Dylan’s smile faded as he reached around Tamar to grab the noodles for her. “Who thinks they’re taking you to prom?”

“Aw c’mon Dill. Don’t be that way. He’s a good guy. Very respectful. I let you date Tamar, don’t I? Let’s not have double standards.”

Tamar smiled warmly at Crystal though her eyes were dancing with contained mirth. This girl was most likely keeping Dylan on his toes, which was probably a reason why he didn’t seem deterred when she’d given him the cold shoulder.

“Tamar, tell her this isn’t a double standard. That I’m being a very reasonable older brother in expecting to be able to decide if this idiot boy is worthy of taking my baby sister to prom.”

She shifted her eyes to him. “Well Dylan… I don’t know. It seems only fair, y’know, since she allowed you to date me.” Tamar nudged his arm. “Come…If she’s anything like you, she’s probably a good judge of character. He might not be a complete bloke.”

Crystal beamed at them as she watched Dylan fight a smile. “So you think because you slipped a compliment in there I’m going to forget you didn’t agree with me?”

“I’ll find a way to make it up to you somehow,” Tamar promised softly. “It’s just prom. Not forever.”

“See Dill. You clearly did an amazing job at allowing yourself to be picked by this incredibly intelligent woman. I think you should feel confident that you passed those same abilities on to me.”

“Shut it, peanut. Just prom, she says. Just the night when every senior boy gets it in his head he’s gonna score with his date. I have half a mind to say you can’t go.”

“What about the other half?” Tamar asked softly, one hand resting on his arm.

Crystal burst into laughter which she quickly smothered with both hands when Dylan glared at her. Still giggling, she turned back to the stove.

“The other half thinks you’re going to be in some serious debt by the end of dinner,” he told Tamar in her ear. “You sure Crystal’s worth the trouble?”

His warm breath sent shivers ricocheting down her spine and she almost leaned into him. Lifting her eyes to him. “Definitely…” her eyes lowered to his mouth, a smile tugging at her own.

“Just make sure you can pay up,” he warned. He knew the moment her gaze had shifted and had to look away to keep from sweeping her up into his arms. “I’m meeting the idiot,” he told Crystal in distraction.

“Find out his name first, Sinatra…” she muttered with a knowing smile before turning her attention to the noodles, placing them into the pot.

“Logan was going to ask for one even if you didn’t,” Crystal said innocently.

“Logan? Tyler’s younger brother?”

Crystal just smiled.

“You brat. He better have been asking for one or I’d get Ty to string him up. You see what I have to put up with?” he asked Tamar incredulously. “She hides information from me all the time.”

Tamar hid a smile, holding herself from saying that it was probably because of his reactions. She merely blinked at him before continuing about her business of soaking the dried noodles.

“He likes to play the big bad brother but I already know he likes Logan,” she told Tamar, smiling. “The real question is just how often big bad brother here sings to you.”

Her hands stilled even as she gave Crystal a smile. “Often enough to be called Sinatra… He sang to me the first day we met.” Tamar shifted her eyes back to Dylan. “I was hooked ever since.”

“Do you mind if I record that? For evidence?” Crystal laughed as she darted away seconds before Dylan could grab her.

“We can have dinner without her. More for us,” Dylan said.

Tamar shook her head, basking in the brother-sister camaraderie. “It’s fine…” She walked over to the stove. “Does he sing around you too, Crystal?”

“He used to. Now he’ll only do it if I beg and throw in free favors. You’ll have to tell me your secret.”

She smirked, glancing over at Dylan before turning back to face Crystal. “I don’t know… My way might not work for you though. I don’t know why we even have to coerce him, since he sings beautifully.”

“Men don’t sing beautifully,” Dylan corrected gruffly.

“Are you trying to tell us something?” Crystal laughed and threw her arms over Dylan’s shoulders from behind.

Tamar hid a laugh behind her mouth as she watched the siblings banter back and forth. She’d always wished for a sibling, wanted to find someone who had no choice but to accept her for who she was. Bekah was a good substitute though, a great cousin and best friend to her since the first day they’d met. She shook away the wistful feelings and reached for the pot lip to cover the soaking noodles.

Dylan reached around and drummed his fingers along Crystal’s sides until she squirmed laughing, gasping for breath as she smacked at his hands.

“Just for that, you can finish dinner while Tamar and I have girl talk,” Crystal told him huffily once she’d gotten free and put a few feet between them.

Tamar raised a brow at Dylan but shrugged at Crystal. “I’m down with that.”

“You weren’t supposed to be cooking to begin with,” Dylan reminded her before looking to Tamar. “You owe me for that too. You’re just racking ‘em up tonight.”

“I’ll pay my dues,” Tamar promised, winking at him even as she stepped around the counter, patting him in the chest.  “Don’t worry your handsome self with that.”

“I’m not going to forget just because you’re blowing my head up with compliments…but I might give you a discount.” He lifted her hand and kissed her knuckles before slipping around the counter to takeover the remaining dinner preparations.

The slightest frown marred Crystal’s brow as she watched them. The easy and open affection wasn’t something she’d expected, not from Dylan. She wasn’t sure how she felt about seeing him as casual with Tamar as he was with her and their mother.

“We’ll discuss it later,” Tamar said easily before turning to face Crystal, her brows lifted silently as if to say she was ready for the interrogation from Dylan’s younger sister.

“So what are you studying? Dylan’s skimpy with details,” Crystal said with a smile as she settled on the bed.

Tamar smiled as she perched on the other end of the bed, crossing her legs. “Pre-Med for now… Might change my mind when I actually get in.” She eyed Crystal. “What do you plan on studying when you get into college?”

“Sports management or criminology. I keep telling Dylan that I could be his agent but he’s not really buying into the whole deal. Pre-med sounds serious. I hear it’s a lot of work, really time consuming.”

Tamar shrugged with a smile. “I manage.” She cocked a brow. “Sports agent, huh? That’s interesting.” She glanced over at Dylan whose back was to them and smiled softly. In a couple of years he would be a sought out NFL player… where would she stand in his life then, she found herself wondering. Shaking her head to clear her wayward thoughts, Tamar returned her attention to Crystal. “What schools did you apply to?”

“Yeah but he says if I did sports management, he’d have to ‘manage’ the guys that tried to hit on me and he doesn’t have time for lawsuits or jail time.” She rolled her eyes but a smile tugged at her lips. “I applied to Covington of course. Columbia and Duke because Bossy made me. He tried to press for Harvard too but I had to put my foot down somewhere.” Maybe she didn’t know exactly how she felt about the changes in Dylan, but Crystal had to admit that Tamar definitely looked at him right. She truly liked him. The sneaky looks in his direction and the softness in her expression gave her away.

“Well, it’s Harvard’s loss… Anyway, they’re a bit of stiff shirts.” Tamar wrinkled her freckled nose at Crystal and smiled. “Well if it means anything, Covington’s a good school, if you end up choosing it.” Even if it’d held many bad memories for her, she’d found a reason to stay.

“Their sports are horrible. I’d die up there. Duke’s basketball team is impressive though. I’m just not looking forward to going out of state. I’d rather just stay here and go to Covington.”

Tamar nodded. “Good choice.”

“Try telling that to Dylan,” she grumbled.

She laughed softly. “He’s stubborn… But I have a feeling deep down, he wants you to stay.” Wasn’t that what protective brothers thought concerning their little sisters? She shrugged. “And even if it isn’t, he’ll probably get over it.”

“He wants me to have the best,” she mimicked, rolling her eyes.

Tamar smirked. “A worthy cause, I’d say…” It was clear that Dylan cared deeply for his sister.

“A worthy pain in the butt. But enough about me. What do you think about Dylan’s whole football career business?”

She stiffened instantly at the question, having not expected to be asked anything about it. Her blue eyes regarded the younger woman carefully and managed a smile. “I didn’t think my opinion of it was necessary, honestly…” She shrugged her shoulders, glancing over at Dylan for a brief moment before looking back at Crystal. “It’s what he wants, and he works hard for it. He’ll do well in it, since he’s a hardworking and honest athlete.”

Crystal settled back onto the bed. The answer hadn’t been enthusiastic and she would’ve been wary if it was. Instead, Tamar had given the perfect answer. Understanding. Supportive.

<<Chapter 17 || Chapter 19>>