One step closer a stepbr.., p.10
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       One Step Closer: A stepbrother, stand-alone novel., p.10

           Kahlen Aymes
 

  “Oh, well. Might as well get it over with,” he muttered.

  Caleb squared his shoulders and resumed a slow jog the final few hundred feet up to the house, to the front door, and then grabbed the knob and pushed it open without hesitation. He was sweaty, his T-shirt stuck to his muscled torso and his hair plastered to the skin of his forehead and the back of his neck. If nothing else, it would allow him a brief escape to clean up.

  The house smelled good; like something sweet had been baking earlier in the day, overpowered now with a savory scent of meat roasting and fresh bread. Caleb glanced around the entry and noticed two red roller bags sitting just inside the foyer, beside the wrought iron and marble table that sat beneath a large ornate mirror. His blue eyes darted quickly around, glancing into the empty great room and then at the closed door to his father’s study on the other side.

  He could hear faint sounds coming from the kitchen, wondering who he’d find in there with Jonesy. He didn’t recognize the bags, but most likely they belonged to Macy. Caleb sighed again as he walked casually through the house, unsure if he was anxious or uneasy. As he got closer, he picked up Macy’s voice asking Jonesy questions. Her tone was strained and it appeared the old woman was reluctant to provide the answers.

  “You’ll have to ask Caleb. It’s not my place to discuss family matters.”

  Macy was perched on one of the stools watching Jonesy pile fluffy white icing onto one cake layer, but her back was stiff and the look on her face showed her annoyance. Always polished perfection, her long brunette hair was slicked back into a tight chignon, and her red business suit and high heels impeccable, despite her layover. Caleb walked up behind her and reached out a hand to place on her back.

  “I see you made it safely,” he said calmly, careful not to startle either one of the women.

  Macy turned, the expression on her face lighting up in a bright, red-lipstick lined smile. She was a beautiful woman; her voluptuous curves always showcased to their best advantage by her wardrobe. “Caleb!”

  Her arms slid up his shoulders in an attempt to hug him, but Caleb stalled her, instead leaning in to place a short kiss on her full mouth.

  “I’m a sweaty mess. You’ll ruin your suit if you get close right now.”

  Caleb’s demeanor was decidedly different than the easy-going and jovial man Macy knew, but then, his father had just died and it was to be expected. She made no further attempt to embrace him, though her hand reached up to lay against his cheek; her dark brown eyes searching his face for a clue to what he was thinking. “Are you okay?”

  Caleb moved away, effectively breaking the contact of her hand as he reached in to pick up one of the fresh rolls cooling on the counter and pulling a piece of it off before popping it into his mouth. “Yeah,” he said, walking away to open the refrigerator. “Fine.”

  Jonesy took notice of Caleb’s coolness to his supposed “girlfriend” and wondered if it was because he’d overheard her meddling questions as he’d entered the room. She seemed overly concerned with things that were none of her business.

  Caleb grabbed a bottle of water and opened it, leaning his hip against the counter behind Jonesy, who was facing Macy across the island where she was working, and took a long swig of the cool liquid. He used the back of the hand holding the bottle to push the hair back off of his forehead, his eyes searching for any sign of Wren.

  “Smells good, Jonesy. What’s for dinner?”

  “Roast beef, garlic mashed potatoes, and strawberry cream cake.”

  The cake was Wren’s favorite and Jonesy’s silent signal to Caleb that she was in the house somewhere.

  “Sounds delicious,” Macy put in. “I’ve been watching her make that cake and it is positively spectacular. If it tastes as good as it looks, we’re in for a treat!”

  Jonesy offered a small smile, but it didn’t go all the way to her eyes as she arranged sliced strawberries over the top of the icing, then placed the second cake layer over it. “It is,” she said matter-of-factly, reaching for the bowl containing the remaining frosting and repeating the process.

  Caleb walked around the room so he could see Jonesy’s face. She looked perturbed, her eyes downcast as she worked. “That’s for sure.” Caleb’s tone was designed to make the housekeeper smile. “Jonesy is the best cook in the known universe. I don’t know how I’ve lived without her all this time.”

  “Pfft!” Jonesy snorted. It had the desired effect as Jonesy looked up and offered Caleb a genuine smile. “Flattery would sway me if you weren’t so stinky! Off to the shower with you! Dinner is in an hour.”

  Caleb walked around and leaned in to kiss Jonesy’s plump cheek, grateful for her steady presence. He realized now how much he relied on her when he was younger and how thankful he was that she was still part of the Luxon household. It was another thing to consider in his decision. Jonesy was family. “I love you, Jonesy.”

  “Of course, you do. What’s not to love?” The old woman grinned at Caleb. He returned her smile, but his eyes were questioning and Jonesy recognized it right away. “She’s upstairs sleeping.” She answered Caleb’s unanswered question.

  Macy’s head snapped around to look for Caleb’s reaction. He seemed to physically relax, and nodded slightly.

  “Good.” When he started to leave the room, Macy stopped him.

  “Caleb, please take my bags. I’d like to freshen up myself.”

  Caleb stopped, mid-stride, and turned around at the same time Jonesy huffed.

  “Nothing wrong with the room you have, in my opinion,” Jonesy put in promptly, continuing her task of finishing the cake.

  “But—” Macy began, a scowl beginning to form on her features.

  Caleb’s hand went up to waist level, to stop her, noting her perturbed expression. The last thing he needed was a throw-down between Macy and Jonesy. Macy was used to getting her own way, but even though Jonesy was paid a wage for her work, she was more like the matriarch of the family and used to taking charge. His eyes implored Macy to can her response. “I’m sure that it’s fine. I’ll be glad to deliver the bags, though.”

  Macy was clearly angry, but Caleb nodded his head, indicating that she should follow him out of the room. “See you in an hour, Jonesy.”

  As he walked into the foyer to pick up her bags, and Macy followed.

  “Caleb!”

  He bent to pick up one of the bags in each hand, foregoing pulling out the handles so he could wheel them. He wasn’t sure what room Jonesy had given Macy and there might be carpet or rugs on the way. When he straightened with the bags, the muscles on his biceps bulged slightly, though he bore the weight easily. “Jesus. Did you bring your entire closet? Lead the way.”

  Macy didn’t tell him where her room was, nor did she start walking in that direction. “Why can’t I stay in the same room with you? It’s not like we’re kids, and you’re her boss!”

  “Macy, come on.” Caleb was unmoving in his resolve but he kept his tone low. They were still within earshot of the kitchen and who knew if Wren would show up at the top of the stairs any minute. “I don’t want to argue and I’m not up for getting into it with Jonesy either. Please, show me the way to your room and we can talk about it.”

  Macy waited a beat, and then preceded Caleb down the hall behind the staircase to the back of the house. “She stashed me in the farthest part of the house. She hates me and I didn’t even do anything to her!”

  Caleb remained silent until he deposited the cases on floor of her room. It was lavishly furnished with polished hardwood floors and a thick area rug in the center of a seating area situated at the end of the bed, where a big screen TV was mounted on the wall above a fireplace. It could be watched from there or from the bed. The room was done in soft yellows, gold, and light jade green.

  “This is like the Ritz. She probably put you back here because it’s private. You have everything you need.”

  Macy huffed, throwing her purse on the middle of the king size bed. The linens were th
e finest money could buy; plush and comfortable. “I need to be with you. How am I supposed to help you if I’m exiled to the outer limits?” Her lips took on a petulant pout, though the woman Caleb knew her to be was always controlled and mature. It was out of character.

  Caleb contemplated his words; knowing in soothing her, he’d have to say things he didn’t really mean. “I’m glad you’re here, though I have a ton of meetings and we won’t be able to spend much time together. It’s a funeral, not party-time.”

  Macy’s expression got hard, angry at his choice of words. “I know it’s not a party.” She unbuttoned her jacket and kicked off her high heels. “Obviously.”

  Caleb’s hands landed on his hips as his stance changed. “Look, I told you there is a lot of shit to deal with this week.”

  “I know.” Her expression softened. “I know there are a ton of things that need dealing with, but do you need to do it all yourself? After the funeral, we can just hire people to do it all. Real estate agents, lawyers, brokers… I don’t like to see you so stressed over things.”

  Caleb was uncomfortably aware of his state of bodily odor and sweat. His shirt was sticking to him and his hair was plastered onto his forehead and was starting to itch. He reached up to scratch his temple in irritation.

  “My father is dead.”

  “Yes, but you hated him, so I don’t really understand all of this pent up anxiety. And why is your stepsister here? Aren’t your parents divorced?”

  Her blasé attitude as she stripped out of her blouse and skirt just pissed him off, and it made worse by her reference to Wren. To be fair, she had no clue what he was and would be dealing with and he could tell her just to shut down the conversation, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to.

  “There’s more to it. Wren is here because she and my father were close and he wanted her here.”

  Macy hesitated briefly before going into the bathroom, wearing only a lacy white bra and thong. She was always so perfectly coiffed. Even down to her lingerie, and usually, that would turn him on, but as it was, he barely noticed. “Is she in the will?” Macy’s tone was casual, but Caleb knew she was bristling.

  “For Christ’s sake! It’s a will! No one knows what’s in it until it’s read.” This new side of Macy wasn’t sitting well with him. He knew she had his best interest at heart, but he didn’t want to see any ill will toward Wren. She was innocent in the entire thing. No, the decision was his and his alone. And really; it was none of Macy’s goddamned business. He didn’t even have to tell her he’d been given a choice. If he decided to split it with Wren, he could let Macy believe that was how the will was written. For that matter, he didn’t have to tell Wren, either, though it would affect her and she deserved to be part of the decision. But would she be honest about what she really wanted?

  “I suppose.”

  The water started to run in the bathroom, and Caleb decided to make his exit.

  “I’m gonna go shower. We’ll talk more later.”

  Macy popped her head around the corner of the bathroom doorway. “Or,” she said silkily, “We can shower together. Come on, baby.”

  Normally, he’d never pass up such an invitation, but his mind was racing and he wanted to check in with Wren. If he didn’t see her alone before dinner, it was doubtful he’d have luck in getting her alone.

  Caleb glanced over his shoulder to see Macy’s beguiling expression as she stood in the doorway, and then shook his head. “Now is the wrong time. “

  “Babe—” she started to protest.

  “Not now,” he said forcefully and left the room. He inhaled in agitation as his feet quickly took him to the other side of the house and the curved staircase that went to the second level. Knowing Wren was this close; he couldn’t stay away. He wanted to see her as quickly as possible.

  It took him less than three seconds and he was standing in front of the mahogany door that led to Wren’s bedroom. His father had allocated at least a third of this level to her when he did the remodel shortly after Caleb had gone off to MIT, and for that, at least, and he was thankful. Finally, Wren had been able to be open about her dancing, and not have to hide it from her jealous shrew of a mother.

  Once he was there, though, he hesitated. There was absolute silence and he wondered if she wasn’t still sleeping. His hand lifted to lightly brush the wood surface before he flattened it and laid his palm on the door. Her presence in the room beyond it convinced Caleb’s mind that the wood was warm and he could almost feel the vibration of live electricity running through it.

  She was here; just feet away. The closest he’d been to her in two years.

  It seemed like he and Wren were defined by a series of two-year periods. She was in the house two years before he had to leave, two years later he’d made love to her after that damned party, two years after that she’d brought that producer home with her to San Francisco and they’d had that blow up at Fisherman’s Wharf. It had been just over two years since that had happened.

  He laid his forehead on the door, his hand still splayed out next to it, as he thought about it all. His heart was thudding hard in his chest, like he’d been running a marathon, drowning, or dying. The air being forced in and out of his lungs actually hurt as they protested.

  She was here. Right here. Now what the hell was he going to do?

  He strained to hear inside her room, but there was no sound. Yearning to see her, his hand found its way down to the doorknob and wrapped itself around it. He even began to turn it, but then he stopped, his broad and usually solid shoulders, sagging in defeat.

  Fuuuuccckkkk! His mind screamed.

  He was stronger than anyone he knew. He could take on his father, win every fight inside the ring, but he was completely wasted by a tiny girl. Fucking helpless.

  Caleb swallowed and straightened, reluctant to leave, but used the excuse of her possibly being asleep to turn and hurry back down the hallway to the stairs and then to his suite in the basement. He was shaking. Literally shaking.

  Damn it all. He needed to talk to her without Macy, Jonesy, or Jonathan listening in. He’d have to find a way to take Wren aside after dinner, to see if they could even communicate, if she still held any ill will toward him, and if he could gauge what, or rather if she’d even want anything to do with him or Luxon Pharmaceuticals.

  It would be easy to separate from Jonesy after the meal concluded, but Macy was another story. Clearly, he’d made a mistake in allowing her to be here given their casual status. He could kick himself, but he didn’t think it through in his haste to leave, pack and get here. He hadn’t even considered Wren would be in residence. “I should have known,” he murmured; chastising himself. To be fair, his father hadn’t known anything about Macy, and he wouldn’t have cared, even if he did. Wren would still have been summoned to Colorado either way. How else could Edison make his son squirm to the greatest extent possible?

  Old habits are hard to break, and it was extremely difficult for Caleb to recognize Edison Luxon did anything for him, despite what the letter had said.

  Deciding the outcome of his own life was bad enough; everything would change. But deciding Wren’s fate, too, was the part that ate at him. Why couldn’t he make sure she had half of the fortune, without the need to completely uproot her career and her life? How was making someone, whether himself or Wren, give up their career goals, acceptable? Was Caleb’s dream of designing and building cars and cycles, or Wren’s dream of dancing any less important than Edison’s precious company?

  Caleb felt like a butterfly in one of those shadow boxes with his wings pinned down, and his father’s supposed posthumous gesture of “good will” was the pins.

  Dear Caleb,

  I know there is no way to make amends for all of the sins I’ve committed against you. Though I’ve tried in the past, and am trying again now, a dying old man’s last chance to do the right thing may be futile. If you’re reading this, then it gives me a bit of hope that one day you may at least understand.
r />   I have no excuse for my behavior. My lack of a relationship with you is my greatest regret. I can only hope that in telling you the truth, you’ll at least have some peace and an explanation. God knows you deserve one.

  Nothing can justify a father turning his back on his twelve-year-old son; there is no excuse for disappearing from your life, and abandoning you and your mother those last months before she died. I know I have no right to ask for your forgiveness, but I do, nevertheless.

  When I first learned Celine was sick, my whole world came crashing down around me. We had an amazing life, a successful company, an incredible son; life was idyllic, so how could it end? The pain was horrific. I couldn’t accept that I would lose her, and it was unbearable to watch her change from the beautiful, vibrant woman she’d been, into a shell of her former self. I exhausted myself searching for a doctor who would have a different diagnosis or miracle cure. I spent an astronomical amount of money and traveled the world over talking to doctors, but there was nothing to be done for her type of brain tumor.

  Every doctor had the same answer: it was inoperable, her pain would get worse, she’d begin to forget things or lose use of her motor skills, and medication would have horrible side effects. The feeling of hopelessness, failure, and despair was like nothing I’d ever felt.

  I neglected my company and my son, and I couldn’t face your mother, I couldn’t face you. I’d failed both of you because I couldn’t save her.

  I have no other explanation except I simply couldn’t handle the pain. I went to work to rebuild Lux. It was her legacy, and in that at least, I wouldn’t fail her. I used it as an excuse to block out her illness until she died and I closed down. I felt like I’d died myself.

  My grief was unbearable and you were a reminder of her: every time I looked at you, I saw her in your eyes. It was unfair to you, and the worst thing I could have done. You were already so angry by then; I thought it was easier on both of us if I just kept working. Your resentment was justified, and it only solidified the distance that I needed to function.

 
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