Cannon, p.8
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       Cannon, p.8

         Part #3 of A Step Brother Romance series by Sabrina Paige
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  "No, it's not," he says.   "It's your checking-text-messages-you-hate face. "

  "How do you know I'm getting text messages I hate?  Have you been reading my texts?" I ask, my voice going up an octave.   "You can't do that!"

  "Oh my God, relax, Addy," he says, laughing.   "No one is reading your text messages.   Well, the NSA probably is, but that's it.   I was just making an observation.   You've been making that face a lot lately.   You need to chill the fuck out. "

  Page 30

  "Oh. "  I look down at the most recent text from Jared.

  Srsly, A.   Don't be a bitch.   You knew what you were getting into.   And don't put me in a fucking song.

  That's message number fifteen from Jared over the past week, since I walked out on him at the club.   Four in the morning and he's getting a blowjob in the bathroom of the filthy club he insisted I go to with him and his friends to celebrate his birthday.   But I'm the one who's a bitch.

  I press the delete button.   As if I'd write any song about that douchebag.   Besides, the record label is writing and approving all of my songs; they have been for years.   I'm just the mouthpiece.

  There's a text from my friend Sapphire.

  Hey ho.   Where the F have u been?  Party 2nite.   Call me.

  "Oh," Hendrix says.   "Is that the boyfriend texting you?"

  "Ex," I say pointedly, and turn the cell phone over, face down, as if that will make the messages disappear.   "And it's none of your business. "

  "So it is a text from the ex-boyfriend, then. "

  "What part of none of your business did you not hear?"

  "What did you say?" Hendrix deadpans, cupping his hand near his ear.

  "Hilarious, Hendrix. "

  "You're always complimenting me," he says.

  "Don't take it personally. "

  "That fuckhead better not be texting you," Hendrix says.   He's looking in a binder, pouring over the week's schedule even though I know he already has it memorized.

  "My last bodyguard wasn't this mouthy," I say.   "And he didn't try to insert himself into my personal life. "

  Hendrix turns to look at me.   "Your last bodyguard let you date that shithead. "

  "He didn't let me date anyone," I say, bristling at his tone.   "In case you haven't noticed, this is 2015, not 1815, and I can date whoever the hell I want.   Fuckhead or not. "

  "Not on my watch," Hendrix says.

  "Your watch?" I'm so annoyed I think my head might explode.   "I'm not a child, Hendrix.   And your job description involves being a bodyguard, not some archaic protector of my hoo-hah. "

  "You're my watch," Hendrix says.   "Which means your hoo-hah is part of my watch. "

  "Nobody is watching my hoo-hah," I say, my voice rising.   "Much less my damn stepbrother. "

  Hendrix turns to face me, his eyes narrowed.   "Is that what you think this is about?" he growls.   "Some misguided sense of protectiveness, because I'm your stepbrother?"

  "No," I say, my voice hushed.   The tinted window is up, separating us from the driver, but I worry he can hear every word of what we're saying.   "You're just pissed because you can't have me, and you don't want anyone else to have me. "  The words come out, fueled by emotion, before I can stop them, and I immediately regret speaking them. I clamp my hand over my mouth, mortified.   Why did I say that?  Just when I was bent on ignoring Hendrix I put my foot in my mouth and say something awful.

  Hendrix leans close to me, his mouth near my ear.   "If I wanted you, I'd have you, right here, right now, sweet-cheeks," he whispers.   "Just for your information. "

  I force a laugh, but there's nothing funny about the fact that arousal is coursing through my body.   "Is that so?"

  The car pulls to a stop, and Hendrix walks around to pull open my door.   He leans down and speaks to me softly again.   "That's a fucking promise, Addy-girl," he says, holding his hand out to help me from the car.

  I take his hand and get the same jolt of electricity I always get when I touch him.   "Well, then, it's a good thing that neither of us want each other. "

  FIVE YEARS, SIX MONTHS AGO

  "I don't know how the hell you do it, man. "  Taylor passes the bong to me, as he breathes a trail of smoke through the room.   I hand it to Brandon, bypassing it myself but they don't notice.   We're all too busy watching Addy walk by the guesthouse, dressed in jeans and carrying her guitar.   Addy, who I've been trying to get out of my fucking head since the stupid road trip.   Addy, who's still nice to me after I tell her to get lost because I don't need her damn help swimming anymore, even though that's a lie.   I just don't want her an arm's length away from me in the swimming pool wearing next to nothing, the water trickling over her skin, practically demanding that I follow it down her body with my tongue.   Addy, who tells me she misses talking to me.   Addy, who breaks my fucking heart every time she looks at me.

  Page 31

  I was relieved when she went on tour for three months, but I was wrong about the whole out of sight, out of mind thing.   I was right about it being worse to be away from her.   It's a million times worse than being around her.

  I've been telling myself that me staying away from her is for her own good.   She has a future, a real one.   And I'm leaving.

  I've been keeping that secret from her.

  "Look at that ass in those pants," Taylor says, punching Brandon in the arm.   "You need to hook a brother up, Hendrix. "

  "That's my fucking stepsister.   Don't be dicks. "

  "I'd like to put my dick in your sister," Brandon says, hooting.   "You know she's a great piece of ass. "

  "Fuck you. "  I stand and cross the room, watching Addy as she crosses the grass.   She's headed out to the place on the other side of the property, this grove of trees where she sits and plays her guitar.   I know that's where she's going because I've watched her sneak out there a million times.   She has a music room inside the house, but she hardly uses it.   No one seems to notice that, except me.

  "Oooh, sensitive," Taylor says.   "Please.   Don't tell us you haven't fucking jerked off to the thought of that sweet pussy. "

  "I said, she's my fucking stepsister," I say, trying to brush it off.   They talk about chicks this way all the time, and it doesn't piss me off like it's doing right now.   Right now, I think I might just murder them both with my bare hands.

  "Stepsister, yeah right," Brandon says, laughing.   "If I were you I'd be buried balls deep in that snatch. "

  "Get out," I say, my voice low.

  "Dude, take it easy," Taylor says.   "Shit, are you on the rag or something, man?  You're acting like a bitch. "

  "I said, get. the. fuck. out. of. here," I repeat, punctuating each word with a careful pause.   My hands are clenched into fists at my side, and I think about punching both of them in the fucking face for talking about Addy that way, but instead I open the door.   "Now. "

  Both of them sit, sprawled on the sofa, staring at me stupidly.   "We didn't mean anything by it, Hendrix," Brandon says.   "Jesus Christ. "

  "Get your shit and leave," I say, watching realization dawn on them that I'm not joking.   Brandon carries the bong with him like it's one of his school textbooks or something, and Taylor shrugs as he passes me.

  "It's not like she's a big virgin or something," he says.   "I heard she fucked that country singer, what the hell is his name?"

  I punch Taylor square in his stupid fucking mouth.

  PRESENT DAY

  Watching Addison sing is like nothing else on earth.   She has one of those voices that makes you stop dead in your tracks, quit whatever you're doing and hold your breath and listen, because you know that you're hearing something special.   You can't hear her sing and not know that with certainty.

  I kn
ew that the very first time I heard Addy sing in person.   She was sitting outside, under this grove of trees, cross-legged and barefoot and wearing this pink and blue multicolored skirt, her hair blowing in the breeze.   She looked like a Woodstock transplant, a modern hippie, playing her guitar and singing something wistful and sad with her eyes closed.   She didn't know I was there, and I stood perfectly still while she played.

  She was so pissed off when she opened her eyes and saw me standing there that she threatened to throw her guitar at me.

  I watch her now from the other side of the glass as she sings the bullshit pop-with-a-little-bit-of-twang song that has to be the worst possible fit for her voice, synthesized and altered to the point where it barely sounds like the girl I knew once.   Even when she's singing this crap, though, she still has that quality.   It still gives me goose bumps to listen to her.

  She hates the song.   It's written all over her face.

  Addy pulls the headphones off her ears.   "I'm not sure about the last bit there," she says, her voice audible through the sound system.

  One of the guys at the sound system, "Big Mike," gives her a "thumbs up" gesture.   "It's good," he says, fiddling with levers and shit on the sound system.   Addison told me I should go do something else while she was here, insisted I didn't need to "hover around and scare people," and if it were anyone else, I'd be out of here, to be honest.   But if I weren't going to before, I'd have changed my mind the minute I saw the guy who's standing in the recording booth beside her.

  Page 32

  Dean Tucker.   If Addy is America's country sweetheart, he's whatever the hell the male version of that is.   He's blonde-haired and blue-eyed, the guy every female country music fan wants to throw her panties at.   And they're collaborating on an album.   Addy conveniently failed to mention she was recording a duet with him.

  "Let's lay down one more take," Big Mike says.

  Dean leans over and says something to Addy, and his hand brushes her shoulder protectively.   Protectively or intimately, I'm not sure which.   I clench and unclench my hands at my sides.   She laughs, and tucks her hair behind her ear.

  Screw this.   I can't watch Addy sing a love song with Mr. Perfect.   Slipping out of the booth, I walk down to a vending machine, where I put in a dollar and my soda gets stuck.   I pound the machine with my fist, once, twice, three times.   "Fuck shit stupid motherfucking son of a bitch. "

  "Colorful vocabulary. "  The sound of a female voice behind me startles me.   "You're hitting that machine like it cheated on you with your girlfriend. "

  "I'm just trying to get a drink," I say, looking at the dark-haired girl standing in front of me.   She's petite – really petite, my shoulder height even in the stilettos she's wearing.   Cute, too, in a Nashville kind of way.   This is probably just what I need.   A distraction from Addy.

  "Well, now," she says, her voice practically a purr.   "If you want a drink, all you gotta do is ask for my number, sugar. "

  I can't help but laugh.   "That's very…direct," I say.

  "No use beatin' around the bush," she says, winking.   "I mean, unless you're into that kind of thing. "

  Hell, she's laying it on thick.   And she's gorgeous – country music star gorgeous, I realize.   "Are you a singer?"

  "You're kiddin', right, sugar?" she asks, putting her hand on her hip.

  "Is that a yes?"

  "What, have you been living under a rock?" she asks, cocking her head to the side and surveying me with deep brown eyes.

  "Close," I say, shrugging.   "I've been overseas a lot.   Military. "  That's partially true.   I don't add that I've been living in Nashville for six months.

  "Oh, a soldier," she says.

  "Marine, not soldier," I correct her.   The mistake immediately grates on my nerves.

  She shrugs.   "Potato, po-tah-toh," she says, her voice flippant, and that annoys me even more.   "I like a man in uniform.   I'm Cassidy Belle. "

  "Well, I'm not in uniform anymore," I say.   I want this conversation to be over.   I was wrong about needing a distraction.   Distractions like this one are annoying.   She's waiting for something – for me to recognize her name, I think.   Which I don't.

  I also don't care.   I'm tired of her and it's been ten seconds since I met her. I can't meet someone who doesn't immediately get on my fucking nerves.   It's a personal problem, I guess.

  "And you still don't know who I am?" she asks.   Then she pouts, and I groan inwardly.   Why did she have to go and pout?  She thinks it looks cute, but it looks so stupid I can't take it.

  "She's Cassidy Belle. "  Addy walks down the hall, trailed by Mr. Perfect.   "You really don't know who she is?"  Addy hugs her, and Cassidy pouts at me again.

  "He doesn't," Cassidy says.   "But his looks make up for his failure in that regard. "

  Addy ignores Cassidy's comment about my looks, and gestures to Mr. Perfect behind her.   "Hendrix, I'm surprised you haven't heard of Cassidy. "

  "I don't really listen to country," I say, irritated by all of this.   I feel like I'm at a cocktail party, schmoozing with all the rich folks and way the hell out of place.   "Sorry. "

  Addy's brow furrows and she gives me a look.   That's the look that says she's displeased with me. She can be displeased all she wants.   I'm displeased she's flirting with Mr. Perfect here.

  Cassidy sets her sights on Mr. Perfect, her expression lighting up.   "Well, of course I know who you are," she says.   "You're Dean Tucker.   I'm a huge fan. "

  Dean grins.   "Are you kidding?" he asks.   "I'm a huge fan of yours. "

  And like that, it's giggling and arms touching and Addy and I are standing there watching the display, bystanders to this train wreck.

  Page 33

  "What did you just say?" Addy whispers.

  "Nothing. "

  "You said what a train wreck. "

  Shit.   "I didn't realize I said it out loud," I say.

  She speaks softly, even though the dynamic duo are already giggling and walking together in the other direction down the hallway.   "Well, you did," she says.   "And I think they're hardly the train wreck, Hendrix. "

  "As compared to what, exactly?"

  "Us. "

  "You're saying we're the train wreck?" I ask.

  "Of course we are. "

  "We can't be a train wreck, Addy," I say.   "There is no us.   There never has been.   There's no collision.   No wreckage.   Nothing. "

  "Because you don't want it," she says, facing me.   Her hands are on her hips, and I want to pick her up and slam her against the wall behind her, thrust my cock inside her, and take her.   I want to own her.   It's the biggest caveman-sounding bullshit ever, but it's what I've wanted from the first second I laid eyes on her as she walked down the stairs in her big-ass McMansion.   Even when I couldn't stand her, I wanted her.

  "What don't I want, sweet-cheeks?"

  "You know," she says.

  "Spell it out for me," I say.   I lean against the wall, my hands above her head, intentionally not touching her, because if I lay a hand on her, it's all over.   She'll own me.   So I force my hands against the wall, not moving, and just look at her.   I drink in her scent, and I stand there, paralyzed.   "Because I think you were the one who said no.   But if you do. . . "

  "I don't," she says.   Her mouth opens and closes, like she wants to say something else, but doesn't.   She breathes in deeply, and I look at the tops of her breasts in her shirt and want to bury my face in those tits.   Then she clears her throat.   "I don't. "  More firmly this time.

  "Good," I say.   "Then we're agreed.   Neither of us want anything. "

  "We're agreed. "

  "Good," I say.   "Because it's time for dinner with the f
amily and neither of us will be wanting anything inappropriate at a family dinner. "

  "Crap. "

  FIVE YEARS, FIVE MONTHS AGO

  "But it's not fair. "  Addy drops her fork, and it falls against her plate with a clatter.   "You said that if I finished the tour this year, I could spend senior year at a normal high school, with regular kids. "

  I cut my steak and stare at my plate, uncertain whether to remain silent or if Addison would get mad at me for defending her.   Or whether I should just go get stoned with my friends.   The last option sounds a hell of a lot better than my current situation.

  "You cannot be that naïve, Addison," her mother says, looking at her with contempt.   Addy's mother Wendy – forever known to me as the Wicked Bitch -- doesn't bother to look at me at all.   It's apparently beneath her.   It's beyond me how someone so damn white trash can see anyone as being beneath her, but she somehow manages to convey her contempt for pretty much everyone on a regular basis.   Some people at least make a pretense of being tolerant and kind, and you only find out later that they're assholes.   But not the Wicked Bitch.   She was terrible from the very beginning, so I guess it's right that she ended up with my father.   "I find it hard to believe you're that stupid. "

  "Yeah, I guess it was naïve to think that I could be happy," Addy says.

  "Addison," the Colonel interrupts.   It's about time, I think.   My father isn't the best parent, to put it mildly, but at least he has moments of non-assholery.   "One thing that you'll learn in life is personal happiness is overrated. "

  "That's it?" I ask, not bothering to stifle my bitter laugh.   "Happiness is overrated?  That's your best advice?  For Christ's sake, she's asking to go to public school, not talking about running off to live in a commune.   It's not really that big of a deal. "

  "Stay out of this, Hendrix," the Colonel warns.

  "Or what?"  I ask.   "You'll ship me off to military school again?  Been there, done that, sir.   News flash – the military academy doesn't want me back.   So you're shit out of luck.   You're stuck here with me. "

  "And clearly, you learned nothing from the experience," he says.   He gives me a hard look.   "As much as I prefer the Army, at least the Marines will instill some discipline in you. "

  Page 34

  I suck in a deep breath and glance at Addy.   Please don't let her realize what he just said, I pray silently.   I haven't told her.   I keep meaning to tell her, but then I don't.   It never seems like the right time to give someone that kind of news.   She'll hate me.

 
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