Tormented by nightmares, Aiden will need his arrogant stepbrother to save him from a threat that isn't only in his dreams.
Aiden is vulnerable, always afraid until his new stepbrother moves in and takes over his whole life. Brash and headstrong, Nate is his opposite in every way.
He's a new, forceful presence in Aiden's life. With his easy confidence and take charge attitude, he breaks apart Aiden's life of isolation. But Nate thinks Aiden is just a spoiled, rich kid.
To Nate he might seem standoffish, but that's not it. Aiden is afraid to trust anyone and plagued by night terrors.
The stepbrothers don't get along, but their attraction builds and they can't stay away from each other. When Aiden gets into a situation he can't handle, Nate comes to his rescue.
Nate doesn't stop there. He is determined to find out why Aiden was left with such deep, emotional scars.
As they get closer to the truth, the danger intensifies and both their lives are in peril. Can Nate's tough love chase away Aiden's nightmares, or will a very real threat be the end of them?
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By H.G. Ellis
Copyright © 2019 H.G. Ellis
All Rights Reserved.
No part of this publication may be used, reproduced or transmitted in any form without written permission from the author or publisher, except in the case of brief quotations used in reviews.
This book is a work of fiction. All characters and events depicted are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
All characters engaging in sexual acts are eighteen years or older.
Any person depicted is a model.
This novel contains material intended for mature readers.
I'm back there again in that maze of black hallways with no way out and the footsteps getting closer. Out of breath as I run, I open my eyes and choke off a scream. Terror consumes me. My throat and my lungs burn. In a panic, I scramble out of the chair I was sleeping in.
The sun is blinding, the lawn vividly yellow and green. I'm in the sunroom, but I'm not safe even here. The footsteps are still there, coming after me.
Shaking, my skin clammy, my teeth chattering, I'm helpless, and the footsteps keep getting closer. I can't stay here. I have to get away.
Running out the door blindly, I crash into a man carrying a box. The impact is hard and the box drops from his hands. Knocked to the floor as well, I look up at the man in fear. I don't know him but he's beautiful—dark hair and eyes, tall with wide shoulders and a muscular build.
Blinking as my vision clears, I realize that I'm not back in that dark place, not a kid. I recognize the hallway of our house but not this guy. He isn't someone I know. What is he doing here?
I notice that the box he was carrying has spilled and old books are strewn over the marble floor. The gorgeous guy is picking them up while giving me a stern, sideways look. As he notices my wide eyed stare, his look changes and becomes more questioning.
"What's with you? I'm not a burglar. I'm bringing these in for the professor," he says in response to my lingering fear.
Since I haven't gotten up from the floor, he steps over to me. Looming above me, he reaches out to help me up. "You OK? You aren't hurt, are you?" he asks. His dark eyes fill with concern as he bends over me, but I can't find my voice to answer him. I only shake my head.
In shock, I don't resist as he takes my hand and hauls me to my feet. As he pulls me up, I stumble against him. His body feels so hard, it takes my breath away.
"I'll let you go if you promise not to fall over again," he tells me with a laugh.
Realizing his hands are on me, I flinch away and almost lose my balance again. He grabs for me, but I draw back from him. I manage to catch myself and stay on my feet.
While I stare mutely into his incredible, dark eyes, he frowns at me. "Suit yourself," he says and he withdraws the hand that was reaching for me.
He seems offended, but then his dark eyes take on an arrogant expression. I do my best not to turn my eyes away. So what if he's stunningly gorgeous, that doesn't mean he should look down on me in my own house.
Breaking off the staring contest with a shake of his head, like I'm not worth it, he turns away and starts picking up the books from the floor. The spilled books are my fault, so I start to help. I have two books in my hand and seeing the titles are in Latin, I realize these must be my stepdad's books. This guy must be one of his students helping him out.
As I'm stepping over to the box to place the books inside, the guy moves to take them from me. I draw back from him too suddenly, and the books drop from my hands.
Seeing that the books are right back on the floor, he bends to pick them up. "Some help you are," he says with a sigh.
I mouth "Sorry" but no sound comes out. After a deep breath I try again. "Sorry."
With the last of the books off the floor, he picks up the box again. He gives me a cutting look and shakes his head. "Just watch where you're going," he tells me as he carries the box toward the library.
Watching him, I hold my breath until he's out of sight. Through the open doors of the library, I can hear him talk to my stepdad though I can't make out what they're saying. Realizing I shouldn't just stand there trying to eavesdrop like an idiot, I go back to the sunroom.
In there, I see that the chair is overturned. That means I was in the grip of a real panic when I woke up. As I right the chair, I notice that I'm not feeling too bad right now. I'm not shaking and scared like usually after a nightmare. Bumping into that guy must have brought me out of it. He was pretty stunning, but is seeing a gorgeous guy all it takes to snap me out of a panic attack?
Whatever it was, it's good to recover so fast. For once, I feel kind of Ok. I might even be able to eat something now. If I were brave, I would take something to my stepdad and that guy who's helping him.
I want to laugh at the idea. To me that's the same as jumping out of a plane without a parachute. Still, the thought is so tempting. That guy makes me wish I wasn't such a hopeless wreck.
He's probably straight anyway, but I can't help remembering his amazing dark eyes and broad shoulders, the way his arms flexed when he hefted that box. He seemed confident and strong—everything I'm not. I'm sure he would despise me if he saw how I cower from every shadow.
That's just how I am, but right now I'm keyed up. For once instead of running and hiding from anyone I don't know, I'm wondering if I could get another glimpse of him. That doesn't mean I want him to see me. I just want another look. No, I crave it. That guy stirred up something inside me, but I'll probably never set eyes on him again.
So that was Aiden Shaw, my new stepbrother. He certainly wasn't friendly. Even if he didn't know who the hell I was, that's no excuse. He acted like I wasn't fit to be in his house.
The way he cringed away from me when I tried to touch him—maybe he thought I was too dirty, but it's not my fault. Dad is such a hopeless packrat when it comes to books. He had the garage and the basement at the old house packed with old books. Climbing in there between rows of boxes, I got grimy and sweaty.
Whatever. Aiden might be cute, or even beautiful, but I've had plenty of guys like him. He's nothing special. He's way too skinny for one thing. His dark hair hangs all over his face, hiding those amazing blue-gray eyes. Yeah he could be gorgeous, but he has a serious personality deficit. Spoiled, rich brats aren't my type.
As I go into the library, the sight of my dad among mountains of books reminds me that we might never get done. Dad is standing behind the desk in his new wife's impressive library in her impressive house. The library is almost big enough to hold Dad's books, but they're not making it to the shelves very fast.
"I think I just met my stepbrother," I tell him as I look for someplace to set down the box of books.
"That's nice," my dad says vaguely while only briefly taking his eyes off the book that's sitting open in front of him.
"I don't know if nice is the right word," I mumble under my breath, but Dad doesn't hear me. Absorbed in the books that are piled up all around him, he is only here in body. His spirit is somewhere back in ancient Rome.
As my dad is leafing through the back of a book then picking up another one, I wonder what to do with the box I'm still holding. "Where do you want these?" I ask him.
"Let's see what you have there." Dad comes over to look into the box then starts leafing through those books while I'm standing there holding the box.
"Dad, I'm not a bookshelf," I tell him.
He chuckles. "Sorry. You can set that down. Over there is good. And thanks for doing this."
"Sure. My Saturday was free," I tell him as I set the box on the floor. "We need to shelve these, Dad. Don't get distracted with reading. You can't leave the library looking like this."
"I have a system in mind," Dad tells me. He explains it to me and soon we have at least some of the books shelved. Dad's new wife, Olivia, had her staff free up space for Dad's books, but she might regret letting dad have his way in here.
The two of them are basically newlyweds, but now that they are back from their honeymoon, Dad is in this huge library, wallowing in books. She might never see him again.
"Is Olivia going to need the jaws of life to get you out of here?" I ask Dad.
"No. Of course not, but look at this place. Look at how beautiful," Dad says, motioning all around at shelves and shelves of books. My Dad is a professor of ancient history, and he finally has room for all the books he has accumulated over the years.
"Dad, did you fall in love with Olivia or the library?"
Dad only laughs at that.
After Mom died, I never expected him to remarry. The way he always has his face buried in a book, I figured he would never get a chance to meet anyone. It's an even bigger surprise that he ended up with someone like Olivia Shaw.
She's rich and high maintenance and doesn't have a bookish bone in her body. This library just happened to be part of the house she inherited from her family. From what Dad says, the maids come in here a lot more often than she does. Her and Dad seem to get along well though.
That's because she's really nice, but her son didn't make a good first impression. He wasn't there when my dad and his mom got married. Olivia said he wasn't feeling well. The only other time I came to the house, he didn't show himself, and Olivia made some vague excuse.
The way he made himself scarce, I figure he doesn't like my dad. Aiden better not give him a hard time.
While I'm shifting things around and trying to organize the books, Dad keeps forgetting what we're supposed to be doing. He's reading instead. He holds up one of the books I lugged in here and tells me, "His accounts have been completely discredited."
"Then toss him," I say offhandedly.
"Oh no. It's good to be able to trace the fictions that become interwoven with history."
"Glad I didn't lug it here for nothing," I tell him and he smiles at me then another book distracts him.
I'm distracted by that stepbrother of mine, but he's not an appealing, likable guy. I shouldn't be thinking about him, but those eyes and that full mouth. His lips were kind of pale and he had dark circles around his eyes. I remember Dad saying something about him being troubled. He probably parties too hard, like a lot of these rich kids do.
While my mind wanders, picturing my stepbrother in party mode, I keep working until I realize it's lunchtime. When I mention that to Dad, he says something in Latin.
I narrow my eyes at him, "Dad, did you have breakfast?"
He turns the question around on me. "Did I?"
"I'll see if I can scrounge up something for you to eat," I tell him.
Back out in the hall I go left. That's where the entryway is and the kitchen is in the other wing of the house. I think. I was here only once for a visit before I left for the summer so this is my first time really getting a good look at the place.
It's an impressive, old house. A mahogany staircase leads to the second floor. The windows are tall and let in a ton of light to shine off the marble floors and the perfectly polished, dark woodwork that's all over the place.
On the way to the other wing of the house, I run into Olivia. "I was going to get my dad something to eat. We got so busy, and I don't think he had breakfast," I tell her.
"I had an early appointment this morning, so he probably didn't. When he's left to his own devices..." She sighs and rolls her blue eyes. They're kind of like her son's but without that touch of gray I saw in Aiden's eyes. Distracted by trying to picture the exact color of his eyes, I only half hear what Olivia is telling me.
"Just help yourself to whatever you like," she says. "The kitchen is that way. And thank you so much for helping your father. If he tried to deal with all those books by himself, it would never get done. The way he gets sidetracked."
While she talks, I spot my new stepbrother coming from the end of the hallway where Olivia said the kitchen was located. He has big headphones over his ears, but he pulls them down when he sees us.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see him go to lurk in a doorway. He remains motionless and I pretend I don't see him gaping at me. For just a moment, I turn my eyes in his direction and he looks startled.
Now that he knows I spotted him, he starts to hurry off toward the stairs. Noticing her son trying to sneak away, Olivia calls out to him. "Oh, Aiden, come and meet your stepbrother."
Aiden stops on the first step and turns slowly like he's afraid to face me.
"Honey, this is Nate. And this is my son, Aiden."
"Nice to meet you," I say to him as he looks surprised. So he didn't know who I was.
In reply, he only nods but doesn't say anything.
While her son just stands there, Olivia gives me an apologetic smile. That's all it takes for Aiden to make his escape. Instead of going upstairs, Aiden goes back down the hall.
"He's not too sociable," she says.
"Yeah. I noticed," I mumble. Louder I tell her, "My dad isn't either. You'll have plenty of trouble getting him out of that library."
"At least I'll know where to find him." She then asks me, "Did I hear your father right? Are there a dozen guys sharing the same house where you're living now?"
"More like half a dozen," I tell her.
"That's not much better," she says and makes a face. She's nothing like my mom, but her motherly attitude reminds me of my mom and makes me miss her.
"It's just temporary," I reassure her. "I'm looking for something quieter or I'll never get any studying done."
"You should really stay with us now that you're going to college here. As you can see, we have more rooms than we know what to do with," she says.
"My dad will use them all for storing books," I predict and Olivia laughs, but I'm only half joking.
That's when I picture my new stepbrother's reaction if I took up Olivia on her offer. Thinking of how it would bother him, I'm tempted to say yes.
Olivia sees me considering her invitation and gives me another nudge. "Your dad says you're an early riser. The east bedroom would be perfect for you. What do you say? You know your father would be so happy."
And her son so unhappy, I think to myself. It does sound good though. Maybe I'll move in here then I can mess with Aiden and enjoy the life of luxury. "Ok. It might be nice to live here for a while," I say, making my decision on the spot.
"Wonderful," Olivia exclaims. "I'll have Paula get the room ready." After giving me a big smile, she rushes off and I look around.
Can I really be comfortable staying in a place like this? Oh well. There is a pool and a pretty boy stepbrother. As I wonder where he disappeared to, I remember that I should be looking for the kitchen. After going down the hall, I find the kitchen. It's huge impressive and well stocked. I guess that's another perk of living here.
Going to the sink to wash my hands, I have a look around. Huge windows look out onto the grounds and let in the noonday sunlight. The sun shines on the swirling gray and white of the marble countertops as well as the oversized appliances. The cabinets are attractively aged wood.
There's a basket with a selection of buns sitting on the countertop under a glass cover. I'll see if I can make my dad a sandwich with those.
I poke my head in the fridge then hear a faint noise from the other side of the kitchen. That's where the eat-in area is located in a nook enclosed by glass doors on three sides. Distracted by the buns, I barely glanced that way. Leaning to look around the fridge door, I catch sight of Aiden just as I hear his voice.
"Are you looking for something?" Aiden asks and I wonder if he's letting me know I don't belong here.
Now would be a good time to tell him I'm moving in, but I hold off. "I was just going to take my dad some lunch."
Coming closer, he keeps the slab of marble that makes up the countertop in the middle of the kitchen between us. "The honey mustard he likes is there." Aiden points to a shelf on the fridge door.
Getting the mustard, I rummage around for more sandwich fixings then lay them out along with a plate.
"Aren't you going to make one for yourself?" he asks, hovering there for no good reason.
Even if he doesn't like having me around, he is nice to look at, so I don't really mind.
"I might have one. You want me to make you a sandwich?" I ask him, but he just stares at me.
Maybe I'm not good enough to make the little prince a sandwich. I'm ready to take his silence as a no, when he answers me.
"Kind of," he whispers but only when I look away.
I'm not sure if he meant for me to hear him, but I did and now I guess I'm making him a sandwich too. Being so skinny, he could use it, that's for sure.
From the other side of the counter, he watches me make three sandwiches like he's never seen anyone make their own lunch before. There is a full staff here to do that kind of thing for him, so he doesn't have to lift a finger. That might be how he grew up, but I'm not going to stand for him being spoiled and lazy and letting me do all the work.
"Help me clean this up," I tell him to make him pitch in.
At first he looks surprised but then glumly says, "Whatever." But even as he comes over to this side of the counter, he keeps his distance like I'm radioactive or something. This guy really doesn't like being around me.
"Do I stink or something?" I challenge him. I have been lugging boxes so I probably don't smell like a rose.
But he says, "No. You don't stink. You..." He stops there and looks down. "You don't stink."
"Good to know," I tell him. That just leaves me to wonder what his deal is.
It's weird. If he hates being around me, he could just leave. There is one possible reason for the way he's acting. I hate to think it, but maybe he's homophobic. If he heard that I'm gay, that might be his problem with me.
As I pick up the plates to take to the library for my dad and me, I decide to test Aiden. "You coming to eat with us?" I ask him.
After a moment, he says, "Ok." He seems reluctant so I don't know why he agreed. Going down the hall, he stays a few steps behind me the whole way. Every time I turn to look at him, he lowers his head. With his longish, unruly dark bangs down over his eyes, it's like he's trying to hide from me.
When we walk into the library, Dad doesn't even notice us. Sitting at the desk, with his back to the big windows, he's taking notes from two books.
"Brought you some food," I say and he actually looks up from the two books he has in front of him.
"These two editions have some interesting differences. Oh, good morning, Aiden," Dad says when he sees him come in after me.
"Good morning," Aiden says with a shy smile.
"It's not morning, Dad," I tell him and set his sandwich in front of him. "That's why I brought you lunch."
Dad marks his place and sets aside his books and notes so he can make room on the desk for his plate and our plates as well. Pulling over a chair, I sit across from dad while Aiden takes a seat as far away from me as possible.
"So what's new, Aiden?" my dad asks.
Aiden shakes his head, but I remember that I have some news to share.
"His stepbrother is moving in," I say and eye Aiden to see how he's going to react.
His eyes widen as he stares at me with the sandwich halfway to his mouth. Blinking, he looks away from me and sets the sandwich down then just stares at it.
In the meantime, Dad is prompting me for an explanation. "What's this? Whose stepbrother?"
"Me, Dad," I tell him. "Olivia invited me to move in, and I took her up on it."
"Wonderful. That is good news," Dad says and beams at me from behind his glasses.
Aiden's reaction is in complete contrast to Dad's, but he does picks up his sandwich and takes a bite. Distracted by watching him eat, I don't hear my Dad's question until he repeats it.
"When are you moving in?" he's saying.
"Soon. Tomorrow morning would work, I think." I'm only planning for the move right this second. It's like I didn't take it seriously until I gave the news to Aiden and my dad.
"Any help you need, just say the word," my dad tells me. "I owe you for lugging in all my books."
"I don't have that much, but I'll keep you in mind," I tell Dad with a grin.
He's clearly happy I'm moving in, but Aiden has been completely silent. My news threw him for a loop, but he recovered fast. Now he's eating his sandwich and not gnashing his teeth at me, like I expected.
While we eat, Dad tries to talk our ears off about his books but I don't let him. I make him talk about his plans to go to Italy with Olivia. Of course all he talks about are libraries and history.
"Dad, you know you're going to have to make this trip fun for your new wife too."
"Shopping," Aiden says and I eye him.
"I'm sure she likes other things besides shopping," I say.
"Yes. But shopping comes first," Aiden says and Dad laughs.
"That boy knows his mom. Don't worry, I'll make sure Olivia has a good time too."
We finish up lunch and I collect the plates. As I head to the kitchen, I see that Aiden is trying to go upstairs. I wouldn't mind watching his ass as he goes up, but I shake myself out of that idea. I'm not ready to let him run off yet.
"You're not off the hook. Dishes don't wash themselves," I point out. Three plates aren't exactly a huge chore. I just don't want him slacking off at my expense.
Offering the plates to him, I stare hard at his eyes then his mouth. If he filled out a little, he would be irresistible. Even as skinny as he is he's putting all kinds of wrong ideas in my head. Taking all our plates from me, Aiden makes a face, turns away and heads to the kitchen.
To torture him some more with my unwelcome company, I insist on going along with him. On the way, I watch his movements, his profile. That's because the whole way, he looks straight ahead. His lips are pressed together, and his chest rises and falls with quick breaths. His movements are stiff, so he's definitely nervous. Maybe he doesn't like that I'm watching him so closely and wondering what it would take to turn his pale skin red hot. It would be fun to get my hands on him.
Back in the kitchen, the plates are in the dishwasher in a matter of minutes, but I don't let Aiden walk away. Stepping in his way, I watch him gasp when our bodies almost touch. I could just let sleeping dogs lie, but I decide to get this out in the open.
"Does it bother you that I'm moving in?" I ask him bluntly.
He frowns at me then averts his pretty eyes. "I don't know," he says. That's close enough to the truth, so I don't press him further.
"I guess we'll find out," I tell him.
He's standoffish but at least he's not putting on an act. That's something. It would be a pain if he was a complete phony. It's bad enough that he's my stepbrother and I'm having all these indecent impulses around him.
I have a gorgeous stepbrother and he's going to be living here. I don't know if I can handle that. With Nate moving in today, I'm feeling antsy and can't sit still. How am I going to survive living with him?
Right now I'm hanging out by the window, trying to catch sight of him as he arrives. Already tense, I jump as my phone chimes with a text. It's my sister, Stacey, asking how I am. I don't want to have my eyes on the phone and miss Nate's arrival so I call her back.
"I just heard. Are you all right?" she asks. As my older sister, she worries about me a lot.
"Sure," I say automatically though I don't know what she heard that has her worried.
"What was your mother thinking moving a total stranger into the house?" So she must have heard about Nate, that's why she's checking in with me.
"He's not a total stranger. He's the professor's son," I point out to her, but she still worries.
"Marrying that professor was bad enough," she says. Stacey was sure Mom remarrying would be bad for my peace of mind, but the professor is hardly an evil stepfather.
"I told you the professor is a really nice guy," I say to her.
"And his son?" she asks and I can picture her raising an eyebrow at me.
"Him. Umm. I don't know," I say.
Nice isn't the first thing I would say about Nate, but he doesn't seem like a bad guy. But every single thing that comes to my mind about him is all wrong. I want to say that he looks good, that he's muscular and tall, and that his voice is deep and that he's kind of bossy but I don't really mind. And his eyes are dark, piercing and beautiful. I can't say any of that out loud, so that means I can't talk to Stacey about him. He's my stepbrother, for God's sake.
I have to keep assuring Stacey that I'm Ok. Maybe she can tell I'm wound up. I was sleepless all night, but at least that means no nightmares. I am thrown that Nate is suddenly moving in, but it's not so bad in some ways.
As I keep talking with Stacey, I'm still by the window waiting for Nate and wondering what it will be like when he's living here and I end up seeing him all the time. Things were peaceful before. Only my nightmares were keeping me awake. Now there's Nate.
Bright and early I see his Mazda park in front of the house. It's an older car, but it's not beat up or anything. It looks like Nate takes good care of it. He does seem like the kind of guy who would be into cars.
I watch Nate get out. Damn, he looks so good without even trying, just in a hoodie and jeans. He doesn't need to try. Everything about him is just right. Seeing him from behind now, I admire his broad shoulders, the muscles of his back, his short, dark hair and his ass when he bends down to get boxes from the trunk.
Nate stacks the boxes by his car then jogs over and up the steps to the front door. Holding my breath, I wait for him to knock or ring the bell, but he must have a key because he lets himself in.
Was I going to rush over and open the door for him? I need to get a grip. It's only because I'm not used to being around people, especially good looking guys. That's why I'm so hyper-focused on him.
He goes straight upstairs and I sigh. I feel creepy watching him, but I can't make myself stop. Not long after that, he comes back downstairs. I'm off by the window, and I don't expect him to be able to see me since the whole stairway blocks his view.
"Aiden, good morning," the professor says from behind me and I jump. He came from the library and saw me. Now he sees his son as well. "And Nate, you're here."
Stopping at the bottom of the stairs, Nate says, "Good morning, Dad. Aiden." As he turns my way, he looks at me funny. Like he knows I was lurking there like some idiot.
"Are you ready to move in?" his dad asks. "Or do you want some breakfast first?"
"I'll take my stuff up, then I might grab something. I was just checking out the room. It's nice," Nate says and eyes me again as he comes closer.
Shrinking away from him, I try to disappear into the woodwork.
"Nate has always been an early bird, since he was a little kid," the professor says to me cheerfully. I can tell he's really happy that his son is moving in. He then speaks to Nate. "If you need help with anything, just say the word."
"I'll ask Aiden if I need any help," Nate says to needle me, but his dad takes him seriously.
"Oh good," the professor says, like he approves. Maybe he thinks we are going to bond as stepbrothers or something. "Ok. I'll go see what's for breakfast. I'll leave you in Aiden's capable hands."
As his dad goes off, Nate turns to grin at me. "So I'm in your hands."
Frowning at him, I have the urge to run, but I stand my ground. When he goes to his car, I linger in the doorway, blinking in the glare of the early morning sun. The autumn air is cold, and I find it refreshing. But that doesn't mean I want to be outside. Even when it's light out, I don't like stepping out the door.
Nate is out there though and he's looking at me expectantly. His stance is sort of challenging, and I know he'll be judging me if I run off without lending a hand.
Hesitantly, I go over to his car. For some reason I hold his gaze until I get close. Then it's too much, and I quickly bend down to pick up the first box I can grab.
"You know where it goes?" he asks me.
"Yes," I say curtly and head back inside as fast as I can.
"So you scoped out my room," he accuses me, catching up to me easily before I can get through the front doors.
"I did not," I tell him and turn to glare at him over my shoulder.
"It's just a room. What are you being so defensive about?" he says as we cross the foyer then he chuckles.
Great, he likes goading me. Having him living here is going to be a nightmare. Maybe Stacey was right to worry about my mental state with him around.
We go straight up the stairs and to the left. He's taking the guest room at one end of the hall, the last door on the right. The door is open and we go in.
Inside his room, I stop and just stand there awkwardly, not sure where to put down the box. Going past me, Nate sets his box down by the bed and I follow suit.
As we both stand next to that big bed with the crisp, white sheets, he eyes me provocatively and I glare at him again.
"You're so easy," he says and he doesn't move away from me. This time I refuse to look away just because he's so near, and I find that his eyes are incredible, dark and beautiful. But I would like those eyes a lot better on someone who wasn't so full of himself.
Leaving the room, I head back downstairs and get another box. I'm not going to let him intimidate me that easily.
It doesn't take long to get all his stuff up and then I'm standing in Nate's new room as he looks around and nods. "I think we got everything," he says and he goes over to the desk and looks behind it until he finds the outlet. When he turns back, he notices that I'm still there.
"Are you on guard duty. Are you thinking I might steal the knickknacks?" he asks.
I only scoff, but it's not like I have an excuse for still being there.
"Then don't lurk there like a guard, or I'm going to put you to work." Then he does just that. "Bring me that bag."
The bag is on his bed and I bring it over. He pulls out his laptop and some other stuff. To set things up, he starts by plugging in a surge protector then the rest, and I try to keep my eyes off his ass while he's bending down. I can't let him catch me staring.
I tell myself to just leave already, but my feet stay planted right there. I'm probably starved for human company. I should call up Ford, but that's only a fleeting thought.
"Still standing guard over me?" Nate says as he gets up and goes over to the stack of boxes. Picking up one of them, he nods toward another one. "Bring that other box and try not to drop it."
The box is heavy but not that heavy. The hard part is being close to Nate and not openly admiring his muscles or wondering if they feel as rock-solid as they look.
"Not too much for you, is it?" he asks.
"It's fine," I say in a clipped, defensive tone.
"Maybe I'll add another one then," he threatens with a smirk.
When I roll my eyes, he takes it as a challenge.
"You don't believe I'll do it?" he says and leans over like he's ready to set his box on top of the one I'm holding. He then pulls back. "I guess I better not. I don't want your arms to fall off."
"Just because you're a muscle bound jock..." I start to say but he cuts me off.
"I'm no jock. I'm just not a little twig like you," he taunts me and looks me up and down dismissively.
I know I'm not much to look at. I'm too skinny and dress in clothes that are a size or two too big for me. I don't want to let myself get embarrassed at the way he's checking me out, so I get mad instead.
"I'm not a twig. Add another box if you want. Add ten," I demand and he laughs.
When he sets the box down next to the dresser, I do the same. Unexpectedly, I feel him right behind me as I straighten. He doesn't touch me at first. Holding my breath, I wait then feel him run his hands over my shoulders. It's a smooth, gentle caress that gives me goose bumps.
"Let's see what you've got," he whispers right in my ear, and I pull in a single deep breath.
Then I freeze, not breathing, not moving an inch. As Nate slides his hands down over my arms, I tense and my biceps flex in his grip.
"Ok, you have a little muscle here," Nate says as he keeps his hands right over my biceps and gives my arms a light squeeze. Slowly I start to breathe hard and sag against him bonelessly. As my head turns toward Nate, my eyes fall closed and then I hear him say my name.
"Aiden. Don't fall asleep on me now," he says teasingly into my ear.
For a moment I stay as I am, enjoying the sound of his deep voice so intimately close, his warm breath ghosting over me, then I jump. With a gasp, I stagger away from him. What was I doing? I shake my head and my breathing grows erratic.
"You Ok?" he asks me while I struggle to regain control of myself. "Maybe I shouldn't tease you about being skinny because you don't look too well."
I stare at him then I blink. "I know it's just you. I'm fine," I say more to convince myself than him, to remind myself I'm not in any kind of danger and I can relax. I must sound strange because he furrows his brow at me.
"Just me? That's not flattering, but as long as you're Ok," Nate says. Now a teasing look is in his eyes again and a smirk on his lips. He regards me appraisingly and nods. "Yeah. You're looking better."
As Aiden goes out the door, I let my eyes roam from the nape of his neck down his back to his pert ass. Just some of the places I hadn't explored.
He might have pretty eyes and his body has a lot of potential, but he was so touchy. He did help me so I shouldn't judge him too harshly. And he let me get my hands on him. That was surprising.
I was ready for my standoffish stepbrother to flinch away from me as soon as I made contact, but he didn't. If I had any questions about him being straight, his reaction was the answer.
Aiden is pretty thin, could stand to pack on a few pounds. Maybe he stays thin on purpose, but he doesn't seem proud of his body. If anything, he seems closed off in every way.
With him gone, I get back to unpacking. Now that Aiden isn't here to distract me, putting away my things won't take long.
Just yesterday, I was helping my dad move boxes, and today I have boxes with my own stuff in my new room at the Shaw house. I take stock of the room that's now mine. It's a great room. Dark, almost black furniture contrasts with the white bedding. Two big windows on either side of the bed let in the early morning sunshine. Off to one side is a desk that I'll be using for studying. My own big bathroom is right there with a fancy looking shower.
I have no complaints, but I'm not sure I can feel at home here. It's nothing like any place I ever lived. Mom and Dad didn't make a ton of money as professors at a small college. We lived in modest homes that were always crammed with too many books.
Growing up like that, even I can't believe that I didn't turn into a bookworm like them. As long as I did Ok in school, my parents didn't pressure me to be as academically inclined as they were. They accepted it when I told them I was gay too.
My mom told me, "You're my perfect boy and always will be. Except you never take out the trash until I remind you. And please don't let your laundry pile up like that. It stinks." She was great, and Dad was supportive of me too.
Now that I'm done putting away my stuff, I decide that I wouldn't mind getting some breakfast. On my way to the kitchen, I wonder if that skinny stepbrother of mine might be there getting something too.
Going into the kitchen, I find that my dad and Olivia are the only ones there. They're finishing breakfast, sharing a newspaper and drinking coffee. In their own little world, they don't even notice me as I come in. The aroma of good, fresh brewed coffee makes me crave a cup right now.
"Good morning," I say to them.
"Good morning, Nate," Olivia says. "Good to have you here with us. Are you all settled in?"
"I am. Aiden helped me," I say and that makes her smile though she looks surprised as well.
"Help yourself to whatever you want," she tells me pointing to where croissants and fruit are set out along with some other things.
Seeing all that, I say, "Aiden isn't having breakfast with you?"
"He never does," his mom says.
"He's in his usual perch in the sunroom," my dad tells her. "He's like a cat, sitting there and watching the birds."
"Birds?" I say.
Olivia laughs. "I never thought of it that way." She kisses Dad on the cheek, and I can see this nice warmth between them. It's good to see that and I'm happy for Dad, but I can't help but think of Mom and feel sad.
I excuse myself without getting breakfast. With only a cup of coffee, I leave to go wander the hallways and have a look around. I still can't get over the size of this place or that I'll be living here.
But where do I end up? In the doorway of the sunroom. Aiden is in there, big headphones over his ears, watching a single bird peck at the yellowed lawn. Seeing him like that, I have to admit that my dad does have a point. Aiden is kind of like a cat—a standoffish creature I can't help but want to pet.
Thinking back to what happened in my room, I trace the line of his back and remember how he kind of rubbed against me and almost purred when I had my hands on him.
Still, the next thought that pops into my head is so very wrong. Yes, maybe I could seduce him, but I shouldn't. Despite his bad attitude, the idea is so tempting.
Good thing I get a text from my friend, Yun. With his headphones on, Aiden still doesn't know I'm there, but I still move off. Yun is asking if he can come over and see my "new digs".
I say Ok, and not long after, he's at the door in all his lanky, scruffy-headed glory.
"You live in a palace, man!" he exclaims.
I correct him, "My step family lives in a palace. I'm just crashing here for a while."
As I let him in and he gapes all around, I notice that Aiden has come out to stand in the doorway of the sunroom, and now he's staring at us. No, he is not wearing a friendly expression, but Yun doesn't seem to mind. As he spots Aiden he grins and elbows me. "Introduce me."
"That's my stepbrother, Aiden. This is my friend, Yun."
Aiden waves halfheartedly, but Yun isn't satisfied with that. He goes over to Aiden to shake hands. Not exactly thrilled to shake hands with him, Aiden suffers through it and looks ready to bolt.
I don't let him though. "I was just about to offer Yun some breakfast. Come eat with us," I say to Aiden.
He looks surprised and not eager to go, but Yun puts his arm through Aiden's and brings him along.
"Great idea. You cooking?" Yun asks me.
"No. There is already breakfast stuff all laid out in the kitchen," I inform him.
"No special Nate pancakes then?" Yun says, disappointed.
"The only thing special about my pancakes is that I don't burn them," I tell Yun then I let Aiden know what kind of cook Yun is. "In the kitchen, Yun likes to wing it, throw together whatever he happens to get his hands on, and he texts while he cooks."
"You can cook," Aiden says to Yun. "That's kind of cool."
That is the opposite of what I just said, but Yun only nods and looks self-satisfied. At least Aiden spoke. I was worried he would be morose and rude to Yun just for the crime of being my friend. But actually Aiden is nicer to Yun than to me. While Yun chatters at him, Aiden doesn't glare at him once. I'm starting to take that personally.
I thought my dad and Olivia might still be in the kitchen, but they're gone and the table where they were eating is already cleared. As we grab some food and take our seats, Yun is still monopolizing Aiden, who doesn't show that he minds at all.
Of course he isn't actually friendly to Yun. Aiden just doesn't seem as prickly and standoffish with him. Not that Yun lets him get a word in edgewise, and that suits Aiden just fine.
It kind of pisses me off that he's playing the nice guy with Yun, and he treats me like an intruder. To top it off, he doesn't eat anything until I push some food in front of him. I glare at him hard until he starts eating.
"You're such a big bro," Yun says, laughing at me.
Hearing that, I'm kind of horrified considering what kinds of thoughts I've been having about Aiden.
After Yun leaves, I clean up in the kitchen a little. I know there's a staff who take care of things like that, but since I'm not exactly paying my own way here, I don't want to leave extra work for them. I make Aiden help too. He doesn't do it cheerfully but he does it. That kind of thing almost makes me like him. I mean, he could just as well tell me to fuck off.
"He wasn't so bad," Aiden says while I notice his hands as he rinses a coffee cup, water running between long fingers enticingly.
Distracted by thinking about his hand wrapped around something other than a coffee cup, I don't know what he's talking about. Then I realize he means Yun. "High praise," I say to him and try to shake off indecent images like Aiden's wet fingers going to his mouth, or his lips wet from a kiss.
"I expected you would be friends with other arrogant, muscle heads, not someone so laid back," Aiden says, insulting me and bringing me out of any other indecent fantasies.
"Muscle heads? Guys who don't speak, just grunt and high five each other and smash empties against their foreheads. That what you mean?" I taunt him but Aiden actually nods.
He's unbelievable. So fucking judgmental. As I stare him down, he stares back levelly, but then lowers his head and lets his hair hide him from sight. I don't get him or why I have such a strong urge to kiss him.
I need to get away from him before my thoughts turn into actions. If I did do something crazy like kiss him, I know I wouldn't be able to stop there. I would press him up against the marble counter. I would grind against him and make him moan. And after that...
All of that is going too far, starting with wanting to kiss him. Nothing like that can happen between us. I know that. So why do I keep tempting fate, inviting him closer every chance I get?
I decided I need to stay away from Aiden, so I make sure to keep busy and not spend too much time at the house. Being in classes and studying all day takes care of that.
Today is no different. By the time I'm done with classes plus helping the Youth Sports Volunteers organize a girls' soccer exhibition game, I'm back at the Shaw house late. With all the work I have to do for my classes, I hardly step out of my bedroom. When I finish, it's past midnight and I'm hungry.
On my way downstairs, I think about how I hardly saw anyone at the house, only Aiden briefly this morning. Was it my imagination, or did he look like he hadn't slept? What does he get up to that he looks so ragged around the edges all the time.
Pushing away thoughts about Aiden, I rub my eyes. It's none of my business if he parties too hard and loses sleep. I'm pretty tired myself and ready for bed, but I have to eat something first.
The kitchen lights are on, and I noticed a lot of other lights are on all over the house. Even if Olivia does have tons of money, that's just needlessly wasteful.
After I raid the fridge, I'm yawning as I leave the kitchen. I flick a few lights off on the way out and in the hall. At the bottom of the stairs, I stop. When I look down the darkened hallway, I can see that the door to the library is ajar. Light is coming through the gap.
Going closer, I can see that the library is all lit up. I'm thinking my dad must have left the lights on or he might even still be in there.
„Die Auswahl von Legimi ist großartig.”
Wurm sucht Buch
„Ich finde das Angebot von Legimi richtig toll.”
Miss Foxy Reads
„Ich muss sagen, dass ich von dem E-Reader mehr als positiv überrascht bin.”
„Das ist wirklich eine großartige Idee und mal was ganz Anderes.”
Mikka liest das Leben...
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