Anti stepbrother, p.26
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       Anti-Stepbrother, p.26
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           Tijan

  “You are?”

  I glanced down and saw the concern in her eyes. Sinking down next to her, my knees folded, and I hugged them against my chest. “It’s been a while. Plus, she’s going to meet everyone too. That’s nerve wracking.”

  “Your other friend is coming too, isn’t she?”

  “I think so. She’s flying in tonight.” Or was it Saturday morning? Then I remembered I was supposed to let Clarissa know when we were rolling in. “I’ll be right back.”

  I was hurrying away, my phone in hand, when Caden called my name.

  I turned around. “Yeah?”

  “Come on. We’re heading out.” He was heading toward the Land Rover.

  “I gotta call—”

  “Call on the way.”

  Well, okay then. I started back, and Marcus cut across my path, heading for his truck. Our eyes caught and held. He slowed, but not enough to come to a complete stop.

  As we passed each other, he said, “Thanks.”

  I nodded. “No problem.”

  “Huh?”

  Avery stood next to me, also going toward the cars.

  I would’ve freaked, because my smoothing skills are nonexistent, but Marcus rolled his eyes and pointed to his truck. “You riding with me or what?”

  “I didn’t know if you wanted me to.”

  “Yeah.” He said it like she should’ve known from the beginning.

  She perked up and rushed away, calling over her shoulder, “Let me grab my bag quick. Be right there.”

  The weird exchange between Marcus and me was effectively forgotten.

  He turned around to walk backwards. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’d suck if you were ever interrogated.”

  I bobbed my head up and down. “Yep. Probably why my high school years were boring. No one wanted me to be an accomplice for anything.”

  He grunted, chuckling before rotating around and heading to his truck.

  “What was that about?” Caden asked as I climbed in.

  Shitters. “Hmm?”

  “Don’t even try to lie to me.”

  I shut the door and grimaced. From the pot to the fire. “If you think hard enough, you’ll be able to figure it out.”

  “Why don’t you tell me?”

  “Because I don’t want to be a narc. I made a promise.”

  “To keep a secret from me?”

  “To not rat out your brother.”

  “From me?” His eyes darkened.

  “Please, Caden. Just think about it so I don’t have to feel like a crappy promise-keeper.”

  The beginning of the caravan started to pull out of the parking lot, and Caden put the Land Rover in drive, falling in line. He cast me a look from the side of his eye. “I don’t like idea of you having a secret with my brother.”

  “That’s why I’m telling you to think about it.”

  And after a second of silence, he said, “He was at the hospital, wasn’t he?”

  I didn’t say anything.

  “The coffee cup on the windowsill. That was his.”

  “I can neither confirm nor deny.”

  He swore. “Okay, okay. You’re not a rat. Congratulations, but don’t keep a secret from me again.”

  I stared at him, momentarily shocked. He’d said that with an underlying vehemence that made my stomach twist.

  “Yeah,” I said. “No problem.”

  “Promise.” He cut his eyes to mine. “It’s important to me.”

  My mouth fell dry. “I promise.”

  He nodded, his shoulders relaxing. “It just occurred to me—what are you like when you travel?”

  I beamed at him, turning on his radio. “Eighties music, baby. Don’t tell me you didn’t light the fire.”

  He groaned. “This is going to be one long ride.”

  But he was smiling, and that made me smile too.

  I fell asleep.

  Blame it on my sex life, which is what I told Caden when he woke me. He’d rolled his eyes in response, but I saw the small grin. We hadn’t talked about what happened between us. We’d fallen asleep afterward, and then it had been a mad rush since we woke up. He’d driven me back to finish packing while he did the same.

  I’d paused right before getting out of his Land Rover to go into the dorm. I wasn’t sure what to do. Kiss him? Casual wave? Wink with a sexy suggestion for later? I’d had no clue, so I didn’t do anything. Caden had reached over, but he’d only rubbed my arm.

  So. Okay. That was more than he’d done before, less than what we’d done two hours earlier, but okay. And that was it. We hadn’t talked about it since, and I was now sitting in his Land Rover at Dubrois College, watching as the guys took everything inside a house.

  Correction.

  I watched as Caden took things inside. There were others around, but I couldn’t take my eyes off him.

  I bit my lip as he threw two overstuffed bags over his shoulder. His shirt lifted two inches, and I saw the stomach I had reveled in touching earlier. I saw his tattoos too, all the delicious ones that continued past where those jeans began. He shifted, and his jeans slipped down enough to reveal the beginning of the V. I didn’t know the technical term, and I didn’t care. He was breathtaking, and he’d been mine.

  A warm sensation flooded me.

  I couldn’t hold back a smile, and I sat there, enjoying the moment.

  I slept with Caden. I was going to sleep with him again that night—or I assumed.

  I frowned. Maybe I wasn’t. Maybe he had other plans. But no, he’d been upset before when he found out I tried to stay in Clarissa’s room.

  Now I wasn’t certain.

  “Hey!”

  I screamed, jerking away from the door.

  It was Clarissa. Same dyed-blond hair with dark roots showing. Same perfect white teeth. Same cute little friend I’d been missing.

  “Agh!” I threw open the door and lunged for her. “I missed you so much!”

  She laughed, hugging me back. “Oh my gosh. This is hot, isn’t it?!” She twisted around, watching all the guys moving back and forth. Some had clothes and bedding, but they were mainly taking booze and food, the two most important essentials for the weekend.

  Seeing the excitement in Clarissa’s eyes, I realized how accustomed I’d become to being around the fraternity. It was normal for me. I’d forgotten the awed feeling I experienced when I first became friends with Caden.

  “Yeah.”

  “Asswipe.” She punched me in the arm. “You were supposed to tell me when you were coming in. We found out from some of the guys. They came up to us in our 10:30 this morning. I felt like an idiot, not knowing when my own best friend was showing up.”

  “I fell asleep on the way here.”

  She shook her head, rolling her eyes. “I’ll forgive you if you get us a prime room to stay in.”

  “Uh…”

  I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t have any pull, and it felt weird asking Caden to do that, but Marcus was heading toward us.

  When he reached for the back door of Caden’s Land Rover, he saw me looking at him. “What?”

  “You owe me.”

  An instant scowl appeared. “I distracted Avery before. We’re even.”

  “No way. That’s on you. You still owe me.”

  Clarissa looked back and forth between us, her eyes wide. I could only imagine what she was thinking. Marcus was big and muscular, and rough around the edges. He was kind of a dick, too. He was exactly her fantasy, and I knew she’d be squealing for him as soon as he walked away.

  “Come on, Summer. I’m going to carry your bags in. That’s payment right there.”

  I folded my arms over my chest. “My friends want to stay in the house. They’ll need a room.”

  “That’s the favor?” He looked skeptical, scanning Clarissa up and down. “You’re the best friend?”

  “She’s the reason we came in the first place.”

  “Fucking hell. Ask Caden.”

  “I’m a
sking you.”

  He tilted his head to the side. “Why aren’t you asking Caden?”

  Because it felt weird. I mirrored his movement, tilting my head to the side as well. “Because you’re the one who owes me.”

  “You’re serious?”

  “As a bumblebee.”

  He cursed, opening the back door with more oomph than he needed. “You’re so fucking weird. You’re cool one second, then off the wall the next.” He grabbed for my bag, and Caden’s.

  “Are you going to do it?” I pressed.

  “I’ll figure something out, yeah.” He nodded stiffly at Clarissa. “Nice to meet you.”

  “You too,” she said breathlessly. As he left, she moved to watch him go, bumping into me. “Summer. Please tell me that’s not the guy.”

  “It’s not.”

  Marcus was on the sidewalk and moving up the front steps when Avery ran over to him, said something, and darted in front of him. He shifted his hold on the bags to free one hand, smacking her on the butt as she disappeared into the house.

  I added, dryly, “But he is for her.”

  “Do we hate her?”

  I could tell Clarissa wanted to hate her. “She’s my friend.”

  “Oh.”

  “Sorry.”

  She took in a deep breath, her smile reinforced, and linked elbows with me. “Then let’s get in there and meet a different guy. It’s prime picking for us, or me. Me. It’s prime picking for me.”

  We went inside, and I introduced her to the guys I knew. When Avery came over, I knew I didn’t have to worry about any hating. Clarissa melted as soon as Avery hugged her, saying how much she felt she knew her already through me. The rest of Avery’s friends came over too, inviting Clarissa to stay in one of the rooms they’d already sequestered before the guys could claim them.

  “Not that all of us are even going to be using these rooms.” Avery laughed as Clarissa staked her claim on one of the beds. It was a double for her roommate too, and Avery asked, “When’s she coming over?”

  “As soon as her last class ends. I kept my Friday afternoons free on purpose, and I came over when I heard the Alpha Mu visitors had arrived.”

  “Heard?” Avery questioned.

  “The Alpha Mu frat is a big deal here. They throw the best parties, so when word spread that another chapter was coming in, yeah—word got around. The party tonight is going to be insane.”

  A flicker of worry sparked in me. Maybe I should check to see if our bedroom had a lock on it.

  “Where are you staying, Summer?”

  The question came from Clarissa, but I could feel Avery’s keen interest too. I shrugged, feeling itchy all over, all the sudden. “I don’t know. I’ll figure it out.”

  “Are you planning on asking for directions and my dorm key later tonight?”

  “What?” Avery asked.

  “Yeah.” Clarissa pointed to me. “This one here called me a couple weeks ago and asked if she could stay at our room if it got too crowded here. I told her she was nuts. Everyone is hoping to get in this party. Why wouldn’t you stay? You know?”

  Avery laughed, but it sounded a bit forced. “Oh yeah. I know.”

  I relaxed. We were laughing. It was all good. They were getting along, and then Avery stopped. “Are you staying with Caden tonight?”

  We weren’t laughing anymore.

  The itching doubled, and I tried scratching my ear against my shoulder. “Uh. What?”

  “Caden. You rode with him. You said he got upset before. Are you sleeping with him?”

  “You mean is that just the place I’m going to crash?”

  Her eyes held mine, and when I glanced away, I felt a gotcha vibe coming from her.

  “You know what I mean,” she said.

  “Yes. I might crash there, but I don’t know. We haven’t talked.’

  “Who’s Caden? The guy outside said his name too.”

  “You should go ask him.”

  “Is he the guy?” Clarissa leaned closer, whispering.

  “The guy?” Avery’s attention snapped back to my high school friend. “What do you mean?”

  “There’s a guy—”

  I clamped a hand on Clarissa’s arm. “My friend. That’s what she means. I told her about my weird friendship with Caden. She thinks it’s more than that.”

  Avery frowned. “It’s not a weird friendship.” Her tone softened. “You’re not weird, Summer. You just think you are.”

  Now I frowned. What did she mean by that?

  “There’s Paige!” Clarissa burst out, waving. “Paige, over here.”

  A girl with short hair, stunning green eyes, and a slim figure darted around a group and came into the room. She was wearing a black sarong-like skirt with a cropped green top. It hung loosely from her breasts, lightly falling over her stomach, and she’d topped it with a tiny black leather jacket. She was punk, edgy, and beautiful, and I was instantly jealous.

  Avery skimmed her up and down, and I caught a slight curling of her top lip. I wasn’t the only one.

  Then Clarissa did the introductions, and as much as I hated it, Paige was nice. I liked her. She had a sweet southern drawl, which was a magnet for the guys. Suddenly Marcus came over to welcome our friends. His buddies were with, and more of Caden’s fraternity brothers materialized. They all wanted to “make sure we were okay.”

  Avery snorted at that excuse, and after the fifth guy wanted to be the polite welcome wagon for Paige, she muttered under her breath, “What are we? Chopped liver?”

  Marcus put an arm around her shoulders. “No, you’re just spoken for.”

  That did the trick. Her cheeks grew pink, and she softened all over again.

  “What about you, Summer?”

  The question came from Paige, but I was having a deja vu moment. “What?”

  “Do you have a boyfriend? Clarissa said there was a guy coming.”

  Avery held back a smile, as did Clarissa.

  Marcus grimaced. “Don’t say it. I don’t want to know any details about you and my brother.”

  “So there is a guy.” Clarissa gave me a sly look, pursing her lips together. “Something more than a friendship?”

  I was uncomfortable. “Um. You know. We’re friends.” I began
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