Saturday morning, sitting in his mother’s spacious kitchen, Gage stared at his brother Dylan with a scowl. Derrick, Dylan’s twin, sat with a cup of coffee halfway to his mouth before he began laughing like a loon.
“You’re telling me to skip dinner and take Hailey back to my place for a quick fuck? This from Mr. Romance?”
Dylan shrugged. “Sorry, but you asked for my professional opinion.”
“Hell no, I didn’t. I asked for advice from my brother, not Freud’s worst nightmare of a psychiatrist.”
“I resent that.”
“You resemble that,” Derrick murmured. “I’m still not quite sure. Are you gay, straight or bi? And do thoughts of our mother make you long for the professional couch, or for the Oedipal bed?”
Gage chuckled as Dylan glared at Derrick. Good. Now they were attacking each other and leaving him alone.
“I like sex, and I love people. Why do you have to label it, Derrick? Some homophobia going on in what passes for that brain of yours?” Dylan taunted.
“Yeah, I’m homophobic,” Derrick sneered. “Get away, oooh, you’re scaring me.”
“Hey, twin schmucks, hello? Remember me? I came for some advice. And if the best you have is bag and tag her, Dylan, I guess I’ll have to listen to Derrick.”
The horror on Dylan’s face was priceless. “Okay, forget I said that. You have a thing for this woman, right?”
Suddenly uncomfortable, Gage shrugged. “I guess.”
Derrick scoffed. “You guess? You’ve been trying to summon up the guts to ask her out for over six months! And you all but stalked her, talking up her friends, her coworkers and her realtor, for God’s sake.”
“How the hell do you know that?”
“I used to date Amanda, and she mentioned you’d been asking about that house on Delcourt.”
“Bullshit. I said hi to Amanda the other day, but I looked up the listing info online. You’re the one with a thing for Hailey’s friend. That’s right,” he said as Derrick frowned. “I saw you eyeing her like a piece of candy. And I didn’t want to say anything then, but you had one hell of a boner while staring her way.”
Dylan smirked, and Derrick shoved at Gage’s chair with his foot, making him almost fall over. “So, you two are in quite a tangle, eh? Gage wants the blonde, and you the redhead. But at least Gage knows his heart’s desire.”
“‘Heart’s desire?’ Who the hell talks like that?” Gage shook his head.
“Men who get lucky, that’s who. Instead of acting like a coarse laborer who doesn’t know his left from his right—”
“Which he is,” Derrick muttered.
“—act with some couth and compliment the woman, and on more than her tits and ass.”
“Dylan Jacob Warren, what did you just say?” Barbara Warren entered her kitchen with a stunned look on her face.
Dylan grew bright red. “Oh, hi, Mom. We were just waiting here to meet you for breakfast. And I was, ah, giving Gage some advice.”
She eyed the three of them like the troublemakers they were. “Well, Gage, at least you didn’t ask Derrick for advice. He’s the king of uncommitted.”
“Hey.” Derrick looked wounded for all of three seconds, and then he grinned. “Want me to do the eggs?”
“Oh, just sit over there with your brothers. You can pour me a cup of coffee though.”
Gage settled onto a stool as he and his brothers watched their mother cook. It had become a tradition for them to gather once a week, usually Saturdays when possible, in their parents’ home for a meal. Personally, Gage loved the idea. He had a decent, home-cooked meal and saw his mother, with his brothers as buffers. They all loved her, but when she turned on the shrink within, she could grate on even a saint’s nerves after mere minutes.
“So what is it you wanted help with, Gage?” she asked.
His brothers shook their heads behind her back, but Gage figured, what the hell? Barbara Warren was a woman, last he checked. “I’m meeting a woman for dinner tonight and I—”
“Oh, that’s wonderful. What’s her name? What does she do? How did you meet her?”
Gage groaned. “I just wanted to make a good impression.”
“And why wouldn’t you? You look exactly like your father did at your age, God bless him.”
“Yeah, and he has as much charm as Dad did, too,” Dylan added.
“Oh, good point.” His mother scrambled a dozen eggs and scooped them onto four plates. “Keep your mouth shut and listen to her.”
“That’s not bad, Mom,” Derrick piped up. “I thought for sure you’d delve into his psyche for reasons behind his commitment phobia. Or maybe prescribe him a set of pills to take his foot out of his mouth so he can talk to the woman without sounding like an ass.”
Dylan snickered, as did Derrick. But their mother ignored them.
“What you need to do is find out what she likes and dislikes. Men always like to talk about themselves, and frankly it gets annoying. But ask her what she likes, what makes her happy, and she’ll respect you for it. And don’t, do not, pressure the girl for sex on the first date.”
Gage flushed. He hated when his mother brought S-E-X into the conversation. God forbid he tell her he’d been showcasing his dick for the women across the quad, teasing the woman he’d been dreaming of banging for the last six months.
“Mother, now you’ve embarrassed the boy.” Dylan shook his head, his hands stuffed into the pockets of his Nautica pants, his dress shirt perfectly pressed and tucked into his slacks as if he were a mannequin at Macy’s. A regular clothes horse.
Gage stared down at his ragged jeans and T-shirt, then glanced at Derrick’s shorts and tank top and had to grin. “Shut up, Mr. Nautica. Damn, Dylan. Don’t you own any clothes that don’t have a name of their own? And quit picking on me. At least I’m trying. Why don’t you tell Mom about your last boyfriend? Talk about commitment issues.”
Dylan stammered when his mother suddenly turned on him, and Gage shared a smile with Derrick.
Younger than the twins by four years, Gage had always looked up to his brothers as larger than life. Both handsome and athletic, intelligent and witty, the Warren twins had, to this point, walked a charmed life. Gage, on the other hand, had plenty of rough edges, like his father before him, but, for some unknown reason, never had a problem attracting women. Now keeping them, that was another matter.
He didn’t like flattery, playing games, or catering to a woman’s every whim. His parents had loved one another until the day Andrew Warren died, and his mother still carried a torch for the old man. Now if Gage found someone he could love as well, maybe he’d act differently. But the women he’d dated in his thirty-two years had been pretty, but so superficial. Most of them had wanted him for sex, of course, and to either meet the twins or get their greedy hands on his money. And the ones who hadn’t, frankly, had bored him within days. What the hell did that say about his taste?
Grinning at Dylan still trying to finagle a way out of his mother’s haranguing, he caught his brother’s dark look promising retribution.
Bring it on, he mouthed, scoring a direct hit when Dylan flushed and clenched his fists.
Oh, yeah, Gage had definitely saved himself grief at his mother’s hands. Funny that his mother and brother shared a love for mental health, while he and Derrick had followed in his dad’s footsteps. They’d worked with their father at Warren Construction Company right out of college, and when their father had passed, they’d made WCC into a very decent living. Picking and choosing their jobs, he and Derrick worked hard and long, by choice, not necessity. While Derrick preferred the administrative tasks, Gage liked working with his hands.
He supposed he fit the crude construction worker mold, but his looks, and his money, seemed to make him an acceptable catch for any woman wanting the better things in life. For that reason, he’d kept his last name from Hailey a secret. Not like she wouldn’t find out soon enough, but he wanted to figure her out before she turned those wiles on him.
Despite her aloof demeanor, he didn’t believe a woman who looked like she did could be so naïve. Like the rest of her sex, if she knew his vulnerabilities—how hot she made him by just being near him—she’d grab him by the balls and never let go. And lord help him, he was just weak enough to enjoy being helpless in her clutches.
“So where’s this date of yours going to be?” his mother asked, interrupting his erotic thoughts.
“Good choice. Romantic but not too fancy. And the food’s wonderful. Don’t order for her, and don’t grimace if she orders something expensive.”
“Everything there’s expensive,” he muttered.
“I know. And like the good boy I raised, you’ll no doubt be paying for the meal since you asked her out.”
“Actually, he blackmailed her into going out with him,” Dylan said with a sly grin.
Derrick, bless him, came to the rescue. “Yeah, right. She took one look at Gage and said yes faster than she could think no. Women love the kid, Dylan. Don’t be jealous. You’re just as cute.”
Dylan muttered under his breath but their mother laughed. “I do love you three. But I’d love four or five even better. A daughter-in-law, a grandchild…”
Gage and his brothers paled.
“So, Derrick, why don’t you tell me who you’ve been seeing lately? I don’t remember the last time you brought a girl home with you.”
Gage and Dylan shared a glance.
“Gosh, Mom,” Gage said quickly. “Sorry, but I have things to do before my big date tonight. And Dylan promised to help me with some errands.”
Derrick shot them a panicked look, but they left as speedily as they could.
“Okay,” Dylan said as he unlocked his Mercedes. “Pulling me out of there makes us even, but if you ever sic Mom on me like that again, I’ll sucker punch you, hard.”
“Fair enough.” Gage grinned. “Did you see the sheer panic on Derrick’s face? Awesome.”
Dylan smiled. “Good one. And good luck tonight. If she means as much to you as I think she does, don’t blow it. Your best bet? Take Mom’s advice. Ask her to talk. Don’t stare at her breasts the entire night. And think before you speak, jackass.”
Words to live by.