I grabbed a soda, cracked it open, and leaned against the kitchen counter. As much as I would have rather gone to L.A., it was actually pretty good to be home. I was looking forward to long walks through the mountains and seeing some of my old high school friends again. I sipped my soda, smiling to myself. Maybe my summer wasn’t going to be totally horrible. Maybe I could salvage it, make it relaxing.
But then there was that sound again. It was louder, another grunt, and definitely masculine. Tingles ran down my spine. Were Jules and Dad having sex? No, there was no way they’d do it right there in the other room. They weren’t the best parents in the world, but Jules was way too proper to risk getting caught, and they at least knew I was going to be home eventually.
But the sound came again, and it was getting to the point where I couldn’t ignore it. My curiosity began to win out over my desire to never see Jules and Dad having sex ever in my entire life, and so I walked through the back hall leading toward our large den area. I heard the noise again, that time accompanied by a woman’s voice, though I couldn’t make out what she said. It definitely wasn’t Jules, though.
I stopped just outside the door. My heart was pounding in my chest. Is Dad having an affair? I thought to myself. No, there was no way he would do that to Jules and me. There was no way he’d bring some strange girl home and bang her right there in the den where anybody could catch him.
My mind was reeling with the possibilities.
I took a deep breath. I heard another grunt, and the woman’s voice again, low and encouraging. I shoved the door open and stormed into the room, ready to yell at the top of my lungs.
And what I saw was worse, way worse than anything I had been imagining. It was worse than Dad having an affair, worse than Dad fucking Jules on the couch. I stood still as seven pairs of eyes all turned and stared at me simultaneously, completely stifling the angry admonishment I had on the tip of my tongue.
It took me a second to really understand what the hell I was seeing. The den had been completely changed, and it looked more like a gym than a hangout space. The floor was mostly covered by blue exercise mats, and there was exercise equipment scattered around. The TV was still mounted on the wall, but the rack of movies had been replaced with a full, wall-length mirror.
Two guys held cameras. They looked like they were in their 30s, maybe younger. Another was holding one of those long boom microphones up in the air and had big headphones over his ears. An attractive brunette woman, rail thin and intense looking, stood just behind the cameramen and stared daggers at me.
And in the middle of the room, his ripped and tattooed arms wrapped around two metal railings, was my stepbrother, the asshole I hadn’t seen since I had left for school, the biggest dickhead in my life, Lincoln Carter. I worked my mouth, trying to find some words, as everyone continued to stare at me. Although it was clear that nobody was having sex, something weird was happening, and I had no clue what it was.
I wanted to scream. I wanted to run away. But Lincoln’s dirty-green eyes pierced directly into mine and held me there like a pin through a bug. I wanted to wriggle away, but his lips curled up into that irresistible smile of his, cocky and adorable and fucking sexy all at once. I blinked at him, shocked beyond shocked.
“Hey, Aubrie. Long time no see,” he said.
He cocked his head at me as I continued to stand there, memories and emotions swirling through my body. It took me a second to register the attractive and fit blond woman standing in front of Lincoln, supporting some of his weight. He was dressed in gym clothes, and his chest and face were sweaty. I could see the tattoos that snaked up his arms and covered his chest disappear behind the white, damp T-shirt he was wearing. His body was muscular and strong, but for some reason he looked like he was having trouble standing.
And then it all clicked. The fucking injury, I thought.
“Excuse me? We’re filming here.”
My head snapped over to look at the harsh brunette woman giving me an impatient look.
“Oh, right. Okay,” I said weakly.
“It’s okay, Jess. This is my stepsister, Aubrie.”
She nodded at me. “Aubrie, it’s nice to finally meet you. I’ve heard so much from your father.”
“Hi. I mean, good to meet you too.”
I was completely thrown off guard by how quickly she went from looking like she was about to stab me to smiling warmly and mentioning dad. I was going to have to be careful around her.
Suddenly, Lincoln grunted and his face twisted in pain. The blond woman went to grab him, but he shook her off.
“I’m fine. Just moved my weight wrong.”
“It’s okay if you want to stop.”