The peer and the puppet, p.27
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       The Peer and the Puppet, p.27

           B. B. Reid

  “She was a hopeless romantic long before she was a Schizophrenic.”

  “That’s no excuse.”

  “No, but it’s reality, and I’ve lived with it and so should you.”

  I had the sudden urge to wrap myself around something strong and never let go. Ever was standing only two feet away and I knew without a doubt he’d be my pillar, my anchor, if I needed. But I also knew that if I gave in, I’d never find the courage to speak of this again.

  Seemingly giving in, he sighed and said, “Where are your grandparents?”

  “Rosalyn spent the first ten years of my life in and out of the hospital. She’d relapsed countless times when my grandparents finally decided to file for custody.”

  “So what happened?” Ever questioned when I fell silent for too long. “Where are they?”

  I closed my eyes. “They died in a car crash before they could see it through.”

  Ever sucked in a breath.

  “Neither of us took their deaths well, but it wasn’t just the sudden loss that made it hard. It was because Rosalyn and I both knew we were now stuck with each other. Without her, I would have been on the streets or lost in foster care, and without me, she would have eventually reached the point of no return.”

  “You hid each other from a worse fate.”

  I nodded. “And now that I’m eighteen, I no longer need her.” I took a deep breath hoping to feel the freedom I’ve longed for since I was ten. The feeling never came. “She still needs me, though.”

  Ever blew out a breath of frustration. “You didn’t make her ill, and you didn’t put those skeletons in her closet, Four.”

  I turned away because I couldn’t stand to see his pity. “Maybe not, but that doesn’t change anything. When your father breaks her heart, it will be me she stares at with tears in her eyes until she can barely stand to look at me at all. It will be me who feels the shame because I’ll be the one she regrets. God forbid he knocks her up first.”

  My back was still turned to him when I felt him close in, stop, and then I heard him sigh.

  “My father had a vasectomy.”

  Whipping around, I found Ever’s mask in place. “What?”

  “When I was four, my mother had a miscarriage. She had just found out I was going to have a sister.”

  “What happened?”

  “Her doctor called it an incompetent cervix. My birth had been difficult for her, and the doctors warned that conceiving again would be risky, but my mother didn’t care, and my father indulged her. They found the best doctors money could buy, but an infection caused my baby sister to die in my mother’s womb.”

  “So he got the vasectomy?”

  His Adam’s apple bobbed as he nodded. “My father wanted a large family, and my mother was distraught and ashamed. She was determined to try again or find a surrogate.”

  “Why didn’t they try surrogacy?”

  “Because my father didn’t want another woman carrying his child.”

  I stared at him feeling both awe and envy. “They loved each other.”

  “It didn’t last.”

  I could only nod. My living here was evidence of his parents’ failed marriage. “I’m sorry your mother left you.” Guilt suddenly made it hard to swallow. How many times had I wished Rosalyn would just walk away? I had convinced myself that being abandoned couldn’t have hurt worse than being rejected every single day. But then I met Ever.

  He cupped the side of my face. “And I’m sorry your mother couldn’t leave you.” I felt his finger wipe away I tear I hadn’t realized I shed. He was gentle and soothing, not at all the touch of a killer. It made me wonder…

  “The Exiled are murderers, and you’re one of them.”

  He slowly blinked, probably thrown by the sudden change in subject.

  “I haven’t killed anyone, princess.”

  “But if you had to…if you were forced…do you really you think you could?”

  His hand fell away.

  “I guess I’ll know soon enough.”

  “I…I don’t want you to do this.” I was suddenly desperate, willing to give anything—do anything—to keep him from harm. “Whatever you’re looking for can’t be worth your life. If you want to be with me, promise me you’ll stay away from them.”

  He went so very still while my heart screamed at me to take it back. “Why would you ask that of me?” His voice was a whisper, his question an accusation.

  “Because if you’re caught, they’ll kill you. Who says Wren Harlan will keep his word? I’ve been on the business end of their mercy, Ever. They won’t hesitate.”

  “I’m not going to pussy out for pussy,” he viciously spat.

  I stepped away from him, leaving my broken heart at his feet. “Is that all I am to you?” I suddenly felt like scrubbing my skin clean.

  “Jesus Christ!” His hand whipped out and fisted my shirt before yanking me into him. I didn’t get the chance to shove him away before he was lifting me onto the table ledge. Large hands framed my face so I couldn’t look away. “Get this through your thick skull, Archer. You. Are. More.”

  “Then you get this through your skull. All I’m asking is that you not get yourself killed. You’re not some street thug or ruthless killer. You’re Ever McNamara. Lord of the manor. King of the academy.”

  His eyes narrowed. “So if my family’s bank account had fewer zeroes, you’d believe that I’m completely fucking serious? You’ve known me for two seconds.”

  “You’ve done more despicable things than I believed any one person capable, but no, I don’t believe you have what it takes—because what it takes is your soul!” Breathing hard, I shook my head. “You won’t be able to give that up.”

  He kissed me—hard—and when he finally relented, my lips were swollen. “Stay tuned.” He moved to my neck, and a moan fell from my lips as my head fell back. I knew that he was only trying to distract me, and still, I was ready to give him everything.

  “I’ll tell your father,” I whimpered. “I don’t care if you expose Rosalyn if it means you’re safe.”

  “Tell him what you wish,” he taunted. “I’ll deny it, and if he believes you anyway, nothing will change.” He continued to trail kisses across my skin. “My father hasn’t been much of a parent even before my mother left. He helped me drive her away.”

  I froze in his arms. “What was her name?”

  He lifted his head and stared into my eyes. No mask. Only emotion. “Evelyn. Everyone called her Eve.”

  “Was she your namesake?”

  His smile was small but honest. “No, actually. My parents named me after my father’s best friend. His name was Sean Everson Kelly. He died before I was born.”

  “Wait…Your real name is Everson? You have two last names?”

  He smiled and pinched my side in retaliation, but it didn’t stanch my giggling.

  “Should we go upstairs and review your manners?”

  That sobered me up quickly, and when I shot him a look to kill, he quickly kissed my lips. “You know you’d love it,” he whispered against them.

  I hid my reaction knowing he was right. He didn’t miss a beat though, and it was almost eerie how well he could read me in such a short amount of time. Picking at invisible lint on his sweater, I debated giving my sudden thoughts a voice. Before Ever, I was never this insecure. Now I couldn’t stop feeling and wondering and hoping. Not even for a second. I guess at this point of falling, I had nothing left to lose.

  “With our moms’ miscarriages and our names, do you think our meeting was more than a coincidence?”

  His brows furrowed. “Like destiny?”

  “Sure.” I was breathless when I wanted to be casual.

  “Could be.” His hands moved up and down my hips as if he knew I needed to be soothed. “I stopped wanting you gone a long time ago.”

  He leaned in to kiss me, but I stopped him with two fingers pressed to his lips. “It won’t matter where I am if you’re dead.”

ils flaring, he straightened until he was towering over me. If I didn’t already know he’d never hurt me, I’d be scared shitless. “Are you with me or against me, Four? That’s all that matters to me right now.” His eyes narrowed, and the warning was clear.

  “Fuck you, McNamara. I’m with you, all right?”

  With a savage growl, he shoved his tongue down my throat and yanked on my hips to get me closer. Pressed against each other like this, there was no chance of hiding what we wanted. The heat alone was telling, and any minute now, we’d be a ball a flame. Slipping my hand up his sweater, I traced every dip and bulge while swallowing his groans. When he finally pulled away, he stared down at me, panting and hungry.

  “Promise me you’ll outsmart them all.”

  The animalistic gleam in his eyes sent a chill down my spine. “Goddamn, I want to taste you.”

  It wasn’t an answer, but I blushed anyway. I could almost see why Della Grady thoughts boys were worth our friendship. “I think you have a fetish.”

  “For going down on you? Definitely.” He took a step back, ready to drop to his knees and make good on his claim, but my hand on his shoulder stopped him.

  “What if this time I return the favor?”

  His gaze sharpened and focused on my mouth, which was surely red and swollen from his kisses. “Open your mouth.” The lust in his eyes was intimidating, but I did what he ordered anyway, and he quickly slipped two of his fingers between my parted lips. “Suck, baby.”

  I closed my lips tightly over thick fingers and slid them down to the knuckle.

  “Watch those fucking teeth. I only want that beautiful mouth.”

  I used my tongue as a barrier, earning a groan and a look of adoration. Another groan and he pulled his fingers from my mouth.

  “Can I taste you?”

  “You definitely fucking can, but not right now. I want to enjoy it, and that will take time we don’t have right now.”

  He lifted me from the table, and with one last peck, we ended up back in the billiard room where the guys were engaged in a drunken game of Truth or Dare. Tyra was laughing hysterically as Vaughn attempted to dance alone without music. It was hard to believe someone that hot and talented had two left feet.

  “Yo, Four! Truth or dare,” Jamie yelled.

  Vaughn looked relieved when every drunken gaze in the room turned to me.

  “Truth.” I had no idea why I was bothering to indulge him. There was always a hundred percent chance Jamie was up to no good.

  “Did you and Ever finally bang it out?”

  A chorus of whoops and snickers followed. Jamie certainly never disappointed. The lascivious and hopeful stares coming from the guys made it clear they were all waiting for the day when they could have Ever McNamara’s seconds. If I weren’t so uncomfortable, I’d feel sorry for them.

  “Jesus, he’s asking for me to kick his ass,” Ever whispered from my side.

  My lips pursed as I glared at Jamie’s smiling face. “I wouldn’t be opposed.”

  A wicked grin spread Ever’s lips, and then he was prowling across the room. “Move,” he ordered the chick in Jamie’s lap.

  She must have been what kept Jamie occupied for the hour he’d been missing. The moment she scrambled out of harm’s way with a shriek, Ever delivered a mean uppercut, sending Jamie and the chair toppling over. “Everyone out! Party’s over.”

  Ever searched for a movie while Vaughn, Tyra, and Jamie lounged on the huge sectional, sharing booze and popcorn. I was studying the numerous pictures of family and friends on the mantle when I came across one of a young Thomas posing with two other guys who looked to be around the same age. One of them had reddish-brown hair and the same cocky grin as Jamie.


  He groaned and said, “Why do you have to be such a bitch, Four?”

  I snickered and pointed to the guy on Thomas’s left. “Is that your dad?”

  “Sure is,” Jamie said with a huge grin. “He was a handsome devil, wasn’t it? I’m hotter.”

  “The sun never sets in your world, does it?” Tyra questioned Jamie, who only shrugged.

  “And who is this?” I pointed to the guy on Thomas’s right with dark hair and a deep chin dimple. I stared at his smiling face and couldn’t put my finger on why he seemed so familiar. I was positive I’d never met this man before. “Is he also a relative?”

  Ever looked up with a frown and said, “No. That’s Sean.”

  “Oh…okay.” For some reason, I met Jamie’s gaze, but he quickly looked away.

  Feeling weird, I sat down and ate some of the popcorn Tyra offered. A few minutes passed, and Vaughn had just shot me his tenth curious glance. “What’s your deal, Rees?”

  “I’d ask you a question, but I don’t want Ever ruining this pretty mug.”

  That earned a derisive snort from Jamie, who held a bag of frozen peas to his jaw. “He could pound me until I looked like Leatherface, and I’d still be hotter than that sensitive Nancy.”

  “Ooooh, touchy much?”

  Jamie sat up lightning quick. “Whose side are you on, Four? When did you join the land of the pricks?” He scowled at me as if I’d betrayed him.

  “You humiliated me! Again.”

  He waved me off. “I told you that wasn’t personal.”

  “When a boy likes a girl, he tells her so,” Tyra schooled with thinly veiled contempt. “He doesn’t antagonize his friends and family to show his affection.”

  Jamie simply blew her a kiss, earning an eye roll from Tyra and a slap upside the head from Vaughn.

  “Keep those pass-arounds to yourself,” Vaughn growled. He then focused on me. “Anyway, I saw your bike in the garage. It’s a beauty.”

  “So, what’s your question?”

  “Can you really ride that thing?”

  Everyone except Ever, whose back was still turned, leaned forward, eager for the answer.

  “Ride it, fix it, race it. It won’t win, but I could top the speed without killing myself.”

  Vaughn gave me half a smile and an approving nod as he slouched in his seat again. “I knew it would take a badass.”

  My eyebrows rose as I nervously toyed with the end of my ponytail. After the party ended, I’d ditched the beanie while Ever had been preoccupied keeping Jamie off him and shoved my hair back into a ponytail. “To do what?”

  “Make this apathetic asshole feel again.”

  I peeked over at Ever: shoulders tensed, nostrils flared, mouth tight. Yup, he was pissed. “Was he really that bad?”

  “I’m in the room,” Ever woodenly reminded.

  “You’d have had better luck sneezing with your eyes open than getting him to crack a smile.”

  “Still here,” Ever snapped.

  I decided to take a page from Vaughn’s book and ignored Ever. “He was a dick to me the first time we met and every moment after. I’m not sure how much I helped.”

  Vaughn began blinking rapidly. “Wow! He actually acknowledged you?” I rolled my eyes when he started slow clapping. “You must have made quite the impression.”

  “She kneed me in the balls,” Ever muttered.

  That got a whistle from Vaughn and a grimace from Jamie.

  “I’m sure you deserved it,” Tyra defended.

  “Maybe.” He then rented Warm Bodies at Tyra’s insistence and dimmed the lights. It was a pretty cozy setting that set off the butterflies in my stomach, especially when he sat close enough for our thighs to touch. Vaughn and Tyra were openly snuggling on the other end of the sectional while Jamie nursed a bottle of white rum on the La-Z-Boy.

  I stared blankly at the flat screen, too on edge to enjoy the movie with Ever so close. I should have been used to it by now, but each time felt like the first.

  “Relax,” he whispered while the opening credits rolled. “You’re safe here.”

  Goose bumps rose on my skin, making me doubt his claim. Across the room, I caught Jamie’s eye, and even in the dark, I recognized the mischief. He never lea

  “Hey, cousin. Truth or dare?”

  Ever’s attention shifted to his cousin. “Dare me not to stop when I smash you in the face again.”

  “Nah. I got one better.” Jamie took a swig from the bottle, possibly for liquid courage. “I dare you to kiss her.”

  We all reacted at once. I tensed, Vaughn snorted, Tyra sighed, and Ever…smiled.

  “Now you’re talking.”

  I let him pull me onto his lap until I was straddling him, and when I looked into his eyes, I couldn’t catch my breath. Ever looked hungry. We reached for each other at the same time. When our lips met, it didn’t feel like a show, it felt like fulfilling a need that had consumed us both. He kept right on kissing me as if his next breath didn’t matter. As if I were his air, his heartbeat, and the blood flowing in his veins. I could feel him fighting to get closer—to make me see I was all he’d ever need—not revenge or privilege. Me.

  Or maybe I was just delusional.

  I pulled away and averted my gaze as I removed myself from his lap. Jamie, of course, was the first to speak.

  “If I doubted he was serious about you, I don’t anymore.” His eyes flicked between Ever and me before a sneaky smile split his handsome face. “Four, truth or dare?”

  “I already played your game. Pass.”

  “Fine.” His head swiveled to Tyra. “Truth or dare, T-baby?”

  “Aren’t we here to watch a fucking movie?” Vaughn spat.

  “Dare,” Tyra answered simultaneously. She stuck her tongue out at a glowering Vaughn before focusing on Jamie.

  “Make out with Four.”

  Tyra shot Jamie a crazed look. “This isn’t some sleazy porn.”

  An overly excited and very wasted Jamie adjusted the recliner and planted booted feet on the ground. “Do the dare, and I’ll do whatever the fuck you want.”

  Tyra crossed her arms, clearly unimpressed. “Vaughn, muzzle your friend.”

  Her dreamboat no longer looked irritated though as he cut his eyes at her.

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