Read the first chapter of My Brother's Best Friend below!

I shuffled my butt deeper into my parent’s cushioned dining chair, creating a comfortable groove for myself as the smell of roast beef laced the air of my family home. This evening could take a long-ass time. And I never appreciated the unrivaled luxury of a padded ass as much as I did on Mom’s family dinner night. I’d say they were drawn out, but that would undersell the weekly occasion.

They were relaxed, extended, protracted… To be fair, they were pretty much epic, and somehow Mom seemed to always have enough food for leftovers, a smile wider than the Grand Canyon, and unending patience for the uninterrupted stream of voices, raucous comments, and a family that seemed to grow bigger each year.

I glanced at everyone around the table—the familiar faces I’d grown up with, the bodies they’d grown into. Although, possibly Grady never would grow up. If I waited for him to start acting like an adult, I could be waiting a long time. Maybe the children in his class were lucky he’d forgotten that essential part of life, though. I rolled my eyes a little before dismissing my flash of irritation. Being happy all the time wasn’t obnoxious, and we’d all benefited from a Grady mood-lightening comment or pick-me-up. Still, the fact he had next to no parental pressure on any given day grated just a little. He almost skated through life, hassle-free.

Man, my brothers were loud. I should have been used to it, but it just felt like, every time we met, the volume increased, and the competition to be heard grew a little.

I could do without that competition today.

Pursing my lips, I waited for the right time to tell everyone—although if I waited for the right time, I could theoretically wait forever. I poured some more ice water into the heavy bottomed tumblers Mom always set out on the perfectly laid table, and swirled it around, watching the ice clink together.

 “You okay over there, Jamie?”

I glanced up, startled to hear my name over all the hubbub and Grady’s latest joke.

Mom had one eyebrow raised—the usual quizzical look she wore when she believed there was information she didn’t know. She lifted it a notch higher, and I sighed.

Sweet Jesus, somewhere along the line the woman had missed her calling as a CIA operative or a human lie detector. No one would ever need to doubt my sincerity in life, that was for sure. All they’d ever need to do was have me look into Vanessa Caldwell’s eyes as she interrogated me. The sharp surgeon’s gaze she hadn’t lost when she retired bored into me.

“Yeah, sure. No problem, Mom.” I grinned and raised my shoulders in a nonchalant shrug, trying to bluff it out despite her unnerving talent for truth finding. Fuckwit. I knew better than that because my carefree denial I had anything to discuss had sealed the deal and my fate—I saw it the moment her eyes narrowed.

She nudged Dad. “I think Jamie has something he wants to tell us.”

As if she’d sounded a klaxon, the room fell silent, and my skin blistered under the heat of every gaze on me.

“Oh?” Dad leaned back in his seat and lifted his wine glass to his lips as he watched me.

Saint glanced between Mom and Dad then his gaze settled on me.

“Yeah.” I glanced down, suddenly nervous, but before I could tell anyone anything, the chatter of my other siblings rose around us once more as if sealing Mom, Dad, Saint, and me in a bubble.

All my life, I’d been desperate to impress them all. Mon, Dad, Saint… maybe especially Saint. It’d been a risky move to follow my second oldest brother into law—especially when Saint and his business partner owned a such a successful law practice at a relatively young age. He’d made Mom and Dad so proud, despite their own achievements. Maybe in spite of them. They certainly seemed to expect to have created more than their fair share of genius babies with high aspirations and achievement potential.

Saint continued to watch me, his gaze growing thoughtful, and I stiffened with sudden realization. He was about to spoil my surprise. That shitbag.

“You know…” He straightened a cuff, the gesture of a confident man. “We’re sitting right at the time of year when they give out the intern group results.”

And there it was. I couldn’t even break my own news these days. Damn brothers. I could almost guarantee someone had always done everything else first. Nothing had ever been just mine.

“Is Saint right, Jamie?” Mom was still on the search for whatever I was hiding.

 “Yeah.” My voice came out smaller than I hoped, less confident.

“And?” She glanced at Dad, who remained silent as he took another sip of his wine, but the silence was a ruse.

He hid his curiosity better than Mom. That wasn’t unusual. He always took time to reflect before springing into action.

“How did you do?” she prompted when I didn’t answer right away.

“I did pretty good.” I shrugged.

She sighed, the sound exasperated, and Saint touched her arm lightly.

“I think,” he supplied, “that Jamie means he passed his tests.”

“Fabulous!” Mom’s face brightened.

“Not that we ever doubted it.” Dad tipped his glass in my direction in a small salute.

“What next? Do you have a plan?”

I almost laughed at Mom’s continued questions, and I stole a glance at Saint. Shit…he was watching me, too. I didn’t want his attention on me.

“Jamie needs to find somewhere to intern.” Saint’s words were flat and emotionless, and his face didn’t betray how he felt, either.

“Well, that’s easy.” Dad set his glass down. “We have the owner of a law office right here.” He looked at Saint.

I squirmed in my seat. I’d already considered asking Saint to host me as an intern—of course I had. He was the logical choice. In a family with so many members, the majority of my life depended on who I knew, not what, and I wasn’t afraid of that reality, but I definitely didn’t want to abuse it. No, I wanted to work for Saint based on merit, rather than family connection, or not at all.

I definitely didn’t want any special favors or treatment.

Saint raised an eyebrow, and I sighed. Shit, the guy was like Mom. No wonder he made such a good lawyer. He could get to the bottom of anything or manipulate his way around the truth without even breaking a sweat, depending on where his mood took him.

“I wasn’t going to ask…I mean, only if you think…” I inwardly berated myself as I trailed off. Talk about selling myself. Why would my brother want to hire me if I couldn’t even make words into coherent sentences, never mind arguing my own case?

He started to nod, the movement slow and subtle, and I rushed on, not wanting him to speak.

“You just…think about it, yeah?” There were so many reasons I couldn’t work for Saint—the potential for family overinvolvement being just one.

The other reasons—all of them—were Nico. As I thought of him, my breath lodged in my chest.

Dear God, Nico.

My thought was halfway a prayer, halfway a cry for help. I’d nursed a crush on Saint’s best friend—now business partner—for longer than I even knew hormones existed.

Growing up in my household, as one of eight boys, there’d been a constant stream of… well, for lack of a better word, eye candy, as guy friends of all ages and stages of development visited or passed through on the way to evenings out or long afternoons of computer games and sports on TV. I’d definitely benefited from being a middle brother growing up.

But Saint, spoilsport of all spoilsports, hadn’t enjoyed jokes about how hot his friends were. Maybe he’d known I wasn’t entirely joking. But he’d introduced a ‘no dating friends’ rule, which hadn’t exactly limited things in a town as big as Lakeshore, but it had completely and utterly taken Nico off my table. He was no longer on the menu. I would not be partaking of that delicious dish…et cetera, et cetera. And not only had I not so much as looked in Nico’s direction—well, maybe a quick peek, easily disguised as looking at the view behind him—I’d never confessed to anyone how I felt.

Instead, I sat back and waited for my crush to fade away. I assumed all stages of unrequited love did that if it wasn’t acted on, but it became the itch I couldn’t scratch.

So, I wasn’t sure about putting myself in a position where I might see him on a daily basis. I certainly couldn’t break Saint’s rule, and I’d never challenge or confront Saint on that, either. But could I condemn myself to that level of unexpressed and unaddressed desire?

 Everyone had returned to chatting as I contemplated my moral dilemma over asking Saint to let me work for him, and I sat back, comfortable not to be the center of anyone’s attention.

I dug my fork into the remaining piece of Mom’s much-loved brownies and brushed the mouthful through the rapidly melting vanilla ice cream. As much as showing up each week was pretty much a pain in the ass, I really did enjoy watching my family grow around me. Mason and Julian had both found wives—hopefully giving Mom her girl fix. She sure deserved it after all these years of wrangling boys.

And as I observed everyone, it was hard not to acknowledge how privileged we were—Mom’s recent retirement as a surgeon at the top of her game and Dad’s skill with programming and apps meant we enjoyed a pretty exclusive lifestyle in the hills surrounding Lakeshore. And we enjoyed a spectacular view over the lake itself.

I made sure to make time for Mom’s family dinner because it was more important to her than any of our individual achievements, which put it a long way up a very tall totem pole. I held a sigh in as I chewed, letting the rich, chocolate flavor flood my taste buds as I considered how to announce my good news to the rest of my family. They’d all been too busy listening to Grady laugh it up at Kairo’s expense when Saint told Mom and Dad. I grinned. Kairo needed whatever loosening up Grady could dish out. He had one default—serious and responsible.

“What were you whispering about with Mom, Dad, and Saint, Jamie?”

I jumped as Leo bellowed at me from the other end of the table. If he’d spoken any quieter, I probably wouldn’t have heard him, but his words silenced everyone, and for the second time, they all focused on me. I glanced at Saint, unwilling to let him tell any more of my family my good news.

“No whispering.” I grinned in Leo’s direction. “You just couldn’t hear me over Grady’s loud mouth.”

“Well?” Kairo looked at me, his gaze unwavering.

I held my sigh in again. There was such a thing as too many brothers. “I passed some tests, that’s all.” Excellent, and now my reluctance to speak on command had me downplaying my own achievement.

“Not quite all,” Saint supplied, and I darted a quick glare in his direction. “Tell them what these tests mean.” He ran his index finger lazily around the rim of his glass as he spoke.

Ugh. I rolled my eyes upward, taking in Mom and Dad’s huge crystal shard chandelier as it bounced and refracted glints of light around the room. The whole house essentially seemed to be a system of glass boxes, with huge windows maximizing the views, and Mom had installed modern light fittings alongside minimalist decor to take advantage of the massive spaces. Clever use of interior walls, pillars, and glass in the bedrooms that frosted at the flick of a switch provided enough privacy for our huge family as we all grew up.

 “Not a lot.” I shrugged, minimizing again.

I hated being a middle child—well, somewhere in the middle, anyway. My entire life consisted of answering to the others, never being quite good enough, and performing on command. And no achievement was ever entirely my own. Someone had always walked a path ahead of me, and in this case, Saint had pretty much laid the path—perfectly.

I lifted my eyebrows, almost challenging him, and a small smirk appeared on his lips, as if he’d known I had some defiance in me all along. “I passed some tests and they bring me another step closer to taking the bar and graduating.” I finished strong, and nodded, pleased with myself for finally delivering my own news.

Kairo nodded, but said nothing, and Grady whooped his enthusiasm, leaning across the table to high-five me as the noise level in the room rose again.

Saint raised his hand, the gesture commanding almost instant reaction as conversations cut off mid-word. “And Jamie will be coming to intern for me.”

“Hell, yeah!” Grady leaned in again for another high-five, but I batted him away.

“Hey, not so fast, Saint. I think there will be other firms interested in this fine package.” I gestured at myself. “I have a lot to offer.”

“Oh, yeah.” Grady grabbed hold of my mood. “Offers will pour in. The mailman will roll his truck right up to the door tomorrow because the mailbox won’t hold all the letters from interested parties.”

“I see.” Mom spoke. “Are we going to need to hire someone to handle your correspondence, Jamie?”

“Maybe.” I smiled. “And I’ve seen enough of this goof to last a lifetime, never mind working with the guy.” I threw a light punch at Saint’s shoulder, but he just shook his head.

“Working for, Jamie. Working for. It’s an important distinction.”

I scratched my chin, pretending to consider his words. “Good point.”

And that took me back to the number of reasons I didn’t actually want to work for Saint—Nico always being number one—although being completely accountable to my brother was another good one, but there was really no professional reason to turn such an opportunity down.

Saint and Nico ran a top-notch, quality representation firm. And if nothing else, Saint’s love of bling and the flashier side of life spoke to how much money they made doing it. He always drove a high-end car, and none of his clothes came right off the rack. He’d definitely developed a taste for the finer things in life and had the bank balance to afford it. I wanted to be part of a prestigious, well-respected firm, and I wanted a slice of Saint’s wealth pie, no matter how mercenary that sounded. But with successful, self-made parents like ours, who wouldn’t? I wanted to prove myself.

“Okay. I suppose I can turn down the other offers I’ll start to receive and disappoint every legal firm in a fifty-mile radius to come and work for you,” I conceded.

“Not quite that easy.” Saint twisted his mouth into a mischievous grin. “You’ll have to be interviewed, just like anyone else.”

Bitter disappointment cramped briefly in my chest, alongside irrational anger that I might not be good enough for my own brother, but I tamped down both of those emotions immediately. I didn’t want favors. I didn’t particularly want Nico. An interview worked on both counts.

“Better bring your A-game,” Saint taunted, one eyebrow cocked.

I rose to his challenge immediately, the desire to win blocking out every other feeling. “You’d better believe it. I’ve got it all under control. I can ace any interview.” The boastful words fell from my lips.

I didn’t want Saint believing I had no confidence in myself. Besides, I could absolutely wow him in an interview. My grades had been more than good enough for any company to see me as an asset.

Saint leaned back, his pose casual, his arm stretched along the back of Mom’s seat. “Well, I might like you,” he said, his tone as smooth as silk, “but don’t forget Nico and I have to be in complete agreement before we do any hiring.”

And it only took hearing Nico’s name on Saint’s lips to make me doubt myself all over again. Then a small flicker of want ignited deep in my gut for the man I could never have—not if I wanted to stick to Saint’s rules.

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