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“Ginger –”

“Don’t f**kin’ call back, Gwen. Ever. Yeah?”

More dead air.

I flipped my phone shut on a hissed, “Shit!”

Then it rang instantly and I flipped it back open, thinking it was Ginger and put it to my ear.

“Ginger?”

“No,” I heard, “Troy.”

Oh shit.

“Troy,” I said quietly.

“Yeah, remember me?”

Uh-oh.

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“Troy, I –”

“Got your house shot up. I called four times, no call back. Heard you were okay from Tracy. You call when your bathroom faucet doesn’t shut off but you don’t call when I’m worried out of my mind, I hear your living room’s been shot to shit?”

“Things have been a little crazy.”

“Gwen, you got your house shot up in a drive-by,” he returned. “I know things are crazy but too crazy to call your f**king friend and let him know you’re all right?”

“Mom came by yesterday,” I informed him. “I was a little out of sorts.”

“I can see Meredith would be freaked about –”

“No, Troy, not Meredith, Mom.”

Silence.

I took in a deep breath. “Hawk hurt you and I’m sorry about that. He’s… um… well… whatever. That’s the way he is. I didn’t know what to say to you so –”

“You didn’t know what to say to me because you’ve been hiding a relationship from me for a year and a half. And, like a chump, you’re on the town with Rambo and I’m working in your kitchen and on your house all that time.”

“It wasn’t like that,” I declared and it wasn’t. I just had no intention of telling him what it was like.

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“Bullshit. It was just like that. So I figure I deserve an explanation of why you’d play me for a chump, Gwen.”

All right, I was getting mad again.

“Actually, Troy, what it was like is none of your business. I didn’t play you for a chump. You’re my friend. When you need something, you call on your friends.”

“Yeah, you have no problem doing that.”

“And you don’t either,” I shot back. “Wasn’t it me you called when you got that terrible flu and I took you to the doctor and I took you home and I made sure you had your medicine and enough Kleenex and cleaned out your vomit bowl? News flash, Troy, I do not like vomit, at all. I avoid vomit like I avoid orange-hued lipstick, in other words, at all costs. But I’ll deal with it for a friend.”

“Gwen –”

“And wasn’t it me, when you wanted to impress that girl, that came over and made a three course meal for you to claim as your own when you had her over to your house?”

“I –”

I cut him off and pulled out the big guns.

“And wasn’t it me who dropped everything and flew down to Tucson with you so you could help your Mom arrange to bring your father back up to Denver for his funeral?”

“Honey –”

“This wasn’t a one way street and you know it,” I cut him off again. “I gave as good as I took and it upsets me that you’d say differently. Now, my living room is a disaster, I can’t go home, my parents can’t go home, my sister is in trouble and my mother showed up out of the blue because she heard I hooked myself a man who could afford Jimmy Choos so she wanted to get in there and get… whatever. I haven’t seen her for decades and there she was. I found out she’d always been close but didn’t give a shit to get closer until she thought she could get something out of it. I’m sorry Hawk hurt your feelings and, on top of all this, I’ve been worried that I’d lose you because of it. But I don’t need this shit now, Troy. I need my friends around me and if you aren’t that, I don’t know what to say except it would kill to find that out now after all we’ve been to each other.”

“I’m in love with you, Gwen,” he whispered, no hesitation, he socked it right to me and I sucked in breath and didn’t respond, just stared at my lap experiencing the pain that shot through my heart. “Honey?” he called when I didn’t speak.

“I wish you would have told me,” I whispered back. “But I can’t say what would happen if you did but now… now, I can’t deal with this, Troy. I love you, I think the world of you but I have a man in my life. I don’t know where it’s heading, all I know is that what he makes me feel scares the f**king hell out of me and I need to focus on that.”

“I know why he scares you, honey,” Troy replied gently.

“Why’s that?”

“Because he’s got Scott Leighton written all over him.”

I sucked in an audible breath.

“Troy –”

“You do that. You’ve always done that. The good-looking guys that think their shit doesn’t stink and walk all over you.”

Oh God.

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Troy went on. “It hurt enough when Scott wore loafers. How’s it going to feel like when the guy wears combat boots?”

“I’m not sure he’s like that.”

“I met him once, didn’t know him at all and he didn’t hesitate with what he said to me in front of you, Trace and whoever the f**k those guys were. He didn’t give a shit about me. What makes you think, he’s got something to say you don’t like, or he plans to do something that’ll hurt you, he’ll give a shit about you?”

“I think I know him better than you do, Troy, and he’s not like other people. He actually thought he was doing you a favor.”

“Well, Gwen, he thought wrong. You and I, we’ve always been close and now we’re having this conversation. That’s what he did. He might have told you he was doing me a favor but that guy is the kind of guy who pisses in corners. You’re territory and he saw me infringing on that so he drove in that wedge. Don’t think it was anything else.”

“I don’t want to hurt you any more, babe, but I don’t think he thinks of you as competition,” I said gently.

A beat of silence then quietly, “Right.”

“Troy, don’t do this to us.”

“I didn’t, Gwen, Rambo did.”

I opened my mouth to speak but got more dead air.

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