Kingsley and Tate saw me before I pulled over to the curb, and Sloan bent over to hurl again. Then Tate said something to Sloan that made my buddy flip him off, so that had to be good. I was glad they were on friendly terms on the first night they’d ever met.
I got out of my truck as soon as I’d killed the engine, and I couldn’t stick to one of the many fucked-up emotions that simmered below the surface. Relief, wariness, a shit-ton of annoyance… Exhaustion won out. I was fucking tired.
“Hey, gorgeous.” Tate grinned at me.
That sparked some humor at least, and I smirked a little on my way to Sloan. “Hey, kid. Sorry for sending y’all on a midnight adventure.”
“Don’t be,” he replied quickly. “I’m highly invested now.”
I snorted, not surprised. He and Ivy were the gossip slingers in our community—and I meant that in a fairly affectionate way. Aside from being too nosy for their own good, they meant well and wanted what was best for their friends. They didn’t spread bullshit, just theories about people’s love lives.
Approaching Sloan, I saw he was clutching a Coke can in one hand, and he had a half-empty bottle of water next to his feet.
The beanie on the sidewalk looked like his too.
He groaned and retched once more.
I sighed and placed a hand on his back. “You realize I’m done listenin’ to you, right?”
He coughed and croaked. “What’re you talking about?”
Wasn’t it fucking obvious?
“I’m talking about you pushing people away when they wanna help you.” I could hear the impatience seeping through. I had to cool it. “I ain’t doin’ it anymore, Sloan. You’re coming home with me, and tomorrow we’re picking up the kids.”
He straightened up again, and he flicked me a drunk, guarded look before he chugged from his Coke.
I noticed he’d put some piercings back in. A handful in his ears, the barbell between his eyebrows.
He made a cute, rugged, hot drunk. Bloodshot eyes included.
He wiped his mouth and peered down at the ground. He was wearing his supposed lucky All Stars. They were green and had passed their expiration date by a few years. But it had to be pure luck he hadn’t thrown up on them.
“I can’t stay with you, Shep,” he muttered hoarsely.
Nope, we weren’t doing this.
“I beg to differ.” I extended an arm and pointed to the truck. “Let’s get you outta hea’.”
“No,” he snapped. He nearly stumbled over the water bottle as he took a few steps away from me. “I’m goin’ home. I can walk.”
That was funny. “You’re gonna walk to Ashton Heights?”
It would take a sober person at least twenty, thirty minutes. Sloan wouldn’t make it past this street before he passed out in the gutter.
He made a face and sought out the nearest street sign. “Where are we?”
“Crystal City,” Tate answered.
“Oh. Right.” Sloan looked like he was gonna be sick again.
“I’m guessing you’ve been at Carol’s,” I said. Once in a blue moon, they had dinner together with the children, and it usually ended in a fight.
“Whatever,” he mumbled, clearly not wanting to talk about it. “Just take me home.” He pressed a hand to his stomach, his face contorted in discomfort, and he picked up his beanie and walked unsteadily toward the truck. “Not goin’ to your fuckin’ whore ranch…”
Oh-ho. My eyebrows went way up there. I invited my new partner to stay with me, and now I was running a whore ranch. Damn.
With a heavy sigh, I turned to Kingsley and Tate. “You’ve done more than enough—you can head on home. I’m sorry I woke you up.” Really, I was.
“No problem at all, buddy,” Kingsley assured.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Tate stated bluntly. “We’re staying until—”
“And you know what?” Sloan interrupted forcefully and turned back around to stagger toward me. “I’m sick of you not seein’ me.” What the fuck? “You bitch about bein’ lonely, but what am I? Shit under your shoe? A seat filler until you bring home the next bottom? Hell, I could be a bottom for you.”
No, really, what in the fresh fuck.
He didn’t just say that.
I frowned. My brain slowed down when I needed it to do the goddamn opposite—but he did not fucking say that.
“What did you just say?” I managed to get out.