The peer and the puppet, p.37
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       The Peer and the Puppet, p.37

           B. B. Reid

  “Thanks for looking after Jay D.”

  “Yeah, sure,” Tyra absently replied.

  I waved goodbye, but lost in her head, she didn’t wave back.

  Not wanting to keep Michael waiting, I left her to her thoughts and headed for the stairs. When I reached them, I froze on the landing and gaped at the scene happening below.

  Vaughn held Michael against the wall with a hand on his shoulder while Jamie boldly reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out his wallet. No. Oh, fuck no.

  “ID, credit cards, club cards…condoms?” Jamie clicked his tongue and pulled out the foil wrappers. “Won’t be needing those, playboy.”

  I practically leaped down the stairs. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

  Michael sagged with relief while Vaughn dropped his arm and said, “Just making sure your friend will be the perfect gentleman.”

  I crossed my arms. “Who asked you to butt in?”

  “Sheathe your claws, kitten. You’re lucky we’re letting you go at all.”

  I whirled on Jamie. “Excuse me?” What the hell made them think they could stop me?

  “You heard me.”

  “Vaughn, you promised!” Tyra shrieked as she flew down the stairs.

  “I said I wouldn’t kick his ass.” He shrugged while keeping his expression perfectly blank. “I didn’t.”

  I started to apologize to Michael when the source of my current woes appeared at the top of the stairs. Ever was dressed casually in a white long-sleeve and dark jeans. He was obviously heading somewhere, but he didn’t move, and the black look he gave Michael sent a chill down my spine.

  “Her curfew is at ten,” Vaughn supplied. “Have her home by nine, or we go hunting.”

  I didn’t waste time grabbing Michael’s hand, but we were kept from leaving by Jamie, who insolently took our clasped hands and separated them. “There’s a no touching clause.”

  I’d had enough.

  I marched to the bottom of the stairs, and Ever’s gaze swept me as I did. Even through the anger, I could see his desire. “Call off your guard dogs and don’t interfere.”

  He lifted his chin. “Or what?”

  With a grace I didn’t realize I possessed, I turned on my heel and peeked over my shoulder as I swayed toward my nervous date. “You really want to find out?”

  “How’s your milkshake?”

  “Yummy, thank you. I’ve never had to eat one with a spoon before, though. They were better off just serving a bowl of ice cream.”

  He tried his luck, but the shake didn’t make it very far up the straw. “You might be right.”

  “It’s a gift.” I sighed, making him laugh.

  Michael had chosen a pizzeria for our date, and I had to admit, it was going well despite the messy start. Michael and I even had some things in common: Sloppy Joes, Sons of Anarchy, and an aversion to country music. But when he claimed NASCAR was boring, I seriously questioned seeing him after tonight.

  “So, if you don’t mind my asking…”

  Please don’t bring him up.

  “What was that all about earlier?”

  I sighed and slumped a little in my seat. Rosalyn, if she could see me now, would just die. Michael had been gracious when I apologized and didn’t ask questions. I had hoped it would be left at that. Especially since he now knew Ever and I were more than just house buddies.

  “I don’t mean to pry,” he rushed to add. “I never minded the rumors about you and him because I thought they were just rumors.”

  My heart sank. Was I being dumped? Already?

  “After what I saw tonight, I’m not so sure. I like you a lot, but I don’t want to get in the middle of anything.”

  “There’s no beginning, middle, or end. Ever is engaged to Barbie. I’m just the girl who sleeps across the hall.”

  “So tonight was?” He looked hopeful but wary.

  “Ever toying with me for the last time.”

  Seemingly satisfied, he nodded, and we managed to get through the rest of our meal without either one of us bringing up Ever McNamara.

  “Laugh all you want, but if I go down again, I’m taking you with me.”

  After dinner, Michael took me to the local skating rink. Neither of us was any good, but it was fun to watch each other fall.

  “You can try, but I have at least twenty pounds on you.”

  My jaw dropped as I grabbed the rail. “Either you’re selling yourself short, or you’re calling me fat.”

  He roared, and to my delight, fell on his ass when he forgot about balance.

  “Serves you right.” I reached out a hand, which I realized he took out of politeness because I wasn’t really much help.

  “I don’t think I’m going to sit down for a week.” He pulled his phone out and checked the time. “What do you say we get you home?”

  I peered at his still lit screen and frowned. “But it’s only eight thirty. I can stay out until ten.”

  “Ah, yeah.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “It’s just that I have some homework to catch up on before I hit the sack.”

  I might have believed him if he wasn’t staring at the floor.

  Chicken shit.

  After he drove me home, I let him walk me to the door and even agreed to a second date, but any hope I had of this going anywhere died when he walked away without a goodnight kiss.

  I found Tyra, Vaughn, and Jamie in the family room watching Now You See Me and tried not to dwell on where the lord of the manor might be.

  Tyra was the first to notice me and abandoned her cozy spot under Vaughn’s arm, much to his displeasure. “So, how was it?” she prodded.

  “I had a good time.”

  She seemed a little distressed by my answer. “Then why aren’t there stars in your eyes?”

  I peeked at Vaughn and Jamie who were doing a horrible job of pretending not to listen.

  “It was only the first date.” Lame. By the disappointment in her eyes, Tyra wasn’t buying it, either.

  “I know why there aren’t stars in her eyes,” Jamie boasted.

  “Oh, yeah?” Tyra whirled around to face him. “Do tell.”

  He shared a smug look with Vaughn. “What time is it?”

  Vaughn made a show of checking the time. “Eight fifty-nine.”

  “And are you happy with yourselves?” Tyra scolded with her hands on her hips.

  “My best friend spent the night sulking. What do you think?”

  I found myself glaring at Vaughn, and he glared right back. “So, screw me and what I want?”

  “You want Ever,” Vaughn gritted. Much softer he said, “And Ever wants you.”

  “That’s what happens when you grow up entitled. You never stop to consider what you even deserve.”

  Green eyes flashed, but he stayed silent, and I didn’t stick around. I said goodnight to Tyra, ignored Vaughn and Jamie, and rushed upstairs to get these damn clothes off and my hair in a ponytail.

  Love could blow me.

  MY HANDS WERE BRACED ON her door, but I couldn’t bring myself to knock. I could hear her moving around and cooing nonsense to her mutt as she removed that sexy fucking dress she wore for him and not me.

  When I held her after the corn maze, I was ready to do whatever it took to keep her. But then she warned me not to make promises I couldn’t keep, and I remembered the one I made four years ago. I was just a fucking kid, but I never regretted the vow.

  Until I was forced to watch a guy notice her and not care that she was mine.

  I could have ripped him apart and driven him away. It would have been so easy. The hard part had been letting her go.

  I didn’t count on Vaughn and Jamie stepping in to remind her that she was mine. The selfish part of me hoped she’d submit and call it off, but my wild girl had other plans.

  I rested my forehead on the door.

  Always so damn troublesome.

  A second later, I stumbled over the threshold. I caught my footing before I could kiss the ca
rpet. Four looked ready for bed in her tiny shorts and T-shirt with her hair swept up in a messy bun.

  “What the hell are you doing hugging my door?”

  I could feel the heat rising in my cheeks, and when her jaw dropped, I looked away.

  “A—are you blushing?”

  “No.” I peeked at her.

  She looked like a fucking puffer fish as she held in her laugh.

  “So, what did you need?”

  You. “Nothing. You going somewhere?” I questioned and instantly regretted it. Not only did I look like a stalker but I was also starting to sound like one, too. Some inherent part of me that Four had awakened wanted to find the nearest blunt object and drag her to my room. Instead, I watched her sassily stick out her hip and cross her arms over her perky tits. Moisture pooled in my mouth when I remembered how sweet her nipples tasted.

  “I was getting into bed when I saw your shadow under the door.” I didn’t speak, and neither did she. “Well, I’m pretty tired,” she hinted when the silence became awkward.

  “Goodnight.” I forced myself back into the hall and had only taken a couple of steps when she spoke.

  “Hey, Ever?” The confidence in her voice was gone, and she was chewing on her lip when I turned around.

  Don’t touch her.


  “Should dates end with a goodnight kiss?”

  I stopped breathing. Did she not realize what she gave away?

  I ate the distance between us and enlightened her. I’d long lost count of how many kisses I’ve stolen, but what I did know was that I’d never gone this slowly with her. I wanted to savor every second.


  My hands followed the command and caressed down her sides, cupped her ass, and lifted until she was on the tip of her cute little toes, and every inch of her pressed against me. Needing to mark her everywhere, I kissed down her neck. When she shivered against me, my smirk pressed against her skin. That fucker will never be what she needs.

  As if reading my thoughts, she pushed me away. I wanted to grab her again, but her tears stopped me.

  “Four—” I started, but she cut me off by ripping my heart out and pissing me off all at once.

  “How can you touch me like that when you do nothing but hurt me?”

  “Because I was so damn angry!” I didn’t mean to explode, but once I did, I couldn’t stop. “I had just gotten back hope of bringing my mother home when my father decided to start a new family instead. My mother was still his wife. He didn’t even fight for her.”

  Rather than the understanding I’d come to expect from Four, she stared back at me in disbelief. “Your mother walked out on him and left him with a son to raise alone. What was there to fight for?”

  A muscle inside my jaw ticked. “I guess it doesn’t matter now. He’s moved on.”

  I could tell that was the wrong thing to say when she flinched. “We’re done here.”

  Fuck! Every time I get an inch with her, I put my foot in my mouth.

  I hooked my finger into her shorts and brought her to me. “I don’t blame you, baby. Never you.”

  She coldly shoved me away again. “But you did, Ever. I spent a year in exile because you wanted your mommy back. Am I just supposed to forget that?”

  “You don’t understand. You were a mirror that I couldn’t break. Seeing you so wild and brave and free reminded me who I used to be. It wasn’t just your body that tempted me. It was your soul, baby. For the first time, I wanted to be free no matter the consequences, and that scared me. I had to send you away.”

  I saw the ice slowly melting away, and for a moment, I had hope.

  “No.” She wiped her face, leaving wet streaks. “You didn’t.” The moment her hand fell away, her gaze hardened. “If you had stopped to know me beyond what you saw, you would have found someone who understood more than anyone what you sacrifice every day.”

  “I know.”

  She nodded, accepting my shame. “So what do you expect me to do?”

  “Forgive me so we can move on.” I was lost, without answers, and left with only what was in my heart for survival. “I want to be with you, Four Archer.”

  She paused. Shock had made her damn near comatose. Up until now, I had never made my intentions clear. I’d never told her exactly where she stood with me. Instead, I left her hanging from a fucking cliff.

  “I did forgive you, Ever.” The tear that fell down her cheek and the way she cradled her body as if protecting herself from me, completely fucking wrecked me. “But then you hurt me for the last time when you got engaged.”

  WE WERE STANDING OUTSIDE MY Women’s History class when Michael popped the question. “So, my parents asked me to invite you over for dinner tomorrow night.”

  Shaking hands clutched the straps of my backpack. “You don’t think it’s a little soon?”

  It had only been a couple of weeks since our first date, and I wouldn’t have dared introduce him to Rosalyn this soon.

  After our date, I had considered breaking it off, but our second had gone so much better when Ever and his band of arrogant assholes didn’t try to sabotage it. Michael had even been bold enough to kiss me.

  Sadly, the ache in my belly for the next one never came. And no matter how many times he’s kissed me since, I couldn’t shake the suspicion that I was only using him as a distraction.

  “My parents are a little old-fashioned.”

  When Michael had picked me up for our date in a blue BMW, I knew his parents had money. Meeting them would be a huge step toward becoming official. What if they didn’t approve of me?

  Do I even want this?

  “Dinner sounds good.” I felt like a coward.

  “Cool.” Noticing that I didn’t share his excitement, he added, “Don’t look so worried! My parents are gonna love you.”

  I wasn’t worried. I was drowning. And when you’re dying, it isn’t worry you feel. It’s pure panic.

  He kissed me in front of our riveted audience, and among them was Barbie. I could tell by her disgusted look that she’d heard every word. I mentally shrugged off her puzzling reaction. She should have been happy that I was no longer poaching on her territory. It certainly shamed me to know that Barbie had been right after all. She was the one to wear Ever’s ring.

  Michael took off for his own class oblivious to the attention. When we showed up together for the football game last Thursday, people took notice. The tweets and statuses Tyra showed me were all vague, but I was a smart girl.

  She chose him over Ever?

  Ever is way hotter!

  I know he’s engaged, but I’d be his side bitch.

  No more wondering if he hit that yet.

  So much for being undesirable. Can I have next?

  First, they slut-shamed me for wanting Ever, and then they mocked me for moving on. High school was a fickle place.

  Class started, but I couldn’t focus on the lecture Mrs. Roberts was giving about reproductive rights. Feeling Barbie’s gaze, I peeked over my shoulder. I expected a mocking sneer, but she was pale and visibly trembling.

  Her swift change of emotion was a real head-scratcher. I debated what to do. The angel on one shoulder urged me to comfort her while the devil on my other kicked up her feet and smiled as we both found solace in knowing that Ever would spend a lifetime dealing with Barbie’s erratic moods.

  The pressure on my bladder had become unbearable by the time class ended, so I texted Tyra that I’d be late for lunch and hurried to the nearest bathroom.

  Two girls were primping in the mirror, but the stalls were empty, so I dived inside the nearest one. I was tugging my skirt back down after relieving myself when I heard, “Get out.”

  I didn’t move, but the sound of rushing footsteps told me that the two girls at the sink did. Seconds later, I heard the lock on the bathroom door turn.

  “I know you’re in here, Four.”

  Okay, this isn’t creepy at all.

  I stepped out of the stall.<
br />
  Barbie was leaning against the sink with her arms crossed. Her casual stance wasn’t one I expected of Ever’s prim and proper princess.

  His real princess.

  The color had returned to her cheeks, and she appeared contemplative as she stared back at me.

  “Any particular reason why you’re stalking me in public bathrooms?”

  Barbie had about four inches on me, but if I needed to, I could take her.

  She took a deep breath and shook her head. “I can’t believe I’m doing this.”

  “Doing what?”

  “At first, I thought you were just someone he was screwing. There have been girls, but he was always discreet. After Olivia Portland, he had to be. Whatever he had to do to keep the rumors at bay. We couldn’t risk tipping my father off.” She drew in a ragged breath and started again before I could ask questions like “Why the hell are you telling me this?”

  “My father’s company has been losing money for years. Soon, it will be completely bankrupt, and we’ll be out on our asses. My father has always insisted on living above his means, so even if he sold the company, it wouldn’t be enough.”

  The frown I wore only deepened. “What does this have to do with Ever?” Or me.

  She lifted her nose in the air. “It would embarrass my father if he had to downgrade our lifestyle. Once I turned thirteen, it was impossible for anyone, especially men, not to notice me. He’s been priming me since then.”

  “Priming you?”

  “To marry someone who could get him out of debt and fatten his pockets.”

  The last piece to the puzzle finally slid into place. “So Ever is just your meal ticket? You don’t love him even a little?” I found it impossible for any girl to get this close to Ever and not fall.

  Unless that girl had already fallen.

  She stared at her engagement ring, a pear-shaped diamond that glittered in the light and mocked my broken heart. “He’s my best friend,” she said as if that explained everything. “The promise of marrying into a family worth billions was enough to keep my father patient.”

  “Why are you telling me this?”

  “Ever became a shell when his mother left. I promised myself that I would never hurt him like she did.” She sighed as she toyed with the blinding ring on her finger. “It seems only one of us is good at keeping promises.”

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