The peer and the puppet, p.21
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       The Peer and the Puppet, p.21

           B. B. Reid
 

  “You could just flip the light switch next to you,” Ever called out. A jingling sound followed.

  My fingers quickly fumbled for the switch, and when I found it, light flooded the room. Ever was leaning against the Racer twirling the key ring on his forefinger.

  “How did you—”

  “I’ve known the combination to my father’s safe since I was ten.”

  “Why do you have them?”

  “I figured you’d want to take your new ride for a test drive.”

  I narrowed my gaze. “Why would you help me?”

  He sighed and ceased twirling the key ring. “I told you we aren’t enemies as long as you stay out of my way.”

  But it couldn’t be that simple. Not with Ever. “How do I know you aren’t setting me up again?”

  “You don’t.”

  Ever was a magnet drawing me close until I stood directly in front of him, hating how feminine he made me feel. “So I should just trust you?”

  His nostrils flared. “Your choices have always been yours to make. I didn’t put that bottle of Jameson in your hand, and I didn’t make you use it as a weapon. Take some fucking responsibility.”

  “Whatever.” I tried to grab the keys, but he jerked them high out of my reach, causing my body to fall into him. My breasts were pressed into his chest, and I held my breath when he lowered his head.

  “That doesn’t sound like gratitude.”

  “You’re being a jerk.”

  “And you’re being a whiny bitch.”

  I stretched to make another grab for the keys, which was a huge mistake. My hips met his, and he kept me there with a hand on my ass when I tried to pull away.

  “Give me the keys.”

  “Say please.”

  “Never.”

  “Then I’ll take a kiss instead.” He smiled, making him even more irresistible.

  “You…you h-have a girlfriend,” I stuttered.

  His playful expression vanished, and he narrowed his eyes. “You seem to only remember that when it’s convenient for you.” He stared down at me for a moment before his arm came down, and he dropped the keys in my palm. The hand on my ass slid to my hip, and he moved me away. “Be back by ten,” he ordered.

  I watched him walk away. It didn’t feel right letting him leave with a barrier between us, so I blurted the first thing that came to mind. “What if I get caught?”

  He paused, and already, I could feel the pain in my chest easing. “They went to the city for dinner and a show,” he said without facing me. “You’ll be home long before they get back if you do as I say.”

  “You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”

  “Very much.” He made a quick exit.

  Pulling out my cell, I texted Tyra that I’d meet her at the theater.

  SHE DIDN’T KNOW THAT I’D been following her since she left home. Watching her ride had me wishing I was between her legs instead of that goddamn bike. Stealing the keys from my father had been to satisfy a curiosity. I didn’t expect her skill or the thrill of watching her.

  I had resigned myself to staying away from Four, but then I came home from school and heard her arguing with my father. My baser instincts had taken over my free will, and I couldn’t stop myself from standing up for her. I wanted to beat my chest and roar at our parents and the entire goddamn world that if they fucked with her, they fucked with me. I didn’t understand my need to protect her, but I was beginning to realize that I was powerless against it. Even my father was becoming suspicious as I knew he would be, but I couldn’t reason with myself to care. I wanted him and everyone else to see that she was mine. Even though she shouldn’t be.

  Four didn’t meet her friend right away. Instead, she took to the deserted back roads. My hands itched to grab hold of her and shake some sense into her each time she took a curve without slowing or accelerated on a straight road. When my speedometer read ninety, and she was still a few car lengths ahead, I promised to get my hands on her ass when I got her back home.

  After scaring twenty years off my life, she finally made her way toward town, and I followed her to the theater. Tyra looked amazed as she watched Four park. They said a few words before moving inside, and I watched them disappear as I typed a text.

  Ten minutes later, I was walking into the theater with Vaughn. We stopped to load up on popcorn, soda, and candy and made our way into the theater showing the chick flick. Vaughn groaned again when we stood inside the dark room and heard the dialogue. Most of the seats were empty, and after a quick scan, I found our girls sitting in a dark corner on the far side.

  Tyra didn’t seem all that surprised when she looked up and found us standing over them.

  “I knew you’d find me,” she grumbled at Vaughn.

  “Then why did you bother keeping it a secret?”

  Four didn’t speak, though our gazes remained locked. Vaughn broke our stare down moments later when he asked her to move down a seat. I was surprised when she obliged. He immediately claimed the seat between Tyra and Four, and I sat next to Four on the end.

  “What are you doing here?”

  I noticed she didn’t have anything to snack on, so I tossed a pack of Twizzlers in her lap. She ignored the candy and repeated her question.

  “Thought I’d see a movie.”

  “And it just so happened to be this movie?”

  “Is there a problem, Archer?”

  “As a matter of fact, stalking is a very big problem.”

  “Then why haven’t you asked me to leave yet?”

  “I don’t like to waste my breath.”

  “So, what would you call this?”

  She seemed to think it over before turning in her seat to face the screen. I felt myself fighting a grin when she tore open the bag of Twizzlers a moment later. Vaughn had reclined his and Tyra’s seats, and I considered doing the same but decided even that small of a temptation was too risky, so I settled in to watch the movie.

  “I can’t believe someone actually filmed this crap,” I muttered ten minutes into the movie.

  She reluctantly met my gaze in the darkened theater. “Why do you say that?”

  “Other than the cheesy dialogue?” She nodded, so I asked, “How does someone supposedly smart, successful, and sexy not see that he’s a psychopath?”

  “Why are you so sure he’s crazy?”

  “He’s trying too hard.”

  “The movie is called The Perfect Guy.”

  It killed me how naïve she truly was. “There’s no such thing.”

  “The girls at school would disagree. Some would say you’re the perfect guy.”

  “It’s a fantasy. None of them know me.”

  “I heard more than a few know a certain”—her gaze trailed to my lap—“part of you.”

  “Not likely. I don’t have community dick.” After Olivia, I’d been particularly selective. Everyone at Brynwood assumed I would only touch a girl if she were hot enough but in truth, I only fucked the ones who were transparent and uncomplicated. And yeah those girls happened to be the ones who were hot, popular and shallow.

  Four didn’t seem convinced, and I wasn’t about to discuss the girls I’d slept with, so I said, “Wanna make it interesting?”

  “How so?”

  “I bet you he does something fucked up to the cat.”

  “What?” she snorted as she laughed. “That’s oddly specific. You sure you haven’t seen this movie?”

  “Chick flicks aren’t my thing.”

  “Because you’re so macho?” she teased.

  Movement behind her caught my eye, and I glanced up just in time to catch Vaughn’s hand traveling up Tyra’s skirt. They were no longer pretending to watch the movie as they made out in their darkened corner.

  “Because I prefer not to spend ninety minutes bleeding from my eyeballs.”

  “It’s not that bad.” She giggled, and it felt like a fist had punched its way inside my chest and seized my heart in its grip.

  “Do you acce
pt?”

  “Depends on what you want.”

  I pretended to think it over even though I knew exactly what I wanted. “The kiss you weaseled your way out of earlier.”

  “You have a girlfriend, but I’m the weasel?”

  “It’s complicated.”

  “Doesn’t matter. Pick something else.”

  “No.”

  “Then no bet.”

  “There’s got to be something you want.” I was aware that I was borderline begging but couldn’t bring myself to care.

  “What I want you can’t give me.”

  “What if I offered to release you from our deal?”

  Her gaze narrowed on me. “You’re that sure you’ll win?”

  I had no fucking clue, but to be honest, I didn’t need the deal to control her. Every day, she lost some of her drive for revenge to her determination to resist me. “You in or you out?”

  She hesitated for only a split second before saying, “In.”

  I held out my hand, and she shook it before settling in to finish watching the movie.

  Vaughn and Tyra continued to make out.

  Sometime later, I heard her soft groan when the cat went missing, and a later scene showed Mr. Perfect with the cat in his home as he watched the heroine through a hidden camera. To fuck with her, I reached into my pocket for my Chapstick.

  She peeked at me as I applied my cherry flavored lip balm, so I popped my lips for good measure.

  “You’re pissing me off.” Her gaze was now on the screen again, but she was no longer watching the movie.

  “I’m sorry.” I offered her the tube. “Would you like some?”

  She twisted her lips but didn’t respond. When the movie finally ended, I led the way out of the theater. Tyra had a hard time meeting our gazes while Vaughn wore a stupid grin. “What’s next?” he questioned excitedly as he rubbed his hands together.

  Tyra shook her head. “I need to get home. I have a test to study for.”

  Vaughn narrowed his gaze. “Isn’t that in two days?”

  “Some of us aren’t comfortable cramming,” she retorted.

  “Whatever.” Vaughn trained his gaze on Four. “What about you?”

  I pretended not to notice her glance at me before answering. “I have to get the bike home.”

  “You guys are lame,” Vaughn sighed. To Tyra, he said, “Come on. I’ll follow you home.”

  They took off together, leaving Four and me alone on the sidewalk. We slowly walked to the parking lot, and when we reached her bike, she twisted to face me. “I guess I’ll see you at home then?”

  “I guess so.”

  With an awkward nod and wave, she hopped on her bike and took off. I stole a peek at her ass just before she turned the corner and groaned. There was no way I wasn’t going to follow her.

  Hurrying to my car, I almost missed the hooded figure lingering under one of the street lamps. I couldn’t see his face, but I knew he was watching me. I felt for the blade in my pocket and took cautious steps toward the stranger. Blackwood Keep was one of the safest places on the eastern seaboard, but instinct told me that I was about to face-off with a predator.

  The orange glow grew brighter the closer I came. I searched the shadows behind him just in case he had friends before stepping into the circle of light. When he pushed back his hood, my blood ran cold, and I cursed myself for leaving my Exiled-issued gun at home.

  “What the fuck are you doing here, Harlan?” I tightened my grip on my blade just in case he decided to do something stupid.

  “I followed you, Danny Boy.” He then smiled and said, “You’ve got a nice set up here. That big fancy house of yours is really impressive.”

  “Why did you follow me?”

  “I never trusted you, but after you saved my life, I figured I might have been wrong about you…but then I saw you in the city, looking like a million bucks, and I realized I’m never wrong.”

  “Whatever you think you know—”

  “You and I both know what I know, so let’s not insult each other’s intelligence. I thought you were hiding something, but I got to say, you’re damn good. I never expected to find some rich boy looking for a thrill.”

  I didn’t bother to correct his assumption. My reasons for becoming Exiled were none of his fucking business. “What do you want?”

  “Straight to the point. That’s the Danny I know. What I want is never to see your fucking face again, pretty boy. If I do, I’ll carve it up real nice before letting Fox kill you.”

  “Does he know?”

  When he shook his head, relief flooded me. “Consider us even for saving my life. As long as you stay the fuck away from Exiled, we’ll stay even.”

  He stood to his full height, and I considered killing him, but we both knew I wasn’t a murderer. The only blood I would ever spill was Fox’s and only if he left me no choice.

  “This is goodbye…Ever.” He patted my shoulder on his way past, and I felt helpless and enraged as I watched him disappear into the night.

  I SLEPT PAST MY ALARM and did a mad dash from my bed to the shower and into my uniform. After the movies, I’d taken the scenic route home. Ever still hadn’t made it home when I arrived, so I snuck into his room and left the keys to the Racer on his nightstand. Somehow, while worrying if he’d make it home in time and chewing my fingernails to bits, I’d fallen asleep.

  Dressed for school, I grabbed my backpack and rushed downstairs. I was too late for breakfast, but I stopped by the kitchen anyway for one of Mrs. Greene’s freshly baked muffins. Judging by the mouth-watering scent my nose was picking up, it was going to be a blueberry morning.

  I jumped the last two stairs just as Jamie sauntered from the kitchen with a half-eaten muffin in one hand and two in the other. He grinned when he caught sight of me and stuffed the last of the muffin in his mouth.

  “Morning, sleeping beauty,” he said with a mouth full of scrumptious blueberry delight.

  “Did you save some for the rest of us?”

  “I’m a growing boy,” he defended.

  I started for the kitchen again when his free hand circled my wrist, stopping me in my tracks.

  “Heads up. You’re riding with me today.”

  “Is everything okay?” Jamie and Ever usually took turns driving, and on the rare days they drove separate cars, I always chose Jamie. It was better for everyone that way. Last year, riding alone with Ever had left him with a black eye and me with a threat from him that I should have heeded.

  Jamie glanced over his shoulder at the kitchen, and when he regarded me once more, the worry in his eyes caught me off guard. “Here”—he offered up one of his muffins—“take one of mine, and let’s get out of here.”

  “What?” I stared at him as if he’d grown a second head before my very eyes. “You never share food. Why are you being weird?”

  He blew air from his lungs and released my wrist to shove his fingers through his hair. “I’m not.”

  “Then why don’t you want me in the kitchen?”

  “Ever’s not in the best of moods.”

  “When is he ever?” I didn’t wait for a response and pushed past him. I wasn’t going to worry myself about which side of the bed Ever woke up on. When I stepped into the kitchen, Ever was rising from his seat at the farthest end of the island with a bowl in his hand. “Hey.”

  He met my gaze across the room, but there wasn’t a flicker of emotion or even vague recognition in his brief glance.

  “Hey.” The single syllable was frozen over, and I instantly regretted not leaving with Jamie when I had the chance.

  “I left the keys in your room last night. Did you—”

  “They’re back in the safe,” he curtly supplied.

  “Are you okay?” I questioned while moving closer. I thought I was used to Ever’s mood swings, but this felt different.

  “I’m fine.” He placed his bowl in the sink and met my gaze for the second time. “Jamie told you he’s giving you a ride to school?


  That was when I noticed he was still in his pajamas: long plaid bottoms and a white T-shirt.

  “He did.” I moved closer and realized I might have been a masochist. I now stood in front of him with barely a foot of space between us. “Are you sick?”

  “I said I’m fine.” He went completely still when I stepped closer until the tip of his sock-covered toes kissed the front of my patent leather ballets. “What are you doing?” he snapped when I peered up at him.

  “Checking for signs of distress.”

  “Archer.”

  I reeled at his brusqueness. “Is this about the bet?”

  “What?”

  Before I could talk myself out of it, I rose to the tips of my toes and kissed his cheek. “There. All debts have been settled.”

  My smile fell when he shoved me away and wiped his skin where my lips had been.

  “Keep that shit to yourself, Archer.” And then he spat, “I have a girlfriend.” Without another word spoken, he stalked from the kitchen, leaving me to wonder if I had any more room in my heart for another scar.

  “I think I’m ready,” Tyra whispered as our lunch trays were filled.

  “Ready for what?”

  When she blushed and wouldn’t meet my gaze, I got a pretty good idea of what she meant. I took a deep breath to stall for time to figure out how to proceed. Girl talk was still a novelty for me, and now we’d ventured into discussing our sex lives. Neat.

  “Are you sure?”

  “I’m pretty sure.”

  “Are you sure pretty sure is a good enough sure?”

  “Can we stop saying sure?”

  “Sure.”

  We shared a laugh despite my alarm and her uncertainty before the conversation turned serious again.

  “I’m ready, and I can’t think of anyone better to turn my card in to.”

  “How about someone who’s not a rich playboy?”

  Her face fell, telling me my attempt at humor was unappreciated. “You don’t know him like I do.”

  It was hard to argue her point. Hadn’t Ever claimed much of the same last night? On the outside, we can only see what people choose to show us. Had Vaughn let Tyra in?

 
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