Authors: Anna Katmore
Gorgeous? By God, he was. I couldn’t deny that when I was head over heels for his twin brother. But it took more than good looks to be really attractive, and Chris needed to clear his ego before it swallowed him whole in a bubble of delusions.
Damn, why hadn’t I thought of that comeback when he was still on the phone? “Super, Susan, just super,” I muttered and slapped my brow. Finally, I scooted lower under the covers and turned off the light.
But sleep? I wish.
As I had predicted, my parents took stuff out on each other again so loud one might have thought they were giving a rock concert. A bit before midnight, I was so fed up with their noise that I grabbed my phone, which served as my alarm clock, and sneaked out of the house. Grandpa kept a spare key under the potted plant on the windowsill so I didn’t have to wake him when I went over for refuge and crashed on the couch.
He was up long before me in the morning and kissed me on the forehead when I said my mandatory thanks and returned to my own rackety home. Mom looked sheepish when she saw me coming in. Dad had already left for work.
“When are you ever going to stop that shit?” I wanted to yell at her as I grabbed a donut from the plate on the counter. But instead, I broke off a bite and shoved it in my mouth. There was no point in discussing it. Some things never changed.
Avoiding talking with my mother at all, I got dressed, packed my stuff, and beat it to school.
On the up side, it was Friday and the first day this week that Ethan sat with the soccer team at lunch. I was sure Ryan had invited him over, but it was also obvious that Lisa was the puppet master. She beamed like a streetlamp at midnight as we walked to the table and squeezed my arm a little too tight.
I didn’t complain about her matchmaking ambitions this time. In fact, being near Ethan for the entire lunch hour was the highlight of my day, even if we didn’t talk much because Alex engaged him in a discussion for most of the time. It didn’t matter, I got a kick out of staring at him just as well.
When the break was over and we all had to go to our afternoon classes, Ethan promised to call me tomorrow to make plans for the evening.
And he kept his promise.
Saturday afternoon, my phone went off, ripping me out of the last chapter of another
book. This unknown number belonged to Ethan, and right after our chat, I saved him in my phone as Charlie Brown. He’d suggested we meet in his room as soon as I was done reading, which made me fly over the final pages twice as fast. Ten minutes later, I tossed the book away and got ready to go out.
Since the red dress had gotten me nowhere with him on Thursday, but had only given Chris some funky ideas, I decided to roll with more comfortable clothes today. Jeans and a white blouse over a strappy blue top. On the way downstairs, I had a merry whistle on my lips, for once not making the success of this date dependent on a kiss.
Since my father was the first one I ran into downstairs, I asked him, “Could you drive me over to Ethan’s house, please?”
He folded the newspaper he was reading and rose from the table, fetching his keys. I liked Mom’s car a lot better than Dad’s, and as always when I climbed into the black Toyota, I pinched my nose, trying not to gag. Four months post purchase, this vehicle still bore the typical new car smell that I just couldn’t seem to get used to. Rolling down the window, fresh air slapped me in the face and gave me a chance to refill my lungs before I turned blue.
After I gave my dad clear directions where to take me, he said, “So who is this guy? Ethan.” He was trying to sound casual, as if he hoped this question didn’t bear the stamp of a worried father.
Major fail, Dad!
“He’s a guy from my school and soccer team. We went out a couple of times.”
“The guy from Thursday, right? Your mom told me about him.”
“Really?” I teased. “With all that fighting, there was a moment when she could squeeze that in?”
I didn’t mean it in an accusing way. Heck, if I could joke about this with one person in the world, it was my dad. But he heaved a deep sigh anyway. “It’s not easy for you right now, huh?”
I shrugged. “What kid likes listening to their parents’ endless arguments?”
After a short pause at a crossing, Dad patted my knee. “We’re trying to find a way to deal with it. It
get better. I promise.”
Deal with it how? With Scotch and more arguments? “Come on, Dad. You know it won’t get any better. She’ll always find reasons to attack you. She just never got over Grams.”
“We talked about seeing a marriage counselor this morning.”
Did they? Or did
? I couldn’t imagine my mother doing anything like that. Not when she wouldn’t accept the true problem and reason for their fights, even after two years. “That sounds like a good idea,” is what I said out loud.
A moment later, Dad pulled up to the curb in front of Ethan’s house. Thank God, because talking about my parents’ issues was starting to depress me. We both looked out through my window, silently regarding the cozy-looking bungalow. No fights in there. Was he thinking the same?
Suddenly, my Dad surprised me when he chuckled. “I’ve got the feeling I should get out with you and introduce myself to this boy.”
“Dad!” I rolled my eyes.
“What? Isn’t that what considerate fathers do?”
“It’s what fathers do when they want to embarrass their daughters and brand them as dorks for life. Please, don’t be that guy.”
Laughing, my dad reached behind my neck, pulled me forward, and placed a kiss on top of my head. “Have fun, sweetheart. Curfew is midnight.”
I nodded and cast him a smile. “Bye, Dad.”
While he reversed in the broad, empty street, I jogged up the two steps to Ethan’s door and rang the bell. One of the twins opened it, striking me with his smooth appearance. Washed out jeans and a white polo shirt, hair in a cute mess; this could be either of them. Not even the warm and welcoming smile was enough to assure me I was facing the right one.
“Hi, Susan,” he said.
I took my time, just staring.
He folded his arms over his chest and regarded me with delight. “You’re trying to figure out who I am, aren’t you?”
“Nope, I just got the answer,” I replied and shoved past Chris. “Is Ethan in his room?”
“Yes.” He closed the door and ran after me, successfully holding me up in the hallway. “How did you figure it out?”
“Simple.” I reached to his collar and picked up the massive silver chains around his neck that I had seen on him the other day, when I entered the wrong room. I wound them around my finger until they were almost choking him. “Your
chains gave you away.” With a smug smile, I dropped them and flicked him on the forehead.
Chris frowned at the soft attack but wouldn’t step aside to let me pass. “Hey, that’s rude.”
“What? The flick or calling your chains what they are?” I laughed and flicked him a second time.
“Both,” Chris snarled. He grabbed my arm and spun me around so fast that I had no chance to realize what was going on until my back was flush against his chest. His arms built a firm cage around my torso. “And if you do that one more time,” he growled into my ear, “I’ll give you a hickey the size of Ohio…right here.” As he dipped his head a little lower, his breath feathered against my neck an instant before he touched that very spot with his lips.
Little electric fire bolts zipped through my body, starting right where his mouth was. I could feel the shivers way down to my toes. A gasp escaped me, so full of shock that I couldn’t savor the traitorous feeling of excitement trying to take over. Writhing in his hold, I landed a weak jab to his chest with my elbow. “Go away, Chris! You’re disgusting!”
He chuckled, but the iron cage around me eased, and he let me slip away. For a moment, I used the wall for support, struggling very hard to catch my breath after that sensual assault. “Never…do that again!”
“Why?” The tilt of his eyebrows mocked me. “Afraid you might get addicted to it?”
“Yeah, either that”—I rolled my eyes and made a gagging sound—“or throw up.”
“Every addiction starts with denial, so I’ll let you believe that.”
I was having trouble resisting the urge to kick him, but the sudden change in his expression kept me frozen.
“Why did you come here, anyway? Are you coming to my basketball game tonight?” he asked, a frown marring his face.
“Then why are you here?”
“Movies? Ethan and I?” I made a duh face. “I told you on the phone, remember?”
When I decided Chris had wasted enough of my limited time in this house and took another step down the hallway, he lifted his arm and braced his hand against the wall in front of me. “Wait. That’s today?”
“Yes.” Why did that shock him?
“But you can’t.”
Hah, you wait and see!
I was so about to tell him just
we could do that, only I never got a chance to. Chris whirled about and stormed to Ethan’s room, entering without a knock.
“Hey, what’s this crap about you going to the movies tonight?” he snapped.
Over his shoulder, I caught a glimpse of Ethan sitting at his desk, looking up from whatever he was doing there. “I’m going with Susan. What’s your problem?”
“My problem is that it’s my last game this year. The big rematch against Clearwater High. You were supposed to come.”
Oh my God, if Chris sounded any more like a sulking little boy, I might take him in my arms and cuddle him for comfort. He was seriously hurt over his brother blowing him off. I’d always suspected that every person had a weak spot, and basketball was clearly Chris’s.
“You promised,” he added, frozen in Ethan’s door with his shoulders sagging. His voice dropped another sulky notch. “Mom’s coming, too.”
All right, I was officially undone. It might sound terribly cliché, but it was true. If there had ever been a playboy on his knees, it was Chris Donovan, right now, all because his brother had driven the proverbial lance through his heart. I couldn’t stop my own hand from lifting and carefully touching Chris’s arm. “If it means so much to you, we won’t go to the movies tonight. Ethan can go to your game.”
Both the twins’ gazes zapped to me. Ethan asked, surprised, “I can?” while at the same time Chris pulled his brows to a frown and said warily, “He can?”
“Yes,” I answered them both, feeling a little ridiculous, because they were obviously making this depend on me. “The movie won’t run away. And if it’s the last game before winter break, you really should go. It would kill me if my family didn’t come to my big games.”
“Okay, but you have to come, too,” Ethan demanded.
Uh. Basketball was really not my thing, but in order to spend more time with Ethan, I would put up with any trial. Pressing my lips together, I gave a helpless shrug. “Basketball it is.”
A grin stretched Chris’s mouth wide and he looked for a moment as if he was going to lift me in an effusive hug. Not because he was being a dick again and wanted to rile me, but because he was genuinely happy.
He thought better of it, however, which I had to give him credit for. Nevertheless, turning to me so that only I would see his face, he mouthed, “I owe you.”
Oh, I had a feeling I might take him up on that sometime.
“THAT WAS REALLY nice, Susan,” Ethan told me a little later. And he didn’t just mean my strike in Wii Bowling. “Sometimes basketball seems to be everything to Chris.”
“Well, I have my soft moments,” I teased, but I was wondering if it really was all about basketball for his brother. To me, it seemed like family played a big role for him, too. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have been so hurt that Ethan had found something else to do.
I aimed another virtual shot at the screen. “When does the game start?”
“In forty-five minutes,” the answer came from the door. Chris peeped inside the room, pressing his lips together and arching his brows. “Mom is ready and we’re leaving in five. If you two want a ride, you better finish this fast.”
The ball rolled down the line on the TV and knocked out all the pins in a sensational strike that won me the game. Beaming, I whirled around and rocked on the balls of my feet, hands clasped behind my back. “I’m done. We can go.”
Stabbed by my gloating, Ethan folded his arms over his chest and narrowed his eyes at me, all but tapping his foot. “I don’t care how much you complain…next time it’s
“Fine with me.” As long as there was going to be a next time, I was the happiest girl in the world. Smiling brightly, I met Chris’s interested smirk and wondered if, at that moment, he was reading my mind.
As we all came out of Ethan’s room, Beverly slipped on her black pumps and a cardigan that matched her burgundy wool dress. It’s not what I would wear to a basketball game at my high school, but I couldn’t imagine her wearing tattered jeans topped with a too-long jersey and wielding a foam finger, either.
Outside, she stopped in front of a black SUV and faced us, holding out the keys. “Does anyone want to drive?”
That offer certainly didn’t include me, but with a look at her heels, I thought I knew the reason she wasn’t so keen on driving tonight. Chris didn’t hesitate to grab the keys and get behind the wheel. With Beverly riding shotgun, I had Ethan all to myself in the backseat. Three minutes in the car with him, and his smell was already making me gaga, evoking the wildest dreams. I hadn’t seen him put on cologne before we left the house, but I might just have missed it while tying my shoes. It was a mix of something herbal and exotic, very boyish and very bewitching.
“Susan, darling,” Beverly said shortly before we arrived at the school parking lot. “How long can you stay out tonight?”
“Um…my curfew on weekends is usually midnight,” I told her, leaning forward so she could hear me over the faint music drifting from the radio.
“Great!” She shifted a little in her seat and half-faced me. “You know, we have a little tradition on game nights. If the Sharks win, I take my boys out to the St. James Steakhouse in Oceano. If they lose, my boys have to take me out to Burger King in Arroyo Grande. Whichever it is, you’re in for a treat tonight.”
My heart melted. A soft laugh escaped me, and I turned to Chris. “I better cheer for your team tonight, so you and Ethan get a proper meal, huh?”
“He and I,” Chris teased, with a brief skip of his gaze to me then back at the road, “…and you.”
I noticed two things at that moment. One, from the sound of it, Chris was happy to have me going out with them after the game. And two, the amazing smell in this car didn’t come from Ethan. It must have been Chris who put on the exotic-smelling cologne. Staring at the side of his face, I took another couple of deep breaths, suddenly not wanting to lean back in my seat anymore.
“What?” he said when he noticed my puzzlement, an obvious smile in his voice.
“You smell nice.” Oh my freaking Jesus, I did
say that out loud, did I? Please, no!
Chris chuckled, and so did the other two. “Well, thanks,” he said, and I melted back into my seat, wishing my raised temperature was enough to burn a hole for me to hide in.
Ethan, of all people, cut me an amused look. “Hey, if I’d known you like Axe, I’d have put some on as well.” Shouldn’t he be mad that I—his sort-of date for tonight—complimented his brother instead of him? If he was, he was a damn good actor. But I was starting to believe Ethan didn’t care at all whether I was interested in him. Of course, I’d just made such a fool of myself that he probably pitied me more than anything.
Glad when we all got out of the car and the evening breeze cooled my still-burning face, I sidled up to Ethan and set a pace that would give Chris and his mom a chance to walk a little ahead of us.
Reveling in the smell of my great love’s only brother wasn’t cool. But getting past the cash box at the school entrance free of charge because we knew one of the players definitely was.
In front of the locker rooms, Beverly hugged Chris and wished him luck. Ethan smacked him on the shoulder, stating, “I want a steak, bro.” When it was my turn to say something, I shrugged and cast him a playful smile. “You made us all come watch you tonight, so you better try not to slip out there on the court.”
His laughter bounced around in the hallway as he shouldered his black duffle bag and walked through the door into the boys’ changing room.
The rest of us found a spot in the middle of the bleachers with a great view of the court. Music boomed down from the loudspeakers on the ceiling and mingled with the noise of people talking to each other, some shouting across the rows of seats. The crowd, a milling mass as they swarmed in through the two double doors at either end of the gym, slowly settled down and the whole place started smelling of hot dogs.
It didn’t take long for the pop song to change to an excited fanfare. Students, teachers, and outsiders alike cheered as my high school’s basketball team rolled in like they’d already won the game. I clapped my hands along with the others, and winced when Ethan whistled with his fingers next to me because Chris had dunked a ball into the basket for warm-up.
The opposing team stormed in shortly after ours, and they received the same welcome blast from the guest section across from us. Their dark blue jerseys created a strong enough contrast to the Dunkin’ Sharks’ white ones that there wouldn’t be any trouble keeping track of the players.
I’d never heard of the other team’s high school, but they brought their mascot—a lion. At the beginning, the guy in a lion suit motivated the guest supporters to sing and clap for their team, but he soon sank onto the low bench on the sideline and rested his chin in his mighty paw, bracing his elbow on his thigh. No one could blame him for his drooping confidence when the Sharks were leaving his team behind like a Ferrari zooming ahead of a moped.
That changed, however, after the first half. Their coach took out three players. On our team, no one was replaced. The new guys, all tall hunks with feet as big as boats, turned the game around with a far more aggressive technique. Though not all moves were fouls, there was a lot more scrambling for the ball all of a sudden. Every time one of our guys got blocked or tossed off balance and skittered along the floor, the sound of skin rubbing on linoleum made the little hairs on my arms stand on end. I’d experienced the burn of such a fall, and it was nothing I wished upon anyone, be it our team or the other. The rest of the audience obviously felt the pain, too, because a collective “ow” sounded from the bleachers each time a guy tripped.
While the opponents sank one after the other, most of our team’s shots were easily caught before the ball could even touch the basket. Team
evened the score in record time.
Chris found himself blocked by a guy who towered above him by about a head. This one brought man-marking to a whole new level, and soon enough Chris was displaying more burns on his legs and shoulders than most of the other players put together. But it didn’t take away any of his determination. If anything, it made him attack harder and dive for the ball more. He and one of his teammates sank two shots each shortly before the end of the fourth quarter, which made the crowd rampage and cheer. But the Lions evened that out before the referee blew his whistle.
I turned to Ethan. “Twenty to twenty. What now?”
“They play five minutes overtime,” he told me.
The Lions managed two more points, and I was biting my nails in agony as the huge scoreboard beneath the ceiling counted down the final seconds of extra time.
With nine seconds to play, Chris caught the ball from one of his friends. In a mad run, he dribbled toward the opposite basket, but right as he tossed the ball, his shadow from team Lion rammed a shoulder into his back. With a groan that I could hear all the way to where I sat, Chris landed on his knees. He looked irritated for a moment, but thankfully not severely hurt. And the amazing thing was, even with being fouled, he’d scored the two points they needed to get even with the Lions again.
Basketball rules were a riddle to me, and to be fair, I always had to look at the scoreboard to check how many points a basket was worth after one team scored. But I had played enough soccer this year to know such a foul wouldn’t stay unpunished, even if the playing time was officially over now.
Chris was given the ball.
“It’s a free throw. If he gets the damn ball in the basket now,” Ethan told me, all tense and focused on his brother, “he wins the game. If he misses, there’ll be five more minutes of overtime.”
Good to know. I crossed my fingers, pressing my hands under my chin. When Chris tossed the ball, taking a light jump, my eyes grew wide and I traced the path of the basketball with my gaze until it slid smoothly through the hoop.
The display switched. 23 to 22.
The Dunkin’ Sharks had won! I sucked in air to cheer along with the rest of the crowd and only now realized I’d been holding my breath all through his free throw.
While most of the people who’d come tonight slowly fought their ways toward the exits now, some headed down the bleachers to congratulate the players. Ethan, Beverly, and I did, too.
Chris spotted us on the sideline. Slapping some of his friends on the shoulders, he detached from them and came barreling at us like a bouncing ball drenched in Red Bull. It was cute to see him worked up and happy like that, his cheeks all red from playing. His mother didn’t even grumble when he crushed her in a hug that reeked of man sweat and euphoria.
Although I didn’t let him get anywhere near me when he tried to wrap an arm around me while he laid the other over Ethan’s shoulders, I wasn’t a complete spoilsport and still congratulated him on their win. “That was pretty cool,” I said, mirroring his smirk.
He leaned close and purred in my ear, “How about a kiss for the winning team?”
“Yeah…I actually think I’d rather kiss that stuffed loser lion over there, thanks.”
“So you have a thing for wild cats?” he mocked me quietly. “What the hell are you doing with Ethan then?”
I shoved against his shoulder. With another grin, he rushed back to his team. As they headed for the showers, he shouted to Beverly, “Fifteen minutes!”
We sat down outside the changing rooms and watched as the hallway rapidly emptied. Ethan asked me, “How did you like your first ever basketball game?”
“That was quite extreme.” I scrunched up my face. “It hurt me so much each time one of them bruised a knee or something. It feels like I’ve gotten more abrasions on my legs now than any of them.”
Beverly laughed at my confession. “They can be really rough sometimes. At least I only have to worry about one now and not both my boys.” She rubbed Ethan’s back in a loving way.
I gave Ethan an incredulous look. “What, you played basketball, too?”
“Mm-hm,” came his answering mumble.
“Why did you stop?”
He shrugged one shoulder. “I had my reasons.”
And that was that. He didn’t say more, and I could tell by his averted face that it wasn’t the time to knock a hole in his head with questions. Instead, I fell silent and we just waited for Chris to come out of the changing room. Yet his promised fifteen minutes stretched into twenty, then twenty-five, and when he wasn’t out after half an hour, I started wondering if he’d traded steak for a party with his friends in there tonight.
Ethan got impatient, too. He stood up, suggesting he’d find him and haul him out of the locker room if necessary. Before he reached the door, though, it opened and a guy came out, freezing him on the spot. Since Ethan blocked my view, I could only see a black sweatshirt and jeans, but from the muffled voice it was Chris. “Let’s go,” he said, already walking toward the exit. He’d pulled up his hood, probably because his hair was still wet from the shower and he didn’t want to get brain freeze outside.
Beverly and I got up and rushed after him. His angry stride gave me a horrible sense of foreboding.
“Chris, wait,” Beverly called and snatched him by the sleeve. “What’s up with—”
When she broke off, I froze on the spot. Ethan slowly walked up to me. He’d already seen what was wrong with Chris, but to me it was a shock that nailed my tongue to the roof of my mouth.
There was a small cut above his right eyebrow and a bit of a tissue stuck in one of his nostrils. It had completely soaked with blood, and some more was pooling at the corner of his mouth. Nausea churned my stomach. Without thinking, I pulled a tissue from my pocket and dabbed at the smudge of blood on his brow. Chris turned his startled gaze on me, his right eye sporting a real shiner.