Just one more precious weekend, and I'd be back sitting in a lecture hall. It would be awesome to see all my school friends again. And I'd been looking forward to taking that senior capstone class in fashion journalism since I signed up last spring. Hopefully my hair-and-makeup elective wouldn't take too much time away from it; only one professor taught it during fall semester, and she was infamously tough. If I really had to, I could probably cut corners in Market Analysis. Not like I was going into the business side of the fashion industry anyway. I giggled to myself as I set up my jewelry tree—I could definitely coast through American Sartorial History. I'd been obsessed with vintage styles since the day I discovered high fashion.
Sometimes it was still hard to believe that I was going to graduate in just a few short months. At least I would be if I didn’t let myself get distracted by a certain roommate—who apparently couldn’t keep his dick in his pants—while I was trying to study. I frowned as that woman crossed my mind again—Pat or Penny or whatever? No, her name was Pam. I'd been surprised when Nixon leaped to her defense like that. Who would've thought that such a player actually saw his conquests as human beings?
But that little scrap of chivalry didn't make him any less of a tool. I wasn't asking for anything unreasonable here. I had a right to feel comfortable in my own damn apartment, and that wouldn't happen with random naked women filing in and out all the time. Maybe pulling the “tattle to Mommy” card had been a bit much, though? I quickly rejected the notion—he'd pushed me into it. If he didn't want to talk about boundaries like a reasonable adult, then I just had to sink to his level. A man-child like Nixon would never take me seriously if I didn't give him an ultimatum.
Why was I even letting him cross my mind again? I shouldn't care at all.
Still … now that our first disagreement had ended with yelling and slamming the door in my roommate's face, I couldn't help second-guessing myself. If push came to shove, I could definitely count on Cynthia's help, and I was sure that Emma would back me up, too. She might even be able to persuade Ford to take my side. But at the end of the day, I had four classes left to ace and nowhere else I could afford to live. So something had to give. And I wasn't sure what yet … or who.
It's not like he's your real brother, my hormones helpfully suggested. He's not even your stepbrother. His dad is married to your former stepmom, which makes him Emma’s stepbrother, not yours. What the hell do you even call that, your stepbrother once removed? How could it be wrong if there's not even a word for how you're related? But I firmly told myself that this was a no-go. I didn't think of Emma as an ex-stepsister, or even a stepsister at all—just a sister. The only one I'd ever had. And after Mom died, Cynthia had treated me like her own daughter. So if my unofficial mother married a new husband, that guy's sons were my stepbrothers. Except my hormones weren’t getting the hands off memo, and I wanted to scream.
Instead, I stretched, squeaking as my back popped. I'd been unpacking for over an hour. But there was still a good chunk of daylight left, and God knew I needed to get out of here and clear my head. Maybe that little beach I'd seen on my way over here was still open? I could dip my toes in the lapping water, let the sun warm and loosen my sore muscles. Try to get back into the positive groove I'd been rocking before that caveman had stolen all my zen. Yeah, that sounds like just what I need … and I know exactly what to wear.
I dove back into the closet for my favorite swimsuit: a poppy-red bikini with tiny white polka dots, composed of a halter top and a high-cut bottom. I'd nabbed it years ago at a thrift store specializing in retro pieces. I changed out of my now-wrinkled jumpsuit and into the bikini, checking it out in the mirror for a moment. Look at that, I told myself sternly. You're Marilyn Monroe. You are cute as hell. You can handle anything.
After I found my white fluffy towel and the crappy thriller I'd started reading at Heathrow Airport, I was ready to go.
Out there. Where Nixon was. Jesus, get a grip. I forced myself to suck it up and strut into the living room like I owned the place.
Hearing my footsteps, he turned around where he was sitting on the couch. “Hey, you—”
He cut himself off, and I froze. I could feel his eyes tracing every curve. Hell, I could practically read the dirty thoughts running through his mind. My skin prickled like he was right next to me, even though I was still in the hallway.
But all he said was, “Don't stay out too late. Dinner will be on the table at seven, whether you're here or not.”
No crude comment? No interrogation? And he was going to cook? Was this an alternate universe? “Oh. Uh … ” I started. Suddenly, though, I didn't care enough to question it. If he wanted to pull his head out of his ass and cook me a free dinner, then hooray for both of us. “Okay. Thanks.”