Anti stepbrother, p.8
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       Anti-Stepbrother, p.8
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           Tijan

  I’d been quiet.

  I’d been boring.

  That was all in high school. I snuck a glance at Caden. I was saying things I normally wouldn’t. I was feeling things I normally wouldn’t. This guy was an asshole at first. I hadn’t liked him, but now he was different. It had been Kevin for so long, and now suddenly someone else was getting inside of me.

  “I’m sorry.”

  He took an exit and turned into a ritzy neighborhood. “Sorry for what?”

  “For being crazy.”

  A small laugh left him. “You’re a bit much. I have no idea what’s going to come out of your mouth, and I’m usually prepared when it comes to chicks.”

  My lip twisted as I held back a grin. “Chicks?”

  “Yeah.” He took a right, slowing down, but he looked at me for a second. “Why? Was that wrong to say?”

  “No. I don’t know why that’s funny to me.”

  He didn’t reply, but nodded toward the street. “This is the neighborhood Jill said Marcus is in. Keep an eye out. I don’t know if your people are with them or not.”

  The houses were extravagant. Some had gated driveways. Some had fountains on their front lawns. Some were completely hidden behind a wall. My dad was the general manager at a large company in the town where we lived, and Kevin’s mom was a nurse. I knew both were well-off, and we’d moved into Sheila’s home because it was the bigger one. More space. We’d had our own pool and an extra floor of guest rooms, but it wasn’t anything like these houses. These weren’t houses. They were mansions.

  I regarded Caden. “Are you from here?”

  “What?”

  I pointed to the houses. “The girl back there implied you’d know this area. Is your house one of these?”

  He started to laugh, but stopped himself. “You’re serious?”

  “Yeah.”

  He straightened in his seat and shook his head. “I live with your stepbrother. And you were at Marcus’ house. We don’t live up here.”

  “Why’d she imply you would know this neighborhood?”

  “My brother knows this neighborhood. His girlfriend lives up here.”

  “Maggie?”

  He nodded. “She’s from North River. She still lives with her parents.”

  “Oh.”

  “You mentioned a friend before. Was that the same girl you were at Marcus’ party with? Avery?”

  I nodded. “She said she went to high school with Maggie. She must be from North River too.”

  He took another right, turning into a cul-de-sac, and slowed to point out a large white-bricked house. “That’s Maggie’s. I thought they might come here to hang out for a bit.”

  There was no gate or wall, so we were able to see the house. The only car parked in the driveway was a silver Prius. “That’s not hers?”

  “I don’t think so, but it doesn’t matter. Marcus’ truck isn’t here.” He leaned forward to get a better look, then sat back and maneuvered his Land Rover in a circle, heading back out. “I’ll keep looking.”

  “Maggie’s with him, right?”

  “Yeah.”

  “His phone is off, but is hers? You could call her.”

  He raised an eyebrow. “You have her phone number?”

  “You don’t have your brother’s girlfriend’s phone number?”

  The corner of his mouth lifted up in a half smirk. “Do you?”

  Well. I squared my shoulders. Fuck. He got me with that one.

  “Stepbrother,” I mumbled, but I shut up after that. We drove for a few more blocks in silence, but we weren’t finding them. The few blocks stretched into a few miles, and it wasn’t long before we had searched the entire neighborhood. Caden paused at a stoplight. There was one more street to check, but he hit the turn signal. He was going to go left, which led back to school.

  “Is it important?”

  “What?” He didn’t spare me a glance as he waited for the light to turn green.

  “Whatever you need to find your brother about. Is it important?”

  He grunted. “Fuck yeah, or I wouldn’t be driving around searching for his ass.” He eyed me. “Why? Don’t tell me you actually do have Maggie’s phone number?”

  I flushed, shooting him a dark look. “No, and I’m sticking with my story.” I’d been holding my phone in my hands the entire time, and it had grown heavier and heavier the longer we looked. “But I could call Avery and ask for Maggie’s number.”

  “Fuck, girl. Why wasn’t that option A?”

  There was no heat to his words, and I smiled as I dialed the number Avery had made me program into my phone the night we went to Marcus’ party. Caden turned off the blinker and when the light turned green, he went straight, pulling into a gas station. The phone was still ringing when he got out to fill up with gas.

  “Hey.” Avery answered. Loud music and laughter almost drowned her out, but she yelled, “What happened to you? We just ran into your stepbrother, and you’re not with him. I thought I saw you get into his truck. Where are you?”

  “Yeah, no. That didn’t happen.”

  She let out a groan. “He ditched you, didn’t he?”

  “What?”

  “He did, right? You can tell me if he did. Again. I know full well how shady he can be. Ditching a girl, even if she’s his stepsister, is something I can totally see Kevin doing. I’m so sorry. You must’ve felt like I ditched you too. I really thought I saw you get into his truck. Wait, where are you? Did you go back to the dorm?”

  “That’s why I’m calling.”

  The gas stopped, and I felt Caden take the nozzle out of the truck to put it away. I glanced over my shoulder, but he wasn’t paying attention to me. He bypassed his door, heading inside as he pulled out his wallet. I held back a sigh, watching him from behind. He was gorgeous. His tattoos were a little too enticing. Even a loose-fitting shirt couldn’t hide the athleticism beneath, and as my gaze fell from his broad shoulders to his trim waist, lingering on where his jeans rested over his ass, I must’ve let out some sound.

  Avery piped up in my ear, “What? What’s going on?”

  “Huh?” I couldn’t tear my eyes away. His ass was one I’d cup in a drunken stupor and smile from satisfaction at the memory when I was sober.

  “You totally sighed, like a dreamy type of sigh. What’s happening? Where are you?”

  Caden stepped inside the gas station. He’d be back in just a minute.

  “That’s why I’m calling,” I said again. “I didn’t go back to the dorm. Caden Banks showed up, looking for his brother. Jill asked if he’d give me a ride to find you.”

  “She did? Wait. He did?”

  “What? I’m confused.”

  “Caden Banks gave you a ride?”

  “Yeah. Why?” I frowned. Did she have to say it like that?

  “Are you with him now?”

  “We stopped for gas. I was hoping to get Maggie’s number from you, so he could call Maggie to talk to his brother. And I was hoping I could talk him into meeting up with you guys. I can switch to your car then.”

  I waited for her response, but none came.

  She was silent on the other end until I said, “Hello? Are you there?”

  “I’m here.” I could hear the confusion in her voice. “This is the second time Caden Banks has helped you out. That’s not normal.”

  My eyebrows bunched together. “Claudia said something similar.”

  “She was right with what she said, not about you, but about Caden.”

  Her hesitation pissed me off.

  “He’s big time. Are you guys hooking up or something?”

  “What? No! Why would you even think that?” However, the image of his ass appeared in my head again.

  “Calm down. I didn’t mean it as an insult. The opposite. Caden doesn’t go out of his way to be nice to girls. He’s not not nice. He’s just—”

  I gripped the phone tighter. “Yeah, yeah. He’s on another level. I’m getting it. Believe me.”


  “No!” She laughed into the phone. “Again, it’s not an insult to you. Caden’s just not known for messing around with freshman, even sophomores. And he doesn’t sleep around. He’s got girls he can call to have sex with, but they’re girls like you’ve not even met yet. Maggie told some of us that he was sleeping with Ashley Fontaine from that show Hit Club. I’ve no idea how they know each other, but yeah, he’s usually with girls like that.”

  Now I felt one with the dirt on his Land Rover’s floor. I leaned over to inspect where my shoes sat. Yep. I could see myself down there, trying to make friends and failing like I had for the last two weeks.

  “I’m not into him like that, so don’t worry,” I told her. “Besides, he’s fraternity brothers with Kevin, remember?”

  “Yeah. I’d buy that if I didn’t know better. Summer, Caden hates your stepbrother. I’m friends with Maggie, remember? She’s told me stories. So no, if you think he’s being nice to you because of Kevin, it’s not true. If anything, Caden would try to hurt you because of Kevin, but he’s not that type of guy. If he’s being nice, then there’s something about you he likes.”

  I straightened up. “Really?”

  “You should sleep with him.”

  “What?!”

  “I mean it. I don’t usually encourage casual sex, but if it’s with Caden Banks, then hell yes. Get some if you can. You’ll look back when you’re old and thank me.”

  I started laughing, then realized she was serious. “You’re not joking, are you?”

  “I mean it. Forget being your RA, I’m being a friend. Fuck Caden Banks if you get the chance, then tell me all about it afterward. I’ll live vicariously through you.”

  Just then Caden walked out of the gas station with two cups in hand. “I have to go. He’s coming back.”

  “Okay,” she said quickly, her voice sounding hushed suddenly. “I mean it. Screw his brains out.”

  “Wait!” She was about to hang up. “I need Maggie’s phone number.”

  “Oh yeah. Not needed,” she said.

  Caden opened his door and got in, observing me. “Still on the phone?”

  I held up a finger. “What do you mean ‘not needed’?”

  “They just got here.”

  “Where?” I covered the phone and said to Caden, “Maggie and Marcus are wherever Avery is. They just got there.”

  “We’re at the country club,” she said. “It’s almost five o’clock. We figured all the rich folks would be drinking here, and I guess they thought the same thing. Tell Caden we’re at the Rose Creek Country Club. He’ll know where it is.”

  “Okay.”

  I hung up, and when I told him, he rolled his eyes. “Fuck’s sakes. Of course they’re there.”

  “I take it you know the place?”

  “I used to work there. I hate that place.”

  After pulling into the country club’s parking lot and parking between a Ferrari and a Porsche, Caden grunted. “Yep. I still hate this place.”

  “You worked here?”

  “My freshman year. My dad’s friend owns it.”

  “What happened?”

  He took his keys out and reached for the door handle, but paused to look at me. “I hate fake people. Guess what kind of people hang out in country clubs?” Then he was out the door and heading inside.

  I didn’t have time to sit back and laugh because I agreed. He was halfway across the lot by the time I got out and hurried behind him. I caught up to him on the sidewalk, but instead of going through the main entrance, he circled around the building to a wooden patio. It was full of people eating, drinking, or just sitting and talking. Caden cut through the tables and went down a flight of stairs. I paused behind him, in the middle of the stairs, to get a look at where he was going.

  Three different pools spread out at the base of the hill, a lazy river connecting them. Caden headed to the middle pool, and I recognized Marcus, Avery, and others from the CSC lot. I kept scanning for Kevin.

  I found him.

  He was by the third pool, which was relatively empty, with only a few women swimming. One guy was doing laps, and my stepbrother stood underneath a palm tree near a bunch of other shrubbery. I could see the walking path behind him, and I knew he was trying to hide. He wasn’t succeeding. A hand appeared, cupping the side of his face.

  My chest tightened, and I looked over to where Caden was approaching Marcus’ table.

  I didn’t know who it was under that tree with Kevin, but I had one guess. It started with M and rhymed with saggy.

  I’d started toward them when Avery blocked my path. “Hey.” She held her hands out, gesturing to where Caden and Marcus were talking. “What’s up with that? He looks pissed.”

  Caden was the least of my problems at the moment. “I don’t know. I, uh, I have to go to the bathroom.” I looked around. “Where is the bathroom?”

  Her eyebrows shot up and she moved back a step. “If you had to go to the bathroom, you would’ve gone inside, where the bathrooms are.” She studied me intently. “What’s going on with you?”

  I sucked at being an actress. I rolled my eyes. “Fuck it. Look.” I nodded in Kevin’s direction.

  She looked and then gasped, stepping in beside me. She shook her head. “Caden and Marcus are right there. They’re so stupid. I don’t get what Marcus even sees in her. Does she have a magical vagina or something?” She sighed. “I mean, she can be really fun, but still I don’t get it. I honestly don’t.”

  I started forward again. “I’m going to put a stop to it.”

  “Wait.” She grabbed my arm, holding me back. “Why?”

  “What do you mean why?”

  “Why?” She pointed to Kevin and Maggie, who were now kissing. Or I thought they were kissing. His head was moving a little. I felt a twinge of hurt in my chest—the way he had with me that one night.

  “Think about it,” Avery said. “They’re going to get caught. I mean, they’re stupid enough to get together at the same place Marcus and his brother are, and it’s during the day. It’s inevitable.” Her voice lowered. “So, let it happen.”

  “Let Kevin get pummeled, you mean?”

  “No, let fate happen. Don’t protect him. Don’t protect any of them.” She snorted, raking a hand through her hair. “They don’t deserve it. Trust me.”

  I was tempted. I could feel his lips on mine, his hands touching me, how he’d pressed down on me. A whole host of sensations coursed through me, but they didn’t matter. I gritted my teeth, and I had to actually shove down the longing I’d been experiencing since that night, but I did it.

  I wanted those feelings to go away, but when I tried to actually shove them out of me, something else took their place—a different pain, a different longing. A feeling I didn’t want to feel. It was ten times worse than the lingering daydream of Kevin, so every time I felt it, I ended up giving in to my old thoughts. Besides, he was family. That should count for something. His mother loved me like I was her daughter. That meant something to me, so even if Kevin was a lame asshole, I still had to keep him from getting killed.

  “He won’t know.” Avery touched my arm again, lightly.

  I moved my arm away and stepped forward. “But I’ll know.” And that was really all that mattered. I would know.

 
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