Prince albert, p.40
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       Prince Albert, p.40

         Part #4 of A Step Brother Romance series by Sabrina Paige

  She sets her jaw, brings her gaze upward. "I'm doing the same."

  "I wouldn't want to interfere with your reasons for not wanting to mess with me," I say. "Since you're trying to keep it professional and all. I mean, obviously, the large quantities of condoms you deposited in my room were extremely professional."

  "Damn it," she says. "That's not what it is at all."

  I pull on my jeans, sans boxers, and zip them up, while she stands there shivering, her towel wrapped around her. I bend down to pick up my t-shirt. "You can take your wet clothes off, Delaney," I say. "You don't have to worry your pretty little head about me looking at you. I have no desire to hook up with someone who doesn't want me."

  Delaney turns around, shimmying out of her panties and bra, the towel still wrapped around her body, as if she has to shield herself from my view because I'm the one who was all over her, completely and entirely unwanted, and she was the one who had zero interest in me. Like she wasn't moaning into me. If my fingers had made it an inch further, I know that I'd have found that she was soaked. I don't know why she's denying it.

  Delaney groans her frustration. "That's not what I said, Gaige," she says. "I didn't say I don't want --"

  "Don't worry," I say. "It's done. That ship has sailed." When I finally finish getting the boot back on, I toss the empty bottles in the trash without giving Delaney a second glance.

  "Fine," I hear her say.

  "Fine." I walk out, letting the gate door close, as if I'm not giving her another moment's thought.

  Except that's exactly the opposite of the truth. Delaney is all I can think about. I go up to my room to change, now regretting the fact that I just had the guesthouse fake-fumigated, and head to the gym to pound out a workout.

  I just don't get what the deal is with her. I've never understood her. One minute she's practically panting in my arms, and then next she's prickly like a damn porcupine.



  I've fucked things up with Gaige. We were getting along, and then he had to go and kiss me. Or, rather, then I had to go and strip down and get into the pool with him. What else did I think was going to happen? I knew exactly what I wanted to happen.

  But when he was telling me what he wanted to do to me, I froze. I couldn't help but think about what would happen if I went through with it. I won't be another notch on Gaige's bedpost. I can't. Not with how I felt about him before.

  It's been almost two weeks since I've even seen him, which is pretty much unimaginable, given the fact that we're living in the same house. At least I think we are. The tent is off the guesthouse, so I suppose he could have already moved back in. He hasn't even shown up at the office, not that I expected him to.

  "Hey, Earth to Delaney," Daniel says. "I said, are you going to go out with him?"

  "Who?" I ask.

  "Who?" he repeats. "Who is that hot guy who was just talking to us, the one I was basically carrying the conversation with, by the way. What's the point of even going to happy hour to pick up guys if you're not going to make an effort? He left you his card."

  "Sorry," I say. "I'm just distracted."

  "No shit. Distracted by who, is the question?"

  "No one," I lie. "Maybe the card was for you."

  "No, that boy – Bennet –" he says, picking up the card and reading the name. "Is straight as an arrow. Which is just my luck, too. But you're in greater need than I am. You're going to grow cobwebs down there if you don't dust that thing off and get some."

  "Shut up," I protest. "There are no cobwebs growing on my vag, thank you very much."

  "When's the last time you got laid?"

  "None of your business!"

  "Six months ago," Daniel says. "Derek. Did you even have any rebound sex after you broke up with him?" He looks at me accusingly.

  I glance at the card from the guy who left it. I can't even remember what he looked like, and it's only been a few minutes since he left. Daniel is texting on my phone, and he sets it down, looking at me triumphantly when he's finished. "What?" I ask.

  "Done. Tomorrow, six p.m. Drinks here. With Bennet."

  "What?" I squeak. "You can't do that."

  "Done," he says. "And you're too polite to cancel. You need to get out."

  "I'm leaving for Japan in a few weeks," I say. "I don't need to date anyone."

  "No," he says, sipping his cocktail. "You need to get laid."

  "You're one to talk," I say. "How long has it been for you?"

  "Last night."

  "What? No way."

  "Honey, I understand the importance of the one night stand," he says. "Something you apparently don't."

  I open my mouth, the incident with Gaige in the pool on the tip of my tongue. I want to tell him. Daniel always knows what to do with these kinds of things.

  Shit, I know what Daniel would tell me to do. He'd tell me to ride Gaige like a cowgirl and then make sure to spill all the details later.

  * * *

  Bennet, my date, is talking to me over cocktails. He's cute. Okay, he's totally hot. With wavy blonde hair and blue eyes, he looks like he stepped off the pages of a surfer magazine. Except instead of "dude" coming out of his mouth, it's "y'all." The thick Texas twang doesn't make him any less attractive, either. Except when he calls me "darlin'," and it makes me think of Gaige.

  And Bennet is nothing like Gaige. He seems nice. He hangs on my every word, and laughs, and brushes his hand casually on my arm.

  When he touches me, I wait for something to strike – fireworks, electricity, some kind of spark – the way it does when Gaige brushes his fingers along my skin, but it doesn't. But I tell myself that my ex-boyfriend Derek was the same way – a slow burn, no immediate spark -- but it turned into something over time. Sort of. We never really had a lot of passion, even after a year together. And it didn't exactly end well. Derek wound up cheating on me with my ex-roommate, so that relationship isn't the best example, I guess.

  But Bennet is sweet. He seems kind. Like a Labrador.

  And my mind is drifting the entire time he's talking. What's he saying, again? He's asking me a question, and it takes me a minute to figure it out. He's asking about my work. Shit, I'm supposed to be talking. "I'm sorry, I missed that," I say.

  "I was asking about your trip," he says. "You mentioned Japan."

  "Oh, yeah, next week," I say. "I'll be there for a few weeks. I'm basically being sent to manage my stepbrother, Gaige. He's a motorcycle racer – you know those sport bikes? That's what he does."

  "Sounds dangerous," Bennet says.

  "Japan?" I ask. "No, it's the opposite, actually. It's really quite safe."

  Bennet laughs. "I meant the bike racing."

  "Oh, yeah." I roll my eyes. "Especially when you like to pull dumb stunts the way Gaige does." My phone buzzes, and I take it out of my purse. "Excuse me for a second."

  Where are you?

  I recognize Gaige's number immediately but ignore it, setting the phone down on the table. He's been avoiding me, yet picks now as the appropriate time to text? Yeah, right.

  "Sorry about that," I say. "So, being an accountant sounds interesting." I'm lying. I take another sip of my margarita.

  Bennet is saying something about his job, and when my phone buzzes again, I'm honestly grateful for the distraction. I should be hanging on every word that comes out of Bennet's adorable mouth, except I'm not.

  What are you doing right now?

  Bennet is still talking, and I nod along, making encouraging sounds while I text back.

  None of your business. You?

  I set the phone down. Two seconds later, it buzzes.

  Are you alone?

  I text back.


  It buzzes again. Damn it.


  I'm annoyed with Gaige for interrupting my date, and I know I should turn off the phone, but I don't. Instead, I excuse myself to use the restroom, leaving Bennet watching a sports game on the row of televisions
behind me, and text on my way.

  You've left me alone forever now. Why are you texting me? Are you bored?

  I've only made it through the bathroom door when it buzzes again.

  Maybe I've just finally recovered from the worst case of blue balls known to man.

  I feel a perverse mix of guilt and satisfaction when I read his text message. How can I even respond to that? Sorry about your balls? Hope they haven't fallen off? I wonder if they make a greeting card for that occasion.

  I'm sure you found someone to assist you.

  I'm washing my hands and fixing my hair in the mirror when he texts again.

  So are you in your room? Or are you having a happy hour date?

  I stare at his text. Why does Gaige seem to have this sixth sense about me? It's so annoying. Well, I'm not going to outright lie. I turn the phone off and stick it in my purse without responding.

  I'm weaving and winding my way back through the crowd in the bar to my table. "Sorry, I –" I stop short when I realize Bennet is no longer sitting at my table.

  Gaige is in his seat, looking at me with raised eyebrows. "You didn't respond to my text," he says, looking up. I turn to see the waitress behind me, with a beer in hand that Gaige accepts.

  "Where's Bennet?" I demand.

  Gaige takes a sip of his beer. "Bennet decided to cut the date short," he says.

  "What the hell are you doing here?"

  "I was in the neighborhood," he says, with a look of smug satisfaction.

  "You were in the –" I start to say, looking around for Bennet, but not seeing him anywhere. "Did you really just run off my – "

  "Your what, Delaney?" he asks. "Your date?"

  "Fine," I say. "I'm on a date. I was on a date. With a nice guy. Before you showed up and ruined it."

  "Oh yeah," he says. "It looked like it was going really well. You gazing off into the distance, leaving the guy to fend for himself. Trust me, he was glad to be let off the hook."

  "What did you do?"

  Gaige shrugs. "I told him you were already taken."

  "You told him I was taken." My brain refuses to process this information, so instead I just stand there staring at Gaige like he's speaking in a foreign language.

  Gaige sips his beer. "Taken."

  "Taken by who, exactly?" I ask. Then I pause. "No, never mind. I don't even want to know the answer to that question. Did you fucking follow me here?" I ask, my voice rising in pitch. Someone looks over at me, and I lower it, aware I'm about to cause a scene. Or I am causing a scene. We look like a couple having an argument. "Have you been listening to my date? Did you bug me or something?"

  Gaige laughs. "Seriously, you think I bugged you? Listen to yourself, Delaney."

  "That's it," I say. "I don't even care what you did. I'm totally out of here." I dig in my purse for cash, and slap enough down on the table to cover my bill, refusing to even make any eye contact with Gaige before I storm out the door. He doesn't follow me out of the bar.

  Back at home, I'm still furious with him, but I have no one to vent to. I start to call Daniel, but what the hell kind of explanation can I give him for my stepbrother's ridiculousness? Daniel texts to ask me how the date with Bennet went, but I ignore him. Instead, I turn on music and take a bath, trying to tune out everything else. I can't believe Gaige, going in there and acting like some kind of caveman, telling Bennet to leave.

  Why are you pissed? He did what you yourself wanted to do to Bennet – he told him to get lost. I know the nagging little voice in my head is absolutely true. But even so, he had no right to do it.

  I'm not even relaxed after a hot bath. I'm still irritated. And Gaige isn't next door, or if he is, he's been super stealthy about sneaking into his room. I slip into a pair of comfy pants and a tank top and grab my novel to head up to the roof, to the sunroom.

  My father's estate is a sprawling, Texas-sized mansion on twenty acres. I told my father it was ridiculous when he bought it. The house itself is a monstrosity with too many rooms to count – I think thirty or something – and he bought it the year before he and Anja got married. My mother had custody of me since she split with my father, and we lived in New York after that, with me spending summers with my father, in the less ostentatious house he had before this one.

  All that changed my sophomore year of high school when he bought this place. I hate everything about the house.

  Except for the sunroom. Anja calls it the solarium, because sunroom is apparently not the correct fancy word for it. It's enclosed in glass on the rooftop, like a greenhouse, filled with tropical leafy plants and lots of chairs for sitting. Anja says it makes her allergies crazy. But I love it.

  I pop into the kitchen on the way, startling the cook, Deborah, who insists on making me a cup of tea, even though I insist I'm perfectly capable of doing it myself. She also insists on preparing dinner for me, finally acquiescing to leave something in the refrigerator, since there's no one else in the house. My father and Anja are gone tonight, some business thing with foreign investors my father is entertaining, Saudi contacts, I think. Deborah tries to protest when I send her and the housekeeper home, but if at this point in my life I can't fend for myself, that'd be pretty messed up.

  I set my tea down on this little table beside one of the lounges and stretch out on my stomach, my novel in front of me. No cell phone and no one around. Now hopefully, Gaige will stay gone.

  My luck in the Gaige department lasts for all of thirty minutes before he's standing right in the doorway in front of me. "Getting rid of my date wasn't enough screwing around with my life earlier?" I ask. "You came back for more?"

  "I came back for more." The way he looks at me, like he's hungry, makes that statement drip with innuendo. Damn it, why does Gaige have to look so irresistible?

  I sit up and cross my arms over my chest. "So you're no longer just fucking around with me? You're screwing around with my dating life too?"

  "Oh, please," he says. "You should be thanking me."

  "I should be thanking you?" I can already feel myself getting more irritated, my voice rising. At least I don't have to keep it down now, since no one is here but us. "For acting like a total Neanderthal and sending my date home?"

  "You weren't into him anyway, so don't act like I didn't do you a favor by getting rid of the guy," he says. "You could have at least stayed and finished your drink with me like a civilized person."

  I jump to my feet. "Civilized, huh?"

  Gaige nods, the edges of his mouth curved up in a smile.
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