Cannon, p.13
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       Cannon, p.13

         Part #3 of A Step Brother Romance series by Sabrina Paige
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  Part of me thought that finally having her would quench my thirst for her.   I thought it would let me shake her, make me finally want her less.   That's how it's been with every other girl, and there have been lots of girls.

  I try to tell myself that Addy is no different from any other girl.   Except I'm not stupid enough to believe that's the truth.   The truth is that she shouldn't be with someone like me, and we both know it.   It'll ruin her, destroy her career.   And I'm no good for her, as damaged as I am.

  When I get back, Grace is gone and Addy is sprawled out on the sofa, polishing off the final glass of what looks like a bottle of wine.   "You're back," she says without enthusiasm, and it immediately rubs me the wrong way.   I wonder if she and Grace had a chat about what happened, and I'm suddenly defensive.

  "Sorry to disappoint. "

  Addy sits up on the sofa, her phone in her hand, her finger on the screen scrolling through whatever the fuck it is she's looking at.   I'm annoyed that she doesn't put it down, given the fact that we haven't said more than a handful of words to each other since it happened, and I consider ripping the phone out of her hand and tossing it over the balcony.   But I don't.   Instead, I silently congratulate myself on my stellar restraint.

  "You want to talk about what happened?" I ask.   My voice has an edge to it.

  Addy stares at her phone, obviously considering texting or social media-ing more important than looking at the last person she screwed.   She shrugs.   "Not really," she says, her voice flat.   "It's like you said.   It never happened. "

  I want to scream at her, grab her by the arms and shake her, tell her that's not what I meant this morning at all.   Instead, I say, "Fine.   It never happened. "

  "Done," she says, without looking up.

  "Finished. "  I walk across the living room and down the hallway, irritated to no fucking end with that girl.   I slam the bedroom door with a finality.

  Conversation over.

  This is the stupidest damn fight ever.   Addy and I are going on a week of speaking to each other in clipped tones, avoiding eye contact at every possible event – interviews I accompany her to, a charity event, back to the recording studio for days in a row, where I don't wait for her anymore.   Instead, I drop her off and pick her up when she's finished, since there's no actual security threat.   I'm a glorified babysitter, only far less glorified.

  So when Addy walks out of her bedroom wearing the tiniest of tiny dresses, white and barely covering her ass and gold heels that make her legs look a mile long, I nearly fall over.   "Where the hell are you going?"

  Page 51

  "Out," she says.   "It's my friend Sapphire's birthday. "

  "Dressed like that," I say flatly.

  "Yes, dressed like this," she says.   "It's just a birthday thing. "

  "Not like that, you're not," I say, half under my breath.   I'm not aware she even hears me until she visibly bristles, responding with a hard tone.

  "You have some objection to what I'm wearing?"

  I inhale deeply, trying to maintain my composure, but I can hardly contain myself when it comes to Addy.   I've been attempting to be reasonable, trying to not behave like a sex-starved lunatic around her, but it's impossible, especially when she goes and walks out the bedroom door looking like. . . well, this.   I stand close to her, breathing her in deeply.   "You might as well be naked," I say, my voice gravely.

  Her jaw clenches.   "You have no say in what I wear or don't wear," she says.   "I'll go out in pasties and a thong if I want to.   And I'm going out with my friends. "

  "What friends?"  The only reason she's going out with friends is to piss me off.   Dressed like that, it's totally working.   I'm torn between wanting to throttle her and wanting to lift up the edge of that skirt she's wearing and turn her over my knee.   The image flashes in my head, her bent over my leg, bare ass in the air, and I swear my cock goes rock hard right then and there.

  "The friends you've prevented me from seeing, with your overbearing-ness and hanging around all the time. "

  "Because your friends are so awesome and look out for you so well," I say.

  She tilts her head up to look at me, setting her jaw the way she does, and tosses a lock of blonde hair over her shoulder.   "Well, you did a great job looking out for me. "

  "I've been looking out for you every day," I say, ignoring her dig about what happened between the two of us.   All I can think about is the fact that she's standing in front of me, dressed like she is and that I want to rip those goddamned clothes off her.   What I don't want to do is follow her around like a fucking puppy dog all night while guys throw themselves at her.

  That is the fucking definition of a high-risk situation, because I'll have to put my fists on the first guy who lays a finger on her.   Anger management skills be damned.

  "It's Sapphire's birthday.   And you're not actually my boss, you know," she says.   I smell her perfume, jasmine and something else that hints of the tropics, and I want to drink in her scent. I have to remind myself what a total and complete fucking brat she's being.   I don't have to remind myself for long, as it turns out, because she opens her mouth again.   "You're my bodyguard.   That's it. You work for me, not the other way around. "

  She says the word bodyguard with disdain, like she's better than me somehow, and anger surges through me.   And then I think I see the flicker of something else on her face – regret? -- and for a second, I want to grab her and pull her toward me and tell her to stop screwing around and kiss me, because everything she just said is total bullshit.

  But fuck it, I've got my pride.   "You're being a total -- "

  "Bitch?"  Addy interrupts.

  "You said it, not me. "

  Addy's jaw clenches and she looks at me, anger flashing in her eyes.   "Don't worry, bodyguard," she says, the word hanging heavy on her tongue.   "I'll behave completely professionally with you from now on. "

  "Fine," I say, affecting a British accent.   "Where will madam be off to this evening?"

  "I don't like you," she says, grabbing her purse.   She's lying.   I know she is.   And this whole fight is manufactured bullshit. It's not real.   But I also know that it's easier for the both of us if we pretend.   It's easier if we hate each other.   It's for the best.

  "I don't like you either, Addy-girl," I say, following her out the door.   Her hips sashay as she walks in her too-high-to-be-safe heels, and when she tosses her hair over her shoulder again, I have to clench my fists at my sides to keep from grabbing it and yanking her toward me.

  I'm not lying when I say I don't like her.   Riding down the elevator with her as she looks to the side, pointedly ignoring me, I realize it with growing certainty.   I definitely don't like her.   Like is the wrong L-word to use when it comes to Addy.

  FOUR YEARS, EIGHT MONTHS AGO

  Page 52

  "Let me see them," Grace says, grabbing at my journal.   "Come on, Addison. "

  "No way. "  I grip the notebook tightly in one hand, swatting at her with the other.   "It's private. "

  "Fine," she says.   "I can always guess your secrets anyway.   Is it about a boy?"

  I exhale heavily.   "No, of course not. "

  Grace wrinkles her nose.   "You aren't interested in anyone?  What about that singer, the one you toured with?  Not the older guy.   The other one, the nice one, the one your age?"

  "Nick?" I ask.   "He's gay. "

  "Is he?"

  "He's not out yet, but yeah. "

  "You're boring," Grace says, sniffing.   "Have you heard from Hendrix?"

  "No.   Why would I hear from him?"  My voice catches in my throat.   I haven't heard from him in months.   I don't know where he is now.   He graduated from Marine Corps training last month, and I didn't go.   No one
did, even his own father.

  We had an event, a big country music one that I had to go to as part of my contract.   The event was Hendrix's father's excuse, but I think really the Colonel just didn't want to go.   I'm not sure if his father was disappointed in Hendrix for joining the Marines, or secretly intimidated by the fact that he joined and actually completed training.

  I think he expected Hendrix to show back up on the front doorstep a few weeks into training, because he'd dropped out or was kicked out.

  I think that's what I expected, too.   That's what I hoped.   And then each week passed, and it didn't happen.

  "I don't know, Addison," Grace says.   "You guys are like BFFs.   I figured you'd hear from him.   Is he done training?"

  "I have no idea," I say, shrugging.   Acting like it's no big deal.   "What do you mean, we're BFFs?  We hardly talk. "

  Grace cocks her head to the side and studies me carefully.   "Addison Stone, you and Hendrix are besties, whether you want to admit it or not. "

  I roll my eyes.   "This is a bo-ring conversation.   Why don't we talk about something more interesting.   Like your love life, for example?"

  Grace blushes, and I immediately sit up.   "Why are you blushing?" I ask.   "You met someone. "

  "No, he's nobody.   He's really…not my type. "

  "As in, he's normal?"

  "Screw you, Addison," she says.   But she's smiling.   Come to think of it, I've seen her smiling a lot more than usual lately.

  "I don't want to talk about it," she says.   "It's not going anywhere.   We're just hanging out.   Anyway, what are you scribbling in your journal?"

  "Songs. "

  "Ooh, show me," she says.   "You never sing for me anymore. "

  "Because the studio is writing all my music now," I say, shrugging.   "It's not so fun anymore.   It's more like a job, so it's kind of lame now.   Anyway, they're nothing. "

  PRESENT DAY

  "Finally!"  Sapphire yells in my face.   "I didn't think you'd grace us with your presence, even for my birthday, since you've become a complete recluse and gone into hiding!"  She grabs my shoulders and kisses me on each cheek twice, her extra-pretentious air kiss, before she takes my hand and leads me into the club.   The music is irritatingly loud and the base sends vibrations through the floor that make it feel like it's traveling through my body.

  The club is packed, and Hendrix is behind me, his hand on the small of my back as he guides me through the crowd.   His touch does the same thing to me it always has – it sends a thrill of arousal rushing through me, and I immediately think of what it felt like when he ran his hands over my naked flesh.   Part of me wants to just stop, right here, and spin around in his arms.

  Someone gets too close to me, and Hendrix puts his forearm up to protect me.   I want to tell Hendrix that I'm sorry for the morning after.   And the whole week.   And for being a complete bitch.   I've wanted to tell him that a hundred times this week.   I even knocked on his door once, but stopped, my fist frozen in mid-air, unable to follow through.

  The smart part of me knows that what happened between Hendrix and I was colossally stupid.   But so is this tonight, going out to a club with my old friends.   Maybe part of me wants to get a reaction from Hendrix.

  Page 53

  I can't continue with him, the way it has been, silent between us, our own private two-person cold war.   I want something to happen, even if it's a goddamned explosion, fireworks, a fight that goes nuclear.

  As soon as Sapphire air-kisses me, I remember how fucking awkward it was for me before, going out with them while they partied and got stoned and acted so damn pretentious.   Why did I used to think this was fun, anyway?  Lounging around on a chaise in my makeup and short dress in a roped-off VIP area while my friends laugh and people in the crowd snap photos that will wind up on the cover of a tabloid?  It's risky.

  We're not even here for ten minutes before Hendrix leans over and yells in my ear.   "Are you about fucking finished here?" he asks.   "You've made an appearance.   You need to get out of here before anything gets out of hand. "

  Sapphire leans over and yells in your ear.   "Your bodyguard is way too over-protective," she says.   "You need to loosen up, have a little fun.   Besides, there's someone here who wants to say hi to you. "

  Jared.   He's flanked on either side by two of his douchebag friends, and my heart sinks in my throat as I look at him.   He walks straight toward me, but Hendrix steps between us.

  "Down, boy," Sapphire says, making a barking sound.   I could punch her right now.   Hell, I could punch Jared right now.

  "Call off your attack dog, Addison," Jared says.   "I just want to wish Sapphire a happy birthday. "

  "Hendrix," I say, my voice tight.   Hendrix doesn't move, and I stand up, nudging him to the side.   "I can handle this myself," I say, irritated that he thinks of me as some incapable girl he has to protect from absolutely everything in life.

  Hendrix leans in close to me, his hand brushing against the side of my waist, and it sends a shiver up my spine.   "He doesn't touch you," he says to me, his tone warning.   "He lays a finger on you and he's dead. "

  "You're threatening to kill my exes, Hendrix?" I ask.   I can't tell if my words are lost in the thumping of the club music, and I think my friends are staring at us, but I don't care.   I'm sitting there feeling badly about how immaturely I've behaved, thinking about apologizing, and then Hendrix goes and says something like that.

  "Your bodyguard doesn't know his place, Addison," Jared says.   "You might want to put him back in his kennel. "

  Hendrix spins around and grabs Jared by the arm, pulling him out of the VIP area.   Jared's friends are on Hendrix immediately, but he shrugs them off like they're nothing, tossing Jared out into the crowd.

  "I'm going to the bathroom," I say, pushing my way past them.   "And I don't fucking need an escort. "

  I weave my way through the bodies of people in the club, my hand over my forehead, shielding my face, and breathe a sigh of relief when I reach the bathroom without anyone recognizing me.   Inside, I exhale deeply, leaning against the wall and closing my eyes.

  "Oh. My. God.   Are you Addison Stone?"  The girl looks up from the counter and sniffs loudly.   She stumbles up to me, half-drunken, her eyes glassy.   "I just love you.   You look so hot.   Can you take a selfie with me?"  She doesn't wait for a response, just leans in close to me and tries to snap a photo, but I duck out of the way.

  "Sorry," I say.   I can't imagine the clusterfuck that would result from a bathroom selfie with this obviously high party girl, when it got uploaded to social media.   I just want to get the hell out of here.

  When the bathroom door opens, I'm relieved.   But only momentarily, since it's Jared.   "Addison," he says.   "Someone said that's your brother.   Is that your fucking brother out there?  He's an asshole. "

  I roll my eyes.   Not this right now.   "The ladies room, Jared?  Oh, that's right, it's your favorite place to get some.   Not from me, though, thanks anyway. "

  "Of course not," he says, glancing at the cokehead who's watching us with interest.   "Missionary style, boring as fuck Addison, getting it on in a bathroom?"

  "Fuck you, Jared," I say, stepping around him, but he grabs my wrist, and I jerk it away.

  "I came here to talk to you, Addison. "

  "I have nothing to say to you. "

  Jared turns toward the girl who's standing silently by the sinks.   "Normally I'd let you suck my cock, sweetheart, but you can get the hell out of here. "  She stares stupidly at him, and he speaks more loudly.   "Get lost. "

  Page 54

  "Asshole," she mutters, stumbling drunkenly out of the bathroom.

  "I'm not staying either, Jared," I say, but he's in front of me, in my space with
his hand still on my wrist, and he walks slowly forward, backing me up toward the wall.   My heart catches in my throat.

  "Get. Out. Now. "  Hendrix is opening the door, grabbing Jared by the back of his shirt.   He slams him up against the wall.

  "Hendrix!  Don't!  Please!"

  Hendrix's face is contorted in anger.   "I thought I told you to get the fuck out of this club," he says.

  "Get out, Jared," I say.   I'm terrified and I want Jared to leave, but not out of any sympathy for him.   I'm worried about Hendrix.   I'm worried Hendrix will do something that will get him in trouble, and that will be it.

  "Nice bodyguard you have here, Addison," he says, holding up his hands in mock surrender.   "We were just having a little chat about how she likes getting it on in public restrooms. "

  Hendrix punches him across the jaw, the blow sudden and fierce, and Jared slides down the wall onto the floor with his head down.

  "Hendrix!"  I yell.   "Did you just kill him?  Please tell me you didn't just kill him.   We need to check his pulse or something. "  But Hendrix has his hand on my arm, and he takes me, wordlessly guiding me out the door of the bathroom.

  Sapphire is outside of the bathroom, and Hendrix yells at her.   "Your friend is passed out on the floor in there," he says.   "You should go get him. "

  "Addy," she calls after me, but Hendrix is already guiding me out the back exit of the club.

  "You're walking too fast. "  I can barely keep up on my high heels, and I stumble.

  Before I know what's happening, Hendrix grabs me and slings me up over his shoulder.   "Now you don't have to walk. "

  "Hendrix, stop being such a dick.   Put me down.   My ass is hanging out everywhere. "

  He covers my ass with his hand.   "There.   Now it's not. "

  "I'm serious, Hendrix," I yell, smacking him on the back.   "If you don't put me down, I'm going to fucking scream. "

  He doesn't say anything, just walks back to the car, and sets me down on the ground, hard.   "There," he says.   "Happy now?"

  "I didn't need your help in there," I say.   "I don't need you to go all fucking – I don't know what –"

  "Marine?" he asks, crossing his arms across his chest.   He smirks at me, and I want to smack him across his face.   His very sexy, very chiseled face.

 
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