Home>>read Stepbrother Master free online

Stepbrother Master(50)

By:Ava Jackson

“You drank all yours already?” Even as he teased me, Ford guided Richter closer to my mare and handed over his canteen. I took a gulp and passed it back to him.

“Oh, you're so cute together!” Mom called from behind us. Her gelding was more interested in the wildflowers along the trail's edge than in keeping up with our brisk walk.

I gave a mock groan. “Jesus Christ, Mom, calm down. I just needed a drink.”

We were coming back from a picnic lunch on the forest overlook. The entire time, Mom had cooed over us whenever we did anything remotely couple-like: me leaning on Ford's shoulder, him offering me a bite of his cake, even us brushing hands when we both reached for an apple at once.

Russ usually came along on our trail rides, but right after breakfast today, he had driven off in one of the ranch trucks—and neither Mom nor Ford would admit what he was up to. I knew Mom had her silly side, but I never expected Ford to play along. Then again, if he likes games in the bedroom … I sighed with a smile, only a little annoyed. Even when my new family all decided to mess with me at once, I loved living together like this: calm, happy, free.

Our horses whickered when the barn came into view. They knew that meant they were done working for today, and they all wanted to be hosed down and turned out into the grassy paddock. I dismounted Delilah and loosened her saddle's cinch, careful not to snag my new engagement ring again, and started leading her forward on a loose rein. I smiled at myself. I was practically a pro.

As we walked our horses into their stalls, I heard crunching gravel, underscored by the purr of an engine. I squinted over at Mom in the dim light. “Is that Russ?”

She gave me a sly smile. “Maybe. Go look outside … we'll take care of your horse.”

When I looked at Ford for a hint, he just held out his hand, lips slightly quirked in amusement. Oh, I give up! I'll just have to find out for myself why they're acting so weird. I passed Delilah's reins to Ford and stepped out into the sun, blinking fast.

Near the front of the house, a silver compact car had just rolled to a stop. Its driver door opened. A blur of silky skirt, ruffled blouse, and sleek eyeliner flew out, squealing, “Emma!”

“Avery!” I yelled back, just before she met me with a bone-crushing hug.

Avery Palmer was my stepsister from Mom's third marriage. When I was a teenager, Mom and I moved often enough that it was hard to make permanent friends, so I was thrilled when Mom married someone with a daughter just one year younger than me. It was like getting a little sister for Christmas—we bonded over all the stereotypical girly stuff right away. Mom was only “Mrs. Palmer” for a few years, but Avery and I still kept in touch, even after she left California to study at the London College of Fashion.

“I haven't seen you in forever,” I said. “How are you?”

She gave an exaggerated groan. “Glad to be done with that bloody summer term! Sometimes I wonder if graduating early is worth it … especially since I had to miss Cynthia's latest wedding.”

“You sound a little more British every time I see you,” I teased. “I bet the American boys love when you come home to visit.”

“Nah, it's American birds and British lads that fancy each other,” she said, deliberately exaggerating her accent. “I just sound like the mutant offspring of a valley-girl and a sad chav.” She quickly put two fingers over her cherry lips. As always, her nails were intricately painted; today's masterpieces featured a splash of blue glitter on ivory polish, overlaid with silver flowers. “Forget I said that. Rude as hell.”

I laughed. “Well, whatever you are, you're done with final exams and now you get to lounge around with us.” I put my arm around her shoulders. “Have you eaten? Lunch is … uh, eventually, but I think we have some leftover steak in the fridge … ” We always had steak.

I trailed off when I noticed that she wasn't paying attention. I followed her gaze to the truck that had just pulled up on the other side of the front yard. Russ had gotten out and was now talking to a tall, black-haired man in blue-gray camouflage fatigues. Something about him seemed familiar.

I smirked at Avery. “Oh, I see what you're really hungry for.”

“Screw you,” she retorted, without any real heat. “Who is that?”

Good freaking question. I stared blankly at the man for a second. Then I remembered where I had seen those stern, sculpted features before—the framed photograph in the guest room. “Oh! That's our other stepbrother. Mom's new husband has two sons, Ford and Nixon.”

Avery frowned. “Stepbrother? Dammit. Just my luck.”