The peer and the puppet, p.22
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       The Peer and the Puppet, p.22

           B. B. Reid
 

  “You’re right, I don’t, so I should just trust your judgment, huh?”

  Her sharp nod was followed with, “Right.”

  Empty seats were in abundance today. Unfortunately, Tyra insisted we sit at the middle table again. Ever’s absence was noticeable when we sat down even though the table was crowded as usual with people standing around hoping to rub elbows with the chosen ones.

  Tyra barely touched her food or spoke as she shared frequent, lustful glances with Vaughn. Jamie wasn’t around to offer a distraction either, so I kept my nose damn near mashed in my potatoes and ignored the curious glances and obvious snickers.

  I wolfed down my food and bolted. The cafeteria door swinging shut behind me cut off the sound of Tyra calling my name. The hallways were mostly empty, but I felt vulnerable left out in the open. I made my way down the hall, hoping to find an empty classroom to duck into until lunch ended.

  I was making my way to the second floor when I heard two voices, only one of them familiar.

  “I know what you’re after.”

  A feminine snort and then, “I doubt that, but go ahead…shock me.”

  “You think you’re so much better, but your ship is sinking, and you and I both know Captain Prick isn’t going to save the day. He’s got a shiny new toy, Barbie.”

  “You let me worry about that.”

  “I could help you.”

  “Baby steps, Jason. You can’t even help yourself.”

  My fist tightened on the banister, but I forced myself to stay put. Information was much more satisfying than confrontation.

  “This is your last chance to join the winning team.”

  “Why would I betray Ever?”

  His sharp smile was pure evil. “Because unlike him, my father will make yours an offer. I have to be a better choice than your old man’s golfing buddies, right?”

  “You’re about neck and neck.”

  Before Jason could respond, a tall figure brushed past me. Casually, the newcomer rounded the banister and climbed the stairs to the landing. I stifled my groan when I recognized the skin fade and tattoos disappearing under the wave of thick reddish-brown locks. “Interesting place and time for secret meetings.”

  Jason’s scowl deepened, but Barbie’s icy composure held as Jamie pushed between them, effectively creating space, before leaning against the wall in a casual pose. The tension was thick enough to choke on as he locked gazes with Jason after a dismissive glance at Barbie.

  “What do you want, Buchanan?”

  “Nothing in particular. I’m just curious.”

  “Walk away.”

  “Funny…I was going to suggest you do the same.”

  “Careful…I don’t see your cousin around.”

  Jamie’s pierced brow quirked. “I guess that means there’s no one to stop me from kicking your ass, huh?”

  “There’s no need for that. We’re done here, Jason.” Barbie’s dismissal and the promise of violence in Jamie’s eyes sent Jason scurrying up the stairs and back to whatever hole he had crawled out of.

  Once they were alone…well, mostly…their gazes clashed, and in them was unmistakable desire. It made me wonder how they’ve managed to deny one another.

  “I’ve been looking for you, Bette.”

  Bette? I mouthed.

  “And I’ve been avoiding you.” She attempted to strut away, but with a hand around her waist, he gently guided her until her back was against the wall.

  “Stop running from me,” he cooed as if attempting to woo her.

  When he stepped closer, she held up her hand to ward him off. Effortlessly, his chest pushed against her small hand, forcing her to drop it as he crowded her against the wall.

  Strawberry blonde curls bounced and caught the light as she shook her head. “I won’t let you do this to me again.”

  “Do to you?” Jamie spat incredulously. “Have you forgotten that you’re fucking my cousin?”

  “You’re acting like a child.”

  I couldn’t agree more.

  “Did he know you’d always be mine when you gave it up?” A low growl echoed around the empty hall. “I should have been the first and only inside your sweet cunt.”

  “I’ve never slept with him!”

  A snort that sounded much too casual drowned my gasp of surprise. Was it true or just another lie?

  “My cousin gets what he wants,” Jamie snarled, “and so do I.”

  “You don’t want me. You just don’t like that Ever has me.”

  “And?”

  “What is your problem, James? We had nothing. I’m not some toy you can just dust off and play with until you get bored again.”

  “Then you’re remembering it wrong or lying to yourself. Chasing after you was never a dull moment. Playtime with you was always my favorite time of day.”

  “Yeah, well, we aren’t kids anymore.”

  She pushed past him, and he didn’t try to stop her. My surprise quickly turned into panic, however, when I realized Barbie was descending the stairs. Any moment now, she’d notice me and know that I’d been eavesdropping. It was too late to run, so I waited, and not a breath was spilled when her glacial gaze, nearly hidden behind a curtain of thick lashes, met my own.

  “Um…hi.” I gave a lame wave which she ignored in favor of the point.

  “How much did you hear?”

  Enough. “Don’t know what you mean.”

  “Leave her alone,” Jamie called from above. His hands were shoved inside his slacks, and his jaw was set in hard lines.

  She turned her fierce gaze on Jamie but not before I saw the flash of jealousy in them. “She’s your problem now?”

  “She’s none of your business,” he bit back.

  With a huff, she flounced past me, and we both watched her disappear from sight before speaking.

  “What the hell was that?” I hissed up the stairs.

  He shrugged and looked away. “You’re new here. Tread carefully.”

  “You shouldn’t push up on your cousin’s girlfriend. It makes you look like a sleazebag.”

  With a shake of his head and a scoff, he started up the stairs. I wanted to chase after him, but the bell rang, so I headed to class instead.

  The rest of the day passed quickly, and like any other day, I was looking forward to my mechanics class. Dave wasn’t as knowledgeable as Gruff, but he had a great sense of humor. I was the first to arrive as usual, but Dave was nowhere to be found. The bay door was open, so I headed that way and found Dave hauling a bag of dog food from his F150. Suddenly, a long whine erupted from a box next to the door, and out popped a black furry head that could easily fit inside my palm and tiny paws that scratched the cardboard.

  “Hey, Four. I didn’t see you there.”

  I couldn’t take my eyes off the puppy. He fought to free himself from the box, and when he fell back onto the newspaper, I couldn’t take it anymore. I lifted him, and he immediately began licking my face to show his gratitude. While he covered me in doggy saliva, I got a better look at him. He had blue eyes and a short, shiny coat of fur.

  “I see you got yourself a pup. Don’t you think he’s too cute for you?”

  Dave chuckled, and I wrinkled my nose as I watched him sprinkle some food on the concrete. It scattered everywhere, some of it rolling into the grass. “You expect him to scavenge for food?”

  “Huh?” The clueless look on Dave’s face made me hug the pup tighter.

  “You can’t feed him like that. He’ll starve.”

  The pup wiggled in my arms eager to hunt for his food. I set him down and watched as he chased the kibbles around. “So what’s his name?”

  “Oh, haven’t named him. Couldn’t find him a home, so he’s going to the pound.”

  “What?”

  “I found him on the road outside of town. Almost ran him over.”

  My heart broke as I imagined such a horrible end for the sweet little pup.

  “He didn’t have a collar?”

 
“Nah. He’s barely old enough to be off the tit.”

  My eyebrows raised, and Dave stumbled to apologize, apparently realizing he was talking to one of his students.

  “He can’t go to the pound. The bigger dogs might beat him up.”

  “I tried to take him, but the wife wasn’t having it.” Dave checked his watch and then scooped him up to place him back in the box, much to the pup’s displeasure.

  My classmates started to arrive, so Dave ushered me inside. For the rest of the day, I couldn’t take my mind off the pup that must have lost his mother and siblings. When school ended, and all my classmates were gone, I hurried back outside where the pup was standing on his legs as if he were waiting for me. I lifted him from the sorry excuse for a bed and stared into his blue eyes. “We should go before I come to my senses.”

  He barked twice, sounding happy.

  Convincing Dave to let me take him home had been easier than I thought.

  Jay D—named after the champ Joey Dunlop—and I made our way to the parking lot. Jamie had a leggy blonde wrapped around him, but somehow, he noticed me almost immediately.

  “What the fuck?” His eyes grew wide when he saw what I carried. “No, no, no.”

  The blonde turned and wrinkled her nose when she saw I was the one who stole his attention.

  “Aw, come on. Don’t tell me you don’t like dogs.”

  “How did you even get that thing?”

  “His name is Jay D, thank you very much.’

  “He’s trouble, and you’re going to find yourself knee deep in it if you bring it home.”

  “Let me worry about that.”

  Jamie surprisingly didn’t argue. He shook his head and shot me a look of pity. “Ever’s not going to like this, and I’m not helping you explain this to him.”

  “I don’t answer to your cousin.”

  “Yeah. Okay.”

  It irritated me when the blonde smirked right along with Jamie. Did the entire school know something I didn’t?

  “Are you selling tickets?” Jamie joked. “I want a front row seat.”

  “Ugh. Shut up, and take me home,” I ordered as I rounded the front of the Jeep.

  “Yes, princess.”

  “Don’t call me that,” I snapped a little harder than necessary.

  “Because only Ever has that privilege?”

  “Because I don’t like it.”

  “If you say so.” Jamie dismissed the blonde, and she strutted off in a huff.

  I was still shaking my head as we got settled into his Jeep. Surprisingly, Jay D immediately curled in my lap for a nap.

  “What?” he questioned while wearing a genuinely puzzled expression.

  “You don’t have respect for women.”

  “That’s not true.” He shot a dazzling grin my way. “I respect you.”

  I snorted. “I’m not sleeping with you.”

  “Precisely.”

  “I don’t get it.”

  “These girls give it up no matter how shitty I treat them. If they don’t respect themselves, why should I?”

  “You could always take the high road and be a gentleman.”

  He snorted as he started the car and begin the drive home. “You’ve got a lot to learn about guys, cousin-in-law.”

  “That’s another thing. Stop calling me that. People will talk.”

  “They’re already talking. You’re just catching up.”

  I sat up in my seat and twisted to face him. “What?”

  “Everyone thinks you and my cousin are a thing.”

  “Why would they think that?”

  “Property of Ever McNamara is practically tattooed on your forehead, sweetheart.”

  “Don’t call me that, either.”

  He laughed off my snub while I pouted in his passenger seat. “This is why you and I could never be.”

  “I agree but indulge me. Why is that?”

  “You’re too high maintenance.”

  “What do you call Barbie?”

  “A fucking fraud.” More quietly he added, “And a plague.”

  Silence fell, and I found myself feeling sorry for Jamie. He was in love, and he didn’t want to be.

  “She really got to you, didn’t she?”

  “What are you talking about?”

  “Barbie…you love her.”

  “And then she fucked my cousin, Four. Your point?”

  I was surprised that he hadn’t denied being in love with Barbie, but I quickly recovered. “Maybe it’s not what you think.” Tyra had her doubts and Ever had also implied that their thing wasn’t a thing at all.

  His hands strangled the steering wheel. “Please, don’t tell me you fell for his crap?”

  “They don’t act like a couple. Have you ever even seen them kiss?”

  “Does he kiss you in public?”

  “I’m not his girlfriend.” And he shouldn’t be kissing me at all. Just this morning, Ever had rejected me, and instead of relief, I felt like he’d ripped my heart out. He didn’t belong to me, and this morning made it clear he never would.

  “Ever does what he wants, and no one would dare tell him otherwise. Until you.”

  “Exactly. Someone like Ever doesn’t keep secrets because he’s afraid of the consequences. He keeps them to protect the people he loves.”

  “So, what are you saying?”

  “Why is it when it comes to her, you’re so dumb?” I expelled air, questioning why I even cared. “I think he’s protecting her from something…or someone.”

  He was silent for so long, I didn’t think he’d respond, but then he said, “From what?”

  I shrugged. “Maybe if you weren’t such an ass, you would know.”

  His darkening gaze cut my way. “I never took you for the judgmental type.”

  “I’m not judging you. I’m saving you. You are the enemy, Jameson Buchanan.”

  “Hey, hey…I only allow one girl to call me that.”

  “Let me guess,” I laughed, “your mother?”

  “Damn straight.”

  Jay D’s nap didn’t last very long. I thought I could sneak him up to my room while I figured out how to convince Thomas to let me keep the pup, but that wasn’t meant to be. I could hear his happy barks as I searched the cupboards for a water dish. For all of Jamie’s talk, he got out of dodge to meet up with one of his many fuck buddies, though he did promise to bring back puppy chow.

  “Is that a dog I hear upstairs?”

  I peeked over my shoulder and found Mrs. Greene with a basket of laundry tucked under her arm.

  “Oh…um.”

  She sat the basket on the island and moved to the cabinet next to me. A moment later, she handed me a small plastic bowl.

  “Thank you.”

  “I’m sorry I’ll miss all the excitement.”

  I frowned as I moved to the sink and filled the bowl with cool water. “Do you really think Thomas will be mad?”

  “I wouldn’t worry about Thomas, dear.”

  What the hell did that mean?

  She gave me a warm smile before disappearing upstairs.

  After running the water up to my new friend and praying he didn’t find anything to chew on in there, I ventured to the master suite for the first time. I figured Rosalyn would be taking one of her afternoon naps. After being a working girl for so long, she had no problem indulging in the advantages of being a kept woman.

  I knocked once and pressed my ear to the door, but no answer came. I couldn’t hear anything through the thick wood, so I cracked the door and took a cautious peek inside. Light snoring greeted me, and I smiled a secret smile. Rosalyn would die if she knew she snored.

  I left her sleeping and went back to my room to get some homework done. An hour later, I threw in the towel. When I wasn’t rescuing various items from Jay D’s teeth, he was pawing at my ankles to get me to play. Now he whined as he scratched at the door, so I figured it was time for a pee break. Outside, I watched him vigorously sniff the grass searching for the p
erfect spot to do his business.

  “You do know that’s imported grass.”

  I swung around and found Ever standing there in jeans and a gray turtleneck. His hair was perfect, and his golden brown eyes shone brightly. “What’s your problem now?”

  “Your mutt is shitting on very expensive grass.”

  “He’s not a mutt, and do you mean your father actually paid for this? You know it grows for free, right?”

  He didn’t respond, so I rolled my eyes, knowing it would piss him off, and turned my back on him. Unfortunately, Jay D chose that moment to notice him and ran his cute butt over to say hello. When Ever pointedly ignored Jay D’s attempt at friendship, he began to sniff around him.

  “Stop looking at him like that.”

  “Like what?”

  “Like he’s beneath you.”

  “He’s a dog,” he pointed out.

  “And yet he has better manners than you.” Jay D then made a liar out of me by chewing on Ever’s pant leg for attention. I held my breath when Ever peered down at him, fearing he’d kick him away out of spite.

  “Doesn’t seem like it to me.”

  “He’s a puppy.”

  “With no home training.”

  “I’ll teach him.” God, why did it feel as if I was explaining myself to him?

  “You’re under the impression that you’re keeping him?”

  My hands found my hips as I stared him down. “I don’t need your permission.”

  “No, but you need my father’s, and I can already tell based on that shit pile you didn’t even notice that it’s not happening. Take your mutt back to the pound.”

  “He didn’t come from the pound. He lost his mom,” I said while charging him. I made sure to step around the turd Jay D dropped so that I wouldn’t make Ever’s point. I now stood toe to toe and had to lift my chin to meet his eyes. “And Jay D isn’t going anywhere.”

  “Jay D? What kind of fucking name is Jay D?”

  “I named him after Joey Dunlop, my favorite rider, and I don’t need your approval.”

  “What you need is a better name.”

  “Why are you still standing here?”

  “Why are you still talking?”

  “I hate you,” I said with all the fervor I could muster.

 
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