Anti stepbrother, p.35
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       Anti-Stepbrother, p.35
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           Tijan

  I didn’t know what to say, so I rested my head on his shoulder. It felt right, being there on that bench with him. We were both waiting for someone we loved to come.

  “Summer?”

  Kevin stood a few feet away, holding a girl’s hand. He frowned at me, and my gaze lifted over his shoulder. Caden was coming back. I could see him weaving through the crowd, his eyes on me. A group of waiting customers moved aside for him, and he was here. His eyes found mine. It was time. I started to stand, and then the patio and crowds of people started swimming around. Stars began blinking at me, and everything went dark.

  I fainted.

  I heard beeping when I woke, then saw the hospital gown. There were tubes going into my arm, and an ID bracelet around my wrist. The next things I noticed were in this order: the putrid smell of anxiety and sickness, that my body ached everywhere, and that there was a hand holding on to mine.

  I looked up and could hear heaven’s doors opening, along with a choir singing alleluia. Caden sat next to me, his eyes closed, and his head resting on my bedrail.

  I almost didn’t want to move. He looked too beautiful to wake. I just wanted to sit and enjoy, but holy fuck my throat was killing me.

  “Agh!” I croaked out, suddenly feeling nauseous.

  Caden lifted his head, his eyes opening. Oh yes. So dark and chocolatey and yummy. It helped with some of the nausea. Some. Not all. My stomach still rumbled, and I pressed a hand to it.

  “What happened?” Wait. I remembered. “I passed out?”

  “Yeah.” He stared at me intently, before leaning forward and brushing my hair from my forehead. His touch was so tender. “You haven’t been eating. You haven’t been drinking enough fluids. You haven’t been sleeping enough, and according to Kevin, you’re barely going to classes.” His lips formed a thin, disapproving line. “What were you thinking? I had no idea you were this bad. You’re not taking care of yourself.”

  I beamed at him. More of my nausea was going away. “I’ve missed you too.”

  He softened, sitting back and shaking his head. “I about lost it when you fainted at the restaurant. Colton caught you enough that you landed on the bench. Then you almost rolled and hit the floor.”

  “But you caught me?”

  “Your stepbrother caught you.” He laughed. “Never thought I’d be grateful to that ass, but I am. You almost hit your head.”

  “I thought fainting was all graceful and feminine.”

  “It’s not. It’s stupid and dangerous.” He leaned close again, gripping my hand tightly. “Especially when it could’ve been avoided.” He breathed out, the lines around his mouth relaxing. “Fuck, Summer. You could’ve been seriously hurt. Why haven’t you been taking care of yourself?”

  It was my turn to swear. “Are you fucking kidding?”

  “Because of me?” He looked pained. “I didn’t mean to do this to you. I didn’t…it killed me to be away from you. I thought I was doing the right thing. I really did.”

  “You were.” I squeezed his hand. “I needed time, and I didn’t waste it. I’m with my mom every day. I can feel her, and I know I won’t shove those feelings back down. I don’t want to. I love her so much, and I miss her so much. It was unbearable before. I found a way to cope, by ignoring it, but not anymore. I need to remember now. I don’t feel whole if I don’t, so I’m good. I really am.” I smiled. “And just to be clear here, you do want to continue having sex with me?”

  He barked out a laugh, tracing a hand over my forehead again. He cupped the side of my face. “I want more than that. I want it all. You. Your laugh.” He pressed a kiss to the side of my mouth. “Your random idiocy that I find hilarious.” A kiss to the other side. “Your kindness.” He moved down to my throat. “Your strength.” The other side of my throat.

  I was buzzing here. Totally buzzing.

  His hand slid down, lingering on my chest between my breasts.

  I tugged the nightgown down. I needed to do what I could to help him cop a feel.

  He leaned over and pressed a kiss where his hand was.

  My blood was more than buzzing. It was almost boiling.

  “Your love, even when it’s not deserved,” he added, He lifted his head, his eyes finding mine. “I want you.” His eyes grew serious as he hovered above me. “I love you, completely and whole-heartedly. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

  “I am?”

  He didn’t answer. His next kiss landed on my lips, and I sunk into it. My hands cupped his face, and even if he wanted to pull back, I wasn’t having it. This was my moment. This was my man. I wasn’t letting him go any time soon. I kept kissing him, and kissing him, and kissing him.

  My heart pumped so fast; all the blood was rushing around. All sorts of tingles, sensations, and melting feelings coursed through my body. Even my toes curled.

  And I still kissed him.

  I never wanted to stop.

  I was packing when Kevin knocked on my dorm room. “Hey.”

  To give him credit, he looked scared. His eyes kept skirting around the room, only able to look at me for a second. I straightened from my bed. My suitcase was open, and I set down the tank top I was folding, putting it on top of the other shirts for my spring break trip.

  “Hey,” I said back.

  He still hesitated to come in, his hand coming to rest on the doorframe. He gestured inside. “Uh, can I come in? I mean, I don’t want to bother you.”

  This was the talk. We hadn’t had one since the disastrous conversation before he got kicked out of the fraternity. I was surprised at how easy it had been to avoid him, especially considering we’d both been home for holiday break, and he’d come to the hospital after I fainted.

  There it had been a quick “How are you? Good? Good. I’ll leave you alone, then.” And he’d run off. I knew he had a new girlfriend. I’d seen her with him at the restaurant. I was glad he wasn’t waiting for me—if he’d ever been actually serious about that—but it was bittersweet too. Avery told me the girl was nice, really nice, and I knew my stepbrother would fuck it up. I had no doubt.

  I waved to the couch. “Have a seat. It’s time we had this talk, right?”

  He took two steps, but paused and glanced at me. “Yeah. I suppose so.”

  I sat at the desk, putting us at opposite corners of the room. I folded my hands over the back of the chair. “You told Caden what happened when I fainted at the restaurant.” I’d never thanked him for that.

  He kicked out his legs, then rested his elbows on his knees instead. “You fainted, and he looked ready to punch me. I was preserving my life.” He cracked a grin. “I think he blamed me for you passing out. Had to make sure he knew the real reason: him.”

  “It wasn’t just him.” It had been me. Mom. “You know, I’m stuck right now. I have to thank you for telling him, but you’re a piece of work. You know?”

  “I’m sorry for my part in fucking with you and Caden.”

  I lifted an eyebrow.

  “And for fucking with you in general,” he amended. “I knew you liked me in high school, and I liked that.” He extended a hand toward me. “You’re gorgeous, and you have no clue. You’re funny. Witty. Feisty. And you’re just a good person. Girls like you don’t come along every day. I’m lucky enough to have found Kiara. She’s one of those girls, but I don’t think I’ll find another.”

  “Then don’t fuck with her.”

  “I’m not planning on it.”

  “I mean it, Kevin. Don’t cheat on her.”

  “I won’t. I promise. The whole lesson thing we did? It didn’t last long, but it actually helped.”

  “Were you really trying to change then? Or was it a con?”

  He gave me a rueful look, laughing lightly. He held his hands up. “It was both. It started out as an act. I was planning on getting with you, but then you showed up at my room to find out if I’d left Maggie for you. I did, but it was obvious you weren’t into me, so I ran with it.”

 
I groaned. “Kevin.”

  He scratched his head. “I just wanted to spend time with you. I figured I could get you under my spell again.”

  “Caden told me some of what you said to him while I was out of it, having my breakdown.” This one hurt. “Is it true? Did no one ask me out in high school because of you? They all thought you’d steal me away from them?”

  “You had boyfriends.”

  “Yeah.” I snorted. “Three very lame boyfriends. They don’t count. They weren’t real relationships.”

  “I’m sorry for that too. And yes, every guy knew not to mess with you because I could snatch you up. I kinda let that be known.”

  I wanted to chuck a shoe at him. I looked around, maybe I could throw something else, something that wouldn’t do as much damage. I wanted to do damage, though. I wanted to do a whole lot of damage.

  I said instead, “You’re a piece of shit.”

  “I know.” He held his hands up again in surrender. “Some of the stuff I said to you, I wasn’t actually lying. I wasn’t ready for a girl like you. And I didn’t know how to handle it. I’m a selfish piece of work. I’m sleazy. I’m a manipulating manwhore. But I swear, you helped me want to change. You wouldn’t talk to me at home over the holiday, and this is the first time I’ve worked up the courage to approach you. I know I messed up.” He pressed a hand to his chest. “I lost my shot with you. That affected me. It’s because of you that I’m even with Kiara. If I’d met her back in November or December, I never would’ve looked twice at her. She’s a good girl. I can’t be with good girls. I ruin them.”

  I wanted to growl. “I already warned you not to hurt her.”

  “I’m not going to. If anything happened to her…” His smile softened. “Caden could’ve lost you. I saw the look on his face when you fainted. That guy really loves you.”

  I frowned. “I was dehydrated. That was it. They gave me fluids for half a day and I was fine.”

  “I’m not talking physically. He almost lost you. Caden’s lucky to have you.”

  “Oh.” Well, that made me feel good. “Thank you.”

  “Sooo, are you going to keep hating me at family stuff? We have summer coming up soon. Things will be awkward if we’re both home and you want to kill me.”

  “I never wanted to kill you. More like maim, rip out your guts, castrate you.” I lifted a shoulder. “You couldn’t hurt if you were buried. But if your guts had been pulled out and then put back in with some really bad stitching? Yeah. That would’ve been perfect.”

  “Yeah.” He echoed, a hard glint in his eyes. “That’s what I meant.”

  “Just so we’re on the same page.”

  “And you have absolutely no feelings for me?”

  I didn’t think twice. I grabbed the shoe next to my suitcase and threw it at him.

  He ducked, and it hit the wall behind him. “Okay, okay.” He stood, his hands covering his face. “I’ll get out of here.” He paused at the door, turning back. “It’s been three years, but I’m excited to actually have a sister now. For real. No bullshit.”

  I scowled. “Let’s just try casual acquaintance first. I still don’t fully trust you.”

  “And you shouldn’t, but you will. I’ll prove myself to you. I can be someone you can think of as family.” He waved as he disappeared down the hall.

  The jury was still out, but after this talk, my need to rip out his guts might’ve lessened. Just a small amount. I had to stop and appreciate this moment, because right here, it hit me how thankful I was. I came to college to be with my stepbrother, but I fell in love with the anti-stepbrother instead. Kevin was an ideal, a Band-Aid over a wound, but not Caden. He was the good, the bad, and the stuff in between. He’d make me feel all of it. He was everything.

  He was my everything.

  Avery appeared in my doorway a second later. She jerked a thumb over her shoulder. “Was that Kevin?”

  “He wanted to apologize for being a slimeball.”

  “He’s going to need more than one apology for that.”

  “Yeah.” I tossed a pair of sandals on the bed. “How many pairs of shoes did you pack?”

  She picked up the sandals and placed them in the suitcase, sitting on my bed. “Uh, I packed…twelve different outfits and four pairs of sandals. I’ll probably end up buying clothes and shoes there. You can never have enough, especially when we’re going to Key West. I can’t wait for tomorrow. It’ll be amazing.”

  Marcus, Avery, Colton, Caden, and I were going on spring break together. There were rumors that Diego might fly down to join us. Caden wasn’t sure about that, he tended to be selfish. He liked to keep Diego for himself, but since I took Colt to Diego’s bar one time, there’d been no turning back. Marcus and Avery came the next time, and I was pretty certain that Marcus developed a guy crush on the bar’s owner. Diego wasn’t having it, though. Diego had a new bromance going, and it was with Colton. He declared it the weekend before. I wasn’t sure who was more miffed, Caden or Marcus. Then again, Colton looked a bit wary himself.

  All in all, I was hoping Diego would come.

  “I know it’s kinda sad that their parents are getting a divorce, but yay for their dad relocating down south and having a house for us,” she said. “That’s a major perk.”

  “For us, since we’re the girlfriends.”

  She shared a smile with me. “Oh yeah. And I know I’ve not said it yet, but thank you for passing out in February. Ever since then, Marcus has been the most attentive and loving boyfriend ever. Apparently you scared the shit out of him. He said he never wanted me to do that.” She glanced down to her hands. “He said Caden could’ve lost you, and he never wanted to lose me.”

  I laughed. “I’m glad. You guys made it official the next week too.” I stood back, gazing down at my suitcase. “I’m done. I think my bag is over the weight limit.”

  She picked up one of the bikinis. “Caden will tear this off of you in two seconds.”

  “Here’s hoping.”

  And the next night, after we flew to Key West and spent the evening dancing and drinking, he did just that.

  THE END

  www.tijansbooks.com

  Always, always, always a huge HUGE thank you to the readers, and the ladies in the fan group. You guys make me smile daily! It helps so so so much, especially when I’m tired and need an extra burst of motivation. And on that note, I have to thank the admins, especially the ladies who post daily to keep the group running. I notice and I’m beyond thankful. Thank you to Debra Anastasia and Cami, both of you cheered me on so many times while I was writing this book. And The Rock Stars of Romance, for helping me with cover reveal, release blitz, excerpt reveal, and blog tour! You guys are amazing for all that you do.

  Agh! There’s so many others. My editor was amazing, especially being adaptable with me and my craziness. Lol! And to Kara and Chris, and Elaine!

  I had so much fun writing this book. Summer was a different character for me, and there were so many times when I was like, “No one is going to like this book.” But I kept writing because I hoped someone would enjoy her craziness as much as me! So for anyone who did, THANK YOU!

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  For more information about brain injuries, go to https://www.biausa.org/ or call 1-800-444-6443

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