The peer and the puppet, p.13
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       The Peer and the Puppet, p.13

           B. B. Reid
 

  I’d caught the conqueror staring, but he didn’t bother to look away. He jerked his head toward the note in my hand. The order was clear.

  Looking around, I assured myself that everyone was busy chatting or dancing. Jamie was occupied fixing Tyra a drink, and I wondered with a small smile if he knew getting under her blue mini skirt would never happen or if he simply appreciated the challenge.

  While the coast was clear, I quickly flipped open the note.

  Once upon a puppet, she remembered her limits and stayed away from Jameson.

  -The Peer

  I wondered if he’d meant whiskey or his cousin. Either way, the translation was the same: Don’t get drunk, and don’t cause trouble. My face heated as I inhaled and exhaled at a faster tempo. He hadn’t spoken a word to me since yesterday morning, and when he finally did, it was to order me around? My gaze returned to the balcony, and when I held his, I tore the paper to bits and let it rain onto the dance floor. Later, I’d feel bad about trashing someone’s home, but right now, the only thing I cared about was teaching the King of Brynwood a lesson.

  Vaughn had an actual bar that one of our classmates was tending like a real bartender, so I made that my first stop.

  “What will you have?”

  “Something strong!” I shouted over the music.

  He nodded and set about fixing me a drink. What he handed back looked like water with a lime. I gave him a suspicious look before taking a sip. It was definitely strong…and disgusting.

  Taste didn’t matter as long as it got me wasted.

  Before I could disappear into the crowd, my gaze was drawn back to Ever. Barbie now stood by his side, looking cover-ready in a long-sleeve mini sequined dress. With a snort, I realized the color matched Ever’s tie.

  She was tall and prim.

  Stainless.

  In her gold heels, she almost stood shoulder to shoulder with Ever. Together, they looked like the perfect power couple. Ken and Barbie.

  I drank and danced until that fact didn’t bother me.

  I drank and danced until nothing bothered me.

  I drank and danced until I couldn’t drink and dance.

  Or so I thought.

  Two girls carrying a two-tiered cake surrounded by sparklers approached the birthday boy, and Vaughn called for everyone to sing. When the candles died, Barbie did the honor of feeding him his first bite, and no amount of alcohol would ever help me unsee it.

  Tyra placed a hand on my shoulder, drawing my attention away from the lovebirds. I think I’m going to be sick. “We can bail if you want.”

  I didn’t dwell on if Tyra was observant or I was just being obvious as we made for the front door. Tyra had stayed sober, and it was a really good thing because I was having trouble walking on my own.

  “Jesus!” she fussed when I stumbled.

  “Sowy,” I slurred as sincerely as I could.

  “I suppose you needed the fun,” she grumbled.

  Watching Ever be fed birthday cake by his pretty, polished Barbie doll was not fun. I wanted to scrub my eyeballs with bleach and a Brillo pad.

  I was slurring some version of another apology when I stumbled again. This time, it looked as if I was going down and taking poor Tyra with me. Oh, man, this is gonna suck. The ground started to get closer. I braced myself for the humiliation and hoped I was too drunk to care, but then I felt strong hands holding me up. I was turned and held against a hard chest as even stronger arms wrapped around my waist. Ever became a furnace, protecting me against the chilly night.

  “I’m going to spank your ass,” he growled into my ear.

  I shivered despite his body heat, and when I peeked up, his regal features were twisted. I burst into a fit of giggles. Maybe I shouldn’t have drunk so much. He growled some more, and then my feet were no longer on the ground.

  “Put me down, Mc-Na-ma.” He winced when I butchered his name, but then his jaw hardened when I said, “You’ll get your hands dirty.”

  “Shut up,” he barked.

  I did shut up but only because of what caught my eye as he carried me away. It seemed Vaughn had saved a wide-eyed Tyra from falling. He still held her in his arms while she stared at him as if he’d grown a second head. Behind them, Barbie stood in the doorway watching us leave together.

  I shook Ever’s shoulder, and he bent his head slightly so I could whisper in his ear. “Your girlfriend’s looking,” I warned and then choked on my laugh.

  He shook his head and didn’t speak another word as he buckled me into the Range Rover. I fell asleep during the short drive home and woke up to him carrying me up the stairs. Lifting my head, I studied him. Even through my blurred vision I could tell that he was pissed.

  “You’re mad at me.” I pouted. Oh, God, was I still drunk?

  He kept his gaze straight ahead as he headed for my room. “What was your first clue?”

  Tonight was as much his fault as it was mine. He pushed, so I pushed back. Round and round we went. “You shouldn’t order me around.”

  He did look at me then, his voice soft when he spoke. “I can’t help it.”

  Feeling sleepy and strangely content, I sighed and rested my head against his shoulder. “Try.”

  “No.” He didn’t even attempt to consider it.

  “Why not?”

  “Because I like it too much.” Inside my room, he laid me on my back and knelt to peel my sneakers off my feet. When he moved to the button on my jeans, I panicked and grabbed his hands.

  “Relax.” His tone was gentle, but I knew better than to think that it was anything but an order.

  Too curious and drunk to fight him, I did as I was told and let him work my jeans over my butt and down my legs. It was impossible not to blush when his eyes fell on my simple, gray cotton panties, and he fingered the material.

  “I like this color on you,” he purred.

  “Is it your favorite?” Ever and gray had much in common: cool, balanced, sophisticated…emotionless.

  “No, actually. It’s green.”

  He pulled me up by a fist full of my shirt. Recalling what he was wearing the day I met him, I slurred, “Like the forest?”

  He smiled faintly as if he didn’t want to. “Like the forest,” he confirmed.

  “Mine’s yellow,” I offered. I doubted he cared.

  “I noticed.” The ball in my stomach ignited, and before I could recover, he slipped my shirt over my head.

  “I’ll be cold.” Wordlessly, he peeled back my covers and waited for me to climb inside. It took a while since I was dizzy as fuck, but I felt his warm hand on my skin guiding me. “Was babysitting part of the deal?” I questioned once I settled.

  “My father would have skinned me alive if I left you to fend for yourself.” Of course, Ever wouldn’t care otherwise.

  “So only blackmailing me is allowed?”

  He shoved his fingers through his hair and frowned. “I could have hurt you,” he quietly admitted, referring to the night I followed him. “I wanted to hurt you.”

  “What stopped you?”

  “Does it matter now?” he countered.

  “I bet your mother would be proud.” I caught the doubt in his eyes before he looked away. “Tell me something about her.”

  He chuckled dryly, and I didn’t understand why until he said, “She would have loved you. You are the karma I deserve.”

  I stretched and buried deeper under the covers to hide what his words did to me. “This doesn’t change anything. I’ll still hate you in the morning.”

  Standing, he said, “You don’t hate me, Four, but you will.”

  “Oh yeah? What makes you so sure?” I challenged with a yawn. My eyes were already drifting shut.

  “Because for the first time, you’re going to do what you’re told.”

  I had a foul taste in my mouth, and my dry lips felt like they’d been sealed shut when my tongue tried to break free to wet them. Sunlight poured in through the open blinds, and I cursed its presence when I opened
my eyes. Judging from the way I felt, last night had not gone well. I sat up and took inventory. The clothes I’d worn were folded neatly at the foot of my bed, and another note waited for me on my nightstand.

  Once upon a puppet, the peer awaited her in his chambers.

  I dug the heels of my hands into my eyes and groaned as details from last night came flooding back. I’d gotten shitfaced to spite Ever, but I never imagined he’d be the one babysitting me. I knew I couldn’t risk defying him again, but there was no way I could face him without toothpaste, a hot shower, and a brush.

  The house was quiet when I emerged from my room and tiptoed to Ever’s half an hour later. I debated if I should knock, and after a second of deliberation, I grabbed the knob and pushed open the door. My hope that I would invade his space as thoroughly as he had my mind died when I looked around the empty room.

  It was the same as before: clean, gray, and meticulous. The picture of his mother was the only proof that a boy with a beating heart lived within these walls. I was debating if I should leave or wait for him when the door to the bathroom opened and he stepped through.

  I knew I was staring, possibly drooling, but it was impossible to look away. He wore nothing but a towel, and water dripped from the ends of his silky brown hair and down his chest before disappearing under the towel.

  He didn’t seem surprised or at all bothered by my ill-timed presence. With a nod toward his desk, he said, “Have a seat.”

  “Most people say good morning.”

  Ever didn’t react other than to stare at me until I obeyed. From his desk chair, I watched him disappear into his closet and listened as he opened and closed drawers. When he came back, he was still bare-chested, but now wore navy blue track pants with three white stripes down the sides, and in his hand was one of his red uniform ties.

  “After last night, I suppose the least I can do is wish you a happy birthday.” I smiled, but he didn’t smile back. Okay, getting weird. “Ever?”

  He tossed the tie on the bed and came to stand behind the chair. “I gave you an order, and you disobeyed me. Again.”

  “You don’t speak to me unless it’s to order me around.” I shrugged. “I was pissed.”

  “Being a brat isn’t part of our deal.”

  “Well, maybe I want to renegotiate.”

  “It was never a negotiation.”

  “Then our deal is off. Tell your dad that Rosalyn has a past. I have news of my own.” I stood to leave but his hands on my shoulders, shoving me down, ensured that I didn’t.

  “A little advice?” His fierce whisper sent a chill down my spine. “How I make you feel is irrelevant. What I’ll do if you piss me off should be your only focus. You need to fear it…for your own good.” A sheet of paper and a pen appeared in front of me. “Now write this down: I will not drink to excess. Fill the page, front and back.”

  I peeked over my shoulder and just as I feared, Ever was dead serious.

  “You’re out of your mind.” I tried leaving again, but he planted his hands on the desk, caging me in.

  “And you’re out of your league, little troublemaker. So, write the fucking words.”

  “And if I don’t?”

  “Then I’ll have some fun.”

  The room and everything outside it faded as we glared back at one another, silently trying to break the other’s will. His minty fresh breath was a cool but inept balm against the heat radiating from his bare chest, and suddenly, I realized just how close he was and how much it was affecting me. With a sneer that made him smile, I picked up the pen.

  Anything to get him to move to the other side of that room before…nothing.

  Absolutely fucking nothing.

  Ever retreated to his bed, and I watched as he grabbed a sketchbook from the nightstand and plucked a pencil from the cup shelved above his bed. He seemed engrossed as he stared at the pad for a few seconds, but then he suddenly looked up and caught me staring. I felt my teeth bite into my bottom lip, and almost like a reflex, his gaze dropped, and he licked his own.

  Yeah, nothing’s going to happen like pigs are going to fly.

  I turned away and put pen to paper while trying to ignore the fact that we were alone in his room with the door shut and our parents oblivious. When both sides of the page were full, I smiled down at my handy work.

  “Oh, teach?”

  I listened as he stopped mid-pencil stroke and stood from the bed. I worked hard not to give myself away when he lifted my atonement from the desk.

  A moment later he sighed.

  “I bet you don’t know just how predictable you are.”

  The smile I didn’t know I wore dropped.

  Predictable?

  What the hell did he mean predictable?

  I schooled my features so I wouldn’t let on that I was bothered by yet another one of his unsolicited opinions of me. In lieu of writing what he wanted, I’d listed the components and specifications of a 1999 Suzuki Hayabusa. Gruff certainly would have been proud.

  “If you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll get some breakfast.” I pushed away from the desk, forcing him back. This time, Ever let me stand, but with one quick move, he was sitting at the foot of his bed with me on his lap.

  “I’m going to give you one chance to apologize.” My lips parted so I could tell him I wouldn’t be doing that now or ever. “But, Four”—his arms wrapped tighter around my middle while his lips brushed my ear—“only one.”

  “Why should I when you never do?”

  “I don’t regret what I’ve done.”

  “Neither do I.”

  He sighed, and seconds later, my shorts were around my ankles, and he had me bent over his lap.

  “What are you doing?” I squealed. I might as well have been wrestling a tree. My panty-clad bottom was exposed, and I was sure my face resembled a tomato.

  “My father believed sparing the rod, spoiled the child. Now he thinks mistakes can be a necessary evil…I’m not my father, Four. Putting yourself at risk, tarnishing my family’s name, and pissing me the fuck off? Huge mistake.”

  It could have been anger or fear that made my body tremble in his lap. I couldn’t tell. I was experiencing them both in equal volume. “So, what? You hurt me a little, and I’ll be brought to heel?” I scoffed. “Imagine that.”

  “Oh, I do. More than you know.”

  “I didn’t take you for the kinky type.” I pushed and pulled but couldn’t get free.

  He snorted, not at all bothered by my struggles. “I’m not…but I like seeing you like this.”

  The fight left my body as I peeked over my shoulder. For once, his eyes weren’t cold or taunting. “Like what?” I sounded much too eager for the answer.

  “Pliant.” He ran a hand over my butt. “I like you tame, and I like you wild. Maybe I’ll keep you both.”

  “You don’t get a say.”

  His eyebrow rose in response. “Is this your first day?”

  “So, spank me,” I huffed and wiggled to get free. “I can take it.”

  “You think so?”

  “Or maybe I’ll just scream.” Seriously, why hadn’t that occurred to me before?

  “And when our parents find you bent over my lap with your ass cherry red, I want you to tell them exactly why I made it so.”

  Oh…right.

  Seeing no other way out of this, I sunk my teeth into his calf.

  He grunted, and I had only a second when he released me to escape. I rolled off his lap, but when I made for the door, I tripped over the shorts at my ankles. Damn it! Ever was hauling me up before I could untangle myself. Somehow, our struggle ensued without either of us making much sound beyond a grunt or growl. I wasn’t sure how long we’d been wrestling before Ever lost his footing, dodging the elbow aimed for his nose, and sent us both crashing onto his bed. There, we both seemed to surrender, our heavy breathing the only sound. With my head resting on his chest, I closed my eyes, and his out-of-control heartbeat became my anchor. It occurred to me, however
, that one of us would need to claim victory, so I angled my head and found him watching me.

  “Still like me wild?” I winked.

  If his control was a tightrope, it just snapped.

  Suddenly, flat on my back, thick lips crashed into mine. If ever I were to think back to this moment, it would be for one thing. Bliss. Not even with Michelangelo’s imagination could I have painted it better. My first kiss.

  My arms wrapped around his neck. Hard and demanding became soft and giving. Ever groaned, and I opened up to devour the sound. He didn’t hesitate to sweep his tongue inside while the hand he would have used to bring me to heel massaged my lower belly. Sometime later, when we both needed air, he lifted his head and stared down at me with lust-filled eyes.

  “Jesus, Four.” His chest heaved as he fought to catch his breath. “Can I touch you?”

  My brow lifted because he’d never asked for permission before, but then understanding dawned when the tips of his fingers dipped underneath the band of my cotton panties.

  I was suspended between lust and common sense when a knock on Ever’s door had us jumping apart.

  “I hate to interrupt, but you’re needed downstairs,” Jamie called.

  “Fuck,” Ever growled. He seemed unhinged as he jammed his fingers in his hair.

  I wanted to laugh, but I was done making mistakes today. Or so I hoped. I still couldn’t believe what happened, and I just let it.

  “Let Four know her mother is waiting for her downstairs, too.” Jamie snickered, and we listened as he walked away.

  “I need to go,” I announced after shaking off the euphoria.

  “We need to talk.”

  “Can’t imagine what for.” I avoided his gaze as I lifted my shorts from the floor. They must have fallen completely off sometime while we fought. I couldn’t believe I actually wrestled him in nothing but my panties and a tank top. I felt myself blushing again and angrily shoved my legs into my shorts.

  He blew out air, and I smiled to myself. I guess the prince had a temper after all. “Come to my room later.”

  I barked out a laugh. “More orders.”

  “Yes,” he hissed. “Come, or I’ll find you, and I won’t care who’s around.”

 
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