Cannon, p.4
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       Cannon, p.4

         Part #3 of A Step Brother Romance series by Sabrina Paige
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  Then he turned and looked at me, dark and brooding, his eyes traveling down the length of my body. . .   Something about that look made me shiver.   It stayed with me, and I thought about it later that night, when I slid my finger inside my panties.

  Grace shrugs.   "He doesn't run in the same circles I do," she says.   Which is weird because I'd think they'd hang out with similar people, since she's into tattoos and piercings and all that.   I don't know.   Sometimes I don't understand Grace at all.

  I understand my new stepbrother even less.

  I don't understand why I smell bacon.   The smell wakes me up, and I open my eyes, expecting sunlight streaming through the windows, but it's dark.

  And I'm still wearing my clothes.

  I sit up, groggy, and blink my eyes a few times, trying to register what the hell time it is.   The clock reads 5:45.   In the freaking morning?

  Then I realize I must have laid down on the bed and passed out when Hendrix brought me back yesterday from the diner.   Holy shit.

  Hendrix.

  Pulling open the bedroom door, I pad into the kitchen, where I see Hendrix, his back toward me. Hendrix is shirtless in my kitchen, wearing a pair of olive green sweatpants, slung low on his hips.   A sleeve of tattoos runs up the length of his arm, covering his shoulder and side, but I can't tell what the tattoos are from where I stand.

  He turns and looks at me over his shoulder, then glances back to the stove, where he's turning pieces of bacon over.   "Morning, sweet-cheeks. "

  "What are you doing here?"  The words come out of my mouth before I think.   I'm still groggy, even though I've apparently just slept longer than I have since I was a toddler.   But seriously, what the hell is Hendrix still doing in my apartment?

  "That's a shitty way to greet someone who's making you breakfast," he says.   He reaches up into one of the cabinets and hands me a coffee mug.   "Coffee's over there.   Get some. "

  "Obviously you've familiarized yourself with my kitchen," I say.   "I don't know if I should be disturbed or impressed. "  I'm miffed at the way he just orders me around, telling me to "get some" coffee in my own damn house.   I'm also annoyed with how comfortable he seems here, cooking and going through my cabinets and my refrigerator and making himself right at home.   I'm about to make a smart comment about it, but the aroma of coffee is distracting and I wind up just pouring myself a cup instead.

  "I had to buy you some groceries," he says.   "I don't know what you've been eating -- yogurt and salad, by the looks of it. "

  "I eat out a lot," I say, my voice defensive.   My stomach rumbles loudly at the aroma of the bacon, though.   Still, I don't need another lecture from Hendrix, of all people, about taking care of myself.   Although it does look like he knows how to take care of himself.   The thought pops into my head, and I find myself stealing another glance at him.

  Hendrix looks over at me, and I know he just caught me staring at him.   My cheeks burn, and I try to cover my embarrassment by taking a sip of coffee.   And I nearly choke.   Hendrix laughs.   "Yeah, I make it strong. "

  "I guess so," I say.   "Did you learn that in the Marines?"

  Hendrix shrugs.   "That's self-taught.   What can I say?  Coffee is my vice," he says.   He turns around and looks at me, his gaze running down my body.   "Not my only vice. "

  Page 14

  I swallow hard, forcing my eyes upward and definitely not focusing on his chest.   His bare, muscular, tattooed, damn-it-stop-looking-focus-your-eyes-up chest.   And his abs.   He doesn't have an ounce of fat on his body, which is especially impressive after I watched him eat enough food to feed a small army yesterday.

  But then I remind myself that Hendrix is not just another hot guy.   He's an asshole.   Leopards don't change their spots, and assholes definitely don't change their. . . assholiness or something.   Not to mention the fact that he's my stepbrother.

  I definitely don't need to be thinking about him like this.   Or feeling the heat rush through my body as he looks at me.

  "I'm sure that's the least of your vices," I say, hinting at Hendrix's past as a total manwhore.   "You haven't changed at all. "

  The look that crosses over his face makes me think I might have hurt him, and I feel badly for a moment.   But then it passes.   "You've definitely changed, sweet cheeks. "

  I flush warm again under his gaze, and I instinctively reach up to touch my hair, the hot mess that it is, pulled up into a haphazard ponytail.   Damn it, why did I come out here without even glancing in the mirror first?  And in my clothes from yesterday.   I just know I look like total crap right now, and meanwhile, Hendrix is standing half-naked in my damn kitchen, not even a foot away from me, looking like sex-on-a-stick.

  Hendrix's laugh breaks through my thoughts.   "It's fine," he says, nodding at my attempt to pat my hair back into place.   "Like I haven't seen you after you've just rolled out of bed before. "

  My heart races at the intimacy of his words, and I nearly choke on my sip of coffee again.   "What?  You've never seen me just out of bed. "

  Not that I haven't thought about it, though.   How many times have I thought about Hendrix seeing me in bed?

  Too many to count, that's the answer. The very inappropriate freaking answer.

  Hendrix laughs again.   "We lived together for two years, Addy-girl," he says.   "It's not like you never rolled up into the kitchen after you just woke up in the morning.   It's not a big deal. "

  He turns again, his back to me as he spoons eggs and bacon onto a plate, then grabs toast from the toaster.   Not a big deal, I think.   That's right.   I have to remind myself of the fact that Hendrix has never thought of me the way I've fantasized about him.

  The way I've fantasized about him despite my better judgment.   Because my libido apparently likes guys who are total dicks.

  Hendrix hands me a plate.   "So, Addy-girl," he says.   "What's on your agenda today, other than ogling me in the kitchen?"

  "I am not ogling you. "  I huff and turn toward the dining room, thankful for the excuse to get away from Hendrix and his glorious abs.   Because that's what they are.   I've been around a lot of hot guys for the past few years, but none of them compare to Hendrix, especially since he's returned from his stint in the Marines.   Now, he seems to have this brooding intensity about him that's different from other men.   He looks more dangerous than the guys I'm surrounded by.   And that makes me shiver.

  "Don't lie," he says, pulling up a chair right beside me at the table.   I picked the chair on the end of the table on purpose, but he sits down right beside me like he doesn't care.   He's uncomfortably close.

  "I'm not lying," I say.   "I was in no way ogling you.   Why are you sitting right next to me?"

  Hendrix leans over the table and takes a bite of toast, looking up at me with a crooked grin.   "I just thought you might have missed me, is all. "

  "What the hell would give you that impression?" I ask.   Miss him?  After the horrible things he said about me that night?  The memory returns to the front of my thoughts, as if it happened yesterday, and anger rushes through me.   Hendrix might sit here and pretend we're old buddies, good friends separated by a few years of life circumstance, but that's not true.   I liked him, once upon a time.   More than liked him.   I loved him.   And he hurt me.

  "What?" he asks.   "What did I say?"

  "Nothing," I say, pushing away my plate and standing up with my coffee.   "Absolutely nothing.   I'm not hungry anymore. "  I start to walk away, but pause before I go.   "And put on a damn shirt. "

  SIX YEARS, TEN MONTHS AGO

  Page 15

  "What are you doing?"  I look up to see Addison walking toward me.   I can't decide if I'm pleased or irritated with that fact, since I came out here specifically to avoid my new Stepford family, especially th
e singing blonde member of said family.   Except that Addison looks hot as hell, even if she's wearing khaki slacks and a salmon-colored blouse that belongs on a middle-aged woman.   And pearls.   Pearls, for shit's sake.   She's fifteen, but she dresses like she's forty years old.

  She's fifteen.   I remind myself of that fact.   I might only be sixteen, but she's younger than I am, too young.   Even if she dresses like a soccer mom.   I try to ignore how damn gorgeous she is, and steel my voice hard as she looks at me.

  "What the fuck does it look like I'm doing?" I ask.   Better for her to hate me than to get friendly with a fifteen-year-old girl.

  "I'm not stupid," she says.

  "Perfect little Addison has actually seen a real-life joint before?" I ask, my voice clipped.   I'm edgy now that she's out here.   Addison has this way of looking at me that makes me nervous, like she knows me better than she does.   She looks at me as if she sees through me and all of my bullshit.   I don't like it.   "Color me fucking surprised. "

  She rolls her eyes, which should make her more annoying, but somehow makes her hotter.   "I've seen a joint before," she says.   "I've also seen guys like you, too, with your misunderstood Emo crap.   It's not that unique, you know. "

  "Well, shit, you've got me," I say, an edge in my voice I don't try to hide.   But it's not because I'm irritated.   It's because I want to put my mouth on her and that's a bad idea.   For a million reasons.   And if there's one thing I've figured out in the past two months of being here, it's that Addison is something else.   She doesn't screw around and she's not the kind of girl you just fuck around with.   I hold out the joint.   "Want a hit?"

  Addison shakes her head, and I can't help but get in another dig at her.   "Yeah, I thought so. "

  "Your father would probably have a heart attack if he caught you out here, you know," she says.

  My father.   She brings him up as if his opinion matters to me more than anything.   "Why do you think I'm out here by the horse stable?" I ask.   "Why are you out here, anyway?  Stalker, much?"

  Addison's cheeks flush red, and I note her embarrassment.   She's easily embarrassed, but for some reason I don't find it annoying.   I enjoy riling her up, which probably says something fucked up about me.   "You're so full of yourself, Hendrix," she says.   "I come out here sometimes, to get away.   You're intruding on my space, jackass. "

  "Jackass, huh?" I laugh.   "I didn't think a good little girl like you cursed.   What the hell does America's country music sweetheart have to get away from?  The private chef didn't cook your eggs the way you like them this morning?"  I'm joking, but the part about the private chef is totally true.   They have a private chef in this place.   Ri-fucking-diculous.

  She looks down at the ground and shrugs.   "Nothing," she says.   "Whatever.   I have to get back to the house. "  She turns to look at me before she leaves, tucks a strand of blonde hair behind her ear.   "We can be friends, you know.   You don't have to be so mean.   I know you're upset about moving here and stuff, but it would be cool to be friends. "

  I look at her for a long time and take another drag on the joint.   She looks so earnest and fucking. . . nice. . . that for a second, I almost tell her that it would be cool to hang out with her.   Then I remember that my father is an asshole and that I never asked to move to Nashville goddamned Tennessee and live with America's country sweetheart in this Stepford mansion and this Stepford neighborhood.

  Still, I feel a pang of disgust with myself when I open my mouth to speak.   "It would be cool if you sucked my dick, too, sweetheart. "

  Addison's face flushes scarlet, and she opens her mouth to say something, but nothing comes out.

  "Exactly," I say.   "So if you're not going to make yourself useful, then leave me the hell alone. "

  A hurt look flits across her face, then she sets her jaw and narrows her eyes at me.   "I'd suck your dick, but I'm afraid I wouldn't be able to find it. "

  Page 16

  I'm going to retort that I'm happy to help her with that, but she's already spun around and I watch her retreat, her ponytail bouncing as she walks away.   I chuckle.   Maybe Little Miss Perfect has a little bit of an edge, after all.   That's not what I expected.   Perhaps there's more to her than I thought there was.

  PRESENT DAY

  Addison is mostly ignoring me, her nose buried in that damn cell phone of hers, texting or checking her social media accounts or whatever the hell it is she's doing. I have no idea what the problem is with that girl, why there's a massive stick up her ass. Sure, I treated her like crap when we were teenagers. But she has to know that I was a normal jackass teenage boy.   Blame it on hormones.

  It's been a week since I moved in and she's barely spoken a word to me, and when she does, it's terse, business-like. Appropriate.   We talk about the schedule, where she needs to be and what she needs to do.   Nothing else.   I tell myself that's probably for the best, really.

  The problem is that when she walks around the house in these short-shorts and tank tops, I can barely fucking breathe.   And when she passes me in the hallway, the smell of her shampoo makes me hard.

  Her damn shampoo.

  There might be something wrong with me.

  Her chilliness is good.   She should keep hating me.   I need her to keep hating me.   It's what's best for her.   It's what's best for me.

  There's a knock on the front door, and the doorknob jiggles. When I pull it open, Addy's sister Grace is bent over, tying a kid's shoe. She speaks without looking up. "Oh my God, Addison, why is the door locked? You always – "

  "Grace?"

  She turns around.   "Hendrix!"

  "How are you, Grace?"

  "Hendrix, look at you!" she squeals, drawing me in for a hug. "You're all grown up! Mom said you were back helping Addison, but I didn't really expect you to be here. This is Brady. "

  "Hey, Brady. " I squat down, but he hides his face in Grace's leg. "He's what, three?"

  "In a couple of months," she says. "He's shy with strangers. Come on, baby, let's go see Auntie Addy. "

  Addison is already behind me. "Where's my favorite nephew?" she asks, and Brady looks at her, timid at first, then breaks into a huge grin and runs headlong, crashing into her. She scoops him up in her arms, turning to walk past me without making eye contact, while she coos at the kid. "Guess what I have for you, baby doll? I was at the store the other day, and there was an awesome truck that had your name written all over it.   Do you want to see it?"

  Grace is inside the door, a diaper bag on her shoulder, and she exhales heavily before tossing the bag on the sofa in the living room. "Hell, Hendrix, look at you. "

  "Look at me?" I ask, grinning. "Look at you. You have a kid.   Holy crap.   When did you become an adult?"

  "I know," she says, laughing. "Did you ever think I'd be Mrs. Mom?"

  Brady bursts back into the living room, truck in hand, making "zoom" noises as he runs the truck across the arms of the sofa, then climbs onto it with his shoes on. Addison trails behind him. "You're a great mom, Gracie," she says.

  "Brady, shoes off. " Grace is pulling off his shoes as Brady continues to stomp on the sofa, muddy footprints on the fabric, but Addison just laughs.

  "It's only dirt," she says. "Let him be. "

  "He has to learn he can't totally destroy your house, Addison, even if he's a toddler," Grace says. "She's totally happy being the cool aunt who lets him run completely and utterly wild when he's here. "

  Addison grins, and it's the first time in the past few days I've seen her look really happy. "That's part of being an aunt," she says. "I get to give him toys and sugar, and then send him back to you. "

  Grace laughs. "See the crap I have to put up with?"

  Addison shrugs. "Free babysitting, Gracie," she says.
"Are you going to your shoot?"

  Grace nods. "Is it bad that I'm totally nervous? I'm nervous. I haven't done a photo shoot in ages. " She turns to me. "It's a modeling thing. "

  "I was going to ask if you were a model now," I say, meaning it. Grace has always had that kind of look.

  "Hardee-har-har," Grace says. "I look like a hot mess.   That's what being a mom does to you. "

  "You're not supposed to show up at a shoot looking gorgeous. They'll redo you," Addison says.

  Page 17

  "I'm stupid for doing this," Grace says. "I'm too old. And I'm a mom. I totally have a mom pooch right here. "  She grabs at the flesh on her belly.

  "I'm not listening to you," Addison says, making a show of putting her fingers in her ears. "La la la la la.   Now, get out of here or you're going to be late. Hendrix can drive you. "

  "What? No. I've got GPS in the car. I don't need a babysitter.   I mean, no offense, Hendrix. "

  Addison snorts. "But I do, apparently. "

  "What?" Gracie looks between her and me, and opens her eyes wider. "Ohhh. . . Mom said Hendrix was going to be your assistant. "

  Addison frowns. "Yeah, assistant. "

  "Actually," I interrupt. "That's why I was hired. Your mom forced Addison to take me on as a charity case. I lost my job, and Addy is just too nice to tell you that. "

  "Oh, Hendrix, that sucks," Gracie says. "For you, obviously. I wouldn't want to have Addison as my boss, either. " She sticks her tongue out at Addison, who makes a face at her, but still avoids looking at me. "I have to run, but I want to catch up later. And don't feed him sugar, Addison. Hendrix, you have to make sure she doesn't. Last time Addy babysat, she gave him a cupcake and I practically had to peel Brady off the walls when we got home. "

  "Roger," I say.

  "Oh, cute, you're so military still," Gracie says, planting a kiss on Brady's head before she heads for the door. "Okay, I'll see you later today. I don't know how long these things take, so I'm not sure how long I'll be.   Are you absolutely positive you've got this, Addy?"

  "Oh my God.   You act like I've never babysat Brady before.   Get out of here," Addison says.   She busies herself playing with Brady for a few seconds, before looking up at me. "You told Grace that you're my bodyguard. "

 
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