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Beast: An MMA Stepbrother Romance First Edition. June 23, 2015. Copyright Š 2015 Michaela Scott Cover Design by Cormar Covers

This is a work of fiction. Similarities to real people, places, or events are entirely coincidental.

In the ring, they call him Beast. He’s got blazing green eyes and a sculpted, tattooed body. And the only thing he loves more than pinning his opponent to the mat is trying to get me into his bed. His real name is Caleb Matthews. He’s the billionaire son of a Silicon Valley CEO, but for some reason, he likes to spend his time in underground MMA arenas, going toe to toe with some of the deadliest fighters in the world. I know this because I stumbled into one of his matches on accident. Watched him fight. Wanted him, even though I never thought I’d want a guy like him. Cocky. Foul-mouthed. Inked. And now, he’s my new stepbrother. But he’s not going to let a little detail like that keep him from chasing me around like I’m his next conquest. He thinks it’s only a matter of time before I let him wrap those huge, muscular arms around me and show me what he’s got underneath those black fighter ’s shorts …and the worst part is, I’m starting to think he might be right. Because even though I’m just trying to have a nice, normal summer before I start college, Caleb keeps drawing me deeper and deeper into his world. And the more I watch him fight, the harder it is to stop thinking about him.

Table Of Contents Chapter 1: Emma Chapter 2: Emma Chapter 3: Emma Chapter 4: Emma Chapter 5: Caleb Chapter 6: Emma Chapter 7: Emma Chapter 8: Caleb Chapter 9: Emma Chapter 10: Caleb Chapter 11: Emma Chapter 12: Emma Chapter 13: Emma Chapter 14: Caleb Chapter 15: Emma Chapter 16: Caleb Chapter 17: Emma Chapter 18: Emma Chapter 19: Caleb Chapter 20: Emma Chapter 21: Emma Chapter 22: Emma Chapter 23: Caleb

Chapter 24: Emma Chapter 25: Emma Chapter 26: Emma

Chapter 1: Emma The dancefloor looks like it’s about five seconds from breaking into an all-out orgy. I look over at Gina and give her a maybe-we-should-pick-another-place face, but she smirks and shakes her head. Damn you, Gina. This was supposed to be a girls’ night, not one of her superaggressive attempts to get me laid. I thought we agreed that those were over with after she sent me on a blind date with a Hell’s Angel. I wish I were making that up. He literally wore his patches to the restaurant. As crazy as that was, this might be even crazier. Gina and I are probably the only people in here who aren’t covered in tattoos, and we’re definitely the only ones under 21. The black markered X on the back of my hand feels like a giant, flashing sign that I don’t belong here. Naturally, Gina’s rubbed hers off, and is sipping on a Bloody Mary as she scans the crowd. People are starting to look at us. Sinners. It’s the name of the club, and it’s also a pretty good word for the guys that are leaning against the walls, inked up to their eyeballs and pierced down to their toes, checking us out like we’re the freshest things on the menu. I grab Gina’s hand and pull her into a hallway at the far end of the club, right outside the emergency exit. The music is just muffled enough that I can actually hear myself speak. I try to come off as less nervous than I actually am, but I’m not doing a very good job. “We have to get out of here!” Gina just laughs. “Relax, Emma. It’s just a club. Aren’t the guys here cute?” Maybe by Gina’s standards. A few months ago, during one of our all-night study sessions turned sleepovers, I made the mistake of telling her that I had a secret thing for “macho” guys. As it turns out, Gina and I have different definitions of macho. I meant macho like guys in Disney movies are macho. Heroes. Princes. Knights in shining armor. Maybe even firefighters… That’s not what Gina heard, though. She thinks I’m just like her: a smart, college-bound girl with a secret craving for wild, sexed-up bad boys, the more inked the better. That buried beneath my innocent honors student exterior is a churning ocean of filthy fantasies where a sketchy, dirty-talking muscle god drags me into his bedroom and makes me his personal plaything. I try and tell her that that’s not what I meant, but she thinks I’m in denial, and she’s spent the last few months trying to set me up with the sketchiest badboys she can find. “No, Gina, the guys are not cute! They’re terrifying!” Gina snorts. “If you can’t handle this, you’re not going to be able to handle a college party. They’re going to eat you alive up in Berkley.”

A guy with pink hair squeezes behind us, putting his big hands on my sides as he passes. His touch sends a shudder up my spine, and we make uncomfortably long eye contact as he heads towards the emergency exit. When I turn back towards Gina, she has an accusatory look in her eyes. “Don’t think I didn’t see that little shiver you did when that guy touched you. You should follow him out and say hi. I bet he’d fuck you into next week.” “No way!” “Come on Emma, the sooner you stop being in denial, the sooner you can start having fun.” I want to tell Gina that I’m not in denial, but that’s exactly what someone who’s in denial would do, and it’s only going to make Gina try harder to get me laid. If I want to get out of this “girls’ night” without Gina throwing me at every slab of muscle that walks by, I’m going to have to pretend to be okay with this place. “You’re right. I should relax. It’s just a club. Why don’t you head out onto the dancefloor and find a guy you like, and I’ll finish your drink and follow you?” Gina talks a big game, but I’ve never actually seen her go all the way with one of these bad boys she likes so much. For all I know, the idea is just as scary to her as it is to me, so maybe if I call her bluff, she’ll change her mind about this place? But Gina sees right through it. “Nice try. You’re just hoping I’m going to find a hot guy and forget about you, while you sip this Bloody Mary in the corner all night and go home un-danced-with and un-fucked. No way. Here’s the plan: all you have to do is sit at the bar looking cute, and I’ll find a guy out there who’s interested, and bring them right to your stool. Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to pick someone macho.” A plan forms in my mind. “Okay, let’s do it. I’m just nervous that the guy you pick is going to think I’m immature.” I hold up the X on my hand and frown. “Also, if I drink that Bloody Mary at the bar with this on my hand, I’m totally going to get kicked out. How did you get yours off?” Gina smirks and holds up a little bottle of rubbing alcohol. “Alright. Why don’t I take that into the bathroom, and try and get this off without anyone seeing me? Then, once I’m legal, we’ll do your plan.” Gina slips the rubbing alcohol into my hand and closes my fingers around it. “I knew you’d come around.” Smiling nervously at Gina, I mouth the words “be right back” and sneak off into the strobe-lit darkness of the club. Little does Gina know, I have no intention of being right back and every intention of waiting by the bathroom until she finds a guy she likes and forgets all about me. It’s the perfect plan, or, at least, it would be if I knew where the bathrooms were. Since I don’t, I

have to hug the walls, drawing the stares of massive tattooed guys until I find a hallway I can duck into. I wonder if the guys are ogling me or just trying to figure out why the hell I’m here. It’s probably a little bit of both. With my conservative blue dress and my long blonde hair, I probably look like Alice in Wonderland stumbling around an unfamiliar new world. Once I duck into the back hallway, the music is muffled and I can hear myself think again. God, it’s like a maze back here! I’ve taken two lefts and a right, and I’m no closer to finding where the bathrooms are. I know this is an edgy establishment, but would it kill them to put up a sign or something? At this point, I probably don’t even need to take my time removing the X. By the time I get back, Gina’s definitely going to have a pierced tongue in her mouth. That is, unless she really is just as scared as I am. Finally, a door opens and a tall, tattooed girl with half her head shaved steps out of it. As the door closes behind her, I can see a sink and a mirror shining in the darkness. I duck into the bathroom, turn on the lights, and lock the door behind me. First things first, I open up the rubbing alcohol and scrub the X off my hand. It comes off pretty easily, and I realize that Gina’s probably already been waiting for me for much longer than she expected. Maybe I should get back before she starts looking for me, or worse, asking around about me. I make a few adjustments in the mirror, not stopping to think about who exactly I’m trying to look good for, and then slip out of the bathroom, heading back for the dancefloor. Too bad that’s easier said than done. I can’t even remember which direction it’s in, much less which turns to take to get there. As I move through the twisting corridors, I pass a few rooms where it sounds like people are having sex. Feeling like I’ve just stepped into the wrong part of the club, I turn around, but that feels even less like I’m headed in the right direction. Forget the dancefloor. I’d be happy just to find an exit. Any exit. I’m about to just call Gina when I take a left turn and find myself face-to-face with a thin metal door. On the other side, I can hear what sounds like applause and the muffled sound of a loudspeaker. Curiouser and curiouser. Half because it seems like an exit, and half out of sheer curiosity, I step towards the metal door and push it open. The combination of the rush of cold air and the roar of the crowd almost knocks me over. It’s in arena. I guess that’s why the club looks so big on the outside and so small on the inside. It smells like metal and sweat, intense and intoxicating. More importantly, there are clearly marked exits on the opposite side of the room. All I have to do is walk through, act like I belong here, and make it out of the building. It’s the second part that’s hard. The more I look around the arena, the more obvious it is that I don’t belong here. The room is packed with people, most of them men who look like even more hardcore versions of the guys on the dancefloor. Without even trying to stare, I see two different types of piercings I’ve never seen before. Thankfully, nobody seems to notice me: everyone’s eyes are locked onto the octagon sitting in the center of the room.

It looks like I’m going to have to walk through some kind of ringside area to get to the other side. I think about it, but before I can, two fighters enter the arena from opposite sides, and the crowd explodes. At this point, I’m going to need to wait until this fight is over unless I want to draw a lot of attention to myself. Besides, I’m a little curious as to what this is. Before I know it, I’m leaning against the side of the bleachers, watching the fighters step into the ring along with everyone else. A lean, muscular, tattooed guy with a blood red mohawk steps up into the center of the octagon, microphone in hand. “Are you guys ready to see some fucking action?” he roars to the crowd. The crowd goes nuts. They’re ready to see some fucking action. For some weird reason, I am too. The announcer continues. “You know the rules. They fight until someone taps out or gets knocked out. No exceptions. No time limits.” My eyes wander to the two fighters, standing on opposite corners of the octagon. The announcer walks over to the one closest to me and puts a hand on his shoulder. “In this corner, all the way from Gary, Indiana, we have Chainsaw!” The announcer stretches out the word “Chainsaw” as long as he can and the whole crowd starts making chainsaw noises. It’d be funny if everyone here weren’t dead serious. A shiver runs down my spine as I notice the metal wrapped around Chainsaw’s hands. It looks like he’s literally wearing gloves made of chainsaw teeth. I’m not exactly an MMA expert, but I’m pretty sure chainsaw gloves are not allowed in any sane, legal version of the sport. A little voice in the back of my head suggests that maybe this is entire place is not so legal and that I should take my chances back in the maze of hallways between here and the dancefloor, but I’m too hypnotized by the spectacle of the fight to listen to it. The announcer takes his sweet time walking across the octagon, milking every last drop of applause from the crowd. Then, he puts his hand on the other fighter ’s shoulder. “And in this corner, hailing from Palo Alto, California, we have Beast!” The crowd goes nuts for Beast, although there are a few people still making chainsaw noises. Unlike Chainsaw, who’s mugging for the crowd on his side of the octagon, Beast is standing with his head down, completely motionless. The two fighters couldn’t be more different: Chainsaw is covered in scars, probably in his thirties, bald, and nasty looking. Beast, on the other hand, looks like he can’t be more than a few years older than me. If he has any scars, I can’t see them, which is probably because his body is covered in tattoos: a web of intricate abstract designs that weave into stripes, claws, and animal shadows. As soon as I realize how young Beast is, I feel a rush of sympathy for him. Why is he here, in the back of a sketchy club out in the middle of nowhere, about to fight a guy with chainsaw gloves on his hands? He could probably get a modeling contract if he wanted to. He definitely has the face for it: tough, but pretty, with full, serious lips and a thick, strong jaw. His hair is even the right kind of messy.

Of course, if he takes even one hit from those chainsaw gloves, he’s probably not going to be able to get that modeling contract. I know I probably shouldn’t be here at all, but I can’t seem to convince myself to leave. The announcer steps out to the edge of the octagon, looking from Chainsaw to Beast and back again. “Fighters, are you ready?” Chainsaw roars, and Beast gives the slightest hint of a nod. “Then let’s begin! Three! Two! One!” The crowd counts down with the announcer. I feel like all the breath has been sucked out of my body. “Fight!” With one smooth, graceful motion, Beast pushes himself off of the ropes as soon as the fight begins, leaping into a perfect fighter ’s stance. Unlike Chainsaw, he isn’t wearing gloves. In fact, he’s almost completely naked except for a pair of tiny black shorts that look like they’re about to be split open by his huge, muscular thighs. My eyes linger on Beast’s shorts as he paces around Chainsaw, sizing him up, only to look up in horror as Chainsaw takes his first swing. Beast ducks under it, but Chainsaw follows up with a barrage of blows that Beast as to back into the corner to dodge. This is so unfair! Chainsaw’s hands are deadly weapons and Beast is basically naked. He could literally die up there! For a second, I consider calling the police, but I know they won’t make it here in time to stop the fight. All I can really do is watch and pray. As the fight goes on, Beast manages to get four or five good hits on Chainsaw without getting hit even once. If this were a normal fight, he’d be the clear winner, but under these messed up rules, he’s at an insane disadvantage no matter how many hits he gets in. I hug the side of the bleachers tight as I watch Beast move. The look in his eyes is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. They’re bright green, and they shine like they’re on fire. I can almost see little flecks of yellow sparking in them. My eyes are locked onto Beast’s face as I lean in closer to the ring. My body responds to every move he makes, and I don’t realize how close I am to the ring, how very visible and exposed I am, until Beast looks back at me. It’s only for a second. He takes his eyes off Chainsaw for one second to look at me, but that’s way too long. By the time he looks back at Chainsaw, one of Chainsaw’s jagged metal fists is inches away from Beast’s body. Beast jerks away at the last second, but it’s not enough. Chainsaw connects, leaving angry red cuts in Beast’s side. Beast stumbles back, and Chainsaw, seeing blood, charges at him, going low and aiming a wicked haymaker right between Beast’s legs. No! Not there! Shouldn’t below-the-belt hits be illegal even in illegal MMA? I cringe and close my eyes as I realize that I may have just killed the gorgeous MMA fighter up on the stage by making eyes at him, but when I hear the crowd gasp, I can’t help but open them again. It shouldn’t have even been possible, but somehow, Beast manages to wrap his hand around Chainsaw’s wrist and stop his punch. Then, in a flash, he lifts his leg up to Chainsaw’s shoulder and kicks down, sending Chainsaw to the ground in a heap while holding his arm up in the air. With his foot at the base of Chainsaw’s neck and his arms wrapped around his wrist, Beast roars, and the crowd goes totally insane. Chainsaw spends a few seconds struggling to get up, and then taps out on Beast’s leg. The fight is over.

The announcer tries to climb back into the ring to announce the results, but his microphone is totally drowned out by the crowd, many of whom are coming down from the bleachers and climbing into the ring. Sensing that this is probably my cue to leave, I turn around and head back toward the hallways. “Nuh, uh, uh.” Somebody jumps down from the bleachers to block my path. It’s a skinny guy with a long, scraggly beard. “Not so fast. You’re from the club, aren’t you?” “Um…yeah, and I was just heading back. My friend’s waiting for me.” “You don’t have permission to be here, do you?” “Oh…uh…I didn’t know I needed permission. There wasn’t a sign. But I’m going now!” I try and move around the skinny guy, but he wraps his fingers tight around my wrist. “So who told you about this place? One of the guys out there?” I try to jerk my hand out of his grasp, but it’s like metal locked around my wrist. “I found it on accident, asshole. Let me go!” “Really? You expect me to believe that? No one finds this place on accident.” “Well, maybe you should move the girls’ bathroom so it doesn’t happen again. Can I leave now?” I stretch toward the handle of the metal door, but I just can’t reach it. I’m about to just kick this guy in the shin, but something tells me that that’s a very bad idea. From the way he has his feet set, he’s probably an MMA fighter himself. The skinny guy laughs, and I summon all my energy towards reaching for the metal door handle. Suddenly, I hear him make a strangled yelping noise and feel him release my hand. I fall over on my back, where I see my captor lying in a heap in the middle of the floor…and him standing over me. The Beast himself. I bounce up to my feet as fast as I can and try and think of something to say. Thanks for saving me? You were great out there? Do you have a girlfriend? All good choices, but for some reason I can’t seem to form any words at all. Finally, I manage to say “Thanks,” my voice cracking and several octaves too high. Beast just stares back at me. He’s dripping with sweat, his eyes are burning, and his chest is heaving like an animal’s. I can’t tell whether he’s mad at me or just intense. Beast moves towards me, backing me up against the bleachers. “I almost died because of you.” Uh oh. He is mad. “Sorry! I’ve never seen a fight before, and I didn’t realize you could see me.” “Did Chainsaw’s people send you?”

“What? No! I just, uh, came from the club outside. I didn’t know about any of this, I swear!” Beast’s pretty face looks into mine, trying to determine if I’m telling the truth. “You almost got me punched in the cock.” Beast reaches down between his legs, wrapping his hand around the thick bulge that’s pushing his fighting shorts to the absolute limit. I can’t help but stare at it, thick and strong-looking, just like the rest of him. I know it’s not polite to blatantly stare at MMA fighters’ cocks, but I can’t help myself. I want him to see me staring. I don’t realize that I’m leaning into Beast until my breast bumps up against one of his arms. Then, my face snaps up to his, and my body rests against him. He still looks angry, but there’s something else there, too: something raw, hungry, and wild. Shouldn’t I be getting back to the club? So why aren’t my legs moving? Beast’s hand moves up under my chin, tilting my face up so he can get a better view. “That’s the look. That’s the look you gave me when I was in the ring. The one that almost got me killed.” I should leave. I should find the club, take Gina with me, and go back to my nice, safe little world. The only problem is that right now, I’m exactly the type of girl that Gina thinks I am. A good girl who wants a bad boy to make her totally his. Who wants to be ravaged. Used. Fucked. And Beast knows it. I think he can literally smell my feelings. I can feel his, brushing up against my stomach. Maybe that’s why I do the craziest, stupidest, most reckless thing I’ve ever done. I look up at Beast and say “Is there anything I can do to make it up to you?” There is something I can do, and we both know what it is. So when Beast grabs my arm and practically drags me towards the locker room, I know what’s going to happen next. And even though I haven’t fully admitted it to myself yet, I can’t wait.

Chapter 2: Emma This is the part where I wake up, right? Where I sit up in bed, roll my eyes at how repressed I am, and hop into the shower to try and clean the sweat of a sex dream off my body? I mean, this can’t be real. The sweaty, inked up mountain of muscle currently pulling me into the nearest locker room to fuck makes the Greek gods look like couch potatoes. I’m probably in bed right now, tossing and turning and sleep-humping my pillow. Ow! I stub my toe on a folding chair carelessly placed in the middle of the aisle and send it clattering to the floor as I wince in pain. So much for this being a dream. Beast looks back, his perfect lips curled into a smirk. “Are you alright back there?” “Yep!” I say, my voice hitting some ridiculously high octave as I start to turn pink. Yep!? What am I, a cartoon duck? “Alright, if you say so. Let me know if you need me to carry you.” “I’m good, thanks.” So this is actually happening. I really did just offer myself to an MMA fighter after exchanging only a few words with him, most of which were about his cock. Gina would be so proud. As we get closer to the locker room, posters line the walls. Guys with names like Barracuda, Tank, and Painquake glare at me and flex their muscles as I pass. Underneath each fighter are the words “California Kings Underground MMA.” Finally, right at the locker room door, there’s a poster for Beast: hands behind his head, flexing his ridiculous biceps, and giving the camera an obnoxiously cocky smile. Something tells me that this guy’s more full of himself than a snake eating its own tail, but that doesn’t stop me from wondering how it would feel to be full of him. Suddenly, Beast stops outside the locker room door, causing me to practically slam into him. “Whoa, slow down, babe. Wait until we’re in private.” He grins at me like a cat with a mouse trapped under its paw and opens the locker room door for me. If this didn’t feel real before, the smell of sweat and body spray drenching the locker room makes it feel 100% real as I step inside. I take a few steps into the room as fantasies flood my mind. What’s he going to do to me? Slam me up against those lockers on the left wall and fuck me standing up? Make me get down on all fours and stick my ass in the air for him? He’s probably done this a hundred times: takes the nearest girl back here and fucks her stupid. Makes her scream his name. I hope he doesn’t mind that I’m not the type of girl who normally finds

herself in this situation. I look behind me and see Beast leaning against the back wall, arms folded up against his washboard abs, with a bulge that looks like it’s about to disintegrate his tiny little black shorts if he makes one wrong move. His eyes feel their way up my curves, sizing up his catch. So…uh…what happens now? Why isn’t he coming over here and fucking me? Is there something I need to do? I try and put myself in the mindset of an underground MMA groupie, with limited success. Eventually, I put my hands on the bench in the middle of the room, stick my ass out for Beast, and say, “Ready when you are.” Almost immediately, I feel Beast’s body pushing up against me, thick, muscular, and heaving with his breaths. Then, his hands seize my body and he spins me around like I weigh less than a feather. “What’s your name?” he asks, lifting my face up so I’m looking straight into his blazing green eyes. “It’s Emma.” “Have you ever fucked an MMA fighter before, Emma?” My teeth come down hard on my lower lip as I shake my head no. I feel his body shudder with laughter, and the heat between my legs starts to throb. “Then you’re in for a treat. I know how to use every inch of my body to get what I want, and what I want is to fuck that curvy little body of yours until you scream.” God, he’s so arrogant. I bet he checks out his naked body in the mirror for thirty minutes every morning. But who cares? I’m not here because I like this guy, I’m here because my inner Gina came out and decided that brain-melting casual sex in a locker room was what I wanted to do tonight. So let’s do it. I try to turn around again, but Beast doesn’t let me. Instead, he moves his mouth onto mine and claims it with his tongue. Holy crap, he’s a good kisser. In less than a minute’s time, I’m running my fingers through his stupid perfect hair and moaning into his mouth like I’m in a porno. Then, he puts his hands on my body, and I can’t believe how strong he is. He could toss me around like it was nothing if he wanted to, but he’s way too greedy for that. He wants me right here in front of him, so he can claim my breasts and cup my ass with his massive, tattooed fighter ’s hands. And I want him to. I want him to peel off those little black shorts, strip me down to nothing, and ravage my naked body. What the hell has gotten into me? Any second thoughts I might have about any of this go out right out the window as soon as Beast’s hands grasp the bottom of my dress and start pulling it up above my hips. Before I know it,

my dress is on top of the lockers along the left wall, and I’m pressing up against Beast in nothing but my bra and panties. My whole face starts to flush as Beast squeezes me tight against him. Then, his hands invade the back of my panties, claiming my ass like it’s his new favorite toy as he presses his king-sized bulge into my bellybutton and kisses my hard, swollen nipple through my bra. Nobody’s ever made me feel this way before, especially not my first and only ex-boyfriend. He could barely handle a clarinet, much less a female body. The impossibly sexy MMA-fighting brute currently peeling my panties off is everything he isn’t, and it shocks me how my body responds to his touch. I bet if he wanted to take me back to his place and have his way with me all night…I’d let him. Beast gets down onto his knees to pull my panties the rest of the way off, and I have to fight the urge not to lean forward and press my sex against his face while he does it. Once I’m totally bottomless, he grabs my thighs, spreads them apart a little, and admires me. God, if he starts licking me down there, I literally might die. But Beast has other plans, for now at least. Pulling my legs apart, he guides them down into a sitting position so that I’m spread wide open on the bench. As he gets up, I can’t help myself: I reach out and touch the bulge in the front of his shorts. Oh God, it’s huge! He’s so thick beneath my hand that it doesn’t even feel real. I gasp as Beast grabs my wrist and presses my hand harder against his cock. “Bigger than you’re used to?” I think we both know the answer to that. Beast runs my hand up his length with a ridiculously cocky expression on his face, and I subconsciously spread my legs wider. “Just wait until you feel it inside you.” With that, Beast lets my hand go, leaving me burning on the bench while he goes over to his locker, pulls out a foil packet, and rips it open in one smooth motion. Then, holding the packet in his hand, he walks slowly over to me, until I’m at eye level with his crotch. “Ready when you are.” He smirks, and looks down at his shorts, thrusting his hips forward in my direction. Heart beating and hands shaking, I reach out towards this shorts, curling my fingers into his waistband and taking a deep breath. Here goes nothing. “Beast!” The announcer with the blood red mohawk is standing in the locker room doorway, and I practically die of embarrassment. “Oh shit. Sorry, man.” “Didn’t you see me take her in here?” Beast snarls. The announcer puts his hands up and shakes his head. “I was helping Chainsaw’s guys get him to the hospital. You broke his fucking arm, you know.”

I don’t know what’s worse: the announcer seeing me almost naked, or the announcer seeing me this turned on. My breath is still heaving like Beast’s, and my nipples are clearly visible through my bra. As the two guys talk, I pull on my panties and sprint over to my dress, pulling it down from the lockers. Beast looks over at me and growls as I pull it over my head, but I do it anyway. The normal, responsible me is starting to wake up again, and she’s wondering how the hell I ever let it get to this point. “Anyway,” the announcer shifts from foot to foot, “I just wanted to let you know that I heard a couple of the organizers talking, and they were saying that if you win your next match, you’ve got a pretty good shot of making it into the tournament.” Beast doesn’t look happy. “You could have waited to tell me that until after I was done.” “Sorry, man.” I have a choice, and I need to make it now. I could either take this chance to get out, back to normalcy, or I could stay until the announcer leaves, take my dress back off…and let Beast fuck me all night. As bad as I want Beast’s cock inside me, Responsible Emma is officially back at the wheel. And Responsible Emma prefers to spend as little time around illegal MMA fighting rings as possible. “Um…” Beast and the announcer both turn to look at me. “I should probably get going. Congratulations…on the win…” The words awkwardly tumble out of me, and then I practically sprint for the locker room entrance. “Wait!” Beast lunges after me, but it’s too late. By the time he reaches the entrance, I’m almost back out at the arena. “Fuck!” I hear him yell, “You see what you did?” I’m not sure if I should thank the announcer or curse him. I do know I’m absolutely aching for Beast’s cock, but I’m no longer ignoring the rational part of my brain to get it. I shuffle through the arena, trying not to make too much of a scene. Unfortunately, I can’t help but turn a few heads on my way out, but with no sign of the skinny guy with the iron grip, I make it to the door unharmed and find myself back in the maze of hallways behind Sinners. After a few left turns, I round a corner and almost slam right into Gina. “Oh, thank God. Where the hell were you? Why didn’t you answer my calls?” I look over my shoulder, half expecting to see Beast there, come to drag me back into that locker room and finish what he started. When he’s not there, part of me’s relieved, and part of me’s disappointed. “Let’s just get out of here. I’ll explain on the way home.” ***

“An underground MMA arena? In the back of Sinners?” “It’s true, I swear!” “And this Beast guy…he’s perfect and insanely hot but you left before he could fuck you and you didn’t even give him your number. Are you sure you’re not just making this up?” “I’d show you if I ever wanted to go back there, which I don’t.” “We could turn the cab around. That’s what I’d do if I had an MMA sex god who wanted to fuck my brains out.” The cab driver turns to look at us. “She’s right. I can turn the cab around.” I shake my head. “No way. It happened, it’s over, and I’m going to move on with my life. Just because it was hot doesn’t mean it was the right thing to do. There’ll be plenty of cute boys at Berkley who don’t take part in illegal fighting rings.” Gina shakes her head. “Alright, but I’m hot for Beast just from how you described him. I can’t imagine how it would feel to actually walk away from him.” Tell me about it. I’m still throbbing, like something inside me is knocking on my walls, trying to get me to go back. The thing is, even if I did ignore the hundreds of good reasons why going back is a horrible idea, who’s to say that Beast is even still there? He’s probably long gone by now, back to whatever jungle he came from, and all I can do is forget about him and move on with my life. After all, I have a whole summer ahead of me.

Chapter 3: Emma It’s finally here. June 22. The first day of the last summer before I go off to college, or, as I like to call it, The Summer of Adventure. I’ve been planning it ever since I got my admission letter to Berkley. Road trips. Pool parties. Internships. A bucket list. Not a single day wasted. Not a single ounce of fun left on the table. I’ve got it all laid out in front of me on my bedroom floor, in the form of a huge poster-sized calendar that I’ve been working on all week. The Summer of Adventure kicks off with my awesome internship with a local publishing house. For the next month, I’m going to be travelling around to local book stores and libraries, helping authors set up their book signings. Not only am I going to get to meet some of my favorite authors, I’m going to get complementary signed copies of every book I set up the signing for! Then, when that’s over, Gina and I are going on a road trip to Portland! Gina’s starting her freshman year up there in the fall, and she wants to get a feel for the city before her orientation starts. And that’s just the big stuff: every single square on my makeshift calendar is chock full of fun plans, daily challenges, and drawings of me having fun, all the way up until August 19 , the day that I leave home for Berkley. th

So, really, last night’s insanity couldn’t have been better timed. As I look down at the summer ahead of me, it already feels like a distant memory. What’s on deck for today? I’ve drawn…a sausage and a hamburger? Oh, yeah, I almost forgot, the barbecue! A week from now, my adorable mother is getting married, and her fiancée wanted to come over and have a summer barbecue with us before the wedding. This is a big deal because Mom’s fiancée just so happens to be Larry Matthews, the CEO of Poodle, one of the largest tech companies in the world. Since he’s only been engaged to Mom for a couple months, I’ve barely had the chance to see him at all. And since I’m hoping Larry will hook me up with a high-paying job at Poodle after I graduate from Berkley…I need to kill it at this barbecue. I head downstairs and find Mom whipping up a fruit salad in the kitchen. “Hey Mom! Are you excited for tonight?” Mom smiles. “Very excited. Larry loves my fruit salad.” “I bet he does. Do you need any help setting up?” Mom looks up thoughtfully, running through a mental list of pre-barbecue tasks. Then, her eyes open wide.

“Oh! We don’t have any hot dogs! Could you go to the store and get some?” “Of course!” “How could I forget the hot dogs at a barbecue?” Mom shakes her head, and we both laugh. Sometimes, it feels like Mom and I are basically the same age. She’s a kindergarten teacher, which has definitely helped keep her young at heart, but it means that the house is always full of stuff for her students. It was great when I was younger, but now that I’m eighteen, I’m definitely feeling the need for a more mature environment. I know Larry has a megamansion up in Palo Alto…I wonder if we’ll end up moving up there? I grab the car keys off the hook on the wall. “Be right back with the hot dogs!” “Don’t forget to get enough for four,” Mom says as I’m halfway out the door. I freeze in my tracks. “Four?” Mom gets an embarrassed look on her face. “I forgot to mention that, didn’t I? Larry has a son, a couple years older than you. His name is Caleb.” “What? Mom, that’s pretty important information!” “I know, honey, but I just found out about him myself a couple weeks ago. Larry doesn’t talk about him much. Anyway, Larry did say that he has a huge appetite, so make sure he has enough hot dogs to eat!” “Okay!” I nod and walk out the front door. Larry has a son? And I’m going to have a stepbrother? This was not part of the plan. My father passed away when I was very young, which means that my house has always felt like a girls’ place to me. I can’t even imagine having a boy walking around. Maybe he’ll spend most of his time up in the megamansion, and I won’t see him very often. That would be ideal. There are no stepbrothers in my summer plans. As I pull up to the grocery store, my thoughts move away from the mystery stepbrother and back towards impressing Larry. I know Mom said to get hot dogs, but it just doesn’t feel right serving regular old hot dogs to the CEO of Poodle, so I get German brats instead. Then, I make a couple circles around the grocery store, picking up ingredients for my signature pasta salad and piling them into the cart. What better way to show Larry what an awesome hard worker I am than by making my own dish for his pre-wedding barbecue? The rest of the afternoon is a blur as I hop back and forth between preparing pasta salad, picking out an outfit that says “prospective employee,” and furiously searching for recent Poodle news to talk to Larry about when he arrives. The evening is here before I know it, and I still barely feel ready. Mom’s nervous, too. I know she feels like it’s all a dream, like this whole “falling in love with a billionaire CEO” thing isn’t going to last. I’ve tried to tell her to treat him like any normal guy, but it’s pretty rich coming from me, who’s treating a family barbecue like a job interview. Finally, after what feels like an eternity of waiting, the knock comes. Mom’s so nervous that she

almost drops her fruit salad, so I volunteer to open the door and show them inside. I take a deep breath as I enter the front hallway, focusing on trying to make a good impression on Larry as I open the door. Only, Larry’s not there. My wide, professional smile lands on somebody who’s the exact opposite of Larry. Somebody who I never thought I’d see again. He’s wearing more clothes than last time, and he doesn’t have that intense, burning look in his eyes, but the tattoos are a dead giveaway. It’s him.

Chapter 4: Emma Before I can say anything, before I can even think, Beast, whose real name is apparently Caleb, pounces. He gives me a hug, wrapping me up and pushing me against the wall of the entrance hallway. Our faces are inches apart. “Well look who it is. My biggest fan.” “Let me go!” I knee him in the stomach, but it feels like banging my leg on a rock. Caleb laughs, his whole body shaking against me. “And here I thought I wasn’t getting laid tonight because I had to go to this stupid barbecue.” “What? You’re not getting laid tonight!” I say, in the most intimidating whisper possible. “Are you sure about that, little Sis? You’ve been around me for five seconds and your heart’s already beating like a fucking drumroll.” Unfortunately, he’s right. My body recognizes this as the guy who almost gave me the pounding of my life less than 24 hours ago, and it’s totally ready to finish what we started. Something’s a little different about Caleb, though. Those crazy flecks of fire aren’t burning in his pretty green eyes. Last night, he looked at me with desperation, need, hunger. Now, he’s dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, smirking like this is all some kind of big joke. If it’s a joke, it’s definitely not funny. I knee him in the side again. “Put me down before your dad sees, asshole.” “I’ll see what I can do.” With that, Caleb flips me over his shoulder and I let out an undignified squeak, landing on my feet facing the door just in time for Larry Matthewss himself to walk through the door, wearing a button-down plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up. Larry smiles and shakes my hand. “It’s Emma, right?” “Uh…” All my preparation for this moment went straight out the window the second Beast walked through the door. Now, all I can do is try not to sound like an idiot. “Yeah. That’s me. Nice to finally meet you!” “The feeling is mutual. I’ve heard a lot about you. Your mother says you’re quite an overachiever.” Quite an overachiever? Looks like Mom’s talking about me like I’m still in kindergarten again. “Yeah, that’s…one way of putting it.” “So was I, when I was your age. Keep overachieving, is all I can say, and eventually, you’ll find yourself in places you never expected to be.”

Caleb snorts, and I smack him on the arm. “And I see you’ve met my son, Caleb. It looks like you two are already getting along. Do you know where your mother is?” “She should be in the kitchen.” As soon as Larry walks into the kitchen, his eyes drift over to the big glass bowl of fruit salad on the kitchen counter. “You spoil me, Helen.” He reaches across the counter and tries to take a spoonful, but Mom grabs his wrist and forces him to drop it back into the bowl. “You can have some fruit salad once the meat is cooked.” “Let’s get cooking, then.” He pulls a couple spices out of his pockets. “I took these from the Poodle cafeteria. If you’ve never had them on meat…let’s just say you’re in for a pleasant surprise.” Mom looks down at the spices, and then her eyes drift over to Beast. “Is this your son?” “That’s him. Caleb Matthewss, the next in line.” Mom extends her hand. “Nice to meet you, Caleb.” As Caleb reaches across the counter to shake Mom’s hand, he wraps his hand around the small of my back, dangerously close to my butt. My eyes widen, but thankfully I don’t move a muscle and draw any attention to where Caleb is touching me. Mom’s eyes travel up and down Caleb’s arms. “I love your tattoos.” Caleb shrugs. “Join the club.” Mom laughs. I’m about to scream. Mom likes this guy? Am I the only one who can see what an asshole he is? Of course, I’m one to talk, seeing as I’m the one who stuck my tongue down his throat, grabbed his cock, and offered him my body last night. But let’s not bring that up at the barbecue. “So. Larry. We have hamburgers and German brats, and none of them are cooked yet. What do you say you show me how to use those spices while Emma and Caleb get to know each other?” And just like that, before I can object, Mom and Larry flirt their way out into the backyard, leaving me all alone with him. And he’s still got his hand on my back. When I try to step out of Caleb’s reach, he puts his hands around my sides, pulling me into his body and wrapping his arms around me. “They’re a cute couple, but they’ve got nothing on us.” I make a frustrated noise as I try to wiggle out of Caleb’s grasp, but it’s no use. After all, he’s a professional at this. “You heard your mom, Sis. While they’re cooking burgers, the two of us should get to know

each other. I think you already know a lot of things about me, but you’re missing the most important part.” I stomp on Caleb’s foot, and it gets just enough of a reaction from him that I can shimmy out of his grasp and put the counter between us. “So does your dad know that his pride and joy is part of an illegal fighting ring?” Caleb laughs softly. “No. And it’s going to stay that way. Because I’m sure your mom doesn’t know that her pride and joy was in a men’s locker room last night, begging for her new stepbrother ’s cock.” It takes every ounce of restraint I can muster not to chuck Mom’s fruit salad right in Caleb’s face. “I was not begging for your cock, you pervert!” “You would have been, if my tongue hadn’t been halfway down your throat.” I shudder as I realize that he might be right. I wanted him that much. But he was different, then. Or, at least, I thought he was. “You’re not like I thought you were. Last night.” Caleb’s green eyes flash for just a second, sparking up a very unwanted heat in my lower half. “That’s because last night, I was in Beast Mode. Right now, though, I’m just Caleb, a normal, redblooded American. The Beast is locked up inside.” Caleb taps his chest with a smirk, and I roll my eyes. “You’re a bullshit artist.” “Then why’d you notice the difference? You’ll notice it again the next time it happens. Immediately.” Caleb advances on me, backing me up into the cabinet where we keep our glassware. “See, I’m just teasing you about this whole sex thing. Mostly. I just think it’s funny that you can’t hide how hot you are for me.” I start to tell Caleb that he’s probably the last person on earth I’d ever want to hook up with, but he shuts that down by sliding his fingers up the inside of my thigh, drawing a moan from my throat. “See what I mean? It’s amazing. But even though I’m just teasing you, the Beast feels differently. He’s been hungry for you ever since he saw you from the ring. He’s dead serious, and he’s not going to stop until he gets what he wants.” I put my hand on Caleb’s stomach to try and push him away, but the feeling of my fingers against his abs takes all the strength out of my arm. When Caleb notices how much I’m enjoying the feeling of his body, he takes my hand in his and brings it all the way up his abs and over to one of his massive pecs. “The burgers are ready.” I snap back to reality as Larry pokes his head through the backyard door. I jerk my hand away from Caleb’s chest, hoping that that little interaction didn’t look as sexual as it was. Luckily, Larry seems oblivious.

As soon as he realizes Larry’s in the room, Caleb goes from dripping sex to loving, welladjusted son in a fraction of a second. “Smells delicious, Dad. Ready to go, Sis?” As much as I want to kick Caleb in the balls for calling me Sis only seconds after telling me that the Beast inside of him wasn’t going to stop until it fucked me, my prospective future employer is watching. As much as I don’t want to do it, I have to play nice with his son. “Ready when you are, Bro.” I’ve never uttered a more difficult sentence. Caleb takes my hand, squeezing it extra tight, and we follow Larry out into the backyard. “So Dad, you said the burgers are ready, but what about the sausages? Emma’s really looking forward to sausage.” I shoot Caleb a death glare, but Larry just laughs. “She won’t have to wait too much longer. Her mother ’s finishing them up as we speak.” Sure enough, as soon as we sit down around the picnic table, Mom comes by with a heaping plate of sausages, steaming hot and heavily seasoned. She passes the plate to Caleb first, who spears three sausages and moves them onto his plate. Then, he whispers “mine’s bigger” as he passes the plate to me. And judging by what I saw happening in his tight little shorts last night, he’s not lying. I look right into his eyes, put a sausage on my plate, and start cutting it to pieces with a knife and fork. “So, Emma,” Larry says, stuffing two sausages into a hamburger bun, “You mother tells me that you’ve got quite the summer planned.” “That’s true, I’m going to be pretty busy.” I don’t mention that Larry may have ruined my perfect summer by bringing a foul-mouthed, MMA fighting brute into my house. Caleb grins. “Do tell. Is there anything I can join?” No. Definitely not. No way. Never in a million years. “Um…maybe…I’ll be spending most of my time at an internship, though.” Larry looks impressed. “An internships before your freshman year is pretty good. After all, it’s never too early to start building your post-college resume.” I want to keep talking myself up to Larry, but I also need to change the subject before Caleb finds out too much about my summer plans and inserts himself into them. I think back to some of the things I read about Poodle a couple hours ago. “So, when does PoodleMatch officially launch?” He’ll definitely want to talk about that. PoodleMatch is Poodle’s new dating service, designed to set you up with your perfect match based on your phone’s app usage, search history, and online browsing habits. It’s how Larry met Mom. He used an early version of the software, got matched with her, and just started talking with her out of the blue. Personally, I don’t think they seem much

like each others’ type, but hey, they seem happy. Both Mom and Larry chuckle when I mention PoodleMatch. “Well, part of that actually depends on Caleb. He’s one of the two people overseeing the final testing that’s going to bring it out of beta.” I almost spit lemonade all over the picnic table. “Caleb works at Poodle?” Larry looks at me quizzically. “Of course, why wouldn’t he?” Caleb’s eyes narrow, and his knee presses against mine under the table. “Yeah, why wouldn’t I?” “Oh, uh…I don’t know…I guess he’s just so young.” Larry shrugs. “That might be a problem in a more traditional company, but at Poodle, we value the youth perspective. After all, if young people aren’t using your dating service, it’s not going to have a very long shelf life.” “Oh, uh, yeah, absolutely. The youth perspective is crucial if you’re trying to create a major service. So…uh…where do you see PoodleMatch in five years?” For now, it seems like I’ve gotten the barbecue back under control. Larry and I are having a very interesting conversation about Poodle’s long-term strategy, I’m subtly hinting that I’d make an awesome employee once I graduate, and Caleb is mostly focused on devouring his food, chiming in with a snarky comment every once in a while but mostly behaving himself. After a few more minutes, Caleb moves some crumbs around on his empty plate and asks where the bathroom is. Mom gives him some directions, and then he hops up from the picnic table and heads inside the house. I’m still in the middle of talking business with Larry, but I can’t help but get more and more paranoid at the idea of Caleb, alone in my house, with full access to my unlocked room. Visions of Caleb sneaking into my room and reading my diary dance through my head, and after a suspiciously long time passes with no sign of Caleb, I know I have to take action. “Are you guys ready for a second course? There’s fruit salad and pasta salad in the kitchen.” Larry laughs. “I forgot all about the fruit salad. What are we doing sitting out here talking?” I get up from the table. “Oh, you two can keep talking. I’ll just get the pasta salad ready and then bring both of them out here.” Mom smiles. “Sounds great, Emma.” Once I’m inside the house, I nudge the door of the downstairs bathroom with my foot. Empty. There’s no sign of Caleb downstairs, either, which means he’s either upstairs in Mom’s room…or he’s in mine. I can hear him laughing as I run up the stairs. “Get out of my room, asshole!” Caleb turns, grinning. “I thought this was the bathroom. I was going to just leave, until I saw this.” He points at my summer calendar, stretched out across the floor.

“You’re not allowed to look at that!” “It’s a little too late for that. You know, if you wanted to have a summer of adventure, you should have stuck around last night. I could have taken you home with me and fucked you until Labor Day.” I move past Caleb and start to sweep the summer calendar under my desk. “For your information, this is exactly why I didn’t stick around last night. I have better things to do than suck face with arrogant assholes.” Caleb pulls the pages of the calendar back out from under my desk. “Like what? Road trip? Pool party? Book signing? Why are you going to so many book signings?” “That’s my internship, asshole.” I snatch the sheets of paper out of Caleb’s hands and throw them under my bed. “Oh, awesome. Do you know if they’re still hiring?” I flop down onto my bed and throw a pillow at Caleb. “I knew you were going to ruin everything.” “Who says I’m going to ruin everything?” Caleb reaches under the bed and pulls out one of the calendar pages. “Look. July 11 . You wrote ‘Meet A Boy.’ And look what happened, it’s only June and you’ve already met one. You’re actually ahead of schedule.” th

“My obnoxious new stepbrother does not count as a boy. Hopefully, by July 11 , I’ll have met a boy who’s not you.” th

In a flash, Caleb’s arms are clamped around my wrists. He leans over me, so close that I can smell him. He smells like sweat and body spray, with a faint hint of smoke. “Don’t count on it, Sis. If you think you’re going to meet a boy who can fuck you better than I can, you’re going to be waiting a long time.” I try to wrestle out of Caleb’s grasp, annoyed at how much I’m enjoying struggling against him. It’d almost be fun…if I weren’t trying to show Caleb that he has no chance with me. Pushing my body up against his probably isn’t the best way to do that. Caleb starts to lean in as I struggle, almost like he’s going to kiss me…and then, he jumps up off of the bed and takes a couple quick steps away from me. A second later, Mom sticks her head into the bedroom. I blush, thankful that Caleb heard her coming up the stairs. “Oh, sorry, I forgot about the pasta salad!” Mom smiles. “It’s alright, honey. The mosquitoes were coming out, so Larry and I decided to take the barbecue inside! You two are welcome to come down and join us, but I do have a feeling that we’re going to bed early tonight.”

Mom looks at me conspiratorially as she backs out of the bedroom. I get up off the bed and close the door behind me. “Oh, God, ew, they’re going to fuck, aren’t they?” Caleb gives me a look. “Welcome to my world. Your mom’s been coming over for months, and every time it happens I basically have to leave the house. They’re fucking hot for each other.” “Caleb, don’t be gross!” “I’m just stating a fact. And trust me, they’re not quiet. They scream phrases.” “Maybe I should go to the bathroom before they get started, then.” I stick my head out the bedroom door, and I can hear them making out downstairs. “Never mind, they’ve already started.” I close the door, and realize that if Larry’s spending the night…that means Caleb is spending the night, too. He must have realized it at the exact same time, because he’s spread out all over my bed, and he’s starting to take off his shirt. “No. No way. You’re sleeping on the couch downstairs.” “Come on, Sis. There’s plenty of room for both of us here.” Caleb climbs into my blankets, and I throw them off him. “You. Downstairs. As soon as they leave.” Caleb makes exaggerated puppy dog eyes at me. “You’re seriously going to make me listen to our parents having sex? Seriously?” Personally, I’d rather put his arrogant ass on a cab back to Palo Alto, but since that’s not exactly feasible…he’s right. No one should have to hear that. Even if they are a total asshole. “Fine. You can sleep in a futon on the floor, but if you try anything, I’m going to throw you down the stairs.” Caleb kisses me on the forehead. “You’re the best stepsister ever.” I raise my eyebrows at him, but he doesn’t push it any further. I make Caleb face the wall while I get changed into my pajamas, despite his protestations that “it’s nothing he hasn’t seen before.” Meanwhile, he rolls out the futon, and I toss him a couple spare blankets and pillows from my bed. “I guess we’re going to bed early, too.” Caleb shrugs. “We were up late last night.” Thinking about that completely blows my mind. Yesterday, I thought I was never going to see the Beast again, and now, he’s sleeping on a futon in my bedroom. Granted, he’s apparently also an immature asshole named Caleb, but he’s still here. Caleb passes out before I can even click off the lamp. My eyes linger on his sleeping body, watching his huge torso heave with his breath, like it did when he was in the ring. For a couple seconds, I can almost smell the sweat of the arena again, and hear the roar of the crowd. A shiver runs up my spine, the feeling passes, and I turn out the lights.

Chapter 5: Caleb Shit, what time is it? I push myself off the futon a little bit so I can see the time on Emma’s alarm clock. 2:45 AM. Weird. From the way I slept, I thought it was 7:30 or something. Before I hit the futon again, I look at Emma and laugh. She pulled her blanket off her body, and she’s spooning it in her sleep. I climb up to my feet so I can get a better look, and it’s basically the most adorable fucking thing I’ve ever seen. Her cute little arms and legs are hugging the blanket, and she’s holding it right up against her perfect tits. My cock starts to get hard as I think about how jealous I am of that blanket. God, I just want to slide right in there and let her hug me instead. I bet she wouldn’t even notice. She’d probably snuggle right up, push those amazing tits against my side, and put her head on my chest like it belonged there. This isn’t just any girl, though. It’s my new stepsister, and I promised her I wouldn’t try anything if she let me spend the night in her room. After I spent all that time making her squirm, I wouldn’t have blamed her if she kicked my ass down to the couch, but she didn’t. Now that I’m thinking about her, though, it’s going to be really fucking hard to get back to sleep. My cock is rock hard, and when I lie back down and close my eyes, all I can think about is how Emma felt last night, grinding up on me like she never wanted me to stop kissing her. Fuck this. I need to get some fresh air. As quietly as I can, I open the door and sneak downstairs. Thankfully, it sounds like my dad and Emma’s mom have had their fun and drifted off to sleep themselves. Trying not to wake anyone up, I twist the handle of the back door and sneak through it. I figure since I’m up, I might as well train. When you fight like I do, there are no days off. If I’m not in the best shape possible, I’m going to get taken down by someone who is. And in my fights, getting taken down could mean anything. The jagged, barely-healed cuts on my side from Chainsaw’s punch are a reminder of that. What the fuck was up with that, anyway? I’ve had girls standing ringside before trying to get me to look their way, but I’ve never actually looked, especially when I’m in Beast mode. I do a couple laps around Emma’s neighborhood as I try to make sense of it. How could I have been so reckless? If Chainsaw had hit me in the head instead of in the body, it could have really fucked me up. I need to make sure that nothing like that ever happens again. The next couple fights are probably the most important of my life. It took me a long time to get these California Kings guys to respect me. To stop thinking of me as a rich kid trying to be cool and to start taking me seriously. I knew beating Chainsaw was my best chance at that. The organizers love him because he draws blood, but he’s past his prime, so I knew he was going to drool at the chance to rip apart a young up-and-

comer. I also knew that beating Chainsaw was going to get them to start talking about letting me into the championship tournament, and that if I hurt him bad enough, there’d be an empty slot that I’d be the heavy favorite for. It worked, but I almost did get ripped apart in the process thanks to Emma’s adorable fucking face. Now, after a year and a half of D-list fights in shitty secret venues, I’m finally landed closing in on a spot in the California Kings championship, a huge tournament with a cash payout big enough to get me out of my dad’s shadow forever. Emma’s adorable little sleeping face flashes through my mind again, and my breathing starts to get harder. Fuck, I need to calm down and think about something else. Something other than Emma and the tournament. Good fucking luck. As I run laps through Emma’s quiet little neighborhood, I keep passing this basketball court. Totally empty, with bleachers and everything. This time around, I decide I want to get on the court, so I hop the fence and walk out into the center of the blacktop. Being on the court calms me down a little. It’s my natural fucking habitat, after all. Right in the middle of everything. Surrounded by bleachers, an audience, whether they’re really there or not. The center of attention. I know just the way to get that image of Emma cuddling her blanket right the fuck out of my head. Shadowboxing. Replaying the fight with Chainsaw over in my head, only this time, I’m not going to get hit. I do a couple warm-up stretches as I pace around the blacktop. After a minute or two, I’m not even seeing it anymore. I’m seeing the octagon from last night, with Chainsaw talking shit on one side, and a crowd full of roaring, bloodthirsty degenerates cheering me on. I’ve gotten so good at this shit that I can jump into any fight I’ve ever had like it’s a fucking DVD and recreate everything, down to the exact detail. Emma’s even here, just like she was last night. Standing by the bleachers, giving me that same adorable “please notice me” look that almost got me a face full of chainsaw teeth last night. Even the memory of her is hard to look away from, but I have to do it. Otherwise, I’m never going to make it to the next level. Over the next hour, I go twelve rounds with Chainsaw’s ghost, practicing punches, kicks, blocks, dodges…everything I’ve got. At first, my game is a little off because I’m thinking about Emma. But then, the more I fight with her in my mind’s audience, the more I start to adapt. I start thinking about how hot she got from watching me fight, how bad she wanted me to win, and I start using that shit. I fight harder, react faster, and last longer without getting tired. Chainsaw’s ugly face sneers at me over and over, but I keep fighting, until my chest is heaving and every muscle of my body is screaming. The best part about shadowboxing is that you always win. You get accustomed to winning before you even set foot in the octagon. Back in Emma’s house, I turn on the kitchen sink and run some water over my face and neck.

Fuck, that was a good workout. I should sleep in Emma’s room every night. My shirt is totally soaked through with sweat, so I peel it off and drop it on the kitchen floor, wetting my fingers and rubbing cold water down every exhausted muscle. A floorboard creaks behind me, and I hear a little gasp. When I turn around, Emma’s there, looking up at me like she just got her hand caught in the cookie jar. A heavy silence falls between us, and as little drops of water run down my body, I can see her eyes struggling not to follow them down into my shorts. I put my hands on the kitchen counter, leaning forward and thinking about how it felt to think about her while I was shadowboxing. I break the silence, my voice dead serious. “You can pretend like this doesn’t exist all you want, but I guarantee that by the end of this summer, I’m going to make you mine.” Emma stands there for a couple seconds, breathing hard in the doorway. Then, she just turns around and goes upstairs. I’m pretty sure I got my message across, because I can see her legs trembling as she heads down the hallway. She can’t say I didn’t warn her.

Chapter 6: Emma Ever since Mom got engaged, she’s been telling me that Larry wanted a small, intimate wedding in a quiet, out of the way place. From the way she described it, I pictured it happening in some cute little church out in the middle of the woods…not on a beach in the Bahamas. If this is Larry’s idea of a small, intimate wedding, his idea of a big wedding must involve renting out the Grand Canyon. I’m really happy for Mom, but I have mixed feelings about this whole “impromptu Bahaman weekend” thing. I had to take all my plans for the entire weekend and cram them into next week to make room. You’d think a Caribbean mini-vacation would make my perfect summer even more perfect, but there’s one huge problem, and his name is Caleb Matthews. Since we’re here for our parents’ wedding, that makes us “the kids.” And that means we’ve been forced to spend the whole weekend together. We sat next to each other on the plane, our hotel rooms share a wall, and we have to sit together at the wedding. In the very front row, with some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley sitting behind us. Needless to say, it’s been an infuriating 24 hours. Caleb’s spent most of our time together trying to get me to go swimming with him. It’s a shame, because the ocean is so clear and beautiful out here that I’d love to swim in it…just not with Caleb. I know he’s just trying to get me into a bathing suit so he can see me mostly naked. In fact, I didn’t even bring a bathing suit, just so I would have an excuse to stay in my hotel room all weekend and finish my book. Naturally, Caleb planned for that. He brought a tiny little Made In China bikini that he’s been trying to get me to wear out with him. Luckily, once we landed and got set up, I’ve been able to avoid him, but it’s the afternoon of the wedding, which means the two of us are about to be spending a lot of time together. I step out into the hotel hallway, only to find Caleb waiting outside. It’s surreal seeing Caleb dressed in a way that doesn’t show off his tattooed fighter ’s body. Naturally, he’s still huge, but his massive frame is wrapped up in an insanely expensive suit and his hair is actually combed. I’d never admit it to him, but he actually pulls off “handsome, civilized gentleman” really well. Shame about the whole personality thing. Caleb looks impressed by me, too. I didn’t think about what his reaction would be when he saw me wearing one of my nicest dresses with all this makeup on. I just wanted to look great for my mom’s wedding. “You look stunning.” I can’t help but blush. “Thanks.” It’s a step up from “totally fuckable,” at least.

“It’s not too late to go put on the bikini I bought you underneath all that, you know.” …and now he’s back to normal. It was nice while it lasted, I guess. “Sorry, pervert, but it actually is too late for that. People have already started filing down to the beach, and if we wait too much longer, they’re going to start wondering where we are.” “Then let’s not keep them waiting.” Caleb offers his arm to me. I narrow my eyes at him and take it. *** It’s a long, long walk from the hotel to our seats. As we head across the beach, Caleb keeps running into people he knows from work, stopping to talk to them while keeping a death grip on my arm. I’m pretty sure in his real line of business, they call this an armlock. As Caleb gets in conversation after conversation with his father ’s friends, I’m shocked at how respected he seems to be. Has he ever worn a short-sleeved shirt around any of these people? Has he ever let the professional act slip and acted like the over-the-top macho douchebag he really is? Am I the only one who can see his actual personality? It feels like I’m the only one on this beach who doesn’t know everyone else. They’re all talking about industry stuff with Caleb while I have to stand there, smiling and nodding. Most people we pass correctly assume I’m Larry’s new stepdaughter, but one especially famous CEO asks us how long we’ve been dating. Naturally, Caleb doesn’t bother to correct him. He just smiles and leaves that to me. Finally, right when I seriously think I’m about to scream, we make it to our seats. Naturally, we’re right up front, in the perfect position for everyone to stare at us. I’m worried that if I try to engage Caleb, he’s going to say or do something inappropriate, and the people behind us are going to notice, so instead, I stare blankly past the altar and watch the Caribbean waves roll in. “Jesus, sis, you’re so tense.” Uh oh. Am I coming off as tense? I was trying to come off as calm. “Relax. Enjoy your mom’s wedding. I’m not going to do anything weird in front of all these people, I swear.” In my rational mind, I know that most of the crowd probably isn’t paying attention to us, but it’s hard not to want to keep the conversation down to a minimum. “Well, it’d probably be easier to relax if I thought we had the same definition of weird.” Caleb laughs. “Why, do you think this is weird?” I let out a little yelp and my body freezes puts his hands on my bare shoulders.

“Because it’s not. It’s just me being a good stepbrother and helping you relax before the wedding starts.” Caleb starts to massage my shoulders and neck. At first, I’m super tense, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that anything I could do to get Caleb’s hands off me would only make everything worse. So instead, I drop my shoulders, lean back in my seat and let him massage me. “See? Doesn’t this feel better?” I can’t lie, it does feel really good. Caleb’s thick, strong fingers squeeze all the tension right out of me like a sponge. Then, after going up and down my neck a few times, he takes his hands off me and puts them back in his lap. “See? Not weird at all.” Over on the other side of the crowd, the orchestra starts warming up. I look behind me and see Larry standing behind the crowd, getting ready to walk up the aisle. It’s a huge relief: once the wedding starts, I don’t have to worry about engaging Caleb. “By the way, there’s going to be a party tonight in my room. You coming?” “With who? Your friends from work?” “Nah, a couple guys from my gym.” “Other fighters?” Caleb puts a finger to his lips. “Shhh. Our little secret, remember? But yeah. Them, plus a couple of people I found on the beach. Plus you.” Great. A party in the room right next to mine. “We’ll see. I have a lot of work to do.” Caleb scoffs. “Come on, it’ll be fun. The legal drinking age is 18 here, so you can’t hide behind the goody-two-shoes act.” “I’m not hiding behind anything. I’m just not sure if I’ll be able to make it.” “Oh, you’ll be able to make it. I’ll bring the party to your room if I have to.” I glare at Caleb. “Are you seriously going to force me to be in your presence from now on?” “I’m pretty sure our parents are the ones forcing us to be together. I’m just trying to get you to loosen up and have some fun with me.” “You can say that all you want, but we both know that all you really want to do is…” Before I can finish that sentence, I realize where I am and clamp my mouth shut. Caleb’s lips grow into a calm smirk. “All I really want to do is what? What were you going to say?”

I’m about to just straight up give Caleb the silent treatment. The people in the row behind us are too caught up in a heated conversation about deep-sea diving to pay close attention to us, but we still can’t be talking about this here. “Nothing. Nevermind.” “You’re not getting off that easy, sis. What do I really want to do?” I curl my toes and open my mouth, spending every ounce of energy I have trying not to make a scene at my Mom’s wedding. Thankfully, just in the nick of time, the orchestra starts to play and the wedding begins. Luckily, Caleb has the manners not to talk during a wedding. As soon as Larry starts walking up the aisle, he shuts right up. Finally, I can watch the wedding in peace. It’s a beautiful wedding. Mom looks amazing in her wedding dress, but she also looks super nervous. I can’t say I blame her: weddings are nerve-wracking enough without half of Silicon Valley in attendance. I wonder if she’s thinking of Dad. Caleb’s definitely thinking of his mom. I can hear it in his breathing, and when I look over at him, his eyes dart down to the sand and then back up to the altar. As Mom and Larry say their vows, a school of dolphins appears in the ocean behind them, drawing cheers and gasps from the crowd. Mom looks out at the dolphins, but Larry doesn’t take his eyes off Mom. When the priest tells Larry he can kiss the bride, she turns away from the ocean and plants a tender kiss on his lips. It isn’t until the wedding starts to conclude that Caleb’s words start to echo in my head. He’s right. I feel weird thinking of him as family when the ghost of the smell of his shirtless body still lingers in my nose, but that’s what he is. And I may not be married to him, but I am stuck with him, which means the two of us are going to need some serious boundaries. Fast. *** At the reception, they have these little turtles made out of cheese cubes, grapes, and toothpicks. I put a couple on my little white plate, pop a cheesy turtle head into my mouth, and head over to congratulate Mom. Mom looks like her heart just stepped off a rollercoaster. “I can’t believe I zoned out like that. I heard the crowd react to something, so I looked behind me, saw the dolphins, and…the next thing I remember, I realize that everyone’s waiting on me to kiss Larry.” “It wasn’t that long, Mom, don’t worry about it.” “That’s what everyone’s telling me, but it felt like an hour.” Mom laughs and shakes her head. “By the way, are you and Caleb going to stay out here through the week?” I look over at Caleb, who’s having an extremely friendly conversation with the CEO who thought the two of us were dating. I can’t believe how good he is from switching from crude, vulgar

fighter to well-spoken professional. “Well, I don’t know what Caleb’s doing, but I know I’m leaving tomorrow night. My internship starts on Tuesday. Besides, I wouldn’t want you worrying about me on your honeymoon.” Mom looks surprised. “Our honeymoon?” “Yeah, you’re staying in the Bahamas, right? Why else would you have the wedding out here?” “Oh, honey, did I not tell you? Larry and I are going on a continental honeymoon.” “What? What’s that?” “It’s a honeymoon that spans every continent.” I almost choke on a turtle fin made of sharp cheddar. “Is that a thing? Wouldn’t that take months?” “Oh, don’t worry, I told Larry I needed to be back in time to send you off to college. We had to cancel the East Asian leg of the trip, but that’s not a big deal.” “Mom! You’re going to be gone all summer and you didn’t tell me?” “I’m sorry, honey. I guess I didn’t want to think too much about the honeymoon before the wedding and it just slipped my mind. You’ll be alright with the house to yourself, won’t you?” “Yeah…I’m just surprised.” Larry walks up to us, holding a kebab on a plate. “The catering here is incredible. I need to hire these guys for the Poodle kitchens.” Mom motions to my plate. “Have you had the turtles?” “No, are they good?” I hold my plate out towards Larry. “I think so. Taste for yourself.” Larry bites a turtle in half, and his eyes roll back in his head. “Incredible. Where did you say the plate was?” I point behind me, and Larry puts his hand on the small of Mom’s back, leading her over towards the turtle plate. Now that I’m alone, I look around nervously, suddenly aware that I don’t know anyone else here except Mom, Larry, and Caleb. I definitely don’t want to tag along with the bride and groom for the rest of the reception, so I look over towards Caleb. He’s still on the other side of the tent, talking to the same CEO as before, only now, he’s brought over his daughter, who’s looking up at Caleb with an expression most people usually reserve for baby seals. She’s blonde, pale, and gorgeous, but I can’t help but feel a dark little twinge of satisfaction at the

fact that the guy she’s batting her eyelashes at isn’t the real Caleb. If she saw the real Caleb, drenched in sweat with his Beast tattoos showing, she wouldn’t be looking at him like that. She’d either be horrified or she’d be throwing herself at him, depending on how much of a freak she is. She definitely wouldn’t be looking at him like she is now. Like he’s boyfriend material. I tear my eyes away from Caleb before he can catch me staring and look around the room again. Maybe I should just head back to the hotel. I can eat in my room, curl up in a king-size bed, and maybe even fall asleep before Caleb’s stupid party starts. It’s tempting, but Responsible Emma wants me to stay and network with all these industry people. And as much as I’d prefer a good book and a soft bed, she’s right. This many CEOs in one room with their guards down…I should have brought a business card. As soon as I manage to calm my nerves, I walk over to the nearest important-looking person and introduce myself.

Chapter 7: Emma The dashing knight just caught the princess alone in her secret orchard. After months of failed attempts to get his attention, she’s finally alone with him, and I think he might be about to admit that he has feelings for her. There’s only one problem: it’s hard to concentrate on a secret orchard over the insanely loud music coming from next door. It’s not just the music, either: there’s so much banging on the walls that I’m starting to get suspicious that Caleb and his friends are actually fighting in there. I can’t believe the hotel hasn’t come up to make them shut it down, but I guess when you’re paying this kind of money, they tend to leave you alone. Whatever. Parties end, and until this one ends, I have a romance novel to get through. Tristan plucks a peach off the nearest tree and brings it up to his soft lips, never taking his eyes off of Analucia. “There’s something I need to tell you,” he says. “How did you know I was here?” Analucia asks, her thighs starting to quiver as she watches him eat her peach. When Tristan brings it up for another bite, she can almost feel his mouth between her legs. “A garden full of forbidden fruits,” he says, smirking, “Where else would you be?” Before I can turn the page, there’s a ridiculously loud bang coming from next door. It sounds like a human body just got thrown hard into the wall at full speed. They actually are fighting in there, aren’t they? As much as I want to get back to Tristan and Analucia, I should probably make sure Caleb doesn’t spend the night in a Bahaman jail. That would be bad news for Poodle, which means it would be bad news for me. Rolling my eyes, I put down my book and get changed into something that I can wear next door. With one hand on the door to Caleb’s room, I brace myself by imagining the roughest, trashiest party possible, and it’s still not enough. The smell of sweat and liquor almost knocks me over as I open the door, and the noise of the party is so loud that I have to step inside or else it’s going to wake up the entire hotel. For the first couple seconds, no one even notices I’m here. They’re too busy staring at the center of the room, where two jacked up guys are rolling around on the floor punching each other. The room is pretty trashed, but it’s nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a few hours of elbow grease. Yet. Caleb isn’t watching the fight. He’s sitting on the bed, which got pushed into the back corner of

the room to make room in the middle. There’s a very tan girl in a tiny bathing suit sitting on the bed with him, but he’s not paying much attention to her even though she’s all over him. I’m the only person in the room with their shirt on, but everyone is apparently too drunk to notice how out of place I look. Except for Caleb. He spots me before I can get halfway across the room and shouts “Emma!” The whole room cheers, and I take the opportunity to weave between them and get to Caleb. Caleb hands me a red plastic cup from the nightstand. “I knew you’d come around. There’s rum over by the TV.” “Thanks, but I didn’t come here to drink rum.” “Emma,” Caleb says my name in a low, scolding voice that really shouldn’t get to me as much as it does, “What did I tell you back at the wedding? You need to loosen up. Have some rum. Throw a couple dollars down on the next fight.” I sit down on the bed at Caleb’s feet, and the girl trying to get in his pants wraps her arms around him possessively. “Look, I’m not telling you to stop the party. I’m telling you to stop the fight. I’m pretty sure you can hear it from the beach.” “Emma, we can’t stop the fight. We’re fucking fighters. That’s what we do.” I point at the guys grappling on the hotel floor. “They might be fucking fighters, but you are the son of a CEO. Other people spend their whole lives working for the type of opportunity that just fell into your lap, and you’re throwing it away so you can live out some stupid bad boy fantasy.” I can see Caleb’s jaw clench beneath his skin. I think I just actually hit a nerve. A second later, though, and Caleb breaks into a smile again. “You saw what I can do in the ring. That’s not fantasy, that’s fucking reality. Do you know how much money I could make off this shit over the next couple months?” The girl in the bathing suit looks at me with hostility in her raccoon eyes. “Caleb, is this your girlfriend?” Caleb laughs. “She wishes. No, this is my stepsister, Emma. Emma, this is Kira. I met her on the beach yesterday.” Kira has a trashy, obnoxious voice that makes me instinctively dislike her, and up close, her blonde hair is clearly a horrible dye job. We shake hands. Caleb puts one hand on Kira’s waist and the other one on my thigh. “Hey, why don’t you two fight?” I look Kira up and down. Her legs are like short little sticks. I could probably take her. Wait, what am I thinking? This is ridiculous.

Unfortunately, I think I sized up Kira for a second too long. Caleb launches himself up so that he’s standing on the bed and knocks on the ceiling until he has everyone’s attention. I cringe as I imagine the upstairs neighbors calling the front desk to complain. “Everybody shut the fuck up! Our next fight is going to be a ladies’ fight. Kira versus Emma. Winner gets to be my girlfriend for the night.” The whole room cheers. Meanwhile, I’m sitting at Caleb’s feet, blushing crimson. This is what I get for trying to save his ass, I guess. “I was trying to help you, asshole. Good luck with hotel security.” I get off the bed and make a beeline for the door. “Sis, wait, it was a fucking joke.” I slam the door behind me and head back to my room. Over the next couple hours, the party actually gets louder. I try opening up my romance novel again, but I’m too pissed off to make it through a single paragraph, so I hug a pillow, stare up at the ceiling, and listen to the fighting through the wall. Why can’t there be guys like Tristan in real life? Devoted, compassionate men who fight for the things they want? Why does every guy I meet have to be so immature? So selfish? And why am I thinking about Caleb like he’s some kind of stupid crush? He’s my stepbrother. Not only that, but my crush was never on Caleb. It was on the Beast, which is just some kind of character Caleb has when he’s in the ring. And I absolutely cannot waste any more time fantasizing about my stepbrother ’s alter ego, especially when his real ego is so obnoxious. There are plenty of other guys out there worth my time. Next door, the party starts to die down, but I’m still tossing and turning in bed. Then, right when I think I might be falling asleep, I hear a knock at the door. If it’s Caleb, I am going to throw him off the balcony. It’s Caleb. Too bad my room doesn’t actually have a balcony. “What?” Caleb looks tired. And more than a little drunk. “My bed is covered in passed out guys. Can I sleep in here?” “Seriously? Where’s your girlfriend for the night?” Caleb shrugs. “I have no idea. You know that was just a joke, right?” “Maybe I don’t appreciate jokes like that made in public places. What would you have done if I made jokes about you being an MMA fighter at the wedding reception?” Caleb nods. “Good point. I’m sorry for doing that. Can I come in?” Actually apologizing to me is probably the most shocking thing Caleb’s done yet. “If you don’t

mind sleeping on the floor, then yes.” “Cool.” Caleb pushes the door all the way open and brushes past me as he enters my room and sits on my bed. “You were fucking right, you know.” “About what?” “About the party. It was a really stupid idea that could have fucked up my cover.” Caleb runs his hand through his messy hair. “Why’d you throw it, then? What did you think was going to happen?” “I don’t know. I just didn’t want to…I just…didn’t want to think about the wedding, so I set something up to distract me.” “Oh, well, it looked like it was working.” Caleb shakes his head. “It didn’t. I mean, don’t get me wrong, your mom seems really nice, but…I still kind of wanted my mom to come back, you know? “Where is she now?” Caleb looks at me, brow furrowed. “I have no idea.” “Well…if you don’t mind me asking…why’d she leave?” Caleb is quiet for a little while, looking around the room like he’s struggling to find the words to say. “I, uh…had an older brother. Zane. He fell in with a bad crowd, and when I was 14…he just left. Mom blamed herself, and moved to the other side of the country a couple months later.” After a long, heavy pause, Caleb looks over at the nightstand. His eyes fall on my romance novel, and he bursts out laughing. “What the fuck is this?” I guess he wants to change the subject. That’s okay, I just wish it was about anything other than my current choice of reading material. “That’s my book.” “The Forbidden Grove: A Young Woman’s First Love. I bet you read this with one hand, don’t you?” I try and snatch the book out of Caleb’s hands but he pulls it away from me. “It’s a fantasy novel!” “I bet. I bet you get all kinds of fantasies reading this.” Caleb slides up onto my bed and opens it to a page near the end. His eyes go wide. “Wow, this is fucking filthy. I knew you weren’t as innocent as you looked.” There’s no way to take my book back from Caleb now without climbing into bed with him, so I decide to let him have his fun. “I haven’t gotten to that part yet, so I don’t know how dirty it gets.

Maybe you should read the whole thing. You might learn something.” Caleb laughs, and starts reading a sex scene out loud in a deep, melodramatic voice. Not wanting to be spoiled, I jump into the bathroom and take a shower, hoping that he’ll be tired of making fun of my book by the time I get out. 15 minutes later, and he’s definitely tired of it. He’s out like a light, right in the middle of my bed. I try to nudge him awake and get him on the floor, but he won’t budge. He must have been pretty drunk, I guess. Well, I’m definitely not sleeping on the floor. Not with a red-eye flight tomorrow. And since he’s too heavy to safely move, it looks like I have to do the one thing I told myself I was never going to do: get into bed with Caleb. I push Caleb over to the side of the bed and click off the lights. As I’m lying there with my eyes closed, though, I’m thinking about what he said about his mom. He threw the party so he wouldn’t be thinking about her. Maybe that explains a lot of the stupid stuff he does. I roll over in bed and wrap my arms around Caleb’s neck. “I lost somebody, too. My dad. You’re not alone, okay?” I squeeze Caleb tight and roll back over to my side of the bed. For a second, I feel the whole bed vibrate, like maybe he heard me, and he’s saying thanks. But it’s probably just my imagination.

Chapter 8: Caleb Emma looks frustrated. She’s got the cutest little pouty face on as she hauls armfuls of books back and forth across the bookstore. On her adorable fucking perfect summer calendar, it says that this is supposed to be a publishing internship, but I’ve been here all day, and all I’ve seen her do is get people coffee, haul books, and catch a lot of undeserved shit from some short guy with a comb-over. I’m surprised she hasn’t noticed me yet. I’m not hiding or anything, I’m right here at the fucking reading table, reading Emma’s book, The Forbidden Grove: A Young Woman’s First Love. At first, I thought it was hilarious, but now I’m actually kind of getting into it a little bit. The princess in this shit reminds me of Emma. Tristan obviously wants to make a fucking move on her, but every time he tries she runs back to her little garden and plays hard to get, even though she totally wants him. On the other side of the book store, Emma drops an armful of books on the ground, sighs, and starts picking them all up. My original plan was to wait until she got off work to surprise her, but if I have to sit through any more of this shit, I’m probably going to end up throwing that short guy into the clearance rack. I’m pulling the plug on this shit now. “How’s the summer of adventure going?” When Emma sees me, she drops all the books she picked up back on the floor again. “Caleb, what the fuck are you doing here?” I shrug. “Book shopping.” Emma drops down to her knees, and I go down with her. “You have to get out of here. I’m not supposed to be talking to anybody.” “So I’m not allowed to help you? They’re paying me the same amount that they’re paying you.” “Seriously, get out, my boss is going to kill me if he sees you.” “You mean that short guy with the shitty hair? I’d like to see him fucking try.” I take all the books out of Emma’s hands and start carrying them in the direction she was headed. “You’re going to get me fired on the first day, asshole. This is a prestigious internship.” “Tell me where these go so I don’t have to guess.” Emma points to the other side of the store. “Over there, behind the table, but you can’t just put them down. There’s going to be a book signing, and the author wants them in the shape of a giant pyramid because the book is set in Ancient Egypt.” I look over to where Emma’s pointing, and see a

bunch of copies of this same book stacked into a half-finished pyramid. “Are you fucking serious? I thought this was a publishing internship.” “It is. It’s just, you know, you start at the bottom.” I can tell Emma’s disappointed, and that makes me want to find whoever ’s responsible and dispense some fucking justice. “You know, you’re getting paid the same as the people who built the actual pyramids. And they didn’t fucking call that a prestigious internship.” I dump the books down on top of this bullshit pyramid, and Emma scrambles to arrange them in perfect order behind me. “You know what I think you should do? I think you should tell these publishing guys to fuck off and come to the beach with me.” Emma’s eyes dart around the bookstore, making sure her boss isn’t nearby. “What are you even doing here? Why aren’t you up in Palo Alto?” “It’s fucking empty up there, sis. Besides, there aren’t any good gyms in the neighborhood, and I need to train for my next fight.” “But isn’t it stupid to drive all the way down here just to train?” “Of course it is. That’s why I’m staying at your house.” “Caleb!” Emma cringes and lowers her voice to a whisper. “You can’t just decide to stay at my house. We don’t even have a spare room!” I reach into my pocket and pull out a set of golden keys. “I talked to your mom about it. She told me I could sleep in her room while they’re on that continental honeymoon thing.” Emma glares at me. “You’d better not bring any gross MMA fighters into my house.” “Trust me, that’s not going to be a problem. I’m not doing anything like that again for a long time.” Emma sighs. “Moving books back and forth all day and then putting up with you when I get home. I can’t believe I actually thought this was going to be the perfect summer.” Emma starts walking back to go get some more books, and I follow behind her, pretending to browse the shelves as I go. “You know, if I were you, I’d be a little more polite to me. After all, it just so happens that I could get you a much better gig than this.” “Thanks, but I’m not interested in being a ring girl.” That makes me laugh, but when I’m done laughing, I catch up to Emma and cut her off, backing her up against a bookshelf full of detective stories. “I’m talking about Poodle, sis. When Dad left for the honeymoon, he temporarily promoted all his management people, to see who could handle an increase in responsibility. And that means I’m now in charge of the entire PoodleMatch program, including hiring interns.”

Emma’s jaw drops. “You’re in charge of the entire program?” I nod. “Don’t look so fucking shocked, sis. I happen to be very good at my job with Poodle.” I can see the little gears turning in Emma’s head. “So you can hire me.” “Hypothetically, yes. And hypothetically, I can even pay you. I know I’d definitely rather see you doing that than stuck here hauling books.” Emma narrows her eyes at me. “What’s the catch?” “The catch is that you have to quit this bullshit right now and come to the beach with me.” Emma takes her sweet time contemplating my offer. I’m trying to play it cool like I don’t care either way, but I really, really want to see her in that bathing suit I picked out for her. “Fine. Let’s do it. But I’m not officially quitting until my position with Poodle is final.” As Emma goes into her boss’ office, I lean up against the wall outside and pretend to read a cookbook I picked up off the shelf. I can hear her making up some story about how she has urgent family business and she needs to leave early. Personally, if I was her, I’d skip the story and tell that guy where to shove his pyramid, but whatever. What matters is we’re finally fucking hanging out. The fact that we’ll both be half naked is just a bonus. Emma steps out of the office, eyes bright like a hamster ’s. “Alright. I’m free. You want to go to the beach? Let’s go to the beach.”

Chapter 9: Emma Where the hell did Caleb find this bikini? What woman with my body type would even try to wear something this tiny? Caleb practically snarls when I walk out of the car wearing it. “Holy shit, Emma. That’s the best $3.50 I’ve ever spent.” I can’t help but blush at how openly he admires my body. Doesn’t he have any dignity at all? I’m one to talk, I guess. I’ve been sneaking peeks at his abs ever since he took off his shirt on the way out of the book store. But still, that’s different! I’m just looking. I’d never actually make a move on him! I shift from foot to foot, trying not to think about how much my stepbrother is enjoying the sight of me in this bikini. “Let’s just get to the beach. Did you bring a bathing suit, or are you going to go swimming in your jeans?” Caleb smirks at me and unzips his pants, letting them slip halfway down his hips before he slides them down his legs with one hand. He thrusts his crotch out as he takes off his pants, and his technique makes me wonder if he’s also a secret stripper. I wish I’d walked in on that show a couple weeks ago instead. Wait, no I don’t, what? Under his jeans, Caleb’s wearing a black bathing suit that goes halfway down his thighs. This doesn’t seem fair. If I have to parade around a public beach with two little triangles of fabric barely covering my nipples, shouldn’t Caleb have to wear one of those European male thongs? Caleb clears his throat, and my eyes dart back up to his face. Oh god, how long was I staring at his bathing suit? “You know, if you want, we can skip the beach and get a room at one of those motels down the street.” I should have known it was going to be like this. I let Caleb seduce me away from my internship with promises of a harmless beach trip and a better internship, and he’s already trying to get into my nearly nonexistent bikini bottom. “Caleb, I don’t care how horny this makes you,” I gesture down at my swimsuit-clad body, “If you think the two of us are ever hooking up again, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. We’re either going to be friends, or we’re going to be enemies.” “Jeez, who said anything about hooking up? All I said was we should get a motel room. I didn’t say we should fuck in it.” Caleb locks the car and starts heading towards the beach, and I follow him. “You’re right. This is just a friendly beach trip. You and me hanging out and getting to know each other better. Trust me, I don’t go to the beach with the girls I fuck. I throw them onto the nearest bed and I make them

fucking beg.” I really did not need that last little piece of information. Since Caleb apparently insists on being part of my life, I was hoping this little beach trip would make our relationship a little more normal. A little more like real stepsiblings and a little less like two strangers who almost fucked each other and still really, really want to. So much for that. Before we even get out of the parking lot, he wants to drag me into a motel room and I’m imagining him throwing a girl down on a bed and making her beg. He’s your stepbrother. He’s your stepbrother. I repeat it to myself over and over again, but the mantra starts to lose its meaning as I watch Caleb’s firm, muscular ass from behind. This is the first time he’s been shirtless around me since the night we met, when he dragged me into his locker room and sucked out my breath with his kiss. In our current states of undress, it’s hard for me to think of anything else. At least the beach is totally packed. I’m not sure where we’re even going to sit down. Caleb scans the coast. “Fuck. I thought we were going to have some space to ourselves.” “That’s because you don’t live down here. It’s packed all summer. We can’t all go to private beaches like you do.” I walk ahead of Caleb and point to a patch of open space between two empty beach tents. “But look, we can put our towel down there. That’s all the space we need.” Caleb walks up between the tents and spreads his towel out across the sand. “Alright, but if people don’t clear out of here soon, we’re heading up the coast.” I sit down next to Caleb, careful not to pop out of my bathing suit on the way down. I haven’t been able to make any sudden movements since I got out of the car. Caleb looks out at the sea, bathed in the glowing orange shadow of the tent next to us. “So…you’re down here training for another fight?” Caleb looks amused. “Yeah. It’s a week from now.” “Please don’t tell me it’s against a guy with knives for hands.” “Nah. That guy you saw me fight was with another league. California Kings members don’t use weapons, but sometimes we fight guys from other leagues who do. This next fight is more important, because if I win, I fight in the tournament.” Caleb hands me a bottle of sunscreen and points to his back. I give him a look. “What? I can’t reach back there on my own.” Well, he’s probably right, and I’m not going to get very far in having a normal relationship with Caleb if I refuse to touch him, so I squirt some sunscreen into my hand and start rubbing it across his tattooed muscles and try to ignore the tingling heat developing between my legs.

“Tournament?” “The fucking championship. The 16 best fighters in the league play a four-round tournament, and the winner gets an insane amount of cash.” “So you’re risking your life for money? Isn’t your dad worth billions?” I feel Caleb’s muscles tense against my hands. “Yeah, but right now, I’m only worth what he’s worth. If I win the tournament, I’ll have the money to get out of Poodle and do my own thing.” “So is that why you fight? For the money?” Caleb flexes his hands against his knees. “Nah. I mean, I want the money and all, but when I get up into the ring, nobody knows what my name is or who my dad is. I’m just the Beast, and everything I get, I have to earn.” When Caleb says “Beast,” my eyes are drawn back down to his wild tattoos, a jungle that warps and shifts with every breath he takes. “What did you do to keep it happy before you started doing MMA? Like, when you were a little kid?” There go his muscles again, tensing and warping beneath my fingers. It’s only now that I realize that he’s been adequately covered with sunscreen for a while now, and that I’ve basically just been giving him a backrub for the past couple minutes. I pull my hands away. Caleb takes a deep breath and points across the ocean. “You see that spot out there where the water ’s a little lighter?” Squinting as hard as I can, I can just barely make out what he’s talking about. “I think so?” “It’s a sandbar. I don’t want to talk about this shit with all these people around, but if we swim out there, it’ll be a lot quieter.” “Are you sure we can make it out there?” “Positive. Get up on my back and I’ll swim us out.” Caleb’s like a dolphin as soon as he hits the water. I bet he has a pool up at his mansion in Palo Alto. Or maybe a private beach. I have to throw my arms and legs around his torso and hold on for dear life as he pulls me through the ocean. When I agreed to climb up on Caleb’s back, I didn’t think about the effect it would have on me. But being this close to him, with my legs wrapped around him, feeling his body heave as it slices through the water…I hope he can’t feel how hard my nipples are right beneath his shoulder blades. When we get to the sandbar, Caleb drags himself up onto the sands while I hop off him and stand up in the inch-deep water. “This is amazing…” The beach is just a tiny sliver of beige on the horizon, the noise of the tourists nearly silent beneath the roar of the ocean.

“Peace and fucking quiet, just like I like it.” I turn away from Caleb and face the open ocean, trying to hide the fact that my nipples are hard as diamonds from riding out here on his back. “So, what did you want to tell me that was so secret that we had to swim out here?” “Fuck, I don’t even remember what we were talking about. I got distracted.” I look over my shoulder and can’t help but notice the thick tent in Caleb’s bathing suit. My breath catches in my throat. Focus, Emma. Don’t think about that. Look at the ocean. “I asked you what you did to keep yourself happy before you started fighting?” Behind me, I can hear Caleb’s breathing quicken. “I fucked. I went to clubs, took girls back to my place and made their wildest fucking fantasies come true.” I feel his presence come up behind me, and my body betrays me by leaning back into him, my wet, exposed skin bumping up against his. What am I doing? If I want Caleb to stop being sexual towards me, this is the exact wrong way to do it. “Okay…I’m sure you did, but back on the beach, it seemed like you were about to tell me a secret.” Caleb’s hand wraps around my side, resting on my hip. “A secret, huh? Yeah, I’ve got a couple of those. Why don’t you tell me a secret about you, and then I’ll tell you one of mine?” I can almost hear Gina’s voice playing in my head. Just fuck him. Turn around, pull his wet shorts down, and tell him where you want him to put his cock. Out here in the middle of the ocean, no one’s going to know. But I can’t! He’s my stepbrother, he’s about to be my boss, he’s an illegal MMA fighter, and most importantly of all, he’s a total playboy asshole who just admitted to going through girls like popcorn. Fucking him on a sandbar is probably the worst idea in the world. Unfortunately, that message isn’t getting through to my body, which somehow thought it would be a good idea to press my entire butt up against Caleb’s hips. You know, to help me keep my balance on the edge of the sandbar. So I don’t fall off. When I realize what I’m doing, and what it’s doing to Caleb’s cock, I pull away from Caleb, almost fall off the sandbar, and put a lot of distance between the two of us. “Don’t change the subject!” Caleb looks at me, breathing hard, bathing suit stretched to the absolute limit by his bulge. “What do you mean?” “It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about your childhood! You don’t have to! But I would very much appreciate it if you didn’t try and change the subject by trying to fuck me on a sandbar!” Caleb looks surprised at my sudden change of mood. “I didn’t do it on purpose. I was just reacting to you.” He looks down at my nipples, hard and obvious and aching to be touched. Okay, fair point. Or

should I say points? But still, this can’t happen! “Okay, but we can’t do this, especially not in places where anyone could see us. I know we’re both still a little…confused…because of how we met…” Caleb advances on me. “I’m not confused. I know exactly what I want, and I think you do too, even if you won’t admit it to yourself.” I bite my lip, feeling myself grow wetter with every step Caleb takes. If we don’t get out of here now, I think I’m going to end up following Gina’s imaginary advice and ripping my stepbrother ’s bathing suit off. “Caleb,” I say, my voice coming out breathy and low. “Let’s go back.” Caleb stops in his tracks, looks out towards the open ocean, and then looks back to me. “Alright, let’s do it.” I walk up to Caleb and climb up onto his back. Caleb grabs my calves, wrapping them around his abs. And just like that, Caleb dives into the water and starts swimming back to shore. This time, when I wrap my legs around him, I can feel the healing gashes from his fight with Chainsaw up against my thigh. I wonder if they’re going to turn into scars. I slide up Caleb’s body so I’m not pressing into a recent wound, and on the way up, one of my hands brushes up against another scar, ancient and jagged, running across one of his pecs. Caleb tenses up when he feels me touch the scar, so I run my fingers off of it and push my palm against his chest. But it’s too late. Now that I’m paying attention, I can feel scars all over Caleb’s body. Some of them are small and smooth; others are angry and thick, like the one on Caleb’s chest. Is that why Caleb’s body is covered in tattoos? To hide his scars from people he doesn’t want to know about his fights? I press my face up against Caleb’s swimming back and look into the face of a lion inked across his shoulder blade. It stares back at me with fire in its eyes.

Chapter 10: Caleb Thank god for empty gyms. Without them, I’m not sure the world would be able to fucking handle me. I’m not one of those people who can just bottle up their feelings when something’s bothering them. I need to work that shit out, which means pacing, punching the air, and roaring at the top of my lungs. The type of shit that I can only do in two places: when no one’s watching, or when everyone’s watching. Normally, I pay a local gym to close early, wait for everyone to leave, and go to fucking town. Down by Emma’s house, though, I hit the jackpot. I found this fighting gym, totally run down but fully stocked, and struck up a conversation with the owner. He was a boxer for 15 years. When he got too old to get in the ring, he bought this gym, became a boxing coach, and things were good for a little while. Now, he said, nobody really comes by. He was still making enough to keep his head above water, but what he really wanted to do was give up coaching and open up his own Italian restaurant downtown. One check later, Gio’s living his dream, and I have my own personal gym. And it’s good timing, too, because I’ve got some shit I need to work out. Like how I can’t stop thinking about my fucking stepsister. Like how I want her in ways I don’t even understand. And like how I’m going to get demolished next time I step in the ring if I don’t get this shit under control. It’d be one thing if I could just cut her off. It’d hurt like hell, but I’d eventually get over it. But there’s no getting away from someone who’s in my own family. If nothing happens between us, then I’m still going to have to see her all the time. Meet her new boyfriends. Pretend to be okay with that. The punching bag I’ve been wailing on snaps off its chain and goes flying across the gym. I guess everything has its breaking point. I remember there being a spare punching bag in the locker room, so I head in there to go get it. Bad idea. As soon as I step into the locker room, it’s impossible not to imagine Emma like she was the night I met her: stripped down to her underwear, squirming and trembling, ready to worship every inch of me. God, it’d feel so good to bend her over the nearest bench and slide right in, listening to her scream and moan as I fucked the shit out of her. Somewhere down in my throat, the beast growls with need. My cock feels like it’s going to explode. If I don’t fuck this girl soon, I’m going to go crazy. Out on the sandbar, she pressed her sexy ass right into my cock, and then two seconds later started saying it wasn’t a very good idea. I don’t know what the fuck she wants. As I drag a new punching bag out into the corner to replace the one I just broke, I’m wondering if I should just keep my distance for a little while and see if this stops messing with my head.

There’s only one problem with that plan: I told her I would hire her. And she’s coming in for an interview tomorrow morning.

Chapter 11: Emma I’m usually pretty good about job interviews, so why am I so nervous about this one? Caleb literally told me it was just a formality. Of course, all that happened before I went out on the sandbar with him. Ever since, he’s been acting weird. Cold. I thought that him living in my mom’s house was just going to be him chasing me around 24/7, trying to get me into his bed. But honestly, I’ve barely even seen him over the past couple days. He’s been training at the gym all day, keeping weird hours, and going straight to his room when he does get home. Hypothetically, this should be exactly what I wanted. It just doesn’t feel that way. I’ve heard all the stories about how crazy Poodle HQ is, but nothing could have prepared me for how high-tech it is. It’s like a Silicon Valley version of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. It feels like almost everything in the entire building is computerized, including the salad bar in the middle of the lobby that tells you how many calories are in your salad as you make it and the cartoon poodle that walks across the walls, which double as computer screens. While I wait for the elevator, I touch the poodle, and it licks my hand. When I make it up to the PoodleMatch offices, it all looks a little more normal, although there are hearts that float across the walls every once in a while. Caleb’s office is all the way on the far side of the office. I step over workers with their laptops on the floor until I reach his door, and then I lightly knock. The Caleb that answers the door is not the cold, distant Caleb of the last couple days. As soon as he sees me, he wraps me up in a bear hug, lifts me off the ground, and carries me into his office. “Caleb, you can’t just do that. Everyone out there saw us!” Caleb drops me down into a chair in front of his desk. “Yeah, but no one cares. This is Poodle; it’s one of the best places to work in the country. Speaking of that, why do you want to work for Poodle?” Caleb sits down in his chair, puts his feet up on his desk, and smiles at me. He’s all dressed up again, looking ridiculously classy in some kind of insane designer suit. “Well…uh…Poodle is…” “I’m just kidding, sis, you’re hired. Can you start right now?” I can’t believe this is happening. I’d be insanely happy if I weren’t so confused. “Start doing what? What’s my actual job?” Caleb grins. “My personal assistant.”

“Caleb!” “Don’t worry, it’s a real fucking job. Kind of. Most of the people here are actually coding the app. I’m one of the two co-managers, but I’m mostly in charge of shit like marketing and PR while Dylan, the other co-manager, handles the technical stuff. No one else here cares about marketing and PR stuff, so I’ll just run my shit by you. Your title will be like ‘assistant director of marketing’ or some shit.” “Okay.” I try to hide my excitement at getting to put “assistant director of marketing” on my resume before I’ve even started college. “What does that mean?” Caleb throws his hands up. “Well, most of the marketing is done. So I guess when nothing else is going on, just walk around. When people have a problem, you help them solve it. You’re like a bridge between me and them.” “Are the people working out there going to freak out when an eighteen-year-old girl walks right in and becomes one of their bosses?” “Like I said, they’re probably too happy working at Poodle to care. Besides, half of them aren’t even doing anything right now. We’re ahead of schedule, so we’re just putting the finishing touches on the program and waiting for launch date. Really, you can probably just hang out and play ping pong in the break room for the rest of the day.” Caleb closes a laptop on his desk. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m about to go to the gym and train for my fight on Friday. If you have any other questions, that’s where you’ll find me.” I have hundreds of questions, but none that I particularly feel like asking Caleb, especially when he just set me up for such an easy job. I shake my head, and Caleb gets up from his desk, giving me a hug as he passes. “Welcome to the team.” And just like that, he’s gone, leaving me all alone in his office. What’s going on with him? He’s been a cold noodle to me ever since we went to the beach, but he was super friendly just then. He set me up with a ridiculously cushy job, and he barely even made any of his usual vulgar sex jokes. I mean, I guess he did carry me into his office, but still. If Caleb acted like that more often…well, it’d be even harder to stop thinking about getting into bed with him… Concentrate, Emma. Get to work. There’s a binder on Caleb’s desk labeled “Marketing Initiatives,” and that feels like as good a place to start as any. I leaf through a couple of pages, and to my surprise, it’s full of advertising orders, gorgeous ad mockups for magazines, and a full schedule of marketing campaigns all the way up to launch day. It’s pretty impressive stuff for a guy who just ditched work to go prepare for an MMA match. I kind of figured that Caleb would be too…I don’t know…reckless to run a business, but if he’s really responsible for this folder…maybe he’s right about being able to get out from under the shadow of his Dad. After leafing through a couple more pages, I close the binder and put it back on the desk, not because I’m bored with it, but because it’s making me rethink Caleb in dangerous ways. After all, I’ve

been trying to convince myself that Caleb isn’t my type, but if he can do this…there’s a chance that, under all those tattoos and muscles, he’s exactly my type. And that’s terrifying.

Chapter 12: Emma The next couple hours go by slowly, but they’re not exactly boring. I go around the office, introducing myself to the staff and telling them that I’ll be here if they need me. Most of them seem like they can handle themselves just fine without me. Over a game of ping pong, one particularly nice employee basically says the same thing Caleb said in my interview: that PoodleMatch is mostly finished, and we’re just supposed to be getting ready to ship it. With that in mind, it’s easier to get comfortable around the office. I decide to head over to the salad bar in the break room and make myself a salad, but right as I’m drizzling on the balsamic vinaigrette, I hear a laptop slam shut behind me. When I turn around again, I see a guy with black hair and thick, horn-rimmed glasses sitting on a couch with his face in his hands. It’s Dylan, the other comanager. “No…no, no, no, no, no…” I leave my salad at the bar and hurry over to him. “Is something wrong?” “I was just testing PoodleMatch, and it matched me with an air conditioning unit. Then, without my permission, it used my credit card to make us reservations at a steakhouse.” Dylan looks white as a sheet. “That…sounds bad.” “It’s really bad. We need to get this down to QA now.” “Umm…” I look around the office, but everyone’s just looking at me. “Sounds good. If you email Caleb the QA email address, I’ll get on his computer and send this down to them. Then I’ll go get Caleb and bring him back.” Dylan shakes his head. “He doesn’t need to come back. There’s nothing we can do until this gets fixed. Just find him and let him know, so he doesn’t do any marketing until we’ve gotten it working again.” With a smile and a thumbs up, I walk into Caleb’s office, send an email down to QA, and hurry out to my car. *** Why Caleb would want to train here when there are probably hundreds of state-of-the-art gyms in the area is beyond me. The whole place is pretty much falling apart. Luckily, I don’t need to look

very far to find Caleb. He’s in the ring in the very center of the room, throwing vicious-looking punches and kicks at the air. God, he’s wearing those shorts again. And those gloves. And his eyes are doing that intense blazing thing with the sparks that I keep seeing in my dreams. Does this place have air conditioning? It’s really hot in here… “Come to watch the show?” Caleb asks through gritted teeth, sweat beading down his neck. “Uh…no…Dylan sent me. There’s a problem with PoodleMatch, and he wants you to know not to do any marketing until it’s fixed.” “Good.” Caleb unleashes a roundhouse kick that looks like it could take somebody’s head off. “More time to train.” Great. Mission accomplished. Now I can go home. After about ten more seconds of watching Caleb fight, I manage to get my legs to move towards the exit. “Good luck at the fight!” In a flash, Caleb is out of the ring, standing right in front of me and absolutely dripping with sweat. Hello, stepbrother. “You’re coming, right?” Coming? To the fight? “Am I even allowed to come?” “Of course. Fighters get VIP front row seats.” “Okay…it’s just…last time this guy tried to tell me I wasn’t allowed to be there.” Caleb shakes his head. “He was being an asshole. I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again.” I can’t imagine what would happen if I came to another of Caleb’s fights. I was starting to get wet watching him fight nobody up in that ring. And I’d be in the same building as that locker room… “Come on, it’ll be fun. You can bring Gina.” “I don’t know if Gina would want to go…” That’s a lie. Gina hasn’t met Caleb yet, but when she does, I’ll never hear the end of it. She’d love to get me back into that locker room. “Besides, I don’t want to hold you back. Last time, you were staring at me and you almost…you know…” Caleb smiles. “Got punched in the cock?” “Exactly.” “At least think about it, then. I want you in the front row, because other than this,” Caleb motions towards his side, “You actually helped me fight better.”

“Okay. I’ll think about it. And I’ll talk to Gina. For now, though…I think I’ll let you get back to your workout.” “You should stick around. I could use someone to help me practice my holds.” Yeah, sure. Caleb rolling around on top of me in the ring. That’ll end well. Caleb knows it, too, judging by what’s happening down in his gym shorts. “Thanks, but I’ve really got to go.” I wave goodbye to Caleb, and then head straight for the gym exit, practically running by the time I get out of the car. I needed to get out of there, because letting Caleb put me in a sexy submission hold was almost starting to sound like a good idea. And my body still thinks it is. While I’m hitting the gas and trying to get away from Caleb, it’s fantasizing about turning the car around, walking back into that gym, and letting Caleb put me in every single submission hold he knows. We’ll have to take all our clothes off first, obviously, to prevent chafing. After three miles of trying not to think about that little scenario, my phone gets a text. It’s Caleb. Friday night. 11 PM. Same place as before. Cleavage optional, but appreciated. Looks like he’s back to normal.

Chapter 13: Emma It’s nice to see that nothing has changed at Sinners. Everyone’s still committed to blurring the lines between dancing and sex with clothes on. “I swear, if you’re making this up, I’m making you an online dating profile tonight.” Gina doesn’t believe that the MMA fighter I almost hooked up with last time we came here is also my new stepbrother. She thinks this is like the time I told her I had a Canadian boyfriend when I was 15. “Gina, why would I make up an excuse to go back to this place?” “I don’t know. All I know is that this isn’t going to be like last time. I’m going to get you in bed with a guy if I have to tuck you in myself.” “I’m not going to bed with Caleb, he’s my stepbrother! I’m just here to root for him.” Gina narrows her eyes at me. “Very convenient. I guess we’ll just have to find you a guy after the match.” Technically, I brought this on myself by talking Gina’s ear off about the types of guys I wanted to date, only to get nervous and mess it up whenever I actually have a chance with one. She thinks I’m some kind of mega-hottie who doesn’t know she’s hot, and she’s determined to prove it to me by setting me up with the hottest guy she can find. I’m not too concerned about it, though. I’m pretty sure Gina won’t be too worried about me getting laid tonight once she sees the arena in the back of this place. I point over to the bar. “Okay, but let’s worry about that after the fight. Let’s just get some drinks and wait for Caleb’s manager.” “Okay.” Gina takes out her little bottle of rubbing alcohol and wipes her X off in one smooth motion. I hold my hand out for the bottle, but instead of giving it to me, Gina grabs my wrist. “Nice try, but not this time. You’re not leaving my sight unless it’s with a boy.” As Gina drizzles rubbing alcohol across the back of my hand, I look around the club for any sign of Caleb’s manager. I agreed to come to Caleb’s fight on two conditions: that I could bring Gina with me, and that someone he absolutely trusted could keep us out of danger. He said he’d have Fox, his manager, come out and take care of us, and that he’d meet us in the club before the fight was supposed to start. When a couple minutes pass with no sign of Fox, Gina drags me over to the bar and orders us both whiskey sours. Gina sips hers like it’s lemonade, and even though I can barely get it down at

first, I pretend like it’s nothing out of the ordinary. Whiskey sour? I have them all the time. Experienced 21-year-old girl over here. Even though I’m choking down my drink, I’m getting a lot fewer what-are-you-doing-here looks from the crowd than I was last time. I think it might be because I went shopping this afternoon, looking for an outfit that wouldn’t immediately make me look out of place in that insane MMA arena. I finally settled on a long black party dress that gets lacy at the bottom and shows off just enough cleavage to help Caleb win the fight. For now, it seems like I’m fitting in pretty well. I feel less like Alice in Wonderland and more like Cinderella. That said, when a heavily pierced guy with long, orange and black hair puts his hand on my arm, I almost jump out of my seat. “Are you Emma?” I guess this is Fox. That explains the hair. I nod. “Awesome. The description Caleb gave of you…wasn’t very helpful.” Gina drains the rest of her whiskey sour and spins her stool around. “Did he just talk about how hot she was?” “Gina!” Fox laughs. “Something like that. I figured it was one of you two because neither of you have any tattoos.” Gina sticks her tongue into the inside of her cheek. “I have a tattoo.” Fox shakes his head. “It doesn’t count unless it’s visible.” “I don’t think you can judge whether it counts or not unless you’ve actually seen it.” I make progress on my whiskey sour as Fox and Gina flirt with each other. Now that I’m about halfway done with it, it honestly doesn’t taste half bad. The alcohol leaves a fire in my chest as it goes down. “So is it true that there’s a huge arena in the back of this place?” Fox puts his finger up to Gina’s lips. “Some people say that. Personally, I wouldn’t know.” Gina puts her hand on my shoulder and spins me away from the bar. “This one says there is. She says there’s a giant room full of inked up guys back there who watch fights, and that one of the fighters is her new stepbrother. I think she’s making it all up.” Fox just laughs.

*** Gina’s eyes look like they’re about to pop out of her head. “Holy shit, is that really him?” My breath quickens as I watch the Beast step out of the locker room, eyes glowing, perfect lips set into a hard line, totally naked except for a tight, black pair of shorts that barely stretch all the way around his powerful thighs. That’s him, alright. Every stupid, panty-destroying inch of him. The crowd goes crazy as he walks up to the ring. Some of them roar like tigers. As he climbs up into the octagon, his eyes meet mine and a hot shudder runs through my body. “How have you not fucked him yet?” Gina’s question is uncomfortably close to what I’m thinking. “Gina! He’ll hear you!” “I’ll say it to his face. Didn’t you say you slept in the same bed with him? How is that even possible without something happening?” I shift in my seat, trying to ignore the burning down between my legs. It feels like that intense, fiery alcohol burn has traveled all the way down to my hips, making me feel warm, wet, and way too receptive to the idea of sneaking back to the locker room and letting Beast finish what he started last time I was here. It doesn’t help that I have a perfect view into the locker room hallway from our front row seats, and it definitely doesn’t help that Caleb keeps staring at my low cut dress, the one I bought because he asked me to, like he wants to rip it to shreds with his teeth and put his hungry, savage mouth on every inch of my naked body. I try to shake the thought away, but it keeps coming back stronger. Last time I saw him in this room, he wasn’t my stepbrother, and the throbbing between my legs doesn’t seem to care what happened between then and now. Maybe I can distract myself somehow. Ask Fox why they call him Fox. Talk to Gina about our big road trip. Count the piercings in the room. I look over at Fox and Gina, who are already feeling each other up like horny teenagers in an empty theatre. Counting piercings it is, I guess. I make it to 27 piercings before the crowd erupts into a chorus of hisses and Beast’s opponent steps into the arena. He’s kind of a twitchy guy, and he’s not in sex god shape like Caleb is. Fox explains to Gina that his name is Cottonmouth, and he was an up-and-coming fighter with a lot of promise before developing a meth problem and falling off. He’s a big enough name to make the guys who run the league think this is going to be a fair fight, but Caleb should easily win. Personally, I’m just relieved he’s not armed with a weapon like the last guy. The announcer with the blood red mohawk steps into the ring, announcing the rules and introducing the fighters to the crowd. When he starts the fight, Cottonmouth immediately charges at

Caleb, launching into an all-out assault that catches him off guard and gets two or three nasty hits on him. Caleb roars in anger and blocks a couple of Cottonmouth’s blows. Then, he steps to the side and throws Cottonmouth across the ring. The crowd goes crazy, and so do I. For the rest of the match, my heart pounds as I watch Caleb weave around Cottonmouth’s wild, reckless punches. I don’t exactly have a history of watching MMA, but there’s something about watching Caleb that turns me into the world’s biggest fan. Most of the crowd is rooting for Caleb, cheering when he gets the upper hand on Cottonmouth and cringing when he takes hits, and I’m right there with them. Just like last time, my whole body is leaning towards the ring, hanging on Caleb’s every move. I’m worried that I’m going to distract him again, but I’m pretty sure that if Caleb thought that was a problem, he wouldn’t have sat me right in the front row. Cottonmouth must be jacked up on something: he’s clearly not in his right mind, hopping from foot to foot like a crazy person and charging at Caleb over and over, not even caring if he gets hit. Finally, Caleb manages to get him into a submission hold, but not before taking a nasty punch to the temple that sends streams of blood trickling down Caleb’s face. After a few minutes of struggling to get out of Caleb’s hold, Cottonmouth finally taps out, and the crowd goes absolutely crazy, exploding into a drunken chorus of roars, growls, and screams. Caleb’s burning green eyes look up at the mass of cheering people, he pushes himself up off of Cottonmouth’s prone body, and then he roars back at the crowd, easily making himself heard over the deafening noise. Then, he grabs the side of the ring, looks down at me, and gives me a look that ruins my panties. A look that says “Get up here and let me ravage you, or I’m going to come down there and do it myself.” My breathing gets as hard as Beast’s, I squirm in my seat, and I only break eye contact when some guys come up with a towel to clean the blood off of Caleb’s forehead. Then, as soon as his wound is clean and closed up with a couple butterfly bandages, Caleb looks right back at me with all kinds of dangerous things burning in his eyes, climbs out of the ring, and heads for the locker room, motioning for me to follow him. God, he’s arrogant. He thinks that I’m just going to follow him back there and let him make me his personal plaything just because…well, uh, that’s what happened last time, and I showed up in a low cut dress just like he asked me to, and I practically started drooling watching him fight… Okay, fine, so it makes complete sense. The question is, what do I want to do about it? I know that following Caleb back there and letting him have his savage way with me is probably the most irresponsible thing that I could possibly do, but I’m pretty sure it’s way past Responsible Emma’s bedtime. Meanwhile, Irresponsible Emma is up on my left shoulder, decked out in a red dress and devil horns, telling me that maybe I should just fuck him now and get all this sexual tension out of our system. It’s closure, right? We finish what we started in the same place we met, and then it’ll be much easier to turn down his stupid immature come-ons in the future. I know that argument is full of more holes than a hunk of Swiss cheese, but right now, with this wet, throbbing fire in my hips, I’m inclined to go along with any plan that involves me fucking the Beast.

God, what am I thinking? Bad Emma! Don’t fuck your stepbrother! No matter how wet he makes you! Well, I probably at least need to go back there, right? If I don’t, I’d be blowing Caleb off, and that’d just be rude. Besides, Fox and Gina are furiously making out in the seat next to me, and I highly doubt I’m going to be able to get Gina away from him for the rest of the night. It’ll be fine. I’ll see what Caleb wants, and if he tries anything dirty, I’ll just calmly and rationally explain why that would be a bad idea. No problem. And the fact that I can’t stop fantasizing about my first meeting with Caleb as soon as I step into the locker room hallway? That’s no problem either. Sure, last time I was here he kissed me, felt me up, and let me feel his cock, but this time, things will be different. I tell myself that right up until I open the locker room door and practically run right into Caleb. “Hey Emma,” he says, with a dirty, dirty grin spread across his face. God, has he gotten bigger since the last time we were here? His biceps look huge. Wait, why the hell did I come in here, again? “Um, hi. Congratulations on the win.” Caleb shrugs. “It wasn’t hard. Not with you showing off all that skin. The hard part was not climbing out of the ring and dragging you back here the second I saw you in this fucking dress.” Caleb runs his hands down my sides, running the smooth black fabric of my dress between his fingers. Now might be a good time to calmly and rationally explain why him touching me like this is a bad idea. “Getting your sexy ass out in the front row is like fucking cheating. I’d beat the shit out of three guys at once for a chance at getting my hands on these perfect fucking tits.” I gasp as Caleb’s hands come up to my breasts and start to massage them. This is the exact thing I didn’t want to happen, but it feels so good that it takes me a couple seconds before I slap his hands away. “Caleb!” I say, my voice an octave too high, as I squirm away from my stepbrother. “What? In my text, I said ‘cleavage optional but appreciated.’ You showed cleavage, so now I’m appreciating it.” I put some space between me and Caleb, hoping he doesn’t notice that my nipples could cut glass. “Caleb…we can’t. This is so inappropriate.” “Emma,” says Caleb, “We both know you wouldn’t be anywhere near here if you wanted to be appropriate. And if you say ‘we can’t’ one more time, I’m going to bend you over and spank that shit out of your vocabulary.” I try and come up with some kind of rebuttal for that, but Caleb walks up, presses his rock hard body against mine, and suddenly it’s really hard to think.

And I know I’ve been telling myself over and over again that I can’t hook up with him, but…just once wouldn’t hurt, right? Unable to deny the fire between my legs any longer, I look Caleb in the eye, moan with need, and put my mouth on his.

Chapter 14: Caleb Alright, first things first. I’m fucking dying to rip that obscenely sexy black dress off of Emma and do what I should have done before she ever became my stepsister, but before I can do that, there are a couple things that need to happen. I pull my mouth off Emma’s, drawing an adorable little whimper from her lips. God, she’s panting harder than me, and I just spent ten minutes in the fucking octagon. “What’s the matter?” she asks, her voice mostly breath. I grab my cock, grinning as her eyes drop down to it. “I know you’re dying to get your hands on this, but for what I’ve got planned for you, we’re going to need some privacy first.” There’s a punching bag over by the door, and I walk over to it and drag it so that it’ll block anyone who tries to get in. When I turn around, I burst out laughing at the sight of Emma leaning over the bench just like she did the first time we met, thrusting her curvy ass into the air between us. In response, Emma bites her lip and sticks her ass out even farther. Fuck, I’m laughing, but the thought of pulling that dress up her hips, slipping her panties down, and sliding right in from behind is starting to get tempting. But she’d like that, wouldn’t she? We pick up right back where we left off, and she gets to pretend it “doesn’t count” because it’s almost exactly like our one night stand a couple of weeks ago. There’s no way in hell I’m letting her get off that easy. But hey, if she wants to stick her ass out for me… I slide my hand under Emma’s dress, pushing hard between her legs and threading a couple fingers into her panties. Holy shit, I’ve barely touched her and she’s fucking soaked. My original plan was to play with her clit until she was nice and wet, but it feels like she’s already there. “Is this how you feel when you watch me fight?” I push my index finger in hard, slow circles on Emma’s clit. “Caleb…mmm…” “What was that? That didn’t sound like an answer. Let’s try that again. Is this how you feel when you watch me fight?” “It’s how I feel every time I’m around you!” As she realizes what she just said, Emma’s jaw drops and she turns back to look at me. So

naturally, I push hard on her clit so I can see the expression that she makes. Her cute little teeth come down on her lower lip, her eyes shut tight, and she squeaks with arousal. If this is how she feels every time she’s around me, I’m surprised she made it this long without crawling into bed with me. I pull my hand out from between Emma’s legs, drawing another desperate whimper from her lips. God, this fucking girl is going to be the death of me. That’s why I need to get her out of here before someone tries to come in. The punching bag will stop them from actually seeing us, but Emma might get embarrassed again and bolt, leaving me with a potentially lethal case of blue balls. “Come on.” I pull Emma up into a standing position, flip her around, and toss over my shoulder. “Caleb!” Emma kicks her legs in the air, pounds on my back, and pretends she’s not enjoying every second of this. “What are you doing?” “What I should have fucking done last time.” I grab a foil packet from my locker, carry Emma to the far end of the locker room, open a door marked “SHOWERS,” and step inside. “Alright.” I put Emma down on the ground, lifting up her chin so that she’s looking me right in the eye. “Now, where were we?” Emma’s eyes dart towards the showerheads on the walls. “Um…I don’t know…” “Really? Because I’m pretty sure Little Miss Don’t-Be-Inappropriate-Caleb just told me that her little pussy gets wet every time she’s around me after I reached between her legs and found this.” I show Emma the hand that I slipped into her panties, fingertips still glistening with her arousal. Then, her mouth drops open as I put a couple fingers between my lips and taste her. I’m trying to get her even wetter, but she tastes so fucking good on my tongue that I’m suddenly hungry for more. “What’s the matter, Emma? Cat got your tongue?” Emma’s eyes drift down to my cock again. When I catch her looking, I grab her hand and plunge it down into my shorts, where her cute little fingers wrap around the shaft. I start her down at the base, and then slide up…and up…and up… Emma’s eyes get huge. She looks like she’s petting a fucking unicorn. “That’s right, Emma. I’m the real fucking deal. Is this what you wanted the first time I took you into the locker room?” “Yes.” Her voice is a whisper that echoes off the shower walls. “And is this what you want right now?” Emma shuts her eyes tight and starts breathing hard. “Yes!” That was a little louder, but it was still a whisper. “Yes, what?”

“Yes, I want it.” “You’re going to have to be more specific than that so I know not to do anything inappropriate. We wouldn’t want that, would we?” Emma looks at me with pleading, almost frustrated eyes, and gives into her lust. “Yes, I want your cock!” “Wow, Emma, you’ve got a dirty little mouth, don’t you? I think you need to clean up your act.” I reach over to the nearest shower knob and twist it, turning on the water. “Why don’t you start by stripping off that little black dress of yours and stepping into the shower?” I walk Emma to the edge of the water, pulling her hand out of my shorts and guiding it down to the bottom of her dress. “I’ll stand over here and watch.” Emma looks back at me, hesitating as she pulls her dress halfway up her ass. Then, she turns around so I can get a better view as she pulls the dress over her head. Dressed only in her bra and panties, she walks over and hangs the dress from the nearest dry showerhead, and then looks dead into my eyes as she strips down to nothing. Her panties come off first, giving me an amazing view of her curvy ass as she steps out of them. Then, she reaches up and unhooks her bra, letting her tits fall out of the cups and revealing the most perfect, kissable nipples I’ve ever seen in my life. It takes every ounce of discipline in my being not to pounce on Emma, but I want to see her squirm a little more first, so I smirk and point to the running shower behind her. She shudders, goosebumps rippling across her pale, naked skin, and then she takes a couple steps back into the running shower…and then jumps back out again. “It’s cold!” Emma reaches for the hot water knob, twists it, and then gets back under the running water. Then, when she looks back at me, I hook my thumbs into my fighting shorts and peel them down, one inch at a time. Emma’s lucky she’s underneath a shower, because I’m pretty sure she starts drooling once I get my cock out in the open. By the time I kick the shorts completely off my legs, Emma’s mouth is hanging open, and her fingernails are brushing against her thigh like she’s about to start touching herself right there in front of me. That fucking does it. I can’t take it anymore. I need to get into this fucking shower and nail Emma up against the wall now. I step under the water with every intention of lifting Emma up into the air and fucking her until she screams, but when I get close, she drops down to her knees and takes my cock into her mouth instead. Holy shit. I didn’t even have this in the fucking gameplan, but Emma’s going to town on my

shaft like a seasoned pro. Instantly, I stop in my tracks and shudder as she takes me, her hands running up and down the muscles in my legs until she grabs my ass and uses it to get herself deeper. I look up into the running water and put my hands down on her head, running them through her wet hair and stroking her cheek, showing my gratitude and encouraging her to go faster. But I probably shouldn’t. The feeling of her perfect lips running up and down my shaft combined with the scrumptious little noises she’s making are going to make me fill her sweet little mouth with come if this lasts much longer. “Emma, Emma, Emma.” I pinch her ear between my finger and my thumb, and she looks up at me with wide eyes. “How are you ever going to get clean if you keep acting so dirty?” I put my hands on her cheeks and pull her off my cock, drawing a long, low moan of protest from her lips. Then, I put my hands under her armpits and pull her to her feet. “You didn’t have to stop me.” “Oh yeah?” “I wanted…to taste you.” I smirk. “There’ll be plenty of time for that later. Right now, we need to get you clean.” I reach behind Emma and grab a bar of soap from a rack underneath the showerhead. Emma’s nipples harden into swollen little pebbles when she notices the soap in my hand. Those are definitely the first things that need to get cleaned. I take the soap and rub it gently across her tits, getting them nice and lathered up before I rub it in with my hand. Then, I bring my soapy thumbs down to her nipples, washing them in slow, hard circles and then rolling them between my fingers. Once Emma starts to squeal my name, I know it’s time to start cleaning the rest of her curvy body. I take the bar of soap and run it everywhere: under her arms, across her back and stomach, over every inch of her ass, and then, finally, up and down the insides of her thighs. There’s one spot I’m avoiding, though, and as soon Emma looks like she can’t get any hotter for me, I get down on my knees and bury my tongue inside her. The soapy water from Emma’s stomach runs through my hair and down my neck as she grabs the back of my head and pushes me harder against her. I think she’s just as surprised at this as I was at her sucking my cock, but I’ve been dying to know what she tastes like ever since I met her. And now I know: she’s fucking delicious. Emma’s hands push me further into her hard little clit, and I oblige, wrapping my lips around it and pushing tight little circles into it with my tongue. It doesn’t take me very long to find out exactly what Emma likes, and once I do find out, I do it harder and harder until her screams bounce off the shower walls. I smile against her flesh, reaching towards my shorts for the foil packet in my pocket, pulling it out, and ripping it open. Once I’m sheathed, I look up at Emma, who’s staring down at me with pure lust in her eyes. After a few seconds of eye contact, I pounce, jumping to my feet, wrapping Emma’s legs around my waist, and holding her against the wall, where I can slide every last inch of myself

inside her. Emma’s eyes are wide with shock before I’m even halfway inside her. By the time I’m all the way in, she’s moaning my name and bucking her hips against me as hard as she can. Well if that’s what Emma wants, then that’s what she’s going to get. I hold her tight against the shower wall and start thrusting into her like a piston. I start out hard, and then I get deeper and deeper inside her, losing myself in the feeling of her body grinding against mine and the water of the shower trickling down between us. As I get deeper into Emma, I can feel her body heating, up, ready to explode again. When it does, I go with her, shuddering and running my hands all over her body as I reach my climax. Fuck. I’m spent. That was more intense than the actual fight. At least we’re already standing in a running shower. We stand there for a couple seconds, letting the water run over our bodies. “Let’s go back and find Gina. She’s probably looking for us by now.” “Yeah, let’s get out of here before someone notices that there’s a punching bag in front of the door.” Emma insists that we be as dry as possible before we leave, so that no one else will know what we were doing. Then, as we leave the mostly empty arena, she takes my hand. “I hope you know the way back to Sinners, because I definitely need a drink.” Emma seems confused about how to treat me, looking at me one second and then looking away the next. I just hope she doesn’t think this is the end. Because as far as I’m concerned, it’s just the fucking beginning.

Chapter 15: Emma Ugh…my mouth still tastes like whiskey and it feels like someone’s sitting on my brain…I pull the covers over my head and curl up into a little ball. It was definitely a mistake to try and match Gina drink for drink last night. She’s been to college parties, and I’ve probably never had that much alcohol, ever. Memories of laughing way too hard at the bartender ’s jokes and drunk texting half the people in my phone float through my mind, and I try to shoo them away so I can get back to sleep. That’s when I remember the other thing that happened last night. The thing with Caleb. You know, the thing where I let him fuck me in a locker room shower? I start to burn down between my legs as I remember how it felt, but I’m also super mad at myself for ever letting it get that far. If I thought he was insufferable before, he’s going to be totally insane now that we’ve had sex. He’s going to stop at nothing to make me his again. And again and again and again. I have no idea how I’m going to last a whole summer working with someone like that. Wait…work…oh no! I pull the blanket off my head, brain protesting the sudden movement, and check the time. 10:30!? For some reason, I went to bed thinking today was Saturday, but it’s definitely Friday, and I’m definitely two and a half hours late for my internship. I bounce out of bed and start pulling together an outfit for work, trying to ignore the mother of all hangovers throbbing in my head as I throw my clothes on. Twenty terrible minutes later, I stumble through the doors of the PoodleMatch offices, totally out of breath, and that’s when I remember that nobody actually does anything here. Half the office is in the break room having a chess tournament, and the other half are sitting at their computers not looking particularly busy. Still, what if someone got matched with a piece of furniture and Caleb was at the gym? I’d be the only one who could go get him. Of course, I’d like to think I have more uses than that, and besides, it’s just not professional to come in two and a half hours late, especially when you got the job through a personal connection. The cartoon poodle on the wall looks like it’s judging me. At least my hangover ’s going away. By the time I make myself a cup of coffee in the break room, I’m almost 100% again. No one’s said anything to me since I walked in, which is good, and I have a feeling the best way I can make up for being late is by making myself useful somehow. I poke my head around the corner, see Caleb walking around the office, and immediately duck back into the break room. I definitely don’t feel like interacting with him yet. I mean, I’m not sure

I’m going to have a choice, but…can’t I at least finish my coffee? I start watching him again, just to make sure he’s not going around asking for me. God, even the nerdy programmer girls here can’t stop checking him out. Every female eye in the room is locked straight onto him. I wonder if he’s hooked up with anyone here? Wait, what do I care? I want him to stop trying to get into my pants, right? Since Caleb has a near-telepathic ability to tell when I’m thinking about him, the best thing I could do is focus on something else. Dylan, the co-manager, just got destroyed at chess on the other side of the break room. As he’s making his way back to the office, I stop him. “Hey, did you get that bug worked out?” “Yeah, it was a pretty simple fix; it was just terrifying when it happened.” “Yeah, it was crazy. By the way, is there any way you can put a copy of PoodleMatch Mobile on my phone? I’m looking for a way to make myself useful, and I feel like it might help if you got an outside perspective on the app before you launch.” Dylan flashes a knowing grin at me. “Alright, sure. Test it out. Totally for research purposes.” “It is! What, you think I’m just going to use it to match myself with guys?” Dylan shrugs. “Use it for whatever you want. I’m just warning you, though: it’s a really good dating app, but you can’t message your matches yet unless you have a special version, so you’re probably going to fall in love with some guy and have to wait until we launch to talk to him.” “I’m willing to take the risk.” Dylan gives me a don’t-say-I-didn’t-warn-you face and takes my phone, bringing it back a few minutes later with PoodleMatch installed. From the way Dylan looked at me when he brought my phone back, I can tell he thinks I’m just going to use it to find cute guys, but honestly, I’m just bored and trying to be helpful. It didn’t even occur to me to take it seriously. I mean, I’m going off to college soon! This would be the worst possible time to find my perfect match. Besides, I doubt this program is really all that great. I mean sure, it matched up my mom and my stepdad, but I highly doubt a computer can look at my browsing history and use it to find me a soulmate. My prospective matches are probably going to be hilarious. I open up PoodleMatch, click on the button that says “Find My Perfect Match!” and watch as a poodle dressed like Cupid flies around my phone screen with a bow and arrow. After about a minute of loading, the poodle shoots a heart-shaped arrow into a cloud, and a guy’s picture falls out. I swipe the screen a few times and get a couple more pictures of him. He seems pretty cute, but kind of boring. He likes to surf. A poodle head pops up at the bottom of the screen and tells me his favorite book is Pride and Prejudice. And for some reason, it looks like I could message him if I wanted to…

“Really? Him?” I squeak as an unmistakably huge arm wraps itself around my waist. Crap. “He doesn’t seem like your type. Definitely too skinny.” “Caleb!” I whisper, “You can’t just look over my shoulder when I’m on my phone.” “I can when you’re using company property without my permission. Do you have any idea how fucked you’d be if anyone else caught you doing this?” Caleb reaches his hand out for my phone, and I reluctantly give it to him. “Holy shit, the messaging is turned on. If you messaged this guy, he could leak everything to our competitors.” “I wasn’t going to message him, I was just…testing it.” I look up at Caleb, doing anything I can to try and stop blushing. If I wanted things to get back to normal after what happened last night, then I’d gotten off to the worst start possible. The worst part is, Caleb knows exactly how awkward this is, and he loves every second of it. “Twelve hours later and you’re already online dating? Am I that bad a kisser?” “Caleb!” I look over towards the programmers playing chess at the other end of the room. I don’t think any of them heard, but that doesn’t exactly make me feel any better. “We can’t talk about this here.” Caleb’s eyes light up like a hungry tiger ’s, creating a very unwelcome heat down between my legs. “What did you just say?” he asks. “We can’t—” Oh. Oh no. I clamp my hands over my mouth as I realize what I said, and what Caleb said he would do to me if I ever said it again. “Emma,” Caleb lifts my face up towards his, “I’m going to need to see you in my office right now.” Caleb’s words from last night bounce around my head as he walks past me into his office. If you say “we can’t” one more time, then I’m going to spank that shit out of your vocabulary. I couldn’t stop thinking about it last night, no matter how many drinks I knocked back. Me telling Caleb off, and Caleb reaching the end of his rope, making me get up onto his lap, and spanking me until I’ve learned my lesson. I’m not sure why it’s so hard to get that image out of my head, but unless I do something, it’s about to happen right here in Caleb’s office. There’s no way that can happen. I need to tell Caleb exactly where to shove his stupid, perverted spanking ultimatum before he takes things too far and actually tries to bend me over his desk. There’s only one problem: every time I think about Caleb spanking me, the fire down between my legs gets hotter and hotter.

Chapter 16: Caleb Honestly, I was trying to leave Emma alone. Give her some space and shit. I need her to not hate my guts when the championship rolls around so she’ll actually come cheer me on. But when I saw her sitting there, matched up with some hipster douchebag with a surfboard under his arm, I couldn’t fucking help myself. I mean, yeah, all that shit I said about her not being allowed to use PoodleMatch is true. I probably would have needed to step in anyways to make sure she didn’t get into trouble. But mostly, she’s just too fucking fun to mess with. The way she acts all nice and proper, right until she gets too turned on and starts biting her cute little lip, practically begging to be fucked…it’s the hottest thing in the fucking universe. I bet she’s actually going to let me spank her, too. She’s going to roll her eyes, call me a pervert, and put up this cute little fight, but then she’s actually going to bend over and let me spank that insanely curvy ass, and before I’m even halfway done with her spanking, she’s going to get so wet for me she’s going to start moaning my name after every fucking smack. Shit. She’d better get in here quick, or I’m probably going to start jerking off to the fucking idea of it. Emma knocks on the open office door, snapping me out of my fantasy. “You asked for me, Mr. Matthews?” Something about her calling me Mr. Matthews is an insane turn on. She’s trying to play it super professional like she came in here on business, but nobody here calls me Mr. Matthews, so she actually just sounds like she’s roleplaying my dirty secretary. I laugh, and she looks pissed. “Come on in. We need to talk.” “Can I have my phone back yet?” Emma whispers as she steps into my office. I slide her phone across the desk. “Go ahead. I uninstalled PoodleMatch.” Emma checks her phone as I get up to close the office door behind her. “I swear, if you read my texts, I’m going to kick you so hard in the balls.” “You can try, but you might end up in a submission hold. Not that you’d mind.” Emma scoffs, but at least she doesn’t call me a pervert. After I close the office door, I knock on one of the frosted glass windows. “These are completely soundproof, by the way. We’re going to need it.” When I turn around, I almost have a fucking heart attack when I see Emma bent way over my

desk, ass sticking straight up in the air. She looks back at me and rolls her eyes. “What? We both know how this is going to go, so let’s just go ahead and get it over with” That’s adorable. She’s trying to skip the reluctance, pretend like it doesn’t bother her at all. Nice try, but there’s no way in hell I’m letting her off that easy. “Get what over with?” “You know…my punishment.” Emma’s annoyed face tells one story, but her bare, quivering thighs tell a different one. She’s so wet for this that I’m starting to wonder if she intentionally broke the rules just to get my hand on her ass. “What are you talking about? Why are you bent over my desk like that?” “So you can spank me, asshole.” Emma turns crimson, and I can barely manage to keep a straight face. “Whoa, hold on, Sis. I know you’re horny, but can’t it wait until we get home? This is a public office.” “I’m not…horny,” Emma says as she spreads her legs wider, “I said something I wasn’t allowed to say, and now I’m just following the rule.” “Oh, yeah, from last night. Refresh my memory of how that went?” Emma looks like she wants to hit me in the head with a fire extinguisher. She knows I’m playing dumb. The funniest part is I’m not even holding her to this. She could call my bluff and leave any time she wants, but she’s not doing it. “You said that if I said ‘we can’t’ one more time, you were going to spank it out of my vocabulary. And I just said it in the break room, so…come on. Let’s get it over with.” “Is that any way to talk to your co-worker, little Sis? With an attitude like that, you’re practically asking for a spanking.” Emma says nothing, pushing her ass out even further into the air. At this point, I don’t just want to spank her, I want to lift her skirt up over her waist and fuck her from the back. It’s too bad the thickest frosted glass in the world wouldn’t be able to muffle her screams if I did that. I walk up to Emma, grabbing the sides of her hips, getting them into position. “You know, I probably would have taken it easy on you if you hadn’t given me all that attitude. A couple taps through your skirt and then you’d be right back to work. But since you’re so insistent that this is all about me being a pervert, I think you actually need to learn a little lesson. That’s why I’m going to give you a real spanking. No skirt. No panties. Just the way it is in your fantasies.” Emma sucks her upper lip into her mouth and shivers. “I don’t have fantasies about this.”

“I don’t believe you. But I guess we’ll find out, won’t we? Because if you’re as wet for this as I think you are, you’re not going to be able to control yourself once I get going.” I dig my fingers into the waistline of Emma’s skirt, feeling her heavy breathing as I yank it down to her thighs. Then, I slide it the rest of the way down her legs with my palms, making sure she feels my hands every inch of the way down. Her panties are next, sliding over the curve of her ass, down off her feet, and right into my pocket. “If you’re a good girl for the rest of the day, you might even get those back.” Emma starts to say something, but it melts into a moan as I start spanking her. Normally, I’d be making fun of Emma for how into this she’s getting, moaning every time my hand comes down on her ass and thrusting it right back into the air for more, but fuck, man, I’m getting pretty into this too. Emma’s fucking naked from the waist down, and my hands are all over her perfect ass. Since I’m a professional fighter, I start off by holding back a little bit on Emma. As I keep spanking her, though, she starts pushing her hips back into my hand like she wants more, and I start giving it to her harder. And harder. And harder. Holy shit, Emma likes it rough. Her fucking moans of pleasure are getting louder, longer, and higher, and pretty soon she’s going to be making some noises that she’s not going to be able to explain as anything innocent. An idea forms in my head, and I almost burst out laughing before I can put it into action. First, I ramp things up, spanking Emma faster and faster until she starts to get all flushed in the face. Then, with no warning, I stop, resting my hand against Emma’s tingling ass and wait for her to say something. “You stopped.” Emma looks at me quizzically. “You told me you wanted to just get it over with. Is that a problem? Do you want me to keep going?” “Ew. No…” “Really? Because you’d think if you wanted me to stop, you wouldn’t still be here, bent over with your ass up against my hand.” “I’m just waiting for you to officially release me, that’s all.” I push my hand into the back of Emma’s thigh, where I can feel her muscles clenching with need. “That’s all, huh? So you’re telling me you didn’t enjoy that?” Emma bites her lip and shakes her head. “Are you sure? Because it really seems like you’re having fun down here. Are you telling me that if I sent my hand up between your legs, you wouldn’t be wet at all?” Emma shuts her eyes tight. “Yeah…”

“I’m not so sure you’re telling the truth, little sis. Not with you acting like this. Luckily, there’s an easy way to tell how you really feel.” Firmly, my hand pushes between Emma’s thighs until it finds her pussy, tight, hot, and soaking fucking wet. “Looks like you’re a horny little liar, sis. You’re fucking dripping down here. I’m starting to think you wanted me to spank you.” Emma doesn’t say anything, but she also doesn’t move herself off of my hand. I bring my fingers and my palm down the length of her slit, and then push them right back up. I mean, shit, if she’s going to keep herself right here on my hand, then I’m just going to find her hard little clit and start rubbing… Before I can, though, there’s a knock at the office door. Almost immediately, Emma gets off my hand, picks her skirt up off the floor, and runs behind my desk. “Oh, God, they heard us, didn’t they?” “They didn’t fucking hear us. The guy who used to have this job blasted music in here and we couldn’t hear shit from out there. It’s just a coincidence.” Emma pulls her skirt on and motions towards the door. “Answer it, before they think anything weird’s going on.” I laugh as I pull the door open. It’s Dylan, my co-manager. Nice guy. Huge nerd. “Hey man, what do you need?” “Do you have Emma in there?” Dylan looks over my shoulder at Emma, who’s sitting behind my desk and smiling, looking like the picture of innocence. Honestly, she looks a little too innocent. “Yeah, we were just going over some rules and regulations. Why?” “Um…ok…so is this…a disciplinary meeting?” What the fuck? He didn’t hear us, did he? I try and read Dylan’s face. “Sort of. Why do you ask?” “Well…uh…I think I should be the one getting punished instead of Emma.” I grin, right on the edge of bursting out laughing. I definitely didn’t need that image in my head. “What makes you say that?” Dylan’s fucking sweating bullets, so I start to relax. I don’t think he knows what we were doing when he knocked. “Well…Emma asked for a PoodleMatch prototype for testing purposes, and I gave her one, but I accidentally gave her an experimental build with live messaging.”

I flash an annoyed look at Dylan, mostly because he knocked on my office door at the worst fucking second in the history of time. “It’s alright. I saw her using it before she sent a message, and we took it off her phone. She was the only person in the office that could have happened to, and she’s definitely not going to be using any dating apps in the near future.” “Good! I mean…uh…yeah. Good. I’ll add a warning to that build so it doesn’t happen again.” “Yeah, you should probably do that. Is that all?” Dylan nods. “That’s all.” He looks at Emma one more time, and then heads back to his desk. I close the door, and Emma lets out a huge sigh of relief. “Oh my God, I almost crawled under my desk when he asked if this was a disciplinary meeting.” I shake my head. “That guy wants to get in your pants so bad.” “Dylan? No way!” “Come on, sis, he couldn’t stop checking you out, and he gave you the full version of PoodleMatch just because you asked. He wants you to be his fucking PoodleDate or whatever.” Emma rolls her eyes. “Yeah, he wants me so bad that he gave me a dating app where I could message other guys.” Then she looks straight at me. “But hey, maybe I should give him my number. He seems like a reasonable, responsible guy.” “Someone’s not getting their panties back today.” “Caleb! I need those!” “Oh yeah? Well, I need you to think about what happened in here, and having to work the rest of the day with no panties sounds like just the thing to make sure you don’t forget. Of course, you could always earn them back.” Emma presses her legs together, letting out a hot, conflicted breath. Then, she gets up and heads straight for the door. “I need to get out now, before I actually take you up on that.” And just like that, she’s gone, leaving me alone in my office, hard as fucking granite. How the fuck am I going to get any work done now?

Chapter 17: Emma My calendar feels like it’s mocking me now. Literally every cute little thing I had planned so far this summer has been totally turned upside down by the foul-mouthed, oversexed MMA god who came into my life right after I made it. Yesterday, I was apparently supposed to throw a pool party with as many friends as possible and try cooking a new recipe. Instead, I bent over a desk and let my stepbrother spank me in his office. Not this time, though. Today’s the day Gina and I start our road trip, and it’s girls only. No boys allowed. It’s not a huge road trip—we’re just going up to Portland and back—but Gina and I have been talking about it since our last semester started. And I’m sure Caleb would love nothing more than to come along and be stupid and sexy and try to get me to make bad decisions with him, but I actually managed to convince him he didn’t want to go. Now, it’s probably just because the big tournament is coming up and he’s been training overtime for the past few days, but still. It feels like a little victory, even though I had to turn down Caleb’s offer to put us up in luxury hotels to get it. I’m a little surprised he didn’t fight harder, though. Maybe he’s finally starting to get it through his skull how dangerous we’re being, and that little disciplinary meeting was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I have to pause on the stairs and compose myself as memories of getting spanked by Caleb flood back into my mind. If Caleb realizes that I’ve been thinking about it ever since I left his office yesterday, he’s going to try and go for round 2, and that can’t happen. If we get any more brazen, we’re going to be feeling each other up in the break room, and I for one don’t feel like losing my internship just because my sex-starved body can’t control itself around Caleb. God, it wasn’t just the spanking, though. It was the way his hand felt, pushing between my thighs like nothing could stop it from feeling the wetness in between my legs. Fingers curling ever so slightly, ready to slip inside… Maybe I should head back up to the bathroom and take a long, cold shower before I head downstairs. I tried that last night, though, and it didn’t exactly help. I had to touch myself just so I could get to sleep because I was so worked up. Thankfully, Caleb was right about my romance novel getting super dirty halfway through, but it wasn’t exactly Tristan the knight I was thinking of as my hips bucked up against my knuckle and my eyes rolled back into my head. Finally, when I think I’ve gotten myself under control, I take my travel bags and set them by the door. That’s when I see Caleb in the kitchen, shirtless and looking ridiculously sexy eating a bowl of oatmeal. After a few seconds, Caleb catches me looking, and I whirl around, diving for my bags and

trying to look busy. I can hear him laughing from the kitchen. “Are you sure you don’t want me to come, sis? I wouldn’t want you to get lonely on your big road trip.” “You said it yourself: you need to stay here and train. If you’re going to win that prize money, you need to be in perfect shape.” Caleb gets up from his oatmeal and steps into the entrance hall, spoon in hand. “I’m already in perfect shape, Sis. Can’t you tell?” I shoot Caleb a death glare, but it immediately loses all of its power as my eyes shoot down to the place where his abs end and his hips form a perfect V. He’s wearing his gym shorts really low on his waist. When I bring my eyes back up, Caleb’s smirking, judging me. “Damn, Emma, take a picture while you’re at it.” Caleb’s thumbs hook into his black elastic waistband, and my stupid horny eyeballs jump right back down to look. “Want to see what’s underneath? Just say the word.” “You’re disgusting.” I roll my eyes and looks out the window, silently begging for Gina’s car to show up and get me out of here. I’m not sure how much longer I’m going to be able to hold out. “I’m disgusting? Then I guess that makes you the dirtiest fucking girl on the West Coast for wanting me so bad.” Come on, Gina, what’s taking you so long? “This is why it’s good that we’re spending a week apart. We’ll have some space, clear our heads, and then, the next time we see each other, we won’t be so…” “Hot for each other? I fucking doubt it. If anything, a week of not seeing you is just going to make me want to peel your panties off even more when you get back.” So much for quietly waiting our here for Gina. I guess I’ll just get something to eat so I can distract myself from Caleb. I push past him, my hands lingering for an annoyingly long time on his inked-up abs, and I head for the kitchen. “Please tell me that’s not the last of the oatmeal.” “I finished the box, but there’s another one above the sink.” Caleb dips his spoon into his steaming oatmeal as he watches me stretch up to the cereal cabinet. I’m just barely tall enough to reach it, but I’m not about to ask him for help. “Hey, you should do what I did,” Caleb says, between bites, “I cut up some grapefruit into the oatmeal and added raisins.” “Yeah, that sounds good.” “Want to try it?”

I head over to Caleb, but he gets up from the kitchen table and meets me halfway, spoon full of oatmeal in hand. Before I can tell Caleb that he didn’t need to get up, he slips a spoon full of oatmeal into my open mouth. It’s really good, the perfect mix of sweet, sour, and mushy, but Caleb feeding me oatmeal is not what I had in mind to help me get my mind off him. Caleb swirls the spoon around in my mouth, and I scrunch my nose and punch him in the arm. He just laughs and stretches his spoon back to the bowl of oatmeal on the kitchen table. “What’s that? You want another bite?” “Stop! Let me make my own!” I try to pull myself away, but Caleb has an MMA death grip on my arm. Then, right when his second spoonful is inches away from my mouth, there’s a knock on the door. “That’s probably Gina.” I chomp down on the oatmeal and take the spoon with me as I move into the entrance hall and open the door. It’s not Gina. “Are you Emma Grant?” A tan, stern-looking woman in a pantsuit stands in the doorway. Slowly, I pull the spoon out of my mouth and hold it behind my back. “Yeah, that’s me.” The tan woman nods, and then pulls out a badge. “Kim Woods, Federal Bureau of Investigation. Is your stepbrother home, by any chance?” Not good. Not good at all. I was just starting to feel like Caleb’s MMA ring was the kind of illegal no one really cared about, but this person definitely looks like she cares. “Hey guys, what’s going on?” I turn around and see Caleb standing behind me, still shirtless. “I take it you’re Caleb Matthews?” Caleb shrugs. “In the fucking flesh.” I want to kick Caleb, but I don’t dare. That’s no way to talk to a federal agent! Agent Woods’ eyes linger on Caleb’s torso full of tattoos and her brow furrows. “Could I come inside? I’d like to ask you a couple questions.” “Absolutely, come in.” Caleb leads Agent Woods into the kitchen, where he’s set out a grapefruit and a box of raisins on the kitchen table, and started to cook a pot of oatmeal on the stove. “Emma and I were just eating breakfast. Help yourself to some oatmeal, by the way.” Agent Woods flashes a forced smile. “Thanks, but I already ate.”

Caleb shrugs. “Alright. It’s there if you change your mind. So, what brings you up this way?” Agent Woods sits at the head of the table and motions for Caleb to sit across from him. I get the sense that maybe they want me to leave, but I’m definitely not leaving Caleb alone with an FBI agent. If I do, he’ll probably invite her to his next match or something. Instead, I head over to the pot of oatmeal, stirring it and pretending to make breakfast while I listen in. “I’m not interrupting you, am I? You look like you’re dressed for the gym.” Caleb looks down at his shorts and shakes his head. “You’re fine. I’m always dressed for the gym.” Caleb! Stop being Caleb around the FBI agents! Agent Woods smirks. “Well, clearly, it pays off. Emma?” I turn to look at Agent Woods, trying to look as friendly and welcoming as possible. “I changed my mind. Could I get some of that oatmeal?” Agent Woods seems a little friendlier now, a little more like a human being. I don’t think that’s a good sign. I spoon some oatmeal out of the pot, pour it into a bowl, and hand it off to her. It’s steaming hot, just off the oven, but as Agent Woods turns back to face Caleb, she starts eating it without giving the slightest indication that it’s too hot. “So what do you do with all those muscles? Do you play any sports?” Caleb and I share a look. Thankfully, he seems as on edge as I am. She’s definitely not getting invited to the tournament. “I play the craziest fucking sport in the world: business. I’m a manager at my dad’s company, and by the time I’m his age, I want to be bigger than he is. Do you know my dad?” “The FBI uses Poodle just like everyone else, Mr. Matthews. So you’re telling me that that body just works a 9-5 job and nothing else?” “I keep myself in perfect physical shape to help me get what I want in the business world. Being the best-looking guy in the room is a serious advantage. Of course, it’s also so that girls won’t be able to keep their hands off me.” Caleb looks over at me for a fraction of a second. Before I turn red enough for the Agent Woods to notice, I grab the grapefruit off the table and start cutting it up. “So, you’ve never seriously pursued any combat sports, then? Wrestling, boxing, MMA?” Wow. We’re so going to jail. “Why do you ask?”

“Well, for the past six months, my partner and I have been investigating an underground MMA fighting ring called California Kings. There are illegal rings around the country, but California Kings is one of the biggest. Normally, our policy is to leave fighting rings alone, because they’re good at bringing more dangerous criminals out into the open when they attend the fights. However, over the last couple of years, California Kings has gotten so big that its matches are turning into networking events for street gangs, biker gangs, and organized crime.” Caleb pops a raisin into his mouth. “That’s not good.” “No, Mr. Matthews, it’s not. The more criminal groups that attend these matches, the more likely it is that some of them put aside their differences and form alliances, making them much harder to bring down.” Agent Woods reaches across the table and pours a bunch of raisins into her hand, looking over at me like she’s trying to read my body language. Don’t mind me, I’m just over here cutting this grapefruit into smaller and smaller pieces. Agent Woods smirks. “We’ve been trying to find a participant in this league, preferably one of the fighters, who might be able to tell us more. But so far, all we have is a guy who claims he’s been to one of the fights. He didn’t know the fighters’ names, but he did provide descriptions for us. There was a guy named Chainsaw, whose name we actually found thanks to hospital records, but who left the country shortly after the fight and hasn’t been heard from since. And then there’s his opponent, Beast, who was described as a tall young man with a pretty face and a body covered in animal tattoos.” Caleb looks down at his tattoos, and then back up at Agent Woods. “So…you’re here because I fit the physical description.” “We’re here because the local police department received a couple of complaints recently about a young man covered in tattoos doing combat exercises in the middle of the night at the basketball court down the street. Punching the air, pacing around, and acting like he was getting ready for a fight.” “Yeah, that was me. I do that shit to clear my head, but I’ll stop if the neighbors don’t like it.” “Okay, but you’ve never taken part in anything like the fighting ring I just described?” “You might be confusing me with my brother.” “Zane?” Caleb’s knuckles are so white around the handle of the spoon that it looks like he’s about to break it in half. “Yeah. He fights.” Agent Woods nods. “He certainly does. We found his records while we were running a background check on you. He’s been busted for street fighting a couple times, but his tattoos were photographed at his booking, and he doesn’t have any animal designs.” “Maybe he got some.”

“Well, we haven’t officially named you a person of interest yet. We wanted to come by first and see if you had any information that might be useful to us.” Caleb shrugs and shakes his head. “Wish I could help.” Agent Woods leans onto the table. “We’re not trying to bust the fighters, you know. We’re trying to use them. Right now, all we have is circumstantial evidence that you’re the person we’re looking for, but if you are, we could make any charges you might face go away in exchange for your help bringing down the guys who run the ring.” Caleb nods. “Want any more oatmeal?” Agent Woods shoots Caleb an intense look, and Caleb shoots it right back. “No thank you. Unless you have any more questions, I think I’m going to go.” “Nah, I’m good. Hope you find your guy.” Agent Woods starts getting up, and I take the opportunity to sit down at the kitchen table with my bowl of oatmeal. As Agent Woods heads out of the kitchen, she notices the suitcases piled up by the door. “Going somewhere?” “What are you talking about?” “You’ve got all those suitcases piled up by the door. You’re not planning to leave town, are you?” “Actually, he is.” Agent Woods turns to look at me. “We’re about to go on a road trip. We’re hitting the road in about an hour. That’s why all those suitcases are there. We’re going to Portland.” Agent Woods is quiet for an uncomfortable amount of time. Then, she flashes a small smile. “Portland, huh? Have fun.” I smile at her. “Thanks! We will!” A few awkward bites of oatmeal later, and they’re out the door. I let out a huge breath that I didn’t even know I was holding in, and Caleb jumps up from the table with a huge grin on his face. “I knew you wanted me to come. I’ll go get my shit.” Caleb seems pretty calm, considering that the FBI was just here. He’s running around packing like he doesn’t even care. I mean, that woman knows that Caleb is Beast, but I can hear Caleb in the living room, throwing his stuff into the gym bag without a care in the world. And this is exactly why I want Caleb on the road trip. I absolutely don’t trust him not to go right back to training in all the same spots the second I leave, which means that if I take off with Gina, I’m

going to be spending the entire time worrying about Caleb getting arrested. If he comes with us, he’ll train in different places, and I can keep an eye on him. It’s too bad this road trip was supposed to help me keep my eyes off him. Caleb comes back into the kitchen, wearing a tight white t-shirt that shows off muscles that I didn’t even know he had. “You still have that bathing suit I got you, right?” “Caleb, the only reason I invited you on my girls only road trip is so you wouldn’t get arrested by the FBI. The situation has not changed, so you’d better not get any ideas.” “Oh, it’s too late for that. I’ve got all kinds of ideas running through my head right now.” “You’re insane. Two federal agents look you in the eye and basically tell you they know you’re an illegal MMA fighter, and all you can think about is me in that stupid bathing suit?” “It’s all I’ve been able to think about ever since I saw you in it.” I roll my eyes. “You’re lucky I’m a nice person who would feel bad about letting her stepbrother get arrested.” There’s a knock on the door. That better be Gina. “I’m pretty sure that’s our ride. Let’s get out of here before they call a SWAT team on us.”

Chapter 18: Emma Are there a lot of cops out on the highway today, or am I just being paranoid? There’s a highway patrol car that’s been following us for the past ten minutes, and I keep looking back at it, waiting for the lights to come on. “Relax, Emma,” says Gina, looking at me in the rear view mirror, “If they wanted to arrest you today, they would have done it at your house. If you freak out about every cop we see, you’re not going to have any fun.” Caleb’s huge arm wraps around my waist, pulling me closer to him. “Besides, prison won’t be so bad. I bet if we pulled some strings, we could even share a cell.” I peel Caleb’s arm off my waist and put it down in his lap. “I think I’d rather take my chances in solitary.” Gina looks confused. “Wait, didn’t you say the FBI offered to drop the charges if you helped them?” Up in the passenger seat, Fox shrugs. “Yeah, but that could be pretty dangerous. I think you made the right decision. If they keep coming by, you can help them after the championship.” I guess I can’t blame Gina for swinging by to get Fox after I broke the no boys allowed rule, but it does leave me crammed in the back seat of her tiny little smart car with Caleb. It also means that they’re probably going to spend the entire trip flirting and sneaking off to have sex, making this whole thing a little too close to a long double date. “Fox, if you go to jail, you’re taking me with you.” “They’d have to put us in a fucking soundproof cell.” They’ve been like this the entire way up. Every single conversation turns back to sex. And it’s not like I can turn to Caleb for nice, wholesome conversation. He spent half the drive trying to convince me that I’ll get a better view of the redwoods if I sit on his lap. And since I don’t want to think about our little visit from the FBI, and I definitely don’t want to think about sex any more than I already am, I look out the window and wait for the first redwood to appear. Luckily, I don’t have to wait long. As we drive into the redwoods, even Fox and Gina stop talking about loud prison sex long enough to admire the view. As we get further into the forest, the trees get denser, taller, and more beautiful. We’re a little behind schedule because we picked up Fox, which means the sun is low in the sky and the highway is bathed in a gorgeous orange glow.

Our original plan was to get into the middle of the redwoods, turn off down a random highway, and spend the day hiking through the woods. Now that there are boys here and the day’s almost over, I’m not sure what the plan is, but I have a sinking feeling it’s going to involve Gina getting laid. Gina looks at a bunch of hikers taking pictures by the side of the road and narrows her eyes. “There are too many people here, don’t you guys think? We should get off the main highway.” Fox agrees. So does Caleb. I mean, I do, too: big groups of hikers taking selfies everywhere kind of ruins the magic. So with the whole car in agreement, we turn down the next tiny little road we can find and head deeper into the forest. *** The roads keep getting smaller and smaller with every turn we make. Caleb’s finally found something to distract himself with—talking about his pre-tournament training routine with Fox—so I’m using the peace and quiet to take in the sights of the redwood forest: the birds, the overgrown, abandoned trails, the way the setting sun lights up the fog… Wait, why are we stopped? “Hey, Emma? Fox and I want to go check out the…uh…” Gina furrows her brow and squints at a park map on the passenger ’s side of the car. “National Tree Ring Museum, is that alright?” “National Tree Ring Museum?” “Yeah, it’s supposed to be five miles down the road.” “So it’s just…full of tree rings? Why would you want to go to something like that?” Gina raises her eyebrows. “Exactly. I bet it’s totally empty.” “Gina!” “I just feel bad that we’re not going to get to explore the woods like you wanted to because I picked up Fox! So here’s the plan: you drop us off at the museum, you two can take the car, explore the woods, and have stepsibling bonding time, and then you’ll pick us up when it starts to get dark.” There’s mischief in Gina’s eyes as the words “stepsibling bonding time” roll off of her tongue like melted chocolate. This isn’t just an excuse to sneak off with Fox, is it? She’s trying to get me alone with Caleb, too. “Sound good?” Gina winks at me in the rear view mirror. Sure. Yeah. Great. Spending a couple hours alone in the woods with my stupid sexy stepbrother, who I’ve been desperately trying to avoid sleeping with ever since he fucked my brains

out in the showers. Sounds awesome. Wait, did I say that last part out loud? “Awesome!” says Gina, as she hits the gas, “I have a feeling this is going to be very educational.” *** The National Tree Ring Museum actually looks a little nicer than I thought it would. It’s a big, two-story log cabin with a huge trail leading out back to a bunch of outdoor exhibits, and just like Gina predicted, it’s so empty that it doesn’t even look like anyone’s watching over the place. Fox and Gina have their hands in each other ’s pants before they even get inside, and I get the feeling they’re not going to want to leave any time soon. I start the car and start heading back up the dirt trail, while Caleb spreads out into the back seat. It’s a good thing we’re not on a busy road: Caleb’s body stuffed into that tight white t-shirt is seriously distracting. Luckily, being alone with him isn’t as bad as I thought it’d be. We laugh about Fox and Gina, he tells me how he hasn’t shut up about her since they met, and I ask him questions about what Poodle was like before I got there. As we talk, I keep turning the car down random side trails, taking us deeper and deeper into the woods. I don’t even really realize what I’m doing until the roads are more like walking paths and the signs disappear. And if the outer edges of the forest were pretty, it’s breathtaking all the way in here. Fireflies blink around the car, and a small, quiet river starts to wind along the path. Up ahead, there’s a giant redwood tree at the end of our trail, towering over the rest of the forest. Everything looks magical, and I can’t help but think about Tristan and Analucia in the Forbidden Grove. Analucia looks at Tristan, his skin shining in the moonlight. “They say when two people kiss in the Forbidden Grove, their destinies are bound together for the rest of their lives,” she says. Tristan takes Analucia’s face in his hands, drawing a breath from her lips as her body presses against the knight’s rippling muscles. “Is that so?” he asks, “Then what happens if they make love?” “Eyes on the road, sis.” I gasp as I realize I was just checking Caleb out in the mirror and glue my eyes to the road. “Unless, you know, you wanted to pull over and stop ignoring that wet little pussy between your legs.” That does it. I hit the brakes and put the car in park. It’s not like I have any choice: the dirt trail

we’re on ends at the roots of the redwood tree, less than a hundred feet ahead of us. “Caleb, you can’t say things like that!” “Why not? You were just staring at my cock like it was on the menu and you’re telling me you’re not thinking about it at all?” Caleb grabs his cock through his jeans, and I can’t help but look again for just a second. “I’m not…” But that’s such a lie that I almost laugh trying to say it. The truth is that I’ve spent all afternoon thinking about what that scarred up, tattooed body could do to me if I just said the word. How amazing it would feel to forget about our parents and my inhibitions and the FBI and just wrap my legs around Caleb’s waist and take his cock inside me… I just barely manage to hold back a moan as Caleb’s massive hands reach around my body and start undoing my seatbelt. “I thought we settled this whole lying thing at our disciplinary meeting yesterday.” I squeak as Caleb pulls me up from the driver ’s seat and into the back of the car with him. He holds me at arm’s length, hands around my wrists, and I try to squirm out of his grasp. “There. Now you don’t have to stare at me through the rear view mirror. You can look at the real fucking thing.” “Let me go or I’m going to kick you in the balls, pervert!” I bite my lip and send my knee between Caleb’s legs, but he traps it between his muscular thighs before I can connect. I try to pull his legs apart and free myself, but he grabs my wrists and raises them way above my head, pulling my body right into his chest. “It takes one to know one, sis.” Our faces our inches apart now, and Caleb’s heavy breaths wash against my face. “Don’t! Call! Me! Sis!” With every word, I push as hard as I can to try and get my wrists out of Caleb’s grasp, my body pressing against his steel-hard torso as I try and use it as leverage to pull away from him. He laughs and pulls me higher, and I push against him harder, until suddenly, almost unconsciously, our fighting turns into something else and Caleb’s lips claim mine. I can’t take it anymore. I need him. I need him so bad, and I don’t think I can pretend that I don’t anymore.

Chapter 19: Caleb The little quiver in Emma’s lips as I claim her mouth is about to drive me completely over the fucking edge. She’s kissing me like it’s the first time she’s ever done it. Her lips are tentative against mine, and I feel her gasp as I touch her face and pull her deeper, her tongue exploring mine like she’s never felt it before. That’s probably because in her mind, this is the first time she’s kissed me and not just made out with me. I mean fuck, it’s sappy, but I kind of feel that way, too. I don’t know if it’s because she’s thinking about me differently or if it’s just because we’re out here in the middle of the woods and she feels like she doesn’t have to hide, but I don’t really care. This is not a onetime thing, not unless that tree up there falls on us right this second. This is fucking real. As Emma gets hotter and hotter and starts softly bucking her hips against mine, I’m thinking we should move to somewhere with a little more space. We’re going to need it for what I have in mind. Undoing my seatbelt in one smooth motion, I hold Emma against my body and climb back into the backseat. Then, I hit a button on the side of the back seat, and Emma lets out an adorable fucking squeal as our seats begin to fold into the floor. Once the seats are out of the way and we’re sitting on the car floor, I smack Emma on the ass, drawing a moan from her cute little mouth. “Stand up. Keep your arms above your head.” Emma gives me a confused look, so I smack her on the ass again and she jumps to her feet, legs shaking with lust as her palms touch the top of the car. “What’s the matter, Emma? This isn’t turning you on, is it? Following my orders?” “God, you’re such an-mmmm” Emma can’t finish calling me whatever the fuck she was about to call me because I’m reaching into her shorts and cupping her pussy in my hand. I give it a little squeeze, and she buries her face into her shoulder. “What you saying? I didn’t get that last part. I’m such a what?” “You’re such an arrogant…mmm…prick.” “And you love it. You call me a prick, an asshole, a douchebag, and then as soon as I’m gone, you slip your fingers right down here,” I grind the thickest part of my palm between Emma’s legs, “and imagine they’re my fingers.” Emma bites her lip and shakes her head. “Mmm-mmm” “No!? You’re telling me you don’t touch yourself to me? Sis, I could hear you from the garage last night. I was this close to just coming in your room, pulling your finger out of your wet little

panties, and giving you the real thing. But now that you’re pretending like that’s not what you want, I’m not going to let you off that easy.” “I don’t know…what you’re talking about…” Adorable, but unacceptable. I press my thumb against Emma’s clit and spank her, and she makes a noise that’s so high pitched you couldn’t play it on a fucking piano. “Alright, fine. Since you don’t want to tell me what you were doing in your room last night, I guess you’re just going to have to show me.” I take one of Emma’s hands from the car ceiling and slowly slide it into her shorts. Then, as she looks down at me with the hottest little surprised face I’ve ever seen, I pull her shorts down to her thighs so that I can get a better view. At first, Emma’s fingers linger with hesitation, but when I start to strip my clothes off, she just can’t help herself. “Oh God, Caleb,” she says, as she furiously fingers herself with one hand still on the car ceiling, “This is so dirty.” I laugh, and then pull my jeans down, giving Emma a perfect view of my cock. “You’re right. It’s very inappropriate. I should probably put this away, too.” Emma lets out a disappointed moan. “No? You want me to keep it out? You don’t want it inside you, do you?” She doesn’t answer. Instead, she closes her eyes and touches herself faster. “Open your eyes, Emma.” And just like that, they’re open again, looking straight down between my legs. I wrap a hand around the base of my shaft. “You can have every inch of it if you come down and get it.” Shit, Emma might actually finish herself off at the rate she’s going. She’s definitely most of the way there. Her legs are starting to tremble. But just when I think she’s about to come without me, she pounces down onto me instead. I take a little foil out of my pocket, but Emma takes it out of my hands and rolls it on herself. Then, she slides down on me in one smooth motion and grabs hold of my abs as she bounces up and down on me like she’s possessed. It’s a good thing we’re out in the middle of nowhere, because I’m pretty sure this car is rocking. I put my hands on Emma’s shoulders, pulling her down into me with a strength that I usually reserve for 200 pound MMA fighters. I’m not going to hold back anymore. I don’t even think I can. But Emma takes it all and throws it right back to me, and pretty soon, we’re kissing again, and I’m not thinking about anything in the universe but her, and it stays that way up until we finish and she collapses down into my arms.

“I think you were right,” she says, bringing her face inches away from mine. “Right? About what?” “You said that by end of the summer, you were going to make me yours.” Emma smiles, and her blue eyes look down into mine. “And I think you were right.”

Chapter 20: Emma It’s not that Portland isn’t a nice place. It looks like it’s a lot of fun. I just haven’t been paying very much attention to it, because ever since our little encounter in the back of Gina’s car… something’s changed between me and Caleb. He’s being as cocky, dirty, and aggressive as ever…and I’m really enjoying it. All afternoon, we’ve been giving Fox and Gina a run for their money in terms of aggressive public affection. As we hop from food truck fairs to outdoor concerts, it’s like we’re in a competition to see who can be hornier in public. Apparently, ever since our little encounter in the back seat of Gina’s car, Caleb has decided that my ass is his personal property. He keeps squeezing it, smacking it, and trying to lead me around by it. When he gets too grabby, I end up smacking him on the chest, and then we start wrestling in the middle of the street. I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t a little hot to grope Caleb out in public, but I’m a little concerned he’s going to keep it up when we’re back to California. And that can’t happen. I can’t even imagine what would happen if the two of us started acting like this at work…or even worse, around our parents. I shudder at the thought. But for now, it’s alright. It’s even pretty fun to tease Caleb for a change, giving him a taste of his own medicine with corny double entendres and “accidental” contact with my boobs until he’s nice and hard. At the food truck fair, I bought an artisanal organic corn dog and took the entire thing in my mouth, making eye contact with him the whole time. His reaction was the same thing he’s been saying to me all day. “Just fucking wait until we get back to the hotel.” Outside our hotel window, the lights of downtown Portland shake up and down as Caleb fucks me from the back. He didn’t even say anything when we got in; he just posed me on the bed, pulled off my clothes piece by piece, and slid every inch of himself inside me. I never considered myself the type of girl to be loud during sex, but when I’m with Caleb…well, let’s just say it’s a good thing that the walls in here seem thick and sturdy. The feeling of Caleb’s huge cock pumping in and out of me is causing me to make noises I didn’t even know I could make. Of course, that’s not enough for Caleb. He told me in the elevator that he was going to make me pay for every erection I gave him while we were out in Portland, so I know he’s not about to show me any mercy any time soon. I bite my lip and let out a long breath as Caleb’s hands begin to travel up my body, sliding up my stomach until they reach my breasts and enveloping them with his huge hands. It’s so easy to think of him as my annoying stepbrother sometimes that I’m still surprised by just how big he feels when we’re naked and his body is pressed up against mine. Caleb’s hands manipulate my breasts like they weigh nothing at all, and then he grabs onto my shoulders, pulling me down hard on his cock as he begins to thrust faster. Before too long, I close my eyes and come, shuddering as the inked-up MMA fighter behind me takes out a whole day of sexual frustration on my bent-over, trembling body. The feeling of me coming up against him is too

much even for him, though, and he follows right behind me, shuddering with a massive orgasm that almost sends me right back over the edge. Temporarily spent, Caleb collapses down on top of me, crushing me into the mattress. I tap Caleb a couple of times on the arm. “Get off, you’re heavy.” I can feel Caleb laughing on top of me. “Did you just tap out on me?” He rolls over, wrapping his massive arms around me and pulling me on top of him. “Yes.” Caleb smirks and squeezes me in his arms, sending a shiver up and down my spine. Lying on top of him shouldn’t feel this good, but it really, really does. I trace my finger along the contour of one of Caleb’s massive pecs, stopping when I feel a curved jagged ridge running along it. “What’s this from?” My whole body shakes as Caleb laughs. “I got that one about a year ago. I was fighting this dude who called himself Alligator, and his thing was that he had this mouthpiece that went over his teeth with blades on the top and the bottom.” “Oh no!” “So as soon as we get into the ring, this guy charges at me, and digs his stupid fake teeth into my chest. Look, there’s another scar down here.” Caleb grabs my finger and guides it to right above his nipple, where a deeper scar curves up like a smile. “So this guy bites me on the chest, and it fucking hurts, but now he’s got his head stuck to my body. Three punches and he went down. Not a very smart guy.” I run my fingers along both halves of the scar, starting to feel myself warming up again. “Want the grand tour?” Caleb asks, pointing to some of his other scars. I smile and nod, and Caleb takes me all around his body, putting my hands on all his hidden scars, most of them inflicted by some kind of crazy weapon wielded by one of his opponents. “So why does everyone you fight get to have crazy weapons and you don’t? How is that fair?” “I could if I wanted to, but as far as I’m concerned, that’s not MMA. In the underground leagues, people get gimmicks because that’s what the crowd wants to see, but I think it’s weak to bring a weapon in a ring. As soon as I see someone like that, I know I’m a better fighter than they are.” “Why didn’t you pick a better league, then?” “What, like be on TV, and have all the announcers talking about my rich dad, and how I probably

got into fighting because of my mom? They’d put me on TV even if I sucked because I’d be great fucking TV just for my last name. No one in this league knows my name, and they don’t care. I had to earn this.” I rest my head on Caleb’s collarbone and look up into his eyes. “Are you going to keep fighting after this tournament?” Caleb is quiet for a few seconds, looking up at the hotel ceiling. “I thought I was, until this afternoon. Now, I’m not sure. Part of me just wants to win that prize money and use it for something better.” Caleb looks back to me, with a devilish look in his eyes. “But if I start thinking like that, I’m going to get my ass beat in the first round. You’re not a fucking spy for one of my opponents, are you?” I stick my tongue out at Caleb. “Maybe.” “Shit, I didn’t even think about that. They knew I was going to fucking demolish them at the tournament, so they sent me a sexy-ass curvy stepsister to get inside my head and make me think about quitting.” With one hand, Caleb spreads my legs, pushing my hips down into his abs with his other hand and turning the heat between my legs from mild to scorching hot. “I guess I’ve got no choice but to fuck you until you’re on my side, then.” Caleb pulls me down his body, and I can feel the tip of his cock brushing against my entrance, ready to slide back inside me and make me his again… But there’s a knock at the door. A loud one. I roll off of Caleb with a disappointed groan. “That better not be Gina.” The knock comes again, faster and angrier. I throw my clothes on, hop into my jeans, and crack the door open. As soon as I start to open the door, a strong hand pushes it all the way open, and three police officers storm into the room. “Police! Hands in the air, no sudden moves!” I squint against the light of an officer ’s flashlight as Agent Woods steps into the room. Then, I feel someone take my raised hands and cuff them together behind my back, while the cop in the back starts reading Caleb his rights. “I was hoping you’d do it the easy way,” says Agent Woods, “But you left me no choice.” “Hold on, wait, hold on!” I turn around, and see a short, overweight cop trying to pull Caleb out of bed. It’d almost be funny if we weren’t in such serious trouble.

“I’m fucking naked under here, give me a second!” Uh oh. I didn’t even think about how this looks. Agent Woods knows Caleb and I are stepbrother and stepsister, he’s naked in bed, and I’ve got sex hair going in seven different directions. I’m pretty sure we just got busted. I can see the headline now: Local Girl Caught with Sexy Stepbrother. I’ll never be able to live it down. But really, my problems could be much worse than just getting exposed. I mean, we just got caught lying to an FBI agent! We could go to jail! Agent Woods looks over my shoulder at the cop trying to get Caleb out of bed. “Is he wearing clothes yet?” “Kind of.” “Close enough. Let’s get them to the station.” When they finally get Caleb out of the room, he’s dressed in nothing but a pair of ridiculously tight boxer briefs. We make eye contact, and he shrugs. “Let’s give some people a show.” He seems pretty calm for somebody who just got arrested. As the police lead us on a long, awkward walk from our room to the elevator to the squad car parked out front, Caleb looks mildly annoyed at worst. I’m a little less put together, but since I know totally freaking out would be a really bad idea, I manage to keep it together until the car starts to pull away from the hotel. I turn to Caleb. “Do you remember everything you said yesterday morning?” “Yeah. Don’t worry, we got this.” I wish I had his confidence. I’m not so sure we do.

Chapter 21: Emma I yawn. It’s got to be four in the morning by now, and counting the dots on the interrogation room ceiling is getting seriously old. Caleb’s been offering to let me use him as a pillow so I can take a nap before Agent Woods gets here, but I’m definitely not giving her any more incriminating evidence that we’re fucking than she already has. Besides, touching Caleb is not a good idea right now. He’s almost completely naked, and my body’s still thinking about what he was about to do with it before the police knocked. Forget prison. I can’t imagine a worse punishment than being stuck in a tiny room with a mostly-naked Caleb and a camera recording everything we do. “So how many felonies do you think they’ll charge us with?” Caleb shrugs. “I’m not worried, and you definitely shouldn’t be worried. If they try and give you a hard time, I’ll take full responsibility.” “Even if it means more charges for you?” “It’s only fair.” I think he’s trying to make me feel better, which is really sweet, but it’s not exactly working. I don’t want to go to jail, but I don’t want Caleb to talk himself into jail either. Who’d be my annoying stepbrother if he wasn’t around? Agent Woods walks into the interrogation room, breaking me out of my reverie. The short, overweight police officer who arrested Caleb shuffles in behind her. Agent Woods shoots him a look. “Actually, I’d prefer to talk to these two alone, if you don’t mind.” The policeman looks a little disappointed, nods, and closes the door behind us. Almost immediately, Agent Woods’s demeanor changes. She shakes her head, rolls her eyes, and undoes her bun, letting her black hair fall down to her shoulders. “I hate Portland.” I shrug. “It’s nice to visit.” There’s an uncomfortable silence between us as Agent Woods drops a manila folder down onto the interrogation table. “First of all, don’t try to deny that you’re Beast. If you open up that folder, you’ll find our entire file on you, and you’ll see that we have more than enough evidence to prove your identity.” Caleb opens up the folder, and a smirk appears on his face as he casually flips through it. “Alright, fine. I never really tried to hide it from anyone but my dad.” This isn’t going how I wanted it to go. Shouldn’t we have a lawyer here or something?

Agent Woods lets out a huge sigh of relief. “Thank you. Now we can actually talk.” She sits down across from us. “Before we go any further, you should know that personally, I don’t really doesn’t care about prosecuting fighters. In my ideal scenario, we all win.” Caleb looks up from his folder. “So you want me to fucking snitch.” Agent Woods laughs. “Let me tell you what I want. You’re a member of the California Kings Underground MMA league, correct?” “Yeah.” “And you’re going to be competing in their championship tournament two weeks from now, aren’t you?” Caleb sets his mouth into a hard line. “I was, until I got arrested.” Agent Woods leans back in her chair and smiles. “Don’t think of it as getting arrested. Think of it as getting hired.” A vein throbs in Caleb’s forehead, and I’m worried he’s about to say something inappropriate to Agent Woods. Then, he closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. “Hired to do what?” “Win the championship. Do you know what happens if you do?” “I win a lot of money?” “Yes, but you also get invited to an afterparty, and that party is the real reason we’re interested in California Kings. Your league has some very high profile fans: mobsters, corrupt businessman, shady politicians, you name it. They gamble on your fights, and at the end of every season, they gather together for a very exclusive gala.” Agent Woods pulls a phone out of her pocket and sets it on the table. “So here’s what’s going to happen: you’re going to win the tournament, get invited to the gala, and bring Mrs. Grant with you as your date. Once you’re inside, you’re going to use this phone to take pictures of her, making sure to get as many people in the background as possible. Once you have at least twenty clearly visible partygoers on camera, you’re going to leave, turn the phone over to us, and we’ll drop all the charges against you.” “But only if I win.” Agent Woods nods. “If you lose, we might still be able to drop your charges, but it would require a more…long-term relationship with us.” Caleb leans over the table, looking Agent Woods dead in the eye. “I’m not going to lose.” “Um…” Agent Woods turns to look at me. “If this party is full of mobsters…won’t it be

dangerous to walk around with a phone taking pictures?” Agent Woods shrugs. “That’s where you come in. We think the party’s going to give Caleb the benefit of the doubt because they’re huge fans of the fighters, but it’s going to be your job to make it look natural. The more you act like Caleb’s date, the easier it’ll be to get those pictures taken. If you do get into trouble, there’s a number loaded onto the phone you can call, and we’ll send someone up to help you.” I’m not exactly excited about this offer, but it could definitely get a lot worse. As far as I’m concerned, saying yes is pretty much a no-brainer. Luckily, Caleb feels the same way. “Alright. As long as I don’t have to snitch on any of the other fighters, we got a fucking deal.” Agent Woods extends her hand across the table, and Caleb shakes it. Then, she shakes mine. “Pleasure doing business with you. We’ll be in touch.” And just like that, she’s gone.

Chapter 22: Emma What’s gotten into me? Caleb hasn’t even come out of the locker room and I’m already on the edge of my seat. Shouldn’t I be a little more concerned about the fact that Caleb’s about to fight four incredibly dangerous knockout matches in a ring with no refs, with the best case scenario being that we have to go to a party full of criminals and conduct a sting operation? Maybe it has something to do with the surprisingly professional vibe of this event. I was expecting the worst when we drove out into the middle of nowhere and pulled up at a big, abandonedlooking warehouse 45 minutes outside of town, but the crowd here is almost weirdly classy. Yeah, there are still a bunch of pierced, mohawked bad boys like there were at Sinners, but they’re mixed in with powerful-looking guys with suits and supermodel-looking girls. The vibe is kind of like a Vegas boxing match, except without the cameras everywhere. Or maybe it’s because every time my mind starts to wander and I think about the hundreds of ways this could all go wrong, I shift in my seat and remember that I’m not wearing panties underneath my dress, thanks to Caleb. He told me he would fight better if he knew I wasn’t wearing anything underneath my dress, and even though I’m pretty sure that’s just an excuse to make it easier for him to fuck me later, I don’t want to take any chances. Anything to give Caleb an edge. The fighters come out, and the crowd starts going crazy. Apparently, just because this crowd has more money doesn’t make them any less intense than the crowd at Sinners. Caleb’s opponent comes out first, and I breathe a huge sigh of relief when I see that he doesn’t have any weapons on him. He’s a lumberjack-looking guy who’s almost exactly the same height and weight as Caleb. From the neck down, he could almost be Caleb’s body double—provided he spend thousands of dollars on tattoos. He’s probably the first guy I’ve seen at one of these fights with a completely bare torso. Whoever he is, the crowd loves him; they go crazy when he steps into the octagon. By comparison, when Caleb starts walking down the aisle, the clapping is much quieter. It feels like no one knows who he is. Caleb doesn’t seem to mind the lukewarm reception, though. He climbs into the ring like he always has: eyes blazing, smooth and graceful, every muscle coiled and ready to pounce. Instead of an announcer, a voice comes over the warehouse loudspeakers, introducing both fighters by their pseudonyms: Beast vs. Montana…although I guess Montana could be that guy’s real name. I bite my lip as the countdown gets to one, waiting for Beast to push himself off the ring and charge at his opponent and hoping that he can catch him off guard. But when the count hits zero, both fighters charge, smacking into each other in the center of the

octagon and forcing Caleb to take a step back. Sensing a moment of weakness, his opponent charges at him with a flurry of punches that come so fast that his body looks like a blur. My heart jumps up to my throat, and if feels like the whole room goes into slow motion. This guy hits hard, and even though most of his blows hit Caleb in the chest, a couple of them hit him in the head. Just when it looks like Caleb is about to fall over, Montana aims a kick at Caleb, and Caleb jumps at Montana, grabbing his kicking heel in one hand and his wrist in another. Then, with a roar, he pulls Montana off the ground like he’s made of marshmallows and slams him to the ground. The crowd goes insane, jumping to their feet and cheering like it’s the Super Bowl. Montana starts coughing, clearly winded and having a hard time getting back up, and Caleb pounces on him, putting him into the exact same hold he put me into back at the house this morning. Unlike me, Montana isn’t enjoying it at all, but since he hasn’t even gotten his breath back yet, there’s nothing he can do but tap out and give the match to Caleb. Whew. That wasn’t so bad. Now that just needs to happen…three more times. *** “13 fucking seconds!” Caleb is standing on my bed, giving me a mouthwatering view of the oversized bulge in his tight black shorts. “That bearded motherfucker thought he had me right where he wanted me, and I was like—” Caleb jumps down to the floor, picks me up, and tosses me on the mattress. “Okay, it was a pretty good fight. Can I have my panties back now?” Caleb smirks. “Sis, I just knocked a guy out in 13 seconds. I’m never letting you wear panties again.” I groan in mock exasperation and flop down onto my bed. “By the way, did you like that hold I put him in? That was for you.” “Trust me, I could tell. If felt like you were cheating on me.” Caleb gets quiet for a few seconds, and his eyebrows raise. “Cheating on you, huh? Does that mean what I think it means?” I turn pink as I realize what I said, unsure how to react. “Um…well…” Caleb pulls his shorts down, and all the words melt out of my mouth as my eyes land on his massive cock. Caleb slides his hands down to its thick base and squeezes the shaft. “Or is this just a phase you’re going through? You’re just a sweet little girl without a dirty thought in her head, and it’s all my fault for getting you so confused, right?” God, he’s so cocky. I’d smack him across the face and tell him he’s full of himself if my hands

weren’t busy pulling my dress off. Caleb shoots me a wicked smile and climbs onto the bed, ripping my dress over my head and throwing it into the corner of the room in one clean motion. Then, his hands wrap around my wrists and push my arms down into the mattress. “Emma, Emma, Emma. How many times am I going to have to fuck that sweet little pussy of yours before you realize what we are? How many times am I going to have to make you scream my name?” Caleb has a way of leaving me speechless. I make a couple noises in response to his questions, but none of them really resemble a word. Caleb’s eyes are on fire as he watches me squirm, pulling my arms way above my head and wrapping one huge hand around both of my wrists. My eyes go wide as is other hand slides down my body, from my clavicle to my rock hard nipple to the bottom of my ribcage to my bellybutton to my aching clit. It isn’t until he rolls the firm pads if his fingers across it and I try to squirm that I realize he has me totally pinned down. “I think we both know what the truth is. Whatever happens next, win or lose, I don’t give a shit as long as I’ve got you. This isn’t a temporary arrangement, and it never was. This is fucking real.” Caleb pushes his finger up against my clit, slow and hard. “Isn’t it?” I moan and nod, but Caleb starts rubbing faster, sending fireworks of arousal through my whole body. “Not good enough. I want to hear the words come out of those perfect lips. Are we going to keep fucking, or are we temporary?” “We’re…going to…keep…fucking!” I don’t know what sends me over the edge first, Caleb’s hand on my clit or me saying the words I’ve been denying even to myself ever since we met. Either way, as soon as the word “fucking” comes out of my mouth, I put my lips on Caleb’s mouth and come like I’ve never come before. “Fuck, Emma.” Caleb reaches over to the nightstand and pulls out a foil packet. “I never thought you’d actually say it.” Caleb rips the packet open, sheathes himself, and then thrusts himself inside me. He doesn’t take his mouth off mine until we both come again, collapsing down onto the bed and kissing some more. All because I made a joke about him cheating on me. Me and my big mouth.

Chapter 23: Caleb I’ve done some crazy shit since I started fighting, but nothing compares to the past couple of days. Normally, I get at least a week or two between fights to train up for the next one, but that’s not how it works at this tournament. They do one fight a day, which means that with every passing round, my opponent gets more and more exhausted. I’d be lying if I said it was easy; almost everyone I’ve fought has brought me down on the mat at least once, but it’s been three days and I’m still fucking here. So far, it’s been obvious every time I’ve brought someone down onto the mat that they don’t want it like I do. Maybe it’s because I’m kinda fucked if I don’t win, or maybe it’s because I’m pissed at guys like these for what they did to my brother. Honestly, it might be much simpler than that, though. Maybe I just want to show off for Emma. The morning of my second fight, she came out of the shower wearing nothing but a towel and told me that if I won my fight, I could spend the rest of the day doing whatever I wanted to her. Talk about fucking motivation. So I told her I’d think about it, and then when we got to the arena and she found her seat, I whispered what I was going to do to her into her ear and her eyes went wide as fucking dinner plates. No fighter on Earth was going to stop me from taking her back to her house and keeping my promise. And we’ve had the same deal ever since. She sits right up in front squirming in her seat, her panties tucked away in my locker, thinking about every little thing I’m going to do to her curvy-ass body when I win. This definitely isn’t how I used to motivate myself. Thinking about some random groupie out in the audience giving me sex eyes during a fight used to be a one-way ticket to the mat. Thinking about Emma, though? I’m pretty sure it’s making me better. It’s a good thing, too. Because I haven’t been able to stop thinking about her this whole fucking summer. My quarterfinals opponent gets me on the ground and tries to bite my ear off. I flip him over, put him in Emma’s favorite hold, and he’s done for. The crowd thinks that’s my signature move or some shit, and they go crazy every time I do it. I try to do it on my semifinals opponent, but he’s a slippery motherfucker, and I can’t seem to keep him on the ground. He gets a really good punch on me that makes my ears ring for a couple seconds, but my next punch sends him to the ground. After the fight, Emma gets me some ice for the bruise on my head, and we stick around to watch the other semifinal to see who my opponent’s going to be. The other semifinal is a skinny looking dude versus this massive Russian guy called Thrasher who’s got to be well over 7 feet tall and looks like a human rhino with shaggy black hair. You can

probably guess who won. “I can beat that guy. I’ve beaten a guy that big before.” Emma looks at me skeptically. “You have?” “Yeah. He was really fat, though.” Luckily, when we get back to Emma’s house, she forgets all about Thrasher when I remind her of what I whispered in her ear before I got into the ring this morning. I told her I was going to make her strip naked, tie her to the bed with her own panties, and then lick her clit nice and slow until she’s begging for my cock. And as soon as she drops her last piece of clothing on the floor and my eyes run up and down her naked body, I know that I would beat a guy twice Thrasher ’s size if it meant I’d get to keep doing this. *** The crowd likes Thrasher more than they like me. I know this because they’re chanting his name as the two of us climb into the octagon. They’re wasting their breath, though: this dude definitely doesn’t know English, not even the word “Thrasher.” I keep my eyes closed and my body perfectly still until the announcer yells “go” over the loudspeakers. Then, I pounce off the side of the ring and start moving back and forth in front of Thrasher. Hopefully, I’m faster than him, and I’m definitely lower to the ground, so hopefully I can use his own weight against him if he tries anything stupid. We stare each other down for a ridiculously long time, and then Thrasher charges, forcing me to dodge out of the way. He’s faster than I think he is, so I end up having to turn my back to him to get away. As I try to get myself grounded again, I catch sight of Emma, who looks simultaneously scared as shit and desperate for me to win. I told her that if I won, she could pick any scene from her dirty fucking romance novel, and I’d do it to her. Needless to say, she’s my biggest fan right now. Unfortunately, the one second I spend looking at Emma was a mistake. Thrasher ’s body hits me like a truck, almost taking me off my feet as he drives me towards the side of the ring. I try and catch him off guard with a sucker punch up towards his jaw, but he catches my hand in his before I can reach his face. Shit. We both know what’s coming next. Thrasher crushes the shit out of my hand, to the point where I think I feel something break. At the exact same moment, he twists my arm backwards and brings me down to the ground, where he puts his stupidly big arm around my neck and pulls me into a headlock. This is the point where most people would start to think about giving up, but instead, I take a deep breath, filling my lungs before Thrasher ’s arm can cut off my airway. Thrasher yanks hard on my neck, and the crowd starts to chant his name again, expecting me to tap out any second. I can’t exactly get out from under his body, and there’s no way I’m breaking the headlock, so I do the only

thing I can do: grab the back of his massive neck, pull it down into my shoulder, and put him in a headlock of his own. Normally, this isn’t exactly the world’s smartest strategy. In theory, I should run out of air way before he does, and if he gets frustrated, he could put a dangerous amount of pressure on my neck. The thing is, though…I don’t give a fuck about that. I’m not tapping out. I’m not giving up. I’m taking Emma to that afterparty even if I have to do it as a fucking ghost. And I’m hoping that dedication will buy me just enough time that Thrasher runs out of air before I do. Either the crowd’s gone dead, or I can’t hear them anymore. The only thing I can hear is Thrasher, thrashing his head around and trying to break my headlock. I’m pretty sure my face is starting to turn purple at this point, but I keep Thrasher in the headlock, causing him to press his mouth up against my ear and start cussing me out in Russian. Yeah, keep doing that. Keep using up your air. If you do, I just might have a chance. I knock the side of my head lightly into Thrasher ’s nose, and then I do it a couple more times. I’m not trying to do any damage; I’m just trying to piss him off enough to keep cussing me out. The hard part is not laughing at how annoying I’m being. Who thought all that teasing Emma would come in useful in the ring? And it’s actually fucking working. Thrasher ’s using up a lot of air, and I can feel his grip on my neck weakening just a little bit. I’m worried it’s still not going to be enough, though. There’s white noise creeping into my field of vision, and everything’s starting to go blurry. Fuck passing out, though. I made Emma a promise. I need to keep her safe. She’s mine. She’s mine and I’m hers. What the fuck is Thrasher doing to my back? Is he trying to get me to cough? He’s slapping it like he’s trying to swat a mosquito. And why’s the crowd cheering? Wait, is he tapping out? Three or four pairs of hands come in between me and Thrasher, pulling us apart. I gasp for air and open my eyes, coming back to reality as the cheering gets louder and the crowd gets up on their feet. I think I actually fucking won. My first reaction is to start laughing, but when I have enough energy to stand up, I pounce into the center of the ring and roar into the crowd. I am the fucking Beast, after all. There are two guys in suits in the ring with me. One of them holds my hand up in the air while a third guy comes into the ring with an insane looking trophy covered in diamonds. When he hands it off to me, I lift it over my head and roar again, and the crowd starts chanting my name. But it’s weird. I just won the craziest fight of my life, and it feels good. Just good. Not great. Not amazing. My brother doesn’t come down from the rafters and thank me for fucking saving him. My mom doesn’t run up into the ring and tell me she knew I had it in me. I knew that shit wasn’t actually going to happen if I did something like this, but I don’t think the heartbroken little 14 year old

inside me did. The more I look out at the crowd, the less I want to be here, so I give them a wave goodbye and climb out of the ring. Then my eyes land on Emma. She’s crying her eyes out, and she runs up and hugs me as soon as I get down from the octagon. I wrap my arms around her and squeeze her like I’m never going to fucking let go. “Oh God, I thought you were going to die up there.” “No fucking way. We’re not done yet.” I pull Emma away and wipe the tears off her cheeks with my good hand. Then, I grin as I watch her eyes light up when she remembers the promise I made to her before the match. “Come on. Let’s get out of here and do some reading.”

Chapter 24: Emma How do you dress for an afterparty full of dangerous criminals you’re trying to report to the FBI? I brought a couple different outfits, but I’m worried that all of them look like I’m trying too hard. Finally, I settle for the tastefully low-cut blue dress I wore to senior prom. It’s kind of the same thing, right? After spending way too long trying to go for a “I totally belong at your event” look, I decide that I’ve probably gotten about as close as I’m going to get, and I come out of the bathroom and show it to Caleb. “How do I look?” “Insanely fuckable.” I could say the same thing about Caleb: he’s all cleaned up, shaved, and wrapped up in a tuxedo that makes his massive frame look powerful in an entirely different kind of way. “Well, you’re going to have to keep your hands off until we’ve got enough info to give to Agent Woods. If you’re all over me like you were at our parents’ wedding, no one’s going to want to talk to us.” “Yeah. You’re right. But as soon as we’ve got what we need…” Caleb shoots me a devastatingly sexy look and raises his eyebrows. “You’re fucking mine.” *** This is crazy. People who look like they stepped off the set of The Godfather keep coming up and shaking Caleb’s hand and telling him how much they loved his last match. I didn’t really think about it before we arrived, but we’re basically the guests of honor, so just about everyone wants to come and talk to us. And the venue is incredible. We’re in the back room of some kind of super fancy hotel, and there are chandeliers the size of Gina’s car hanging down from the ceiling. Everything’s so nice and classy-looking that I have to fight off the urge to network. Instead, I sneak away while some ancient guy with a thick Russian accent tries to recruit Caleb to something called the “Trans-Siberian Warriors League” and pour myself a glass of $2000 champagne. They’re still talking when I get back. “Alright. Yeah. That’s…very interesting. I have to talk to my girlfriend about it before I move to Russia, but you should call my manager and we’ll keep talking.”

Caleb puts his arm around me as he says the word “girlfriend.” He’s been calling me that all night, and every time he does it I get this warm, tingly feeling in my chest. Or maybe that’s just the champagne. The Russian guy nods and walks away, and Caleb leads me in the other direction. “Trans-Siberian Warriors League, huh? Sounds fun.” Caleb laughs. “Hey, that guy was offering me 750K a match.” “So am I going to have to buy a parka?” “I don’t think so. But shit, if it wasn’t for you, I might actually fucking think about it.” “Well, I’m sorry I’m keeping you from making millions punching guys in the face in Siberia.” “You’re worth it.” Caleb puts his hands on my sides and kisses me hard. I open one eye and look around the room, just to make sure that nobody’s looking at us weird, and then I go back to kissing Caleb. “Hey,” I say, pulling away, “No one’s coming up to us. Maybe if we keep doing this, they’ll leave us alone long enough to get some pictures.” “Now that’s a plan I can get behind.” Caleb grabs my butt, and I almost spill $100 dollars worth of champagne on his tux. After a few more minutes of kissing, sneaky groping, and dirty talk, Caleb pulls out the phone and starts taking pictures. I was super nervous about this part going in, but it seems like half the people here are too drunk to care about a horny couple taking an impromptu photo shoot. Caleb tells me where to stand, and then I smile for the camera, and then we do it again. “Alright, yeah, I’m pretty sure we have half the party. What do you say we get out of here and take the party back to your bedroom?” That sounds like a great idea, for about a million different reasons. Leaving the party is by far the most stressful part, though. Are we leaving too soon? What if someone thinks that we’re hiding something? How many people do we have to say goodbye to so that it’s not weird? By the time we manage to get out of the room, I’m starting to shake. It doesn’t help that we have to go through three doors guarded by the scariest bouncers I’ve ever seen before we’re back in the hotel lobby. Out in the parking lot, Agent Woods pulls up beside us in a black SUV. “Do you have the phone?” “Yeah. If I give it to you, are we good?” “Sure, if you’ve got the pictures.”

Caleb hands Agent Woods the phone through the car window. “See for yourself.” Agent Woods takes the phone and opens up our photo album, and starts swiping through them. I blush as I realize that I’m basically making sex eyes at the camera in every single picture, and that these pictures are probably going to be used as evidence in a bunch of major criminal cases. Oops. Agent Woods looks up from the phone. “This is incredible. As far as I concerned, you can consider your charges dropped.” I didn’t realize how good it would make me feel to hear that, but when I do, I start to tear up and almost kiss Caleb right in front of the FBI agent who knows we’re stepsiblings. Thankfully, I catch myself, but I’m pretty sure she knows what’s going on by now. She’s got a knowing smile on her face. “Now, if I were you, I’d be careful about associating with California Kings for a while. There’s a chance the whole organization’s going to go down hard.” Caleb laughs. “Yeah, you’re not going to have to worry about that. I’m not going back. I have more important things to worry about.” And that’s the thing that makes the tears start falling. Agent Woods thanks us again for our time, rolls up her window, and drives off into the night. I watch her SUV, go, wait until it’s completely out of sight, and throw my arms around Caleb, kissing him hard under the hotel lights.

Chapter 25: Emma I look at the clock on my nightstand and try not to scream as Caleb’s strong, savage mouth moves between my legs and finds my clit. This is my punishment for suggesting we wait a couple more weeks to tell our parents about us: Caleb picking me up, throwing me over his shoulder, and licking me hard on my bed. We’ve been sneaking around ever since Mom and Larry got back from their honeymoon, and Caleb thinks it’s only going to be a matter of time until one of them ends up catching us in an extremely inappropriate position if they don’t know to give us privacy. So Caleb made me a deal: if I could make it ten minutes in a room with him without screaming so loud the whole house could hear, we could keep sneaking around until I leave for Berkley in a couple weeks. Otherwise, we have to go to the PoodleMatch launch this afternoon as a couple and tell our parents about us. I thought I could hold out. I mean, it was only ten minutes! But it hasn’t even been three minutes and I’m already right at the edge. Does Caleb do tongue exercises or something? By minute four, I’m pulling his hair, holding on for dear life and trying not to scream. By minute four and a half, I’m pressing my thighs against his stubbly face, clenching every muscle in my body and thinking about the least sexy things I can possibly think of. By minute six, it’s all over. I scream so loud that the house across the street can probably hear it. Caleb grins into my throbbing, sensitive flesh, and then pulls away with a satisfied look on his face. Damn it. I guess we’re going public. “Fine,” I say, out of breath from trying to not to come, “You win. But if I get disowned, you’d better let me stay in your dad’s mansion.” “If they get mad, I’ll tell them we matched on PoodleMatch. Then my dad won’t be able to say shit.” I’m not exactly confident that that’s going to work after Caleb told his dad that he broke his hand trying to move the poodle statue at his dad’s house so he’d have more room in the garage. Two unlikely poodle-related lies in one week? Still, even though he’s not planning on fighting any time soon, it’s probably better if the real way we met stays a secret. I’m just nervous about telling them. As usual, Caleb reads my mind. “Don’t worry about it. Your mom thinks I’m awesome, and my dad probably won’t care.” “But couldn’t it hurt your future with the company?” Caleb looks me dead in the eye. “You’re worth it. Now come on, let’s get dressed. Now that

we’re official, I want to show you off.” *** Wait, did all our co-workers think we were actually dating? No one actually looks very surprised when I walk in on Caleb’s arm. Maybe we were being a little more obvious than I thought. Of course, they’re not really looking at us, either. Thanks to Caleb’s little challenge, we’re late, and Larry’s already onstage, talking about love while pictures from his honeymoon play behind him. “This is perfect. Dad’s probably going to be so pumped up from hyping PoodleMatch that he’d congratulate us even if I told him we were joining a biker gang.” “Let’s hope so. I’m still really nervous.” Caleb kisses the side of the forehead and then whispers into my ear. “I’ve got a surprise for you after this.” Knowing Caleb, that surprise is probably going to involve a private place and something unimaginably dirty. I feel myself starting to get wet as the possibilities run through my head. “Hey, you two, glad you could make it.” Shit, it’s Dylan. “Looks like you spent some quality time together on your little vacation.” Dylan smiles at us awkwardly. God, why did the FBI make us sign that non-disclosure agreement? I’d love to tell Dylan that we brought down a party full of dangerous criminals and that’s why we weren’t at work, but I’m legally obliged to say that Caleb and I went hiking in the Cascade Mountains for a week, making us look totally lazy to basically our whole office. “The Cascade Mountains must be pretty romantic to make two stepsiblings get together. By the way, Caleb, have you checked your email recently?” Caleb laughs. “Fuck no.” “Didn’t think so. Well, uh…while you two were gone, I had a little talk with the Vice President of Poodle about how much time you’ve spent away from the office, and we both decided that it would be best if I took over as the only head of PoodleMatch once it launches. I explained how much of the final version was based on my code, and he conceded that it was the only logical move.” He’s probably right, but I still can’t help but feel like he’s doing this out of jealousy. Still, it’s terrible news for Caleb. Isn’t it? So why is he laughing?

“Took you long enough. I thought my Dad was going to keep me on that thing until it fucking crashed and burned. Why do you think I slacked off so bad? I was trying to get replaced.” Dylan looks confused. “Not very smart of you. Have you seen PoodleMatch’s projected value?” “Yeah, but it doesn’t mean shit. PoodleMatch is only going to last as long as it takes for people to start actually using it.” “You really haven’t been paying attention, then. Our algorithm is incredibly good at connecting people with their perfect matches.” “Right. You spent all that time on that algorithm that uses people’s browsing history, and you didn’t think about what happens if someone else uses their phone.” Dylan smiles and shakes his head. “You’ve been saying that this entire time, and it’s completely ridiculous. There’s no way the algorithm wouldn’t notice.” “Really? Because my Dad’s phone is always the newest Poodle prototype, and he always has me use it about half the time to see if I can find any bugs that he can’t. So when Dad uses PoodleMatch on that phone, most of the info it’s using is mine.” Dylan looks back and forth between me and Caleb for a few seconds, and then a horrified look appears in his eyes. “This can’t be happening.” Caleb shrugs. “I told you it was a problem.” “No, you don’t understand. Larry’s about to use PoodleMatch onstage with a different phone. And if you’re right…” I look up at the stage, where Larry has a phone in his hand and the screen projected behind him. He’s starting up PoodleMatch. “Fuck!” Caleb sprints towards the stage, but it’s too late, Dad hits the match button, and the three of us stand there in silence as the Poodle cupid flies around the screen, shoots an arrow into a cloud, and a picture of a woman falls out. A woman who is not my mother. But at least we saw it coming. Larry didn’t, and neither did anything else in the room. Larry looks at his phone, and then at the screen behind him. “Well…um…that’s interesting.” Caleb grabs my hand and leads me out of the conference room. “Okay, now we should probably wait to tell our parents about us.” Through the conference room door, I can hear people starting to boo. “I mean, shit, after that, they might not be our parents for much longer.”

A bizarre mix of relief and sadness washes over me. On one hand, I feel really bad for Mom, but on the other hand, I knew there was something weird about her and Larry getting together. It’s actually weirdly comforting to know that I wasn’t imagining it, and they weren’t really soulmates after all. Hold on. I just realized something. “Wait, Caleb. You said you used your Dad’s phone more than he did, right?” “Yeah, why?” “So, if that phone matched your Dad up with my Mom based on your data…wouldn’t that mean that it thinks we’re a match?” Caleb bursts out laughing. “Well shit, I guess it worked for something.” It looks like the conference is over. People are starting to file through the doors, and most of them don’t look very happy. Caleb sighs. “Let’s get out of here. I think my dad’s going to need some space.” *** I’m sitting at the kitchen table, talking to Mom on the phone. The sounds of a rowdy kindergarten recess crackle behind her. “I was surprised, but when I actually thought about it, it all made sense. When we first met, Larry was so interested in me that I couldn’t help but think it was love. But ever since the wedding, I started to feel like he was always trying to prove to himself that he loved me just because his app said so. I felt bad for thinking that, but…apparently, I was right.” “So you’re doing alright?” “Honestly, I’m just glad I found out this early. I talked to Larry, he was very apologetic, and he agreed with me that this changes things quite a bit. I really don’t think it’s going to last.” “Well hey, if you think that, you should go back to talking to that new guy you like so much. The math teacher with the glasses?” “Way ahead of you, honey. We’re getting coffee after school.” “Go Mom!” A bell rings in the background. “Oh! That’s my next class. I’ll talk to you later, dear!”

Well, that went better than expected. I think about fixing myself a snack, but before I do, Caleb walks into the room. “Ready for your surprise?” Oh God, I forgot all about the surprise. My eyes wander over Caleb’s body as I consider the possibilities. Yum. “Ready when you are,” I say, biting my lip. “Good. Come on, let’s go upstairs.” Caleb takes my hand and leads me up the stairs, and I watch his muscular ass move in his jeans on the way up. I wonder what he’s got in mind for me… When we reach the top of the stairs, Caleb opens the door to my room and motions for me to go inside. When I do, my jaw drops. There’s a huge calendar on my floor. It’s just like the one I made at the start of the summer, but bigger, professionally printed and filled to the brim with words and pictures. “I know I kind of messed up your summer calendar, so I made you a new one.” It’s sweet, but I’m a little confused. “Summer ’s almost over, Caleb.” “I know. This is for next summer. We’re going to go on so many adventures, you won’t believe it.” “Caleb…” I read the calendar, and my eyes start to water as I look at everything that Caleb has planned for us. “And then we’re going to do it again next summer, and then the summer after that, and the summer after that. I want every day we spend together to be a new adventure, and I want to spend all my days with you.” I smile and start to cry as Caleb wraps his arms around me. “I love you, Emma.” “I love you too, Caleb.” I look up at Caleb’s face, and I swear there are little sparks blazing in his eyes.

Chapter 26: Emma Four Years Later Four years. Three regular years, and one leap year. That’s 1461 days, and every one of them has been an adventure. And today might be the biggest adventure yet. “Caleb Matthews, Emma Grant…” When we announced that the wedding was going to be in the middle of the redwood forest, I was worried people wouldn’t be able to make it. But they did. This is probably the most people the National Tree Ring Museum has ever had. We’re definitely their first wedding, but they’ve been excellent hosts. The priest gives a speech about how true love is like a tree, because it gets stronger and stronger every year. I’d laugh if it wasn’t true. Gina’s here, and so is Fox. They rolled their eyes at us when we told them about the wedding, but they’re definitely going to be up here next. They’re crazy for each other. Mom and Larry are also here, sitting on opposite sides of the crowd with their new partners. Mom’s with Hugh, the math teacher, who I’m pretty much convinced is her actual soulmate, and Larry’s with the woman he matched with onstage. PoodleMatch may not have panned out, but Larry insists that this time, it really did find him true love. As far as Caleb and I can tell, he’s right. Caleb used the prize money to start his own MMA league, a totally legitimate one. It’s still pretty new, but it’s been gaining in popularity every year. It’s surreal to watch Caleb fight on TV, but I try to see his matches in person whenever I can. He knows how much I like to watch him fight. That’s only the beginning, though. Now that I’m out of college, I’m working on turning that MMA money into a Poodle-style tech startup. I’m going to found it, and then Caleb is going to jump on once he’s done fighting. Personally, I have my suspicions that that’s going to be sooner rather than later, because ever since Caleb’s brother got back in touch with him last month and apologized for leaving home…he’s stopped tossing and turning in his sleep. The wedding is perfect. I kiss Caleb, and we become husband and wife. And before we go to the reception and see all our friends, I’ve got a surprise for him. As soon as the wedding is over, I grab Caleb’s hand and lead him through the woods, past trees, rivers, and roads until we find ourselves on a certain dirt path winding through the forest. Caleb grins as he recognizes the path, and before too long, we end up at the end of it, where the dirt gives way to the towering redwood tree we parked underneath last time we were here.

Caleb looks up at the tree, and then down at me. “So what’s your surprise?” I take his hand, hold it in mine, and then guide it up to my stomach. “An adventure.” Caleb looks down at his hand for a second, and then his jaw drops. “Wait, seriously? You’re…” I nod. He smiles and wraps his arms around me, picking me up and holding me tight in the shadow of the redwood tree. It’s going to be an adventure, alright. And I, for one, can’t wait. THE END ***

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Excerpt From Ink: A Stepbrother Romance

Chapter 1: Haley I smash my head between two pillows, hoping it’ll block the noise of the party outside. Jace Fisher has completely ruined my life. Ever since my dad married Laura, he’s basically moved into her apartment in Manhattan, leaving me alone out here in Connecticut with her son Jace, a foul-mouthed, immature bastard with the body of a Greek god who thinks playing stupid pranks on me is the funniest thing in the world. Until I had one for a stepbrother, I’d done a pretty good job of avoiding guys like Jace: cocky, arrogant jerks who think they’re god’s gift to the human race just because they have six-pack abs, gorgeous eyes, thick, perfect hair, and a face that can ruin a girl’s panties with just a look. Not mine, of course. I’m too busy trying to make it through this summer without murdering him, and he isn’t making it easy. First of all, he hits on all my friends. His favorite move is to come out of the shower wearing nothing but a tiny little towel and offer to cook us pancakes. Naturally, they’re all obsessed with him now, and they’ll make any excuse to come over to my place so they can make Bambi eyes at him. They won’t listen when I tell them that he’s the devil incarnate. Then, there’s the fact that he sleeps in my old playroom, the room right next to mine. This gives him access to basically my entire childhood, a fact which he loves to remind me of by leaving my old stuffed animals in naughty poses all around the house. Worst of all, though, is how he teases me, calling me his hot stepsister, flirting with me every chance he gets, twisting everything I say into vulgar sexual jokes. He loves to get under my skin, to make things awkward, to get me so flustered that all I can do is stomp back to my room and shut the

door. He thinks that every girl who doesn’t immediately jump his stupid muscular bones is playing hard to get, which means that the more I try to convince him that I’d rather kayak down Niagara Falls than make out with him, the more aggressive his advances get. Things got even worse a few weeks ago, when Jace realized he could throw parties here and no one would care. Ever since, the house has been full of asshole guys and loud, obnoxious girls playing beer pong, blasting club music, and making out with each other until four in the morning. All night, every night. That’s what it feels like, anyway. Deciding to brave the party for a few seconds, I sneak into the kitchen for a glass of milk to help me sleep, but I can’t even do that without some meathead guy with a buzzcut cornering me and asking me to be on his beer pong team. “It’s strip pong,” he says, leering at my pajama-clad body, “But don’t worry, I’m not going to let anyone else see you naked.” “Hmm, I think I’ll pass. Milk and beer don’t go together very well.” “Then who needs milk?” The buzzcut guy grabs my glass of milk and pours it down the sink. Since I can’t slap this entire party in the face, I settle for just slapping him. It feels great, but when half the party stops dancing , turns around, and looks at me, I realize that it may not have been the smartest idea. I can’t see who anyone is in the dark, but I’m pretty sure half my graduating class is here tonight. Horribly embarrassed, I walk down the hall to my room and managed to keep my cool until I’m safe and shut up in my room. With a pillow over my face and tears of anger welling up in my eyes, I eventually drift off into an unhappy sleep. Once I’m asleep, I have the dream I’ve been having ever since graduation. It’s always the same. I’m attending some made-up college, and it’s completely awful. I don’t fit in there, I don’t like any of my fellow students, and they don’t like me. This isn’t a scary dream, but it usually wakes me up like a nightmare. This time, I sit bolt upright in bed and pull the covers off of my body. Jace is there, sitting on the edge of my bed. “Bad dream?” I nod. By now, I’m used to Jace coming into my room late at night after I have a bad dream. The first time he did it, I tried to kick him out, but there was something nice about having another person there, somebody who could tell me that everything was going to be okay. Jace might be a colossal douchebag every other hour of the day, but on nights like this, I’m really glad to have someone around who understands. “It’s not real,” he says, snuggling up to me and rubbing my shoulders, “None of it is real. Were you in college again?” “Yeah, and it was horrible.”

“If you ever feel like that at a real college…leave. That’s all you have to do.” I nod sleepily, enjoying the feeling of Jace’s fingers massaging my tired muscles. “Do you want me to get you a glass of water?” “Is the party still going on?” “Nah,” says Jace, “It’s been over for hours. I kicked everyone out after that asshole wouldn’t leave you alone.” “Jace…you didn’t have to do that.” “Yes I did. No one treats my stepsister like that.” In the dim light of my dark room, I notice a trickle of blood running down the side of Jace’s neck. “Jace…” My hand reaches up to brush against a large cut behind his ear. “You’re bleeding.” “Really? Still?” Jace reaches back to touch the cut, and his fingers come back bloody. “Oh shit, yeah, I guess I am. It’s not a big deal. He got one good punch in, and then I took care of him. The important thing is that you’re alright.” Jace guides me down onto my back and pulls the covers up around my neck. “Want me to stay here until you get back to sleep?” I nod, and Jace lies down with me, stretching his huge, muscly body up against mine. It feels good to use him like a giant, rock-hard pillow, snuggling up against him to keep the bad dreams away. If this were any other hour of the day, I’d assume that this was another one of his stupid comeons, but something’s different about him when he comes into my room at night. I wonder if he has really bad dreams, and that’s why he takes mine so seriously. Whatever his reasons, nights like these might be the only time I’m actually happy to have him here. It’s really too bad that he’ll go right back to his usual annoying self tomorrow morning and act like this never happened. Jace must be able to feel me fidgeting around in bed, because after a few minutes, he reaches his thick arms around my body and pulls me into him to hold me still. “Relax,” he whispers, “Everything’s going to be okay.” That’s when it happens. A warm little twinge between my legs. Dangerously close to a throb. My body can no longer ignore the perfect male torso pressed against it. That’s okay. Jace doesn’t have to know about that. It’ll just be my little secret. I turn my head towards Jace, tell him “Thank you,” give him a warm, sleepy smile and close my eyes. I wake up before the sun rises, feeling perfectly rested for absolutely no reason. Next to me, sitting on my pillow, there are two stuffed polar bears from my playroom, arranged into a very compromising position. A reminder that Jace was in here last night. Looks like everything’s back to normal.

I need to thank him for last night, don’t I? He canceled an entire party because I was upset, took a punch for me, and then came into my room to make sure I was okay. I definitely need to thank him. It’s pretty early, though; the sun’s not even up yet. Maybe if I do it now, he’ll be too sleepy to rub it into my face or twist it into some kind of dirty joke about me. The door to his room is cracked slightly, so I push it open as quietly as I can and step inside. Jace is sleeping shirtless, with no blankets covering him from the waist up. I watch his chest rising and falling as I work up the courage to wake him up. He’s so peaceful when he’s sleeping. My eyes dart around Jace’s room, which is still painted two shades of pink from when it was my playroom. Other than adding a bed, the only change Jace made to the room was hanging up posters of bikini models leaning over the hoods of expensive cars. As I look from poster to poster, annoyed at Jace’s tacky choice of decor, my eyes fall onto the dresser right next to the door. It’s covered in college brochures, mostly unopened. I wonder if Jace wants to go to college. We haven’t talked about it, but he could definitely get into somewhere good…he may act like an idiot, but he was an honors student all through high school. There’s something strange underneath the envelopes, though. It looks like some kind of contract printed out on special paper. I wouldn’t have given it a second look if I didn’t see the words “my stepbrother” peeking out from under a brochure for MIT. Is this supposed to be some kind of contract for me? As sneakily as I can, I pull the thick legal paper of the contract out from under the college envelopes and began to read it. What. The. Hell. By signing this contract, I, _____________, agree to abide by the following rules while living with my stepbrother, Jace Fisher: My jaw drops as I read the list of things Jace wants me to do for him. It’s like his jokes about me doing all his chores taken to the extreme. There’s no getting around “my stepbrother, Jace Fisher” either…this contract is meant for me. And he wants me to do much, much more than make him lunch. *I will accompany my stepbrother to any party, gathering, or event he asks me to. *I will let my stepbrother pick out my outfits, giving him complete control over what I wear at home and what I wear when I leave the house. *I will sleep in my stepbrother’s bed. *I will ask my stepbrother’s permission whenever I want to hang out with a male friend.

*I will ask my stepbrother’s permission before I hang out in a group that includes two or more men. Every rule makes my breath come faster and faster. Why would Jace draw up a contract like this? And why does he care about me hanging out with other guys? The rules continue onto the next page, and when I read them, I practically have a heart attack. *I will not touch myself without my stepbrother’s permission. *I will not tell my stepbrother’s mother, stepfather, or birth father about this contract. *Whenever my stepbrother gives me an order, I will follow it or accept the consequences. My whole body trembles as I read the rules again. He isn’t actually going to make me sign this, right? It’s just some kind of…sexual fantasy about me? I blush all over as I read the last couple of clauses a third time. My first instinct is to just tear the whole contract to pieces, but if I do, Jace will know that I’ve seen it. Watching Jace’s calm, sleeping face for any signs of movement, I try to slide the contract back under the college envelopes. Bad idea. The sliding paper pushes half of the envelopes off of the opposite side of the dresser, creating a mini avalanche of crumpling paper that makes me freeze in my tracks. “Haley?” Jace asks, pushing himself off of the mattress with his elbows. When he sees that I’m holding his contract, he makes a noise that’s somewhere between a laugh and a little yelp. “What is this?” I ask him, holding up the contract and sending the rest of the college brochures tumbling to the floor. “Uh…yeah…I can explain that,” he says, “It’s not what it looks like…” “How could it not be what it looks like?” I ask, “It seems pretty clear to me.” I need to get out of Jace’s room. I drop the contact down on Jace’s dresser, and then hurry into the living room, where beer bottles and plastic cups still litter the floor from last night’s party. I head for the front door, but Jace catches up to me, twisting me into a tight embrace. “You weren’t supposed to see that, Haley,” he says, “That was just…something I made. I was just…” Jace pulls away, looking into my eyes and brushing the hair out of my face. Then, he gives me this look…like he wants to kiss me… This is so wrong! It’s insanely wrong! The only problem is…it doesn’t feel wrong. The warm little twinge from last night is back, only this time, it’s ten times stronger, a throbbing inferno between my legs.

Jace notices the look in my eyes and smirks. Slowly but surely, he brings his face closer to mine, until our lips are less than an inch apart. I close my eyes, ready to receive his forbidden kiss… but I can’t. Maybe if I hadn’t found that contract, things would have been different, but all I can think about is that last clause. The one about having to obey Jace’s every command… “We can’t,” I say, pushing away at the last second and heading out the door into the front yard. Now, I’m just head down the street in my pajamas, not walking anywhere in particular. Jace doesn’t follow me out of the house, so I keep walking until I reach the end of our street. I lean against a stop sign and watch the sun inching above the horizon. What the hell was that? Up until now, I assumed that Jace’s flirting was all just a joke, a way to make me feel awkward, but clearly, I’ve been in denial. How can I go back to living one room away my stepbrother after finding something like that and then almost kissing him? In an empty house with just the two of us? He’ll either tease me for the rest of my life, or…try to kiss me again. And next time, I’m not sure I’m going to be able to tell my body what a stupid idea that would be. It’d be one thing if I didn’t care about him. Then, I could definitely walk back in there, rip up his little contract, and tell him to stay out of my life. That would be easy. The truth is so much harder. The truth is that as I stood there in Jace’s room, standing over his shirtless body and imagining myself contractually bound to follow his orders…I didn’t want to tear it up. I wanted to sign it. What the hell am I supposed to do about that?

About The Author Michaela Scott has a thing for alpha males, billionaires, and bad boys with good hearts. It’s no wonder her female characters are always getting involved with them. When she’s not writing about messy, passionate, unlikely romances, she’s at home, spending time with her own personal alpha male and trying not to use him as inspiration.

Michaela scott best (an mma stepbrother romance) (buscar trad )