Cannon, p.5
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       Cannon, p.5
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         Part #3 of A Step Brother Romance series by Sabrina Paige
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  I shrug. "Yeah, so? It's what I was hired as. "

  Brady grabs his truck from Addison's hand and bounces off the couch to "zoom" it along her coffee table, and she turns around to face me. "So, you know that's not exactly how it is. You made it sound like I chose to hire you out of the goodness of my heart. "

  "And?"

  "So why did you say that?"

  I shrug. "It seemed like the thing to say at the time. "

  She looks at me for a long time before speaking. "Did you really get fired?"

  "I quit, but they were going to fire me, so it's the same thing. "

  "Why did they fire you?"

  "Hell, you're nosy. "

  "You're my employee, aren't you?  I'm supposed to know these kinds of things," she says. But the corners of her mouth turn up and I know she's joking.

  "Am I?" I ask. "I thought I was your bodyguard. "

  "That means you work for me," she says.

  "Yeah, I'm supposed to guard your body. "

  Addison narrows her eyes at me.   "Very funny," she says.   "Not in the way you apparently mean. "

  "How do you know what I mean, Addy-girl?" I ask.   "You have a dirty mind. "

  Brady runs for Addy, crashing into her leg with all the force of an almost-three-year-old boy, and she looks down at him and laughs. "What do you want to do, Brade-man? You want to go to the park?"

  "Yes!  The park! The park!" Brady shouts.

  Addison looks up at me and grins.   "Well, since you're my employee, you can be in charge of the diaper bag. "

  I should be annoyed, carrying the diaper bag and tagging along with Addison and Brady down the sidewalk to the park.   But I'm not.   We take turns pushing Brady in the swing and following him as he runs through the grass, and we don't talk about much of anything.

  Except I watch Addison's face beam as she plays with him, and the way she tucks her hair behind her ear as she glances over her shoulder at me when she's chasing Brady through the grass, and I feel. . . lighter somehow, not edgy the way I usually feel.   I find myself laughing as Brady tries to catch the rubber ball I toss at him.

  On the way back to the apartment, when we stop for ice cream, I nudge Addison.   "You're a bad aunt, you know," I say as Brady shovels a spoonful into his mouth.   "Grace is going to kill you. "

  She grins at me.   "I'm a great aunt," she says.   "And besides, he'll run it off before we give him back to Grace anyway.   Or swim it off.   There's a pool in the apartment building. "

  Page 18

  The image of Addison in a swimsuit flashes in my head, and my cock stirs, right here in the fucking ice cream shop.   I force my thoughts the hell away from Addison.

  "Brady loves swimming," she says.   "Want to go swimming, Brady?"

  "Let's go swimming!" Ice cream drips down his cheeks and he pounds the table with his fist.

  "Swimming," I say.   Damn it.   The last thing I want to do is see Addison in a swimsuit at the pool.

  Of course, I'm lying to myself.   It's the only thing I want.

  SIX YEARS, EIGHT MONTHS AGO

  I'm slicing through the water, the repetitiveness of the strokes doing what they always do, lulling me into a near-hypnotic trance.   Before I was discovered on the reality show, we couldn't afford a pool or swim lessons or anything like that.   I barely knew how to float.   That changed when I was on the show.   Hell, everything has changed since I was discovered.   Now I have a heated pool, in its own glass enclosure outside.   That's freaking fancy.

  Most people swim in the mornings, but I like to swim at night.   After the sun goes down, the lights on the sides of the pool turn the water an iridescent teal color.   The water muffles the sounds from outside and I turn my brain off, losing all sense of time and place while I just swim in teal-colored water and tune the rest of the world out.

  I'm usually alone out here, no one caring enough to intrude on my swim time, but when I pull myself up to the side of the pool, Hendrix is sitting in a chair, lighting up a cigarette.   I wipe the water from my face, resting with my arm on the edge of the pool.   The cool evening air hits my skin and makes me shiver.

  So does the way Hendrix looks at me.

  "How long have you been there?" I ask.

  "A few minutes," he says.   His eyes never leave mine, and the way he looks at me makes me glad to be mostly hidden in the pool.

  "You shouldn't smoke," I say.

  "Thanks for the lecture. "  He exhales smoke in rings at me, and I roll my eyes.

  "It stinks, and it's not healthy," I note.   I know I sound like a total downer, but I can't help myself.   Hendrix has such a blasé attitude about life, like he doesn't give a shit what happens.   It gets under my skin.

  "I don't need a lecture about the risks," he says.   "My mom died of cancer. "

  "And you're still smoking?" I ask, my voice rising.   I'm annoyed with his cavalier attitude about everything.   "What the hell is wrong with you?"

  Hendrix shrugs.   "It's my life, Addy-girl," he says.

  "Not for long, if you keep it up. "

  Hendrix laughs.   "I should be more like you, right?  All work and no play?"

  "What?" My voice squeaks.   "What do you think I'm doing right now?"

  "That?" Hendrix asks.   He doesn't finish his cigarette, though.   He puts it out, halfway through, and leans back in his chair, looking at me.   Sometimes I wonder what he's thinking when he looks at me like that.   I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to know.   He's definitely evaluating me.   Judging me.   "Even when you're swimming, you look intense. "

  Intense.   No one has ever called me intense before.   "What, have you been watching me?"

  "Yes. "  He speaks the word with no hesitation or embarrassment, and I have to look away, swallowing hard.

  "You've been watching me swim?"

  Hendrix shrugs.   "Nothing better to do in this place," he says.   "I've been bored. "

  "I thought you had friends. "

  "They're boring. "

  I laugh uncomfortably.   "I'm so flattered that spying on me is less boring than hanging out with your friends. "

  "You should be. "

  "Are you getting in the pool or are you just going to sit there watching me like a creep?"

  Hendrix laughs.   "I don't swim. "

  "Why not?" I ask, sinking down into the water, up to my neck.   I'm chilly, but I'm also aware of the way Hendrix is looking at me, and I'm not sure I like it.   Or, more accurately, I'm not sure I'm supposed to like it.   "Oh, no, wait, it's not cool enough for you, right?"

  Hendrix makes a weird face, and looks away.   "I can't swim. "

  "Can't, as in, you don't know how to swim?"

  "Nope," he says.   "Never had a reason to learn. "

  Page 19

  "Weren't you in military school?" I ask.   "They don't teach you that there?"

  "It wasn't the fucking Navy," he says.

  "I can teach you. "  I blurt out the sentence, immediately regretting it.   Why did I just say that?  I don't want to be stuck spending any more time with Hendrix than I have to.   Do I?

  "You're going to teach me to swim," Hendrix says.   I'm not sure if it's a question or a statement.

  I shrug.   "No big deal.   Forget I even offered. "

  "Okay," he says.

  "Okay, like you want me to teach you to swim?"  That's the last thing I expected.

  "Show me what you got, sweet cheeks. "

  PRESENT DAY

  "Show me what you got, Addy-girl. "  Hendrix stands in the shallow end of the pool in my apartment building, his hands on the edges of Brady's float.   "You ready to race, Brady?  Think we can beat her?"

  Brady laughs hysterically, but grips the edges of his float tightly.   "Yes, yes,
yes!  Race!  Go, go, go!"

  "You asked for it. "  I feint a mock dive into the water, but don't really, instead taking my time floating on my back as Hendrix kicks Brady to the other side of the pool.   Brady's laughter echoes through the room as Hendrix reaches the end.

  "Touch the edge of the pool so we win, Brady!"

  "Oh, you're too fast for me, Brade-man. "  I high-five Brady, and make eye contact with Hendrix, and for a second, I feel like I'm a teenager again, my heart racing as I look at him.   All of those nights in the pool, teaching Hendrix to swim; the gradual tenuous friendship we developed, both of us guarded, prickly porcupines; and my unspoken attraction to him that I was never quite sure he reciprocated, even when he kissed me. . .

  Of course, that didn't stop him from bragging that he did more than that, lying to his friends about me.   The memory of that night flashes in my head, and I look away from Hendrix, diving back under the water and swimming the length of the pool to the other side.   When I come up for air, Brady is wailing and Hendrix is standing, chest deep in the water a few feet away, pulling him out of the float.   "She's right there, Brady, see?" he says, turning toward me.   "He's scared because you disappeared. "

  "Crap. "  I pick up Brady in my arms.   "Brade-man, I was just swimming underwater!  Surprise!"  Then he starts giggling.

  Hendrix already has his back toward me as he pulls himself out of the water to get towels.   Part of me wants to explain my awkwardness, confront him about that night and get it out in the open.   But the other part of me, the more reasonable side, reminds myself that as comfortable as it was this afternoon hanging out with him and Brady, that Hendrix is not my friend.   He's on my parents' payroll, and he's pushing their agenda – and the studio's agenda.

  After Brady is fed dinner and bathed and curled up on the sofa in the living room, passed out before we even had a chance to watch the cartoon I'd bought, Hendrix sits on the loveseat across from the exhausted toddler and I.   "You're good with him," he says.

  I shrug.   "I would hope so.   He's my only nephew. "

  The silence between Hendrix and I, with nothing else to distract us, is practically deafening.   Hendrix clears his throat and gives me a serious look, his brow wrinkled.   "I don't know why you -- "

  As soon as he starts to speak, the knock on the door interrupts him, and I open it for Grace, the whole time wondering what Hendrix was going to say.   "And?"  I ask.   "How was it?"

  "It was amazing!" she says.   "I think they liked me.   The photographer seemed happy, and said I was easy to work with and -- "

  "You look so great.   I love the hair and the make-up and -- "

  "Tell me this is what it feels like when they do your hair and makeup and everything for your concerts and your events," she says.   Her face is radiant, and she looks ecstatic.

  "Well -- " I start to say that it's really not, but then I stop.   "It is," I lie.   It felt that way in the beginning, but not anymore.   Now it's just part of the routine, a burden more than anything, having to play a role.   But I don't tell Grace that.   Why ruin the magic?  She's happy.   And beautiful.   "You should go surprise Roger. "

  Grace smiles, but there's no joy behind her eyes.   "I think I will," she says, glancing at her watch.   "If he's home, I mean.   He's working late a lot. "

  Page 20

  "Roger is a corporate litigator," I tell Hendrix.

  "That's about the last thing you expected, I'm sure," Grace says, laughing.   "Me and a freaking lawyer. "

  Hendrix shrugs. "People change," he says.   The words are directed at Grace, but Hendrix never takes his eyes off me.

  People change.   I'm not sure if Hendrix is trying to convince me or himself.

  SIX YEARS, FOUR MONTHS AGO

  "You're getting better," Addison says.   She pulls herself out of the pool in one swift movement, her hands on the concrete edge, ignoring the steps that are less than three feet away, the same way she always does.   I don't know why she doesn't get out of the pool like a normal person, other than the fact that nothing Addy does is normal.   She's one of those people who looks normal on the outside, but turns out to have all these little quirks and things.   Like the way she counts when she's nervous.

  I don't know if it's weird that I notice this stuff about her.   No one else seems to.   Of course, no one really seems to give much of a shit about what she does, other than if she's showing up at the studio or going on tour.

  That's my biggest problem. I notice way too much about Addison Stone.   Like the fact that her eyes look so damn blue when she wears this one-piece navy swimsuit and matching swim cap, goggles perched on top of her head.   It should be the most unattractive look ever.   Except that it's not.   The water runs down the sides of her face, and over her shoulders, and. . . holy shit. . . her breasts.   Her nipples are hard through the fabric of her swimsuit, and I'm afraid to look down because my cock has got to be tenting the fabric of my trunks right now.

  "Dude," she says.   "What, are you stoned?"

  "Huh?  No.   What?"  I sound like a total idiot.   "What were you saying?"

  "I said, will you hand me the towel?"

  "Oh. "  I reach down and grab the towel beside me and toss it to her, then turn away, adjusting the obvious bulge in my trunks.   Fuck.   I'm having a hard time -- pun intended -- hiding my response to her and I hope she hasn't noticed.   I walk away, toweling off to conceal my erection, my back facing her, and try instead to focus on the most un-sexually attractive things I can think of.   It barely helps.

  "You're getting better," she says.   "Maybe you can go be a SEAL or something. "

  "Fuck. "  I practically spit out the word.   "Wouldn't that be a trip.   The Colonel's head would explode. "

  "Why?" she asks.   I glance over my shoulder at her, and she's pulling the swim cap off her head and shaking out her hair.   Damn it.   She looks like an actress in one of those movies, when the girl shakes out her hair in slow motion as some slow porno-music plays on the soundtrack, hair tumbling down in waves, and I look away again.

  I can't keep coming out here like this, hanging out with her, talking to her like we're friends.   Not with the way I'm starting to like her.   And definitely not with the way I'm looking at her.   "The Colonel is Army all the way," I say.   "He considers every other branch inferior.   Don't you know?  He'd love it if I went into the Army. "

  "Is that what you want to do?"

  I turn around, making sure to hide my junk with the towel.   I'm still so damn hard I can barely think, and Addison wants to have a conversation about my life and my damn future.   "What, you're going to ask what I want to do?"

  She looks taken aback.   "What else would I ask?"

  "I don't know," I say.   "No one else seems to give a shit.   Are you doing what you want to do?"

  Addison laughs.   "I'm fifteen," she says.   "I'm a star. "

  "That's not really an answer," I say.

  She just shrugs.   "Hey, can I ask you something?"

  "I don't know.   You're not that great at answering questions. "

  "It's not related," she says.   "I need a favor, since I'm helping you. "

  I cock my head to the side.   "You're helping me?"

  "I'm teaching you to swim, jerk-face. "

  "Jerk-face?"  I ask.   "How old are you, twelve?  Go on, I want to hear what kind of favor Addison Stone needs from me. "

  "I need you to teach me how to drive. "

  "You don't know how to drive yet?" I ask.   "You're sixteen in. . . how long?"

  Page 21

  "Four months," she says.   "I was on tour, and my mom has been. . . " Her voice trails off.

  "Preoccupied with my dad," I say, sighing.

  "You don't have to," she says, obviously misin
terpreting my sigh as reluctance.   I guess it wouldn't really be a misinterpretation.   I don't want to spend any more time alone with Addison than I have to.   I keep coming down to the pool at night, even though I know it's playing with fire. Addison is getting under my skin.   It's Addison I talk to about things, down here at the pool.   It's Addison I look forward to seeing every night like clockwork, and Addison I'm ditching dates for, just so I can continue our swim lessons.   Addison is the one I've talked to about my mom's death, about what a douchebag my father is.   It's Addison I want to talk to all the time.

  And that's a fucking problem.

  I need to get her out of my head.   There are a hundred different girls I can go screw, girls that don't live in the same house with me.   Girls who aren't my stepsister.   And I've been fucking them.   It's just that it's Addison's face I see when I'm in their beds.   And it's Addison's name that's on my lips.

  "It's fine," I lie.   I should tell her no.

  "Don't do it if you don't want to. "

  "I said it's fine.   We'll start this weekend.   But if you fuck up my car, driving it like shit, you're going to buy me a new one. "

  A grin spreads across Addison's face and she holds out her hand for me to shake.   "Okay.   Deal. "

  PRESENT DAY

  I strip off my shirt as I come in the apartment, careful to close the door quietly behind me.   It's five in the morning, and I'm feeling energetic, despite my best efforts to wear the hell out of myself.   Too damn energetic.   I'm edgy and irritable as a result of being in close quarters with Addison.   Last night, hanging out with her in the pool sent memories of all the nights we spent together flooding right back – all of those nights I spent fighting my attraction for her.

  I remind myself that I should be behaving more like a bodyguard, even if this isn't some routine security gig. The Colonel's expressed words were "no actual security threat. "  I'm a glorified babysitter and that's it.   It's also not a regular situation because it's Addison.

  Pouring a cup of coffee, I take it back to the room I appropriated a few days ago when Addison was being a less-than-gracious host.   Most people like her who are big stars now would hire a designer for decorating, but I know just by looking at it that this guest room, like everything in her place, is her own design.   This apartment is her private space.   Everything in here has been carefully selected, from the carved teak bed to the deep wine-colored curtains to the paintings on the wall, modern art with bright sunset oranges and Caribbean blues.   It's more bohemian than country and it reflects Addy's personality.

 
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