Cannon, p.3
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       Cannon, p.3

         Part #3 of A Step Brother Romance series by Sabrina Paige
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  "Nope. "  Hendrix peers inside one of the bedrooms.

  "That wasn't an offer," I say.   "I was being sarcastic.   Most people don't just poke their noses around someone else's house.   Most people say, oh you have a lovely home, why yes, I'd love a cup of coffee, and then they sit their asses down on the sofa and have a cup of coffee.   Or whatever. "

  Hendrix turns around to face me, and I inhale sharply at his proximity.   He smells like soap and aftershave, something clean, with just the hint of cologne I can't quite place.   It's woodsy and manly and…I can't help it, I breathe in his scent deeply.   Suddenly, I'm some kind of weirdo that goes around sniffing men.

  I hope Hendrix didn't notice.   How would I explain that?  Sorry, I was just inhaling your scent?  I promise I don't keep a lock of your hair under my pillow.

  I haven't gotten enough sleep.   That's what it is. I must be losing my mind.

  "You're vulnerable," Hendrix says, looking down at me.   His voice is deep, ragged, and electricity runs through my body at the sound, making me jump just as if he had touched me.

  "Ex – excuse me?"  I choke out the words.

  "This apartment," he says.   "You're vulnerable to a security breach.   Do you know that?  Has my dad had this place checked out?"

  I exhale heavily.   "This place is vulnerable. "

  "Yeah," he says, stepping back from me.   He's already down the hall before I catch my breath again.   "What did you think I meant?"

  "I don't need security," I call after him, following him into one of the bedrooms.   "I don't want security.   I'm not a damn rock star.   This is Nashville, not LA. "

  "You've had crazy fans.   I remember some of them. "

  "That was back in the beginning, Hendrix.   When I was a kid. "  I'd had some obsessive fans here and there, and some that were mentally ill, like the woman who showed up at our house because she swore I was her granddaughter.

  "It doesn't stop because you're older, Addy," he says.   His voice is softer, and he looks at me now with an expression I can't quite place.   "You need to be careful.   You have to stay safe. "

  "I'm fine.   I don't want a babysitter," I say.   I make my voice firm.   I try to sound sure of myself.   "Especially you, of all people. "

  Hendrix narrows his eyes, and the muscles in his face ripple as he clenches his jaw.   "What the hell is that supposed to mean, me of all people?"

  What was it supposed to mean?  "All of this. . . the meeting, you as my bodyguard. . . was just thrown at me," I say, my voice a lot steadier now.   "I don't want you here. "

  "Well, I've got news for you, Addison," he says, his eyes steady, trained on mine.   "I didn't particularly want to be here either. "

  "Then why are you here, bothering me?"

  Hendrix pulls one of the corners of his mouth up in a smirk.   "Well, hell, I didn't realize that's all it took to bother you," he says.   "But you want to really see me bothering you, I'll try a little harder. "

  I feel like sticking my tongue out at him, but that would be especially juvenile.   Instead I roll my eyes and sigh.   "Whatever. "

  Hendrix laughs.   "Whatever," he says.   "That's an awesome comeback. "

  "I don't know what our parents promised you, but I can tell you I don't need you. "

  Hendrix leans forward, his mouth close to my ear, and when he speaks, it's a whisper that sends a shiver reverberating down my body.   I'm not sure if the shiver is due to anger or arousal.   "Oh, let's not kid ourselves.   You need me, Addy-girl," he says, using the name he used to call me.   Addy-girl.   It makes me feel like I'm sixteen again.

  Sixteen and wide-eyed and positive, still eager and learning about the industry.   Before I started feeling world-weary.

  Page 10

  Before Hendrix left and I spent the next five years wondering if he was okay or if he was going to die in Afghanistan.

  I shake off the feeling.   I refuse to remember how I used to feel about Hendrix.   I won't.

  Hendrix's voice, low and gravelly in my ear, breaks through my thoughts.   "Too bad if you think you don't," he says.   "Because I'm back.   And I'm not going anywhere. "

  It takes all the strength I have to tear myself away from Hendrix when I feel pulled toward him by a practically magnetic force.   I don't say anything, because I can't think of anything to say.   Instead, I take the oh-so-mature route.   I just walk down the hallway and shut my bedroom door behind me.   The sound reverberates through the cavernous penthouse apartment, an echoing thud that has an air of finality.

  The problem is, I think as I sink onto my bed, absolutely nothing is closed between Hendrix and I.   I've spent the last five years trying to convince myself it was.   And now, it takes one look from him and it's reopened, as if I just saw him yesterday.

  Leaning back and closing my eyes, I try to stifle the flood of memories that comes rushing back – and the more than mixed feelings I have about seeing Hendrix again.

  SIX YEARS, ELEVEN MONTHS AGO

  I inhale deeply, the nicotine hitting my bloodstream and immediately making me feel slightly calmer, less on edge than I was a few minutes ago.   I should feel better being out of the hellhole of a school I was in before, with all the military bullshit, but somehow I'm more annoyed than ever.

  "Can I bum a smoke?"  The voice belongs to a guy my age, flanked by two of his friends, who join me under the bleachers by the football field.

  I shrug, holding out the pack of cigarettes.   "If you want. "

  "This is Brandon," he says.   "I'm Taylor. "

  "Hendrix," I say.

  "You're Addison Stone's stepbrother, yeah?" Taylor asks, and I roll my eyes.

  "Yeah," I say, sighing.   "Lucky fucking me, right?"

  Brandon laughs.   "She's a hot piece of ass. "

  "I guess," I say, casual, nonchalant, as if I hadn't noticed.   You'd have to be a blind man not to notice.   "For a stuck-up bitch," I add.   I don't know why I add that part.   She hasn't actually been a bitch to me at all.   She's tried to be nice, but she's one of those people who don't understand real life.   I can tell that much about her.   She's coddled and spoiled, a pretty girl who gets everything she wants.   I hate that, so I hate her.

  Brandon and Taylor laugh, and with that and the cigarettes, I'm apparently instantly cool.   They start dishing about the hot girls in class, the ones they've bagged already and they ones they want to.   I shrug off the thoughts I have of my new stepsister and focus on the fact that there is a whole high school full of chicks who are hotter than perfect little Addison Stone.

  PRESENT DAY

  Slap. Slap. Slap. Slap.   My feet hit the pavement over and over, the sound beating a rhythm like percussion in the early morning silence.   It's three-thirty in the morning, and the streets are empty.

  I don't sleep anymore.   I haven't slept since Afghanistan.   Instead, I run.   Every night, at three in the morning, like clockwork.   If I were looking at it from a security perspective, this is the kind of thing that would be stupid, for a number of reasons.   Establishing a regular routine like this is stupid.   It makes you vulnerable.   It's considered high-risk behavior.

  I'm not a person who is high-risk when it comes to my profession.   I wasn't, when it came to being a Marine.   I always evaluated the risks, just like I did when I walked into Addy's place, noting the entry and exit points and considering potential weaknesses.   I'm hyper-vigilant when it comes to risk.

  Now, against my better judgment, I don't seem to be able to keep myself from seeking it out.   You'd think it would be easier, being in Nashville instead of Afghanistan.   Not having to think about getting shot at or blown up every minute of every fucking day.   Except there's part of me, some warped, fucked-up part, that misses the adrenaline rush, the thrill of not knowing if th
e next moment will be my last.

  So I run at three in the morning, through routes I know are deserted, through the wrong parks of town, in dark parks and under bridges, mile after mile of high-risk behavior.

  Unacceptable risk.   That's what I'd tell someone else.   That's what I'd tell Addy.   I'm sitting at a table across from her, lecturing her on eating more and taking care of herself, but I'm a fucking hypocrite, running at night, practically daring someone to jump me.

  Page 11

  Adrenaline-seeking.   Engaging in high-risk behavior.

  That's what the shrink said, the one who evaluated me when I separated from the Marines, the woman who pursed her lips as she looked at me, probably considering telling me I was crazy but they're not allowed to say that.

  I laughed at her.   I rarely touch alcohol, don't smoke up or take pills like some of my friends, the ones who can't deal with shit anymore.   "Sure, lady," I said.   "Naw.   High risk is running when you know a mortar took out a runner on the same route the month before. "  Except I knew what she said was true.

  So I keep running.   I run past the darkened windows in the buildings, the high-rise condos and the restaurants that closed hours ago.   This is definitely not the neighborhood I've been living in since I got back here, the shithole apartment that's little more than a room with a bed and a burner, a temporary solution while I've been trying to figure out what the hell I'm doing back in Nashville.

  Nashville, Tennessee is the last place I ever thought I'd return.

  Addy is the last person I ever thought I'd see again.   I was sure I was done with her.   Now I've committed myself to working for the father I despise and for the girl I accidentally fell in love with six years ago.

  The same girl I ran like hell to get away from five years ago.

  Out of sight, out of fucking mind.   I convinced myself that putting distance between Addy and I would quell the part of me that ached for her, but that sure as hell hasn’t turned out to be true.

  Eight quick miles later and I'm back at Addison's penthouse building.   It's empty inside, except for the doorman, who looks up from the book he's reading.   "Good run, sir?"

  "Hell, don't call me 'sir'.   I'm not a damn officer. "  I'm catching my breath while he reaches underneath his desk and comes up with a cold bottle of water that he hands to me.

  The doorman nods at one of the tattoos on my arm, the Eagle Globe and Anchor.   "Marine?"

  "Yep. "

  "I served in 'Nam," he says.   "Good on you.   You working for Miss Stone now?"

  "Working, yeah. "  I laugh.   I don't tell him I'm her damn stepbrother.   I guess I am just another one of her employees.

  The doorman nods and points to his nametag.   "I'm Edgar," he says.   "Anything you need, you let me know and I'll get it for you.   I've been the doorman in this building for going on ten years now, and I know this town better than I know my own family.   Know all the residents here, too.   Miss Stone, she's a good girl.   Brings me tea from this little cafe near where she records in the studio, every time she goes there.   She never forgets, either.   Knows I don't like coffee. "

  "That sounds like Addison," I say.   I thank him for the water, and I'm about to head for the elevator but pause.   "Are you the only doorman here, Edgar?"

  "I'm here days mostly.   Pete is nighttime usually, not me.   But his wife just had a baby and he's out for the rest of the week.   Got someone else filling in shifts during the day. "

  "So it's pretty regular, the two of you.   You know everyone who's supposed to be here. "

  "Yes, sir. "

  "It's Hendrix," I say.

  Edgar nods.   "Hendrix," he says.   "Your parents must have been music fans. "

  "My mom was," I tell him.   I don't tell him the whole story.   My mother wanted to name me Hendrix Morrison.   She was a music teacher who loved classic rock.   She and my father were an odd combination, the Army Colonel and the hippie musician.   The Colonel insisted she name me something more manly. My middle name, Cannon, was their compromise.   I guess it was fitting, since artillery turned out to be my job in the Marines.   Then everyone took to calling me "Cannon" anyhow.   Chicks thought it had to do with my dick size.

  "Well, I'll bet she's proud of you now," he says.

  "I'm sure she is. "  I don't know if that would be true or not.   I'm not sure what the hell she'd think of me now, actually.

  "Addison doesn't like all that stuff, the fame and all that," Edgar says, out of the blue.

  "You like her," I observe.

  "She's not stuck up like a lot of stars are," Edgar says.   "She's a nice girl.   You take care of her. "

  I catch the note of protectiveness in his tone.   It's funny how Addison has a way of making people protective of her.   In my case, protecting her means I sure as hell need to keep my damaged bullshit away from her.

  Page 12

  SIX YEARS, ELEVEN MONTHS AGO

  "What do you think?"  Grace dangles her feet over the edge of the pool, kicking her toes lazily in the water.   She leans back and arches her chest up, her boobs basically falling out of her bikini top, but she doesn't care.   My older sister is gorgeous, and she knows it.   She's always known it.   Why I wound up being the famous one is something I'll never know.   Grace was always the pretty one, with her emerald-colored eyes and dark hair and legs that are at least a foot longer than mine.   Not to mention her boobs.   I think she basically got the boob gene, because my A-cups do nothing to fill out my swimsuit.

  "What do I think about what?"

  "Come on," she says.   "You know what.   Or who, really.   Our new stepbrother. "

  I wrinkle my nose.   "I have no opinion whatsoever. "

  Grace grins.   "Don't be such a goody-goody," she says.   "You totally have an opinion.   You just don't want to say it out loud because it's not nice and you're the nice girl. "

  I exhale heavily.   Everyone has pegged me as the "nice girl" since I was a kid, including Grace.   Especially Grace.   I'm the good girl and she's the bad girl. Grace says it jokingly, but there's always an edge to it.   Our mother, never able to see anyone except in black-and-white categories, labeled us that way when we were young.   She hated Grace's father, and Grace took the brunt of it.   It doesn't help that Grace and I look like total opposites.   Or that Grace has completely embraced the bad girl role, rebelling against everything possible and coming home with tattoos and piercings and basically whatever she can do to get my mother's attention.   What Grace doesn't realize is that being the good girl is just as annoying.   It's not as much fun for me as she thinks it is.   "I'm not the nice girl," I say.

  Grace looks at me over the top of her sunglasses and laughs.   "Sure you're not, Adds," she says.   "What have you done lately -- or ever -- that makes you a bad girl?"

  "I -- " I pause, trying to come up with something.   I'm only fifteen.   It's not like there have been a million opportunities to be a bad girl, even when I was on tour last summer.   "I drank beer with Sam Crawford in his room while we were on tour. "

  Grace gives me a long look.   "You were hanging out in Sam Crawford's room?" she asks.   "And he gave you beer?"

  My heart catches in my throat.   Crap.   I don't want to get him in trouble or anything.   Sam is a few years older than me – nineteen -- and he's totally cute.   I thought he was going to try to kiss me, but he didn't, and honestly, I was disappointed.   "Yeah.   It was no big deal. "

  Grace laughs.   "No big deal because you drink beer all the time, you lush?"

  I can feel the heat of embarrassment on my face.   Sometimes I totally hate Grace.   I can't tell when she's teasing me for being too much of a goody-goody or lecturing me for doing something wrong.   "I've had beer before, you know. "

  "Sam Crawford sho
uldn't be giving you beer," she says, her tone clipped.   "Did he try anything with you?"

  "No," I say.

  "Good. "

  "But I totally would have if he did," I spit out.   "He's cute and he's nice and I thought he was going to, but he didn't. "

  "Sam Crawford shouldn't be making a move on you," she says.   "He's too old for you.   And he's a dick, anyway. "

  "How do you know?"  I ask.   "And he's not too old.   He's nineteen.   That's four years older. "

  "That's a big difference," she says.   It's barely more than the difference between our ages.   And she's sitting here hanging out with me.   I don't push my luck with her by pointing those things out, because Grace hanging out with me doesn't happen very often enough anymore.   She's busy running around with her friends and boyfriends.   She used to bring her friends back home to meet me, back when her friends cared who I was.   It used to annoy me when she'd show me off to her friends like some kind of trophy, but now she's hanging out with a new group that doesn't think I'm cool enough.   And now I kind of miss it.

  "Well, nothing happened, anyway," I tell her.

  "Good," she says.   "Keep it that way.   You haven't -- you know -- with anyone, have you?"

  Page 13

  "Yeah, right," I say, catching the meaning of her words.   "I've barely been on a date.   Who would I – you know -- with?"

  "That's good," she says.   "It's not all it's cracked up to be anyway. "

  I don't believe her.   Sex is obviously all it's cracked up to be, since she's doing it with lots of different guys.   I don't say that, even though I want to.   It would hurt her feelings, and I don't want to hurt her.   Still, I've wondered about sex.   A lot.   And I want her to tell me about it, but I don't dare ask.   She'd totally blow me off as being too young, and I hate that.   "Anyway," I say.   "Have you even talked to Hendrix?"

  I've wondered about Hendrix too.   Hendrix makes me think about sex, a lot more than I care to admit, ever since I saw him standing in the foyer the day his father brought him here.   He was tattooed and pierced and he looked at his father with anger in his eyes, the kind of anger that sent a secret thrill through me.

 
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