the ass,” I say.
“Thinking about my ass again, I see.”
This is gonna suck.