Anti stepbrother, p.22
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       Anti-Stepbrother, p.22
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           Tijan

  might be full. If I needed to, could I stay with you guys in your dorm room?”

  “Are you serious?”

  “Yeah, but only if there’s room—”

  “We were hoping to crash at the house. It’s a big deal here that Alpha Mu is opening up their second house for you guys. It’s given us major cred.”

  I cursed. “Really?” I couldn’t hold back my disappointment. “I mean, yay! That’s awesome.”

  “Kevin’s in that fraternity. Is he coming? Is he the guy? You never answered me.”

  “What guy?”

  “Don’t play dumb.”

  “I’m not.” I was.

  “I know there’s a guy thing going on. I just haven’t figured out if it’s Kevin or not. Is it him?”

  “No. That ship sailed, then kinda returned to dock. He’s in a different marina now.”

  “I’m sorry.”

  She meant it. “I’m fine with it.”

  “But I’m assuming the guy is coming?”

  “Can I plead the fifth?”

  “Oh, Sum. I’m sorry.”

  Pesky tears. I kept blinking. I did not want them to fall.

  “Asswipe, let’s go,” I heard in the background on her end. Clarissa said something back, but it was muffled.

  “Look, I have to go,” she said, coming back on. “We have something happening, and my usually amazing roommate is being bossy right now.”

  “I heard that,” a voice piped up again.

  Clarissa pulled away from the phone. “I meant for you to hear that. I’m comforting one of my best friends here.”

  There was another exchange, but it was muffled again, and then she came back on the phone. “I’ll talk to you later? I know there are people from your end coordinating with the Alpha Mu chapter here, but keep us in the loop too, will you? Let us know what day you’re coming: Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or even Sunday. I don’t care when. I just want to know, and you can sleep here every single night if you want to.”

  A wave of gratitude came over me. “Thank you, Clarissa.”

  “Did you want me to call back later tonight? We could talk about the guy.”

  “No. I don’t even want to talk about the guy.”

  “So there is a guy! I got that out of you at least.”

  My cheeks were hurting, stretched tight from my stupid grin. “Love you, Clarissa.”

  We’d just hung up when I heard, “You okay?”

  I hadn’t heard my door opening, but there stood Avery with a concerned frown on her face. She gestured to my phone. “I couldn’t help but overhear some of that. What’s going on?”

  I felt raw and exposed, and I was done feeling that way. “Stupid boy stuff.”

  She came in, shutting the door behind her, and crossed to sit on my bed. “Kevin?”

  I started to shake my head, but stopped. “I’m not trying to shut you out, but I just don’t want to talk about it.”

  “No, that’s cool, but…” She looked down to her lap.

  “What?” I turned completely around in my desk chair, gripping the back of it.

  “He broke up with Maggie.”

  Caden had called it. Kevin had laid out the breadcrumbs for me to follow.

  “Really?”

  “He moved out, and he’s at the fraternity again.”

  “You’ve talked to Maggie?”

  She nodded, watching me carefully. “She said he had feelings for a different girl.”

  Oh. My. God.

  It was happening.

  The evidence was in front of me, all of it.

  Kevin really did have feelings for me. He’d ended things first with Maggie. As if he was going to magically appear, I glanced at my door. I could almost feel him on the other side of it. I frowned.

  “She actually asked me to ask you for a favor,” Avery continued.

  “Who?”

  “Maggie.”

  “Maggie what?”

  “Maggie asked me to ask you a favor.”

  My mind was spinning. “Huh?”

  Avery cocked her head to the side. “You okay?”

  “Yeah. Why?”

  “You seem a little more out of it than normal.”

  I gave her a rueful grin. “Caden said something like that to me on Friday. I must need to rein in my weirdness.”

  She was still giving me a weird look. “Maybe a little. You’re having a hard time following this conversation.”

  I nodded, and then refocused. “Okay. What’s the favor?”

  “She wants you to find out who the girl is.”

  “Say what?”

  “Kevin always has another girl on standby. If he ended things with Maggie, there’s got to be a new girl already. He didn’t even make it six months this time. Can you go ask him who it is?”

  Cue the awkwardness. It was me, I was pretty sure, but I needed to make sure, or I needed to make sure he knew I wasn’t an option. The real reason I was going? I wanted to see Caden. A weekend was too long.

  “I’ll go.”

  “You will?” Avery’s eyes went wide.

  I grinned. “I mean, yeah, I’ll go and ask him. I don’t think he’ll tell me.”

  She snorted. “You won’t have to ask. She’ll probably be in his room already.”

  “Yeah. Maybe.” Then I asked, “So we’re pro-Maggie now? I mean, you’re pro-Maggie again?”

  Her hands had been on her knees, but she pulled them back at my question. She lifted a shoulder. “I don’t know what I am, but she’s bawling in my room, and I couldn’t kick her out.”

  I reached forward, laying my hand over hers. “You’re a real friend. You know that, right?”

  “Or I’m a stupid friend.” She lifted up gloomy eyes. “She’s going to go after Marcus again. I can feel it.”

  “But that won’t matter, because he’s with you, right?” When she said nothing, I added, “I can see him wanting her to want him, but just so he can enjoy it when he rejects her.” I sat back, my hand leaving hers. “I don’t think you need to worry.”

  I hoped I was right.

  I stood outside the basement door and flashbacks from my first night at North River—the first time I ever came to Kevin’s fraternity house—washed over me. I wasn’t sure why. Maybe the uncertainty? Because I didn’t know what I would find on the other side of that door? Either way, the nerves I felt that night hit me again.

  I smoothed my hands down my pants. There was no need for them to be sweaty. I just needed to get this over. “My love life sucks,” I muttered under my breath.

  “It does if you’re heading down there.”

  I recognized that voice. Of course. I had the best luck in the world. But then again—I looked at Marcus. “Why are you here?”

  He smirked, but his eyes weren’t amused. “I’m here to see Caden. I thought I’d walk through the house, and I saw you.” His face went blank. “I want to state a few facts for you.”

  He wanted to fight.

  Okay. I turned fully to face him and put my hands in my pockets. I needed to get comfortable to hear this, and then it would be my turn. I had a few thoughts to share as well.

  “Fine,” I told him. “You have the floor.” I raised my finger. “For now.”

  The corner of his mouth lifted. “You are a smartass.”

  “Your brother hasn’t told you that?”

  “He did. I didn’t believe him. I just thought you were kind of crazy. I’ve been thinking he’s lost his nuts since taking up with you, but I don’t know. I like the spine. You should show it more often.”

  I snorted. “As opposed to the times I haven’t? You mean all those times we’ve hung out since bowling? All those times you just glared at me in class? I’ve missed my chance to stand up and roar?”

  “You don’t have to be sarcastic.”

  “Oh contraire. Your statement just now called for it. Literally.”

  He rolled his eyes. “Avery’s been a little nervous around you. I thought she was nuts too.”
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  I showed him my teeth. “Razor sharp.” Wait. Why was Avery nervous around me?

  He grunted. My little quips and one-liners weren’t working on him. He’d looked at me with disdain when he first spoke, and that disdain was still there.

  He motioned to the closed basement door. “Why are you going down there?”

  “Because I heard Kevin and Maggie broke up. I was going to comfort him.”

  “You’re lying.”

  “What? You’re here to comfort him too?”

  His lip twitched. “Okay, you’re a little funny. I’ll give you that.”

  I deadpanned, “My life is complete.”

  His smile vanished again. “You’re here for the same reason I am.”

  “Didn’t think you and Kevin were that close. I must’ve missed the bonding time while he was screwing your girlfriend, who you’re not going to start dating again. Right?” I scowled. “Because that’d be a really shitty thing to do to Avery.”

  Now I had his full attention. He studied me, reassessing. “You’re here because of Avery?”

  “Who do you think Maggie went to for comfort?” I shook my head, making a tsking sound. “Not me. That’s for sure.”

  “Maggie went to Avery?” He laughed, raking his hand over his head. “What a piece of work.”

  Had Maggie called him too, sending him to Kevin’s to discover the new girl?

  “It’s a little weird to have an ex-girlfriend call you when the boyfriend she left you for breaks up with her, right? That’s weird.” Unless… “Unless she called because she wants to get back with you.”

  A light flared in his eyes. It highlighted his guilt before he masked it.

  I shifted on my feet, crossing my arms over my chest. “Huh.”

  “Huh?” His lip curled in a sneer. “What does that mean?”

  I gestured to the door with my head. “I could change his mind.”

  His nostrils flared. “You’re lying.”

  I was. “I know how to manipulate Kevin.” I totally didn’t. “I could make him want to go back to Maggie.” I stepped toward him. “What do you think of that?”

  I searched his eyes intently. If he wanted Maggie, there’d be a reaction—I saw it. A brief glimmer of irritation flared before he caught himself again.

  I stepped back. “I see.”

  “You don’t see anything.”

  I pointed at his face. “No, I did. I saw the guilt in your eyes. You’re here to make sure Kevin really is over with Maggie. Aren’t you?” My nose wrinkled. “You’re an asshole.” I shook my head. “Is every guy an asshole?”

  “I’m not here to make sure he’s done with Maggie.”

  “Then what are you doing here?”

  “I didn’t even know they broke up. I was fucking with you.”

  “What?” I stiffened.

  He gestured to the door. “I saw you from the sidewalk. You usually go around the house to see my brother, but you didn’t this time. You went in through the front door, so I thought maybe you were doing something else. Like I said before, you’re changing my brother, and I don’t like that. I wanted to know what you were doing.”

  “Were you following me?” My mouth hung open.

  “No!” He looked disgusted. “I was telling the truth. I really am here to see Caden. I was getting out of my car when you walked past me on the sidewalk. That’s it.”

  Okay. That made more sense, but— “You’re protecting Caden?” Bombshell number one. “From me?” Bombshell number two.

  “Don’t fuck with him, okay?”

  “What are you talking about?”

  “You know what I’m talking about.”

  I honestly didn’t. “Huh?”

  He jerked his head to the door. “Go see your bitch brother, but don’t go from his bed to my brother’s. Got it?”

  “Caden told you?”

  He didn’t answer. He just shook his head, shoved his hands in his pockets, and glared one last time before heading down the hallway that led out the back door.

  I gulped. Everything was swimming inside of me. Did Caden like me? Is that what Marcus was implying? But I was the one who had feelings for Caden. He was going to hurt me, not the other way around.

  I lifted my hand to open the basement door, but let it fall back to my side. I had to know what Marcus meant. Before I could turn, going to find Caden, the basement door swung open.

  It hit me in the forehead as I stepped back.

  “Ouch!” My hand pressed to my head.

  “Oh, hey!” Kevin squeezed through the door. “You were coming to see me?”

  Worst. Timing. Ever.

  I scowled. “Who is it?”

  “What?”

  I didn’t have time for this. “The new girl. Who is it? Is it me?”

  He had a bright smile on his face, but the more questions I asked, the more it dimmed.

  His Adam’s apple bobbed up and down. “What are you talking about?”

  “You never break up with one girl unless you have another one in mind. You dumped Maggie, so who’s the new girl? I just want to know.”

  “Um…”

  I rolled my eyes. “For the record, I don’t want it to be me.”

  “You don’t?” He looked pained, the lines around his mouth growing tight. “Well, it’s not you.”

  “It’s not?”

  “No.” He still looked pained.

  “So who is it?”

  He lifted a shoulder. “No one.”

  “No one?” I motioned to my mouth. “This, right here. You don’t see it, but it’s on the floor.”

  “Come on.” He glanced to the ceiling for a brief second. “I’m
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