Cannon, p.2
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       Cannon, p.2
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         Part #3 of A Step Brother Romance series by Sabrina Paige
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  I can't see her eyes. They're obscured by the hair hanging in her face as she looks away from me.   The fact that I want to see her eyes, that I want to know what she's thinking, should be setting off warning bells in my brain.

  Addy whirls toward me, tucking her long blonde hair behind her ear, and giving me a look. I recognize that look. That's the one she used to give me pretty much all the time when we were teenagers. She wants to throttle me.

  The problem is that when she licks her lip the way she does, her tongue running over the bottom of it slowly, I swear she's doing it on purpose just to wind me up. I have to consciously think about not getting hard when I look at her.

  I don't know what the hell I was thinking, agreeing to the Colonel's plan.   This was a big fucking mistake.   I ran headlong into the Marines when I was eighteen just to get the hell away from Addy. Five years away from her should have cured me.

  All it takes is one look, one lick of her lips, and I'm right back where I was five years ago.   Addy has no idea how I felt about her back then, though, I made sure of that – and I'm not about to let her know now.   And I sure as hell don't want any pictures of us that imply we're something we're not.   Something we can't be.

  Addy pushes me away from her. "Something stupid like what?" she asks, her eyes flashing. "You pick me up and carry me outside like a damn caveman.   What do you expect people are going to think?"

  She whirls around, wobbling in her heels.   I catch her elbow so she doesn't fall, but she jerks her arm away from my grasp.

  "You want to fall on your ass?" I ask, squeezing her arm tighter. "Stop being so fucking obstinate.   Shit, I can see some things really haven't changed at all, have they?"

  "Obstinate.   That's an awful big word," she says, not looking at me. But she doesn't yank her arm away this time, not until we get outside. Then she wrenches it from my grasp, like she's ashamed of being seen with me publicly. The gesture pisses me off more than I care to admit to myself.    Of course, Addy has always gotten under my skin, from the first moment I laid eyes on her, seven years ago. She'd already hit it big then, so she was the golden child, and I was the black sheep.

  "Yeah, well, some of us Marines can use big words," I say. "A few of us can even read. "

  Addy makes an unintelligible sound under her breath, and the fact that she has no response gives me a perverse feeling of satisfaction.

  "What?" I ask. "Nothing to say, sweet cheeks?"

  "Stop calling me that," she huffs. "I didn't ask for them to make you my fucking handler or bodyguard or whatever the hell they're doing. "

  "No shit," I note. "I didn't think you were that much of a masochist. "

  But Addy doesn't respond. "Is your car here?" she asks.   "I had a driver. "

  "At your service. "  My tone is sarcastic, and I hear her huff behind me as she follows me to the car.   I make a point of opening the door for her with a dramatic flourish.

  Addy doesn't say anything, but as we drive, she moves her finger absently on the arm rest.    Tap-tap-tap, pause, tap-tap-tap, pause. She used to count when she was anxious, which was a lot more than she ever let on, I think. I doubt she knows I ever noticed, but I did.   She had these little habits – counting, arranging her stuff in a certain order – people wrote it off as her being a diva, but I knew it was more than that.   I noticed a lot of things about her back then.

  Goddamn it. Why am I suddenly feeling protective of her?

  "You need food," I say. As soon as the words come out of my mouth, I realize how caveman-like they do sound. You. Eat. Food. Now.

  Addy turns to look at me, and I can see her raise her eyebrow over the frame of her giant sunglasses. "Is this what our parents hired you for? To tell me what to do?"

  Shit, it's been five years of giving orders in the military. She should be glad I didn't use my yelling voice. "Maybe if you took care of yourself a little better, they wouldn't have to hire someone to tell you to eat. "

  "The Marines sure didn't make you less of a jackass, did they?"

  Her question makes me laugh, and I look out of the corner of my eye, only to see her try to hide her smile. "That would be a negative," I say, as I pull the car into the parking lot of a diner. "Besides, if they had, you'd only be disappointed. "

  Addy snorts, but she follows me out of the car, pushing open the passenger side door before I can pull open the handle.

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  "You could wait two seconds and I'd open it for you," I tell her.

  She huffs as she pushes the door closed behind her.   "Because I can't open my own car door?"

  "You haven't learned any manners in the last five years, have you?" I ask.   She has her back against the car, and I stand in front of her, blocking her from moving. I'm so close to her we're almost touching.   She tilts her head up to look at me, her sunglasses obscuring her eyes, and the fact that they're on her face irritates me to no end.   I reach out and slide them onto the top of her head so I can look at her.

  Addy huffs like she's annoyed with me, except her pupils are large and her eyes are wide as she gazes at me, her lips parting as she inhales sharply.   The sound makes me hard.   My cock presses up against the zipper of my jeans, and I think about sliding my hands underneath that curvy ass of hers and placing her smack dab on the hood of the car and fucking her right here and now.

  What the hell is wrong with me? Twenty damn minutes with her and I can't think straight.   This is definitely not the seventeen-year-old girl I left behind in Nashville.   This Addison is all grown up.   Something's got to be seriously messed up with the fact that screwing her is all I can think about.

  "You're one to talk about manners," she says, her voice trembling. "Ordering me around like I'm some kind of employee. "

  "I haven't even begun to order you around, sweet cheeks," I say. I clear my throat to try to hide the arousal that's evident in my tone, but the innuendo in the words is as plain as day. The fact is, I didn't want this fucking job, but after three months of trying to work in an office after getting out of the military, I'm shit out of luck. Apparently I was not adjusting well to a corporate environment. Now that I've see Addy in person, I'm not sure this was the best plan ever. A perpetual case of blue balls is not my idea of a good time.

  Addy's cheeks flush pink, but I can't tell if it's because she's embarrassed or turned on. Either way, I feel smug when I see her reaction.   "I'd love to see you try," she says.

  "Is that a request?"  I ask.   The way her lips part slightly in response makes me think it sure as hell is, and I have to tell myself to step away from her before I really do something I regret.   I can't even begin to imagine how the Colonel's head would fucking explode if I so much as laid a finger on Addy.

  Of course, that might be even more incentive to behave inappropriately with the stepsister I haven't seen in five years, I think as I follow her inside the diner, watching her hips sway as she sashays on those heels.

  SEVEN YEARS AGO

  "He's troubled," my mother says, as she applies another coat of mascara to her lashes.   She's half-bent over the vanity in her room, wearing a dress that's cut down her lower back, barely covering her rear, garish and more appropriate for a twenty-year-old than for her.   Sometimes I think that my launch to stardom just gave her a reason to relive her youth.   That's been doubly true since she met the Colonel.

  At least the Colonel is somewhat responsible, better than the sperm donors that fathered my sister and I.   Fathered is hardly the right word.   They haven't been involved with us since they did the deed and left my mother.   The Colonel might be okay.   He's stiff as a board and doesn't smile much.   And he makes everyone call him the Colonel, even though he's not in the Army anymore.   So those are reasons to dislike him.

  On the other hand, he does occupy my mother's time, gives her a distraction from micr
o-managing my life and career.   So that's definitely a reason to love him.

  But my mother and I aren't talking about the Colonel.   We're discussing the Colonel's son Hendrix, who is tattooed and angry and the most gorgeous boy I've ever laid eyes on.   "What do you mean, he's troubled?"

  My mother gives me a long look, and for a second, I'm afraid she can read my mind, that she can see the very inappropriate thoughts I've had about Hendrix, that she can somehow sense the rush I get when I hear his name.   I try to sound casual, nonchalant when I ask about him, try to give no indication of my curiosity.

  My mother waves her hand dismissively and sighs.   "You saw him, Addison," she says.   "Tattoos and…well, anyway, you saw him. "

  Yes, I did see him.   Hendrix Cole looks like trouble with a capital T.

  Why does the thought of that thrill me?

  PRESENT DAY

  I stare at the menu, trying not to look at Hendrix, especially since I can feel his gaze on me without even glancing up.   My body is still warm where his hands were when he carried me out of the building, and the thought of his arms around me sends a trail of goose bumps over my skin.

  Page 7

  My cell phone vibrates, and I scroll through my unchecked messages, all about last night.   Five from Jared the ex-boyfriend, none of which even apologize for getting a blow job from a redhead in the bathroom of the club.   Two from my friend Sapphire:  "OMG what a FUCKING TRIP.   Sry @ Jared.   U kno he's a player.   U need 2 have revenge sex. " One from Ada: "Sorry you had a fight.   Jared will get over it. "

  Jared will get over it?  He's the one with his cock in some other girl's mouth, and he's the one who'll get over it?

  I put my phone in airplane mode.   Screw Jared - and my so-called friends with their crappy advice.   A waitress arrives at the table, and she stares at me for a minute, chewing her gum loudly.   She taps her nametag, Beatrice, with the eraser end of her pencil, before directing the pencil at me, her eyes narrowed.   "Anyone ever tell you that you look like that singer, Addison Stone?"  It sounds more like an accusation than a question.

  Hendrix peers over the edge of his menu.   "Does she?  I can't see the resemblance. "

  "She lives in Nashville, you know," the waitress says with a shrug.   "That's what I've heard.   I've never seen her around here, so it's probably not true.   She seems more like a Hollywood type anyway. "

  "I've heard she's a huge diva," Hendrix says, and I kick him hard under the table.

  "Anyway.   Y'all ready to order, or what?  I've got someone waiting for a to-go order.   You want your usual?"

  His usual?

  Hendrix holds up his fingers.   "Two," he says, taking my menu from my hands before I can protest.   "And coffees. "

  Beatrice doesn't answer, just strides across the room, headed toward the cash register.

  "You think maybe I wanted to decide on my own food?" I ask.

  Hendrix shrugs.   "Why, so you can order some low-fat egg white thing and vegetables?"

  "You don't know that's what I was going to order. "

  He laughs.   "Sure you weren't," he says.   "I bet you're eating steak and eggs every morning.   That's why you're skin and bones. "

  "You're so annoying.   I'm hardly skin and bones.   Two weeks ago, the tabloids said I was too fat. "  I glare at him.

  "They're blind.   You need some food. "

  He's so infuriating, bossing me around five seconds after showing back up in my life, but I know better than to bother arguing with him.   "Why did she ask if you wanted your usual?"

  "She wanted to know if I wanted the same thing I order every time I come here. "

  I exhale, exasperated, and throw a packet of sugar across the table at him.   "Yes, I understand what 'the usual' means.   You know what I'm asking.   How long have you been back in Nashville?"

  Hendrix gives me a long look.   "Six months. "

  "What?"  He's been back in Nashville for six months and I'm only just finding out about it now?  Not that I'd want him to show up on my doorstep or anything.   Not after the things he said about me right before he left.   I remind myself that I hate him.   But doing that is harder than I thought when he's sitting across from me, looking at me the way he is right now.

  Like he's hungry and I'm what's on the menu.

  "Did you miss me?" he asks, grinning.

  "Oh my God, you're still as arrogant as you've always been," I note.   "I've had a lot of stuff going on, in case you didn't notice.   My world doesn't revolve around you. "

  "It used to," Hendrix says softly.

  I feel my cheeks flush warm, and I open my mouth to respond, but Beatrice chooses that exact moment to set two cups of coffee down with a ker-thunk.   The liquid spills over the rims of the mugs, pooling onto the table, but she's gone without a word.   I soak up the mess with a napkin, grateful for the distraction.   I'd forgotten what a complete and utter jackass my stepbrother used to be -- clearly, he's still just as arrogant as ever.   "I don't know what you're implying," I say, my tone imperious, "But if you think my world ever revolved around you, you're completely delusional. "

  "That's right," he says. "You used to despise me. "

  "Used to?" I ask, reaching for the basket of sweetener on the table.   Hendrix grabs it before I do and slides it just out of my reach. "Hey, I need one of those for my coffee. "

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  Hendrix tosses a packet of sugar at me. "Don't tell me you're still harboring old grudges," he says.

  "I'm not harboring anything," I say, sighing. Why does Hendrix have the ability to put me on edge so easily? "Will you just give me the sweetener? I don't use this sugar. "

  "A little sugar would do you some good, sweet cheeks," he says, giving me a long look. Why is it that everything he says sounds like an innuendo?

  The truth is, a little sugar probably would do me some good. It's not like I've had any luck in that department lately. The ex-boyfriend wasn't exactly a winner when it came to sex. Probably because he was too busy getting it from other girls.

  Hendrix finally relents, sliding the basket of sweeteners across the table, and I rip open a packet. "You never answered the question," he says.

  "What question was that?" I ask. "The one where you asked if some sugar would do me any good?"

  "No," Hendrix says. "The one where I asked if you're still harboring an old grudge. "

  I shrug. "Can't harbor something you never cared about to begin with. "

  I'm lying. Hendrix was the biggest dick ever, but especially in the months before he left for the Marines, when he apparently decided he was just too cool to hang out with the wholesome little country singer.   But that didn't erase the months before that, when we became close friends.   And all that time I fantasized about being more than just friends.   And that one time, when he kissed me, when we were much more than just friends.

  But Hendrix Cole's sugar is exactly the last thing on God's green earth I need to be thinking about now, after what just happened with the record label.

  "Well, I was a dickhead," Hendrix says.

  "Past tense?" I ask.

  "You know, all the shit I gave you, I never --" Hendrix clears his throat and leans forward, his forearms on the table. But, with perfect timing, the waitress interrupts him again.

  "Well, now, I've got your eggs and bacon and sausage and biscuits right here," she says, setting the plates down in front of us and dropping a jar of syrup on the table in the middle of the array of plates.

  "You eat all of this every time you come here?"  I stare at the pile of food in disbelief.    "I'm not sure whether to be disgusted or impressed. "

  "Now, hang on," Beatrice says. "That's not all of it. I didn't have enough room on the tray for everything, so I'll be back with the pancakes and pie. " She f
lounces off.

  "Did she say pancakes and pie?"

  Hendrix grins. "They have good pie," he says.

  "Who eats pie for breakfast?  And who eats pancakes and pie?"

  "I can have pie with breakfast. I'm an adult. "

  "You sure could have fooled me," I say, taking a long gulp of my coffee. I don't know whether I believe there's a new and improved grown-up Hendrix lurking under that muscled exterior.

  But Beatrice brings the pancakes and the pie, and I suddenly realize I'm ravenous. We dig into the food and Hendrix is Hendrix -- inappropriate and stupid -- and soon I'm forgetting everything that's passed between us, and I'm laughing so hard I snort coffee up my nose, which makes me laugh even harder. It feels good to laugh. It's been a long time since I laughed the way I'm laughing now.

  And then we're finished eating before I remember that I've forgotten to ask what the hell the plan is here.

  "Well, fuck me sideways," Hendrix says, whistling as he stands in the foyer to the apartment and looks around.

  "You're very classy. "

  Hendrix shrugs.   "I don't know if you've noticed, but I've never pretended to be classy, sweet cheeks. "

  "Stop calling me that," I say, shutting the door.   "It's too – "

  I pause.   I want to say that it's too much like something a pet name a boyfriend would use, but just the thought of equating Hendrix with my boyfriend makes my heart race, and I don't know why.

  "It's too what?" he asks.   "I can't just call you Addy all the time.   What would be the fun in that?"

  I roll my eyes.   "I call you Hendrix. "

  "That's because you're boring. "

  "Whatever.   I'm a music star.   As if you're more interesting than I am. "

  Hendrix laughs, and as annoyed as I am with him, the sound immediately fills the room with warmth.   "Sure you are, sugar tits. "

  "That's a much worse nickname. "

  Page 9

  "Well, I told you to be happy with sweet cheeks. "  Hendrix walks across the living room, pulling back the blinds by the window and peering outside, then surveying the room like he's on a mission.   I watch him for a minute, before following him into the kitchen and down the hallway.

  "Need help with anything?" I ask, not even trying to hide my sarcasm.   I was playing nice before, but he's basically invited himself into my apartment and now he's walking around like he owns the damn place.

 
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