“I’m not going.”

Sighing, I wordlessly held my hand out for the skimpy black bikini and fire-engine-red one-piece swimsuit Em had just yanked out of her suitcase.

“No,” she said stubbornly. “This is a terrible idea, Kelsie. I don’t even know if these fit. I’m not going. I’m calling Alex right now to tell him I’m not going.”

It would have been a lot more convincing had she not just stood there, her knuckles turning white as she clutched the swimsuits, instead of calling her boyfriend to tell him she wasn’t going on the trip to Mexico he’d been planning to surprise her with for ages.

Not that she knew she was going to Mexico. I knew she was going to Mexico because Alex had zero concept of the amount of things that would have to happen in order for him to pull his whole plan off without a hitch.

“Put it on,” I ordered, nodding at the one she had left in her hands.


“Put it on,” I repeated. “You’re so concerned about them not fitting, give it a try.”

It took another few minutes, but she finally conceded and stripped down. I would’ve looked away to give her some privacy, but the way things were with me and Em, that would have been weird. She’d seen–and photographed–me mostly naked a bunch of times. As for her, well. She used to do some “modelling” of the explicit variety, which made sense. Em was born gorgeous and she’d die gorgeous. Long, lithe, and tall, she was covered in tattoos and had thick black hair, sparkling bright eyes, and unfairly perky tits considering how big they were.

I, on the other hand, had a dump-truck ass that would give the Pixar moms a run for their money. I also had dump-truck hips that had never quite gone back to normal after I’d given birth, a poochy stomach, and slightly below-average tits. I didn’t know if mom-bod was a thing, but if it was, that was what I had, only my mom-bod was contrasted by the vibrant coloured hair and multiple piercings I’d gotten after my divorce.

I mean, I figured if I was gonna be a divorced single mom escaping from a quiet life under the thumb of a mature church-going counsellor who wanted little more than a trophy he could sometimes scream at, I might as well go all out.

Anyway, the point was that despite her being a literal model and me looking more like I’d been sculpted out of modelling clay, neither Em nor I were particularly modest around each other. So I stood there with my arms folded as she stripped down and squirmed her way into the bright red one-piece.

“Hmm.” I toyed with the piercing in my lip as I studied her. “You’re right. That’s going to be a problem.”

She sighed heavily. “See, I told you I–”

“Alex isn’t going to be able to keep his hands off you. I mean, you’ll never even make it to the beach when he sees you in that. It’s just going to be pound town, twenty-four-seven, and then why did he even bother with all the fancy vacation stuff? He could’ve booked a room at the Motel Six.”

She rolled her eyes and snorted, but her face lightened a bit. “You’re so full of shit.”

I watched as she turned to look in the full-length mirror, twisting and evaluating the way the stretchy fabric sat on her chest. After a moment, she frowned.

“Wait,” she said. “The beach?”

“Or the pool, or the hot tub, or whatever,” I said smoothly. “And if there isn’t one of those, you can just wear it in the hotel bathroom so Alex knows that if he wants to see all of this next time, you expect a beach.”

“You have a lot of confidence there’ll be a next time,” she muttered. “I’m still not even sold on this time.”

I passed her the black bikini to try on. “What’s this really about?”

Even though she hesitated, she didn’t do me the discourtesy of pretending she didn’t know what I meant. “I don’t know if I’m ready to be away from Leia.”

Fucking finally. I sighed and sat on the edge of her bed.

Of course it was about Leia–Em’s daughter, and my daughter Baylee’s best friend. Spitfires, the both of them, but Leia was far more talented at wrapping people around her sticky little fingers than Baylee was. Leia was charming and seemed to melt hearts simply by blinking her big doe-eyes. Baylee, on the other hand, was more likely to get in trouble for being one of those girls who was “too much.” She was going to be too loud, too outspoken, too dramatic, too unabashedly herself.

I might not ever win Mom-Of-The-Year, but if my daughter turned out to be too much, I’d consider my parenting to be a resounding success.

But of course, that would be when she was a bit older. Right now, Baylee couldn’t seem to tell the difference between standing up for herself and talking back to me, and I couldn’t seem to go through a single day without claiming I was going to sell her to a zoo.

Not that I’d ever say that to Baylee, of course. Just to Em. That’s what best friends are for: making fun of your parenting skills and commiserating when you were wondering how in the hell your DNA came up with that squalling turd of a child.

Personally, I blamed Baylee’s dad, but that was mostly because he was a squalling turd of a man.

In any case, I’d told Em time and time again that she could make fun of me all she wanted, but that I was going to do the same damn thing to her once Leia realized how easily she was able to get people to bend to her every whim and start using it to her advantage. And honestly, if Em kept pulling this “Call it off, I’m not going” bullshit, I was going to spill the beans to Leia and get her to convince her mom to go to Mexico for her week-long fuckfest with Alex.

“Okay, look at it this way,” I said. “The next time Leia starts learning a new song on her guitar and Baylee demands to sing along and Pepper’s in the background whimpering because the girls are singing in tones only dogs can hear and you think to yourself, ‘Man, I wish I could get away from it all for five minutes of peace,’ ask yourself again if you’re ready to be away from Leia.”

That made her laugh. “Okay, fair.”

“I’ve watched her a million times before. I have my own kid. I know what I’m doing.” I folded my arms. “Are you questioning my mad parenting skills, Em? Because if so, I’m not sharing my flask of whiskey with you next time we have to shiver through a soccer game.”

“You also work,” she pointed out.

“Jimmy already agreed to watch Leia when I can’t. I’m still trying to convince him he should take Baylee.”

“I’m sure he’ll watch both girls if you want him to.”

“No, I mean permanently. I even offered a friends-and-family discount. Way better price than I’d give to the zoo. But for some reason he keeps saying he’ll give her back after.”

Em snorted back another laugh.

“You can call Leia every day if you want to, but keep in mind that means you’re going to be subjecting yourself to an impromptu over-the-phone concert. But Em, she’s going to be fine.” I nodded towards the bikini she was still holding. “Try that one on. See if it’s a little less likely to give Alex a four-hour erection before he even takes his Viagra.”

“He doesn’t need Viagra,” she huffed, but peeled the red bathing suit off.

She managed to pull the black bikini on. I declared it even worse than the red one piece, telling her we were going to have to go to Target and find her one of those old-lady swim dresses so she wouldn’t give Alex a heart attack.

“You’re such a bitch,” she scolded, laughing as she untied the straps of her bikini.

“It’s not my fault you look like that,” I replied airily. “Nor is it my fault that Alex is going to lose his mind and fuck you until he–”

And of course, that was the moment someone flung Em’s bedroom door open.

“Is Pepper’s ball in here? The girls want to–oh, Jesus, Em!”

“Ever heard of knocking?” Em asked wryly, not managing to cover her tits before Jimmy’s face turned red.

“How the fuck was I supposed to know you were naked?” he muttered.

“Oh, I don’t know.” Em pulled her t-shirt on. “I mean, you could assume that I’m naked at all times when the door is closed and then you’d never have this problem.”

“Kelsie was in here with you,” he replied. “Why would I think ‘oh, my sister and her best friend are in her room, better double check that neither of them are naked before I go in’?”

“Prior experience?” I suggested helpfully.

Well, helpful in that it made me cackle with laughter as he glanced up, a haughty look of annoyance unable to mask the embarrassment on his face. His scowl had been his trademark, once upon a time. With dark eyes and high cheekbones, that glare had a dual purpose of intimidation and dampening the panties of any girl attracted to the rebellious type of rock-star-esque guy who would piss off her dad.

Only in Jimmy’s case, he sort of was a rock star. Or at least, he had been, back when that scowl had been his trademark. It felt weird to say “back when” about a guy who was just recently old enough to legally buy alcohol for himself, but his star had burned bright and fast. Before turning twenty-one, he’d had a record deal and more money than he knew what to do with. Which meant, of course, that he drank, smoked, and snorted a lot of that money away while the people clinging to his star power blew so much smoke up his ass that his head started to swell.

He was barely twenty when it all came crashing down. That combination of money and drugs and the inherent sense of invincible immortality that boys that age seem to have pissed off the wrong person: Alex.

Yes, that Alex.

But it all ended up working out, in the end. Alex wanted to bang Em, Em wanted to bang Alex, Jimmy ended up with a decent job at Alex’s studio with him as a mentor… what’s a little career destruction by a pseudo-father-figure who wants to bang your mother-figure a.k.a your sister who practically raised you?

Em was eight years older than Jimmy. She’d left home when he was only ten, but when he got kicked out a few years later, she took him in, even though she was a single mom with a toddler who was trying to get her shit together. As a photographer, she made decent money, but around the time Leia started kindergarten and with an eighteen-year-old brother-slash-pseudo-son-wannabe-rock-star who was on the verge of a big break, things had started to get tight.

Luckily, that was around the time my ex-husband began paying his child support, so Baylee and I were able to move into a small townhouse across the street from another single mom and her daughter who happened to be in Baylee’s new kindergarten class. The girls declared themselves best friends the moment they met, Em and I declared ourselves best friends as soon as we realized both of us were sneaking Bailey’s into our coffee cups during morning drop-off, and the rest, as they say, was history.

“Will you help me build up my portfolio?” she asked me while we were watching the girls at the park a couple of weeks after we’d met.

“Sure,” I said. “If you really think my face is going to sell people on your portrait skills.”

“Gorgeous as it is, it’s not your face that I want to take pictures of.”

I snorted and took a swig of wine out of my travel mug as the girls played on the monkey bars. “What, you want pictures of my ass or something?”


I laughed, but she was serious.

“I want to start doing boudoir photos. I know what it’s like in front of the camera and how to pose people to make them look their best. There’s good money in it. But I need some photos of someone other than me.”

“And you think my dump truck ass is going to sell people on your boudoir photos when you’ve got photos of you posted right next to it?” I asked in disbelief.

“You have a nice ass. So yes.”

I scoffed. “Sure, Em. Why not? I guess it’ll be a testament to your skill if you can make me look sexy.”

And I mean, to her credit, I did look damn good in them.

The girls were invited to a classmate’s birthday party that weekend, so while they were getting hopped up on cake and goody bags, Em and I went back to her place to take the photos.

We took them in her bedroom with sheer curtains drawn across the windows to filter the natural light and give it a soft, sensual feel. I was kneeling on her bed, holding an oversized men’s shirt taut against my breasts so the hypothetical person who would eventually look at these photos could see the hint of my nipple piercings poking through the fabric. And I mean, I wasn’t uncomfortable or anything; I might have had a dump truck ass and a poochy stomach, but that didn’t mean I felt the need to hide those things from the world.

So there I was, mostly naked, legs spread, doing my best to pretend I was some pretty young thing and not a mom in her early thirties with stretch marks and pink hair and one or two more wrinkles than I was willing to acknowledge in the corners of my eyes. And there Em was, contorted around the edge of her bed with her camera pressed to her eye, trying to pretend like we weren’t in a small, cramped bedroom as she took my photo.

And then a skinny, dark-haired eighteen-year-old threw the bedroom door open and barrelled in.

“Hey Em, guess what I–” The man looked at me and his eyes nearly popped out of his skull before he looked at Em with a wild expression on his face. “What the fuck?!”

“Jimmy!” Em exclaimed, which answered my unasked question of who the fuck he was. “What are you doing here? I thought you were touring the rest of the month.”

“I am, but I–” He couldn’t seem to help himself from looking back at me, red splotches dusting his high cheekbones. “What the fuck?”

I pressed my lips together, amused. “As much as I love having someone look at me half-naked and repeatedly wonder ‘what the fuck,’ perhaps you and Em could go have this conversation somewhere where I’m not continually distracting you with my what-the-fuck body?”

His face went even redder. “No, that’s not–I mean, you’re not… You’re not what-the-fuck, the situation is what-the-fuck. You… you’re…” His eyes flicked helplessly down to my tits and I was pretty sure almost every drop of blood in his body was concentrated in his face. “You’re naked.”

“That’s very observant. Thank you.”

He cleared his throat. “And hot, I mean. You’re naked and hot. Or wait, no. Pretty. You’re… uh–”

“Jimmy,” Em said flatly.

“–like you’re pretty but I mean that in a respectful way and–”

“Jimmy,” she said again.

“What?” he asked.

“Shut up.” She pointed to the door. “Go to the kitchen.”

I managed to wait until he’d hightailed out of the room before I burst out laughing and flopped back on Em’s bed as she sighed.

“So anyway, that’s my brother.” She rolled her eyes. “Let me go find out what he’s even doing here.”

So, all of that was to say, it wasn’t the first time he had burst through Em’s bedroom door and discovered there was a naked woman behind it, though maybe since this time it was his sister, he’d learn a lesson or two about knocking. Especially since this time it was just to find the dog’s ball; at least when he’d barged in on me naked, it was because he’d signed with his record label and was so excited to tell his sister that he’d driven up to Pueblo to share the news in person.

It was part of the reason his intimidating scowl didn’t quite work on me. I mean, my first experience with the moody wannabe rock god was him stuttering as he tried to find the line between offending me for commenting on my body and offending me for not commenting on my body. Every time he put that scowl on his face, I remembered the particularly sweet shade of red his cheeks turned and the slight waver in his voice as he spoke.

For reasons related to the fact that he was my best friend’s brother and also much, much younger than me, I tried not to remember the absolute thrill I felt when he couldn’t seem to take his eyes off me. I mean, yeah, maybe it was because he was enthralled by the absolute grotesqueness of my stomach or something, but I liked to pretend it’s because he wasn’t just trying to be nice when he said he thought I was hot.

But I digress.

“Ha, ha,” Jimmy said flatly as I laughed at his scowl. “So can I take that to mean Pepper’s ball isn’t in here?”

“Actually, it is.” Em pointed at the dog bed in the corner, the bright red ball tucked tightly into the raised cushion as if the owner of said ball was hiding it from prying eyes, which he probably was. “But before you go, I need to ask you something.”

He pointedly looked away as he went to fetch the ball. “Can it wait until you have pants on?”

“It’s a bathing suit. I wear this to the beach.”

“No way Alex is going to let you go to the beach in that.”

“Alex doesn’t get to ‘let’ me do anything,” she snapped. “If I want to go to the beach naked, I will.”

He straightened up after grabbing the ball, raising his hands defensively. “Right, okay. I just meant that–”

“–that you think because Alex is a man and we’re in a relationship that he gets to dictate what I wear?”

“That neither of you is gonna see much of Mexico if you wear that since Alex is probably gonna be popping as much Viagra as he can handle so he can keep you in the hotel the whole time,” he finished. “Trust me, as much as I have zero desire to know how hot he thinks you are, he never fucking shuts up about it.”

“See, Em?” I said. “That’s the exact same thing I said, save for the part where someone clearly wasn’t threatened with the wrath of Curt Llama if he spilled the beans on the location.”

He grimaced. “Shit.”

Em whirled towards me. “He’s taking me to Mexico?”

“I refuse to confirm or deny these allegations,” I said.

A bright sort of energy seemed to vibrate off her as she struggled to maintain the cool, collected composure she was known for. “I’ve never been to Mexico.”

“And you might never get to go,” Jimmy said. “I mean, who knows where Alex is taking you? Show him the bathing suit and he might just rent a room down at the Motel Six.”

I hooted and nudged him with my elbow. “That’s also what I said.”

A hint of a smile broke through his haughty expression as I touched him.

“What was the question?” he asked, looking at Em.

“You’re going to be okay watching Leia when Kelsie can’t?” she asked.

He scoffed. “Of course I am.”

She didn’t look convinced. “You can’t just be cool Uncle Jimmy while I’m gone, you know.”

He rolled his eyes. “I know.”

“This is different from taking her out for ice cream or having a movie night,” Em said. “You’re going to have to balance work and going out and taking care of my kid, and if that last one isn’t your highest priority, then–”

“Leia is always my highest priority,” he said fiercely. “I show up to everything. I’ve barely been drinking and when I do, it’s usually with you. I’ve been working for Alex for ages and you can even ask him and Mike, I’ve been–”