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Stepbrother Master(13)

By:Ava Jackson

Well, that wasn't exactly true. I could have him. He'd made it pretty obvious what he wanted to do to me. Hell, he literally gave me an open invitation to his bedroom. But the point was, I shouldn't. No matter how curious I was about submitting to Ford. No matter how much I wanted to share the pleasure that his “pet” had so clearly been feeling.

On that night, crouched spellbound outside the tack room door, something had caught fire inside me. A raw, animal part of me that I didn't even know existed—and I was dying to explore it. But there were certain lines that should never be crossed. I tried to ignore the little perverted voice in my head that whispered, he's only technically your brother.

Mac swigged his water awkwardly. “Wow. Tough crowd.”

Shit. I'd been staring off into space and totally dropped the conversational ball. Again.

Looking disappointed, Mac put his glass on the drain board and went back outside. Mom turned back to me. “Did you want to ask me something, sweetie?”

I shook my head. “Never mind, it wasn't important.” Celeste had sat down at the table, wiping her brow, and she was the last person on Earth I wanted to bare my soul around. I glanced out the kitchen window just in time to see a shirtless Ford carrying a heavy box of decorations under each arm. I quickly concentrated very, very hard on the tiny bow I was tying.

* * *

The next morning dawned warm, clear, and windless. The perfect day for a wedding.

Guests started arriving soon after our late breakfast; Russ offered them coffee and seats in the living room until they spilled out into the backyard. Most were here for him, but a surprising number of Mom's relatives and old school friends showed up, too. They lent a hand or watched as Ford, TJ, and Mac set up lawn chairs and rolled out a wide white carpet leading to the gazebo by the private lake. As maid of honor, I was happy to hide indoors and help Mom with her gown and makeup. I would be forced to stare at the best man soon enough.

At the first low notes of the band, I held Mom's train up and walked her to the altar. Ford wore the slightest possible smile as he stood behind his father. Not exactly ecstatic, but not cranky, either. Had he started feeling more positive about his new stepmother? Or was he just afraid of Russ murdering him if he ruined the wedding? The music ended and I told myself to stop caring.

The ceremony was less than an hour long. After a few words from the minister about love as the truest expression of faith, Mom and Russ each recited a poem—“Invitation to Love” by Paul Dunbar for her, “Most Like An Arch” by John Ciardi for him. As he slipped the diamond ring onto her finger, the way she beamed at him made me feel strangely peaceful. It might have been the beautiful weather, with the Montana sky surrounding us like an ocean, but watching them gaze into each other's eyes … I couldn't help catching a little of her optimism. I hadn't seen Mom this happy in so long. Maybe things really did work out sometimes. Maybe what she had with Russ would last.

It struck me all over again that Mom and I were both getting on with our own lives. If only for moments like this, I realized, I was glad that I'd come to Wild Cliffs.

Just eleven more weeks to go. I wasn't sure whether that time was too long or too short.

Chapter 6


Was it strange for all adult children to watch a parent walk down the aisle? It had to be. It couldn’t just be me.

But watching my father promise to love, honor, and cherish a woman knocked me off balance. And not just because the woman in question had a daughter who also knocked me completely off balance.

She’d held my arm stiffly as I’d led her down the aisle as the wedding party recessed. She’d dropped her hand quickly with some mumbled excuse about needing to see to something for the reception.

Forced back into my presence for the family pictures, I couldn’t help but wonder how genuine her smiles had been. Especially since she’d been avoiding me ever since.

Her toast at the reception under the big white tent had been simple and heartfelt. It’d also reminded me that she’d done this many more times than I had.

My confidence in the longevity of my father’s new marriage wasn’t particularly high. I considered myself a realist, and Cynthia’s track record left a lot to be desired. I just hoped it worked out, for both their sakes.

The guests were chatting and mingling, and the bar already had a steady stream of people bellying up to it. I was one of them. I grabbed a beer and decided to play a drinking game just for the hell of it: every time Emma looked at me and then looked away as soon as I caught her stare, I’d drink.

It didn’t take me long to finish my first beer.

Beer number two went something like this: