“Because I was her boss.”
“Afterward—now—why don’t you ask her out?”
Tuck sat back down and reached for the bottle on the table between them. He took off the cap and poured himself another drink.
“I did,” he admitted. “She said no.”
Dixon cocked his head. “Did she understand the question?”
“Yes, she understood the question.”
“Did she give you a reason?”
“She doesn’t trust me. She’s got it in her head that I’m still an irresponsible playboy. She doesn’t think she can count on me.”
Tuck knew why she would feel that way. He also knew she deserved to feel that way. But she was wrong. If she’d give him half a chance, she’d find out she could count on him.
“So that’s it? You’re not going to fight?”
“How do I fight something like that?”
“How do you fight Dad? How do you fight his perception of you?”
“By standing up for myself. By taking my rightful place in this family.”
Dixon cracked a smile. “And?” It was obvious he thought he had Tuck cornered.
“It’s not the same thing. I have no rights to Amber at all.”
“You do if she’s in love with you.”
“She’s not—” Tuck froze. He gaped at his brother. “What makes you say that?”
“I asked her.”
Tuck moved his jaw, struggling to voice the question, terrified to voice the question. “Did she say yes?”
“She said no.”
Everything inside Tuck went flat. In that second, he realized he’d held out hope. He’d known it was impossible, but he couldn’t seem to stop himself from dreaming.
“But she was lying,” said Dixon.
Tuck blinked in bafflement.
“She’s in love with you, bro.”
“That can’t be.” Tuck didn’t dare hope.
“I’m not saying she’s smart or right. I’m just saying she is.”
A million thoughts exploded inside Tuck’s head. Was it possible? Should he give it another shot? Should he not take her refusal at face value?
“You need to fight,” said Dixon. “You’re tough, and you’re smart and you know what you deserve. Fight Dad, fight Amber if she’s being stubborn. Hell, fight me if you think I’m wrong.”
Tuck tried but failed to temper his hope. “You are wrong. You’re wrong about a lot of things.”
“Then, fight me.”
“But I hope you’re right about this.”
“You love her?”
“Yes,” said Tuck, knowing it was completely and irrevocably true. He was in love with Amber and he was going to fight for her with everything he had.
* * *
Amber rocked Crystal in her arms while Jade worked on an English essay on her laptop. She told herself they were a family now. She had her job back, and the future was bright. Little Crystal was perfect, and she was going to grow up safe and happy, knowing she had a devoted mom and aunt to care for her.
Her gaze strayed to a glossy magazine on the coffee table. Chicago About Town. Jade had brought it home with the groceries. There was an inset photo on the bottom left, Tuck with a beautiful blonde woman. She didn’t know who it was and it was impossible to know when the photo was taken. But Amber was jealous.
Tuck was back to his old life, while Dixon’s words kept echoing inside her head. Are you in love with Tuck?
How could she have fallen in love with Tuck? How could she have been so foolish? She had so much going for her right now. Jade was working hard. She was going to pass her equivalency test. She was going to be a great mom.
Amber kissed the soft top of Crystal’s head. The future was blindingly optimistic. All she had to do was get Tuck out of her head.
Her chest tightened and her throat seemed to clog.
“Amber?” Jade asked softly.
Amber swallowed. “Yes?”
Jade rose from her chair. “Is it too much?”
It was. It was far too much. Amber didn’t know if she’d be able to get over him. She didn’t want to keep fighting her feelings.
“Me and Crystal?” Jade continued. “Are we too much work?”
“What? No. No, honey. It’s not you.”
“You look so sad.”
“I’m just tired.”
“No, you’re sad.”