I pulled Max to lie next to me, and fit my leg between his thighs. “You know, everyone’s asleep.”
“You think you could be quiet with what I’d do to you? I’m insulted,” he said, smiling against my mouth.
“I don’t know. But I’d certainly be willing to try. Maybe you could gag me?”
Max’s eyes widened before he started unbuttoning the top of my dress. “I think we can work something out. In fact—”
As if on cue, Annabel picked that exact moment to start wailing.
“Let’s give her a minute. She might just fall back to sleep.” I told him, tucking my face into his neck. He smelled so good, like the Max I had always known, but a little like Anna, too. He was getting so laid.
Two minutes of crying went by, and I had just extricated myself from Max’s arms to go pick her up, when the apartment fell silent.
We looked at each other, before both of us turned our attention down the hall. “What is that?” Max asked.
I listened, unable to make out the soft humming I could hear from the living room. We both stood and quickly dressed, before we began tiptoeing down the hall.
We turned the corner and Max stopped, quickly enough that I ran into his back. “What is it?” I whispered.
Max moved over the tiniest bit, and there was Niall: tie off and top of his shirt unbuttoned, shoeless and walking back and forth, talking softly to a bright-eyed Annabel.
“Well I’ll be damned,” Max said. “Didn’t take long for her to fall in love with him. Not that I’m surprised, mind you.”
“That’s it, baby girl,” he murmured, kissing her softly on one of her puffy cheeks.
Anna continued to look up at him in awe, and Max and I turned to look at each other.
He looked back at his brother, before turning back to me. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
I stared at my brother the next morning as he took a bite of toast and scanned the business section, oblivious to my inspection. It had been too long since our last visit—longer than we’d ever been apart. Marriages beginning and ending, careers growing¸ babies born, family obligations, and a myriad of other obstacles had kept me from England and him from the States. Though I was only ten months older than him, seeing him here brought back the older-brother protectiveness his calm stoicism had always triggered in me.
Because he rarely said otherwise, I needed to make sure he really was doing all right.
He looked thinner, but fitter, too. I meant it when I said divorce suited him. Instead of seeming beat down by the taxing drag of the proceedings, it seemed as if a literal weight had been removed from his shoulders. His face was less shadowed, mouth less drawn. He smiled easily again.
Of all my siblings, Niall and I were the most similar physically but dissimilar mentally. We were both tall, had tended toward athletic builds, and had our father’s lighter brown hair. But whereas it had taken me years to get my head on straight about school and birds and the bleeding enormous what-to-do-with-my-life decisions, Niall was born thinking like a little engineer: logical, calm, meticulous. I’d worked my way through most of Manhattan’s single women; he’d married the first girl he kissed. I had barely found a single job I loved until I met Will and we started the firm together; Niall had excelled in civil engineering so early he’d been the second in command at the London Underground when he was only twenty-eight before being wooed away to a private firm. I spoke freely, shared too readily, loved perhaps too openly. Niall considered every word before he let it out, held his private truths close to his chest, and had never been with a woman who let him love openly at all.
“Portia’s mostly off doing whatever it is she does,” he told me, letting out a quiet laugh. “I get the occasional note about needing to fix this or that at the flat.”
I felt the familiar protective heat rise in my chest. “She can hire out for that. Lord knows she has enough of her own money¸ as well as yours.”
“She can, indeed,” he agreed with the genuine smile of a man finally liberated.
I hated what Portia had done to him. She’d started with a shy, sweet, and devoted teenage Niall and left us with a deeply emotionally reserved version of the same man. I didn’t mind his reserve; I didn’t even mind his new emotional discipline. I missed the lad with the easy dimpled smile and enormous, curious eyes.
But fuck it. He was here in my flat, finally coming back to life.
“You should have fucked Teena Smith at Robbie’s party when I told you to,” I said to him.
He barely missed a beat: “Oi, this again. I was already with—”
“Oh, fuck Portia. Teena would have bounced on your knob for days.”
He laughed, scratching his jaw. “A bit too eager, though, yeah?”
“Who had great tits?” Sara asked, walking into the kitchen to grab her coffee.
“The one I should have shagged,” Niall explained further.
“And it’s unfortunate he didn’t,” I explained. “Portia would have married that insufferable arse Richard, and Niall would have been a sex god in uni instead of saddled with a wife and mortgage.”