Authors: Miller,Cassie-Ann L.
But he’s still a bastard. And I have no intention of being nice to him.
Keeland throws both hands up defensively. “I can have one of the guys drop me off if it’s inconvenient for you,” he says diplomatically.
feel like the asshole. I grunt. “You can ride with me,” I say begrudgingly. “But Isla’s riding shot-gun.”
Minutes later, we’re loaded up into my little, blue Prius, Isla in the passenger’s seat and Faith in the back with Keeland. The girls debate back and forth about whether the next ‘Bachelorette’ should be Chelsea or Kimberley.
Within 15 minutes I’ve dropped Isla off and Faith’s apartment is only a block away. In Reyfield virtually all the apartment complexes are located in the same one-mile radius.
“Good night, Keeland,” Faith says shyly as she slides out of the backseat.
He offers her a grin. “Good night, Faith. It was nice to meet you.”
“Likewise.” Then, she turns to me. “Remember Sam, volunteering on Tuesday at 4:30. You’ll be there, right?”
I give her a small nod.
Keeland’s eyebrows shoot up. “Volunteering? What is this volunteering?”
Before I can shut her up, Faith babbles on. “I coordinate events for the kids and seniors at the community center. Sam tutors eighth and ninth graders in math on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
Keeland gives me a surprised look. “Really?”
I’m starting to squirm in my seat. The less Keeland Masters knows about my life, the better. But Faith seems oblivious to my distress. She just keeps on talking.
“Yup,” she chirps. “The kids love her and she’s really amazing with them, too.”
“Good to know,” Keeland smiles wickedly.
I have to get out of here before he starts getting any ideas. “Okay. ‘Night, Faith,” I say curtly, pulling away from the curb before she adds anything else to this conversation.
Right now my mission is to get this guy home and get my ass to bed.
I step out of the shower to the sound of my smartphone ringing on the bathroom counter. The caller display tells me that it’s Maxwell. I’ve been waiting for my little brother’s call all day. I quickly grab the fluffy pink towel from the hook on the wall and wrap it around my waist then I hit the ‘answer’ button, putting the call on speakerphone.
“It’s about time you called me,” I say as I lean towards the foggy mirror and wipe away the steam.
“Well, I’ve been kind of busy what with back-to-back executive meetings and press conferences all day.” Maxwell has gotten himself into a bit of a pickle; he was drafted to the Los Angeles Boomerangs straight out of college and quickly rose in the ranks to become their star quarterback. But he let the money and the fame get to his head. It’s been one scandal after another. From bar brawls to hooking up with his teammates’ sisters and everything in between.
Now, he’s in hot water with the team’s management. The bad publicity caused by last week’s naked jog down a southern California (non-nudist) beach (during a drunken game of ‘truth or dare’ with a gaggle of local beauty pageant contestants) was too much to ignore. They’ve finally had enough and their threats of dropping him from the team mid-season are starting to look more and more like promises. He’s got to get his shit together.
I sort of blame myself for the mess he’s in. If I hadn’t spent the past few years locked away, I would have been there for him and kept him on track. It’s just one of the many, many things that I feel guilty about these days.
I rub my hand along my prickly chin. “Just stay out of trouble and everything will turn out fine.”
“I know, I know,” he says impatiently, sounding just like he did whenever I’d give him advice when we were growing up. We moved from place to place with our mother after our deadbeat dad ditched us for good and I took it upon myself to teach my little brother everything I learned about life along the way. Since our father wasn’t around, I felt like it was my job to look out for him. “Anyway, that’s not why I called you.”
I lean against the counter and grab my scissors from my grooming kit to trim my beard. “Yes. What’s the status on the documents?”
“I sent them off by overnight mail. They should be delivered first thing in the morning,” he assures me.
“I really appreciate this, man. Especially since you’re so busy. You didn’t have to take over the reins of my tattoo parlor while I was in jail. I really appreciate that you did.”
“It’s nothing, brother. I just wanted to make sure you’d have
to come home to after you got out.” Maxwell literally saved my tail
my business while I was locked up. He’s not a tattoo artist, nor is he a businessman but he made sure to keep Master Ink alive, hiring the best artists and managers to keep the cash flowing in. So, at least my business would be waiting for me when I got out…even though I’d lost everything else.
The one thing my brother didn’t take care of was the accounting.
The books are a mess and taxes haven’t been filed in three years. It’s a shock that the IRS hasn’t come knocking yet. Anyway, now that I’m a free man, I’m reassessing everything in my life, including my business. I want to know what my options are. Should I sell the thing or should I just hire someone to manage it while I figure my life out? I need to see the numbers so I can make an informed decision.
My brother interrupts my thoughts. “While we’re on the subject of things and people that weren’t waiting for you when you got out, the workers tell me that Rhys showed up this week. Twice. And she brought the kid.”
My blood boils just hearing her name. I loved that woman, but she lied to me, she cheated on me and she ruined my life in the process. I hope we never cross paths again in this lifetime.
“She’s lucky I wasn’t there,” Maxwell seethes bitterly, “or else I’d probably be making this call from jail right now. Or maybe from my getaway car, halfway to Mexico.”
That gets me to laugh. Still, I’ve got to remind him of what’s important. “Rhys isn’t worth getting in trouble over, Max. One Masters brother serving time because of that woman is more than enough. You don’t need to stain your record because of her, too. Besides, you’ve got too much to lose.”
He sighs. “I know.”
A yawn barrels out of my mouth. “It’s getting pretty late over here. Gotta hit the sack.”
“Yeah — time zone difference. Right.”
I set down the scissors and run the towel down my cheeks. “When are you gonna come out here and visit your old stomping ground? I went out tonight. Everybody was asking about you, man.”
Maxwell laughs and I imagine him tipping his head back slightly, squinting his eyes and pounding the nearest surface the way he always does when he finds something funny. “You’ve been gone for ten days and you already miss me, you big teddy bear?”
I laugh too but it’s bittersweet. I resist the urge to remind my brother that the last time I left him, I was gone for three years.
miss him. We’ve missed out on so much.
Maxwell’s voice sobers. “I’ll come up there…soon.”
“Alright,” I say. I’m banking on it.
I’m sitting on my bed, a towel wrapping my wet hair. The events of the evening replay in my mind as I smooth coconut-lavender balm onto my legs. I try to not feel the electricity sputtering in my stomach every time I think about the silvery blue of Keeland’s eyes…or the smirk he wears on his full lips…or the thickness of his muscular arms (god, I love those arms)…or the tattoos covering his skin. I try to get him out of my mind but thoughts of him just won’t quit. Finally, I decide to stop trying and just let my fantasies run free. Yes, I still hate him but a little, innocent daydreaming never hurt anybody.
I’m hopelessly lost in my lusty imaginings when, out of the corner of my eye, I notice the light flick on in the bedroom across the way. Keeland strolls into the room, eyes fixed to the screen of his phone.
I nearly break my neck as I drop the tub of skin balm and leap across the bed to close my blinds. Keeland Masters doesn’t deserve the honor of seeing me in my ultra-cute, pink satin negligee.
Now, I’m peeping through my blinds at him. Like a creeper
But dammit, his stomach is a washboard. Plain and simple. And the swirls of ink adorning his pecs and his arms are so damn sexy.
He sets down his phone on the dresser and leans into the mirror. He runs a palm along his scruffy jaw before letting his fingers glide down his chest to the towel that is secured around his waist.
And then, he grins.
He literally looks at his perfect, perfect body in the mirror and
What a conceited jerk!
He picks up his phone and he snaps a selfie. He flexes his free arm so that the muscles bulge and snaps again and again and again.
Ugh — conceited, I tell you!
I should look away. I’m
gonna look away. In a few seconds.
He takes a few more pictures and then pauses, his fingers scrolling and tapping across the face of his phone.
He’s sexting somebody!
I feel my stomach twist up. I’m sure that it’s some floozy he met at Flynn and Murray’s tonight. Maybe that waitress who kept staring at him and biting her lip. Ugh! They’re perfect for each other, equally superficial and vapid.
His attention goes back to his reflection and he snaps a few more shots before doing the unthinkable…He unwraps his towel, aims the camera at his groin and snaps away.
My blood is absolutely boiling as he taps out another text message. I’m so irate that I’m only vaguely aware of my own cellphone beeping away on the bed next to me.
I absentmindedly reach for it and swipe to unlock it before glancing down at the screen. Text message from an unknown number.
Unknown number: We’re contacting you from the Reyfield Entertainment Network to ensure that you’re enjoying tonight’s programming. Please press 1 to say ‘yes’ or 2 to say ‘no’.
Confused, I toss my phone aside and bring my gaze back to Keeland. Within seconds, my phone beeps again.
Unknown number: Please take a moment to provide us with valuable feedback that we will use to improve your viewing experience.
The messages keep coming in rapid succession. I ignore them, my attention riveted to my dirty, salacious, asshole neighbor who is sexting his heart out. But after a while, the constant pinging of my phone receiving a continuous stream of text messages is starting to grate on my nerves.
I pick up the phone. My fingers stomp across the keyboard like angry little soldiers with a message to deliver:
UNSUBSCRIBE ME FROM YOUR SERVICE. NOW!!!
That’s when Keeland erupts into laughter, bending over to clutch his stomach.
Unknown number: As you wish. But first, here’s a token of our appreciation for your many years of loyal viewership.
A picture fills my screen. A bare chest covered in ink. A fluffy pink towel circling a narrow waist. A stubbly jaw. Full lips pulled into a narcissistic smirk. Pale blue eyes glinting playfully.
I drop the phone like it’s on fire.
It was him all along? I peer out through the blinds again.
And he waves at me! That asshole is still choking on laughter and waving at me!
It’s only then that I realize that the lights are on in my room.
Of course he can see me peeping. The lights are on!
I jump away from the blinds as quickly as I can, nearly tripping over my own humiliation. My bed sheets tangle around my legs as I stumble over to the switch on the wall and flip the lights off.
I collapse onto the bed, pulling a mountain of pillows over my head. Maybe if I yank enough cushions over my face, I’ll suffocate and die a painless death.
Either way, it’s decided. I’m staying in this bed until I die.