The peer and the puppet, p.9
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       The Peer and the Puppet, p.9

           B. B. Reid


  I let down my guard enough to smile. Someone who didn’t fall over themselves to please Ever McNamara was exactly what I needed. I held up my finger so he’d wait and ducked back inside to grab my backpack.

  “Good girl,” he praised.

  “You do know that I’m not a dog, right?”

  He laughed as he practically leapt down the stairs, leaving me behind. When I passed through the doors leading outside, the first thing I noticed was Ever leaning casually against the Range. He was busy texting on a phone years ahead of mine, which still flipped.

  My heart skipped a beat. It was a warning that I’d admired him for too long. Ever’s allure was rare, eclipsing everything around him. The temptation was blinding. Common sense withered in his presence.

  The wind blew, tousling his hair, and my heart skipped again.

  Freeing myself from his snare, I surveyed the large circular drive. Ever’s was the only vehicle in sight, and Jamie was heading straight for it.

  I hovered over the first step unsure of what to do.

  Ever had yet to notice me.

  I still had time to slip back inside the house.

  But my chance to pretend I was never there was taken when Jamie obnoxiously yelled from the passenger window, “You coming or what? Those fine legs won’t get you to school on time!”

  I gritted my teeth just as Ever’s head popped up.

  His eyes flashed with surprise, but then his mask was back in place before I could reach the last step. Standing up straight, he stuck his phone in his pocket and smoothly slid into the driver’s seat. Realizing Jamie had trapped us both, I sighed and hopped inside the car.

  “Told you she’d come,” Jamie gloated.

  They actually discussed this?

  Ever simply turned up the volume, and Seether drowned out most of Jamie’s yammering. I’d chosen to sit behind Jamie and couldn’t keep from stealing glances at His Majesty.

  His neck was strong without being bulky, his jaw angular, lips full above a cleft chin, and a nose that was perfectly straight.

  Maybe that’s why he keeps it so high in the air.

  Admiring the stylish cut of his two-toned hair, I failed to notice we’d stopped at a sign until his head turned just enough for him to catch me staring. It was too late to look away and pretend. His eyes were completely hidden by the dark tinted sunglasses, but somehow, I knew they raked me as I’d done him…his exploration felt much more invasive.

  Only when he had his fill did he turn back without a word and let off the brake. Ten minutes later, I was out of the Range and practically running for the entrance before he could cut the engine.

  I could feel the cousins’ attention the entire way.

  With my head down, I headed straight for the headmaster’s office and almost made it undetected when I felt fingers gently curl around my bicep. Feminine squeals filled my ear as I was pulled into a hug.

  “I can’t believe it’s really you!”

  I quickly returned Tyra’s hug before she could rupture my eardrum. Other than the bangs that now covered her forehead, she hadn’t changed much.

  “How’s it going?” I kept it casual even though I was excited to see her. After what I had done to one of their own, it didn’t seem wise to bring attention to myself. I was a little surprised there hadn’t been a mob waiting at the gates.

  “I should be asking you. You’re the one who disappeared for an entire year without a word.”

  God, I didn’t want to talk about that. “I’d fill you in,” I lied, “but I have an appointment with Burns.”

  “Are you sticking around this time? I’m almost afraid to let you out of my sight. One minute you were here and”—she snaps her fingers—“the next you were gone.”

  “I can promise I won’t disappear before lunch.” I promised to meet up later before racing to the headmaster’s office with eyes firmly cast on the freshly waxed floors. The halls were filling quickly, and I couldn’t chance anyone else recognizing me. Since I was a former student, I was hoping to skip the counseling and just pick up my class schedule, but that wasn’t meant to be. Burns wasn’t nearly as welcoming as he’d been the year before. After a stern warning that violence against fellow students wouldn’t be tolerated, he relinquished my class schedule, and I was on my way.

  My schedule was mostly electives since I completed most of the required courses for graduating and had no plans of attending college. It would be straight to the pros for me. I could have been competing legitimately years ago, but Rosalyn had withheld her consent. I could feel the resentment seeping from my pores, so I took a deep breath. In a month, I’d be eighteen, and then only my consent would matter.

  When I walked into my third class of the day, 20th Century American Women’s History, it wasn’t surprising that the entire class was female. I was the last to arrive, so I sunk into the only empty chair, and the teacher, a petite redhead with pale skin, began handing out the syllabus and questionnaire.

  Mrs. Roberts had her back turned, so I took the opportunity to look around. Everyone seemed to be engrossed in the forms or each other, but that nagging feeling of being in someone’s crosshairs remained.

  No longer covert, I twisted my body, and that was when I saw her. Even if it hadn’t been for her drilling a hole in my forehead, I would have noticed the strawberry blonde with ivory skin, blue eyes, and pouty lips. She was breathtaking.

  Until now, I hadn’t suffered any lingering scrutiny. This chick looked as if I spit in her cornflakes.

  Don’t be silly, Four. She doesn’t eat carbs.

  The girl finally broke her stare when the teacher asked us to pass up our questionnaire. I quickly scribbled in the rest of my answers and forced my focus on the teacher for the rest of the hour. I was sure I’d learn who the bombshell was eventually.

  “How is your first day back?” Tyra cheerily greeted as I grabbed an apple and stuck it on my tray. I’d forgotten to text her like I promised, but she didn’t seem to mind as she grabbed food and followed me to an empty table.

  “Better than I expected. No one seems to care I exist.” It was perfect.

  Her lips parted. “You haven’t heard?”

  My laugh was dry as I shook my head. “You’re the only one here who talks to me. Why would I hear anything?”

  She leaned forward and for all my claims of not caring, I leaned forward, too. “You weren’t the only one to return to Blackwood Keep. Jason’s back.”

  “Okay…who’s Jason?”

  “He was Ever’s archenemy before you came along.” Her lips pursed as she looked me up and down. “Although I don’t know how much of an enemy you could be if he’s giving you rides to school…”

  I waved her off even though my belly did cartwheels at the memory of how he’d looked at me. “I’m sure he didn’t have a choice.” Before she could pry, I changed the subject. “Why do they hate each other?”

  “Remember the girl I told you who took Ever’s virginity and then became totally obsessed with him—Olivia Portland?”

  How could I forget? “Sure.”

  “Well, she’s Jason’s sister.”

  “So, Jason hates Ever for screwing his sister? Were they friends or something?”

  “I may have given you the watered-down version. It was your first day, and I didn’t want my first real friend running for the hills.”

  I was definitely a flight risk, but it had nothing to do with who Ever screwed in the past. “What really happened?”

  “No one knew how bad she had it until she walked into the boy’s locker room and tried to slit her wrist in front of him.”

  The carton of milk I had in my hand slipped and spilled all over the table. Tyra cursed and hurriedly grabbed napkins. For once, I didn’t care about the stares.

  “Shit! I’m sorry.”

  “See? This is why I didn’t want to tell you.” She huffed as she threw more napkins over the spill.

  “I’m fine. It’s cool.” It was so no
t fucking cool. I helped her clean up my mess and took a deep breath. “What happened to her?”

  Tyra’s skeptical look turned resigned when I squeezed her hand. “All I know is that she lived, but her family was too embarrassed to stay in Blackwood Keep.”

  “Why do you think they came back?”

  “A diploma from Brynwood opens ivy league doors and pretty much any door you want. If I had to guess, I’d say that was the reason.”

  “And Olivia?”

  “Probably in psychiatric care.”

  That poor girl. I scoffed and shook my head. “Hard to believe he’s who everyone chose to idolize.”

  “High school is a mind fuck for us all,” Tyra muttered. “Although it’s not like he asked for her to go all fatal attraction on him. She knew he had a girlfriend.”

  My skin heated, and I looked away. Knowing he had a girlfriend and hearing about Olivia’s undoing didn’t stop me from wondering what it would be like in Ever’s bed.

  The admission nearly knocked me off my feet.

  I’ve never denied that Ever was hot—beautiful really—but now I also knew why there was a burning ache in my belly every time he was near.

  Was I the next Olivia Portland?

  “Doesn’t change the fact that he’s a dick.”

  “Ever’s running things because he makes it possible for people to be accepted. The kids whose parents aren’t doctors, lawyers, or millionaires walk these halls with their heads high because of him. And no one gets stuffed in their lockers for being gay or captain of the chess club.”

  “And the undesirable?”

  “Your first day was the first time anyone’s said it since he took over.”

  “I guess I just bring out the best in him,” I mocked.

  “He’s not so bad. Stay out of his way, and he won’t even notice you’re here.”

  Yeah…easier said than done.

  I forgot to respond when the girl from Women’s History walked by. My gaze followed her until she stopped at the crowded table in the center of the room. It was filled to the brim with bruisers in letterman jackets and girls with easy smiles. And reigning over them all was Ever.

  Tyra peeked over her shoulder to see what had stolen my attention and then whispered, “That’s her.”


  “Ever’s girlfriend. Her name is actually Barbette, but everyone except for their inner circle calls her Barbie.”

  I watched her sink gracefully into the chair next to him, but then Jamie said something that made her stiffen. Ever gave him a look, but Jamie was already bored. He looked around the cafeteria, and when he caught me watching their exchange, he flashed his teeth and headed for the door.

  Well, that was weird.

  My attention shifted back to the middle of the room. Ever was taking a sip from his orange Gatorade and staring dead at me. Barbie touched his hand fisted on the table, and I was forgotten.

  Typical privileged kid and his pretty things.


  “Well, you’ve seen her,” Tyra answered with an eye roll.

  “I mean, why don’t they call her Barbie?”

  She shrugged as she frowned at her broccoli. “Ever and Vaughn call her Bee. I don’t really know why, and if you ask me, I think Jamie has a thing for his cousin’s girlfriend. He calls her Bette, and whenever he does, she either gets all gooey-eyed or she bares her claws. Everyone pretends not to notice.”

  This was starting to sound like an episode straight out of The Young and the Restless. “And Ever’s okay with that?”

  “I doubt he notices. He hasn’t cared about much since his mother skipped town.”


  The one missing piece to the puzzle.

  “No one really knows if she’s alive or dead,” Tyra added while frowning at the middle table. “Ever hasn’t been the same since.” Her pensive tone suggested she was just now putting together the pieces herself.

  Still, it was hard for me to imagine Ever as anything but severe. “How was he before?”

  “A lot more fun to be around, that’s for sure,” a deeper voice answered. Jamie folded his long frame into the chair next to me and snagged my apple from my tray.

  “What is it with you McNamaras and stealing food?” I tried to snatch it back, but he quickly bit into it.

  “I’m not a McNamara,” he retorted with a mouth full, making his Boston accent sound even weirder. “I’m a Buchanan.”

  “McNamara…Buchanan…shouldn’t you be with the other snobs?” He was too busy making eyes at Tyra to answer. She tried to conceal the effect his staring had on her by rolling her eyes. “And can you stop eye-fucking my friend, please? She’s not interested.”

  “I think we should let the pretty girl speak for herself.”

  “She’s not interested,” Tyra confirmed.

  Jamie grunted. “Damn shame. I have a sweet tooth.”

  Tyra crossed her arms, which only drew his attention to her breasts. “Are you referring to my coloring?”

  “Yup,” he boldly answered without moving his eyes away from her chest.

  Tyra looked ready to slap him, so I gripped his chin and turned his face toward mine.

  “Her eyes aren’t down there, douchebag.”

  He clicked his tongue and sang, “You shouldn’t touch me. We have an audience.”

  My hand quickly fell into my lap. I knew who he meant. “So what?”

  Jamie waggled his eyebrows. “Well, I’m game if you are.”

  “Never gonna happen.”

  He snorted. “Especially if my cousin has anything to say about it.”

  I glanced at Tyra, who seemed equally confused. “Why would he care?”

  Deep dimples appeared as he smiled around a mouth full of Granny Smith. “You’re not that naïve.”

  “Humor me.”

  Rather than do so, he changed the subject. “Did I hear you two discussing him?”

  “And if we were?”

  “I’d be careful with rumors.” He cast an indignant glance at Tyra, who lifted her chin in return.

  “So enlighten me.”

  “Hell no! I’m not getting in the middle of his shit with you.”

  The bell rang so I stood, refusing to beg. If Jamie wouldn’t spill, I’d just have to get the beans elsewhere. I started to walk away when he swiftly grabbed my arm.

  “You’re playing a dangerous game, Four.” For the first time since meeting him, the playful twinkle in his eyes was gone. “Cross him an inch, and he’ll go a mile to ruin you.”

  “No need to worry,” I lied. “I’m just making small talk.” I pulled my arm from his grip and dumped my tray. I only made it a few feet before I heard the classic tune and then the first verse of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ playing through the school’s speakers. Since I seemed to be the only one eager to get to class, I was the only one standing when a couple of guys burst through the doors and began to do-si-do around me. They weren’t even in rhythm, but the cafeteria erupted into laughter anyway.

  My fists balled.

  I wanted to pummel the guys until they were bloody pulps.

  But I couldn’t get revenge behind a cell.

  Ever was slouched with his arm thrown over the back of his chair. There was no trace of humor or satisfaction or even the regret I witnessed when he humiliated me the last time. He simply watched his lackeys perform, and only when they slapped hands and took off did I have his undivided attention. Was he expecting me to run away in tears like last time?

  Not gonna happen.

  “That was pathetic!” I shouted.

  His subjects fell silent, waiting to see what their king would do. I didn’t stick around to find out. I was breathing fire by the time I was far enough for the laughter to fade.

  Ever had made it clear he didn’t want peace.


  Neither do I.

  I hadn’t realized I was being followed until a hand on my shoulder stopped my charge. Thinking it was anoth
er prank, I turned with my balled fist raised.

  “Whoa!” The fight left my body when I realized it was just Tyra. “You do realize if you had hit me, I would have to hit you back?” she sassed with her hand on her hip.

  I muttered an apology before starting down the hall again with her at my side.

  “So…what did you do?”

  “What do you mean?” We reached my locker, and I quickly grabbed the materials for my next class.

  “How did you get under his skin? Ever McNamara has never stooped that low before.”

  I sighed, getting sick of everyone believing Ever was some god to be revered. “I didn’t do anything. He hates me because I don’t belong here, and he’s right.”

  “Have you seen the way he looks at you? I totally believe he can’t stand you, but I think he—” She suddenly looked unsure.


  “I think he wants you just as much.”

  The bell saved me from responding, and we parted ways, but a minute later, I received a text from Tyra.

  TYRA: Think about it.

  I wanted to tell her that all I did was think about it, but never in a million years would I admit to desiring a boy who treated me so horribly. I stepped over the threshold of my English class and found that very boy sitting in the back.

  Vaughn was seated on his right with some blushing bombshell parked in front of him. He had a hand planted on the back of her chair, and the other twirled the end of a long brown lock between his fingers as he whispered in her ear. Like a magnet, my gaze returned to Ever who was sketching something inside a small notebook. He didn’t even notice the avid admirer sitting next to him.

  “Ms. Archer, glad to have you back,” the rotund teacher greeted with a clipped tone. Ever’s head jerked up as if he’d just had a bucket of cold water thrown on him. “Please…have a seat.”

  I headed for the only empty seat available at the front of the class, but Mr. Driscoll had other plans.

  “Actually, I’d like you to switch seats with Ms. Brooks. I’d rather she be able to concentrate on the lecture.”

  When I realized he meant the brunette whose drool probably puddled the floor and maybe her seat too, I grew annoyed. Vaughn was just whispering sweet nothings to the girl in front of him but that he noticed?

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