“Stood up,” I muttered under my breath, my head shaking as I stared out at the crowded dance floor. “I can’t believe I got stood up.”
Kaden, my asshole brother, smirked at me. “Well, maybe it’s for the best. Dad wanted us on our best behavior, and you wouldn’t have been if you’d bailed early to go get it on with some stranger. It’s better for everyone this way.”
“Some hot stranger.” I scoffed, glancing at my twin and pointing a finger at my chest as I lowered my chin. I gave him a look filled with disbelief and doubt. “Better for everyone but me, you mean.”
Brooke, his girlfriend, smiled at me sympathetically. “It’s just one night, and it’s not like you got your heart broken. You only met her an hour ago.”
“My heart isn’t the body part I’m worried about.” I sighed, setting my sights back on the dance floor and spotting a girl in a pretty pink dress. She was with a couple of other people, but there was no guy anywhere near her and she wasn’t wearing a wedding ring. Perfect.
“Do either of you know who that is?” I inclined my head toward the girl, and Kaden and Brooke both shrugged. I grinned. “Guess that means she’s from the bride’s side of the family. That’s fair game, right?”
“Women don’t really like being referred to as game.” Brooke lifted her eyebrows at me. “You know that, don’t you?”
“Sure, but I didn’t say it to her.” I winked and rose to my feet, straightening my tie before looking back at them. “If you’ll excuse me, it’s time I moved on.”
“He says it like he’s been mourning the loss of his previous conquest for years instead of minutes.” Kaden’s brows drew together in a slight frown, and he made large, puppy-dog eyes at me. “Reconsider? For Dad’s sake? It’s his wedding, Kody. Is it really going to kill you to go home alone just this one night?”
“Kill me? No. Annoy me? Very much so.” I reached out and patted his shoulder. “You and Dad are both taking someone home tonight. Why should I be the only one who doesn’t? Besides, relax. You never know. She could turn me down. Or stand me up just like the last one did. Either way, I owe it to myself to try.”
He groaned, and Brooke slid her arm around his shoulders, chuckling as she pulled him closer and stroked her fingers through his hair. “He’s right, you know. She could turn him down or stand him up. We could have fun watching it happen. Let him go.”
Kaden’s gaze rose up to mine again, and the fake puppy-dog pleading look was gone as he rolled his eyes. “You try and succeed just about every night. Personally, I think you owe it to Dad to just give it up for tonight, but fine. Go. Just, uh, when Dad chews you out about leaving early, tell him I tried, okay?”
“You got it.” I raked my fingers through my hair, playfully smoothing down my eyebrows before pumping them at my brother and Brooke in a cocky, watch this sort of way, and then I strode out onto the dance floor.
The girl in the pink dress was blonde with nice-ish curves and a cute smile. She wasn’t as hot as the one who got away—okay, the one who left when she should’ve been right back—but she was still pretty. Young, but pretty.
I spun in a full circle on my heels once I was on the dance floor, grinning and clapping my hands along with everyone else. Shaking my ass, I made my way across the floor, catching the girl’s eye as I approached.
She smiled, turning to face me while she danced, her eyes never leaving mine after she gave me a quick onceover. Oh, it’s so on.
I was right there, only a few feet away from her and about to lay on the charm, when the very last person I wanted to see appeared in my path—Mercedes Helton. My new stepsister. Bleh.
Her deep, forest greens narrowed on mine, her eyebrows snapping together as she crossed her arms tightly over her chest. That irritating mouth of hers set in a hard line, and then she cocked her head before she shook it.
“No.” She held her eyes firmly on mine, giving her head another shake. “You better not be doing what I think you’re doing.”
I rolled my eyes, trying to move around her, but she sidestepped with me, scowling as she pointed a white-tipped finger in my face. “No.”
“Why not?” I scrunched up my nose before folding my own arms, facing off with her. “You don’t even know what I’m doing.”
“Well, I was hoping you weren’t doing what I thought you were doing, but clearly, that’s exactly what you’re doing.” She jerked a thumb over her shoulder toward the girl who had now stopped making eyes at me and was watching us with mild interest on her features. “That girl you were eye-fucking is my twenty-one-year-old cousin, and the only way you’re using one of your disgusting pick-up lines on her is over my dead body.”
I groaned. This chick was everywhere I turned, and she hated me at least half as much as she annoyed me. My polar opposite, we’d gotten stuck together too often during the wedding planning. Now that was finally over, and here I was, just trying to celebrate in my own way, and she was meddling again.
Always with the meddling.
“So she’s twenty-one, then?” I smiled sweetly. “Good to know. Thanks, sis.”
She took her turn to groan, then put her palm flat on my chest when I tried to move forward. “I said no, Kody. My mom told me to keep an eye on her tonight, and that’s what I’m doing.”
“But she’s twenty-one,” I reiterated. “That makes her a real life grownup. In the eyes of the law, anyway. Why don’t you go make yourself useful? Go clean the tables or something, and I’ll keep an eye on her for you.”
“Seriously?” Her nose wrinkled. “Pick a mark your own age. How old are you anyway? Forty-two?”
“You know damn well that I’m thirty. Twenty-one is a perfectly acceptable age for a hookup.”
She sniffed and shook her head again. “It’s definitely not. Think about it this way. When she was in the first grade, you were a junior in high school. She was crying for her mommy with two ponytails in her hair and you’d probably already lost your virginity.”
My lips twisted. I’d never admit it to her, but revulsion rolled through me. “Thanks for ruining it.”
She laughed and gave me an innocent smile. “You’re welcome. Now stay away from my family members, okay?”
With that, she turned her back on me and went to join her younger cousin’s circle on the dance floor, effectively blocking me out. I stayed right where I was and just stared at her for another beat. That fucking woman drives me nuts.
I couldn’t believe she was family now, and since Dad wanted us all to act like one big, happy family, that meant I was going to be seeing a lot more of her than I wanted to. I didn’t want to see her at all, and yet here she was, at the wedding of my father and her mother, telling me who I could and couldn’t hook up with.
Who does she think she is? I mean sure, she had a point with the whole age-gap thing, but some women think older men are sexy. Like her mother, for example. My dad was decades older than her, and Mercedes had let them get marriedbut I couldn’t make a move on the cousin who was only nine years younger than me.
On the other hand, now that she’s said it, there’s no way I can unhear it. Or unsee the mental image of the crying seven-year-old with two ponytails in her hair. Probably even clutching a doll. Crap. Now my head’s gone and put a doll in that picture. That’s just fucking perfect.
I sighed but spun around to snickering from Kaden and Brooke, who were sitting and watching my dismal failure from our table. I narrowed my eyes at them, but Kaden mimicked my earlier move with the smoothing down of the eyebrows before he pumped them at me.
I laughed. “Yeah, okay. That went badly.”
He winked like he’d heard what I said even from the other side of the dance floor, and the corners of my lips pressed in as I shook my head and turned back to the crowd of writhing bodies. There had to be another viable option out there somewhere, right?
There were over a hundred people here, and while at least half of them were older, Dad’s friends and business associates, there was a fair amount of younger people too. Even accounting for those who were married or taken, that had to leave me with more than just the chick who’d stood me up and the cousin.
As I scanned the dance floor, my gaze kept snagging on my infuriating new stepsister. I didn’t want to check her out. Couldn’t she have been uglier? Like, hag-level ugly?
Because I wanted her to be. But she wasn’t.
In fact, when we’d first met—before I’d found out how irritating she was—I’d thought she was pretty hot. Beautiful, even. In a parallel universe, she might’ve even been my next target.
At twenty-five, she wasn’t that much older than the cousin she’d just put me off of, but there was only a five-year age difference between us. No way she could complain about that.
She had her back to me, but that only meant that I had an unimpeded view of her ass. It was full and a little heart shaped, perfectly outlined by her shimmery dress. Not gonna lie, she’s got a good ass.
Purely of their own accord and completely against my will, my eyes moved up from that ass to take in her curvy hips and the way they tapered into a slightly narrower waist. Her hair hung in a neat, fancy-looking braid between her shoulders, and since she wasn’t looking at me, her face was animated with joy as she smiled at whoever was dancing beside her.
It’s a good smile, too. A real pretty one.
Mercedes was an uptight, super type-A bitch most of the time, but right now, out on this dance floor with her family, she seemed to be making the most of the break she was taking from her duties to dance. Her head dropped back, her eyes closed, and her hands stretched into the air as she swayed to the rhythm of the music, trailing her fingers down the length of one arm in a way that made me itch to do the exact same thing.
To her, though. Not to myself. I’d look ridiculous dancing like that.
It was the first time I was seeing her like this, and I suddenly realized I needed a drink. My mouth had gone dry and the crotch of my pants was just a little bit tighter than before. Yeah, that’s it. I need a drink. And to stop ogling her.
Obviously, the lack of other eligible women here was making me stupid. Half-tempted to smack myself in the face, I strode across the dance floor away from the sexy show my stepsister was putting on—whether she was doing it intentionally or not—and headed to the bar.
As soon as I broke free from the writhing bodies, it was like the fog in my brain lifted and I could think clearly again. A moment of insanity. That’s all it was. Just one moment, and it’s over now.
I breathed a sigh of relief.
Kaden had been right before. We’d both promised our father we’d be on our best behavior tonight, and maybe it was time I actually tried doing it.