Second Chance Stepbrother

By: Penny Wylder


“Well, sometimes you have to be practical too. You can’t always have what you want.”

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” he quips. His gaze rakes over me as he says it, and my body clenches reflexively at the glance.

He is definitely flirting.

Isn’t he?

Before I can reply, he walks ahead of me, toward the store in the distance. I trail after him, heart in my throat.

Mr. Johnson still works here, apparently. We’re barely inside the door when he greets us both by name, grinning. “Look how grown up you two are now. Never thought I’d see the pair of you again.” He glances back and forth between us, a knowing glint in his eye. “Here alone this year, or with family again?”

My cheeks flush.

“Here together,” Josh answers. He nudges my shoulder as he does. “With family too.”

“Oh wonderful. I love reunion     stories. What can I get for you today?”

“I need some wood,” I speak up.

Josh at least waits until Mr. Johnson ducks behind the counter to fetch it before he leans over and whispers in my ear. “That’s what she said.”

I elbow him again. He shoves back, gently, just enough to push me off-balance. When I catch myself, I find I’m leaning against him. He stays there, shoulder against mine, warmth flooding between us.

When Mr. Johnson returns, I jump again, away from Josh, suddenly pulled back into reality. We can’t be doing this, flirting, touching, as if nothing’s changed.

Josh insists on paying, so I grab the wood and throw it over my shoulder.

“Let me carry that,” he protests, but I ignore him and wave goodbye to Mr. Johnson, already halfway out the door of the store.

“Possessive of your wood?” Josh asks with a smirk, trailing after me.

“I did say I needed it,” I shoot back with a grin.

“You know, it’s generally more enjoyable when you share it.”

“What, wood or burdens?”

He laughs. “Both, actually.”

I roll my eyes, but this time when he reaches for the stack of wood, I let him take some of it. Not the whole thing because I still have some pride to retain. But it is pretty heavy, now that I’m actually hiking up this dark gravely road with it all in my arms.

That, and a few of the cabin owners seem to have gone to bed, shutting off their porch lights on the way. It’s darker than ever now, and we toe our way through the dark, as I shift the wood back and forth between my arms.

“Seriously, just let me carry it.”

“No faith in my strength, huh?”

“Me? You’re the one who doesn’t trust my manly ability to haul a lot of wood.”

“That sounds like something she said too,” I point out, grinning.

“Really? I would think she’d say something more like, ‘You can haul my wood anytime, baby.’”

“Wow, she’s cheesy.”

“Hey, you said it, not me.” He elbows me again. This time, though, I’m not expecting it. The wood clatters to the ground, out of my arms, and I curse under my breath. As I lean down to try and pick it up in the dark, I trip, and only Josh dropping his own pile of wood to catch me saves me from going sprawling across the dirt road.

“What was that about not trusting you?” he asks, his breath hot against my cheek, mouth so close to my ear I’d swear I can almost feel his lips graze my skin.

I laugh a little, breathless. Less from the fall and more from his proximity, the heat between us. The air grows thick with tension again, but not the awkward kind this time. It feels like the whole world is holding its breath, waiting for us to make a move.

I twist out of his grip. “I wouldn’t have dropped it if you didn’t bump me,” I mutter.

“Then it’s my fault.” He shifts his grip on my shoulder. Lets his hand slide down my shoulder, his fingertips tracing my bicep, my elbow, my forearm, all the way down to my wrist. “Let me make it up to you.”

I turn toward him, unable to help myself. I’m as powerless to resist that touch as a flower turning its face to the sun. But I force myself to stop there, just watch him in the near-darkness, only his eyes visible, little points of light gray-blue in the night.

He lets me go and starts to hand me the wood pieces. I try to catch my breath, now that we’re far enough apart that oxygen can reach my lungs again.

“Proving you trust me again?” I ask as he hands me the last of the wood, so I’m carrying it all again.

“Something like that.” He grins.

Then, without warning, he scoops me up. Catches the back of my knees with one arm and tilts me back with the other. Before I can orient myself, I lose touch with gravity, and he’s got me cradled against his chest, the wood still cradled in my arms.

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