The peer and the puppet, p.38
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       The Peer and the Puppet, p.38

           B. B. Reid
 

  “So he’s got your back, and you’ve got his. How do I know you aren’t making this up?” In my mind, I knew she couldn’t be. Her story was too far-fetched to be anything but real. Men haven’t auctioned their daughters off for wealth and power in centuries with the exception of a few straggling cultures.

  “Since the day I first saw him with you, I knew it was only a matter of time before he broke his word or told you my secret. Ever could have demanded that I tell you myself. He didn’t do any of those things. Instead, he fell apart over losing you.” She slipped the ring from her finger, and I was completely stunned when she laid it on the counter. “None of this is real, Four. It never was.”

  She moved for the door, but I couldn’t let her leave. Not without answering one last burning question.

  “What happens if your father realizes Ever has no intention of marrying you?”

  She stared back at me with sad blue eyes. “He’ll sell me to the highest bidder.”

  My heart was too heavy for sleep and no amount of tossing and turning could change that. After letting Jay D do his business, I decided to make a late-night snack. When I was done, the smell of perfectly toasted bread and melted cheese strangely offered me peace with my decision. If I could perfect grilled cheese, surely I could perfect life.

  Right?

  I stacked the sandwiches on a plate and grabbed a Gatorade. Upstairs, I bypassed my bedroom. It was one in the morning, but I knew he would be awake. The bags I glimpsed under his eyes earlier today told me he hasn’t been sleeping and the weight he lost…let’s just say I made more than a few grilled cheese sandwiches.

  I was glad the door was unlocked because if I woke up Jamie with my knocking, I’d never hear the end of it about the importance of his beauty sleep and maintaining perfect skin.

  Jay D rushed inside ahead of me and immediately began to sniff around. The room was completely dark, but I knew he was awake. When my eyes somewhat adjusted, I could make out Ever sitting in the shadows with his back against the headboard and his elbows on his knees.

  “Hi.”

  The silence stretched.

  I held my breath as I waited.

  And waited.

  And just when I thought I might be too late…

  “Hey.”

  We hadn’t spoken since the night of my date—actually, he hadn’t talked at all. Thomas asked questions that I couldn’t answer, and Jamie had begun to look at me accusingly. It was a wonder he cared at all, but maybe, deep down, he knew there was never anything between Ever and Barbie.

  “I made grilled cheese.”

  “Not hungry.”

  “With grilled cheese, it’s not about hunger. It’s about the yummy goodness.”

  He didn’t respond, but I wasn’t giving up. I climbed onto the bed and sat cross-legged in front of him. “Let’s make a deal. For one grilled cheese, I’ll tell you a secret. Two grilled cheese, I’ll show you what’s in my pocket. Deal?”

  I chewed on my lip. The bed shifted when he moved. There was a click, and then a soft glow chased away some of the darkness.

  “It better be a good secret,” he said with a smirk. “I hate cheese.”

  “What kind of psychopath doesn’t like cheese?” Way to charm him, Four.

  He picked up a sandwich without responding.

  “You don’t have to—”

  But he was already biting into it. A couple more bites and the sandwich was toast.

  “Spill,” he growled.

  I handed over the Gatorade, and he chugged it while keeping one eye on me.

  I took a deep breath.

  I could do this.

  It was both impossible and not so impossible to believe I hadn’t spoken the words before.

  Here goes nothing.

  “I love you.” Damn, that felt good. And right and—

  Did he just snort?

  With my heart at his feet, I realized that maybe I was too late.

  “It’s nice to finally hear you say it back, but it’s hardly a secret.” I was ready to remind him of all the reasons I didn’t say it until now, but he spoke first. “I love you too.”

  But even in the dim light, I could see the wariness in his eyes. I gestured to the second sandwich and grabbed the last one for myself. I needed cheesy courage for what came next. I was still nibbling on my first bite when he finished his.

  “Show me.” I was beginning to reconsider putting up with his bossiness when he said, “Please.”

  Oh, all right.

  Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out the platinum ring. He froze when I held it out. “This was my father’s ring. I want you to have it.”

  “Why?” he choked out.

  “Think of it as your promise to me.”

  He studied the ring for a moment. “What am I promising?”

  “That no matter what…no matter why…you’re mine.”

  Dark honey shone with confusion and then disbelief. “She told you?”

  “She told me.”

  “I have something for you too,” Ever said as he lazily ran a hand down the naked curve of my hip. He was the first to speak since our big finish. We had just finished making love, and Jay D, to Ever’s displeasure, was soundly sleeping at the foot of his bed.

  “If it’s more sex, I think I’m good until Christmas,” I purred.

  He snorted. “Like you’d wait that long. I think you love it more than I do.”

  “That’s because you’re better at it.”

  With an arrogant half smile, he said, “Won’t argue with you there.”

  I felt my lips purse as I glared at him. “What you have for me better be diamonds or else you’ll be waiting until New Years to fuck me again.”

  He smiled fully this time and kissed the curve of my hip before reaching into his nightstand and pulling out a slip of paper. He stared at it for a moment as if unsure before wordlessly handing it over. I wanted to see what had caused his change in mood, but I had trouble breaking free from his intense stare.

  “Read it,” he ordered.

  So I did.

  APPLICATION FOR CHANGE OF NAME OF ADULT

  IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS OF COWEN COUNTY, CT PROBATE DIVISION

  TIMOTHY L. THOMPSON, JUDGE

  IN RE: CHANGE OF NAME OF

  FOUR ARCHER

  TO REQUESTED NAME

  DARREN ARCHER

  The form went on, but the explosion of emotions didn’t allow me to see the rest. Fear and hope currently battled for dominance. “I…I don’t understand.”

  “After you told me about how your name wasn’t a name, I thought maybe it was time you changed that. I just wasn’t sure this was what you would want.”

  “Then why now?”

  He shrugged, but I could tell he was nervous. “Since you’re taking a chance, I thought I’d take one, too.”

  “I don’t know, Ever. Rosalyn—”

  “She doesn’t have to know,” he quickly reassured. “At least, not now.”

  Sitting up, I stared with longing at the paper and the name written boldly in ink.

  Darren.

  Not too feminine or exotic. It was perfect.

  “You chose this name?”

  He suddenly looked shy. “I also brought an extra form just in case you hated it.”

  “I don’t hate it. I couldn’t.” His shoulders relaxed in relief. “But why Darren?”

  Softly, he said, “It was the name my mother chose for my sister.”

  “Oh, Ever.” I turned and rained what must have been a thousand kisses all over his face. “In that case, I’m also honored.”

  “When you’re ready, we’ll file the petition together.”

  “Okay,” I simply answered while hiding how much his bossiness turned me on.

  “About Bee…” he started as I settled in his arms once again, “are you sure you’re okay with this?”

  “Okay with it? Hell no.” I sighed and snuggled deeper into the crook of his arm. “But if I can put up with Jamie,
I can deal with Barbie.” After she told me what her father planned to do…I gave her back the ring. She didn’t ask questions, and I didn’t explain myself. In a few months, Barbie would be eighteen and could get away from her father. Until then, we would have to pull the wool over his eyes. “Just so you know—I have rules.”

  I swung my leg over his body.

  “Oh?”

  “No kissing.” I pecked his lips. “These belong to me.”

  He grunted his agreement.

  I trailed a finger down his chest. “And I don’t want her hands on you.” I wrapped my hand around his length, and he hardened instantly. “And because I’m not completely unreasonable, you may hug her only when in the company of her father.” A thought occurred to me as I stroked him. “Do you suppose we should tell Jamie?”

  I was flipped on my back, and then he was hovering over me.

  “Let’s not talk about Jamie when your hand is on my dick.”

  I snorted and laughed. “Sorry.”

  He looked completely in awe as he said, “What to do with you, little troublemaker?”

  “I can think of a few things.”

  His hands dipped between my legs, and I gasped.

  “Can you now?”

  I was about to respond when his eyes bucked, and he jumped from the bed.

  “Ever? What’s wrong?”

  He wore an alarmingly uncomfortable expression.

  Before he could answer, I heard a gurgling noise come from his stomach, and then he was backing away toward the bathroom door.

  “What—” And then it dawned on me. “Oh, my God.” I cackled. “You really shouldn’t have eaten the grilled cheese!”

  It was clear now why Ever didn’t like cheese as his stomach made more noises. Most guys would have saved themselves the embarrassment, but when Ever looked back at me and shrugged, I knew, for me, he would always do whatever it took.

  “BE SURE TO GET THOSE bolts tight but not too tight, boy. You don’t want to strip ’em.”

  Ever nodded and, with hawk-like focus, carefully cranked the wrench. I was trying to keep my drool to a minimum watching him get his hands dirty in oil-stained coveralls. He didn’t seem to mind, and with an eager mind, he asked questions that Gruff had been all too happy to answer.

  Even though I agreed to be Ever’s girlfriend in secret, I still needed to know that I’d made the right call. In no way would it be easy to watch Ever dote on Barbie even if it was just for show. I needed to know that the months of jealousy and doubt to come would be worth it. That he was worth it.

  Who better to offer me that assurance than the man who’d been a father to me? He was also the one person I could count on to give it to me straight, no chaser.

  When I called Gruff to arrange the visit, I only told him that I was homesick and missed him, which was true, but he didn’t know my other reason for coming or why I’d brought Ever and Jamie. Jamie merely served as an alibi. My trip home on the McNamara’s private jet would have seemed suspicious if it had only been Ever and me.

  The initial meeting had gone better than expected considering how hospitable Gruff had been to me when we first met.

  It became clear who Gruff favored since he tasked Ever with helping him replace the brake pads and rotors on a client’s bike while Jamie was tasked with separating the hundreds of nuts and screws Gruff had accumulated over three decades.

  I was sitting with my legs crossed on one of the cluttered worktables when Gruff ambled over, forcing me to focus on something other than Ever.

  “Now,” Gruff started as he wiped oil from his hands on a rag. “Which of these boys are you sweet on, and please tell me it ain’t that punk.”

  I snickered when Gruff jabbed his thumb in Jamie’s direction.

  “Don’t be silly, old man. Boys are icky.”

  Behind Gruff, Ever’s lips lifted into a cocky smirk, making it clear he was ear hustling.

  “I’d die a happy man if I actually believed you,” Gruff retorted.

  I felt myself flush crimson as I stuck my tongue out at my mentor.

  “See that,” he said while pointing at my face. “You never used to do that.” He suddenly looked stern as he eyed me carefully. “Which one?” His tone made it clear he wouldn’t let it go until I had an answer.

  Even though I came for this very reason, I still hadn’t figured out how to tell Gruff that I was finally into a boy.

  A very intense, dominating, vengeful, arrogant, manipulative yet loving, and incredibly loyal boy.

  Not to mention hot as hell.

  And he was all mine.

  “I—” The words got stuck in my throat, so I decided this wasn’t going to happen right now.

  But then Ever stepped forward and crushed my decision right under his size eleven shoe.

  “It’s me, sir.”

  Gruff spun around, and I quickly jumped to my feet just in case he decided to hit my boyfriend.

  Boyfriend…

  Yeah, I wasn’t getting used to that anytime soon.

  “It’s you, huh?” Gruff scratched his ever-graying beard. “And what are your intentions with my girl. You gonna make her an honest woman?”

  I groaned. We were barely eighteen and here Gruff was talking of marriage. I wondered what he’d think if he knew Ever was technically engaged. To the love of his cousin’s life no less. I suddenly wished I had the foresight to hide Gruff’s shotgun before having this conversation. I knew better than to say anything, and Ever certainly did too. The only loose cannon was Jamie, who had abandoned his task to watch our little scene with zero emotion in his gaze.

  “Actually, she’s perfect the way she is,” Ever said, stealing my attention back as he grabbed my hand and pulled me close. Holding my gaze, he added, “But I’m hoping one day she’ll make an honest man out of me.”

  While I melted at Ever’s promise, Gruff simply grunted. I realized that was all the approval Ever was going to get, but it was good enough for me. Knowing Gruff, the jury would be out until the day Ever kept his word, and even then, Gruff would always have one eye on Ever and one finger on the trigger.

  “I’ve got a twelve-gauge filled with bullets, and one of them has got your name on it, boy.”

  I snickered. “Do you even remember his name, old man?”

  “Of course, I do,” Gruff said with a grunt. “It’s Boy.”

  I palmed my face while Gruff left Ever and Jamie in stitches.

  “I’ve got a bullet for that one, too,” Gruff went on as he glared Jamie’s way. “If he ever makes a move on you.”

  Jamie’s laughter quickly died as his expression turned to shock and wariness.

  “And even if he doesn’t, something tells me that he isn’t green to breaking hearts. Probably deserves a couple of them.”

  “More like five or ten,” Ever instigated.

  At Jamie’s scathing glare, I nudged Ever, warning him with my eyes to shut the hell up. We both knew how petty Jamie could get when provoked.

  A moment later, I was proven right when a devious smile took over Jamie’s face. “Did Four and Ever tell you the good news?”

  My jaw dropped and Ever’s hardened. Fortunately, Gruff missed our reactions as he focused on Jamie.

  “What would that be?” Gruff asked.

  Ever and I both tensed as we prepared for Jamie to spill the beans about Ever’s engagement.

  With a casual tone, he said, “My uncle is hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year, and we were all hoping you’d come.”

  “Jamie, that’s less than a week away. I’m sure Gruff already has plans,” I protested.

  My heart plummeted to my stomach when Gruff said, “No, I don’t actually. My son will be spending the holiday with his wife’s family. I’m free.” Silence that became more awkward by the second fell as Gruff waited for me to extend the invitation myself. “Of course, I don’t have to come if you don’t want me to…”

  Oh, God. I knew denying Gruff an invitation would crush him. Ever knew it too—and s
o did his cunt of a cousin who smugly stood by with his tatted arms crossed.

  “No, we’d love it if you came. It would mean so much.”

  Gruff then regarded Ever, who simply flashed him a convincing smile. “I guess it’s settled then. I’m coming to Blackwood Keep.”

  “You have to be quiet, princess.” Ever, with his hand now covering my mouth to silence my cries, drove into me from behind, making the old floorboards creak. “Why’d you have to come in here, huh? You know what the man said. No hanky-panky.” He punctuated his teasing with another hard thrust and groaned. “You feel so fucking good, Archer.”

  It was true I’d gotten myself into my current predicament. I’d snuck into the living room innocently, wanting to spend the night in Ever’s arms rather than alone in Gruff’s drafty spare room, but that had quickly turned into the expressly forbidden. Jamie had taken the sofa while Ever had made a pallet on the floor just a few feet away. I didn’t mind one bit and wormed my way under the blankets without waking him. As I’d started to drift off into a sound sleep, I’d found myself with my face down, ass up, and Ever’s talented fingers and tongue bringing me to the most intense orgasm I’d had yet. Now I was lying on my belly with Ever’s weight pinning me down as he pounded me without mercy or fear that we’d be caught.

  “I only wanted to cuddle,” I whimpered.

  “No, you wanted to be fucked.”

  I moaned when he palmed my breast and bit the shell of my ear.

  “Didn’t you?”

  “No.”

  He suddenly stopped to turn me over and look into my eyes. “No?”

  Enjoying his sudden uncertainty, I wrapped my legs around his waist, and with a sly smile, I reached between us and led his cock back to my entrance. “I wanted you to make love to me.”

  Never looking away, he reentered me slowly, letting me feel every hard inch until I was full. “It won’t matter if I take you hard and fast or soft and slow, princess. With us, it will always be making love.”

  We came together soon after with only our hands clapped over the other’s mouths and the sound of Jamie’s snores to muffle Ever’s grunts and my cries.

 
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