Gas or Ass ~ Opening Chapters

Gas or Ass
Eden Connor

Raw, gritty and profound are three words that come to mind when describing Gas or Ass. My heart broke, my mind reeled. I was angry and then astonished. Awed with the way the story unfolded and with the way it just flowed off of the pages, I couldn’t put it down. ~ Kitty, Guilty Pleasures 
This book in one intense ride. The characters are well crafted, and the writing sucks you so deeply into a world with which so many of us have never come into contact that you start to feel that you have experienced it all yourself. While I felt throughout the story that Shelby was being misguided in her decisions, I couldn't help but take her passionate yet emotionally draining journey with her. Though the revelations and the behavior described in the end were horrifying to read, I was upset that the book came to an end. Now if Turn and Burn will hurry and get here, I can be happy.
~Catrina, Amazon customer review

This book was not put down until I'd finished it, I was so lost in the story. The characters, the scenes, everything was so lifelike it felt like I was transported back in time. It reached inside down deep and still has not let me up for air.
I am sitting on the edge of my seat in anticipation of the next book in this series.
~Rebbe, Amazon customer review

The odometer on my sex life was stuck at zero the day my mother came home with a husband I’d never met. Dale brought his two grown sons to help us pack and move into their home. Both were hard-bodied and handsome, but Caine didn’t speak to me. Colt, on the other hand, said crude stuff like, “Wanna ride with me? Then I’m gonna need gas or ass,” but I couldn’t take my eyes off his rippling muscles and challenging blue eyes.
When Colt offered me a ride to school, I thought the ‘gas or ass’ thing was a joke, but he wasn’t kidding. Though he barely touched me, he shattered the innocence I couldn’t wait to shed, and even then, I sensed I’d never be the same.
He and Caine soon upped the stakes, putting me behind the wheel of cars that could reach insane speeds. They kept challenging me to find my inner wild child, pairing illegal drag races with high-octane sex games. It wasn’t long before I was hooked, but I always planned to walk away.
Then everything spun out of control and walking wasn’t an option.
I had to run.

**Disclaimer: This is a tale of a young girl’s crush that turns to hatred and back to love. Gas and Ass is the crush-to-hate part of the story. There’s no HEA inside these pages, so if that’s a must, this isn’t the story for you. If you can delay gratification, however, the hatred-to-love part is the basis of the sequel, Turn and Burn.

Chapter One

I re-read the college application with a sigh. Eyeing the clock, I set the laptop aside and jumped off the couch, leaving the browser window open. Stalking to the front door, I jerked it open and peered outside. A car I’d never seen pulled into a parking space in front of our apartment building.

“Dammit, Mom,” I grumbled, dismissing the unfamiliar vehicle. Turning to scan the street again, I prayed I’d see our faded gold Kia. No luck there, but a glimpse of auburn hair drew my attention to the strange car at the foot of the stairs again.


My mother opened the door and jumped out, waving me down the stairs with an excited squeal. “Come see the new car!”

Relief swept through me. A new car meant no more anxious moments after work, jiggling the ignition and praying the ten-year-old vehicle would start.

“What kind is it?” Wed been hoping to trade for a newer model Kia. This was definitely no Kia.

Volkswagen Passat.

The luxurious interior smelled so good, my head swam when I slid behind the wheel. Wed never had leather seats before, but the flashy two-tone gray seemed out of character for her.

“Whyre there two brake pedals?” I caressed the top of the leather-wrapped steering wheel, eyeing accessories wed never been able to afford. The interior looked better than any used car we’d ever had. I didn’t see a cigarette burn. No stains on the carpet floor mats. Not a single scratch marred the plastic parts.

She laughed. “Its a manual transmission, Shelby. That’s a clutch, not a brake pedal.

I blinked and turned to peer at her. “But… I don’t know how to drive a stick.”

“Dale will teach you.” Her smug smile made me want to slap her.

Anger shut off my breath. Some kids have mothers who drink or who eat Valium like candy. My mother got off on staring into the eyes of a beautiful liar and thinking shed be the one to tame his wild ways. Bad boys were her drug of choice. This latest one was no different from the rest, I was sure. I hadn’t met him yet, but theyd taken off for parts unknown two weekends in a row. Every time she brought him up, I changed the topic. Hed last the same six months as all the rest before shed OD on all the broken promises and ‘loans till paydaythat never got repaid. Why bother?

I glared at the extra pedal in the floorboard. Did the asshole sell Volkswagen's? Why else would she buy a damn car I couldnt drive? Jerking around to peer into the back seat, my heart nearly stopped when I caught sight of the sticker affixed to the side window. Even reading through the translucent paper, I had no trouble making out the hefty sticker price. Who was this guy? Why had she let him talk her into something shed regret?

How was she going to help me with college expenses if she’d gone over the amount we’d budgeted for a car payment?

“Well, saying your boyfriend will teach me to drive a stick doesn’t help get me to work on time, does it?” I spun to fix her with an accusing look. “And how can you afford a forty thousand dollar car?”

Tears gleamed in her eyes, but I couldn’t generate much sympathy. She could be so impulsive. Since my grandmothers death, eight months ago, Id lost my only ally in forcing my mother to be a responsible adult.

When she had no response, I reminded myself I didn’t have time for this. “I need your debit card, please. Seventy-five dollars. Pay you back tomorrow. The deadline to apply to UNC-Wilmington is midnight tonight.

While we traded glares, a huge black truck pulled into the space on my right. A tall man in a baseball cap got out of the vehicle and walked up to Mom. He slid an arm around her waist and kissed her flushed cheek. She beamed. “Shelby, this is Dale Hannah. Dale, this is my daughter, Shelby.”

So not the time to show off a new boyfriend. I got out of the car and slammed the door. “Hello. Nice to meet you, Dale.” I gave the stranger a polite smile. “Sorry to run, but Ill be late to work if I dont leave in three minutes. And it looks like someone needs to drive me,” I gritted through clenched teeth.

Dismissing him, I focused on my mother. “Did you hear me? If I dont get that college application in today, Ill miss the deadline. I can give it back to you after two a.m., when my paycheck hits my account.”

“You need money for a college fee?” The man reached for the back pocket of his jeans.
Unease trickled down my spine when he pulled a credit card out of his wallet and extended the shiny plastic rectangle in my direction. “Here, use this.”

I cut Mom another look. Why was she just standing there like a dolt? I made the protest on her behalf. “Uh, thanks, but we have it handled.”

The man cocked a brow and half-turned to her. She cleared her throat. “First things first. Lets go inside.”

I dashed ahead, racing up the stars to grab my purse. Just hold it together and get out of here. Dont say something Ill regret later. Maybe I can talk her into returning the damn car tomorrow.

When I was halfway down the stairs, she raised her eyes to mine and pointed to the new chaise wed splurged on with the income tax refund. “Sit down, Shelby. I have something to tell you.”

Dread turned my feet to cement blocks. Heart hammering, I made it downstairs and perched on the side of the chair. Her eyes had that tense look that meant bad news. Had she lost her job? Buying a new car, only to be fired a few hours later, was what passed for luck in our family.

She extended her left hand. A square-cut diamond glinted from her left finger. I stared at the wide band behind it. “Dale and I got married today.”

A joke? Lifting my eyes from the ring, I took my first good look at the man. His hair was neatly trimmed around his ears, but when he whipped off the baseball cap, a thick ebony wave fell over his brow. Not a speck of gray showed around his temples. Friendly blue eyes met my scrutiny. His tanned face suggested he worked outdoors. A five oclock shadow shaded a square chin with a cleft in the center. His build suggested a background in athletics. Just her type.

He was attractive in a throwback, Elvis sort of way, minus the sneer. His polo shirt had a logo embroidered on the left chest. A rippling pair of black-and-white checkered flags crossed under gold letters. I had to squint to read the words. Ridenhour Race Team. He settled the matching cap back on his head.

The trickle of unease swelled to a river. I looked back to my mother. “But—”

“Macy, let me.” He squeezed Moms hand. A matching band glinted from his third finger.

She tipped her face to his. The trademark ‘helplesssmile she only used around men made me want to hurl. “Please.”

He turned the full force of those eyes on me. The pleading look only put me more on guard. “Shelby, the minute I stopped to help a stranded motorist and laid eyes on your mama, I knew she was the woman Id been waitinfor all my life.”

“And this revelation happened… when?” I couldn’t help my tart tone.

“Four weeks ago today.”

Even Macy Roberts, hopeless romantic and single mother, wouldn’t marry a guy shed only known a month. Not after all the times shed been burned. I burst out laughing and got to my feet.

“Good one, Mom. You really had me going for a minute. Seriously, I gotta go. Cant be late again or Samll fire me. Can you just enter the card number on that application and hit ‘send after you drive me to work? You guys can laugh after Im gone.

I hustled to the door and yanked it open, only to come to a complete halt. Four long, interlocked legs criss-crossed the small stoop. Two legs were clad in faded denim, complete with ripped-out knees. Gray sweats clung to the other set. I drew up short and looked from one side of the porch to the other. A mannequin leaned on each railing—male, but too good-looking to be anything but life-sized plaster figurines.

The one on my left was the spitting image of the man on the couch, except the eyes that raked me were black. The tips of the others close-cropped hair glowed nearly white in the fading sunlight, but he appraised me with blue eyes identical to Dales. Same dimple in his chin.

“Gotta love a redhead. You Shelby?” the blond demanded.

My mouth went dry and my ovaries shouted, Holy hotness! Pewter hair dusted his pecs and trailed his centerline, disappearing underneath the elastic waistband of his baggy sweatpants—sweatpants that barely clung to slim hips. I couldn’t take my eyes off the ropes of muscle outlining his hipbones. Is he wearing an athletic cup? He had the look of a football player. God, how I hate jocks.

He shoved his fingers into the waistband. Is he touching himself?

I jerked my eyes to his face, cursing my pale complexion. He smirked when heat swept my cheeks. “Y-yes.”

“Hey, girl. Im Colt.” He tipped his head toward the silent one. “Thats Caine. Guess were all movinin together.” His lips twisted in amusement.

A heavy sigh dragged my attention to the dark-haired brother. His red T-shirt had been cropped in a ragged line just below the arms, but the front bore a large version of the racing logo his father wore. Or the top half of it, anyway. He lifted his shoulders and raked his palm up and down… was that four pairs of lovely bulges? “Parents. Whatcha gondo?”

Either Mom had dragged a pair exotic dancers along as props for her joke, or—

“We used to beg Dad for a little sister.” When I jerked my gaze toward Colt to see if he was being sarcastic, he grinned and dragged a thumbnail down a jaw gleaming with golden scruff. “Thats been so long ago, I reckon he forgot the ‘littlepart.”

I dragged the edges of my sweater across my chest, hoping to hide the way my nipples beaded. And how small my breasts were.

Caine interlaced his fingers and stretched his arms, cracking his knuckles. His act dragged my attention to the dark happy trail and eight-pack—yes, thats definitely an eight-pack. “They ready for us to get the boxes out of the trailer? Were burning daylight.”

He gestured toward yet another matching pickup idling behind the cars parked in front of our building. A long black trailer hitched to the rear bumper blocked the neighbor’s vehicles.

Mom had lost her mind if she thought she could spring this bogus marriage shit on me and move us out of our place all in the same day. “And where do you think we’re going?”

Concord.” He named a small city about an hour away from our home on the south side of Charlotte. “But not in the city limits. Id say its….”—he tipped his head and frowned, like he was thinking, and that took effort—“’bout, fifteen minutes past the racetrack.”

I spun. “Mom? You cant be serious! I dont have time to deal with this right now. Im going to be late for work!”

Dale cleared his throat. “As I was sayin, Shelby. I asked your mama last weekend, what in the hell are we waitinfor? So, we went to the courthouse and got married today. Every man in my house works hard, so you and your mama wont have to.” I searched his face, but saw no sign of deception. As if he read the doubt in my eyes, he added, “Im serious about payinfor that application, Shelby. This one and any other you need to send. Itll be a real honor to have a college graduate in the family.”

Every man in my house? What does that mean?

“Can I speak to you in the kitchen?” I glared at my mother.

She fixed me with a pleading look, but I stalked out of the room. Halting in front of the refrigerator, I stared at the notice pinned to the front. Our lease was up and the new management company was raising the rent by a hundred dollars a month.

Surely, she hadnt married this guy for a place to live and a new car? Yes, the extra money every month would be a struggle, but she was using a sledgehammer to kill a gnat.

She came around the corner and I stabbed the paper. “When I said you could get a roommate, I was kidding!” Our biggest disagreement had been where I was to attend college. She wanted me to go to UNC-Charlotte and live at home. I wanted to go to anywhere else. Wasnt the best part of college living on campus?
She shook her head and grabbed my hand. “Shelby, I know youre upset. I shouldve prepared you. I asked him if we could all get together for dinner. Thats when he popped the question. Hes my dream man. We both raised our kids with no help from anyone. Wed both given up on dating. And then we found each other, and after Dale said ‘why wait, he had the ring in his pocket and… youll go off to college and—” She burst into tears.

The words shed omitted hung in the air. Youll go off to collegeand Ill be alone.

“Honey, moving into Dales house only affects you for a few months. Shelby, the old car died today. And Dale just took it right in stride. He told me to quit my job, and then we got married, and on the way back from the courthouse, he bought me that car.”

Something was off. Way off. Like, why hadnt she asked me to be a witness at her wedding? Why marry this man before she introduced us?

“Mom, hes….” Too good to be true. She had horrible taste in men. The more likely they were to break her heart, the more irresistible she found them.

She grabbed a paper towel and dabbed her eyes. “I know what youre thinking. Hes not that guy, Shelby. Hes not like—”

“The competition skateboarder who knocked you up and then couldn’t leave the state fast enough after you told him about me?” I dropped my voice to a harsh whisper. “Or Neil, the sky diving instructor? Youre telling me hes not like the air marshal, or the SWAT dude? This ones into stock car racing, huh? How does that not fit the profile? Hes got ‘bad boywritten all over him, Mom.” Not to mention his two mini-me’s you think Im supposed to live with.

After she used the C-word—commitment—and these guys moved on to greener pastures, shed cry in my arms and swear off bad boys forever. “Forever” had been about three years this time. Shed been on the wagon for so long, Id let my guard down.

Her nails bit into my arm. “This one married me, Shelby. I love him. He loves me. Were moving in with them. And thats all there is to it.”

“Them?” I narrowed my eyes.

“Dales sons live at home.”
“Those two Chippendale dancers on the front porch?” I hissed. “You want me to move in with them?”

Her troubled expression cleared. “Oh, Shelby, theyre the nicest young men.”

Could she be more clueless? Unless Dales house rivaled the Biltmore House in size, not looking at them in a most unsisterly way was going to require poking my eyes out.

“You girls all right?” Dale stepped into the kitchen. “Can the boys start hauling stuff to the trailer, Macy?” He moved closer and his expression became troubled. “Shelby, I know its a lot to put on you. Just give us a chance, sweetheart. Itll be an adjustment for everybody, but Caine already cleared out his room so you can have a bigger closet.”

I blinked and whirled on Mom. “So they knew this was coming, but I didn’t?”

“Shelby, honey, you rush out of the house as soon as I bring the car home. We barely have time to say hello. Then you get home after midnight and Im asleep. When was I supposed to tell you?” Her voice rose to a wail.

Dale slipped an arm around her shoulder. “Shh, shh, sweetheart. Dont cry, Macy. Were gonna do something about that. You dont work, as of now, Shelby. So you can call up your boss and tell him you quit. Your mama turned in her resignation today. Yall are gonna have all the time I can give you to spend together before you go off to school this fall. I know Macy wants that moren anything. Its my pleasure to make that happen.”

“Youre driving me back and forth to school,” I hissed, raising the first objection that came to mind. “I am not going to transfer.”

“I got something to say about that, too,” Dale interjected. “Your momma told me what happened last month. I gotta say, if you get suspended again for slappinsome asshole who cant keep his hands to himself, Id go to jail for shootinthe sonofabitch. West Mecklenburgs a rough school and we all know it.”

He raked his hand through his hair. “The local high schools just about in our back yard. No more’n eight hundred students. And whats more, I know the parents of every damn kid there. Nobodys gonna lay a hand on you without him or his daddy—or both—answerinto me. So, yes, you will transfer.” His eyes blazed and the set to his jaw dared me to contradict his edict. “I know you dont participate in after school stuff, and not just because of your job. You dont feel safe there, Shelby. Admit it.”

There were more than eight hundred in my senior class. Most days, I was terrified at school. I didn’t even use the restroom at school if I could help it, but I’d have bitten my tongue off rather than admit that to this man.

“Listen, Ive raised a couple of teenagers. Dont dig in your heels just to do it, okay? And if youll work with me on this, on putting’ your mama’s mind at rest about you beinsafe, Ill see if I cant help you talk her into lettinyou go away to college come fall. Deal?” He stuck out his hand.

Had she persuaded Dale to bring Hot Thing One and Hot Thing Two along because she knew I’d hesitate to show my ass in front of two guys my own age? When I got her alone—

The weirdest part was that she’d always leaped small buildings to stop me from hanging out with guys who had chest hair and had to shave every day. “They’ll ask for too much, Shelby.”

And now, she was asking me to just walk off into the sunset with some ready-made family. Were those two clowns on the porch supposed to be the bait?

I could hardly wait for this to go wrong. How long could that take? Two months? Three at most?

I stared at their interlocked hands and bit back the objections sizzling on my tongue. “I cant believe this is happening.” I shoved past them, stalked across the living room, and stuck my head out the front door. Neither half-naked stepbrother was visible. “Looks like I need boxes,” I yelled.

A dirty-blond head popped out of the back of the trailer. “Cominright up, little sister.”

Eying the hard body that sprang out of the trailer with an armload of cardboard, I sensed that safety was an illusion. Nothing about this situation seemed sane or safe.

Chapter Two
Dale and his sons worked like a well-oiled team. In under three hours, with me and Mom packing boxes and them doing the heavy lifting, wed emptied the apartment. I staggered down the stairs, clutching my laptop bag and a lampshade. Colt took the stairs three at a time and made a grab for the bag.

I jerked it out of reach. “I can handle this one.”

“Dont wanna hear it if Dad sees you liftinsomething.” He grinned. “Better treat her like a princess. Those were his words.” He held out his hand and waggled his fingers. “Cmon. Give it up, Shelby.”

He stood two steps below me, so we were eye to eye. His cologne was subtle, not the dime store stench Id have guessed him to wear. Heat raced over my skin. For the first time, I almost understood my mothers pathological attraction to pretty boys. Something flickered in his eyes and he didnt quite stifle his smirk. Was he flirting?

“You do everything your daddy tells you to do?”

“When it suits me.” He wrapped his hand around my wrist, prying one finger at a time off the handle. The firm, gentle grip from such a calloused hand sent shivers down my spine. With a last look into my eyes, he turned and jogged down the stairs, leaping the final four steps and landing with bent knees. He sauntered out the door. Yeah, you think Im looking at your ass, dont you, hot stuff?

“Put that in the car, please.” I scanned the living room. The kitchen was empty, as were both bedrooms and the upstairs bath. Lights flicked out upstairs and Mom appeared on the landing. Pausing with her hand on the light switch, she leaned down to lift her purse off the floor.

“Well, I think thats it. We can talk on the way, honey. You ride with me.”

Who did she think Id ride with? Just the thought of being alone in a vehicle with either of my new stepbrothers made my heart do an out-of-control jig. I rushed down the stairs and stepped outside, just in time to see Caine hoist the trailers fold-down ramp door. I swallowed hard. Though it was fully dark by now, the rigs taillights glowed, throwing his rippling muscles into high relief.

No matter what kind of double-wide trailer I feared Mom was dragging us to, the view was bound to be incredible. A quiet voice whispered in the back of my mind. Wait till the other shoe drops.

Dale leaned against the Volkswagens front fender. He couldn’t take his eyes off Mom as she locked the door and hurried down the sidewalk. I landed in the passenger seat of the new car with a tired sigh. They kissed so long, I rolled my eyes. He opened her door, leaning in to peck her on the cheek after she slid behind the wheel.

“Buckle up. Precious cargo.” He pushed her door lock down and slammed the door.

She jabbed the key into the ignition, but I spied her pleased smile. These two were like… like any newlyweds, I supposed. His grammar wasnt perfect, but he had the chivalry thing down to a science. Before I found the end of my belt, Mom muttered, “What the heck?”

“Whats wrong?”

She wrenched the key. The only sound I heard was the idling truck behind us.

“Did you leave the headlights on?” A dead battery equaled a dead car. That was the extent of my mechanical knowledge.

“They turn off automatically.” A few parking spaces to Moms left, Caine and Colt were getting into the truck Dale had arrived in.

Colt yelled, “Problem, Macy?”

She pressed the button to lower the window. It didn’t respond. “Dammit,” she muttered, slinging her door open again. The dome light didn’t come on. I realized it hadnt lit when I got in, either. Id just been too cross-eyed with lust and anger to notice.

Caine jogged down the sidewalk. Mom explained the problem. “Pop the hood, Macy. Sounds like a loose wire. Colt, bring a flashlight.”

The three males huddled beneath the hood, urging Mom to try the switch a few times. “Fuck it,” Caine said, slamming the hood. “Cant see shit in the dark.”

Colt elbowed his father. “Brand new car dont crank? Id make ‘em take it back and give her another one. I mean, we can fix it, but—why bother? It’s under warranty.”

When Dale muttered his agreement, Colt slammed the hood. To my surprise, the blond came to my door. Opening it, he cocked his arm on the top edge and grinned, hand extended. “Your carriage awaits, princess. But you gotta straddle the gear shift.”

“I can ride in the truck with Mom and Dale,” I protested.

“Cmon.” He grabbed my hand. A jolt of electricity staggered up my arm. “Give the newlyweds a break.”

I waited for Mom to protest, but Dale was murmuring in her ear. She paid me no attention.

Reluctantly, I followed Colt to the truck. Behind us, I heard Dale’s chuckle. A sharp slap made me turn to see his hand gripping her butt. “You know the rule, Macy. Need a ride? That’s gonna cost you. Gas or ass, babe?”

I shuddered when she giggled like a thirteen-year-old. Had he used that line to pick her up? I swung my legs out of the car. Ignoring the outstretched hand, I edged around my new stepbrother. Bet that bare chest isn’t a fashion statement. I hope all his shirts are dirty. Mom despised doing laundry.

Colt and his mile-long legs beat me to the truck, yanking the truck door open with a grin and a pair of raised brows. I climbed into the tall vehicle, very aware of the way his appraising gaze raked my buttocks.

The seating configuration made me pause, bent in an uncomfortable position. Bucket seats bracketed a wide console. Cup holders fronted the console, eating up the space where my feet might go. While I tried to figure out where they meant me to sit, Caine peered down the front of my shirt. When I huffed, he lifted dark, unrepentant eyes to mine and flipped the console up. I eased into the narrow spot. Clutching my laptop case to my chest, I stared out the windshield and blinked back tears. Their shoulders took up most of the room, pushing mine forward. Not touching them was impossible.

Seat belt.” Caine paused with his hand on the keys.

I slid my left hand underneath me, uncaring that I elbowed him in the ribs when I wrestled the buckle from under me. Meanwhile, on my right, Colt slid his hand under my thigh, presumably seeking the other end of the belt.

“I can do it,” I snapped, slinging my bag into his lap. The soft bag had reinforced corners. One corner caught Colt in the groin, to my extreme satisfaction. He let out a loud ‘oof!and jerked forward.
He turned toward me. When he smiled, hot and slow, my brain screamed, Predator! “You wanna play with my nuts, Red? Just ask.”

“Keep your hands to yourself and we wont have a problem,” I snapped.

“Oh, girl, I can tell you right now, if thats how it is, we already have a problem.” He slammed his door. Caine closed his with a snicker. The cab went dark. Trapped with two male animals put me on red alert. This is nuts.

“What happened to all the little sister talk?” I jerked my chin up. “Treat her like a princess, remember?”

“Well, now, look around. Do you see Dad?” My heart hammered like crazy when Colt slid a huge hand around my knee and gave the joint a squeeze. I tried to form the words to tell him to stop, but in the back of my mind, I knew he wouldn’t listen. The man had a wild current about him that was hard to define, but my senses read it easily. His touch both tickled and annoyed, but I stifled the reflex to jerk, mainly because I sensed he wanted to make me jerk.

“Besides, when he told us about you, he didn’t say youd be hot.” He traced the inner seam of my jeans, moving boldly up my thigh. “And who says I wont treat you like a princess?”

My nipples hardened. I honestly turned wet from the casual, yet possessive touch. The sensation had never happened to me before. I was being practically molested without my consent—in front of an audience—and my body was in favor of the idea. I knew what I felt was arousal, but I’d never felt anything so strong and I had no idea how to handle the sensation. But a dawning horror invaded my mind. I had to live with these two. As brothers.

Under my mothers watchful eye. I didn’t know if that last part was a good thing, or a bad one. Just as fast, I thought, Whatever. It’d serve her right. How can she do this to me?

“So unfucking fair.” I blinked when Colt voiced my next thought. His hand continued its upward path until his thumb rested at the junction of my thigh. His fingers were tantalizingly close to my sex, but he didn’t take that last inch. My heartbeat moved to a spot between my thighs. The beat was so strong, I wondered if he could hear it—or feel it. “Cainell tell you. Whats my one weakness, brother?”

“Redheads.” Caine jerked the transmission into reverse and spun out of the parking space. When he shifted into drive, he lifted his arm and slid it behind my back. I didn’t see anywhere else for him to put it, except on my other thigh, so I bit the inside of my cheek.

Like father, like son, I guess. Ignore him. Them.

Easier said than done when my body was doing the Macarena.

I cleared my throat. “So, do yall go to this high school Dales making me transfer to?”

“Graduated,” they chorused. “Two years ago. Well, goinon three now, I guess.” Colt added.

“Both of you?” The heat from Colt’s hand seeped through my jeans and Caine’s arm generated so much warmth on the back of my neck, I began to sweat. When we passed the rig, Caine raised a finger to wave to Dale, who still had to jockey the trailer out of the narrow lane between the apartment buildings. My mothers face went by in a blur. I felt like I’d tumbled into the tiger cage at the zoo, and all Mom did was smile and wave as Caine raced out of the apartment complex and into the dark night.

“Yep. Both of us.” Colt gave my thigh a gentle squeeze. I ached to squeeze my thighs together, but figured he’d know why, so I didn’t.

“Twins?” I forced the breathless question past dry lips. “Or one of you failed a grade?”

Caine laughed, but Colt answered. “Nope. Wrong on both counts. We were born five months apart.”

My brain refused to work out the solution. “H-how is that possible?”

“Different mothers. Duh.” He punctuated the answer with another squeeze. Okay, now, if he moved his hand, he might hit a wet spot. How humiliating would that be?

Id pegged Dale for a bad boy, but knocking up two women five months apart? “Lovely.”

“Macy dont need to worry. Caines mama left town as soon as she got out of the hospital and threw him out on Dads doorstep. Mine didnt want me in her way, so she handed me off to Dad. She lives in town, but I doubt hed spit on her if she was on fire. She got knocked up again when I was about three.” Anger lurked beneath his casual tone.

I couldnt believe my mother knew any of this. And at the same time, I could almost hear her excusing it by saying it happened two decades ago.

People change.

People like me, the angry touch-me-not whod been suspended from school for five days for slapping a guy whod done a lot less than Colt was doing now? My unsettled feeling grew. In that moment, I was as much a stranger to myself as they were to me.

“I guess you guys are upset about this sudden marriage, too?”

“Nah. I mean, unless your moms a head case?”

At the moment, that was too close to call. “No. But this is pretty sudden.”

“I guess it might seem so. But we know Dad. Its in his blood.” Colt gave my thigh another squeeze. Despite the darkness, the dials on the dash revealed his intent stare. “A Hannah man sees something he wants, he dont stop till it belongs to him.”

My heart raced and it took Colt a long time to turn away.

“You guys seem… I guess you’re used to moving new stepmothers into your place in the middle of the night?”

Colt sighed. “Nope. This is a first. Just gonna roll with it. I figure Macy’s cookin’s gotta beat Caine’s.” He turned to stare at my profile again. “Every man needs a woman.”

My body sang the answering phrase. My eyes had adjusted, letting me see that he turned and smiled, like his body heard mine.

Chapter Three
When we reached the interstate, Colt withdrew his hand, but propped his forearm on my knee. Since there didnt seem to be anywhere else for him to put it, I refrained from comment, but suppressed a sigh of relief. “So, what’s Ridenhour Racing?

“Only the hottest race team in NASCAR at the moment.”

NASCAR? I bit my lip. My mother had outdone herself this time. I associated NASCAR with tobacco-chewing rednecks who dropped out of school in the eighth grade. I sure as hell couldnt see how anyone thought driving around in a circle for five hundred miles qualified as a sport. I shifted my worries to what kind of living quarters she was dragging me to, but asking seemed rude when I could just wait and see.

Instead, I turned to Colts earlier words. Who says I wont treat you like a princess? He acted like our getting… involved… was a foregone conclusion. I wanted to laugh that off. He reeked of bad boy, but I had to admit, I found him attractive. They were both attractive, but I supposed Colt had my attention because he was more talkative.

The cab was redolent with testosterone, ‘new carair freshener, and cologne. I thought I smelled tobacco, but neither lit up. Or dipped, or chewed, or whatever that nasty habit was called.

So far.

So, do yall work for your dad?”

Caines snicker puzzled me, but Colt snapped. “Hell, no. Caine works at a custom shop in town. I drive a forklift at the cigarette plant.” I supposed he meant the Phillip Morris plant thatd sent a recruiter to my high school career day. I hadnt bothered with the table, so had no comment. I didnt know what a custom shop might be. Fearing the answer might be long and boring, I didn’t ask.

Trying to break the spell Colt seemed to have over me, I turned to Caine. “Im sorry you had to give up your room. We can swap back, if you like. I wont be there long enough for it to matter. Really.”

I felt the gesture when he lifted his shoulder, since his arm rested on my shoulders. “Nah.”

Colt laughed. “After totinall those bags stuffed with your clothes, seems like a good idea now. Ain’t that right, Caine?” Colt’s fingers dangled off the front of my knee. He gripped my jeans and gave them a tug. “Where do you think youre goin, little sister?”

“College,” I assured him. “As soon as I can get there.”

Caine snorted. “You had to ask? Or wasnt that you, Colt, bitching under box load after box load of books?”

So, was it just me this brother didnt talk to?

I seized the final, most obvious topic. “What do you think is wrong with Moms car?

Caine muttered, “Its a damn import, for starters.

Colt grabbed his cell phone off the dash. After a moment, he announced, “Theyve had a lot of problems with the ignition system. Should do a recall, but, they havent yet.” He slung the phone back on the dash. “Not signing up to rewire an ignition. Its under warranty. The dealership can fix it. Dad must’ve been lost in Macy’s big green eyes to not check out that shit before he plunked down hard-earned cash.”

If it’s defective…. “Maybe she can take it back and get something automatic.”

Colt crowed. “Aw, baby sister, whats the matter? Cant drive a stick?”

I shook my head.

“Well teach you. Every woman should know how to drive a manual transmission,” Colt assured me.

“Why? I dont know a soul who has a manual transmission.”

Well,”—he replaced his hand on my knee—“it gives a man hope when a woman can drive a stick.”

“Hope? Of what?”

Caine shook with silent laughter, making me dread the answer.

“Hope that she knows her way around a different kind of stick, if you get my drift,” Colt drawled. Heat from his palm seeped through my jeans. Sweat popped out between my breasts.

This was like being back in sixth grade, only my hormones were better developed.

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