Stepbrother BillionaireBy: Colleen Masters
“I thought you said this was going to be a small gathering,” I shout, raising my voice above the blaring music. I can feel the pounding bass line vibrating through my body as I hesitate at the edge of the gigantic house party.
“Did I say that?” my best friend, Riley, grins back. “I meant to say that this was going to be an ‘epic rager unlike anything you’ve ever seen’.”
I roll my eyes at her as we’re swallowed up by the teeming crowd of our classmates. I should have known better than to think that Riley would spend her Saturday night anywhere but at a legendary party. She and I have been best friends for all seventeen years we’ve been on the planet. But even so, our ideas of what makes a “good time” are starkly different. If I had any sense at all, I would never have let her drag me to this party. I’d much rather be curled up at home with my sketch pad and a cup of tea. But seeing that the damage is done, I suppose there’s nothing to do but try and have a good time.
“Here you go ladies,” a burly junior boy says, sidling up to us with a red plastic cup in either hand. “First drink’s on me.”
“Warm beer, now with extra roofies?” Riley says, cocking a perfect eyebrow at him.
“We’re all set, Champ,” I tell the boy, producing a flask full of my dad’s very fine whiskey from my purse. It’s not like he’s using it much, these days. “Better luck next time.”
“What a couple of buzz kills,” the kid grumbles, sulking away.
“Great party so far Ri,” I laugh sarcastically, unscrewing the top of the flask.
“Just remember, Abby—in less than a year, we’ll never have to deal with high school boys again,” she points out, accepting the flask as I pass it her way.
“I can’t wait,” I say wistfully, “I know you’re not supposed to wish away your youth or whatever, but the sooner high school can be over with, the better.”
“What? You’re not enjoying your glory days?” Riley asks with mock astonishment, gesturing toward our fellow partygoers.
I look around at the party unfolding all around us. Some rich kid’s parents are out of town, and the entire school has descended on their McMansion to spend the night getting wasted, listening to someone’s crappy iPod playlist, and making questionable choices about who to sleep with. I nearly step on two people going at it right in the foyer, writhing all over each other in a drunken tizzy. With a wild yell, some kid tries to swing on the crystal chandelier, only to miss and fall flat on his face to onlookers’ uproarious laughter.
“If these are our glory days,” I say to Riley, “We’re in serious trouble.”
“Come on,” she laughs, slipping her fingers through mine, “I’m sure we can find a quieter corner somewhere. There must be, like, a hundred rooms in this place.”
I let Riley tug me off through the party, ignoring the tipsy dudes who make lesbian jokes about us along the way. As gorgeous as my best friend is, with her silky black curls, tanned skin, and amazing curves, I’ve never been the least bit interested in “experimenting” with her. We’ve only ever loved each other as sisters. But the fact that I’ve never had a real boyfriend leads some people in my school to question whether I’m into guys at all. The short answer is, I’m plenty into guys. But finding one that’s worth the time of day at my Connecticut high school has proven to be impossible.
Well...just about impossible, anyway.
The party is just a forest of legs and torsos from my vantage point. At five foot three, I’m what you might call “vertically challenged”. Being petite is great for hide-and-seek, but not so great for feeling like anything close to an adult. Or being treated like one. But in a couple weeks’ time, the world will have no choice but to acknowledge my adulthood—at long last, I’ll finally be turning eighteen. The only question that remains is how quickly I can get out of town and be on my own once I’m officially a grown-up. As Riley and I climb the sweeping staircase and sidle into the master bedroom suite, we pass a passed out classmate who’s had his face graffitied with permanent marker penises.
Yep. Adulthood can’t come soon enough.
We poke our heads into the master bedroom, and I note with relief that it’s far quieter in this corner of the house. Maybe we can just hang out here and ride out this shit show in peace.
“Uh-oh,” Riley mutters, glancing down at me with a wicked glint in her eye. “Look who’s here, Abby.”
I peer around my best friend, scanning the dozen or so people already hanging out in the master bedroom. It only takes half a second for me to see who it is she’s talking about. My solar plexus rocks on its axis as a very familiar set of blue eyes turns my way from across the room.
“Shit!” I squeak, ducking back around Riley’s taller form. “I didn’t know he was going to be here!”
“The entire school is here, Abby,” Riley laughs, “You could have guessed.”
“He’s supposed to be too cool for this sort of thing. Or whatever,” I say, rolling my hazel eyes. “Come on. I don’t think he saw me. Let’s just go—”
“Hey, Sis!” a rough baritone calls from across the room. “What are you doing here? Isn’t it past your bedtime?”
I groan as a volley of chuckles goes up around the room, and turn to see Emerson Sawyer, my blue-eyed nightmare, striding toward me. He’s easily six feet tall, with broad shoulders, a tapered torso, and effortlessly defined muscles. His mop of shaggy, chestnut brown hair is artfully tousled, a stray lock swooping across his forehead. He’s making jeans and a crimson tee shirt look as good as a three piece suit, and has a lit cigarette cradled in his full, firm lips.
Naturally, my personal nightmare looks like an absolute dream come true.
“Don’t call me that in public. Or ever,” I tell him, crossing my arms to hide the fact that my heart is slamming against my ribcage at his approach.
“Why not, Sis?” he grins rakishly, taking a long drag of his smoke.
“Because it’s creepy as hell,” I reply, exasperated, tucking my long, ash blonde hair behind my ears. “And it’s not even true.”
“Sure it is. For all intents and purposes,” he shrugs.
I’ve known Emerson Sawyer for nearly four years, now. Or, rather, I’ve known of him for four years. Our Connecticut town has two elementary schools that feed into the same high school. Emerson and I attended separate grade schools, which were pretty starkly divided between the richer and poorer families in town, but ended up at the same high school together. I noticed him the very first day of freshman year, when he mouthed off to our sex ed teacher for taking a hard line in favor of abstinence (the most characteristically Emerson thing ever). He, on the other hand, had no idea I existed. Until this year, that is, when both of our lives—personal and social—got turned upside down.
“What’s the matter? You ashamed to have a brother from the wrong side of the tracks?” Emerson presses, jostling me out of my thoughts.
“Don’t put that on me,” I snap back, “As if you can stand having a prissy rich girl for a would-be-sister.”
“You are kind of a bummer,” he says flatly, “But if it makes you feel any better, it’s your personality I hold against you, not your money.”
I stare wordlessly at Emerson, knocked into sullen silence once again by his masterful putdown. By now, but Emerson has figured out exactly how to get to me.
About two months ago, I got the shock of my life when my widower father, Robert Rowan, announced that, after four years of refusing to date, he had just met the new love of his life. Her name was Deborah, he told me. They’d met at AA and “really hit it off”. He talked about her incessantly, stayed out all night like he was a teenager again, and generally weirded the hell out of me.
After just two weeks, Dad told me that he was in love, and wanted to introduce this Deborah to me as soon as possible. I begrudgingly agreed to be around for dinner the following night to meet his mystery woman. We lost my mother Sandy to a terrible car accident just before I started high school, so the idea of a new woman in my father’s life was a little hard to swallow. Still, I did my best to put on a happy face and be as supportive as possible. I’ve never been very good at saying “no” or standing up to my dad, so it’s not like I had much of a choice.
As our doorbell rang the next night, signaling Deborah’s grand entrance into our family’s life, my dad asked me to answer the door. It wasn’t until I was en route that he mentioned Deborah’s son would also be joining us for dinner. When I swung open the door to welcome our guest and her plus one, I’m surprised that my jaw didn’t crack from hitting the floor so hard. There, standing on my doorstep, was Emerson Sawyer. And I could tell from the blank, disinterested look in his eye that he had no idea who I was.
“What’s this?” Emerson interrupts my thoughts, grinning as he snatches the metallic flask out of my back pocket. A trail of sensation sears along the skin just above my belt as his fingers brush against my bare flesh. Goosebumps spring up where his fingertips glanced against my body. It’s like my every cell is hard-wired to respond to him. I need to give each and every one of those cells a stern talking-to.