Kevin was kissing another girl. And he wasn’t just kissing her—he was inhaling her. He pressed against her, her dark hair twisted in his hands, his lips moving down her throat and lingering between her breasts.
It was a trainwreck.
I saw it coming. The lights were bright and impending, and I could have gotten off the tracks. But nope, I was the idiot blinded in place. I couldn’t look away, though I should have.
This was Kevin—my Kevin! Okay, not my boyfriend Kevin, but my stepbrother Kevin. The same Kevin I’d been in love with for two years—since my junior year of high school, since my mom died and my dad decided he was in love with the most popular guy in school’s mother.
Sheila Matthews, aka Kevin’s mom, was the nurse who took care of my mom during her stay in hospice. It had been such a scandal. How dare Mr. Stoltz fall in love even before his wife passed? It didn’t matter that my mom had been dying of cancer for years. My dad’s timing sucked, but it happened. The night after my mom was buried, he was at the Matthews’ house.
One positive, even though my dad and Sheila hadn’t kept their relationship a secret, was that I didn’t have to meet her until later. Actually, I met her at the dinner where I also found out she was going to be my stepmother, and so the summer between my sophomore and junior year, I got a stepbrother, too. Of course, I already knew who Kevin Matthews was.
Everyone knew who Kevin Matthews was.
A year older than me. Football captain. Basketball captain. Track captain. He was on the Student Council—and I’m ashamed to admit I never paid attention to what he did for them. I didn’t really care. He was so much more. He was the guy all the guys respected and all the girls wanted, including me and his rotation of six-month girlfriends. He’d date a girl for six months. Then they’d break up because he’d fallen in love with another girl, and she’d last the next six months.
Despite all my knowledge of him, before he joined my family, Kevin didn’t know who I was. I wasn’t anyone special. I mean, I wasn’t unpopular. I was just…average, I guess. I’d been told I was beautiful, but that was by all the people who were supposed to tell me that. My mom told me every day, then my dad every month or so, and finally Sheila did once we moved in. She said it every two weeks. It was nice to hear, but come on. That’s what parents are supposed to do. All three of my parent-like figures did their job well, and so did my two best friends, May and Clarissa.
May was a feisty little Asian who got asked out on a weekly basis, even when she had a boyfriend. And Clarissa was a few inches taller than me with a body like Britney Spears circa “Oops!...I Did It Again.” I had long, dark brown hair and a slim-enough body. I’d never thought I was anything great, but both May and Clarissa had made enough comments about how they’d kill to look like me that I began to feel more confident.
My mom always told me I had perfect lips and almond eyes with long eyelashes that I’d inherited from my father’s side. My grandmother had been gorgeous. I never met her, but in photographs she had dark eyes, dark hair, a heart-shaped face, and an alluring air to her. May and Clarissa saw a picture of her once and fell back on the bed, groaning at how much I took after her—something I hadn’t realized until then.
So yeah, none of us were hurting, but we never really made it into the popular and exclusive high school social circles. Maybe it was because the three of us had our own exclusive clique, or maybe it was because none of us passed out at parties, slept around, or joined the cheerleaders. Nothing against anyone who did that. It just wasn’t us.
We were almost boring.
We got good grades. We went to a few parties, but not every weekend. Bowling, slumber parties, shopping trips, and regular old going out for dinner were our social activities. I could’ve lived at the local bookstore too, so I think that’s why we weren’t at the top of the food chain where Kevin and most his girlfriends were. And not that we wanted to be. Well, May might’ve wanted it, but Clarissa and I were content.
Every now and then, Kevin would date someone at the social level below. Once he dated a girl who was two levels below, and pandemonium hit the hallways. Girls wore skimpier clothes. The hallways smelled like a professional salon, and I heard that the makeup aisle at the local department store sold out.
“Kevin,” the girl moaned now, drawing me back to the trainwreck. She lifted one of her toned legs to wrap around him, pulling him more tightly against her.
I wrinkled my nose. Good God. I needed to look away, but I couldn’t, not while his hand traced down her side. He lifted her leg higher to press against her, and they both moaned from the friction.
They were still dressed. That was one blessing, but they were barely dressed. Kevin’s jeans looked loosened, like they were already unzipped, and the girl’s skirt had been pushed high. Lacy pink underwear peeked out, and the way it moved…like something was going on in there…and yeah, that was his hand.
Time to reverse it.
They’d found their spot in the back room of the basement, which was close to Kevin’s room at his fraternity. They just hadn’t gotten all the way in there. I should’ve realized what was happening when I saw the basement door had a rubber band on the handle.
I slipped back out the door, and I was petty enough to grab that rubber band. I stuffed it in my pocket as I went.
Okay. Yes, I had loved Kevin for years. Yes, I had lived with him. Yes, he was sort of my brother, but no brotherly/sisterly love had formed between us. We were compadres, friends, buddies. And I’d thought there had been flirting. Yes, yes, there had been flirting.
We only lived one year together, and yeah, he was quiet most of the time. He was barely at the house, and when he was, he had a girlfriend with him. But there had been times! When I loaded the dishes in the dishwasher after dinner, he hung around a few times. He even wiped down the table some of those times. There were grins. I got a wink once. A couple hugs. It seemed like something at the time, but thinking about it now, I realized how non-more-than-friends it had been. Until the summer. It changed after that.
Kevin came home from college for my high school graduation, and there’d been drinking. There’d been debauchery—between the two of us. Kissing. Groping. Touching. Remembering it now, I could feel it all over again. His hand on my breast, then inside my jeans. I’d pulled his shirt up and over. Ooh, that glorious chest of his. He’d hovered above me. I’d felt his back, running my hands up and down, and he had done the same. He’d done more than the same.
I slept with him.
Well—I still cringed thinking about it. No. I hadn’t actually slept with him. We had sex, and he was gone when I woke in the morning. Like, gone gone. He’d gone all the way back to his fraternity house that was four hours away.
It wasn’t weird, though. Nope. I hadn’t thought so. He called to apologize that night, saying he forgot about a commitment, but he didn’t want me to think there was any weirdness between us. See? No weirdness. Then there’d been other calls over the next couple months—like, four of them. (That was four more than normal.)
Of course, he usually called to talk to his mom, but there was chit-chat with me as well. How are you? How’s your summer? He’d tease me about whether I had a boyfriend or not. I teased him back about girls while my stomach did flip-flops, hoping there’d be no one serious. Based on what he’d told me, there hadn’t been anyone.
Face it, Stoltz. You thought you were that girl.
I did. I really did, and I realized now how stupid I’d been.
And I was stupid for coming to this party. That was it. I needed to go.
There were people everywhere once I got back upstairs, and as I swung around I heard, “Whoa. Settle, girl.”
My elbow had made contact with someone, and as I looked to see who my victim was, my e
yes first landed on a very muscled and defined arm. And the tattoos. Holy crap, the tattoos! They covered the entire arm.
I kept staring. I shouldn’t have, but I couldn’t help it. The bicep bulged a bit, and as it did, a snake tattoo moved with it, giving the illusion that there was actually a real snake on the arm.
“Something wrong with you?”
My gaze jerked up, away from the snake and right into a pair of startlingly dark (and gorgeous) eyes. They were fixed on me, bearing a mix of irritation and confusion.
“What?” He asked what was wrong with you. I shook my head. “No, sorry.” I’d hit him. “I didn’t see you there, and I was trying to leave.”
The irritation faded, and his eyes crinkled up, along with the right corner of his mouth. “I figured with the whole hitting thing.” He paused a moment. “You’re leaving?”
I nodded. “I don’t know anyone here.”
He looked behind me. “Didn’t you come up from the basement? You don’t know anyone down there?”
“I got lost,” I said quickly. A blush was working its way up my neck. “Are you in this fraternity?”
His mouth pressed together. “Unfortunately. Why?”
Kevin loved being an Alpha Mu brother. He’d been so proud when he announced his pledge was accepted. His father was an Alpha Mu, too. Why this guy didn’t seem happy about it was lost on me. Kevin had only talked about how supportive the Alpha Mu family was of its brothers and the strength of their national network.
“I was wondering if you knew where the door was.”
He seemed to relax. His shoulders lowered a bit and that snake moved again as his bicep bulged out, then flattened. He gestured behind me.
“Take the first right and follow it through. It’ll take you out the side door. You’ll want to avoid the living room. The guys are trying to get girls to play naked beer pong, and—” His eyes moved down and back. “—no offense, but you’re an easy target.”
I was what? I drew to my full height and prepared a scathing remark…and he turned to leave. He took two steps and the group behind him had swallowed him up. He was gone.
I slipped out the side door, begrudgingly grateful to the asshole because no one was there. As I walked past the living room from the outside, a loud cheer spilled out, just as he’d warned me.
“We got some boobies!” That was met with more cheering, more laughter.
I was on the sidewalk when I heard another shout. “She’s in there! She’s with Matthews.”
I picked up my pace and stepped away from the house. I could see a guy being pushed back from the front door when I rounded the corner. Two guys held his arms as they moved him down the steps, toward the sidewalk.
I stopped underneath a tree where they couldn’t see me. Matthews? Was he talking about Kevin?
The door behind them opened, and one yelled over his shoulder, “Get Caden. This is his brother.”
Whoever was coming out turned around and went back in without shutting the door.
“And shut that damn door!”
The door closed with a bang.
“No.” The guy they were pushing away from the house put on the brakes and twisted to evade their holds. “I’m going in there to get my girlfriend! I don’t care what my brother says.”
“Don’t, Marcus.” The first guy got in front of him.
Marcus puffed up. His nostrils flared. “Don’t tell me don’t. She’s my girl, and Matthews is a piece of shit.”
I shifted closer to the tree so I could hear better.
“No maybe. Look, let me go in the side door. No one will see me. My brother doesn’t have to know. I’ll go in, find Maggie, and we’ll leave. I promise. No fighting. I swear.”
The first guy snorted, folding his massive arms over his equally massive chest. His legs stood apart in a bouncer’s stance, like he was ready to go against an angry crowd. He shook his head slowly. “We can’t do that, and you know it.”
“Your brother is probably coming out here anyways,” Silent Muscle added, speaking for the first time.
Marcus gave a frustrated growl, and his hands clenched into fists for a moment. The fraternity guys held their ground. I had a feeling this wasn’t their first time keeping an angry boyfriend outside.
The door opened, and a familiar voice said, “What is going on out here?”
The two fraternity brothers moved aside, letting the newcomer step forward. As he came into the light I could see it was the asshole, snake tattoo guy who “helped” me inside.
“Caden.” Marcus stepped toward him. “Let me go in and get Maggie. That’s all I want.”
“Right.” Caden/Asshole grunted. “Because you’re not going to beat the shit out of him at all.”
“Kevin’s a piece of shit, but I wouldn’t.”
So it was Kevin they were talking about. That girl had a boyfriend.
“I want to rearrange his face, but I won’t. I know the tough spot that’d put you in.” Marcus added, “I swear.”
The door opened again behind them. A new guy stepped out. “Kevin’s coming.”
A girl’s voice carried from inside the house. “Something’s going on outside. What’s going on out there?”
Caden stepped around the new guy and pulled the door shut. “When Matthews comes out, close that fucking door.”
“Yes, sir, Caden. I will.”
“Business like this doesn’t spill to outsiders.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I’ll keep guard better. I promise.”
To prove his point, when the door opened once more, Kevin appeared and the guy shut the door behind him almost as savagely as Caden had. He looked at Caden with a slight smile and nod as if to say, I got it. See?
Caden shook his head and turned to my stepbrother. “What’s going on?”
Kevin regarded Marcus, who had his hands back into fists. He was barely holding himself back.
“Matthews is here now,” Caden said to his brother. “You can state your problem.”
Marcus snorted. “Are you kidding me? Maggie’s snuck out by now, probably the same way I would’ve snuck in.”
A thought entered my mind, and I turned. There, just coming out the side door I had come from, was the girl Kevin had been kissing in the basement. She stopped when she saw me. Panic flooded her face, but then she took off, heading the opposite direction down the sidewalk, and she wasn’t quiet about it.
Oh no. I knew what was going to happen, and I braced myself.
Marcus flew around the side of the house, stopping at the sight of me. He frowned, then focused behind me. I looked too, but she was gone.
“Who are you?” Marcus asked.
I prepared for the question that would follow. Have you seen my girlfriend? But when I looked back, the rest of the guys were standing behind him.
Kevin stepped toward me, his eyebrows bunched together. “Summer?”
I gulped and found myself looking beyond his shoulder to Caden, who was glaring at me, pinning me to the spot.
I gave a half-hearted wave. “Hey…everyone.”
“Summer?” Kevin said.
Caden frowned as he stepped up beside him. He turned to look between us. “You two know each other?”
I opened my mouth, but Kevin said hastily, “She’s my sister.”
“Stepsister,” I clarified.
“Stepsister.” Kevin turned so he was closer to me than Caden.
The two were almost squaring off, their sides to me, and for one really weird and tense moment, no one said a word. I glanced between them. Caden was taller by a few inches. Both were gorgeous, but in different ways. While Kevin had the dashing good looks, blonde locks and pretty eyelashes, Caden just looked badass. He had a pretty face too with chiseled cheekbones, but his dark hair, tattooed arms and no-nonsense demeanor gave him an air of authority. He was more muscled than Kevin, who was lean, but something had me guessing that Cad
en could out-fight and out-run my stepbrother.
I’d always had Kevin on a pedestal, and for the first time, he looked less than. He now stood against a guy who seemed more male in almost every way—except being a smooth-talker with the ladies. But no. I shook those thoughts away. They didn’t make sense. Kevin was… I frowned, guilt flaring up inside of me. No matter my hurt at seeing Kevin kissing another girl, he was family, right?
Raising my chin, I moved next to him. I stared back at Caden, showing my support for my stepbrother. “I actually came to surprise him, but changed my mind. He was on the phone downstairs. That’s why I left.”
Marcus exhaled a loud breath, stepping back from the group.
I ignored that, and I tried to ignore the sudden shift in the suspicion Caden had been sending Kevin’s way. It landed right on me, and I gulped, feeling the full force of it. The guy was smart.