Prick, p.18
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         Part #1 of A Step Brother Romance series by Sabrina Paige
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  And Kate…

  The media coverage of the incident was sweeping in the couple of weeks after it happened, but then they were on to some other more scandalous story. Kate refused to give any interviews. But she did go to UCLA, not Harvard.

  I smiled when I read that. She was studying art.

  She is studying art.

  Sometimes I think about her in the past tense, like she’s a part of my prior life. And then I see someone who looks like her when I glance out of the corner of my eye, or a girl tucks her hair behind her ear the way Kate did. . . and she’s very much a part of my present again.

  Six months ago, my mother emailed me, offering to give my trust fund back to me. I agreed, but on my terms. The first handful of investments I made were in the arts, to places I knew Kate would like. I vetted them, the same way I plan to do with the other business I want to help, start-up companies and people with good ideas who are struggling but don't have the capital to fund their projects. I didn't think any of the places I'd invested in had any connection to Kate.

  Until a week ago.

  It wasn’t luck that I stumbled on the tiny mention of the exhibit online. I had online alerts set up on the businesses I’d invested in. . . and on Kate. I guess I was never in any danger of getting her out of my head, even on the other side of the world.

  When I saw the announcement about the art show, the name was what immediately caught my eye. But it was the picture of the artist’s work that made me go to the nearest travel agent and buy a one-way ticket back to California.

  “It’s insane. ” I spin around the gallery, my head as far up in the clouds as it can possibly be. “I can’t believe I’m seeing my work on the wall, in a real show. ”

  “Believe it,” the gallery director says. “There has been a lot of interest in you. You are an up and coming star, Katherine. You have such talent. ”

  “I’m just glad you were able to keep the gallery open,” I say. Three months ago, this place was under threat of going under, and given the gallery’s long history in this part of the city, that was tragic.

  “Cheers to the angel investor that saved the gallery,” she says.

  “You don’t know who it was?”

  She shakes her head and shrugs. “He apparently prefers to do his good works anonymously,” she says. “Anyway, my dear, there’s a reporter here who wants to interview you. ”

  I groan. “Not about my personal life. ”

  She shakes her head. “Entirely about your art. ”

  Page 70

  “But. . . why?”

  “I told you that you’re talented,” she says. “Why do you think I’ve spent the last two months cajoling you into letting me show your work?”

  It took her two months to convince me to show my charcoal sketches, mostly because I didn’t trust that her interest wasn’t simply related to the fact that I’m Senator Harrison’s wayward daughter.

  My father and I haven’t spoken in months. He has no interest in the way I’m “choosing to throw away” my life. But I’m proud of myself for choosing UCLA, and for choosing art.

  I’m not proud of myself for the way things ended with Caulter. That conversation in the hallway outside of the wedding reception still haunts me. It replays in my head over and over, his “I fucking love you. ”

  I didn’t say it back. I stood there while he looked at me, giving me everything he had, knowing that Caulter wasn’t the guy who said something like that.

  And I didn’t say it back.

  When he tried to explain, I said I wanted nothing to do with him. I was overwhelmed with everything that had happened -- in the public eye, no less.

  I didn't think he would just leave. Even afterward, I thought I'd be able to track him down in Hollywood, and I tried. When I emailed Ella, she had no idea where he was. Thailand, she thought. India, maybe. He was backpacking around Asia. I wrote him a hundred emails I never got the courage to send, telling him how I felt about him, that I loved him too. But it was too much to put in an email. The ugly truth is that I was just too much of a chicken shit to say how I felt.

  For the first few months after he was gone, I expected him to knock on the sliding glass door of my patio and just walk inside, with that stupid smirk on his face. But it never happened.

  I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t think about him all the time. But as it turns out, life isn’t really a fairy tale after all, no matter how much I’d like to believe it is.

  I think if Caulter were here, he’d be proud of me. And I think he’d laugh when he saw the subject matter in my gallery exhibit.

  But he's not here. Neither is my father. My friends from school are here, though, and so are a handful of professors from the art department. Standing here, surrounded by my drawings, I'm pretty convinced this is the best things can ever get for me. I'm ecstatic, even if part of me knows something is missing. Caulter is missing.

  A reporter from a small, arts-focused paper wants to interview me. He asks about the inspiration for the show. I don’t lie, but I don’t tell the truth.

  “It was inspired by a friend of mine,” I say. I don’t elaborate.

  “It’s an interesting title choice -- Prick,” he says. “Some friend. ”

  “It’s a friend,” I repeat.

  “I’m not sure I’d say that. ” The voice hits me like a ton of bricks. His voice. Like some ghost from my past, because he is a damn ghost from the past. I whirl around.

  Caulter fucking Sterling, in the flesh.

  In the holy-shit-still-gorgeous flesh.

  Caulter has changed. His hair is longer, scruffier, more unkempt, mussed like he’s just gotten out of bed. But in a sexy way. And he’s wearing a suit. And a tie.

  “You,” I say. It’s the only word I can spit out. You. That’s what I say to the person I love, after a year of not seeing him. That’s what I say to the person who looks back at me in real life instead of from my drawings.

  “Prick,” he says, looking at me meaningfully. He can’t help but recognize the sketches -- none show his face, but he knows it's him.

  “It’s the name of the exhibit,” the reporter intrudes, his voice sounding more nasal than it had seemed before.

  I turn around, giving him a look. “Could you excuse us, please?”

  “The interview --” he starts.

  “Just give us a moment, please. ” I don’t look to see if he’s gone before I turn back to Caulter.

  “Prick,” I say.

  “Frigid prude,” he says. And there’s the old Caulter, the Caulter I loved. The Caulter I still love now. A grin spreads slowly across his face, that same grin that made my heart leap before.

  I grin, the biggest fucking smile I’ve ever smiled. “Asshole. ”

  “Goody-goody. ”

  “Manwhore. ”

  “Princess. ” He says the word, and I know what I’ve always known. I know what I should have known back then, when I let him go.

  And I know what I have to tell him. The logical part of me is saying, no, it’s been a year, he has a girlfriend or he’s shacking up with twin actresses from Paris. It's telling me, be reasonable. Be appropriate.

  Page 71

  Fuck the logical part of me.

  I want to kick the shit out of that part of me. That’s the part of me who never took anything on faith. That's the part of me who always played it safe. That's the part of me who was always appropriate. I’m not that girl anymore.

  So I take a leap of faith.

  “I fucking love you,” I say. I wait, while time slows to a crawl, and he looks at me. I can’t read the expression on his face.

  “Well, obviously,” he says, nodding toward the walls. “I mean, you basically created a damn shrine in my honor. ”

  “It's nice to see you’re still a prick,” I say. “At least I titled the exhibit accurately. ”

  Caulter smiles. “Yeah, nothing much has
changed,” he says, sliding his arm around my waist and pulling me tight against him. My heart catches in my throat as he looks down at me. “I fucking love you too, Princess. ”

  THREE YEARS LATER

  "Are you going to tell me where we're going?" she asks, her hand on her hip. "Seriously, how do I even know that I've packed appropriately?"

  I shake my head. "Sorry, my lips are sealed," I tell her. "Do you trust me?"

  She puts her finger to the corner of her mouth and pretends to think for a minute. "Hmm. That's debatable. "

  Sliding my arms around her waist, I kiss her gently on the tip of her nose, before moving down to her full lips. Her mouth parts and I kiss her hungrily, my cock stirring as soon as my tongue enters her.

  I have to pull back and look at her for a minute. I can hardly believe my luck, being with Kate. When I saw her three years ago, standing there in the gallery surrounded by all of the sketches of me, I knew that was it. It was meant to be. That sounds corny as hell, but there you are.

  I’m a changed man, and it’s all Kate’s doing.

  I didn’t believe in happily ever afters. Lord knows that Ella has never been a great model for that. She’s back to dating rock stars, which is no big surprise. Her boyfriend Viper just moved in; the place in Malibu is back to being painted black again. This time, it's covered in animal prints and silver skull decor.

  With my track record, I’m more surprised than anyone that I ended up here with Kate, the girl I used to love to hate. Three years ago, I was done playing games with her. We were both done playing games with each others’ hearts. Now, we save the games for the bedroom. I mean, in three years, I haven’t even set fire to her clothing at all.

  Kate slaps me playfully on the chest. “What?” she asks. “Do I have something in my teeth? You’re staring at me and it’s freaking me out. ”

  “I’m just thinking that I’m happy,” I say. I really am. The eighteen-year-old Caulter would never have imagined being able to say that; I don’t even think I could have fathomed what it meant to be happy. Now, I’m bursting at the seams with it.

  That whole cup runneth over thing? That’s me. And in my work life too. It turns out that I have some intuitive business sense. I'm using my trust fund to invest in small business, start-up companies that are doing meaningful things in the world. And that makes me feel good.

  “Oh yeah?” Kate asks, smiling. She slides her hands over my chest, smoothing out the fabric of my t-shirt. “What are you so happy about? Is it our trip to. . . the Caribbean?”

  I laugh. “Nice try. You’ll know soon enough,” I tell her.

  “How exactly do you think you’re going to get me through the airport without me knowing where we’re going?” she asks.

  I raise my eyebrows. “Private plane,” I say. The plane is Ella’s doing. She might not be the most traditional -- or stable -- mother ever, but she knows how to come through in a pinch. And that does count for something.

  “Ella gave you her plane?” she asks. Her hands run down my arms, and I pull her closer to me, inhaling deeply, my nose at the side of her neck. I love her smell; it’s like being home.

  “She didn’t give it to me permanently,” I say. “But this is a special, special occasion. ”

  Kate laughs. “I didn’t win a Nobel Prize,” she says. “I just graduated from college. ”

  I kiss down the side of her neck, and she squirms, letting out a soft moan. I don’t tell her that this trip is not about her college graduation. “It is a big deal,” I say. “I didn’t go to college. ”

  “You could if you still want to,” she says.

  I’m actually thinking about it. But not right now. Right now, I want to be with Kate. I want to start a life with her.

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  “Mhmm,” I murmur, pulling at the edges of her shirt.

  “Is that plane going to wait?” she asks softly. But she arches her back, pushing against my hand as I cup her breasts under her shirt. Her nipple hardens, and she lets out a moan. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of hearing that moan.

  “We have a few minutes,” I say, as I lift her shirt over her head to expose her still-perfect breasts. Unbuttoning her pants and sliding her jeans down, I take a second to look at her.

  “What?” she asks, swatting me. “You’re staring again. ”

  “I was just taking you in,” I tell her. “You’re breathtaking. ”

  “Okay, seriously,” she says. “Private plane, trip to somewhere exotic, and now you’re calling me breathtaking? Are you about to drop some really bad news on me?”

  I slide my hand down her stomach and between her legs, and listen to her sharp inhale of breath. “Shut up and take your compliment,” I say softly as I run my finger in circles over her clit. “Hasn’t anyone taught you to be gracious, Princess?”

  She laughs, but her head lolls back and her eyes half-close. “You wouldn’t like me if I were. ”

  We’re in Bali.

  Just when I think things can’t get any better, Caulter goes and does something like this. A surprise trip to Bali.

  It’s crazy and wonderful. But so is my life now. I have a life that’s better than I could have ever dreamed. It turns out that the gallery exhibit three years ago was just the beginning. My sketches and paintings have been selling well. I’m not exactly making millions of dollars, but I’m making enough money to do art full-time now that I’ve graduated from college, and that makes me indescribably happy.

  My father wasn’t thrilled about the whole art thing, but he’s come around. We’re cordial, and that’s good enough. He’s decided not to run for President, after all. He’s even been talking about retiring from politics altogether.

  I guess sometimes people do change.

  Caulter and I are both living proof of that. Caulter isn’t the person he was when we fell in love -- and hate -- that summer in New Hampshire. He’s grown up, into someone I’m proud to stand beside, and occasionally, still kick in the shin every so often. I’m not the same girl I was back then, either. I’d say that loving Caulter has made me less uptight, but it’s more than that. Caulter has taught me that it’s okay to take risks in love and in life. I love him fully and completely, without reservation. And that has changed everything.

  “Come on, look outside. ” Caulter grabs my hand and pulls me through the villa. The entire length of the wall is open onto a lush yard and palm trees, with a view of the ocean in the distance. The sun and the colors are so bright they’re practically blinding. We stand there for a minute, Caulter behind me, just taking everything in.

  “Oh my God, Caulter,” I bring my hand to my mouth, and just shake my head. “It’s. . . it’s just breathtakingly beautiful. I can’t believe you brought me here. ”

  When I whirl around to kiss him, he’s down on one knee. My eyes go back and forth between his face and the ring he's holding. “Holy shit, yes. Of course. Yes. ”

  Caulter grins. “Geez, woman, you don’t even let me get the question out before you answer. ”

  I hold my hand over my chest, too giddy to want to wait to hear the question. “Okay, okay,” I say, bouncing up and down like a little kid on Christmas morning. “Ask it. ”

  Caulter sighs with mock exasperation. “Are you going to stop interrupting me?”

  “Yes, yes! Just ask, already!” I can’t stop laughing. “Do you have a big speech prepared?”

  “Hush, woman, before I put my hand over your mouth,” he says. He’s grinning from ear to ear. “Katherine Harrison, you are the most difficult, stubborn woman I have ever met. You’re also the kindest, most loving, creative, and sexy-as-hell woman I know. If you’ll have me, I want to be your happily ever after. ”

  “That is the cheesiest thing you’ve ever said to me,” I say, as he slips the ring on my finger. I look at it, amazed, as he steps up to face me. I can feel tears streaming down my face, and Caulter wipes his finger gently down my cheek. “I do
n’t know why I’m crying. I’m so happy, Caulter. ”

  He pulls me against him, and brings his mouth down on mine. When we kiss, it’s like everything in the world falls into place. I know where I belong, and it’s with him. “I hope you are,” he says. “Because you’re pretty much stuck with me. ”

  Page 73

  I arch up to kiss him again, softly this time. “Promise?”

  “Always,” he says. “I love you, Princess. ”

  “I love you too, Prick. ”

  THE END

 
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