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By:L. A. Casey

I couldn’t even look at him.

“You aren’t stupid. Think about it and I’m sure you’ll realise why.”

Ryder didn’t move a muscle as he continued to stare at me.

“You are jealous,” he murmured then gasped. “You want a baby?”

I looked out the window, not answering him.

“Branna,” he pressed. “You want a baby?”

Without looking at him I said, “I’ve wanted a baby for years, I just never said anythin’ to you to push the issue because so much bullshit has happened to our families, and being the oldest pair we had to push everythin’ aside and make sure everyone was okay. We’re the parental figures. We make sure everyone else is doin’ good before we even consider lookin’ at our own needs.”

Ryder was silent as I spoke so I pressed on.

“You know I love kids and I probably would have had a few before I met you, but havin’ a life was put on hold when me parents died. I had to focus on Bronagh, not me, her. Bein’ a midwife was me dream, it’s the one thing I allowed meself to want. It’s why I worked me arse off to become one in me late twenties whilst raisin’ a bratty teenager.”

I glanced at him as he continued to remain silent.

“Do you think we’re at a point where we should have a kid?” he asked, and I heard the doubt laced throughout his voice.

It killed me, but I agreed with him.

“No, we aren’t in the position to raise a dog, let alone a child.”

Ryder faced forward and jammed his key into the ignition and started up his car.

“Besides,” he quipped, “we’d actually have to fuck in order to get you pregnant.”

His anger was expected.

I flattened my hands out on my thighs and resisted the urge to ball them into fists.

“We probably would if you didn’t go off every single night to do God knows what.”

The silent ‘or who’ was implied, but the words never left my lips because I was terrified if it turned out to be a ‘who’ that was the reason for him leaving every night.

I didn’t think I would be able to handle that, and decided I was better off not knowing. My sister, and the other girls, would smack me around for resorting to this way of thinking, but they didn’t know what my home life or relationship with Ryder was like.

They thought they knew, but they didn’t.

“Don’t feed me that bullshit,” Ryder growled as he pulled out of the space. “I’m home a lot and you still never put out. You left our bed to sleep up in Dominic’s old room, the furthest away from me that you can be in our house.”

I felt disgusted.

“Me purpose on this Earth isn’t to fuck you whenever you see fit.”

“No,” Ryder agreed, “but it’d be nice if I could hit it at least once a fucking week. I haven’t touched you in months. I’d settle for fucking spooning at this point.”

He spoke of me like I was nothing more than a sexual object.

“And whose fault is that?” I bellowed, throwing my hands in the air. “You’ve pulled away from me. We don’t talk, we don’t laugh, we don’t do anythin’ but fight with one another and it’s your bloody fault. You have landed us in this rut, and the sad thing is I don’t even know why! I don’t know what you do when you leave the house every night, or why you’re always on your phone, and it’s pathetic that I’ve just accepted it, but I’m too tired. I fight with you all the time, I’m too exhausted to do anythin’ else.”

I turned my head and looked out the window of the car, willing the tears in my eyes not to fall. I didn’t want to cry, I was sick of crying.

“I’ve told you I’m takin’ care of some things. That’s all you need to know.”

I closed my eyes, gutted he still wouldn’t share his secrets with me.

“I don’t believe you, Ryder.”

“Then I don’t know what to tell you, Branna.”

“How about the truth for once?” I countered. “Just tell me where you go and what you do.”

His hands tightened around the steering wheel as we approached our street.

“I can’t tell you, you wouldn’t understand.”

I looked down to my thighs and swallowed.

“I can’t understand if you don’t help me to.”

Ryder grunted as he pulled into the car parking space in front of our house, putting the car in park. “This is on me, okay? It’s nothing for you to worry about, and you will worry if I tell you, and I don’t want that to happen. We’re all under a lot of pressure with Big Phil still out there; my business doesn’t need me added to that.”

He got out of the car, closed the door and walked up the pathway and into our house, leaving me on my own with my thoughts.

“I can’t do this anymore,” I said aloud, forcing myself to hear the words.

We couldn’t continue on the path we were on. Something had to change, and in that moment I knew exactly what I had to do to start the healing process for the many wounds that had been cut open and exposed over the last few years.

I had to make a change. I had to separate myself from the very being that wounded me so … even if he didn’t mean to.

I squeezed my eyes shut as pain struck. The remaining fragments of my willowed heart shattered into a million pieces as I made a life changing decision. A decision that would affect not only me, but my family and friends, too.

I reached out and blindingly gripped onto the dashboard of the car to stop myself from collapsing as my mind whispered what I needed to do to be free.

I had to break up with Ryder.

Don’t cry.

I love reaching the acknowledgments section of a novel or novella; it means I’ve just added a new notch to my book belt.

Aideen is the sixth book in my Slater Brothers series, and that puts me at the halfway mark in this insane journey between the brothers and their ladies.

That. Is. Insane.

I say this after every book I write, but I honestly can’t wrap my head around how far I’ve come with this series, and it is still going strong. I’m so blessed, and so very thankful to all those who make it possible.

My daughter, I love you more than humanly possible. You are my life. All of what I do and continue to do, I do for you. I love you to Neptune and back.

My PA—Jill. You’re a superstar, woman, and I love you dearly.

Yessi, I don’t know where to start with you. You’re always there for me, and you continue to be one of the few people who I truly consider are pure light. Love you, bitch.

My Mary, I love everything about you. You have quickly become one of my favourite people. You. Are. Brilliant.

Jen—the main woman behind JaVa Editing. Thank you so much for revamping editing for me. You completely put me at ease during the editing process on Aideen. Your comments and random messages cracked me up, and your input was on point. I can’t wait to work with you again.

Nicola Rhead & KMS Freelance Editing, thank you both for proofreading Aideen. I truly appreciate it.

L.J. Anderson—the master behind Mayhem Cover Creations, thank you for creating yet another cover that I am in love with.

Julie—the boss behind JT Formatting, thank you for prettifying Aideen.

Last, but never least, my readers. I don’t know where I would be without all of you, but I know I definitely wouldn’t be releasing my sixth book in the series if it weren’t for each and every one of you. Thank you for everything. You continue to make my dreams possible.