The peer and the puppet, p.31
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       The Peer and the Puppet, p.31

           B. B. Reid
 
My phone vibrated just as I took my assigned seat, so I fished it out of my back pocket and flipped open the screen.

  MICKEY: In your backyard with ten in the pot and counting. You in?

  My palms began to sweat as I read Mickey’s message for a second time. There was no pretense of concern or friendship or even small talk despite the fact that I hadn’t heard from him in over a year. For Mickey, it was business as usual.

  How did you find me?

  His reply came instantly.

  MICKEY: I’m a resourceful man.

  You asked my neighbors?

  MICKEY: Yup.

  I sighed. If Mickey was able to find me so easy, then it meant if they wanted to, the Exiled could have followed us right to Thomas’s doorstep. Rosalyn hadn’t exactly been discreet about our upgrade. I didn’t bother getting angry at being duped. I knew from the start that moving in with Thomas solely for my protection was a sham. If you leap off a cliff and fall on your ass, it’s better to claim being pushed rather than admit to jumping.

  I must have taken too long to respond because my phone buzzed with another message from Mickey.

  MICKEY: So you in?

  My thumb hovered over the keypad. It was stupid to hesitate. I could already feel the rush of racing coursing through my veins. Mickey might have saved my life, but that didn’t mean I could trust him. Not when I almost ate a bullet because of him.

  The desk next to me creaked, and assuming it was Amanda, Brynwood’s very own Gossip Girl, I welcomed the distraction and started to speak. That was until I noticed perfectly curled strawberry blonde hair and icy blue eyes staring back at me.

  “I think that seat is taken.”

  “This won’t take long.” Uninterested in anything Ever’s girlfriend-not girlfriend had to say, I refocused on my phone and texted Mickey that I’d think about it.

  Stupid.

  “You may think that whatever you’re doing with Ever means something, but it doesn’t.”

  I let out a dry laugh, not at all surprised by Barbie’s chosen topic, and mumbled, “You didn’t seem to care the other night.”

  “Ever can have his fun, but don’t get any ideas. He’s not going to be with you.”

  I met her gaze and hated how truly beautiful she was. “You don’t even love him.”

  “He’s my friend. I care about him, and he cares about me, which is why I’ll be the one to wear his ring, and you’ll never be anything more than a thrill.”

  It was all I could do not to hurl my guts up. I never thought I’d be this girl: claws out and teeth bared over a boy. Especially for one who would always be out of my league. “Keep your satin panties on, Barbie. I have no desire to become the girl he marries and eventually ignores. Maybe I’m just a phase, but you’re in for a long life of phases. In a year, it will be some co-ed, and ten years after that, his secretary, until he eventually fucks the nanny. I’m not after your trophy life.” I leaned forward with a smile. “So back the fuck off.”

  I was surprised when, after a few seconds passed, she simply nodded once as if satisfied—or what-the-fuck-ever—then rose from the seat, and moved down the aisle to her own. Amanda appeared moments later looking distressed as she plopped down in a huff. I wasn’t expecting her to shoot me an accusing look, which instantly put me on edge.

  “Hey,” I greeted hesitantly.

  She ignored my greeting and hissed, “I thought we were friends, Flower.”

  “Sorry?” I felt my eyes narrow. We’d always been friendly but friends? She’d never had much to say to me other than to gossip about other people. Not to mention, she still didn’t know my name when we’ve been sitting next to each other for weeks.

  Seeing my defenses up, she suddenly burst out laughing, which was obviously forced. She wasn’t the least bit amused and neither was I. “You didn’t tell me you and Ever were a thing. It’s all over school!”

  So that was the reason Barbie bared her claws.

  “You shouldn’t believe everything you hear.” I was surprised at the lack of anger in my tone. I only heard exhaustion and wasn’t sure which reaction was worse.

  “Everyone saw him at your locker this morning.” I started to roll my eyes when she added, “And, apparently, you skipped first period together to get cozy.”

  “We weren’t cozy.”

  “My sources say they saw him kiss you.” Like a coin, with a flip, Amanda’s amusement vanished and condemnation returned. “You do know he’s with Barbie, right?”

  I shook my head—not in answer but in defeat.

  Goddamn you, Ever.

  Of course, Amanda misread my gesture and gasped even as her eyes brightened with an eagerness to enlighten me with the juicy truth. Fortunately, Mrs. Roberts saved my ass when she walked into class and ordered us to turn to chapter eleven.

  Not so fortunately, I was on my own as the open stares and the whispers followed me around for the rest of the day.

  “THE ELMER HOLMES BOBST LIBRARY opened its doors in 1973 and serves as the primary research facility for NYU.” I tuned out our guide as I openly watched Four gazing absently at the swaying purple banners. Unlike the rest of our group, she didn’t hang on the Ambassador’s every word and instead spent much of the hour-long tour daydreaming. Probably of her crossing a finish line at two hundred miles per hour instead of a stage after four grueling years. It wasn’t as if attending university was out of her reach. A diploma from Brynwood Academy and a check from my father would open almost any door. All she had to do was want it.

  Except I witnessed her sheer determination to race and knew she would never consider anything less. Including a degree from an ivy league. I couldn’t help but respect her for being grounded in who she was. Four only changed on her terms and offered no apologies. It was part of what made her so goddamn irresistible. That and her heart shaped ass. One minute, I was pushing her away and swearing her off for good, and the next, I was ready to buy her flowers and serenade her ass.

  Fucking hell.

  As if sensing my attention, she peeked over her shoulder, and instantly, we locked gazes. The connection was short-lived, but judging by the stiff set of her shoulders, I knew I wasn’t as easy to ignore as she wanted me to believe. It would serve her right if I dragged her stubborn ass inside one of these empty study rooms and reminded her why I held her strings. I couldn’t get Four out of my head while she went out of her way to avoid me.

  It’s been eleven days.

  Eleven. Goddamn. Days.

  I knew the rumors circulating our school were why she’d turned cold. They all wanted to know if I was sneaking in her bed at night. My moment of weakness ended with Four taking all of the heat. It was why I gave her the space she wanted and hoped she’d come to me on her own—before my patience ran out. Clearly, she was more pigheaded than I gave her credit.

  Unable to withstand the emotional and physical distance anymore, I maneuvered through the small portion of our senior class until I stood next to her. Discreetly grabbing her elbow, I pulled her to the rear away from prying eyes.

  Glancing up at me, she sighed but didn’t pull away as we fell further and further behind. “I don’t recall hearing your name when the group chaperone did roll call,” she grumbled.

  “I ditched my group.”

  “Because you do what you want without consequence?”

  We both knew she wasn’t talking about me being here.

  Placing a hand on her spine, I shoved her into an empty dark corner underneath the stairs just as the last of our group passed through a set of double doors. The guide’s droning and the footsteps of our classmates quickly faded. Leaning down until my lips touched her ear, I growled, “Because I couldn’t resist your flame, Archer.”

  “Stalker.”

  “Brat.”

  “Prick.”

  I clutched her hips and yanked her lower half until there was no space left between us. “Mine.”

  Her body trembled as her forehead rubbed against my own when she shook her head. “Neve
r,” she whispered.

  Resisting the urge to kiss her, I took a deep breath, exhaled, and said, “I’m sorry for what happened.”

  “No, you’re not.”

  No, I wasn’t. Everyone at school now knew she was mine, and I couldn’t find issue with that. I didn’t regret it one goddamn bit.

  “You calling me on my shit?” I couldn’t help grinning.

  “Someone’s got to.”

  “Yeah?” Forgetting that at any moment we could be caught, my hand slipped under her skirt and petted her pussy through her damp panties. “Who gets to call you on yours?”

  “Ever…” she moaned.

  “Good fucking answer.”

  “That’s not what I—”

  A throat cleared, interrupting her protest.

  I peeked over my shoulder and found who I assumed was a silver-haired NYU professor wearing red-rimmed glasses, pearls, and a disapproving frown.

  “If you two would come with me, I’ll escort you back to your group.”

  I heard Four’s sharp inhale and knew she feared exposure. No way was this woman not going to report what she saw. It was one thing for our classmates to suspect we were fucking, but a teacher confirming it to our parents was another thing entirely. Thinking quickly, I grabbed Four’s hand and made a run for it. We pissed off a few people during our mad dash through the crowded library—namely the guy who spilled his coffee to get out of our way—and drew even more attention. Ignoring a chorus of “Hey!” and “Stop!” we burst through the nearest exit marked Emergency Only and set off a piercing alarm.

  “Shit.”

  After looking around for a place to hide and finding nothing, I started forward so we could cross the street, but the sound of Four’s laughter drew me to an abrupt stop. She was still smiling brightly after I turned to face her, and I swallowed hard when I realized that I’d gladly be caught red-handed if it meant I could live in this moment a little while longer.

  Still giggling, she said, “That was fun.”

  “Oh?”

  She nodded before chewing on her bottom lip thoughtfully. “And it made me realize something.”

  “What’s that?”

  “I’m not the troublemaker,” she answered with bright eyes. “You are.”

  I knew the exact moment she realized her mistake. Her fallen visage mirrored the turmoil raging within me, and I cursed myself for confiding in her at the beach. She hadn’t been wrong with her assessment, and even though she’d meant it as a compliment, she also knew why it was anything but.

  I now wondered if finding Nathaniel Fox would even make a difference. I was still the same person I was four years ago. I only became good at hiding it.

  “Oh, Ever, I didn’t mean—”

  “It’s fine.” I cleared my throat to rid my voice of the emotion weighing it down and said, “We should get back.”

  She didn’t argue as I led the way.

  Twenty minutes later, we rejoined the group with Mr. Fletcher, Four’s pre-calculus teacher and group chaperone, none the wiser. The tour had come to an end, so we were promptly directed back to the buses.

  Neither Four nor I had spoken a word in more than half an hour, but still, I stayed close as we waited to board the bus. After that unlikely encounter with Wren on Four’s birthday and knowing he could still be watching me, I wasn’t leaving her safety up to chance. Stealing a peek at her, my stomach turned at the dejection written on her face, so I decided to say something—anything—to bring back her smile.

  “Four—”

  Jamie, unfortunately, chose that moment to appear wearing a shit-eating grin. “Did you see Brittany Hall?” he asked me.

  “Who is Brittany?” Four inquired with her arms crossed. “Some girl you two are running a game on?”

  It was a good thing her back was turned or else she would have caught my smile. I bet she had no idea of the jealousy seeping from her pores.

  “No, pretty girl.” Jamie tapped the tip of her nose and snickered when I scowled. “Brittany is the residence hall where our mothers met their freshman year. They were roommates.”

  “Oh.” She then whirled around only to stumble back when she found me standing closer than I’d been a moment ago. “You didn’t tell me your mother went to school here.”

  “I was a little distracted, princess.” I struggled to hold in my laugh when she glanced at Jamie to see if he’d heard.

  Goddamn, she blushes beautifully.

  Lucky for her, Jamie had already lost interest when a leggy co-ed with an inviting smile took a seat on a nearby bench.

  Entrapping me with her big brown eyes once again, she said, “Did your father also meet your mother here?”

  “My father went to school out in Pennsylvania, but he eventually met my mom.”

  “Yeah, and my pops was a buddy of his pops,” Jamie added, seemingly forgetting all about the brunette.

  I could tell Four had more to ask, but one of the chaperones herded us onto the bus. She quickly ascended the short steps and sat in the first seat available. The bench had been empty leaving an empty seat next to her, but since I didn’t care to talk about my mother anymore today, I kept going.

  I could feel her gaze on me as I walked away and heard Jamie say, “Don’t take it personally. He’s just being a mama’s boy.”

  It took every ounce of control I possessed to not toss Jamie’s meddling ass out the window.

  Sitting at the back of the bus, I had a perfect view of Four whispering with Jamie. Letting my head fall back, I closed my eyes to mentally prep for the fight still to come.

  Since the rumors started, Tyra had been driving Four to and from school. Their little arrangement ended today.

  Once upon a puppet, she rode home with the peer and didn’t give him any lip.

  I didn’t have to wait long for her reply.

  TROUBLE: Let’s just skip to the end when the peer learns he doesn’t always get what he wants.

  A smile teased my lips just as Vaughn nudged me.

  He lifted his chin toward the entrance where Four and Tyra had just emerged. Tyra was busy babying Jay D, and Four was too distracted by that piece-of-shit phone to notice that they were walking into a trap. Brows furrowed as she caught her bottom lip between her teeth—an emotional cue I’d come to recognize and exploit—Four was still staring at her phone when she came within arm’s length. Hooking my arm around her waist, I pulled her into me. Her sweet scent tempted me to devour her while her body instinctively molded into my own. Simultaneously, Vaughn played interference by smoothly escorting Tyra to her car and almost got a chunk of his arm taken off by an upset Jay D. It was their own fault no one was around to come to their rescue. The field trip had ended, and the school had long ago closed for the weekend, but the girls naively assumed we’d eventually grow bored waiting and give up.

  Four still had her phone flipped open, so I peeked at the message to see who had her so distracted since I never responded, but the screen was so cracked I couldn’t make out the message. I made a mental note to take care of that situation and focused on my current one glaring up at me. Letting her see everything I was feeling in return, her shoulders slumped with a sigh.

  “I’m not doing this.” She shook her head as if that would make me believe her.

  “Good. Now get in the car.” I pushed away from the hood with her in my arms and walked her to the passenger door.

  “Ever—”

  “I’m tired of fighting this.” I now had her trapped against the door with my hips pressed against hers. “Tell me what I need to do to have you. I’ll break bones.” I punctuated the vow with a kiss on her neck. “Ruin reputations…” Her body shivered when I trailed lower. “Destroy futures.” Her moan felt like a tight, warm grip around my cock. “I just need you to be mine.”

  “You only have yourself to blame. Don’t you dare punish others for what you did…for what I let you do.”

  She suddenly sounded strong and sure—as if she were capable of walking away if I
let her—but one glance showed me she was torn between right and wrong. It was too bad that I wasn’t.

  “Get in the car.” My voice sounded rough to my own ears. “I need to get you home.”

  “Why?”

  She sounded breathless with the anticipation I knew was building within her. “You know why.”

  I kept one hand on the wheel and the other on Four’s stocking-clad thigh the entire ride home. I could feel the heat from her pussy on my hand. The desire to slip under her skirt and make her come built with each second.

  Just a mile from the house, her moan when my thumb brushed her center shattered my restraint. I was ripping open her stockings, shoving her panties aside, and strumming her clit before I could come to my senses.

  “God, Ever.”

  “I know, baby.”

  I slid my fingers down, loving the feel of her newly smoothed skin, and teased her opening. I wanted to ask who she’d waxed her pretty little pussy for. For her sake the answer had better be me.

  Instead I said, “Lift your leg.”

  She did as she was told and rested it against the door. Four following orders got my cock hard as fuck every time. Every. Single. Time. She hooked her finger inside her panties to keep them out of my way, and I rewarded her by sliding inside her.

  “So damn wet. So damn mine.”

  I wanted to pull this car over and get my mouth on her, but I knew it wouldn’t stop there, and she deserved more than losing her virginity in a fucking car.

  Every other second, I was chancing a glance at her. She was so beautiful when she came. I didn’t want to miss it. Once I cleared the gates, I threw the car into park and took all she had to give. Her cry when she came was a lyrical masterpiece. After she slumped against the seat, I didn’t waste time sucking her juices from my fingers. Hands down, she had the sweetest nectar I’d ever tasted. Her panting was the only sound as I drove us the remaining distance to the house.

  I started to speak when a voice in the back seat beat me to it. “Thanks for the free porn. You assholes forgot I was back here, didn’t you?”

  Four instantly turned red while scowling at me as if I had betrayed her. I’d forgotten Jamie had ridden with me that morning, still hungover from late-night partying. He must have stowed away in the back seat and crashed while I waited around for Four.

 
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