The peer and the puppet, p.36
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       The Peer and the Puppet, p.36

           B. B. Reid

  Shrugging, I rounded the first corner and was almost run down by a redheaded cheerleader fleeing from the clutches of some asshole wearing a Freddy Krueger mask. When my heart rate finally slowed, I moved through the maze, though a bit more cautiously. After ten minutes of trying to find the exit, I accepted that I was lost. It was unfortunate that I’d also left my phone in the car. I kept going, knowing eventually, I’d find my way out. I could still hear the party going, but I hadn’t run into anyone else, and it seemed the deeper I ventured, the fainter the sounds I clung to became.

  Though the maze wasn’t entirely swallowed by darkness, I’d long lost the bright lights. I would have turned back if not for the sudden hair-raising sensation of being followed. I stopped and faced the way I came with feet spread and hands planted on my hips.

  “Ever, I’m not in the mood for games. Show yourself.” I immediately shrank in size when a hulking figure dressed from head to toe in black rubber and polyester stepped from the shadows. “Oh. My mistake…Hey, you wouldn’t happen to know where the exit is, would you?”

  His silence was like ice-cold fingers tiptoeing down my spine. Maybe I was overreacting but…wouldn’t someone who was not a psycho respond? I stumbled away when he inched closer, but when he lunged at me, I screamed from my belly and bolted. Up ahead, the path split into two, but I didn’t have time to debate which one would lead me to the exit or down a dead end.

  My heart pumped in overdrive, and the fist in my stomach clenched tighter as I ran down one path after the next. Were those footsteps I heard pounding after me or only my imagination? I wasn’t sure how far I’d gotten when I collided with a hard body. I clawed and kicked until strong hands seized my arms.

  “For fuck’s sake, Four, what is the matter with you?”

  The familiar voice penetrated my fear, and I realized it was Jamie staring down at me like I was possessed. I was so relieved I jumped into his arms and threw my own around his neck. There was no way in hell I was letting go.

  “What happened?”

  “Some creep in a rubber suit was chasing me.”

  He exhaled as if relieved. “It was probably just one of those assholes.”

  I laid my head against his chest and nodded even though I was still shaken up. It had felt so real.

  “Why did you run off like that, anyway?” he scolded.

  “Ever pissed me off.”

  “You gotta stop letting him under your skin, lass.”

  As if it were that easy. “You’re one to talk.”

  His strong chest vibrated when he grunted his agreement.

  “Do you know how to get out of here?”

  “Not really.”

  I lifted my head to see if he was joking. He wasn’t. “Damn it, Jamie!”

  “Calm down, girl. This isn’t the Bermuda triangle. We’ll find the exit eventually.” His eyes passed over me approvingly. “You look good in my shit.”

  I rolled my eyes heavenward. “Let’s go.”

  “We will, but first, I’d like to give Ever a taste of his own medicine.”

  I was too startled by his hands suddenly cupping my ass to ask what he’d meant.


  Soft lips pressed against mine, and I had to admit—he was very good. Maybe that’s why, when he sought access, my lips parted just a teeny bit. His tongue had no more than swept inside when he was yanked away, and a furious Ever stood in his place. He was now dressed in light gray joggers and white long-sleeve he’d no doubt pillaged from Jamie.

  “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

  I was the one pinned under his black look even though Jamie kissed me. I would have eventually pushed him away, but a part of me had relished the thought of hurting Ever. Needless to say, I was now regretting the impulse.

  I looked to Jamie for assistance and found him nowhere in sight. I let out a dry chuckle when I realized he had used me once again to fuck with his cousin. I turned in the direction Jamie had come but didn’t get far when I felt Ever’s arms wrap around me from behind.

  “I asked you a question,” he hummed in my ear.

  “And I declined to answer. Now let me go.”

  Of course, he didn’t listen and manhandled me into facing him, instead.

  “Why did you kiss him?” He looked physically in pain like I’d gutted him with a knife rather than kissed his cousin.

  “He kissed me.”

  “You kissed him back.”

  I snorted. “Barely.”

  “I fucked up, so I’m trying to be patient, but you’re pushing it.”

  “How chivalrous, but I told you I would be done if you walked away. You’re just surprised I meant it.”

  “There’s no such thing as done.” His hand slid to my neck and held me in place while the other pulled down the zipper. “We’re in too deep.”

  Our teeth clashed when our lips met, but neither of us cared. As long as I lived, I would never forget the feeling of having him this close. I heard the tape wrapped around my body tear, and then the cold air touched my skin. He spun me around until my back was to him and then folded me in half with a hand on my nape. Feeling his cock lined up at my entrance I pushed my hips back.

  “Oh, and in case you’re getting ideas about Jamie…” He shoved hard until he was fully inside of me. “Don’t.”

  My breath caught as pleasure heightened. He was deep and getting deeper by the second. The screams, laughter, and pounding footsteps kept me on edge, but I felt the familiar rush of adrenaline at the knowledge that, at any moment, we might be caught.

  “Someone might see,” I whimpered.

  That only got me a slap on the ass and pounded even harder. His other hand curled around my hip to toy with my clit.

  Yes. It wasn’t long before I was coming long and hard.

  “Come here,” he growled when I grew limp in his arms.

  I let him pull me onto my knees where he held me by my throat. I had no clue what he intended until his warm release was already coating my lips. When he finished, he tucked himself inside his sweats before crouching down to meet my shocked gaze. “Remember my cum on your lips the next time you think about kissing your next rebound.”

  Shame coursed through my body, but I refused to let him win. Holding his stare, I licked him from my lips, surprised to find he tasted a little salty but sweet too.

  Chuckling, he kissed my lips and stood before offering a hand. I let him pull me up, and the moment I was on my feet, I reared back and punched him. Now he’d have a black eye to go with that split lip. He was glowering when the shock cleared, but then he was kissing me, and it felt even better than blacking his eye.

  “I don’t like you kissing other boys,” he confessed between kisses.

  “Well, that’s all you had to say,” I snapped.

  He kissed me again, but this time, it was soft and lingering, allowing me to toy with his tongue ring.

  “You making some sort of fashion statement with that thing?”

  A wicked gleam appeared in his eyes. “It’s not for fashion.”

  “So the rumors are true.” The intrusion of his nemesis had Ever stiffening.

  I quickly pulled out of his arms as Jason, dressed as a pirate, strolled down the path on my right with his hands in his pockets. Of all the parties happening tonight, what were the odds we’d be at the same one? I zipped up the sweatshirt and tried to match Ever’s indifference but was finding it hard when he did it so effortlessly.

  “I thought you learned by now that it’s bad for your health to provoke me,” Ever said suspiciously casual.

  “Don’t mind me, King of Brynwood. I’m just enjoying a late-night stroll.” Jason shot me a lascivious smile before disappearing around the bend.

  “Do you think he saw us?” My chest hurt from how hard my heart was pounding.

  “He would have had a lot more to say if he had.” Taking my hand, he led me out of the maze.

  Leaning against his car, drinking a beer, Jamie flashed us a know
ing smile that wasn’t entirely friendly. “Took you guys long enough.” He glanced down and focused on a piece of torn tape hanging near my thigh. “Frankly, I wouldn’t have guessed this uptight prick was into exhibitionism. Especially when the fucker is getting married.”

  Ever ignored him and held out his hand to me. “Give me the keys.”

  “Aw,” I teased, forgetting Jamie’s misery. “Macho man doesn’t want to be driven home?” He smirked and fished the keys from my pocket. “How do I know you’re sober enough?”

  “You didn’t leave me much choice. Man can’t even be wasted in peace,” he grumbled.

  “I didn’t ask you to follow me.”

  “Because you knew I would,” he smoothly retorted.

  “Hey, Four,” Jamie interrupted, “didn’t you say it was some douchebag in a rubber suit who chased you?”

  “Yeah,” I answered warily. Ever was now staring a hole in the side of my head. “Why?”

  Rather than answer, Jamie pointed at the left side of the maze where Daniel Kim, cloaked in rubber and holding his mask, huddled in a circle with Max Cooper, Adam Turner, and…Jason Portland. Jason handed Daniel a beer, and they clinked the cans together while the others laughed outrageously, no doubt at my expense.

  My jaw tightened at their triumph at the same time Ever charged. I stared after him with wide eyes. Surely, he wasn’t going to fight them? It was four against one! Not even Ever could beat those odds. A moment later, Jamie handed me his beer, cracked his knuckles with a smile, and hurried after his cousin.

  Ever was only a couple of steps away by the time the guys noticed him. The first punch landed in Daniel’s gut, and then he immediately rammed his elbow into Jason’s face. Adam and Max were already backing down with hands raised, but Jamie didn’t seem to care when he delivered a mean two-piece and then an uppercut. I thought it was over until Ever picked up Daniel from the ground and whispered something in his ear. He then pointed a threatening finger at Jason before walking away calmer than he’d been a minute ago.

  “You guys need to learn how to walk away from a fight,” I scolded when they reached me. “Or better yet, don’t start them.”

  “Someone fucks with you, they fuck with us,” Jamie lipped. “Get used to it.”

  “You didn’t have to hit those other guys,” I argued after we climbed into the Wrangler. “They clearly didn’t want to fight.”

  “My hearing is impeccable,” he boasted. “Trust me, they had it coming.”

  I let it go but not before noticing how Ever never bothered to defend his actions. Typical.

  A couple of hours and one long, hot shower later, I was in bed replaying the events from tonight. It seemed that all Ever had to do was snap his fingers, and I was right back under his spell.

  Slowly and quietly, my door opened, and he slipped inside.

  “Am I welcome?”

  Sighing, I sat up and pushed my hair behind my ear. “You know the answer to that, but you won’t care, will you?”

  “I’d go if I knew you meant it.” If he was feeling cocky, he was smart enough not to show it.

  “You’re inside my head now?”

  “I don’t need to be. What you’re feeling is always on the surface. You don’t bother to hide—especially from me. I like that.” When I didn’t respond, he locked the door and then slid into bed with me. “Come here.” He began to peel away my nightclothes.

  “W—what are you doing?” I sputtered.

  “There’s too much between us already.”

  I didn’t understand what that meant until he shed his pajama bottoms and wrapped his body around mine. It felt good to have his skin melded with mine. I tried not to focus on the other part of him touching me.

  “I can’t believe I let tonight happen,” I whispered as I lay in his arms.

  “If not today, then tomorrow. I told you, I’m not giving up.”

  “Even after you’re married?” My tone dripped acid.

  He took a deep breath and then released it slowly. “I give you my word it will never come to that.”

  “Don’t make promises you can’t keep, McNamara.”

  He didn’t respond, but I let him hold me anyway. It was the only thing keeping my heart from splitting in two.

  Tomorrow, I’ll be stronger.

  When his breathing was almost even, I whispered, “We could have been friends, you know. You didn’t have to hate me.” And maybe then we wouldn’t be lying in bed together with nothing between us but our tattered hearts.

  “It wouldn’t have mattered, princess. I would have fallen for you anyway.”

  THE WHISTLE BLEW, AND THE sound of feet pounding the pavement was all that could be heard. Pretty soon, I drowned that out too and concentrated on my breathing. When the final bell rang, everyone headed for the locker rooms.

  Just one more lap.

  Running didn’t fill the void, but it gave me an outlet.

  After my third lap, I popped Jamie’s earbuds out and held my knees. “I wouldn’t do that.”

  Thinking I had been alone, I swung around with my eyes wide. Behind me stood a gorgeous male with blond hair, green eyes, and a friendly smile. He was only a couple inches taller than I was, but what he lacked in height, he made up for with muscle. His arms bulged when he propped his hands on his hips in that masculine way guys did. Maybe too much muscle.

  “It’s harder to breathe down there.”

  “I think that’s a myth.”

  “Shit. Really?”

  I burst out laughing and was floored when he actually blushed. Ever would never blush. “Sorry, I wasn’t laughing at you.”

  “It’s okay. I wouldn’t mind embarrassing myself again to see that smile.”

  Oh. Heat crept up my neck and warmed my cheeks. “So, you’re in Coach Lloyd’s class?” He was covered in sweat, and the gym uniform was molded to him.

  “Yeah, I wanted to talk to you, but you ran away,” he teased.

  “I wasn’t running away!” This time, I didn’t laugh alone.

  “I felt like a creep following you around the track.”

  My cheeks stung from smiling so hard. “I think it would have been weirder if you watched me.”

  His eyebrows rose. “Like those guys?”

  My face fell when I followed the direction of his nod. What the hell?

  Across the field, Ever had his arms braced on the bleacher railing. He was staring dead at me with Jamie wearing a shit-eating grin as he stood at his side. I didn’t know if it was just my body cooling down, but suddenly, the November air had a biting chill.

  “They’re just my ride home. What did you want to talk about?”

  “Right. Um…Would you like to grab a bite with me tonight?”

  My eyes bulged. Was I actually being asked out on a date? I couldn’t keep from glancing across the field.

  He’s engaged, you moron.

  My handsome suitor, whose name I still didn’t know, rubbed his nape and said, “I’d understand if there was someone else.” I saw the truth in his eyes and couldn’t help feeling like a fool.

  No more.

  “What’s your name?” I was a little embarrassed to ask since we shared a class, and he probably knew mine.


  I stuck out my hand, which felt lame once I did it. “Michael, it’s a date.”

  With a quiet chuckle, his hand enveloped mine.

  “You can’t wear that dress without these earrings.”

  “I’m not wearing those.”

  “But they’ll go perfectly!”

  “Put down the gold hoops, Tyra Bradley. It’s not going to happen.”

  “Fine,” she grumbled and rummaged through her box full of costume jewelry. Rosalyn had my ears pierced when I was a kid, but I stopped wearing jewelry the day I started dressing myself. “How about a compromise?” She held up simple gold studs.


  “Honestly, Four!”

  “Be grateful I put on the dress.” I didn’t eve
n recognize the girl in the mirror. When I told Tyra about my date, she roped me into shopping and then bullied me into buying a light gray sweater dress and flat black boots that reached my calf. My hair fell in waves around my shoulders, and I’d let Tyra coat my lips in that sticky shit. When she came at me with a little brush covered in black gunk, I had to put my foot down.

  “I guess we’re done here.” She looked me over and started squealing. “He’s going to eat his heart out!”

  I smiled nervously while forcing myself not to undo all of her hard work. Knowing Tyra, she’d murder me and then cry over my dead body. “I don’t think he will since he’ll be on the date, too.”

  That got me an eye roll. “I’m not talking about Michael.”

  I didn’t have to ask who else she could mean. My stomach dipped at the thought of Ever seeing me like this. With my hair glossed and framing my face, and the short dress hugging my body, I looked like the kind of girl who belonged on his arm. “Ever isn’t the reason I agreed to this date.”

  “Fine, but just tell me one thing.” I met her gaze and waited. “Does he know?”

  By the time I jogged across the field after Michael and I exchanged numbers, Ever had disappeared, and the only explanation Jamie offered was that he caught a ride.

  “It wouldn’t matter. He’s with Barbie, and I’m…exploring my options.”

  “But are you sure it’s over between you two?”

  “Hard to be over when we never started.” The doorbell rang, so I grabbed my phone and after a moment’s hesitation, the little purse a teary-eyed Rosalyn loaned me before heading out for her own date night. As much as I didn’t want to be seen with such a feminine thing, I could never deny her. I knew too well how much it hurt.

  And if I ever had the courage, I would one day admit that against my will I truly loved Rosalyn.

  As I stuffed my wallet, phone, Chapstick, and mace inside, I wondered if the purse was simply her sign of approval or a peace offering. It had been more than a week since she handed over my birth certificate, and since then, we’d gone back to living our separate lives.

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