One step closer a stepbr.., p.18
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       One Step Closer: A stepbrother, stand-alone novel., p.18

           Kahlen Aymes
 

  She’d sat on the edge of the bed, still crying softly. “Cale isn’t my brother.”

  “Whatever,” he huffed, tears in his eyes. “Do me a favor; don’t fuck some other poor schmuck over and make him think you want a relationship.”

  “Sam! I didn’t know that I felt this way. I thought I was over it.”

  “Save it, Wren. I’m not a fool.” With that, he left her in the hotel room and she never saw him again.

  The next day she took a cab to the airport alone, but the empty seat next to hers on the return flight was a blatant reminder of how alone in the world she really was.

  She’d tried to build a life with Sam to get over Caleb, but he still haunted her life and owned her heart. She was wrong to think she’d see him, introduce he and Sam, and everyone would live happily ever after.

  After that, she’d cried for weeks. She felt bad about hurting Sam, and sad because the ache she felt inside didn’t subside. She had no hope that she and Caleb would ever reconcile. She’d get over Sam… she’d never get over Caleb.

  “Is there anyone else?” The deep tenor of Caleb’s voice brought her out of her thoughts and back to the present.

  “What?” She looked up into his eyes, doing her best to hide how the memory affected her. “Um, nothing serious, no.”

  She didn’t need to ask about his relationship with Macy or their future plans because Macy had made it clear the night before.

  “Why not?”

  Caleb took a deep breath, just as Suzy appeared with their breakfast. She set the plates down and asked, “Is there anything else you need?”

  “We’re all good. Thank you.”

  The waitress flounced off and looked over her shoulder at Caleb. He smiled, despite himself.

  “Will Macy be angry that we left without her?” Wren wasn’t sure why she was annoyed he’d flirt with the silly waitress, considering the woman waiting for him back at the house.

  Caleb shrugged and began to put blackberry jam on one of the pancakes, then proceeded to lift them up one by one to coat them all. He took the syrup and drizzled it over the whole mess. “Nah. We’ll see her later.”

  “Caleb, I can understand if you’re upset with me.” Caleb looked up from his plate, his brow creasing.

  “For what?”

  “Well, because your dad was good to me.” Wren had a certain amount of guilt because of it. “After you left for MIT he was so much better to me than he had been to you. I feel so badly about it, and I’m sorry. I’d understand if you resent me for it.”

  Caleb set his fork down and met her eyes without wavering. “I don’t! I don’t, Wren. I’m thankful that someone stepped in to keep that bitch Veronica from hurting you. I’m sure if he hadn’t taken care of you, I’d probably have killed them both.”

  “Caleb, no. Don’t say that.”

  He shook his head. “I would have.” Caleb wondered if she knew why he went to MIT instead of CSOM. “You know I hated leaving you unprotected. At least he held up that end of the bargain.” Caleb stopped before going any further, pissed at his slip.

  “Bargain?”

  “Nevermind. It all worked out.”

  Wren frowned and shook her head slightly. She wanted to know. “Tell me what you mean,” she demanded.

  “I will.” Caleb wanted to wait to spill the beans about Edison using Wren as leverage to manipulate him to leaving Denver for college. She obviously cared for and respected his dad and the occasion of his death wasn’t the time to disillusion her. “But, now isn’t the time. Trust me.”

  Wren paused to consider for a moment. Things had happened to cause distance between the two of them, but the years of Caleb being the one person she could trust were deeply seated. It would take more than the denial of lovemaking or his refusal to give her away at her wedding to break that bond. Those things had hurt; devastatingly so, but Wren could be honest with herself: she still trusted him more than anyone else, and despite the pain he caused, she wanted him to be part of her life. In whatever way was possible.

  “Edison was wrong to withhold love from you, Cale. You deserve love more than anyone I know.”

  Caleb’s heart stopped dead. He had already forgotten about eating, but this gave him hope. Maybe she wouldn’t resent him if he gave her half of the estate. That’s what his heart and gut wanted to do. It was the only way he could ensure she’d be taken care of, and the only way he’d know she was okay. And if he were honest; the only way it would guarantee he’d see her. For the next five years at least, until the option to sell became available. It would at least buy him some time to put their relationship back together.

  In that moment, his decision was made. He didn’t need to tell her there were two wills and he decided then and there to call Jonathan and let him know when they returned to the house to pick up Macy.

  “We both had shitty lives for a while. Just the way it was,” Caleb tried to sound casual. “Wren, are you going to eat?” he questioned.

  “Oh.” She picked up a knife and started to butter half of her English muffin. “What did you want to talk about?”

  “Huh?” He picked up his fork and resumed eating.

  “You said you wanted to talk. That’s why we came here, right?”

  “I just,” Caleb began, “I just wanted to make sure you’re okay. We haven’t talked much. I came to see you for your birthday, though.”

  Wren’s eyes snapped up and she halted her task. “Wait. What?”

  “Keep eating, Bird.” Caleb picked up one of the sticky buns and took an oversized bite, hoping to lighten the mood. “Wow, these are good.” He shoved the plate containing the second one toward her. “This one is yours. Eat up! They’re awesome.”

  “Cale, really?” She couldn’t believe her ears. The night of her birthday he’d waited so late to call, and she’d been upset all day, waiting. “You came to New York?”

  He sighed at the hurt look on her beautiful face. He still didn’t know if he should tell her the whole truth, but if he wanted to rebuild things with her, he had to be honest. “Yeah.”

  “But, I didn’t see—”

  He put up a hand to stop her words. He had to get it out. “No, I didn’t let you know. I went to your matinee and watched you. You were amazing. I could barely believe my eyes.”

  Emotions exploded inside her. She wasn’t sure if she was hurt, touched, or just angry. Her throat began to ache and her eyes filled with tears. She was still in the process of buttering her bread, and she sat still as stone, the knife still in her right hand as her wrist rested on the table’s edge. “You couldn’t let me know? Why?”

  The pain in Wren’s voice tore at Caleb’s gut; deep down in places that only she affected. “I waited outside the theater. It was raining pretty hard, and you came out with a guy. I didn’t want to intrude. You looked really—” He searched for the right word. He knew he had no right to sound jealous and he didn’t want it to come off that way. “Cozy. I didn’t want to ruin your plans.”

  Wren sat back in her chair and blinked at the tears in her eyes, trying to remember who was with her at the time. He hand lifted and she pressed her two middle fingers to her forehead, right between her perfectly arched brows. She closed her eyes and swallowed, trying to dispel the tightness. “Victor?”

  Caleb felt like hell. Obviously, he’d hurt her again. “I don’t know. I didn’t recognize him. We hadn’t talked much, and not about anything that really mattered; for all I knew he could have been a new boyfriend.”

  Wren opened her eyes and looked at him. If only he wasn’t so fucking beautiful. She felt robbed of the time with him on her birthday and robbed of having in her life for the past few years. “He was just another dancer on the production and a friend. He’s gay, Cale. How could he be a boyfriend if you didn’t know I wasn’t married?”

  He was busted so his words rushed out. “Okay, I knew about Sam, but how was I to know about this new guy? His arm was around you, and you were laughing.”

  “Yeah. B
ecause it was pouring down rain, and we were sharing my umbrella.” Her voice cracked and the tears she’d been fighting won out as first one, then another tumbled in fat drops down her cheeks. She quickly reached up and brushed them away. The restaurant was crowded and she didn’t want to make a complete fool of herself. “I waited to hear from you all day, and you didn’t call until almost midnight. I’m so mad at you right now.”

  Caleb felt heat begin to rise under his skin, slowly crawling up his chest, into his neck and face. He ran a hand over his unshaven jaw. Shit! It seemed like all he did was make mistake after mistake with her.

  He leaned forward to take her hand, but the table was full of plates and half eaten food. He was fucked. “I know. I’m an asshole.”

  She looked away, her chin quivering. “All I wanted for my birthday was to see you.”

  “Wren, I was feeling like a prick because I refused to be at your wedding, and knew I’d ruined it for you. When I saw that guy, I figured you had someone new, but either way— Oh, fuck it,” he spat out in frustration.

  The waitress was coming toward them with a coffeepot in her hand, but Caleb shook his head to indicate that they didn’t need any more. Suzy abruptly turned away with a disappointed look plastered across her face.

  Wren’s eyes snapped around to focus back on Caleb. His expression was as pained as she felt. “I just didn’t want to cause any problems. I’d already fucked things up with you. You didn’t deserve to have your birthday ruined, too. I came to New York to make sure you were okay. I saw you, and you looked happy.”

  “I wish you would have told me. I missed you so much.”

  His breath rushed from his chest. He loved this woman. Loved her so much he couldn’t even breathe. “Me, too. And I’m sorry. I should have manned up and did what you needed me to do.”

  Wren sniffed; not ready to explain what happened with Sam. “Yes, you should have. I was mad for a while, but then I was just sad. Ever since that party when you fought with Dex, it hasn’t been the same between us.”

  She watched him carefully, looking for any indication that he would acknowledge their night together. She knew in her heart, he remembered. He’d said her name in the middle of it, so he wasn’t that drunk.

  “I know.” Caleb looked down and started to dig some cash out of the front pocket of his jeans. “I was dealing with some personal stuff. I was still pissed off at my dad for shipping me off to Boston, and then he wasn’t around at all when I came home. And then, you didn’t need me because you had Dex.”

  “Dex? He was my friend after you left. That’s all.”

  “Didn’t look like it to me.”

  “That dance was the first time he’d ever touched me.” She shook her head, frowning. “You are so confusing, Cale.”

  There didn’t seem to be an easy way to end this conversation and it was going in a direction he never intended to take it. He’d spill his guts, but not in the middle of a public place, and not while Macy was in Denver. He had to be in a place to touch her, hold her and let her know how he felt; how he’d always felt, so he could make sure she understood it the way he meant it.

  He threw two bills on the table without waiting for the check and then pushed his fingers through his hair uncomfortably. “Are you ready to go? Do you want to take anything with?” He noted how she’d barely touched her food as they both stood up. Caleb waited for Wren to precede him out, and Suzy called behind them. “Come back and see me again, soon!”

  Caleb lifted his hand without turning around, his eyes on the long blonde curls of Wren as she walked out in front of him. She was so small and the protectiveness inside him roared. He’d hurt her again.

  Why the hell was he always hurting her? He silently chastised himself; regret surging through him. He hated hurting her. He’d rather never see Wren again than hurt her. He leaned around her to push open the door to the outside, the fresh air and sunshine greeting them.

  He could sense Wren’s sadness and the hint of anger simmering underneath the surface, though she didn’t say anything as they both put on their sunglasses. Walking beside her the few feet to the Harley, he took a chance and reached out to grab her hand in his, hoping the silent plea would hit its mark.

  It must have because her fingers squeezed around his. When they were back on the bike and he started the engine, the arms around him seemed a bit tighter than on the trip up the mountain; an unspoken forgiveness. He knew he didn’t deserve her forgiveness or to have her in his life, but he was so thankful for her comforting presence behind him on the ride back to Denver.

  Every inch where their bodies connected was on fire. Her thighs hugged the side of his hips and legs, her head rested against his shoulder, and her fingers curled into the fabric of his shirt as she held on; her arms wrapped tight around his middle.

  It was a slice of heaven.

  MACY WAS PISSED.

  When Caleb and Wren finally showed up at the house it was after noon and Mrs. Jones had played ignorant and refused to tell her what the hell was going on. Add to it that Caleb hadn’t answered any of the five text messages she’d sent during his time out with Wren.

  She’d wandered through the house to look around and ended up in a large bedroom on the second floor across the hall from Wren’s suite. It was very luxurious with a huge four-poster bed and sitting area by the window. The faint smell of a woman’s perfume lingered in the air and a large portrait of a woman Macy could only assume was Caleb’s mother. She was beautiful, her hair a lighter shade than Caleb’s, but the deep blue eyes were identical. She had a softer, more feminine version of Caleb’s face, but the resemblance was unmistakable.

  The frame of the picture was understated so it wouldn’t take away from the woman who was the focus. Celine was thin and glamorous; and Macy recognized the image as one from the Lux campaign for their signature scent; Lumineux. Celine Luxon’s eyes were soft and serene, connected with the camera, the fingers of her right hand hovering by the pendant hanging on a long chain; just above the scooped neckline of her dress.

  The jewelry resonated in Macy’s thoughts. Her eyes widened in recognition. It was the pendant the Lux logo was based on; the very same one Wren wore. So… little miss Wren had the cherished locket. Did Caleb’s dad give it to her since he didn’t have a biological daughter? Her mind churned. What if Caleb were the one to give it to her?

  Macy’s lips pressed together, as anger and resentment resonated through her. She huffed and both fists clenched at her sides. That would never do.

  She rushed downstairs to wait for Caleb in the great room, anxious to confront him. Wren had the necklace, and he disappeared with her for hours? Two and two certainly added up to four, and Macy was anything but stupid. Something had to be done. It was suddenly imperative that Caleb be kept away from Wren as much as possible and for Macy to get him back to San Francisco immediately after the funeral. She had just started impatiently pacing in front of the main window when Caleb walked in, his head down while he fiddled with his phone. It was clear he was checking his messages; finally.

  “Nice of you to let me know what you were doing! Was I supposed to just twiddle my thumbs all damn day?” she said, her tone short and waspish.

  Caleb’s head snapped up and he glared at her.

  What the fuck? he thought.

  “It’s only noon. Chill out,” he said in annoyance. He didn’t feel like he owed her any type of explanation, but wanted it cleared up before they were out with Wren. “We took my old bike for a ride and headed west. It was such a nice morning that we lost track of time.”

  Macy plopped down on the oversized sofa. The furniture was plush with dark green suede cushions designed for comfort as well as style. “A ride with little sis for old times sake? I can’t imagine you’ll see much of each other after the funeral. Not being blood and all.”

  Caleb’s muscles tensed. She was being a complete bitch. “Some ties are stronger than blood.”

  “Like what? A little humping and bumping in the
backseat of Daddy’s Mercedes? Ooohhh.” Her voice dripped with sarcasm as she fanned her fingers in front of her. Macy’s suspicions were gaining strength the more she saw how Caleb acted around Wren. He was serious and more intense, and she didn’t like it.

  “No,” he said harshly. He casually sat down in the chair at the end of the sofa, keeping his distance. “Like two parents who fucked us both up horribly. Any more questions?”

  “Yes.” Macy’s eyes narrowed.

  “Too bad. I’m not in the mood to be interrogated. No more answers.” Caleb cut her off.

  Macy flushed uncomfortably. Clearly Wren, and Caleb’s relationship with her, was a sore subject for him. She didn’t want to piss him off further; it was too much of a risk in his present state.

  She got up and sauntered toward the big chair and crawled onto his lap. Caleb sat up and scooted back in the chair at her unexpected intrusion into his personal space. Her hand reached up to cup the side of his face and she bent to press a kiss to his unwilling mouth. “Come on, Cale. Let’s not fight.”

  Cale. He bristled at Macy’s use of the nickname. No one called him that. No one had ever called him that, except Wren.

  “I’m not fighting… and, please don’t call me that.” He didn’t want her on his lap so he stood up and placed her on her feet in one easy move, as his phone rang. It was Jonathan returning the call from a few minutes before “Hello?”

  “Good afternoon, Caleb. So you’ve made your decision?”

  He nodded and turned his back to Macy. “I have,” he said into the phone. “Split it.”

  “Are you sure?”

  “Yeah. I’ll deal with any repercussions later.”

  “Right. Okay. How are you holding up?”

  “I’m fine.”

  “If you’re sure, I’m going to burn the other copy right. “

 
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