Burn (Breathless #3)By: Maya Banks
To my “family.” Not of blood, but family all the same.
Ash McIntyre stood on the concrete walkway of Bryant Park, hands stuffed into his slacks pockets as he breathed in the spring air. There was still a nip in the wind, carrying with it hints of winter fading to spring. Around him, people sat on benches and in chairs at the small tables where they drank coffee, worked on laptops or were listening to iPods.
It was an absolutely gorgeous day, not that he usually indulged in things like a walk in the park or even being in a park, especially during business hours when he was usually entrenched in his office, on the phone or typing emails or making plans to travel. He wasn’t a “stop and smell the roses” kind of guy. But today he was restless and cagey, he had a lot on his mind, and he’d found himself here without really realizing that he’d planned to end up in the park.
Mia and Gabe’s wedding was a few short days away, and his business partner was up to his eyeballs in wedding preparations as he sought to ensure Mia had the wedding of her dreams. And Jace? His other best friend and business partner was in a very permanent relationship with his fiancée, Bethany, which meant that his two friends were otherwise occupied.
When they weren’t working, they were with their women, and it meant that Ash didn’t see them except at the office and on the occasions they all got together outside of work. They were still close, and Gabe and Jace ensured they’d stayed solid, including him in their changing lives. But it wasn’t the same. And while it was good for his friends, Ash still hadn’t quite come to terms with how rapidly all their lives had altered over the last eight months.
It was weird and life-changing, even though it wasn’t his life being impacted. It wasn’t that he wasn’t happy for his friends. They were happy. That made him happy. But for the first time since the beginning of their friendship, he was on the outside looking in.
His friends would vehemently dispute that. They were his family. Much more so than his own batshit crazy family whom he spent most of his time avoiding. Gabe, Mia, Jace and Bethany, but especially Gabe and Jace, would deny that Ash was on the periphery now. They were his brothers in all the ways that counted. More than blood. Their bond was unbreakable. But it had changed. So in fact he was on the periphery. Still a part, but in a much different, smaller way.
For years their motto had been play hard and live free. Being in a relationship changed a man. It changed his priorities. Ash got that. He understood it. He’d think less of Gabe and Jace if their women weren’t their priority. But it left Ash out of the loop. The third wheel. And it wasn’t a comfortable place to be.
It was especially hard because, until Bethany, Ash and Jace had shared most of their women. More often than not, they fucked the same women. It sounded asinine that Ash wouldn’t know how to function outside a threesome relationship, but there it was.
He was restless and edgy, in search of something, he had no idea what. It wasn’t that he wanted what Gabe and Jace had—or maybe he did and refused to acknowledge it. He just knew he wasn’t himself, and he didn’t like that fact.
He was focused. Knew exactly what he wanted at all times and had the wealth and power to make it happen. There were no shortage of women who’d be more than willing to give Ash what he needed or wanted. But what was the point when he himself had no clue what it was he wanted or needed at present?
He scanned the park, taking in the baby strollers being pushed by mothers and nannies. He tried to picture himself with children and nearly shuddered at the thought. He was thirty-eight, almost thirty-nine, a time when most men had already settled down and produced offspring. But he’d spent all of his twenties and a good chunk of his thirties busting his ass with his partners to make their business the success it was now. Without using his family’s money, their connections, and especially without their help.
Maybe that was why they hated him so much now. Because he’d thumbed his nose at them and basically told them to fuck off. But the biggest sin he’d committed was in making more of a success of himself without them. He had more wealth and power than even the old man did. His grandfather. For that matter, what had the rest of his family ever done but live off the old man’s largess? His grandfather had sold his successful business when Ash was still a boy. None of his family had worked a day in their lives.