Anti stepbrother, p.9
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       Anti-Stepbrother, p.9
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  In just a few moments I was almost to them, but I had nothing planned. I was going to grab Kevin and drag him out. I figured he’d see reason once I pointed out Caden and Marcus, who were within eyesight. I was just a few steps away when I heard yelling behind me.

  I twisted around, and my heart leaped to my throat.

  Caden had Marcus pinned against the wall, leaning close. A group of guys ran for them, and without thinking, I changed course. Kevin became an afterthought as I pushed through the small crowd that had formed. Two men held Caden back now, though he wasn’t fighting or trying to get to his brother. He stood there glaring at Marcus.

  “I can do what I want,” Marcus spat, his nostrils flared. Several guys held his arms too. “I’m sorry, Caden, but I’m not doing it.”

  Caden grew still, eerily still.

  I moved forward, almost close enough to touch him. One of the guys holding him moved to the side and cut me off, so I edged to the left until I was front and center.

  Caden saw me then, and I could see the wheels turning in his mind.

  Something not-good was coming. I chewed the inside of my cheek as I locked gazes with him. What was he going to do?

  A cold and almost feral smirk adorned his face as he turned back toward his brother.

  Oh no…

  “Well, fuck,” he said, his voice so cold it sent shivers down my spine. “If you’re not going to help Colt out, you might as well take care of your own shit.”

  Marcus went still. “What are you talking about?”

  “Your girlfriend.” Caden’s smirk grew into a smile, but it didn’t reach his eyes. They were dead. “Last I saw, she was making out with Matthews back there.”


  Caden laughed, cold and empty, and pushed past the two guys holding him. “You might want to examine your surroundings, Mark. Or maybe just check behind the palm tree between the last two pools.” He started to leave. He added over his shoulder, “Or not. I’m sure once she’s satisfied, she’ll find your side again.”

  Then he was gone. The crowd swallowed him.

  No one said a word, and I waited a beat, then pushed forward. Screw Kevin. Screw Maggie. Screw whatever happened to them now. I went after Caden.

  He didn’t have to push his way through the crowd. It automatically opened for him. Not so much for me. I was at a disadvantage, and when I ran to the parking lot, he was already in the car and peeling past me.

  “HEY!” I yelled, raising my hands in the air.

  He braked, a little too close for comfort, right next to me. The passenger window rolled down. “What?”

  I reached for the door. “Let me in.”

  His eyebrows pinched together. “Why?”

  “Let me in.”

  He unlocked the door.

  I opened it and climbed in. “Okay. I’m with you.” I had no idea what I was doing.

  “Excuse me?”

  “I’m with you.” I clapped the dashboard, pointing ahead. “Whatever you’re going to do, I’m in. You seem to need a friend. You’re in luck. I could use one myself. So I’m in.”

  “I’m going to get drunk and have sex.”


  He cocked an eyebrow. “You still in?”

  He was laughing now. He was still mad, but he was laughing.

  For whatever reason—maybe I did want to go with him, or maybe I heard my own voice calling me boring and pathetic again—I sat back and folded my hands in my lap. “I’m in.”

  He shook his head. “You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.” He shifted his Land Rover into drive and started forward. “But that’s your problem, not mine.”

  He careened out of the parking lot, and I fell against the door. I grabbed the oh shit handle above my head, and I had a feeling that was going to be the theme for the rest of the night: Oh, shit.

  North River had close to 250,000 people, so when Caden drove to the opposite end of town, I started to worry whether he knew where he was going. I was concerned right up until he pulled into a Mexican bar and grill. Just like at the country club, he bypassed the front door and went around to the back. He clearly knew where he was going.

  Rounding the building, he hopped over a small iron fence that surrounded a copper-bricked veranda. Yes, it looked so easy as he merely touched the top of the side wall and leaped over like a damned gazelle.

  I, on the other hand, was a tortoise. I eyed the bottom of the fence, trying to find a place where I could crawl under, but there was nothing.

  Suddenly two hands found my waist and picked me up. Caden had that look in his eyes again, the one where he was half laughing at me and half exasperated. I grabbed his arms as he lifted me over the fence and set me down in front of him. And his hands didn’t move. He held me in front of him, looking down, and my pulse sped up.

  “You sure you want to do this?”

  “Do what?” I tried to appear confident, so I could ignore the stampeding herd in my chest. “Get drunk? I can drink with the best of them.”

  He closed his eyes a moment, shaking his head as he stepped back. His hands left my sides. I tried to pretend I didn’t miss them: the warmth of them, the slight weight of them, or how they’d made me feel safe for a split second.

  Nope. None of that was going on.

  “You’re going to meet people I really care about.”

  “I’m down with caring people.”

  His eyes narrowed. “Don’t fuck anything up.”

  “What?” I touched my chest. “Me? What have I fucked up? It’s like you don’t know me.” I laced my fingers and pretended to crack my knuckles. “I’m ready for this. Let’s get the sexing and drinking started.”

  He grabbed the back of his neck and continued to stare at me. “You can’t handle this.”

  “I can too.”

  I swung around. Eight tables were spread out across the veranda. Some matched the bronze-colored metal fence, while others were white picnic tables. A couple girls sat at the table at the far end, smoking, and one of the picnic tables was filled with large, muscular guys in sleeveless shirts, covered with dirt and grime, and also smoking. No one looked particularly friendly, and all were watching us. I stepped back instinctively, finding Caden.

  His hands came to my waist again, and for a moment, I rested there. I was against his chest, and I felt safe again. I didn’t even mind the snake tattoo so close to me. I was starting to like that snake. I should name him.

  A twinge of pain sliced through me.

  I’d have to pull away from Caden, and the sooner the better, but I didn’t want to. I liked standing here as he held me. A lump formed in my throat. I liked it maybe too much, and because of that, I swallowed that damn lump and moved to the side.

  I could do this.

  He moved around me, his hands falling from my waist, but he took my hand and tugged me behind him to an empty table tucked into the corner. I tried not to grasp his hand too tightly. These people looked seriously tough.

  A pergola hung above us, partially shading us with the vines and foliage wrapped around it. The sun peeked through a few of the squares, but as I sat down, I adjusted my seat so my face wasn’t in the light.

  Caden didn’t sit with me. “Be back in a second,” he said, pinning me down with a fierce look over his shoulder. “Don’t let anyone buy you a drink. Okay?”

  I nodded, and he went inside.

  A server came over in the next second, her hair pulled up in a braid. Her gaze lingered on the empty seat next to me. “Someone’s coming back?”

  I patted Caden’s chair. “I hope so.”

  Her gaze moved to mine. “You’re not sure?”

  “I’m not sure about a lot of things these days.”

  Her eyebrows arched. “Are you sure about what you’d like to drink?”

  I opened my mouth, but Caden dropped into his chair and answered for me. “She’ll have water or soda.”

  “And you?”

  A guy dropped into the othe
r empty chair, beer in hand. He was older, in his forties, with his black hair combed back. There were laugh lines around his eyes and mouth. He had a sharp nose and pointed chin. His face didn’t seem like it should be handsome, but it was. He wore a black shirt, and I glimpsed tight jeans before he sat. He stared at me as he spoke to the server. “This motherfucker to my right will have tequila.” He held his hand out to me. “And who is this delicious drink of water on a hot day?”

  Caden leaned forward, grabbed the guy’s hand, and placed it back in front of him. “She’s no one, and I’ll have a Corona. No tequila for me.” He paused, glancing at me, and amended, “At least not yet.”

  “Diego?” the server asked.

  The guy grinned from ear to ear, still gazing at me. “What?”

  “You want something else to drink?”

  “Just her.” He nodded at me, his grin molding into a smooth smirk. “How about it, mi hermosa?”

  The waitress rolled her eyes and left. Caden groaned. “You’re laying it on a little thick, D.”

  Just like that, Diego dropped the Casanova mask and leaned back, his shoulders shaking with laughter. “Sorry. But I had to come over and hit on your girl. You know, returning the favor from last weekend.”

  “To be fair, your girl hit on me. I didn’t hit back.”

  “I know.” A look of genuine fondness came over Diego’s face, and he leaned over to clap Caden on the shoulder. His hand stayed there, squeezing for a bit. “That’s why I love you.”

  Caden nodded toward me. “And she’s not my girl. I suppose you can lay it on as thick as you want since you’re newly single.”

  “I am.” He swung his head back to me and smiled. “Please tell me you are too?”

  I snorted. “Sadly, yes.”

  The old me would’ve blushed and said something boring—like I was interested in a guy or I didn’t have enough time for a boyfriend. My honesty surprised me, and apparently them as well. Both were quiet for a second. Then Diego threw his head back and started laughing. Caden grinned, and suddenly I was too.

  Or I was trying to grin so I didn’t look like an idiot. Sometimes that wasn’t possible.

  Diego tipped his beer. “A salute to you. I’m right there with you.” He nodded in Caden’s direction. “This too-good-looking son of a bitch came in last weekend, not looking for anything except a drink with a friend, and my girl couldn’t help herself. He doesn’t even try. He just sits there, and girls throw themselves at him. After the fifth pick-up line, I had to kick my girl to the curb. She was no longer my girl.”

  “I’m so sorr—”

  Caden burst out laughing. “Like you didn’t still take her home and bang the fuck out of her.”

  Diego’s smirk turned prideful, and he puffed up his chest. “Well, I mean, she was sexually frustrated after getting the boot from you. What could I do? Send her home unsatisfied?” Diego shrugged. “I do what I can. I banged the fuck out of her, and it felt so good. Then I banged her sister the next night, and that felt even better.”

  Caden turned toward me. “He didn’t explain that before his girl hit on me, her sister was hitting on him.”

  “What can you do? The ladies love me.” Diego pounded his fist on the table, sitting upright. “But those girls weren’t worth it.” He softened his tone, his eyes finding me again. “But you, mi bonita, you would be so worth it.”

  “Nope.” I shook my head. This was an easy decision. “If that means being laughed about later and not hanging out with you again, I’ll stay single. Thank you, but no.”

  “What?” His hand touched his chest, over his heart. “I’m hurt.”

  “I don’t want to make things awkward with Asshole here either. I’ll still have to go to his fraternity house sometimes.”

  Diego burst out laughing. “Asshole. That’s what she calls you?”

  The server returned, setting our drinks in front of us. I hadn’t ordered, but she placed a soda in front of me.

  Caden waited ‘till she left and grabbed his beer, watching me the whole time. “Apparently.”

  Diego was loving this. “To her credit, you can be.”

  Caden frowned. “Yeah, and you like when I’m an asshole, especially when I back you up after you get yourself in some stupid fight.”

  “I never do that.”

  “Last night.”

  Diego quieted, then bobbed his head up and down. “You’re right. I could’ve not punched that guy. That one was on me.” He saluted Caden with his drink. “Thank you for having my back.”

  Caden shook his head, drinking his beer.

  Diego didn’t seem to care that he wasn’t saluted back. He took a long drag from the bottle and set it down. He wiped the back of his arm over his mouth and turned to me. “Now we’ve gotten through the obligatory chit chat and small talk that’s really a facade for how much I care for this big oaf.” He winked at me, “Or asshole, as you call him. I want to know more about you. Caden’s not brought a girl here with him before.” He leaned closer. “Are you two doing?” His hands lifted and began to form a crude gesture—until Caden slapped them down.


  Caden was ignored. Diego lowered his voice. “I mean it. Are you guys? Because if not, I’m serious about my invitation. You can sleep in my bed any day or night of the week. I’m here for you.” He raked me up and down, his smirk showing again. “All of you.”

  “Fuck this.” Caden stood, holding his beer. “I’m headed inside. I thought I saw someone I knew in there.”

  I tried to gauge how furious he was, but to my surprise, he didn’t seem angry at all. I knew he’d been mad leaving the country club, but since arriving here the tension had quickly fled. He held my gaze for a split second before turning to go, but even then, he didn’t have his usual look.

  “How does he look at you, then?”


  Diego gestured over his shoulder, where Caden had gone. “You said he looked different.”

  “Oh.” I hadn’t realized I’d spoken out loud. I shrugged. “He usually looks like he wants to either snap my neck or throw an arm around my shoulder because I amuse him. It’s those two things mixed together.” I frowned, thinking about it. “It’s odd. I’ve never been looked at like that before.” Then again, I hadn’t acted like this before either.

  Diego pursed his lips, studying me. He hummed under his breath, holding his drink in his hands. When his head started moving up and down in rhythm with the music, I rolled my eyes.

  “What?” I asked him.


  “Stop. You were thinking something. What was it?”

  His eyes narrowed slightly before he leaned back and lifted a shoulder. “Nothing. Maybe something.” He grinned crookedly. “But whatever it was, I’m not telling.”

  “That’s annoying.”

  “I can be annoying. Annoying works for me.” He winked as he lifted his drink. “Annoying makes me charming, and girls like charming. I can charm almost anyone’s pants off, if I really want to.” He shook his head, taking another long drag before setting his drink on the table. “Not you, though. I’m going to pass you up, though it’ll pain me. I think I have to.”


  He leaned back, throwing his arm across the back of Caden’s empty chair and kicking out his leg. He had a twinkle in his eye, one that I already recognized as troublesome.

  “When it comes to my friends, my true friends, my lips are sealed. And regarding you, and why I’m not going to charm your pants off, my lips have to be sealed. Though it really does pain me. I’m hurting in my heart right now.”