The peer and the puppet, p.23
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       The Peer and the Puppet, p.23

           B. B. Reid
 

  “No, Four. You only wish you did.”

  “You’re mighty full of yourself today.” I didn’t give him a chance to respond as it was then, through the trees, Jay D spotted Thomas’s BMW speeding up the path and decided to run to meet it.

  “Jay D! No!”

  Thomas didn’t slow as I raced to catch my puppy. My heart seemed to pound in tune to Jay D’s barks as he ran straight for the BMW’s tires.

  “Four!”

  I heard Ever roar my name, but I had to save Jay D. Just a couple hundred feet from the speeding BMW, he finally stopped with a wagging tail. I scooped him up in my arms, happy that he was okay. It wasn’t until I heard Ever scream my name again that I remembered the car racing toward me. Tires squealed when Thomas slammed on the brakes just as Ever’s arms found my waist and pulled us out of harm’s way.

  “Are you out of your mind?” he yelled. His eyes were crazy wild when he turned me around.

  “Why are you screaming?”

  “You just ran in front of a car for a goddamn dog. Are you that stupid?”

  “Screw you.”

  He grabbed my jaw and yanked me into his chest with Jay D the only barrier between us. “I just saved your life. You better have more to say than that.”

  “Fine. Thanks. Now let me go.”

  “You’re such a fucking brat!”

  “And you’re a pompous ass!”

  “Four?”

  Both of us froze when we heard Thomas yell my name.

  “Jesus, please say something. Are you okay?” His footsteps were closing in, and Ever was still holding me.

  “I want you in my room after dinner.”

  A shiver worked its way down my spine while heat bloomed between my legs.

  “Don’t count on that happening.”

  “Test me, Four Archer, I dare you.”

  He finally put space between us just as Thomas stepped into view. He looked between Ever and me, his alarm evident. “Is she okay?”

  “I’m fine,” I answered for myself.

  “Why on Earth would you jump out in front of my car like that?”

  “Why were you speeding?” Ever questioned his father before I could answer. His indignation was unmistakable. It was even stronger than when he had berated me.

  “I have an important meeting in the city, and I left some papers in my office.” To me, Thomas said, “Are you sure you’re okay, and son, she can speak for herself.”

  “I told you. I’m fine.”

  “Good. Now explain what just happened.”

  “Thomas…” I lifted Jay D up, and he offered a chipper bark. “Meet Jay D.”

  Thomas’s gaze narrowed on my pup.

  “What is that?”

  “Why does no one seem to recognize a dog around here?”

  Thomas’s eyebrows rose at my comment, but he chose to ignore it. “Aha…What is it doing here?”

  “He needs a home.”

  “Oh?”

  Suddenly, I felt less confident. “I thought maybe I could give him one.”

  He glanced from me to Ever and back again. “Have you discussed this with your mother?”

  I stumbled over my response, completely startled by the fact that he hadn’t shot me down right away.

  “Not yet.” I sounded hopeful.

  “Speak to her about it, and then we’ll see.” He spun around and hurried off.

  I jumped up and down and stopped only when Jay D whined.

  “I wouldn’t celebrate just yet.”

  “You’re still here?” I questioned with a sigh. My back was still turned to him when I felt him press against me, and it took great restraint to keep from leaning back against him.

  “You should be glad that I am.”

  “You’re a curse, Ever McNamara.” And hadn’t Jamie said the same when I accused him of being in love?

  I turned and stared into Ever’s eyes. The pools of gold were brimming with emotion.

  “Then you must be the spell to break me.”

  He left me standing there and disappeared into the house. I followed behind him with Jay D in my arms, wondering if what he said was true.

  “So, Four, tell me how you came into possession of this dog.”

  We were all at dinner with the exception of Jamie, who had called to say he was tied up. I was afraid to know if he’d meant literally. With that boy, you never knew.

  “I didn’t possess him. I adopted him.”

  Thomas’s eyebrows rose. “Right. My apologies. How did you come to adopt him?”

  “Well, Dave found him—”

  “I’m sorry…Dave?”

  “My auto mechanics teacher.”

  “You’re taking auto mechanics?” Thomas questioned, clearly displeased.

  Dave had said when I questioned why he was allotted only a handful of students that for forty grand a year, the parents didn’t want their kids wasting time learning a blue-collar trade.

  “You call your teacher by his first name?” Rosalyn also questioned at the same time.

  “He insisted.”

  Thomas tensed while Rosalyn looked alarmed.

  “That’s sort of inappropriate, don’t you think, dear?”

  “It’s not anything like that. He’s just laid back.”

  “He’s your teacher. He shouldn’t be laid back.”

  I blew out a breath and tugged on the end of my ponytail. “Can we just get back to discussing Jay D?”

  “I just don’t think a dog is a good idea. How will you maintain your grades if you’re busy training a dog?”

  “You let me worry about that.”

  “It’s my job to worry,” Rosalyn countered.

  Oh yeah? Since when?

  The moment we moved in, I hadn’t been much more to her than extra baggage, stowed away and forgotten. “And I’m telling you not to. I can handle the responsibility.”.

  “Who will clean up after him when he pees and sheds?”

  “I’ll make sure he does his business outside, and he has a short coat. He won’t shed much.” I had no idea if that was true but it sounded good.

  “And how will you purchase the food or the vet bill if he gets sick? You can’t ask Thomas to provide for a dog on top of everything else.”

  “Then I’ll get a job.”

  “So you’ll be working and taking care of a dog? I see the odds of you staying focused on school getting smaller and smaller.”

  I sat with my mouth agape, wondering where this new Rosalyn had come from. She hadn’t been this concerned with me since…well…never.

  “I worked back home, and my grades were fine. A dog isn’t like having a baby. I can do this.”

  “I’m just not sure you can.”

  I felt my lips press tight as my nostrils flared. “You owe this to me.”

  “I owe you?”

  “You uprooted me from my home so you could become a trophy for your rich boyfriend, and then you shipped me off to another freaking country the moment I embarrassed you. So, yeah …you owe me.”

  Silence fell, and when tears welled in Rosalyn’s eyes, I looked away. I couldn’t let her tears back me down. I met Ever’s gaze, but he was his usual detached self.

  Thomas cleared his throat and stood from his seat at the head of the table. He walked to the end where Rosalyn sat and began massaging her shoulders as if she’d just been through trauma.

  Give me a break.

  “It seems we’ve gotten a bit off track here, so why don’t we back up?” I didn’t speak, and neither did she. “Four, you may keep Jay D for a trial.”

  Rosalyn started to protest, but Thomas deepened his massage, calming her.

  “And when I say trial, I mean it. You’ll feed and care for him yourself. The moment your mother or I feel you can’t handle the responsibility, he’s gone. Do you understand?” His firmness warned me not to test him, so I nodded.

  Even though I’d won, I still lost my appetite, so I excused myself and fled to the solitude of my room.


  I WATCHED FOUR RUN AWAY from the train wreck she had caused and almost gave into the urge to go after her. Partially because her mother’s dramatics were grating on my nerves. When she finally settled the fuck down, my father returned to his seat.

  “So Mrs. Greene tells me you stayed home from school today.”

  “You have the housekeeper keeping tabs on me now?”

  “She was worried about you,” he answered, unbothered by my irritation. “You never get sick.”

  “I’m better now.”

  “Good. Now have you considered our last discussion?”

  “I’m not getting back on the team.”

  “I’ve yet to understand why you quit in the first place.”

  “I lost interest.”

  “No one that naturally good just loses interest.”

  Done with the conversation, I tossed down my linen napkin and stood from the table. I wasn’t hungry anyway. “I have homework.”

  I could feel my father’s anger as I left the dining room. Of course, Four hadn’t come to my room, so I made my way down the hall. I could hear Eminem’s ‘The Way I Am’ pounding on the other side of her door as I contemplated my next move. Every time I vowed to keep my distance, she pulled me right back in. I pushed inside her room, and my gaze immediately landed on Four sitting cross-legged on the floor playing with her mutt.

  “I knew I should have locked my door,” she muttered without looking up. I chose to ignore her comment. If she really wanted me to stay away, she would have locked the fucking door. I was almost pissed that she hadn’t. One of us needed to have self-control, and I had already proven it wouldn’t be me.

  “So you like Eminem?”

  “I stole Jamie’s iPod.”

  Sure enough, I spotted his iPod hooked up to his speakers on her desk. He had been crying about losing it, and all along she had it. I sunk onto the foot of her bed and rested my forearms on my knees so I could see her face.

  “You didn’t come to my room.”

  “I was completely serious when I said I wouldn’t.”

  I wrapped her wavy blonde hair in my fist and tilted her head back before kissing her lips. When I pulled away, I stared into her unfocused eyes. “And I was completely serious when I said you shouldn’t test me.”

  “Actually, you dared me to.” She pulled away and sighed. “What do you want?”

  “I want you…” I thought about leaving it at that but knew that I couldn’t. “…to stop causing trouble.”

  “You like me tame, and you like me wild, remember?”

  I would have kissed her again or something else stupid, but the mutt chose that moment to growl and bark.

  “Good boy,” Four cooed. She scratched behind his ears when he crawled into her lap.

  “What kind of dog is he, anyway?”

  “I’m not sure…a Lab, I think.”

  “That’s all? I doubt he was bred pure.”

  “God, you’re pretentious.” She looked ready to punch me.

  Closing my eyes, I prayed for a little patience. When I opened them, she was still glaring. “Dogs have character traits just like humans. It would make training and caring for him easier if you knew his needs.”

  “Oh.”

  “I’m not always an asshole,” I teased. Her lips twisted with humor, and I was tempted to kiss her again. “Where did your teacher find him?”

  “He only said outside of town.”

  “The easiest way to find out what he is would be to find out where he came from.”

  “I don’t really care, Ever.” She whispered the words so softly that I almost didn’t hear them. She also wouldn’t look me in the eye, so I lifted her chin.

  “Then it doesn’t fucking matter.”

  She finally let me see those pretty brown eyes and the surprise that shown through them. “Why are you being somewhat pleasant after this morning?”

  “Somewhat?”

  “Think what you want, but you’re always an asshole.”

  I paused. It wasn’t as if I could deny it. A part of me needed her to hate me so that maybe she’d be strong enough to stay away. It was becoming more clear every day that I damn well fucking couldn’t. Four was a magnet and I stopped resisting her pull a long time ago. “And you have a thick skull.”

  “Because I don’t want you bossing me around?” She pursed her lips, not knowing how hungry it made me.

  “Because you don’t listen even when you should.”

  “Maybe I would if the person giving me orders wasn’t you.”

  “What about your mother?”

  “She only cares about falling in love. She should have just aborted me when she had the chance.”

  Anger burned inside my gut as I practically snatched her from the floor. The mutt fell from her lap and whined his displeasure as I laid his mother on her back and settled between her legs. “Don’t say shit like that. It’s beneath you.” It also bled like a fatal wound to know she thought so little of her life.

  “How would you know?”

  “Even a blind man can see what you’re worth.” My answer didn’t seem like enough. How did I put into words that the mere thought of her not breathing the same air as me made me a little less desperate for my next breath? Could I even trust her with that kind of power?

  She snorted and looked away, baring her neck to me. My lips landed on her warm skin, and her body vibrated beneath me.

  “What are you doing?” she gasped.

  “I’m enjoying you. You owe me a kiss, anyway.”

  “You’re either bipolar or you have selective memory.” She shoved me away and sat up while I leaned back on my elbow. “What’s your problem, McNamara?” That was her second time asking me today.

  Running my hand through my hair, I decided to tell her the truth. “I was feeling fucked up.”

  “Obviously,” she snarled. “Why?”

  “I fucked up, and I blamed you.” It wasn’t much of an explanation, but it was all I could give her.

  “Why would you blame me?”

  “The guy we ran into the day we took you to the city was Exiled.”

  “I know. I recognized him. He was there that day I followed you.” Her lips parted as worry entered her eyes. “Do you think he made you?”

  “I know he did. He followed us here.”

  She gasped. “Are you in danger?”

  “I can handle myself.” I waved her off even though her concern felt damn good. It wasn’t me I was afraid for. Wren knowing where I lived meant he could get to Four anytime he wanted.

  “That guy seemed like he could, too.”

  She wasn’t wrong, but I wasn’t afraid of Wren. He was the least of my worries. Never finding Fox was what kept me up at night but I could understand her fear. Wren Harlan was a force to be reckoned with, and anyone who had his loyalty would be unstoppable.

  “He won’t be a problem as long as I stay away.” She didn’t look so sure. I brushed her cheek with my thumb, and she finally relaxed.

  “What made you change your mind about me?”

  “This is going to sound cliché but seeing you run out in front of my father’s car made me think twice about keeping my distance. If you had been hurt or worse, I didn’t want the last feeling you felt for me to be hatred.”

  “We haven’t exactly been the best of friends.”

  “It doesn’t make sense to me either, but I’ve been living without a clue since the day I met you.”

  She looked as uncomfortable as I felt and quickly changed the subject. “So what are you going to do?”

  “Nothing. Harlan and I agreed that if I stayed away from Exiled, he’d keep his mouth shut about who I really am.”

  “But why does it matter? People from different backgrounds join gangs all the time. Who cares if you were spoon-fed diamonds as a baby?”

  “Trust me, Four. It matters but not because of how much my family is worth.”

  “Then why?”

  I shook my head, warning her to drop it. She
looked like she wanted to argue for a moment before sighing and dropping her shoulders in defeat. “Do you trust him?” she asked in a small voice.

  “For now, I don’t have a choice, but if he becomes a problem, he’ll be dealt with.”

  “You don’t have to be macho for me.”

  I gave her my most charming smile. “Then who will I be macho for?”

  “How about Barbie? Your girlfriend?” She lifted a brow.

  “Bee and I are just friends.” Immediately, I clammed up. I didn’t mean to say that, and her reaction told me there was no going back.

  “You call her Bee?”

  “She hates her name and hates Barbie even more.” Fuck. It felt like I’d been injected with truth serum because I couldn’t shut the fuck up.

  “How could she hate being called Barbie when she looks like a doll every single day? That’s obviously her own doing, right?”

  “There’s more to her than what any of them sees.”

  “You love her.” Her voice broke at the end. “Don’t you?”

  “Of course, I do.” I quickly grabbed her before she could pull away. “But I’m not in love with her.” I stared into her pretty brown eyes while my hand on her chin kept her from looking away. “Am I understood?”

  She narrowed her eyes and said, “By friends, did you mean with benefits?”

  I could only chuckle at her stubbornness. Jealousy looked damn good on her.

  “I mean I’ve never fucking touched her, and I never will.”

  “Then why pretend? Doesn’t it get old?”

  “I told you. It’s not my secret to tell. And pretending was never a problem until you.”

  “And Jamie? He thinks you’ve betrayed him. How can you be okay with that?”

  “I am betraying him. I knew what dating Bee would do to him, and I did it anyway.”

  “Maybe if you told him—”

  “She doesn’t want him to know, and if she ever does, she’ll tell him herself.”

  “But why you? Why did she choose you to know her secret instead of the boy she loves?”

  “She didn’t. It was by accident that I found out, but it was my decision to help her.”

  I watched the battle over whether to believe me or not wage within her until she said, “Regardless, you still have a girlfriend. The kissing has to stop.”

  Like hell it does.

  I kept our gazes locked as I pulled out my phone, dialed, and placed the call on speaker. “Bee, I’m with a girl I’d very much like to kiss. Will you tell her it’s okay?”

 

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