Three Years Later
Cole called out, “Fore!” as the path his golf ball took through the trees lining the green of Kauai Palms Country Club went horribly wrong. The hideous shot—and the outraged “Hey!” belted out by the golfer a hole ahead—made Brad wince.
“Dude, no killing the other players. And you’re a doctor,” Brad said, returning his three iron to the bag attached to their cart. “Why do you suck so much at golf? Didn’t you take a Hippocratic oath to play every Wednesday or somethin’?”
Cole rolled his eyes in his trademark quit being an idiot way. “Contrary to popular belief, most doctors are too busy to play the game.” The barely there tightening of his mouth was almost a pout.
Brad smothered a grin as he clapped him on the back. His cool-headed, methodical, nerves-of-steel friend looked out of sorts. Cole buried his hands in the bleeding bellies of shotgun victims trying to die, and without so much as a tremor of those skillful fingers. Amusing how a simple round of golf left the man flustered. But even a grumpy Cole was more fun than most people Brad knew.
Actually, a grumpy Cole was fucking hilarious.
“You’re just pissed because there aren’t many things you suck at,” Brad said, “and one of them is this game.”
“A fact you like to take advantage of.”
“Me?” Brad maintained his best innocent expression. “It was Ryan and Martinez that talked you into playing for money.”
“Yes,” Cole said, shooting him a level look. “And whose idea was it to play golf in the first place?”
“Mine.” Brad sent him an easy smile. “My friends. My choice of destinations. My decision as to how to spend the four days before I tie the knot.”
The pressure bloomed bigger in his chest, but Brad pushed the uneasy sensation aside. He wasn’t going to waste his time in Hawaii dwelling on prewedding jitters. Jenny was awesome. He’d been with her longer than any other woman. His buddies had already started asking when he’d take their relationship to the next level when she’d come to him with her proposal.
After her father’s third divorce, Jenny had sworn she’d never get hitched, so her proposition had come as a shock. But the longer Brad had considered her idea, the more the marriage made sense. So what if the thought of forever scared the crap out of him? So what that he had to leave the life of a free man behind? After weighing the pros and cons, he’d made the only decision he could.
Brad ignored the persistent ache in his chest, because the time had come to stop mourning the loss of his bachelor days and move on. Heck, getting married was the most adult decision Brad had ever made. Jenny called the plan a win-win: a business partnership based on affection and respect.
And there were worse fates in life.
“If you required help paying for your wedding, you just needed to ask,” Cole said. “Hustling your best man for money has got to break some rule about proper etiquette.”
“I didn’t do it for the money,” Brad said with a grin. “I did it because you take everything so seriously, and it’s fun watching you try not to.”
Shoulders tense, Cole pulled out another ball and narrowed his eyes at the view of the Pacific, as if the large body of water were an inconvenience placed there specifically to challenge his golf game.
“Jesus, Cole,” Brad said with a huff of laughter, throwing out his arms to indicate the palm trees, majestic green cliffs, and stunning sight of the sparkling surface of the ocean. “We’re in beautiful Kauai. Relax. I’m the one getting married, not you.”
“I am relaxed.”
“Well, you don’t look it.” Brad scanned his friend’s stiff posture. “And your clothes look so brand-new I have an overwhelming urge to roll you around on the ground until you have a few grass stains. Or streaks of dirt. Or at least a few friggin’ wrinkles.”
Cole glanced down at his too-crisp kakis and button-down shirt. In contrast to Brad’s beat-up jeans and T-shirt, and Martinez’s and Ryan’s tacky Hawaiian shirts and shorts, Cole was too well pressed to be comfortable in the balmy weather.
Taller than Brad by an inch, Cole looked as if he’d walked off the cover of a golfing magazine, and had no doubt researched the purchase of his outfit prior to this trip with the intensity he poured into everything in life. His lean frame filled out his clothes with the toned body of an obsessive jogger. His shocking blue eyes were saved from being too intense by the hopeless condition of his dark hair.
“The bed-head, I’ve-just-been-fucked-senseless look is the only thing that keeps you from resembling a complete stick-in-the-mud.” Brad glanced at his friend’s mussed hair. “Did you pull a mile-high-club move with that flight attendant this morning?” Brad asked with a hopeful tone. “He was totally checking you out.”
Cole sent him an overly patient look. “You know I’d never do that.”
“Maybe you should,” Brad said. “You’re too tense. Getting laid could only help.”
Clearly the resident geek turned surgeon needed to get out a little more. His freshman year of college, Brad had taken one look at the lost yet brilliant first-year medical student and couldn’t help but take him under his wing. He might have been older than Brad by four years, but he’d had the social skills of a home-school reject. Brad had made it his mission to loosen Cole up. And for the most part, he’d succeeded.
Except for the damn clothes…
Cole teed up a second ball as Ryan came up behind them, his golf club casually resting on his shoulder. “Is Cole taking another mulligan?” Ryan’s shaggy red hair ruffled in the breeze. “That’s his third do over this game.”
Cole ignored him, and Brad said, “It’s not like we follow the rules.”
“And I just heard about tomorrow,” Ryan went on. “Would someone please explain to me why we’re letting the only dude among us who isn’t heterosexual plan the bachelor party?”
“As best man, it’s Cole’s job to arrange the event,” Brad said.
“I don’t know,” Martinez said as he joined them, his Puerto Rican heritage evident in his dark good looks. “There are going to be women at this shindig, right?”
As usual, Cole didn’t take the bait, ignoring the friendly ribbing like a pro. He simply lined up beside the ball, sighting down the green, and swung his club. The sharp thwack
was loud. But as the ball veered hard to the right, disappearing over the cliff and into the Pacific, the chorus of pained groans was louder.
Cole frowned and then turned to the three men. “The Honolulu Lei is the best strip club on Oahu.”
“Yeah?” Martinez said, noticeably unimpressed.
“Are you kidding?” Brad said to Martinez. “Look at you. You’re wearing cowboy boots and a cowboy hat with shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. You think I’d trust your decisions?
“Cole is the only one capable of pulling off this stupid tradition,” Brad went on. “You and Ryan would blindly choose the top listing in the Yellow Pages and wind up in some seedy club with Gillian/Guido, who would screw you senseless, konk you over the heads, and takes off with your wallets.” Brad let out a huff. “Probably be left for dead in a ditch to boot.” He tried to hold back the frown but failed. “And just for the record, I voted no to the party.”
His protests had fallen on persistently deaf ears.
“The party is for us, dipshit,” Ryan said. “The groomsmen, not you. So please, let those of us that have been married a while get our kicks where we can. As the groom, your job is to show up, drink, and be keeper of the embarrassing stories about those of us who get too smashed to remember.”
“If I remember college right, and that’s an iffy proposition at best, that’s usually Cole’s job,” Martinez said.
Brad’s frown gave way to a grin. “Like the time after Spring Fling when Cole had to roll me back to the dorm in a wheelbarrow.”
Cole climbed into the driver’s seat of their two-man golf cart. “And the time I had to bail you out after Greek Week,” he added.
No one needed to mention the women’s underwear, the clothesline, and the bucket of paint that had led to Brad being hauled away by security his sophomore year.
Cole lifted a brow at Brad. “You wouldn’t have gotten caught if you’d stuck to the original schedule.”
Brad laughed. “You were good at coming up with the evil-genius plans, but I needed a little creative license while pulling them off.” He shrugged. “So sue me. I like to improvise.”
“Cole, I don’t know how you’ve put up with Brad all these years,” Martinez said as he reached into the cooler in the back of the second golf cart. “Never could figure out how the gay guy wound up the straight man in your two-person comedy routine either.” He pulled out a couple of beers, tossing one to Ryan and twisting the cap on the other. “Meet us at the clubhouse after you get done scuba diving for Cole’s ball,” Martinez said with a chuckle.
Cole rested his hands on top of the steering wheel as he watched the two drive away, their laughter and the speed of their cart mildly alarming. “Those two aren’t safe drinking while driving.”
“Those two aren’t safe anywhere.” Brad spied the worry line creasing Cole’s brow. “Relax. They’re fine. Besides, it’s not as if we’re legally responsible for them.”
But Danny? Brad had been responsible for his brother since Danny’s sixteenth birthday and their mother’s death. And so far, it’d been a hell of a hard job.
With the thought of his brother, Brad fisted the hand in his lap, his smile fading.
“When is Danny set to fly in?” Cole asked.
Because being a respected trauma surgeon wasn’t enough, Cole was a fucking mind reader as well.
Brad stared across the green. “Day after tomorrow.”
A part of Brad was eager for his brother to arrive, and part of him was afraid of what he’d see when he did.
“He’s fine,” Cole said. “He’s been clean for three years now.”
Brad shot Cole a grim smile. “Yeah,” he said, “but he’s been clean before.”
Every time his brother relapsed, another piece of Brad’s heart broke. And coming up with the money for Danny’s rehab nearly did Brad in. All the more reason to get with the program and, for once, establish a long-term plan for his financial future. To be proactive, not reactive. Getting married and solidifying his position at Sterling Security was the right first step.
Because ultimately the only thing that mattered, the only thing that had ever mattered, was keeping Danny clean.
Cole’s blue eyes, the same deep shade as the Pacific behind him, simply held his gaze. Sure and steady as always. What would he do without Cole? The five years he’d dropped out of sight had been the worst time of Brad’s life. But Cole—loyal-to-a-fault Cole—had returned to his side without so much as a single bitchy comment. Or a word about how Brad had fucked up. Brad didn’t deserve a fiancée like Jenny.
But he sure as hell didn’t deserve a friend like Cole.
“So,” Brad said as he settled back in the seat. “Are we going diving for that second ball?”
Cole let out a soft snort. “I think I’ll hunt down the first one instead,” Cole said. He narrowed his eyes as he watched Martinez and Ryan head up the green, and Brad recognized his expression.
“I see that gleam in your eyes,” Brad said.
No one did the innocent look like Cole.
Brad laughed as he ruffled his friend’s out-of-control hair. “You should come with a warning that reads Danger, evil genius at work,
” he said. “Nice to know all my training wasn’t a complete waste of time. And, dude”—he shifted in his seat to face Cole and grinned—“I have high hopes for tomorrow’s bachelor party, but what’s on the agenda for today?”
“Just drinks at the clubhouse with Ryan and Martinez,” Cole said smoothly before a barely there grin appeared. “And maybe letting the air out of the tires of their golf cart on the way inside.