Anti stepbrother, p.11
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       Anti-Stepbrother, p.11
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           Tijan

  My mind whirled. “Didn’t you get in a fight because of Maggie?”

  “What?”

  “Wait. Back up. What happened yesterday? I saw you in the parking lot. Then you took off, and the next time I saw you, you were kissing Maggie behind a palm tree at the country club.”

  “You were there?”

  I nodded. No thanks to you. “Caden and Marcus were talking, and I was on my way to tell you to stop, you were going to get caught, but then—” I caught myself. I’d been about to tell him Avery stopped me. “I got distracted. I had to find the bathroom.”

  “What then?”

  He remained uncharacteristically still.

  Alarms were going off in my head. I had to tread lightly, but I didn’t know why. “I, uh, ended up just getting a ride home.”

  “That was it?”

  “Uh-huh.” I blinked a few times. “Why? Did something happen at the country club?”

  He regarded me for another beat, then he tossed a pair of socks into the box. “You could say that again. Caden ratted us out. My own fraternity brother. Can you believe that? What a piece of shit.”

  “Yeah,” I remarked. “Your fraternity brother told his real brother…that sucks.”

  Kevin collapsed in his desk chair. He bent forward to rest his elbows on his knees and cradled his head. “I know, but whatever. It happened. Yes, Maggie and I were making out, and yes, we should’ve been more discreet, but Caden Banks is a huge asshole.”

  I almost couldn’t take it. I had to actually sit on my hands. Kevin was a dipshit. My sarcasm went over his head. Support, Summer. Support. You’re here to support him, whether you agree with what he’s doing or not. S-u-p-p-o-r-t.

  I had to clamp down on my tongue to keep from saying something snotty. I was not in a supportive mood.

  I was trying, though. “Well, I mean, now you don’t have to hide anymore. Right?”

  “Yeah.” He looked up, and his face relaxed into a grin. “You’re right. That is one good thing. And after tonight, I won’t have to live with these dickwads anymore.”

  I eyed the box. “Where are you going to live?”

  “Maggie’s parents. She said I could move in there. She’s been alternating between the house and her dorm room, but since I’ll be there, she’ll move back full time.” He perked up. “It’s a pretty big place, too. I’ve been there a few times. It’ll be nice, you know? A break from school political bullshit.”

  “Yeah.” I had no other words. I couldn’t wrap my head around what was going on.

  He had been sleeping with someone else’s girlfriend. Her boyfriend was the real brother to one of his fraternity brothers, and Kevin was acting like the victim. My bullshit meter was off the charts, probably along with my blood pressure.

  So all I said was, “Yeah.”

  He frowned, a line forming in the middle of his forehead. “Thank you.”

  “For what?”

  He motioned around his room. “For coming here. For checking on me.” His eyes softened, matching his smile and tone. “For caring.”

  My heart flip-flopped. There he was. There was the Kevin I’d crushed on for years and fallen in love with, the one I’d slept with three and a half months ago. I instantly scowled. Brother. He was my stepbrother. Enough with the annoying feelings, and whatever was underneath them.

  “Oh, no problem.” My voice was raspy. I could feel the big black hole my feelings for him were covering up. Why was I so scared to feel whatever that was? “I wanted to be sure you were okay after I heard about the fight.”

  “That was bullshit too. Marcus caught us yesterday, and there was a whole huge scene, but no fighting. Maggie went home with him. I didn’t hear anything about it again until late last night. I was in my room, minding my own business, when Marcus burst into the house. Maggie dumped him, and he couldn’t take it that I got his girl out from underneath him.”

  “Did he hit you?”

  “No. He just shoved me into the wall and was yelling. That was it. Everything was fine and calming down when Caden showed up. As soon as he stepped inside, I don’t know what happened, but Marcus went crazy. He was yelling things about a horse or something, and those two looked ready to battle it out. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Those two were duking it out—”

  “Hitting each other?”

  “—yelling, and then suddenly Caden turned and popped me in the mouth. I didn’t do anything. I was just standing here, watching. That was it.”

  Kevin began talking faster, louder. “I fought back. I got him right in the face. I’m sure that dick had to go to the hospital. I mean, I would’ve, if I’d been hit as hard as I got him.”

  I was pretty sure his bruises turned another shade while he was talking.

  “And these bastards, guys who are supposed to be my brothers, took his side.” He shoved the chair back, surging to his feet and pointing to his chest. “They told me to get out of the room. Me. Me! He coldcocked me, and I was supposed to leave the room.”

  Feeling some unease, I shifted on the bed, sliding my hands out from under my legs. I rested them next to me, pressing them into the cover.

  “What happened after that?” My mouth was dry.

  He flung a hand up, his middle finger extended, to point at the door. “I came in here and called Maggie. She picked me up, and I stayed with her last night. This is the first time I’ve been back. I don’t even know if the guys know I’m down here.” He looked me up and down. “Did they tell you I was down here?”

  “The guy I asked didn’t know.”

  He rolled his eyes, cursing under his breath. “Figures. They’re always going to take Caden’s side. It’s like he walks on water around these parts. I’m sick of it. Hey!” An idea came to him. His eyes suddenly focused right on me. “Are you busy this weekend?”

  I glanced away before answering. “Why?”

  “The guys are going to the football game. I’m going to grab the rest of my stuff when they’re gone. I could use all the help I can get.”

  I was at a loss for words.

  “Really?” That was it. That was all I could manage.

  No. Wait. I added, “Huh.”

  “Maggie said she’d ask some of her friends, and I’ll call our parents. I’m sure your dad would come up and help.” He inspected the box and then opened his second closet door. More boxes were stacked in there. “I don’t have that much. Desk, bed, and dresser all stay here.” He kicked at one of the boxes. “I’ll need more of these. Maybe I won’t need your dad after all, but then again, you’re all girls. You won’t be able to lift these. You think you could call your dad for me?”

  My eyebrows arched, and I had to swallow a ball of disbelief. “You want me to call and have him come four hours to carry some boxes?”

  “It’d give you two time to bond. I’m sure he’d want to take you out to dinner.”

  My mouth fell open. I couldn’t even.

  “He could stay over,” Kevin continued. “He’d have to get a hotel room. I wouldn’t feel comfortable asking Maggie if he could stay at her parents’ house. That wouldn’t be right.”

  He was—I didn’t know what he was. Considerate, sensitive, rational—those were all things he was not. My anger grew more and more as he kept talking. I had to get out of here. If I didn’t, I was going to blow up, and I didn’t want to say something I’d regret later.

  I stood and gestured to the door. “I’m going to head out. I just wanted to check on you. I see you’re still alive.”

  I meant to leave after that, but he caught me. He touched my arm, pulled me in for a hug. I stiffened, but he didn’t seem to mind. He buried his head in the crook of my neck.

  “Thank you. I mean it. Thank you for coming. It means a lot.” He let go, leaning back but still holding me in his arms.

  My heart would’ve soared not long ago.

  He smiled down at me. “I’ve taken you for granted. I’m sorry, Summer. I really am.”

  Standing there,
in his arms again, and with those words carrying a note of sincerity—my heart still did another somersault, and I hated myself.

  I stepped back until his hands fell to his side. “I’ll see you later, Kevin.”

  He waved. “See you. Don’t forget to call your dad. Thanks!”

  He shouted the last word at me as I hurried down the hall. Once through the basement door, I leaned back against it.

  I closed my eyes and cursed. Fucking hell.

  “So you do have feelings for him?”

  I recognized Caden’s voice, and my heart froze.

  Caden looked delicious.

  That was my first thought as I stood there, unsure what to say. Jerking away from the basement door, I tried to speak, but my jaw had ceased working for some reason.

  He had a beer in hand, his jeans riding low on his hips. His tattoos peeked out from under his shirt. It was nothing except a simple white T-shirt, but holy goodness—it was a sight, hugging his body. I could see every stomach muscle he had. They bulged, stretched, and shifted as he lifted that beer to his lips.

  I licked my lips, and I even knew I’d licked my lips. Goddamn.

  Then I clued in to one simple fact: the annoying Kevin flutters were gone.

  Caden laughed bitterly, moving around me. “I thought you would at least lie, but no. Gotta hand it to you, Stoltz. You’re honest to a fault.” He moved past me and glanced down with a half-smirk. “Thanks for that.”

  “Wait.” I turned with him, following him down the hallway and out a back door. “What do you mean?”

  We crossed the backyard, and I followed Caden inside the shed. It was like a mini apartment. A coat rack hung to my left with a bathroom right in front of me. The first part of the room was a living room, with a sectional couch in front of a large projector screen. The kitchen was against the back of the shed, and as I stood there, taking everything in, Caden set his beer down on a counter and ducked behind the bathroom into a bedroom. He left the door open as he reached up to pull his shirt off.

  My heart jolted.

  Holy mother of—desire like I’d never felt before rushed over me. It started low and exploded. I should’ve looked away, but all restraint was gone. I found myself tracing every part of him, even the muscles leading down into his jeans, which, as he finished tugging a shirt down, dipped even lower.

  Primal lust rippled in me, taking a dizzying hold, and when Caden lifted his head, his eyes finding me, he saw it. I knew he did. He paused, his eyes darkening in response. Then that damned smirk was back, and he came toward me.

  My heart leaped to my throat.

  He was going to touch me…nope. He didn’t. He went right past me, his arm grazing mine as he asked, his breath teasing my ear, “Want a beer?”

  Then he was gone, moving a safe distance away.

  The refrigerator opened behind me. I didn’t move. For a second, I stood with my back to him and tried to get control of myself. I raked my hands through my hair and silently cursed. My hands were trembling.

  I’d always been in control around Kevin. Always. I might’ve been delusional, seeing things that weren’t there and convincing myself he was half in love with me too, but the entire time, I’d had total and complete control.

  I saw Caden with his shirt off, and I damn near wet my pants. Literally.

  I drew in a ragged breath.

  “I know I’m hot, but don’t get ahead of yourself.”

  This was so embarrassing, but I forced myself to turn around. He held a beer out for me, his smirk too suggestive and cocky for his own good.

  He added, “It’s called the rebound. It’s a knee-jerk response.”

  I took the beer. It was cold. I wrapped both my hands around it and was half tempted to rub it over my face. “What are you talking about?”

  “I don’t know what Matthews did to you, but it’s obvious he broke your heart.”

  The lust was fading…kind of…it was on a low simmer now. “On a scale from one to ten, where ten is being blatantly billboard kind of obvious, where do you place me?”

  He studied me for a beat. “An eight.”

  I sucked in my breath. “Are you serious?”

  He sat at one end of his couch and kicked his feet up on the coffee table. I took the other end, sitting sideways so I faced him.

  “Just because of the first night. If I hadn’t seen you that night, I’d never know.”

  “Really?” I could breathe easier.

  “You’re attracted to me because I hurt the person who hurt you.”

  I gave him a dubious look.

  “Or not?” His eyes narrowed, thoughtfully.

  “Have you seen yourself?” I blurted.

  He’d been lifting his beer for a drink. His hand froze in mid-air and his eyes widened a fraction before he shook his head. The smirk morphed into a smile. “Why are you wasting yourself on your stepbrother?”

  “What?”

  He put his beer down and leaned forward, moving his feet to the floor. “No bullshit. I took you to Diego’s last night. You made me laugh when I normally would’ve stayed angry and screwed some girl I didn’t give a shit about. So no bullshit between us now. Got it?”

  I bobbed my head. “Got it.” I grabbed the top of the couch and held on, unsure what was coming at me.

  “Your stepbrother is a dick. Why do you have feelings for him?”

  I had no answer for him. I just knew I was really afraid of letting those feelings go, though at the same time I desperately wanted to. I couldn’t explain any of it. But there was a different something else going on with Caden and me, something underneath the layer of words and moments of honesty between us. I didn’t know what that was either, but it held me suspended. I didn’t breathe. I didn’t formulate a word or a thought. I was just feeling, and I felt myself pulled toward him.

  His eyes darkened again, almost smoldering, but he didn’t close the distance. His head remained tilted toward mine as he waited for my answer.

  “Um…” I tried to remember the question.

  His voice softened. “Why do you have feelings for him?”

  Because you can’t control who you love. And I have to, or— I stopped myself. I couldn’t finish that thought. I lifted a shoulder, holding it against my cheek for some reason, like it was keeping me grounded.

  “Sometimes you can’t choose.” I was too lost to even try talking about whatever else was happening.

  Caden’s gaze left me, and so did whatever storm had been going on. I felt released somehow.

  He murmured, almost to himself, “I suppose.”

  My teeth sunk into my lip, and then I remembered my reason for coming in the first place. Scanning his face and hands again, I noted, “You don’t have any bruises on you.”

  “Like your stepbrother could touch me.”

  “He said you probably had to go to the hospital.”

  His lip curled into a slow smile. “That’s funny.”

  “So you didn’t? You’re okay, I mean?”

  He glanced to me, his eyes warming. “I’m okay.”

  “What happened?”

  “Kevin walked into a fight that wasn’t his, and he made it his. He started mouthing off.”

  “You hit him?”

  He nodded, looking down. “He walked into my fist. A few times.” He sighed. “And I’d been wanting to hit him for a really long time, since last year when he hurt a friend of mine.”

  My ears perked up. “A friend of yours?”

  “I think she was the second girlfriend? He had quite a few last year.”

 
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