Anti stepbrother, p.27
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       Anti-Stepbrother, p.27
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  edging backward.

  Marcus snorted, and everyone looked at him. “What? You guys don’t know?”

  Panic sliced through me, and I gritted my teeth. “You don’t know anything either.” My voice hitched to a higher note. “Because there’s nothing to know. We’re friends. That’s it.”

  Marcus gave me a confused look. “I know, but I was just going to say you’re good friends. That’s it.”

  I swallowed over a knot at the base of my throat.

  He shook his head, lifting his arm from Avery’s shoulders. “And you’re back to being weird. Avery, come get a drink with me.” He didn’t give her a chance to decide. His finger looped in her waistband and tugged her behind him.

  I yearned to follow them, but turned back to the group that had gathered.

  It wasn’t just Clarissa and her roommate now. There were other guys lingering, and one them shifted on his feet, scratching behind his ear.

  “There are a few of us who’d like to know if you’re, you know…” He raised his eyebrows.

  My mouth opened. I had no idea what that meant. “Huh?”

  Paige covered her mouth, her shoulders shaking. Clarissa hit me in the arm again. She leaned close and said into my ear, “He wants to know if you’re available.”




  My head jerked back. “What? No.” Shit. “I mean, I don’t know.” I shook my head. I had to go. I didn’t want to talk about this any more. “Where’s Caden? I need to find my bag.”

  The guy answered, but I wasn’t listening. I said a hurried, “I’ll be back,” and pushed my way through a crowd.

  The kitchen was full, and so was the living room. The amount of people hanging around had already doubled. I guess what Clarissa said was true—this was the party to be at.

  But as I kept searching the house, and failed to find Caden, I started to get aggravated.

  I walked through the top floors and all the bedrooms, then burst through the last door and slammed it shut behind me. I didn’t care whose room it was.

  Then I heard from the other side of the room: “You lost?”

  A sick shiver wound down my spine. “Excuse me?”

  The bathroom door opened, and a familiar shoe appeared first.

  It was Caden.

  I slumped to the floor in relief. I thought I was in a bedroom with a stranger, and who knew what that stranger would do. I stopped rambling. I was annoying myself.

  “Sorry. I thought you were someone else. You found our room.” He stopped, staring at me, a towel in his hands. “Are you upset?”

  Yes. I hugged my knees tighter. “No.”

  “Bullshit.” He bent down, grabbed my hand, and pulled me to standing. He led me to the bed and sat next to me. “Something happened?”


  “Tell me.”

  “No, really. Nothing happened.”

  “I told you no lies with me.”

  I sighed. Goddamn. He got me with that one, but the longer I sat there—feeling him next to me, hearing his concern—the more I forgot what upset me in the first place.

  Melting against his side, I murmured, “Am I staying with you tonight?”

  He rubbed my back. “I figured you would. That was the plan ahead of time.”

  I nodded, my neck muscles so tight. I wanted to ask about us, about earlier this morning, but fear weighed my tongue down. I was a coward.

  “What’s going on right now?” He leaned away a tiny bit. “Are you feeling weird about this morning?”

  Finally! My hands flew up. “Are you?”


  My hands came back down. “You aren’t?”

  “Why would I?”

  “Because…” Yeah, why? I mocked myself. “Because sex is a big deal. Sex between friends is an even bigger deal.”

  “I see.”

  I glanced at him, biting my lip. The mask was back on—the one he wore when he didn’t want me to read him. I never cared when he had it on if the situation involved someone else, but this was me. This was us. I didn’t want a damned mask between us.

  I asked, hoarsely, “You do?”

  What did that mean?

  “You regret this morning?” he asked.

  My insides screamed no, but my pride kept me from spilling. An anchor dropped to my stomach, and I could only feel it sinking farther and farther. I needed to make sure. One more time. “Do you?”


  “Are you sure?”

  He frowned at me, with hooded eyes. “If I was going to regret sleeping with you, I wouldn’t have done it. I’m not one of those guys that does dumb shit in the moment. For fuck’s sake, my brother’s life is a shell of what it should be because of one of those dumb moments.”

  Tears prickled at the corner of my eyes. I covered them, trying to hide the wetness, but I knew it was useless.

  Caden saw everything.

  Caden saw me.

  So I closed my eyes instead, as if that would do anything.

  “Hey.” He took my hands, gently. “What is this about? Tell me.”

  His thumb went to the side of my mouth and moved down, following my lip. I realized I was frowning. I tried to laugh, but it was useless. It came out sounding like half a gurgle and half a hiccup.

  Then I whispered, because it was driving me crazy, “What are we?”

  “What do you mean?”

  “You and me. What are we? What was this morning?”

  “You want to label it?”

  I held my tongue, wondering if I could go without knowing. I couldn’t. I nodded. “I guess. Is that a problem? I’ll go nuts not knowing. I just have to know about the expectations.”

  “Expectations?” His eyebrows shot up.

  “Yeah. Like, if I sleep here, are you going to sleep somewhere else, with someone…else?”

  “No. What? No.” He shook his head. “Is that what this is all about? You think I’m going to be with some other girl tonight?”

  “Well, when you put it like that, yes.” I jerked my head up and down. “Clarissa’s friend is gorgeous. She’s got all the guys eating out of her hand.”

  I looked at him, wondering with a sinking heart if he’d be one of those guys. Because I couldn’t take it, not at all, not even a little bit.

  “Hey.” He gentled his tone. “I thought you knew by now that I’m not that type of guy. Good God, I’m not Kevin. I don’t drink, party, and get laid. I used to. For an entire fucking year, and almost all four years of high school, that’s all I did. Then I got a phone call that my brother was in the hospital and his future was gone.”

  He squeezed my hand. “No one gets it. He looks the same. He sounds the same, but he’s not. He’s dead inside. That’s what brain injuries do to you. They strip a person of what makes them them, and leave them feeling pain in ways no one can understand. Colton will never get the future he wanted. He was on student council, track captain, football captain, basketball, he was on the newspaper—that kid wanted to run for president one day. He had everything planned.”

  He sighed and looked down. “Then there’s me and Marcus. I partied, did sports, got laid. That’s all. I didn’t want to be in some fraternity. I didn’t want any of this. And Marcus? He’s almost worse. He’s been racing cars since sophomore year. Still does. He and his friends, that’s where they go on the weekends.” He was losing steam. He closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. “You don’t know the half of it, Summer. Not even half, so no. If you think I’m the guy who’s making stupid decisions for the rest of my life, think again. I gotta live life for him now.”

  “Caden.” My chest had ripped in half. His hand plunged inside, and he’d taken hold of my heart. He had it in his hand.

  I touched his arm, no longer thinking. I half sat up as he turned to me. Maybe it was second-nature now. Maybe he’d read my mind, or maybe this was just what we were supposed to do, but he caught me as I moved toward him and guided me on to his lap, strad
dling him.

  I just wanted to take his hurt away.

  I knelt over him, not quite sitting down. Trailing a hand over his chest, I pushed him down on the bed. As I looked down at him, his hands went to my legs. His thumbs began to rub back and forth. My body was warming up.

  His eyes darkened, but he didn’t do anything. He watched me with those hooded and pain-lidded eyes. I touched the side of his face tenderly, and I held him in the palm of my hand.

  He closed his eyes and leaned into my hand. That gave me breath, and then I leaned down and found him.

  It was later when I remembered he hadn’t given me a label for us, but Caden had fallen asleep holding me to his chest. The music started downstairs, but I closed my eyes.

  Everything could wait.


  The yelling seemed to come from right outside our door, and I jerked upright, woken from deep sleep.

  “Fuck.” My heart pounded.

  Caden sat up next to me, skimming a hand down my back. “You okay?”


  My eyes rounded at the second chant. “Are they fucking kidding?!”

  Caden was off the bed in a flash. He padded across the room in sweats that hung deliciously low on his hips. I was horrified at the chant, but still able to appreciate the vision. His back was contoured perfectly. All muscles. All ridges. One glorious masterpiece.

  I’d almost forgotten the chant when Caden ripped open the door, blocking me from them, and yelled, “SHUT THE FUCK UP! This is not that kind of fraternity!”

  “Who made you boss—”

  Caden was out the door in a second, and I scrambled, knowing my barrier was gone. I rolled to my feet, the sheet wrapped around me, and glimpsed Caden shoving a guy against the wall, his hand on his throat.

  I grabbed my shirt and pants, slipping into the bathroom. Before the door closed behind me, I glanced over my shoulder.

  Marcus was standing there, his back to me. He’d taken his brother’s position, and I almost sagged in relief. Dressing quickly, I stepped back out into the room just as someone explained, “Getting your ass beat like that is what makes him boss.”

  “We don’t do things like that here,” a guy grumbled. “This is our turf. We don’t beat people up.”

  “No, you’re right,” the first voice retorted. “You’re the ones who get beat up.”

  I edged closer to the door and touched Marcus’s back to let him know I was there. He sucked in a breath, then relaxed when he saw it was me. I peeked under his arm to see what was going on.

  A group of guys stood in the hallway. There were too many to count, but Caden was in the middle, looking down at the floor.

  It didn’t take a genius to figure out the wiseass chanter was on the floor.

  I leaned closer, trying to get a better view.

  Marcus shifted, closing off the small window I’d gotten.

  “Hey,” I whispered.

  “Don’t. They know a girl’s in here. Don’t let them see it’s you.”

  “You’re doing me a solid, huh?”

  “I’m doing my brother a solid.” Marcus smirked. “He’s the one who gave you a solid.”

  I rolled my eyes. “Fuck you.” Then grimaced. “And don’t even say it.”

  He chuckled. “You make it so easy, Stoltz. By the way, your friend is hot. Her friend too.”

  I scowled. “You’re with Avery.”

  “I know. I’m just warning you that your friends are going to get laid tonight.” His gaze moved to the bed. “Before five minutes ago, I would’ve picked you as the type who’d cockblock your friends because of the impurity of it.”

  “What kind of girl do you think I am?” I rethought that one. “Don’t answer that. I don’t want to know.”

  Caden’s voice sounded again, rising over the grumbling, “I don’t know who started that damned chant, but it’s all done now. One recording. That’s all you need, and both our chapters could get shut down.”

  “It’s not like we’re actually doing it—”

  “I DON’T CARE!” Caden roared back. “My father is a legacy, just like most of yours. My brother would give anything to be an Alpha Mu. I won’t let a dumbass chant ruin all that. You’re better than that, so act better. Now get the fuck away from my room.”



  “Who’s the chick in there?”

  A couple guys snickered, adding, “Yeah. We want to know so we don’t make a move on your territory.”

  “Fuck off.”

  A few more chuckled, and I heard them moving aside. Marcus stepped back into me, purposefully herding me farther into the room. Caden appeared. I could see him above his brother, and his eyes found mine. A hand slapped him on the shoulder. “That’s why you’re going to be president next year. Good job, Caden.”

  As soon as he was clear of the door, Marcus shut it and leaned against it, folding his arms over his chest. His looked from Caden to me, his smirk deepening. “This is new and exciting.”

  “Fuck off too,” Caden said.

  Marcus laughed. “I’m hoping. You already got yours tonight. I still need to get mine. I should feel blessed. It’s like the Fraternity God has bestowed his wisdom to me.”

  Caden flexed his hand. “I just got warmed up. My hand’s not even hurting.”

  I thought Marcus had been joking, but their exchange had gone sour real quick. I stepped between them, clearing my throat. “Okay, I don’t know what’s going on, but go to your separate corners.” I pointed at Marcus. “Go find Avery. Treat her right. Have fun tonight.”

  His nostrils flared, and I braced myself for a second round. I was ready, but he didn’t say anything. I didn’t think I was the only one surprised, though I didn’t look at Caden.

  Marcus jerked around, flinging open the door and stalking out. “Right. Fine.”

  The hallway was empty this time.

  I shut the door and looked back. “What was that about?”

  “Colton,” Caden grunted, going to his bag. He changed his pants, pulling on jeans and then a shirt. He tugged it on, shoving his head through the hole before grabbing socks and shoes. The last thing he picked up was a baseball cap.

  I’d never seen him wear one before. When he tugged it down, it covered his eyes, leaving only that strong jaw, perfectly kissable lips, and cheekbones that had me salivating. It also gave him an angry look, and I stifled an internal sigh. That just made him even hotter.


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