The peer and the puppet, p.14
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       The Peer and the Puppet, p.14

           B. B. Reid
 

  “Whatever.” My shorts were back around my hips, and I quickly buttoned them so that I could get the hell out of there, but then he turned me around to face him and hauled me back into his lap. My body seemed to have a mind of its own. With my knees framing his waist, forearms resting on his shoulders, and his hands cupping my ass, I let him kiss me again. Somehow, his lips jump-started my hips, and soon, I was grinding down on him as we both fought for dominance.

  “Goddamn it, Four.” The need in Ever’s voice tempted me, but it was the warning in his eyes to steer clear that held me back. “I’m going to be inside you soon enough.”

  “Don’t bet on it.”

  His chuckle was sexy and masculine as his hands massaged my ass. “I don’t need to. I’m starting to believe you being in Blackwood Keep wasn’t God or some deity’s sick sense of humor. It’s fate, baby.”

  “Fate or not…” I moaned around his tongue when he fed it to me. “…this isn’t happening again.” I dodged his lips and hopped off his lap while I still had the chance. I wasn’t about to be tamed by him or anyone else. Deal or no deal. Ever sat on the foot of his bed looking hungry and predatory as I backed away to the door. Slowly, he was becoming a contrast to the cold and emotionless boy I met a year ago. It was as if I were the flap of the butterfly’s wings that started his storm. I couldn’t look away. I couldn’t turn and run. Completely enchanted, I watched this tempest brew.

  The sounds outside his room were beginning to unnerve me. What if we had been caught? How would we have explained my swollen lips and Ever’s hard-on? This had to end right here and now. “Stay away from me, McNamara.”

  Amusement softened his features. “Not going to happen, Archer.”

  TWENTY MINUTES AGO, I’D HAD Four’s shorts around her ankles and my tongue down her throat, and now I sat across from her eating fucking birthday cake with her mom and my dad like our situation was normal. I had taken my time coming down after Four ran from my room because a family breakfast with a raging hard-on wasn’t an option.

  I forked another piece of coconut cake, my mother’s favorite, into my mouth, but I didn’t taste it. I didn’t exactly care for my father continuing a tradition of birthday cake for breakfast with his plaything and her daughter, but I kept my mouth shut. My father and I have barely spoken since he brought them to live in the home he once shared with my mother. The supposed love of his life. Getting your rocks off was one thing. Replacing the memories my mother created here with us was a new low of fucked up. He didn’t seem too concerned with repairing our relationship any more than I did. Maybe it was because he knew that the only way he could was to send them away. Yeah, I told Four that fate had brought her here, but my dick had been hard at the time. I was thinking clearly now, and I realized Four was right. What happened in the bedroom couldn’t happen again. The next time she broke the rules, our deal was off. Getting rid of them would be a piece of cake, which brought the question of why I hadn’t done it already.

  “Son,” my father called from the head of the table.

  Everyone’s attention had shifted from cake to me.

  “Sir?”

  He dropped his linen napkin on the table and stood. “Take a walk with me.”

  I followed him out of the kitchen and through the front door, stopping short when I saw what awaited me.

  “Happy birthday, son.”

  My surprise was genuine as I admired my father’s gift to me. The Range was only a couple years old, and my father was at the top of the list of people I’d been a dick toward, so a car wasn’t what I’d been expecting. And not just any car.

  A freaking G Wagon.

  The matte army green paint job had to be custom. It paired well with the dark tint and black rims, making it clear he knew me better than I would have given him credit.

  I didn’t know what to say or do, so I lamely offered my father my hand to shake. He stared at it for a moment, and I could tell he was disappointed, maybe even sad, but then he took my hand and shook it.

  “What do you think of me turning the keys to the Range Rover over to Four? You wouldn’t have to drive her to school, and she’d have more freedom.”

  Freedom?

  No, freedom was the last thing the troublemaker needed.

  “I think the last time she got behind a wheel, she made it four hundred miles before you caught her. If she runs again, she won’t make finding her easy this time.”

  “Ah…you might be right.” He handed me the keys and patted my back. “Try to keep it under a hundred, huh?”

  I was aware of him watching me while I got a closer look. I was grinning ear to ear by the time I sunk into the black leather seat and admired the interior. My father had set me up with the Range Rover after I got my license because he said it was safer than anything I might wrap around a tree. I guess he still wasn’t taking chances, but the hefty price tag on the G Wagon told me he trusted me more than he had two years ago. I wanted to take it for a spin, so I hopped out to tell my father.

  He simply waved me off and headed back inside. Something made me glance up before I could duck back inside. Four stood at one of the windows upstairs staring down at me with her arms crossed and a curious expression. I considered kidnapping her—I had a hunch she wouldn’t come willingly—and taking her for a drive so we could have that talk. Just as I was ready to give in to the urge, Jamie burst through the front door tugging a shirt on.

  “Don’t even think about taking that beast for a spin without me.”

  Jamie became a tornado once he climbed inside and started fiddling with buttons, and when I looked up again, she was gone. With a sigh, I dropped back into my new ride and tried not to burn rubber when I took off.

  I guess some things just aren’t meant to be.

  I was sitting across from Franklin Rees two days later while Vaughn was at football practice. I hadn’t told him I was meeting with his father because he’d insist on coming when his focus needed to stay on football. Getting drafted and being star quarterback was his dream, but Franklin fully expected his son to one day become his successor.

  “I understand my son told you about your mother.” Being the leader of Thirteen who only knew him as Father had visibly aged Franklin. The fine lines spreading from temple to temple and thinning salt-and-pepper hair were evidence of that.

  “As you should have…sir.”

  Vaughn had discovered the truth behind my mother’s disappearance and hadn’t thought twice about incurring his father’s wrath when he shared it with me. We’d managed to keep my dealings with Exiled a secret until a few nights ago.

  “Given this suicidal plan you have to get close to Fox, I’d say I made the right call.”

  “I’ve been Exiled for eight months and hunting him for twelve. I’m obviously still breathing and even closer to Fox than you’ve ever been.”

  “I didn’t say you weren’t smart—resourceful even—but what will you do if you’re caught, and there’s a gun to your head? I’ve witnessed the coldest of men unable to look death in the eye.”

  “I won’t get caught.”

  “You may be smart, but Fox is worse than ruthless. He doesn’t need a reason for his sins. He just needs the power to commit them.”

  “Is this why you called me here? To talk me out of going after him? Excuse me if I have a hard time believing you actually care.”

  “No, son. I called you here to offer my assistance, but I need you to look me in my eye and tell me that I can trust you.”

  I frowned at a man whose own son didn’t trust him and he expected me to? “Why would I do that? I didn’t ask for your help.”

  Franklin remained stoic as he made a quick phone call, requesting someone’s presence. Not even a minute later, the door behind me opened.

  “You don’t want my help, kid, but you’re going to get it.” Before I could shove to my feet, I felt the cold muzzle of a gun pushed against the back of my skull. “Or I’ll make you disappear.”

  I only had one card to pl
ay, so I played it. “Vaughn would never forgive you, and then he’ll never be Father.”

  “He’ll never know. You and my son have been friends since before either of you even knew how to tie your shoes. I’ve gotten to know you very well without your or my son’s knowledge, so I’m willing to bet you didn’t tell him about our meeting.”

  Fuck.

  I knew Franklin would carry out his threat if pushed—you don’t earn the throne he sat on by making empty threats—but I wasn’t about to beg for my life like a fucking chump, so I sat very still and considered my only option.

  “Who?”

  Franklin nodded behind me to the gunman I’d yet to see, so I twisted in my seat and found myself staring into the smiling face of a ghost.

  “Hello, Danny Boy.”

  “Siko?”

  “Thought I was dead, huh? Nah…Eddie and I set the whole thing up,” he boasted.

  My mind raced until one question pushed through the chaos. “Why?”

  “We were trying to take out Shane and Wren, make it look like a job gone wrong, but there was a last minute change of plans, and Shane sent you in instead.”

  “And you helped Harlan escape,” Franklin accused. “Why?”

  “I told you I didn’t want to be responsible for anyone dying. Vaughn thought he could trust you,” I lied. “Clearly, he was wrong.”

  Vaughn had actually been against telling his father anything, warned me not to trust him, but like a fool I had insisted.

  Rage deepened the lines marring Franklin’s face as he leaned over his desk with his fists planted against the wood. “Don’t lecture me about my son. His loyalty should be to me and me only. I couldn’t give a shit what you wanted.”

  “Then find someone else to be your mole.”

  “Kid…I’ll have your brains splattered on the wall before you can take your next breath.”

  “Then do it. If I were afraid of dying, I wouldn’t be Exiled. I wouldn’t be hunting Fox, and I wouldn’t be telling you to go fuck yourself as I am right now. You came to me because you obviously need me. Siko and Eddie are dead as far as Fox is concerned and getting someone else that close to him will take too long. So here’s the thing—I don’t work for you, so I don’t take orders from you. You want my help, then convince me to spare the fucking time or else, in two seconds, I’m gone.”

  The room fell so silent that you could have heard a pin drop down the hall. Any second now, I expected Siko to send a bullet through my skull and end it all. Franklin seemed to stare right through me as if he’d been transported to another place.

  Just as some of my bravado started to slip, and I begin to think I really was going to die, Franklin sighed as he sat back down. He nodded to Siko, and I felt the pressure from the gun lift. “I’m not going to kill you.” He waited for a reaction. I didn’t give him one. “Because you’re right. I do need you, but you also need me. You’re in over your head.”

  I shrugged, neither agreeing nor disagreeing.

  “If you agree to be my eyes and ears, I’ll do everything in my power to make sure you stay alive. It’s the least I can do for my son.”

  “Don’t pretend you’re doing it for him. Thirteen comes first, and it always has. Just ask him.”

  “Enough, kid. You’ve made your point.” He waved me off, making it clear he had no intention of changing. “We’re finished here.”

  I didn’t waste time making for the door just in case he changed his mind and decided to kill me.

  “Son.” My hand fell from the knob, but his leaden tone warned me not to turn around. “If you succeed, you’re going to find a lot more than what you were looking for.”

  “I told you I’m not afraid of dying.”

  When he didn’t respond, I ripped open the door, ready to bolt, but then he sighed and said, “You’re going to wish it was that simple.”

  One Month Later

  IT WAS HOMECOMING, AND TYRA had succeeded in dragging me to my first Brynwood football game. I didn’t understand where her sudden fascination came from, but anywhere was better than another evening in the palace. It had been a month since Ever tried to spank me and when he failed, kissed me instead. We’d pretty much gone back to pretending the other didn’t exist, but there had been a lingering look or two.

  The band and the cheerleaders were working hard to get everyone pumped. Jefferson High certainly couldn’t compete with Brynwood’s morale and talent. It was a packed house, so I didn’t think we’d get seats, but I followed Tyra to the bleachers anyway. She was scanning the front row, and I started to tell her it was a pipe dream until two guys I usually saw following Ever, Vaughn, and Jamie around rose from their seats behind the team bench. I thought it was just luck until they nodded and took off. Tyra didn’t seem surprised as she sank into one of the seats and started texting. Perks of being the coach’s daughter I guess.

  A deafening roar came from the crowd, and Tyra’s head shot up from her phone when the team ran out to meet their opponents on the field. Vaughn suited in a jersey numbered seventeen was the last to emerge with his arm casually thrown over Ever’s shoulders as he laughed at something Ever said.

  Tyra’s sharp inhale drew my attention, but she was back to rapidly texting on her phone, so I shrugged and watched the most wanted boys in school separate. Ever went to stand on the sidelines with the coach while Vaughn jogged to join the huddle. The game began soon after that, and I was happy to have something to focus on. Keeping my eyes off Ever, however, became impossible as the game went on. He wore blue jeans and a plain white T-shirt with his red and navy letterman jacket. Because his back was to the stands, I couldn’t see his face, but I noticed his shoulders tensed when a play went south or one of our players was tackled. Thanks to a smooth pass off from Vaughn, our team made the first touchdown of the game, and Tyra, along with the rest of the homestand, stood to cheer. I shrugged and stood as well to clap and cheer.

  Big mistake.

  Ever turned, and his determined gaze searched the stands. It wasn’t me he was looking for. No way could he have picked my voice out of the crowd.

  But then he caught me watching him, and my fingers dug into my jean-clad thighs when he said something to the coach and headed toward the stands. He didn’t bother to take the stairs, though. He hoisted himself onto the platform and climbed through the rails.

  “You could have just taken the stairs,” I griped when he towered over me.

  “The look on your face was too priceless to pass up.”

  “Well, if you don’t mind, I’m trying to watch the game.”

  “Didn’t look like it.”

  I felt my heart skip a beat. “Excuse me?”

  “You heard me.” He sat in the empty seat next to me, leaned forward to rest his elbows on his thighs, and went back to watching the game, pointedly ignoring me.

  I huffed and tried to concentrate on the game, but all I could think about was his arousing scent and his hard thigh pressed against my own. I peeked at him from the corner of my eye to see if he noticed, but he was completely zoned in on the field.

  Take a walk, and get your shit together, Archer.

  “I’m going to the concession stand,” I announced to no one in particular.

  Ever tore his attention away from the field, and I could feel his irritated gaze following me as I made my way down the bleachers. The crowd was thick, so it took me a while to make my way through it. When I finally made it to the concession stand, I purchased a bottle of water so I didn’t return empty-handed. I wouldn’t put it past Ever’s arrogance to notice that he had been the reason for my abrupt departure.

  “Four?”

  Recognizing the voice, I was already grinning when I turned. “Well, look who crawled out from under their rock.”

  Drake opened his arms, and I stepped into them. I was so happy to see him, I didn’t even mind that he reeked of weed.

  “Girl, it’s been way too long since I’ve seen you,” he said when I stepped out of his embrace.

>   “Ditto.”

  “So, how’s life been?”

  “Complicated.”

  He nodded and, thankfully, didn’t pry. I stood back and listened as he ordered enough snacks to feed ten.

  “Where are you sitting?” He then nodded to his friends hanging in an unlit area. “Want to hang with us?”

  “Thanks, but I need to get back to my friend.” We hugged again and exchanged numbers before parting ways. I was almost halfway back to the stands when I ran into Ever. He didn’t look happy, but that wasn’t really my problem. I tried walking past when he grabbed my hand and pulled me into this body.

  “Are you okay?”

  “Why wouldn’t I be?”

  “Because you’re running from me.”

  “Isn’t avoiding each other what we do?”

  His gaze narrowed. “So, you’re mad at me?”

  “Mad would imply that I cared, which I don’t.” I tried to tug my hand from his, but he gripped me harder and started the walk back to the stands. We returned just as another touchdown was made, so no one noticed us holding hands as we made our way to our seats. Some kid who had freshman written all over him now sat where Ever was sitting before, leaving only one seat left next to Tyra. When he noticed Ever, his eyes bucked, and he started to rise, but then Ever surprised us both when he motioned for the kid to stay and sat in the vacant seat behind me.

  I glanced at Tyra to see if she noticed any of the exchange, but she was still fixated on the field. I never knew she was such a huge football fan, but I suppose it made sense given that her father coached the team.

  Because of my dad, I had found racing.

  I didn’t discover who he was until I was ten years old. Rosalyn had kept the only clue to his identity in her jewelry box. Like all young girls do, I’d been playing with her jewelry and makeup when I found the ring. It was heavy, made of platinum with a green gem setting, and dangled carelessly from my finger when I’d tried it on. Even so, I couldn’t bear to part with it so I hid it under my pillow. I thought it would be safe there until I came home from school one day to find the house and Rosalyn in shambles.

 
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