The peer and the puppet, p.25
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       The Peer and the Puppet, p.25

           B. B. Reid

  “Sorry, but you’re taken, remember? And I don’t date within the peerage.”

  “And I never thought I would want an uncouth grease monkey.”

  My only answer was a purse of my lips, which caught his attention and lit a fire in his eyes.

  “Will it help if I said you were the most sexiest girl I’ve ever seen?”

  “Only if you mean it,” I teased.

  “I do mean it. You’re the most beautiful nuisance.”



  “It’s getting cheesy.”

  He tucked his bottom lip between his teeth, and he must have pressed down hard because it became red and swollen and begged to be kissed. Reading my mind, he said, “If you want something from me, you only have to ask.”

  “Is that so?”

  “It is.”

  “And what is it that you think I want from you?”

  He leaned in, and I was mortified at the satisfied sigh I released after the soft press of his lips against mine.

  “I guess we’ll see.” He stared down at me with what seemed like hope but also uncertainty. I wasn’t sure how much time passed before he spoke again. “Tell me more.”

  I took a deep breath, and he waited with eagle focus for my exhale. The volatility of his emotions surprised me the most as I told him more about my childhood: anger, pity, sadness. Yet he never spoke a word. Dusk had darkened into night when he finally did.


  “Hmm?” My voice was barely a mumble, and I was pretty sure my eyes were closed.

  “You’re falling asleep.”

  “I’m not,” I denied with a yawn. “And don’t call me baby. Now, where was I?”

  His chuckle was the last thing I remembered before I drifted off with his chest as my pillow and his heartbeat my goodnight lullaby.

  Sometime during the night, I awoke with a start. The air was much cooler than I remembered. Tentatively, my hand slid to the spot where he had been, and I was surprised and nervous at finding it warm but empty. Tonight really happened. My gaze moved around the moonlit room searching for his shadow when I heard his sleepy growl.

  “Is that my iPod?”

  “What do you want, Jameson?”

  I tensed at the sound of Jamie’s pissed-off chuckle. “Don’t call me Jameson as if you’re my father. I’m older than you.”

  “What do you want,” Ever repeated slowly.

  “Are you done playing with her?”

  My teeth gnashed. Jamie spoke as if I was nothing more than a house pet. However, it was the bite in his tone that kept me still and my mouth shut.

  “What does it matter to you?”

  I’d like to know that, too.

  “She’s a friend,” he said almost shyly. My ire instantly cooled.

  “You have a funny way of showing it. You’ve been using her to get back at me.”

  “Yeah, well, she grew on me.”

  Silence fell between them, and I worried they’d hear the added weight in my breathing.

  “I’m done playing games,” Ever admitted almost reluctantly.

  “Does she know that?”

  “She will.”

  “And Barbie?”

  “She’s all yours…if she can trust you again.”

  “She was never not mine, motherfucker.”

  I’d heard enough. With a huff, I sat up in bed, drawing their attention from the hall. “If you two are done treating girls like Pokémon cards, I’d like to go to bed.” When an eager glint entered Ever’s eyes, I added, “Alone.” I needed time to think without this newfound charm of his interfering.

  “Are you sure about that?”

  I was thankful for the covers as anticipation shook my body at his husky tone. I clutched them for dear life when he padded over to the bed.

  “I’m sure.”

  He was still shirtless, and when he stepped into the moonlight, I noticed how his jeans hung on his hips accentuating the twin lines of muscle that disappeared under his waistline. Dropping his tall frame into a crouch, he stared at me for a moment as if mesmerized or simply waiting for me to change my mind.

  “This is goodnight then?”

  “This is goodnight.”

  I prided myself for sounding firm when all I felt was the need to wrap myself around him and never let go. He seemed to see right through me though with his secret smile, and when he leaned forward, I found myself meeting him halfway. Our lips met too briefly, so when he pulled away, I chased, earning a chuckle and a lingering kiss.

  He stood to his full height and headed for the door toward a wide-eyed Jamie. “I’ll see you downstairs for breakfast. Don’t make me wait.”

  “Stop bossing me around.”

  An amused, “Never,” was all he said before the door closed.

  Once upon a puppet, she caught a ride from Jameson.

  For all his talk about the morning after, he chose to sneak into my room and leave me another one of his fucking notes.

  In a huff, I tore up the note and watched it rain onto my bedspread. I showered and dressed quicker than normal before gathering up Jay D for his morning relief. Three times during the night, I awoke to whimpers, trudged outside, and watched with sleepy-eyed glee as my pup pooped on the imported grass.

  Worth it.

  Downstairs, I was able to confirm my suspicions.

  Ever had flown the coop.

  He was probably kicking himself for all the promises he made or patting himself on the back for his successful lies.

  I felt like a fool.

  I managed to form coherent responses through breakfast. Of course, Rosalyn was in bed, and Thomas had long left for the office. After breakfast, I wrapped some of the leftover bacon and stuffed it inside my backpack before following Jamie to his car. He fussed when he noticed me carrying Jay D and threatened to pimp him out if he chewed up his custom leather seats.

  I had no idea what I would do with Jay D once I got to school, but I knew leaving him alone to fend for himself was not an option.

  THE DAY WAS A BLUR. I spent class time daydreaming. In between, I pretended not to look for Ever in the hall, and as usual, I only had Tyra to talk to. I had just finished another secret sweep of the crowd when I heard my name called.

  I turned with Tyra at my side as Jamie jogged from the other end of the hall. When he stopped in front of us, he winked at Tyra, who sighed and rolled her eyes. He was determined to flirt with her despite her blowing him off.

  “Don’t make any plans tonight.”

  “Why not?”

  “I’m hosting a gathering.”

  “A gathering?” Tyra quipped. “Who says shit like that?”

  “Of course, you’re invited, sunshine.”

  Tyra snorted at his invitation even though we all knew she’d want to go. Chances were Vaughn would be there.

  I was less tempted to attend another Brynwood party.

  “Where is it?” I was planning to steer clear of wherever he had planned.

  “Our place.”

  With a groan, I turned to Tyra, but Jamie quickly intervened.

  “And you can’t use her place as a hideout.”

  “Why not?”

  “Because she’ll be there if she doesn’t want Vaughn playing hide the eggplant with some social climber.”

  “Who says he would?”

  “I know he wouldn’t, but she doesn’t.”

  One glance at the guilt on Tyra’s face confirmed Jamie’s claim.

  “Sorry,” she whispered meekly.

  I laid a comforting hand on her shoulder. Even though it had been Tyra’s choice to not make their thing exclusive, it couldn’t be easy to fear he might actually take advantage of bachelorhood.

  “Don’t apologize, T-baby. Personally, I find territorial women stimulating.”

  “Give it a rest, Buchanan. I’m not interested.”

  He clutched his heart, feigning hurt. “Then I’m afraid I have to go. The captain of the debate team promise
d to show me a sweet spot to bury my bone.”

  “How many more disgusting euphemisms for sex do you have?” I called as he sauntered away.

  “I could write a book!” he yelled back.

  I shook my head as we headed out the double doors and down the path toward the mechanic’s garage. We decided to skip lunch so I could check on Jay D, and Tyra could meet him. Dave agreed to keep an eye on him since the academy only allowed him a single period and a class of five. It was a good thing he owned his own mechanic shop in town. I made a mental note to speak with him about any openings. Jay D was going to need things, and my savings wouldn’t hold up forever. I refused to use the McNamara’s line of credit, so my only option left was a j-o-b.

  As we neared the bay door, the smaller door on the left opened and out stepped…Ever.

  He stopped short when he noticed me, and Tyra, quickly sensing the tension, excused herself and disappeared inside.

  “What are you doing here?”

  He slid his hand into his pocket and slowly looked me over. I did the same, noting the worn jeans, white long-sleeve, and a dark sweatshirt with the hood covering two-toned locks.

  He wasn’t lord of the manor.

  He was Danny Boy.

  “You look well rested, sleeping beauty. Have a good night?”

  Remembering his comments last night about my appearance, I felt a blush warming my cheeks and neck. I wasn’t too bewitched, however, not to notice that he’d ignored my question.

  “Don’t tell me you’re transferring to shop.”

  Dark gold eyes brightened. “I haven’t considered it until now.”

  “Don’t.” When he flashed straight white teeth, I added, “I’m serious. This is my space. My thing. I don’t need you distracting me.”

  He moved until he was standing so close I had to tilt my head back to look him in the eye.

  “I’m a distraction?”

  Only the very best kind.

  I answered with a silent nod.


  After he kissed my lips, I discreetly took a look around.

  “No one’s around.”

  “Did you forget about Dave?”

  “A non-factor.”

  “How arrogant you are.”

  He shrugged and tilted my chin up higher so he could kiss me again.

  This time, I pulled away. “I don’t want you kissing me at school while everyone thinks you and Barbie are an item.”

  Anger made golden honey burn.

  “I don’t give a shit what they think. I like kissing you.”

  “Well, I do if they think I’m a whore!”

  “Fuck,” he croaked, laughing at my accent. “You’re such a hick.”

  “And stop calling me that! It’s offensive.”

  “Anything else?”

  “I’m serious about the kissing.”

  His groan was a deep rumble I felt in the pit of my stomach. “I always wondered what having a real girlfriend would be like…now I know.”

  “You’ve never had a girlfriend?”


  I stared into his eyes, forgetting for the moment that I wasn’t his girlfriend and could never be.

  “I’ll meet you in the parking lot after school.”


  “And, princess?”

  I gritted my teeth but answered anyway. “Yes?”

  “No more concessions.” He turned and disappeared down the path while anticipation raised the hairs on my skin.

  Yeah, we’ll see about that.

  Inside the garage, Tyra was playing in the corner with a hyper and happy Jay D. Surrounding them was all the necessities and luxuries a puppy could hope to have. What? In the corner was the fluffiest puppy bed, a neon green tennis ball, various jelly chew toys, a bone he and Tyra were currently playing tug-of-war with, two bowls, one filled with food, the other with fresh water, and around his neck was a collar that matched the blue in his eyes and a sterling silver tag. I picked him up to inspect the tag. Our names and my cell number was on the back. “Where did all of this come from?”

  Dave was busy chatting on his cell phone with a happy grin. He smiled even wider when he noticed me watching him and absently waved from inside his glass office.

  With a smirk, Tyra said, “I’ll give you one guess.”

  Turns out I only needed one. “Why would Ever do this?”

  “You tell me,” she smugly countered.

  I studied all the new puppy stuff with a shake of my head. “I don’t know this game.” I sounded as if I’d already accepted defeat.

  “Whatever he’s after, he’s not fucking around, Four.”

  I buried my face in Jay D’s neck to hide how much her words both delighted and frightened me. Ten minutes later, Jay D was happily covering me in puppy saliva when Dave finally emerged from his office.

  “If it isn’t my star pupil.”

  “Thanks again for keeping an eye on him. Has he given you trouble?”

  “Nah. He’s a good pup. Thank you for taking him in. I would have hated to see him in the pound.”

  “Did you buy all this stuff?” A part of me was hoping he had so Ever and I could return to our original script.

  Bushy eyebrows raised in surprise. “Uh…no, Four. I didn’t. I assumed you knew your stepbrother was bringing all this by.”

  “He’s not my stepbrother,” I corrected with a flush. Stepsiblings wouldn’t do what we did last night. “I mean…our parents aren’t married. We just live together.” God, just shut up already.

  “Ah. My mistake.” He then checked his watch. “Well, you two should get going. The next period will be starting soon.”

  With a nod, I relinquished Jay D to his brand-new plush bed.

  “Oh, Four,” Dave called as we made our way out.


  “Just so you know, the money is appreciated, but I would have done it for free.”

  “I’m sorry?”

  “Your not-stepbrother paid me to dog sit during school hours. You didn’t know?”

  I was simmering on the inside and just barely keeping my composure. “I’m sorry,” I said with an even tone. “I didn’t know.”

  “He was quite generous.”

  “I’m sure he was,” I mumbled. I felt awkward and exposed, wondering if Dave might question Ever’s motivation. This was above and beyond. I’m going to kill him.

  “I can give the money back if it makes you uncomfortable. I tried to refuse it, but that young man was pretty persuasive.”

  Don’t I know it?

  Dave clearly didn’t want to give the money back. He had been griping about getting the heating at the shop fixed for a month now. Taking money from a student is probably against school policy, but Dave was a good guy. He wouldn’t have taken the money if he wasn’t desperate.

  “I’m sure the money would be better spent getting the heat working in the shop. Your employees will need their hands this winter.” This was my chance to ask him about a spot on his team, but Ever throwing his weight around ruined everything. I didn’t want to risk Dave feeling obligated to grant any more favors.

  “Jesus, don’t remind me. I don’t think I could listen to their whining much longer.” He then patted my shoulder. “Thanks, Four. Now get to class.”

  A moment later, the warning bell rang, and Tyra and I were rushing off to class.

  “Does this skirt make me look obvious?”

  I eyed the white butterfly print on the black material, which was high around her waist and flowing around the middle of her thighs. Her cropped cream knit sweater showed a sliver of stomach while her burgundy scarf was wrapped around her neck. Out of the entire ensemble, I admired her brown-laced combat boots. “In what way?”

  “That he could have his way with me in one of these bedrooms. This house is amazing, by the way.” She cast another awe-filled glance around my room. I would have thanked her, but none of this was actually mine.

  “I don’t think it matters anym
ore. You’ve already decided to sleep with him. By the way, have you told him?”

  “Not yet. I’m waiting for the right moment.”

  “To say you want to get it on? It’s not like you’re proposing marriage. I think any moment is the right moment.”

  “Maybe you’re right.” She then frowned at her image and finger-combed her straightened hair. Every few minutes, she’d manipulate it into a different position. She currently had hair falling over her right eye. Five minutes ago, she’d had it over her left. She was acting as if Vaughn hadn’t seen her countless times before.

  Jamie’s guests had arrived an hour ago, but we were still holed up in my room. I was wary, and Tyra was nervous. At Brynwood Academy, being among the one percent wasn’t enough. Her father’s working-class status and her own as a scholarship student made her an outcast, and well, Vaughn…he was the crème de la crème.

  “Are you ready yet?” I playfully huffed.

  “Are you?” she countered with an arched brow.

  “No,” we answered at the same time.

  There was a knock, and then Vaughn’s smooth as silk voice drowned out our laughter.

  “Come out and play with me, Ty-ty.”

  “Someone’s getting impatient,” I teased.

  Tyra’s shy smile was barely hidden as she glanced at herself in the mirror again and rearranged her hair to frame both sides of her face—the exact way she’d worn it when she arrived.

  “It’s a bit hot in here, don’t you think?” She fanned herself before removing her scarf and tossing it on top of her jacket.

  “Not really. I think you’re nervous.”

  She eyed me. “Is that what you’re wearing?”

  I looked down at my black jeans, gray hoodie, and white chucks.

  “Yes.” I shoved my gray beanie on my head. I had thought to wear my hair down, but the moment Tyra started gushing, I chickened out and pulled out the hat. I didn’t want to attract attention, most especially Ever’s. His Highness was the reason I was even second guessing my appearance.

  “You’re not even going to do anything with your hair?”

  “I just did.”

  “Aye yai yai!”

  Another knock came, and just as I began to smile smugly at Tyra, Ever’s voice filtered through the door. “Hiding won’t do you any good, princess.”

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