Cannon, p.15
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       Cannon, p.15
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         Part #3 of A Step Brother Romance series by Sabrina Paige
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  Reality doesn't intrude on us until a country music festival I can't cancel.   In the middle of one of the slow songs during the performance outdoors, I close my eyes and breathe all of it in for a moment, and I remember how fucking lucky I am. When I look over at Hendrix, standing off-stage, he gives me a "thumbs up" and that cocky, shit-eating grin of his.   And I feel a hell of a lot luckier.

  After the performance, about to get in the limo, when it happens.   Fireworks explode -- once, twice, and then a smattering in quick succession.   Hendrix's face goes chalk white and he freezes, standing there beside the limo door.

  "Hendrix. "  I touch his arm, and he yanks it away, and he's shaking as another set of explosions go off.   Fear grips my chest when I see this normally strong man paralyzed by something I don't quite understand.   I take his arm, more firmly this time, guiding him into the back of the limo.   We sit in silence on the way home, and Hendrix is shivering.   I don't know what to do, but he doesn't push me away when I slide my arm around him.   He just lets me sit there beside him, pressed up against him, until the trembling seems to subside.

  In my apartment, I take him straight to my bed, strip off our clothes, and climb under the sheets.   Neither of us say a word.   Hendrix puts his head on my chest, lying quietly against me, and I look up at the ceiling for a long time, not knowing if he's awake or asleep.   I don't know what else to do, other than to be here.   And I hope that's enough.

  Page 59

  TWO YEARS AGO

  "Cannon, you're writing in that notebook all the fucking time.   Thought you were writing letters, but you never send them. "  Watson kicks the dust on the ground with his boot, spits the juice from his chewing tobacco into the dirt, then takes a sip of an energy drink.

  "Fuck off, Watson. "

  "Touchy," he says.   "I didn't know you were such a pussy.   Maybe you're just writing in your journal, talking about your feelings and shit?  You should go see the head wizard, cry a little on the couch or whatever. "

  "I'm writing a fucking letter, douchebag," I say, rolling my eyes.   "You'd understand that if you had any friends outside of us assholes that are stuck with you. "

  Watson laughs.   He knows I don't mean a word of it.   He's a good guy, as solid as they come.   He pulls out a letter from his wife Mandy, shows me another photo of their new baby, Amy, the kid he hasn't seen.   We get email here, even in the mountains in Afghanistan, but Katy sends him letters every week, packages too, when they make it.   He's from Kentucky, not too far from Nashville, and I like him even though he's redneck as fuck, because he reminds me of home.

  "When we get out of here, we're going straight to the coast, Mandy and Amy and me," he says.   "We're taking a family vacation, away from her crazy mother, just the three of us.   It's been a while since we've gone on a family vacation.   What are you going to do when you get home?"

  Home.   I didn't think of Okinawa, and then Twenty-Nine Palms in the middle of nowhere, California, as home.   When I think about home, I think about Nashville.   I hated it when I was there, but now that I've been away from it, I've started to remember it fondly, the bad parts of it fading into the past.   And the good parts…well, Addison was the only really good part of it.

  I still haven't gotten the balls to send the letters I write.   They just sit in my notebook.   I can't send them, not because I'm afraid for her to know what's in them, but because it seems like the kind of thing you should say in person.

  If I get the chance to walk the fuck out of here and say them in person.

  Here, we're living on borrowed time.   Before we go outside camp and set a firing line, I offer up a silent prayer that we'll come back relatively unscathed.   We've been lucky, so far.

  The casualty count here is higher recently than in other parts of the country.

  Casualty count.   That's what they call it.   It's clinical, sterile, a way of reporting to the higher-ups running the show how many Marines were killed in action.   A man's death shouldn't sound clinical, I think.

  That's the funny thing about death.   It's not clinical at all.   It's putrid and foul and the stench of it lingers long after it happens, seeping into your pores until you begin to think that you carry it around wherever you go.

  I'm afraid I'll die in this hellhole.

  I'm afraid that I'll go home but I'll carry this place with me forever, unable to rid myself of the stench of death.

  PRESENT DAY

  I stir when the sunlight shines through the window in Addy's bedroom, bathing everything in golden morning light.   I'm on my side turned away from her, but she's pressed against me, her body lengthened alongside mine, and her arm is wrapped around my waist.   I can hear her snoring softly behind me, her face nuzzled against the middle of my back.

  All I can think about is how completely and utterly disappointed Addy must be in me for flipping out over a goddamned fireworks display.   A wave of humiliation washes over me, and I lie there, unmoving, thinking about how to best extricate myself from the bed without waking her up.   But then she nuzzles her face against my back, her lips on me, applying gentle kisses in the middle of my back.   And I'm instantly hard.

  I roll over and she smiles, the expression radiant.   "Morning," she says, her voice thick with sleep.

  "Hey. "  When I run my hand through her hair, she closes her eyes, pressing her face against my palm.   "About last night…"

  Addy snuggles up close to me.   "You don't need to say anything about last night, Hendrix. "  She kisses me softly on the lips.

  My tongue finds hers, but she pulls away, shielding her mouth with her hand and complaining of morning breath.   "I don't care about our morning breath," I whisper.   And I don't.   I kiss her greedily.

  I cup her breast and Addy melts against me, her voice breathy when she speaks.   "I want you inside me, Hendrix," she whispers.   She's wet when I reach between her legs and the fact that she wants me, even after last night, makes me irrepressibly happy.

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  I reach for a condom on the bedside table, and I'm on top of her, inside her quickly.   I don't want to be anywhere but inside her.   Addy wraps her legs around me, pulling me tighter, arms around my neck as she brings her lips to mine.   "More, Hendrix, more," she whispers, and I give her more, riding her until she's swollen around me, her pussy demanding.

  I don't speak, no dirty-talk of fucking her or how much I want to come inside her.   She's quiet, the only noise now the sound of her moans, louder in the morning stillness until she cries out my name.   "Oh God, Hendrix!"

  I tilt her jaw up toward me so I can watch her come, the face she makes one of complete ecstasy.   When I finally let go, it's white-hot pleasure as I come inside her.   Afterward, I don't move.   I just stay there in her, watching her chest make little heaving movements as she catches her breath.   She puts her hand against my face, and I close my eyes, turn against her palm, into her soft touch.

  We lay there in the bed for what seems like an eternity.   "I tried to email you a thousand times," she said.   "When you were gone. "

  I nod, stroking her hair.   "Me too," I lie.   I never tried to email.   But how do I tell her I wrote her a thousand letters I never sent?  It seems like too little, too late.

  She's quiet for longer, like she's gathering her thoughts, and when she speaks, her voice is soft.   "What happened last night, it was about your deployment, right?"

  "Yeah," I admit.   "I don't know what to say, Addy.   I froze up.   It doesn't make me the best bodyguard. "

  Addy grins.   "Schtupping the client doesn't make you the greatest bodyguard either, you know. "

  I can't help but laugh.   "Fine," I agree.   "I'm a shit bodyguard. "

  "You're the worst," she says, giggling.

  We're silent for a minute, lying in the bed, and I reach ou
t and run my finger absently down her arm.   I don't want to stop touching her.   "You're so… light, Addy," I tell her.   Each word I speak makes me feel like I'm risking everything.   "I don't want to contaminate you with my bullshit. "

  Addy raises an eyebrow.   "You think I'm naïve. "

  "I think…" My voice trails off as I trace a finger lazily down the middle of her cleavage.   "Sometimes I think darkness is the only thing I brought back from that place. "  I don't know how to tell her about any of it, because I don't understand it myself.

  I don't drink, don't do drugs, don't do anything most people would look at and point and say, he's falling apart.   But I run toward things that are dangerous, things that could destroy me – literally, during my morning runs.   I pick fights and don't care what happens.   I'm worried my self-destruction will spread, that it will destroy her.   How do you put something like that into words?

  "Maybe," she says quietly.   "But I guess that's why light exists – to illuminate the dark places. "

  Then I roll her over on top of me, and she kisses me, and nothing else matters but her.

  ONE YEAR, ELEVEN MONTHS AGO

  A wave of heat hits me the second I step off the helicopter.   "Whoa," I say.

  The Airman next to me chuckles.   "It takes some getting used to, ma'am. "

  "It's like being inside an oven," I say.   "Is it like this all the time?"

  "Hot as hell now, freezing cold in the winter," he says.   "Welcome to Bagram Air Force Base. "

  I'm in Afghanistan against my mother's expressed wishes, but I had a gap in my schedule and even she could reluctantly agree that it would be good publicity.   A nice side bonus of the trip was that there was no way short of Hell itself freezing over that my mother would join me.

  But I didn't do this to get away from my mother, although my motives were, I admit, partly selfish.   The non-selfish part of me wanted to do a USO tour so I could give something back to the people serving over here.

  The selfish part of me missed Hendrix.   Present tense, actually -- misses Hendrix.   I don't know how you can miss someone you hate so much, how you can loathe someone yet crave them with every fiber of your being, but I do.   My mother wanted to arrange a meeting between Hendrix and I, something that would play well on television, go viral on social media -- a dramatic reunion between the country star on her USO tour and her Marine stepbrother.   The Colonel said it was a stupid waste of resources, flying Hendrix in from wherever-the-hell he is out in Afghanistan just to see me.   When he mentioned that it would be dangerous for Hendrix and whoever was with him to travel, convoy from wherever they were just to catch a plane to see me, I refused to let anyone get in touch with his unit.

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  Part of me still fantasizes that I'll walk out on the stage tonight, and Hendrix will be there in the crowd, smiling at me with that cocky grin.   It's naive, a stupid wish, and even though I know it is, a little piece of me is crushed when it doesn't happen.

  PRESENT DAY

  In the back of the limo, Hendrix slides his hand between my legs, and I swat it away.   "Seriously," I whisper.   "We're almost at the studio.   Don't even try it. "

  He laughs.   "Make sure you mention in the interview how totally full of yourself you are," he whispers.   "Because I wasn't even attempting to get it on with you. "

  "Whatever, dude.   You're always trying to put your…" My voice trails off and I glance at the tinted mirror that separates us from the driver.

  Hendrix puts his mouth close to my ear and it gives me chills when his breath tickles my skin.   "Cock?" he asks.   "Put my cock in your warm wet pussy?"

  He says the words, and it's like an automatic response – I'm immediately wet.   "Stop," I order, sliding to the other side of the seat.   "Behave. "

  "Yes, ma'am," he says.   But he's chuckling under his breath.

  I stick my tongue out at him, and he grins at me.   "Careful sticking your tongue out like that, sweet cheeks," he says softly.   "Or I'll give you something to lick. "

  "Right here in the limo?" I ask.   "You wouldn't dare. "

  Hendrix starts unbuckling his pants, and I squeal, louder than I mean to, and the driver cracks the window, asking if I'm okay.   Hendrix, of course, is the epitome of angelic.

  "Yes, I'm fine," I say, glaring at Hendrix as the window goes back up.

  Hendrix takes my hand and presses it against the front of his pants, showing me his hardness.   I should snatch my hand away, but I let it linger there a moment too long. When the car comes to an abrupt stop, I jerk my hand away and look out the window, feigning innocence.   Feigning professionalism.

  What the hell happened to my professionalism, anyway?  I'm a giant ball of need and want and desire, preoccupied with Hendrix.   We're like two high school kids, unquenchable in our thirst for each other.   I'm surprised my lust for him isn't written all over my face, visible for the entire world to read.

  At least, I hope it's not.

  I watch him sometimes when he sleeps.   He doesn't know, but I watch him as he dreams, his sleep fitful.   He hasn't told me what he dreams about, and I haven't asked.   But my heart hurts for him.

  On the television set, the reporter asks me questions, easy ones about my album and last year's tour.   "You recently auctioned off your entire closet and raised half a million dollars for a veteran's organization. "

  "It's hard to believe I had that many clothes," I say, suddenly embarrassed.   It was little more than a decade ago that my mom could barely afford to buy us sneakers.   Now I'm wearing thousand-dollar shoes.

  "Some people have criticized the move as a blatant act of consumerism, cleaning out the old to make way for the new. "

  "I –" I pause for a moment.   I'm supposed to stick to the script, talk about how veteran's issues have always been important to me, about how I wanted to make a donation that was personally important and not just write a check.   Hendrix stands on the side of the set, and he winks at me.   "You know, it actually wasn't my idea at all. "

  The reporter leans forward, furrowing her brow, which I'm certain is one of those "listening skills" they taught her to do in journalism school to appear thoughtful.   "And who do we have to thank for this?"

  "It was a friend's idea," I say.   "I mean, my stepbrother's.   Hendrix's.   He's a friend.   And a veteran.   I guess, well, you could say he orchestrated the entire thing. "  I'm babbling, nervous when I talk about Hendrix, and I have to force myself to stop and take a deep breath so I don't continue to babble and confess all my secrets on set.   I can already feel the heat on my cheeks, the flush I get when I talk about Hendrix.

  She nods and smiles.   "After the break, we'll hear more from the lovely Addison Stone, and she'll sing one of the songs from her upcoming album. "

  "No, mom. "  I'm on the phone with my mother, who says something snide about "sticking to the script," followed immediately by an indictment of my television wardrobe.   Hendrix rolls his eyes when he hears me speak, able to tell immediately who it is, and I turn the other direction, but he follows, standing in front of me with a glint in his eye.   When he mouths the words, "Hang up," I shake my head, and he smiles smugly before reaching out and sliding his hands underneath my skirt.

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  When he discovers I'm not wearing any panties, he gives me a look, the look that tells me exactly what he wants from me.   My mother is in the middle of a diatribe about the importance of my image, and I murmur "uh-huh" every few seconds, but what I'm really focused on is Hendrix and his magic fingers that are meandering lazily between my legs, stroking me, sending waves of pleasure rippling through my body.

  Hendrix whispers in my ear.   "Hang up on her.   I'm going to keep going. "

  I shield the phone from him, trying to maintain my composure.   "I can't," I mo
uth.   Surely he understands the importance of playing along with my mother, my manger.   And with the record studio.   So I pretend to listen to her while I watch Hendrix shrug, and kneel at my feet, parting my legs with his hand.   I don't make a pretense of resisting, because I want him more than anything.

  My mother's voice seems to get smaller and smaller, disappearing until it sounds like she's in a tunnel someplace far away, as Hendrix covers my pussy with his mouth, his tongue exploring me the same way his fingers were a moment ago.   I exhale heavily, trying not to moan.   "Yes, mom, I'm exercising.   Yes.   Hendrix has me on a new workout program. "

  Hendrix pauses to look up at me, his lips shiny with my wetness, then reaches around me and slaps my ass cheek loudly.

  "It was nothing, mother," I say.   "I think Hendrix dropped something. "  Meanwhile, Hendrix is eating me like I'm his last meal on earth, pulling my clit into his mouth with greater ferocity when he hears me speak to my mother.   I clutch at him, intending to pull his head away but in reality pulling it closer.

  When he slides his fingers inside me, I do moan.   Out loud.   While on the phone with my fucking mother.   I cough to cover it up, but she asks what's happening.   "I – I think I'm going to be sick," I blurt out.   "Nausea. "

  She says something about vomiting being an acceptable form of dieting, but I hang up on her before Hendrix can do anything else, and throw the phone across the room.   It bounces off the sofa and falls onto the floor with a clatter, and right now I don't care if it's broken into a thousand little pieces.

  Hendrix strokes me with his fingers.   "About time," he says.   "I was thinking I was going to have to bend you over and slide my cock inside that sweet pussy of yours in order to get you off the phone. "

  No one has ever talked to me like this, just bandied around words like "cock" and "pussy".   Of course, no one has fucked me the way Hendrix does either.   And I do mean fucked.   Hendrix fucks me the way I thought only happened in movies, passionate and rough and sweaty, hair-pulling, earth-shattering sex.

  "Now that I'm off the phone, what are you going to do?"  I ask, and he looks up at me, his eyes clouded with desire.

  Then he does what I want him to do – he slides his fingers from between my legs, bends me over the sofa, and fucks me the way I want him to.   He rides me hard and fast, jerking my head back as he pulls on my hair, and when I come, I scream his name before collapsing into a sweaty heap against the sofa.

 
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