Cope had been smiling pretty much nonstop since, well, since he’d first gotten up the nerve to ask Ella out, but most definitely since they’d finally gotten naked and sweaty at his place.
Four days. It had been four days since he’d held her, kissed her, touched her skin.
Friday night had been the finest sexual experience of his life. Sharing with someone he connected to like he did Ella had been mind-blowing. The reality of her, of being inside her, her taste on his lips, her skin under his hands, had been far better than even his wildest fantasies about her.
She’d unleashed something deep inside him. Had held up a mirror, and the man she saw—the Andrew she believed him to be—was so much more than the Cope he’d allowed himself to coast into. He’d alternated between shame that he’d been so lazy and pride that she saw far more than the surface. Unerringly, Ella Tipton had stripped away all the artifice and struck deep, to the heart of him. That was humbling.
He needed to hold that to his heart just then. “Dad, wait.”
His father turned around and, seeing it was Cope, slowed down. Cope knew if he’d run his father to ground at home his dad would have just used his shop to hide behind. Instead, he knew his dad and Todd’s went to the Renton Fish and Game Club three times a week to shoot guns and the shit with all the other old retired cops.
Cope put his hands in his pockets and leaned against his dad’s driver’s side door.
“I didn’t expect to see you today. I just finished up in there.” Billy motioned back toward the building he’d come from. “But I can always stand some more.”
Another area Ben had excelled in, marksmanship, was something he and their father had shared. Or they used to. Cope was good enough for the job, better than most in fact, but he wasn’t Ben. His scores didn’t still remain on the wall of fame like Ben’s did. But Ben and their father didn’t go shooting together anymore.
“Nah. I’m good. I was just at the range on Friday. Listen, Dad, I need to talk to you about Ben and the baby.”
His father’s smile slipped away, his mouth hardening into an implacable line. “Subject’s closed, boy. Your brother has his head in the wrong place. More like he’s using the wrong one. You have nothing to add.”
And that was really the heart of it, wasn’t it? His father truly believed that. “Bull. Dad, you can’t call him and hint around that he’d be better off if Erin lost that baby. She’s been having problems lately with her blood pressure. Did you know that? Can you imagine what you made him feel like when you brought up the chance of her losing the pregnancy? What the hell were you thinking? You can’t possibly wish this. It’s like you’re a total stranger.”
The narrowing of eyes and crossing of arms had kept Ben and Cope in line as boys, even into their teen years and beyond. Right then, though, Cope was more afraid his father had damaged the family past all ability to fix.
“This is none of your business, Andrew. If you and your mother would stay out of it, I’d have talked some sense into your bother long before now. He’s not in his right mind. I won’t pretend otherwise.”
“It’s going on four years now, Dad, that Ben’s been with Todd and Erin. It’s not a passing phase. This isn’t about Ben’s cock. Do you think so little of him that he would just make disastrous choices to get laid? Come on. As far as business goes? This is my business. My family is my business. You made a comment about your grandchild dying. How is that sense? That’s crazy and hateful. Even if Erin was bewitching Ben in some way, what’s it to you? This is nonsense, and you’re ripping the family apart.”
His father leaned close, but Cope stood his ground. “He’s my son. He’s meant for so much more than this. He’s not even gay. I could deal with that. But he’s got one of each and neither of them is worthy of Ben.”
“Are you even listening to yourself? He’s happier than I have ever seen him. Is he in a relationship you can talk about in the annual Copeland Christmas letter? Probably not. But so what? I’m with them all the time; I have zero doubt that he’s not just loved by Erin and Todd but adored by them. They’re making a family together. He doesn’t need your approval of where he puts his johnson.”
“Watch your mouth, Andrew.”
He rolled his eyes at his father. “He loves them right back, you know. They’re good together. They’re having a baby, and it’s theirs. Not Todd’s, not Ben’s, but theirs. I’m not asking you to think this is all great. I’m telling you, you have to find a way to deal with this. Mom is sick all the time. Holidays are the pits since you refuse to allow them in the house. We’re all in the middle, and you’re pushing everyone away.”
“Why are you here? This is between me and Ben. Your mother has nothing to do with it either.”
“Does she know you made that little crack about Erin falling down some stairs?”
Cope dodged his father’s fist as Mr. Keenan came charging toward them, hauling Cope’s dad back. “Billy Copeland! Stand down, man. This is your boy!”
“You’re tearing us apart, Dad. I hope you realize this before it’s too late. Some things you say can’t be taken back.”
“I should have said more a long time ago. Look at you! Can’t be bothered to do anything but hit on rich women and charge them too much for security services. Your whole life is about getting ass, Andrew. Your brother is wasting all his promise in this stupid whatever the hell he’s in. I failed the both of you.”
Cope felt it like the slap it was. He took a step back. “Yeah, you did fail.” He looked to Mr. Keenan. “I apologize that you had to get in the middle of this.” He turned and walked away, his good mood disappeared.
For a moment after he’d walked into the café, Cope watched the table where his mother was sitting and knitting. She’d aged a lot over the last several years. The estrangement between father and son had torn her apart. And it hadn’t just been their father who’d reacted so strongly against Ben’s choosing to be with Erin and Todd. Their older sister had taken their father’s side along with Todd’s oldest brother and his wife. Holidays, once boisterous and filled with Keenans and Copelands, were now a more subdued and careful event. He knew it had taken a toll on everyone. Even his father’s rock-solid friendship with Todd’s father had taken a huge hit. After that morning, Cope feared there’d be permanent cracks between them.
“Hey, Mom.” Cope kissed his mother’s cheek before sitting down with her at the table. They regularly met at the café for lunch or coffee. It made Erin feel better to see her there, and it helped his mother feel more connected to Ben and the baby to come.
Cope walked it like the minefield it was, just relieved one of his parents wasn’t acting like an idiot.
“You look good. I swear if I didn’t know it was impossible, I’d ask if you grew an inch or two. Tell me what’s putting that sparkle in your eye.”
“As it happens, I’m, um, I don’t know what to call it. Courting? Seeing someone in the early stages and trying to convince her she should take a chance on me. Whatever you call that, that’s what I’m doing. It feels really good.”
Ella came out from the back, her laugh catching his attention, yanking his gaze from his mom’s face to where she stood in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt. She wore that smile of hers, the one he saw too rarely but yearned for. Open, joyful, it made her even more beautiful.
What an unexpected pleasure it was to see her, to hear her after not seeing her for a few days.
His mom laughed in the background. “I see. This lady you’re courting, is it Ella?”
He turned back to her. “Yeah. I’m pretty smitten.”
“She’s a nice girl. Troubled past though.” His mother searched his features, and he wasn’t sure whether to be insulted or amused. Not clear on whether her comments were negative toward him or Ella, or whether he was taking it wrong. After his father’s comments earlier, he knew he was oversensitive, so he tried to blow it off.
“Who doesn’t have a troubled past these days? She’s a good person.”
His mother merely smiled mysteriously and then waved to Ella before turning back to him. “I know she is.”
The she in question walked over with a carafe of coffee and a bowl, which she placed in front of Cope. “Nice to see you today, Andrew.” She indicated the bowl. “Soup. Chicken wild rice.” She topped off his mother’s cup of coffee. “Any more coffee cake, Mrs. Copeland?”
“That would hit the spot nicely, honey.”
“How about you, Andrew? Want a latte? I set aside one of those cinnamon scones you like for your dessert.”
She knew he was a total whore for those cinnamon scones.
“I thought you were only in for mornings a few days a week.”
“I’m here for lunch with Erin and Elise. I arrived first, though I heard banging around in the back, so I bet Erin is here now too and just came in through Brody’s shop. I figured I’d bring you some food and coffee while I was here.” She cocked her head.
“Well, since you’re offering and all.” He took her hand, kissing the knuckles. “Don’t tell anyone, but you’re my favorite barista. Any bread to go with? Or a sandwich?”
“I’m toasting the panini right now. Turkey and roasted red pepper. Latte?”
Man he wanted to lick her. Instead, he’d take what he could get. “You’re good to me. And yes on the latte, please.”
“You got it.” She smiled and headed back to the coffee bar where the new manager laughingly got out of the way so Ella could get back there and make Cope’s latte.
“A lovely girl.”
Cope tore his gaze from Ella. “Yeah. Inside and out.”
Erin came out from the back, and her face lit when she saw them both. “I had no idea you were here! I’m sorry.” She sat with them, and Annalee gave her a big hug, followed by Cope’s kiss on the cheek.
“How are you?” Cope’s mother looked Erin over. “Nearly done with this blanket.” She held it up, and Erin smiled happily.
“Wow. It’s so beautiful! I can’t wait until you’re done. It’s going to go in the nursery, on the rocker in there. Keep the baby warm while I’m nursing or rocking him . . . or her to sleep.” She winked.
Elise came in, and Cope realized, not for the first time, just how beautiful and special the women in their circle were. She saw them and headed over with hugs for everyone.
And speaking of beautiful, Ella came back to put a latte and his sandwich on the table. “Here you go.”
Erin snorted. “You’re off duty. Sheesh, I can’t get rid of you.”
“I’m hard to shake off. Like the flu.” Ella fluttered her lashes. “Why don’t you have lunch with Andrew and Mrs. Copeland? Elise and I will just be over there.” She pointed to a table in the corner where they all usually sat.
Cope liked Ella even more just then. It had taken a lot of time, but his mother and Erin were truly trying to be close, especially for Ben’s sake. It made him happy to see Ella get that and try to help foster it.
“I’ll be over in a bit. I’m sure Cope and his mom have a lot to talk about. But I’ll grab both of them for some visiting while I can.” Erin grinned and settled back into her seat.
“Hang on. I’ll bring you some soup.”
With that, Ella swayed off.
“She’s a nice girl, that Ella.” His mother sent him a raised brow, and he laughed.
“You don’t have to put on a show, Mom. I totally agree with you.”
“Not a show. But she’s going to be work.”
Ella came back and put some soup and bread in front of Erin. “Eat,” she said, before going over to where Elise had settled in.
Cope watched her, hungrily taking in the way she moved.
“Jeez. Hello! Mother and pregnant sister-in-law here. Remember the other women in your life.”
When he turned back, Erin was grinning at his mother.
“Anything worth having takes work,” he quoted to his mother.
His mother reached out, squeezing his hand. “That’s very true, Andrew. It makes me glad to hear you say that about a woman. A woman who’s worthy of you for a change.”
“Amen. All these floozies you’ve chosen, not a one has been good enough. Ella though, well, she’s got guts. Style. Courage.” Erin spooned up some soup.
“The women I’ve been with in the past were not bad people!” No, they weren’t Ella, but no way was he going to have a conversation about sexual prowess and loving women who were in charge of their sexuality with his mother sitting there. “Anyway, I’ve already said it several times; I totally agree with all the compliments about Ella. I’m the one who’s probably not worthy of her.”
“Andrew, now you’re talking crazy.” His mother tsked his way, shaking her head. “When you finally realize a woman of substance is worth the work, you’re taking yourself seriously too. Lord knows I’ve been waiting for that. You’re worthy. I promise. I’m your mother, who else would know better than me?”
Erin laughed and nodded.
Had he been the only one not to see it?
Elise took a bite of her sandwich and leaned forward after shooting a look toward Cope. “You’d best tell me every last dirty detail. I know it had to be dirty, because he’s a dirty, dirty boy.”
They had seen each other over the weekend, but Rennie had been along, so it wasn’t the time to share any sex details. They’d spoken on the phone, but again either Rennie or Brody had been around.
Ella looked over her shoulder, and they both laughed, catching Cope’s attention. He sent her a raised brow and then blew her a kiss.
“My god, he’s like, lethal,” Elise whispered.
“You should see him naked.”
The laughing started again.
“So? Like, hotter than the sun?”
“His body is so spectacular I think I forgot my address just because my brain stopped thinking of anything else but the way his abs look. He’s all muscular and tight. Golden brown. Both nipples pierced.” She fanned herself with her napkin. “I feel bad for talking about him when his mother is just over there.”
Elise rolled her eyes. “Pffft. It’s not like she can hear us. Keep it going. What else? Obviously you two did the deed.”
“Nice! Brody has excellent recovery time too. He clearly knows what he’s about. No man walks the way he does without being the shit in the sack.”
“Such a way with words, Elise. Yes, yes, he knows what he’s about. He’s so, god, overwhelming. He’s got such a sweet side to him. Did you know he was restoring a house in Ballard? It’s magnificent. He’s done all this work on it, and it shows. I had no idea.”
Andrew Copeland was a far more complicated man than most would have suspected, though she often felt he liked it that way.
They’d sat in his bed, naked, eating cupcakes and drinking hot chocolate as he’d quoted Neruda. In Spanish. He’d reduced her to a pile of goo after that. More goo. Gooey-er? Whatever, that bad boy exterior had melted away, and she’d realized he had a soft, creamy center. More than that, he was so much smarter and accomplished than she’d ever given him credit for.
“He’s something else, Elise. I felt all weird because, let’s be honest, he’s got way more experience with sex than I do, and he’s so confident and stuff. But he, I don’t know, he made me feel good, confident, like no matter what I did or how I did it, it was awesome. No one has ever made me feel like that.” And she didn’t quite know what to do with it all.
“When Brody and I hit that place where we both had fallen for each other in a big way, I think we sort of reeled with it. How can you process something so intense after not having that connection to anyone before? You and Cope have known each other for years. You’re friends first, and that’s lethal because he knows you. Knows you in ways some new guy you met and dated wouldn’t. That’s something good.”
“Maybe. I mean, I do love that we’re friends. I trust him. He makes me laugh. I don’t feel like I always have to explain or entertain, whatever. Cope’s just easy to be with, exciting, hot. All the best things about a man.”
Elise took a peek at Cope again before asking, “So, um, did he go downtown?”
“I could totally pretend I don’t understand your vulgar implication.” Ella gave a mock-stern face. “But yes. Yes. Oh. My. God. Yes.”
“What are you two hussies talking about?” Erin brought her food over, grabbing the empty chair they’d saved for her. “You’re getting Cope all worked up ’cause he knows you’re talking about him.”
“I’d wager groups of women talk about Cope all day every day all across this fine nation of ours,” Ella murmured and sipped her coffee.
“Spill the sex details.” Erin didn’t bother with any niceties.
“She already did. You’re too late. Ha.” Elise winked at Erin, who snorted.
“I’m totally convinced the details bear repeating. Plus, I’ll pester you nonstop until you spill, so just don’t waste my time. I’m gestating here.”
Laughing, Ella leaned in and repeated some of the stuff she’d just told Elise.
Erin nodded. “This is all very good. He’s all off-balance in the best sort of way. Like Brody was when Elise came around. It’s fun to watch.”
“I don’t know about that. He’s very self-assured.” Whereas she was not.
“Trust me on this. I watched Brody fall and fall hard. I watched Arvin and Maggie fall in love. Hell, I watched Todd fall in love with Ben. All these hypermasculine men love to pull as much pussy as they can, but once the one comes along, they’re charmingly befuddled and single-minded.” Erin leaned back with a sigh. “That was very good. Thanks for bringing it to me, Ella.”
They chatted for a while, but Ella had to get back to work, and Elise had afternoon classes, so their group disbanded. Ella had been surprised to see Cope still there with his mother. Annalee waved at her, wearing a big smile. Cope spoke to her for a moment and then got up, moving to the door to intercept Ella.
“You leaving? I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to talk.” He traced a fingertip along her bottom lip, making her achy and tingly. He must have known this because he got the look. Oh that look of his. Turned her to putty every time.
“Gotta get back to work. I have a client intake in half an hour. I’ll see you tonight?”
“I’ll pick you up on the way and drop you home.”
She knew better than to argue. He seemed to like ferrying her all around, so who was she to disagree when she liked being with him?
“Six thirty then?”
“Yep.” He leaned in and kissed her quickly but thoroughly. “See you then, Red.”
Blushing, she was sure she was every bit the red he loved to call her. She rolled her eyes and hurried out, not grinning until she’d pulled away and had turned the corner so no one could see her reaction.