Anti stepbrother, p.15
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       Anti-Stepbrother, p.15
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           Tijan

  Good grief. What was his type? “She was beautiful.”

  He raked a hand through his hair. The snake bulged, winking at me. “Why are you stuck on that? Looks aren’t everything.”

  I snorted. “That’s not what I’ve been told.”

  “By who?”

  “By society. Guys like boobs and ass, and lips, and a body, and a face. Guys like gorgeous girls. Don’t act like what I’m saying isn’t true.”

  “It is, but sometimes the hotter the girl, the crazier she is. Trust me. That girl is not my type. I don’t go for the crazies.” He thought about it and added, “Unless I just want a screw, but even then.” He cringed. “Bad idea.” He nodded at me. “What are you doing here? I thought you’d be making up with your stepbrother lover?”

  Stepbrother lover. I sighed. Two words I hated to hear now.

  My hands began to shake again, so I put the can down and tucked them around the pillow. “About that…”

  “You don’t have to.”

  I looked at him. He’d been joking before, but his last words were soft. I gulped. Soft and gentle, and I could feel them wrapping their hold around my heart. When had he woven this magic over me? I hadn’t realized, or maybe I hadn’t wanted to admit it.

  “What do you mean?” I asked.

  “I’d already guessed, remember?”

  “When you found out I had feelings for him?”

  I suddenly felt warm, holding his gaze. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “I figured something happened to make you fall for him. I doubted it was because of his personality.”

  My lips twitched at that. “You’re not mad?”

  “I was furious last night. It was all I could do not to go back and beat the shit out of him. Again.”

  “Is that why you were so quiet going home?”

  He nodded. “I’m sorry for that.”

  “For being quiet?”

  “For attacking your family.”

  He sounded so sincere. I looked down at the pillow on my lap, my hands wrapped so tightly around it, and let out a deep breath. “He’s not family. He never was.”

  “But you wanted him to be?”

  I wanted him to be something else for me. “His mom loved me when mine died. I think no matter what happens between him and me, I’ll always feel something for him, just because of his mom. Sheila’s a good person.”

  “Then what happened with him?”

  I shrugged. “Ha. I don’t know. His parents got divorced before we moved in, obviously, but no one never talked about it. Ever. Kevin was always with a girlfriend the one year we lived together.” I remembered when they helped me move into my dorm. “Kevin showed up to help me move in, but he didn’t really help. He took off. Things were chilly between him and my dad. I don’t think my dad likes him much.”

  “Your dad’s smart.”

  “What do you mean?”

  Caden clapped his hands together and rubbed them back and forth. “Your stepson always has a girlfriend around. He’s obviously sexually active. You’ve got a gorgeous daughter, and you’re bringing her into the same house with that guy. That’s like bringing your most beloved creation into a lion’s den. I’d be worried too. Hell, I would’ve put cameras in that kid’s room. If he touches my daughter, all bets are off. Someone’s losing a dick.”

  …gorgeous daughter… He called me gorgeous. I couldn’t…

  “You think I’m gorgeous?”

  Caden frowned. “Do you not look in a mirror?”

  Caden thought I was beautiful. “You think I’m hot stuff?” I must’ve been glowing.

  “Summer, you shouldn’t need me to tell you you’re beautiful.”

  “Says who?”

  He laughed again. “Guys must’ve told you. Right?”

  I shook my head. “I dated a few guys in high school. One was president of the debate team. The other was b-string on the junior varsity baseball team. The last was a summer fling when I joined 4-H. I did a lot of baking that summer.” None of them had told me I was pretty. “One said I was cute, but that was it.”

  “Then they’re all idiots.”

  Tingles spread through me, warming me all the way to my toes. An excited buzz started low in my stomach. “Thank you.”

  His eyebrows pinched together. “For what?”

  “For making me feel good.”

  An emotion I didn’t know, one I hadn’t seen in someone other than maybe my father, passed in his eyes. “Well, it’s the truth. I’m not blowing smoke up your ass.”

  “I’m hot stuff, remember?”

  He sighed, standing. “You’re going to make me call you that all the time now, aren’t you?”

  “I’d settle for Hot Tits.” I glanced down at mine. “Maybe the positive reinforcement will help them grow.”

  “Okay, Hot Tits.” He held his hand out to me. “Come on.”

  “Where are we going?” I put my hand in his, and he pulled me to my feet.

  “I got roped into saying I’d help put those flamingos in people’s yards. You can keep me company.”

  I glanced out the window, my hand still in his. “It’s getting dark out.”

  “That’s the point.” He looked me up and down. “You’re going to have to change.”

  “What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?” I had on jeans and a grey sweater. I thought I was fashion forward today. Then I noticed him. He wore black, all black. “I have to dress like you?”

  “That’s the idea.”

  I had no idea what was going on, but Caden gave me a ride back to my dorm, holding my hand the entire time. I tried not to think about it, but friends didn’t hold hands. I was pretty sure that was a rule…or was it? I couldn’t imagine holding Avery’s hand, but then again, I couldn’t imagine Caden holding anyone except a girlfriend’s hand.

  He let go when I started to get out of the Land Rover. “Hold on.” He put it in park and turned the engine off.

  “What are you doing?”

  He gestured up to my room. “I’m going up with you.”

  “Why?” All the girls would want him. He was mine.

  “I have to go to the bathroom. We have to pick up the flamingos at Jill’s house, and I’ve been there before. She has seven roommates, and they always have friends over. I’ll take my chances in a girl’s dorm.” He followed me out, shutting his door. “You must have a guy’s bathroom in there, right?”

  “I guess.” I had no idea. My life was spent between my room, Avery’s room, classes, the lunch area, and Caden’s. The possibility of sneaking a guy into my room had eluded me, but it was still technically day hours, so Caden was allowed on my floor. As he followed me, I ignored how the clerk’s eyes got big, and how she watched us go past with hawk-like precision. I also ignored all the girls in the stairwell who got quiet, and how the reception was the same when we got to my floor. Some of the girls had their doors open, and when we walked past, the conversations stopped.

  I went to Avery’s room and knocked.

  She opened her door. “How’d it go with—Caden!” Her eyes got big too, just like the clerk’s. “What are you doing here?”

  “I know you sneak my brother up here. Where’s the bathroom for him?”

  “Shut up!” She looked up and down the hallway, then seemed to relax when she didn’t see anyone. I didn’t have the heart to tell her they were all listening, probably standing as close as they could to their open doors without being seen. She gestured all the way down the hallway to the back door by my room. “Take the stairs all the way to the basement. There’s a bathroom to your immediate left. Guys can be down there all the time, just not up here.”

  He started off, shooting her a look. “I know the rules. I dated someone in here my freshman year.”

  “You’re old. I didn’t know if the dementia would have kicked in yet.”

  He flipped her off, and then disappeared past my room and through the exit door to the back stairs.

  Once he was gone, Avery clamped o
nto my arm. “Holy shit. What’s Caden doing here?”

  She yanked me into her room, slamming the door.

  I held up my hands before she could pounce any further. “It’s nothing. We’re fine.”

  “Fine?” An eager grin started to show. “Like fine fine? Like we just screwed fine? Or—”

  “Like, we’re friends fine. He’s doing that flamingo thing tonight. I’m helping him.”

  “Really?” Her shoulders dropped, dejected.

  “I know. I thought you guys did the flamingo thing a long time ago.”

  “No.” She scratched behind her ear and laughed softly under her breath. “I didn’t mean the flamingo thing, and we did, but it was so popular that a second round is going tonight. A bunch of guys are supposed to flock the lawns. He must be helping Marcus. It’s his crew that’s in charge of it.” She paused, a glimmer of regret appearing. “I got excited. I’m sorry, Summer. I thought maybe him being here meant something else.”

  “Well, it doesn’t. He’s a friend.” A friend who held my hand and told me I was beautiful. I kept that to myself.

  She studied me, and a determined gleam appeared in her eyes. “Maybe he just needs more convincing?”

  She reached for my hair, but I backed toward the door. “I’m good. I don’t want a change my appearance.”

  “Come on. Just let me experiment.”

  “No. My hair is shiny. I don’t need to lose weight. I know my skin is clean and smooth. Other than having bigger boobs, I don’t want any other changes.”

  “I know. Your hair is gorgeous, long and thick. Those doe eyes don’t hurt either. Maybe he wants you to show more skin.” She began to reach for my shirt.

  I slapped her hands away, yanking the door open. “Hands to yourself, woman. I gotta change clothes anyway. I’ll be back.”

  “Summer!”

  “Can’t hear you,” I yelled over my shoulder, hurrying to my room. The once empty hallway was not empty anymore. My floormates had taken point, sitting down with textbooks, laptops, notebooks, and whatever else they needed for studying.

  I snorted as I opened my door.

  Studying, my ass.

  As I swapped my clothes, Caden texted that he was downstairs in the lobby waiting for me. I found him leaning against the front desk, talking to a girl and a guy. His back was to me when I came around the door, so his friends saw me first. The guy looked me up and down, and the girl gave me a side-eye. I didn’t care. I took that as a compliment.

  Maybe I was only going to be riding around in Caden’s Land Rover, maybe I was only helping him run an errand to help his brother out, and maybe I was just wearing black so what did it matter how I dressed? All those thoughts swirled in my head while I was changing, making me feel a little foolish. But Avery’s voice had been even louder, and the result was an outfit that got me some attention. Score.

  Their eyes really opened wide when I stepped forward, and Caden turned to me.

  I wasn’t wearing anything sexy or skimpy, but the combination looked killer. Even I had to admit it myself. Skin-tight black jeans, a black tank top, and a black leather jacket—Caden had never said what kind of black clothing was needed, so I improvised.

  His eyes darkened, and his hand jerked. Then he lingered on the leather jacket. “Really?”

  “Why not? You think you’re the only cool one around these parts?” I pulled it tight, knowing it’d emphasize my boobs a little more. “I’ve recently been told I’ve got hot tits.”

  Caden laughed, his hand coming to the small of my back.

  The girl noticed that too. Her mouth turned down in a pout.

  “Come on. Marcus just called. He’s getting worked up that we’re not there already.” Caden nodded to the other two. “I’ll see you guys later.”

  The guy fist bumped him saying, “What are you doing later tonight?” He indicated the girl with him. “Felicia and I were thinking of checking out a Mexican place in town. It’s not new, but it’s new to us.”

  “Yeah.” The girl moved in. “My sister told me about it. It’s one of those hidden gems. She goes there all the time now. Diego’s—that’s what it’s called.” She touched Caden’s arm. “You should come.”

  You. Not you guys.

  I had visions of yanking her hand off of him and stuffing it down her throat, but Caden stiffened and pulled away, saving me the trouble. His tone was noticeably chilly. “No, thank you.” His hand pulled me tighter against him. “We’ve got plans anyway.”

  I waited until we got in the Land Rover. “That’s your spot.”

  “I know.” His jaw clenched. “I get territorial over things I love.”

  A tingle went down my back.

  I reacted to the possessiveness in his voice, the knowledge that he’d protect a place or person no matter what. He was a damned live fairy tale, someone who’d love and care for you, who was capable of protecting you—that’s why my stomach was doing flips again.

  Not for any other reason. That’s what I told myself.

  I sighed, pressing my hands together. I sucked at lying, even to me.

  He glanced over with a smile. “You do have hot tits, by the way.”

  I preened. “Damn straight.”

  “Okay.” The leader stood on the bed of his truck and clapped his hands over his head. “Listen up, everyone.”

  No one was really listening, though they had dressed right. Everyone was all in black. A few guys wore ski masks, and others had black marks on their cheeks like football players. Personally, I didn’t understand the need for the black camouflage. Caden had explained that the cops had already been looped in on the operation. A few of the lawns getting flocked tonight actually belonged to cops, and anyway the whole blending-with-the-night effect didn’t work when you were carrying a bright neon-pink flamingo.

  Still, I couldn’t deny the little spark of excitement building in my stomach.

  We were all standing in some guy’s driveway, and as I looked around, I seemed to be the only girl. These guys meant business. I was in the middle of a real life Call of Duty operation.

  The leader began speaking, his voice booming. “This is going to happen with precision and professionalism. No lingering, loitering, acting like stupid shits, and definitely no joking around. We’re not ladies. This isn’t going to be run like a bunch of pansy-shopping, pink-nail-polish pussies. You got that?!”

  I frowned, tucking my nails inside my jacket.

  “Every vehicle’s been filled with birds. The driver should have a text with all the locations, and the number of birds for each target. Pull up, find the group of birds labeled for that house, and work together. Take one bird a trip, two if you can manage, and ram those suckers down in the grass. Hurry back to the truck and keep going until all the birds for that location are in the ground. Shotgun Sally is in charge of hanging the sign on the bird closest to the street. Once the sign is hung, get back in the truck, and move to the next target. NO TALKING! This mission is all radio silent. Communicate with signals, and if you don’t know the appropriate signals, just SHUT THE HELL UP! Okay? Now, go flock some fuckers!”

  Caden laughed under his breath.

  I tensed.

  The leader’s gaze snapped to us, but he lifted his head in greeting when he saw it was Caden. “All right, guys,” he said. “Get going.” He jumped off his truck.

  Caden tugged on my sleeve. “Let’s roll out.”

  I tried to hop out and help with the flamingos at the first house, but the guys moved too fast. A second vehicle had come with us to make things go as fast as possible. By the time I got one flamingo in the ground, Caden was at my side asking where the sign
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