Tension lines my forehead, a heavy throbbing taking over not only my head, but my entire body. I try for a full, deep breath, but my lungs refuse my desperate plea.
The fiercely pumping blood and heavy pounding heart should clue me into to what’s coming, but I ignore the warning, stuck in a nightmare of my own making.
Someone’s scream roars around us, but I can’t say who it comes from. It’s a deep, cavernous sound that sends panic across the room and ice through my every vein.
I’m stuck, frozen, knowing the move to follow before it’s even made.
It’s the last-ditch effort, the one that leads to the end, right here in this very spot.
Everyone else understands it, too.
The body behind me grows rigid, the shadow to the right now creeping closer, a dark and haunting chill charging the air around us.
I’m suddenly spun, rushed toward the door and shoved through it.
I pretend to go easily, but slip away, sliding on my feet and darting around the far side of the room.
The eyes trailing me shoot wide, and I’m lunged at, but I’m already too far gone.
I intend to approach them from the side, to bring life back into the dead eyes bound to find mine, but as I get closer, no more than two spaces away, the inevitable sears my soul.
It hurts, stings, but only for a second and then ...
He thinks he’s sly, laying back in the seat of a car that can’t possibly be his, playing PI, and sucking at it.
I mean, come on. He sits in plain sight, laughing and chatting with the guy behind the wheel, smoking on something he definitely didn’t buy here, while he waits for what, me?
For some sort of grand exit where I’ll flip my hair over my shoulder and push my chest out, paint my lips bright and do my best dirty work to draw him right in, all the while he’ll be laughing in his mind, planning the move he’ll then make on his friends little sister.
No, that’s not it.
He’s parked directly in front of my aunt’s house with the windows rolled down and doing nothing to hide the sound or smell coming from the vehicle.
He doesn’t think he’s sly.
He simply doesn’t care, because he knows he’s untouchable, it’s written in the way he pushes the passenger door open and steps out into the murky air with the ease of a rogue rebel.
This guy, he comes from a place so far from this one it’s not even funny.
Here, teenagers get drunk on tailgates on dirty riversides. They camp out and are welcomed home the morning after by loving mothers and fathers with smiles and biscuits and gravy. They fight over girls or guys or whose fault it was for the points scored by their rival teams from the night before’s game. Simple, everyday stuff.
The world he comes from, teenagers are a thing of the past, the parties at mansions, parents irrelevant, and the fights far crueler. It’s a town founded and ran by an ethically challenged power family, void of a justice system.
No, that’s wrong, too.
There is a justice system, and it consists of three rough and ruthless eighteen-year-olds.
Three adopted siblings born for a purpose greater than those on the outside could ever understand.
The brothers of Brayshaw.
One of which is sitting outside my house this very instant, waiting.
It won’t kill him to wait a little longer...
Scanning the fenceless houses of the tattered block, I step into the large open grassy area, and bring myself closer to the one with the rickety back door and busted ass blinds.
There’s a random bench dropped in the center of the yard, so I plant my ass onto the old, splintered wood.
“Why are you sitting in my back-yard staring at my house?”
I hop right the fuck back up, spinning to glare at the mini-chick raising her brows at me.
I don’t say shit as I eye her, and she crosses her arms, popping a hip out while she waits. The girl can’t be more than, fuck, I don’t know. Five-foot max. Maybe.
Kinda mousy, sunglasses hiding her eyes from sight.
I hop over the bench, pushing toward her, and her chin lifts to the sky—the only way she’s able to keep hers on mine—but she doesn’t inch away.
“Why are there no fences around to keep people like me out? To stop me from staring at your house?” I counter.
“Because this place is as safe as safe can be.”
“No such thing, baby girl.”
“The worst that happens here is Tom Marvel down the street waters his yard on even days instead of odd.” Her mouth gapes as she mocks shock, tilting her head.
So she’s a brat.
I glare. “Sounds like a good time.”
“You said you live here?”
She slips her thumb around the straps of her backpack. “I did.”
I flick my gaze over her form. “All five-foot of you?”
She straightens her spine, gaining a whole extra inch, but before anything else can be said, the heavy creak of old metal, followed by a quick slam of a screen has both our heads snapping toward the sound.
A slow smirk spreads across my lips as I take in the sight.
Thick, dark hair, long and lengthy with pasty-ass skin.
There she is.
The picture of payback.
A perfect knock off of her punk-ass brother.
“Ah, now it makes sense,” the short chick says.
“What, how you’re cramping my style, wasting my time and your breath?” I ask, not taking my eyes off the target as she lights a cigarette, bringing it to her red painted lips.
Her head turns this way the second she pulls it from her mouth, and slowly she blows out a long line of smoke, zeroing in on me and the mouse.
She waits, but so do I.
Here kitty, kitty...
She pretends to be chill, but can’t handle it, and forces herself to take slow strides this way.
“You can go now,” I tell the girl at my side, but she doesn’t move, and quickly my mark is stepping in front of me.
“Cousin,” she drags out, but neither of us bother looking her way. “Who’s your friend?”
Her sex smirk makes its appearance.
It’s a good one, too. Little too confident, but it’s all good.
I can kill that, easy. Besides, this would be a lot more difficult if she were unsure about herself—groundwork would have to be laid before the girl could be.
“Not my friend,” short girl shares, her tone all peppy and shit as she adds, “He’s here for you, actually.”
At that, a saucy grin grows as if she already figured so.
This shit will be too fucking easy.
I shouldn’t play with my food, but what am I to do when it so clearly wants to play back?
I push closer, coming almost eye level with her and her focus falls to the tattoos on my neck. “I got an hour before reality comes crashing down, Brielle. What are you gonna do with it?”
She studies me a long moment and then turns to the cockblocker.
Her demeanor shifts, a small twist edging her lips. “Think you can keep yourself outside a little longer?”
The animosity isn’t missed.
“Do I ever come in when you take over?” short chick replies.
Brielle grins, and just like that, leads me right where she wants me.
Toward her bedroom.
The house is neat, almost sterile, and a huge fuckin’ contrast to her room, which is a damn mess. There’s shit all over, and the bed’s unmade.
I glare at the mattress sitting on the floor, about ready to walk out and drag her ass with me, but then the girl starts to strip.
So, I plant my ass, and I let her put on a little show.
I may be a guy, one who loves to fuck, gives as good as he gets and all that, but I don’t do desperate, and it seems she’s borderline just that.
I came here for a reason, though, so I lean back on my hands and let her do as she pleases, which happens to be me.
With her breasts hanging bare, tight-ass pants still on, she steps toward me, and drops to her knees. She frees my cock from my jeans and wastes no time pulling me deep into her throat.
It’s not the way I like it, I need a little lead-up, like to build that heavy tension that gets my blood pumpin’, cock twitchin’, and mind racing. Need my girl wet and ready, desperate for the first touch of the night and ready for more, fuckin’ needy. Greedy.
This girl allowed time for none of that, so all I can do is watch her work.
A minute or two ticks by and then she’s moaning around my shaft. Finally, my hard-on grows just shy of a full salute.
I tether my hands in her hair to give her a bit more drive, and it works. She picks up some speed, tightens her lips around me more, and I tip my head back a bit, trying to fall into the moment more, but as my eyes glide by the window, I fucking freeze.
The cousin, as she called her, peeks through the torn blinds, her head dropping when she realizes she’s been caught and suddenly she’s gone.
A heavy crash and quiet yelp follows.
“The fuck?” I snap, freeing myself and jumping to my feet.
I’m soft in an instant, quickly shoving myself into my jeans, and rush out the door. “She better not have been recording.”
Footsteps pound the linoleum floors at my back.
“Please,” Brielle scoffs, hiding her naked chest with her hands as we push out onto the porch.
The girl is hopping from the ground as we step out, limping on her foot a little as she hurries around the house.
“You better chase after her,” Brielle pipes up.
I cut my head over my shoulder, glaring at her. “And why the fuck would I do that?”
She smirks, walking backward into the house. “Because that...is Brielle. I’m her cousin, Ciara.”
My muscles lock, and she laughs, shaking her head as she closes the door in my face.
I leap over the railing, running after the little sneak.
“Yo!” I shout.
The real Brielle picks up her pace, bouncing all around as she tries to keep weight off of her left foot, but it doesn’t matter now. I’m already right behind her.
“Why’d you let me think she was you?”
She scoffs. “It’s not my fault you assumed I was the taller, hotter, easier of the two of us.”
I grip her by the arm, halting her movement and she tips her head back, eyes still hidden behind her big-ass shades.
I glare, opening my mouth to tell her, I don’t know the fuck what, when she crosses her arms again, catching me off guard.
“I know who you are.”
I shoot up straight. “Yeah, and who am I?”
“Royce Brayshaw, of the Brayshaw family.” She doesn’t miss a beat.
I run my tongue along the backs of my teeth. “And who are you, so we’re clear?”
She reaches a hand out and I frown from it to her.
“Oh sorry, right. You’re silver-spooned.” She tips her head. “This is called a pleasantry; many people use them.”
“Your name, smart-ass.”
Her hip pops out. “Shake my hand.”
I hold in a growl, slapping my palm against hers, and she gives it a good, solid, squeeze.
“It’s good to finally meet one of you, in the flesh.” She passes her tote over to her other shoulder with a slight shrug. “Anyway, you already know who I am.” She pauses. “Well, now anyway.”
“Your name, from your lips, not that… whoever the fuck that was.”
My jaw tics as I wait for her to speak.
She doesn’t, so I creep closer.
“Don’t play games with me, girl.”
“Right...” She pulls her lips in, nodding. “‘Cause Brayshaw.”
My head tugs back, and even though I can’t see ‘em, I imagine this little shit rolls her damn eyes at me.
She looks to her watch and my annoyances are about at the fuck shit up now, figure the rest of later level.
“Whatever,” she huffs. “I’m Brielle Bishop, and I’m late.”
She turns around and walks away.
Yeah… I don’t fuckin’ think so.
I chase her ass.
Oh my shit, one of my brother’s psycho bosses is following me, and not just any of his bosses.
It’s the hot, kind of scary, I’m going to liquefy you with my dark and daring eyes and maybe even by accident, playboy one I’ve heard so much about, but have never actually stood toe to toe with before today, is right freaking behind me, watching as I hobble around like a lame, probably picking me apart from his place at my back as he does.
To be fair, I look nothing like someone who met my brother first would expect, and considering he’s been living in the group home on Royce’s family’s property for the last four-ish years, while working for them just as long, it makes sense this guy showed up with what he thought was a clear idea of what he’d find—the exact opposite of yours truly.
My brother, he’s an easy six-foot, pasty looking rebel with ink black hair and crystal colored eyes. He’s tall and trim and has a natural edge to him, an aura people are drawn to despite his unapproachable, at first glance, appearance. He’s sort of the best of both worlds, and can pull off his assigned persona with zero effort.
I, on the other hand, am legit barely scraping by at five-foot as Royce oh so typically teased, and my sunglasses hide my eye color so he couldn’t look there for resemblance—not that he would find any even if he could see through the giant, reflective lenses. My hair is on the shorter side, and so platinum in color all I have to do is add in a little purple shampoo and bam, solid silver.
I have an actual ass, not one I’m sure he’s used to, either. It’s nothing like Ciara’s high and tight one. Mine’s more plump and peachy, full and round, but I happen to like how it gives shape to my waist, so if he is judging, I don’t even care.
That doesn’t mean I like him trailing me as he sums me up with a glance, though... if that’s what he’s doing.
Why is he still following me?!
A sudden sharp ache zings up my leg, forcing a wince from me, but I keep moving.
“Stop walking,” he commands, as if I’m supposed to listen.
I pick up the pace. “Can’t. Like I said, I’m late.”
“For what, Bible study?”
“Funny,” I quirk, internally cursing the awful school uniforms we’re forced to wear here. “A little disappointing, considering your reputation for quick wit, but maybe everything I heard about you is wrong. After all, you were unexpectedly... insufficient.”
I trip over a small hump of grass, but before I’m forced to catch myself with my injured foot, large palms wrap around my upper ribs and I’m lifted off the ground, only to be lowered right back, my bag falling to the crook of my arm.
My head snaps up and to the side, allowing me to meet his aggravated eyes over my shoulder.
“Come on now, girl,” he whispers, mockingly. “If you wanna spin stories, try one I can’t prove wrong where we stand.”
“Go for it, Slick Rick.”
He gives a half shrug, and something tells me he totally will, so I retract, rushing out, “No, don’t” before he can make a move.
Okay, so my bad. I lied.
As far as I could tell from the angle of my little peep show, he lacked in no facet of the word, but I would swear Ciara was just that to him—lackluster, unexciting.
Far from his type, should this prominent playboy have one.
Not to judge my cousin or anything, she has issues and it’s her choice to use sex to make her feel better, but she jumps right to it like a dog in heat. I hear the tales time and time again, how she cuts the sensuality out of it, a self-proclaimed quickie queen.
Give them more than your body, B, and they’ll shit all over it.
Words of wreckage from her.
With a guy like this one, though, I imagine that’s the worst way to be.
I’d bet you’ve got to awaken the chef to be served the five-star delight from this too tall, too gorgeous, tattooed, brute of a boy.
You’d only be shorting yourself to not.
It’s like cocoa without the whipped cream—lacking the full, glorious experience.
The corner of his mouth lifts, but his eyes seem to narrow more. “Far from a boy, short stuff.”
My nose scrunches, a small ripple running across my ribs. “I said that out loud?”
“Like... all of it? Or, you know, just the boy part...”
I swear he’s about to chuckle, but swallows it, and just like that, the hint of embarrassment warming my blood fades.
“How ‘bout,” Royce starts. “You repeat all of it, and I’ll tell you which part you already shared?”
“That sounds like a horrible idea.”
He raises a single brow and I’m instantly drawn to the tiny scar above the thick, dark curve.
Once I’ve allowed myself to focus on a part of him, I’m unable to stop, so from there, I search for more.
For proof of struggle and pain, for signs of a life lived and for the dark I’ve heard so much about but can’t seem to find staring back.
I spot another small marking on his cheekbone, and a ghost of one on his jaw, but my focus falls to the thick, full bottom lip he drags along his upper teeth.
He’s perfectly flawed... and still holding on to me.
“Why are you here?” I lift my gaze to his, though he can’t see beyond my frames.
A small wrinkle forms along his forehead, but his question doesn’t match the one his eyes provide.
He wants to know how I know who he is, and even more, if I do, why I’d ask with such a question, but those queries go unanswered as he decides another is more important. “Why’d you let me think your cousin was you?”
Because I’m tragic and eager to please.
“She seemed more your type.”
A shadow flashes across his face, a burn I recognize. One that ignites when met with judgment and personification, but did he not do the same to me?
He’s the one who saw her and boom, his mind was made up.
It’s only natural though, allowing what’s on the surface to settle all.
It’s humanity’s biggest downfall—judgment. Expectation.
“My type, huh?” he bites with blatant aggravation. “How you figure?”
“I mean… you’re basically wearing the same pants, so,” I joke. “Peas in a pod, Tweedledee and Tweedledum... Cheech and Chong?”
That does it, takes him off defense mode, and the corner of his mouth lifts with his sudden and unexpected laugh.
It’s not brash and boisterous, but a laugh just loud enough to stir the birds in the trees surrounding us.
It’s throat-deep and jagged, yet somehow still a lively and free sound, one that has me smiling, but the moment my lips curl to their fullest, his expression goes slack.
In a single inhale, the guy at my back morphs, now the bearer of the finest worn mask at the nonexistent masquerade he’s forced himself into.
A fake in the flesh.
Or maybe fake isn’t fair, but regardless, he chose to censor himself.
I don’t need any more of the type around me, those closed off and prone to hiding.
All anyone ever does is hide things from me.
“You can let go of me now,” I tell him.
He cocks his head, bottomless, dark eyes piercing mine through a mass of black lashes.
Something in my gut stirs, and I want to look away, but don’t.
So I try again to get him to be the one to step back, since it seems I’m glued in place.
“Pretty sure I’m no longer falling.”
“Who said I grabbed you ‘cause you were falling?” His grip tightens, his body shifting closer and closer, and leaving no room to twist, no air to breathe that isn’t infused with his very scent—weed and wonder. Wind and water.
I frown, blocking out the refreshing aroma, not understanding what he’s getting at, and that’s when the squeal of old brakes rings in my ears.
My head jerks toward the street to find the little white car that left him behind, the driver launching himself out of it the second it’s in park. He rushes around the vehicle, yanking the back door open as he canvases the area around us.
I don’t have to do the same to know this block is quiet and empty this time of morning.
A sliver of panic zips through me, tingling my spine and lodging my breath deep in my throat.
Royce dips down, swiping my legs from beneath me, my body now cradled in his arms, so I quickly latch on in case he decides to try and toss me around.
Before I can wrap my head around what’s happening, before I can process any of it, we’re stepping from the grass onto the street and sliding into the back seat. The door’s slammed behind us, and suddenly we’re moving.
This is definitely when I should snap out of my shock and scream, kick and fight, and go full Karate Kid on his ass, but all I can think of is oh.
A Brayshaw just kidnapped me.
And I straight up let him.