The peer and the puppet, p.17
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       The Peer and the Puppet, p.17

           B. B. Reid
 

  I couldn’t tear my eyes from Four while she was doing her best to avoid meeting mine. Her leg began to bounce impatiently as we all waited for my former teammates to make a fucking decision. I could have simply walked away and refused to compete, but this was no longer about the team. This had become yet another battle between Four and me.

  My puppet was tugging at her strings again.

  From my peripheral, I saw Jamie push through the crowd and join the huddle even though he wasn’t on the team. Vaughn ignored him, and no one else dared to say shit. The sound of Jamie’s snort finally drew my attention away from Four. I watched Vaughn shake his head and then his lips moved.

  The guys started to argue, and then Jamie loudly said, “You should listen to him, Einsteins. He’s captain for a reason.”

  They argued for a few seconds more and then appeared to make a decision. Based on Jamie’s smug expression and Vaughn’s exasperation, I already knew what they’d decided.

  Cooper was the one to deliver the judgment. “We choose Ever.”

  I turned my head in time to catch the small smile on Four’s face.

  “To Brynwood!” Turner roared and they all cheered.

  “No.” A hush fell over the crowd as everyone’s attention turned to me. Mine solely belonged to Four who still wore a satisfied smirk. “To the tracks.” Confusion was painted on her face as I knew it would be on each face in the crowd except for Vaughn and Cooper who had been there the last time I pulled such a stupid stunt.

  “You can’t be serious,” Cooper objected. “You were just lucky the last time! Not to mention there were cameras. You almost went to juvie.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Four’s eyebrows kiss her hairline.

  “We’ll do it in a blind spot. All I’ll need is forty yards.”

  “And some Windex and a Squeegee for when we have to scrape your demented ass off the Red Line,” Jamie voiced with a scowl. Four eased closer and tugged on his arm, redirecting his focus. I watched as he bent so she could whisper something in his ear. I knew what she must have asked judging by the way her lips parted and her skin paled when he answered her.

  Her reaction was exactly the one I had hoped for. Maybe next time she’d think twice before opening her pretty mouth to challenge me. I couldn’t pretend to be pissed though. Already, my senses were heightened, and the world no longer seemed so gray. I felt lighter on my feet.

  “The Line will be here soon,” Vaughn informed. “You sure you want to do this?” I couldn’t tell what he was thinking, but that was just Vaughn’s M.O. You wouldn’t know unless he wanted you to thanks to a father who raised him by using any weakness Vaughn showed against him.

  Everyone, including Four, seemed to be holding their breath waiting for my answer. “I’m sure.”

  No one wasted time heading for their vehicles once they had my answer. The ride to the tracks seemed shorter and a little grave. One would think I was headed to the gallows. Ironically, I was probably the only one not worried about me dying. No, my fears were focused elsewhere. There was a chance that Four would finally see past my glamour—the silver-spooned pomp with no balls and a big bank account. I wasn’t sure I was ready for that.

  Too late to turn back now.

  Twenty minutes later, suited up in some of the gear Vaughn kept in his car and with my muscles properly stretched, I did a couple of lunges. There was more I should have done, but I was ready to get the shit over with so I could figure out how I could possibly balance football and Exiled.

  After I wrung Four’s neck of course.

  Vaughn appeared by my side and clapped my back. “You ready?”

  I eyed him for a moment and said, “You wanted to choose Barnes.”

  He grunted and then smiled. “Still don’t know anyone who’s faster than you.”

  “I haven’t trained in over a year.”

  Vaughn shook his head. “You’re a natural.”

  I couldn’t hide my surprise. “You want me to win?”

  His expression turned grave. “I know how important it is that you find Fox. I want you back on the team, but I wouldn’t jeopardize that.”

  I felt my shoulders sag. “Thanks, man.”

  Vaughn suddenly looked uncomfortable. “We’re not going to, like, hug or anything, are we?”

  “Get the fuck out of here,” I ordered while snickering.

  “Fuck no! I want a front row seat to this.”

  I shook my head at his eagerness. “I still think you chose wrong. Barnes had better odds.”

  He rolled his eyes. “Barnes is lazy. He doesn’t push himself.”

  I snorted. “He probably only joined the team to get laid.”

  “Didn’t we all?” Vaughn countered.

  Our laughter died when I caught sight of Four standing on the sideline. She was gripping the rail barring the dirt path parallel to the tracks as if her life depended on it. What she didn’t know was that after my nearly fatal attempt to outrun a train, I came back a few times that summer and ran the very path she stood on until I knew down to the last second how much time and distance I needed to not become windshield wiper fluid. When I smiled and winked at her, she turned her head away.

  Vaughn noticed where my attention was directed and said, “What are you going to do about Archer challenging you?”

  I paused as if considering my options, but I already knew what I was going to do from the moment she opened her sweet mouth. “I’m going to make her weep.”

  “Excellent choice. I bet her tears taste like candy.”

  I got into position. “Wasn’t the kind of weeping I was referring to.”

  Vaughn backed onto the sideline with a lascivious smile. “I know.”

  The Red Line sounded it’s horn as it passed a crossing a quarter-mile away, so one of the guys shouted the distance I would run and the time I needed to do it in. Then he warned me to get ready.

  When the train was about two-hundred and fifty yards away, I blocked out everything after that and concentrated on breathing. Pretty soon, I had tunnel vision, and at the end of that tunnel was Four.

  Like a rocket, I took off.

  “That was insane!” Jamie praised.

  I had beaten my time by twenty milliseconds with a heart-stopping fifteen yards separating me and the Red Line. That had only been five minutes ago, yet it seemed like an eternity as I waited for someone to tell me it was all a joke.

  But no one did.

  Vaughn had simply crossed his arms, looking smug, while Jamie gave me a play-by-play as if I weren’t the one to do it all.

  Cooper, Kim, and Turner had simply left without a word or a handshake. So much for being a team player. They were just lucky I didn’t give a shit.

  Four and her little friend had moved on, and it was taking every ounce of control I possessed not to follow her around town like a fucking stalker. I was pretty sure she had been the sole reason I’d gone to the damn bonfire in the first place. Vaughn and Jamie kept trying for my attention, but I couldn’t stop searching the damn tracks.

  I should have told her to stay put. As tempting as it always was to push her limits, I could only do so much under the constant scrutiny of our classmates.

  “Four left with Tyra…to bake a fucking cake.” Vaughn’s statement caused my head to snap in his direction, but he was staring down at his phone as he texted.

  “Why the hell would they want to bake a cake at this time?” Jamie questioned.

  Vaughn’s gaze lifted from his phone screen to meet mine. “Did you know that Four’s birthday is tomorrow?”

  “What?”

  “Bet that makes your dick hard, eh, cousin? Definitely got me pitching a tent.”

  Jamie grinned, and I shoved him back. “Shut the fuck up.” To Vaughn, I said, “Where did they go?”

  Tyra lived just outside of Blackwood Keep with her father where the cost of living was astronomically lower.

  Jamie had ditched us to hook up with one of the cheerleaders while Vaughn and I found ourselves outsid
e of Coach Bradley’s home.

  “You don’t think this is a little much?” I questioned.

  He shrugged and moved onto the porch. “We’re already here.”

  As soon as we reached the front door, it opened to show a pissed-off Tyra. She was tiny as shit, barely looked more than a hundred pounds, and the bangs she wore made her look twelve instead of seventeen, but she glared at Vaughn as if she were twice his size and height. He stared back down at her with unchecked cockiness. I had to admit she was beautiful with her smooth dark skin, large brown eyes, and sable hair. Vaughn, along with every red-blooded male at Brynwood, was still kicking himself for letting her escape his notice this long. Knowing the sharks were circling, waiting for his scraps, he definitely wouldn’t be tossing her back into the water anytime soon.

  “You can’t just show up here,” she fussed. “My dad is upstairs sleeping.”

  “I gave him an expensive bottle of scotch from my dad’s cellar. He drink it?” Coach always celebrated a win by drinking heavily after, and it seemed Vaughn had exploited that fact. I would have laughed except I knew it wouldn’t be appreciated by Four’s little friend.

  “There was half a bottle left on the kitchen counter.”

  “Then he isn’t waking up anytime soon.” Without another word or permission, he pushed past her and disappeared into the house.

  I stood there feeling awkward as shit until she sighed and said, “I guess you can come in, too.”

  “Thanks.”

  She stepped aside and quietly shut the door once I was inside. I looked around, but when I didn’t spot Four, I glanced over my shoulder.

  “She’s in the kitchen,” she offered.

  I didn’t hesitate once she pointed me in the right direction. I found my new obsession half-heartedly mixing cake batter in a large glass bowl with my jacket discarded on the stool next to her. Vaughn was sitting at the island dipping his finger into a smaller bowl filled with frosting.

  Tyra marched into the kitchen and snatched the bowl away, but Vaughn simply pulled her into his lap. He spread the frosting on her neck and proceeded to suck it off right there in front of us.

  “Vaughn Franklin Rees, you’re embarrassing me!”

  “I knew I shouldn’t have told you my middle name,” he said with a low growl before licking the last of the frosting from her skin. “This is good buttercream, Ty-ty.”

  Four was mixing the batter faster now to likely drown out the sound of my friend molesting hers.

  I cleared my throat. “Is there somewhere you can take that?”

  Tyra glared at me while Vaughn stood with a grin. “Absolutely.”

  “I need to help Four finish the cake,” Tyra protested.

  “Ever can help her.” Vaughn glanced between Four and me. “We wouldn’t want to make his birthday girl uncomfortable.”

  “Vaughn,” I warned.

  He shrugged and stood with Tyra in his arms before carrying her out of the kitchen.

  A moment later, we heard Tyra screech, “No, not upstairs. My dad!”

  The sound of Vaughn’s heavy footsteps running up the stairs followed, and then a door slammed.

  Four sighed, the first peep she had made since I walked through the door, and turned to me. “You do know that what you did was idiotic, right?”

  I shrugged. I wouldn’t brag because it was pretty fucking stupid, and I no longer had the excuse of being only thirteen anymore.

  “Ever heard of Greg Plitt?”

  “No.”

  “He was a celebrity fitness trainer who died earlier this year. Want to know how?”

  “No.”

  She ignored me and said, “Plitt was killed trying to outrun a train for some stupid energy drink commercial.”

  “Yeah, well I had something he didn’t.”

  “Oh yeah? What’s that, hot shot?”

  “You.”

  We both noticed her blush but neither of us spoke on it.

  “Can you take me home?” she requested timidly.

  “What about your cake?”

  “I don’t know what I’m doing, and I don’t think she’ll be done up there anytime soon,” she grumbled.

  I had the feeling it was more than just the unfinished cake that upset her. “You don’t approve.” When she shot me a quizzical look, I gestured upstairs. “Vaughn and your little friend.”

  “Her name is Tyra, and I don’t trust him.”

  “You don’t know him.”

  “Which is obviously why I don’t trust him,” she countered.

  “Doesn’t matter if you do or don’t. They’re having fun, and it’s not any of your business.”

  “It will be when she’s crying on my shoulder.”

  “You assume she’ll be the one hurt. Why?”

  She shifted her weight onto her hands planted on the countertop. “Last week, two girls were suspended for fighting because they thought they had a claim on him.”

  “Vaughn never promised them anything.”

  “Like he never promised my friend?”

  “If she makes assumptions, that’s on her.”

  “Well, maybe he should be upfront with her. Don Lemon once said, ‘There’s a degree of deception in silence.’”

  “So you’re taking relationship advice from a news anchor?”

  “It’s not about love, moron. It’s about honor.”

  “She’d think he was an asshole if he told her not to expect anything.”

  “You don’t know that.”

  My head fell back onto my shoulders. Four was the most fearless girl I’d ever met, but she was also the most naïve. “I do know that, Archer.”

  I knew all too fucking well. Taking advantage of what I thought was a harmless crush and sleeping with Olivia haunted me every fucking day. I knew what everyone assumed, and I didn’t bother to correct the rumors. The truth was she had come to me. I didn’t stop to consider who she was or why she offered herself to me. I was fourteen and only concerned about winning a stupid bet. Jamie, Vaughn, and I had been competing to see who could ditch their virginity first and I had won. Surprisingly, Jamie had been the most reluctant even after his fallout with Bee while Vaughn had been too chicken shit. Not to mention, I was technically in a relationship with my cousin’s ex-girlfriend but sleeping with Bee was the one line I couldn’t cross. I will never know why Olivia chose me to sleep with and why she chose me to watch her die. I only know her family will never let me anywhere near her to ask. I don’t blame them. I had once been a plague on this town and everyone in it.

  “Because you’re such an expert on women?”

  I stepped behind her, leaving no space between us. Her round ass pressing against me had my dick rising from slumber. “Would you let me inside you if you knew there would never be anything else?”

  “If it’s what I wanted.” Her rigid body told a different story.

  Not in a million years would Four let me have her without owning a piece of me in return. She wasn’t that kind of girl, but I’d play along anyway.

  “Is it what you want?” My hands curved her hips as my lips brushed her nape. “Me inside you?”

  “You’re twisting my words.”

  “What if I told you,” I said I as I slipped the button on her jeans free, “that it’s all I can think about?” It was the most honest thing I’ve said to her since her return. While she’s been plotting to ruin me, I’ve been imagining ways to get her on her back. To start.

  “I would tell you it will never happen…” She drew a sharp breath when my fingers slipped inside her panties. “…with or without the commitment.”

  “Is that why you’re so wet?” Her whimpers as I circled her clit sounded so sweet. “Because of all the sex we’re not going to have?”

  I told Vaughn this was how I’d make her pay for trying to humiliate me and foil my plans, but as I toyed with her pussy, I found myself wanting to make her come for entirely different reasons.

  “Absolutely,” she said, panting. “Ever McNam
ara not getting what he wants for once is my favorite fantasy.”

  I dipped my fingers lower, drawing another gasp from her lips. “I hear you, Four, but it’s five minutes to midnight. Do you know what that means?”

  “No,” she whined.

  Cupping her pussy, I kept at her clit with my thumb. I didn’t want to miss a fucking thing when she came. “It’s time to blow your candle out.”

  Her body shuddered, and then she pressed her ass against me when my finger pushed inside her. Fuck, she’s tight. I wrapped my arm around her waist to keep her still. I didn’t want the first time I took her to be in the middle of Coach’s goddamn kitchen.

  “What if someone comes?” She was too busy riding my hand to see me bite my lip and close my eyes in relief. If she had denied me, I probably would have thrown away pride and begged at her feet.

  “Then they’ll see how sexy you are when you come.” Because nothing short of ‘no’ from her lips would stop me from debasing this girl. I gently filled her with a second finger to drive her wild in my arms, and it nearly crippled me to stop there. I knew just by how snug and eagerly she gripped me that she was untouched. A virgin. All mine. And if I hadn’t already sold my soul, I knew I’d do it right then to keep her that way.

  Tragically, it didn’t even matter.

  By the time my father tossed them back in the slums, I will have carved my name into her heart, soul, and pussy.

  Four suddenly flooded and clamped down on my fingers as if she read my thoughts, and despite my claims, I clapped my hand over her mouth. I decided not only would her sweet cries be for my ears only, but I’d make sure to hear them as often as I liked.

  “We’re not through,” I warned. She was already slumped in my arms and fighting to catch her breath. Holding her up with one hand, I pulled her jeans down with the other until they pooled around her sneakers. Her panties were next, and then I was plopping her on the counter.

 

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