Authors: Kim Linwood
This is a work of fiction. Similarities to real people, places, or events are entirely coincidental.
A Stepbrother Romance
Feb. 10th, 2016.
Copyright © 2016 Kim Linwood.
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A Stepbrother Romance
unter Campbell is an ordinary man.”
The narrator’s deep voice rattles the speakers on my cheap TV, bassy and over the top, like an action movie preview. Hunter comes into view, handsome and mysterious as he leans against a marble balustrade, framed by a backdrop of deep blue-green ocean. In nothing but black board shorts, his every muscular edge and angle is highlighted by the bright sun playing over his inked and tanned skin.
I roll my eyes. Sure, he’s nice to look at. He always has been, and time has been kind.
He’s filled out, no trace of the slender boy I knew in his broad frame. The ink is new. I bet those tattoos piss off his father. Still, they suit him, but it doesn’t make me like him any better.
A jerk in a pretty package is still a jerk.
“An ordinary man with an extraordinary amount of money,” the voice continues in a low rumble that builds power like an oncoming storm.
Wind tousles Hunter’s short, blond hair while he flashes a dazzling white smile at the viewers. His crinkled blue eyes and full lips are inviting and seductive. “Come to my tropical paradise,” they promise. “There’s great sex here. With me.”
There was a time where I’d be one of the girls lining up for a chance at that promise.
But that was a lifetime ago, and I’m not that girl anymore.
The camera zooms out, revealing an extravagant terrace overlooking a bright white sandy beach. Tall palm trees provide shade, while tropical birds flit about, chirping happily. An island paradise.
should be on that terrace, instead of in this piece of shit, roach infested apartment.
“An ordinary man, with a private beach...”
In a single smooth motion, Hunter climbs onto the balustrade and leaps into the air, throwing his colorful and well-defined arms out into an elegant swan dive. The view lurches forward while tilting down, showing how the gentle waves lap against the house wall below. He soars, his athletic body seeming for a second to hover, before he plunges straight down.
There’s hardly a splash as he cuts into the water, the azure liquid so clear he’s easily visible beneath the surface. He twists with the grace of a seal, swiftly bringing himself back to the surface with powerful strokes.
“...and a magnificent estate...”
The camera leaves him behind as it zooms out to a bird’s eye view, showing off a sprawling estate in white stucco and shining marble. A golf course extends inland in one direction and a dirt road in another, flanked by tennis courts and a helicopter pad.
It must’ve cost a fortune.
I liked it better when it was trees and flowers.
“...on his own private island in the Caribbean!”
The view rockets upwards until the estate is just a big white blob surrounded by lush green jungle, which is again surrounded by a wide ocean, so brilliant the color looks fake, like the producers added it with special effects.
I know they didn’t, but that’s because I grew up on that beach.
That blond, too-good-looking-to-be-true waste of oxygen dove from a terrace that should’ve been mine, at an estate that should’ve been mine, on a private island in the Caribbean that should’ve been mine.
“Hunter Campbell has everything. A wine cellar worth millions.” The dusty, windowless room I used to play hide-and-seek in flashes on the screen.
“His own private plane.” A sparkling white seaplane takes off from the blue-green ocean with the chalky white manor resting majestically over the cliff in the background.
“His own private yacht.” A sleek and powerful luxury vessel courses through the water, its sharp prow cutting through the waves like a knife, while the camera pans dramatically across the bow.
“An art collection worth millions!” The west wing flashes onto the screen, our old sitting room converted into an opulent gallery.
Modesty, thy name is not Campbell.
“The only thing he doesn’t have...” Long dramatic pause, as the camera zooms slowly in on Hunter’s face, hair slicked back and wet from his dive. “Is someone to share it with.”
He could’ve had someone to share it with, if his father hadn’t ruined everything.
“The Reality Channel presents: I’d Marry That Billionaire! Watch ten beautiful, ambitious women who will stop at
to win the opportunity to become Mrs. Hunter Campbell. For four weeks, they’ll live in the lap of luxury. Every whim catered to, every wish fulfilled, every desire made real, so long as they make a good impression. Mr. Campbell has high standards, and at any time another contestant could be sent home, her hopes crushed and her dreams washed away with the salty tide as the pool of suitorettes dwindles.”
Suitorettes? Is that even a word?
“Who has the grace? The persistence? The willingness to do whatever it takes to Marry That Billionaire? Watch the premiere, coming this fall on TRC!”
With disgust, I click off the TV and throw the remote onto my worn down couch. I frown at yet another spot where the padding is starting to poke out. I’d meant to replace it by now, but with Mom’s bills, it won’t be happening any time soon. This thing was already threadbare when we had to sell the house to pay off her credit cards, and it sure hasn’t gotten any better in the three years since. Some shade of deep burgundy when she bought it, it’s faded to an unattractive pink. What we have left barely pays for her place at the clean living facility as it is. Where am I supposed to get the money for a new couch?
The announcer’s right about one thing. I will stop at nothing. For the billionth time, I look at my airline ticket to Puerto Rico, lying next to my acceptance letter. It’s the only tangible proof I have that it’s true. That, somehow or other, I’m going to be one of those ambitious women prancing around to impress Hunter Campbell.
A man whose father stole my life.
My stomach knots at thought of the five thousand dollars it cost me to secure my spot on the show. Nobody does something for nothing, even for a friend of a friend. Luckily they wanted a couple “average” looking girls to make the group look realistic. I’m pretty enough, but not exactly your typical reality show material. I have a bikini body because I have a body, and I can put a bikini on it, but it’s not like modeling contracts are lining up at my door.
Living on rice and beans to help make up for the bribe money has streamlined my curves a little, which is nice, but it hasn’t magically turned me into a supermodel.
Now there’s nothing left to spend, and nothing left to lose. This is going to have to work.
Maybe my plan’s crazy. I don’t know.
Actually, that’s a lie. It’s totally crazy and if Mom was sober, she’d try to talk me out of it.
I’ve never understood why she accepted being screwed out of her home so easily. Mom’s no angel, but she deserved better than what the Campbells did to her, and so did I.
I pick up tomorrow’s boarding pass, needing to feel that it’s real, the glossy paper smooth between my fingers. First I fly to San Juan, then I’ll be picked up and brought to Frederick Island by sea plane. After that, who knows?
They haven’t told us anything, and I’m sure it’s on purpose. Whatever’s coming, they want our reactions on camera, and being prepared doesn’t make exciting TV. I’ll have to pretend as well as I can, and not let on that I probably know the island far better than any of them do.
Maybe even better than Hunter. He didn’t grow up there, after all.
The departure date on the ticket is in big bold letters to make sure I don’t forget. I’ve read it over and over, ever since I received it in the mail, registered. At least ten times a day. June 26th at 2:05 PM.
I’ll pick up the night train from Port Kent, and wake up in New York City. Get myself to Newark airport, and then I’m off. I can’t quite believe this is happening.
Will he recognize me? I’m screwed if he does. Not to mention that it would be the second most humiliating moment of my life. Fitting, since the first was thanks to him too, but a lot happens between eighteen and twenty-five.
When he last saw me, I was a naive teenager with curly brown hair and pimples. My frizzy bob has been replaced with sleek red locks that hang down past my shoulders. Colored contacts turn my brown eyes green, and I doubt he’d connect my pale complexion with the golden tan I had for most of our life together.
He’s not the lean boy he used to be, and I’m not the scrawny tomboy who used to climb trees and dive for lost treasure.
I’m pretty confident Hunter won’t recognize me, and if everything goes to plan, he’ll never know what hit him. It’s simple. The show gets me into the house, and once I’m there, I can find what I need to prove they cheated us. The original deed is there, inside the frame of an old map of the island. I just have to find it.
So simple, and so impossible at the same time.
I’m no super spy, but I’ll do whatever it takes. Nobody else will be as determined, because none of the other girls will be playing for such high stakes. Forget love and mimosas on the terrace. My future and my mother’s health are on the line.
Sorry, Hunter. You and your father are going down.
his was a really stupid fucking idea.” I drop into a deck chair overlooking the beach, still dripping from my swim.
Danny has an ice cold beer waiting for me on the table, and I nearly drain it in one long gulp before relaxing back into my seat. A couple of gulls squawk as they fly by, but other than that, the afternoon is quiet, the only sound the soft rush of the ocean washing over the white sand and the low hum of insects in the jungle.
The quiet isn’t going to last.
This is it. The last time for over a month that I get to be myself and not Mr. Moneybags McBachelor. The TV crew is already crawling over the island, setting up cameras and planning the theoretical demise of my single life, but tomorrow is when it really starts.
Tomorrow the women arrive.
Ten fame-seeking attention whores who are willing to give up their dignity in exchange for a free vacation and a chance at the spotlight. They have to know there’s not going to be a wedding at the end of this. I’ve seen these shows before. I’m more likely to get hit by lightning than meet the woman of my dreams during this ratings sham.
“I’m sorry, Sir?” Danny’s crisp English accent has just the right amount of uppity disdain, perfect for pretending to be my butler, in stark contrast to my own which has never quite figured out where it’s from, but sounds mostly like my father’s broad American speech. Of course, with Danny’s unruly red hair and a grin that always spells trouble, he looks more like a Weasley than a well-bred gentleman, but it’s never stopped him from landing his fair share of women.
I flip him off. “Oh, shut up. You sound ridiculous.”
He smirks. “Practice makes perfect, Sir. I’d hate to be remiss in my duties.”
“Your only duty is to make this circus bearable.”
Danny pulls a small hand towel from his pocket and pretends to dust off his chair before sitting down. “Lighten up. You know they’ll expect me to sound like Jeeves or a bleeding extra from Downton Abbey.”
I suppose being a pain in the ass is what best friends are for. “You’re giving these girls way too much credit if you think they’ll notice the difference.”
“I’m sure your future wife will be quite impressed.”
“What the fuck do I need a wife for?” God knows that’s true. A short flight gets me to San Juan, St. Martin, St. Thomas, wherever. If you have a trust fund and a private plane and still can’t get laid in the Caribbean, your cause is lost. I get all the pussy I want for free, and I don’t have to bring it home with me.
“Don’t ask me. You’re the one who agreed to do the show.”
I take a long drag out of my beer and lean back. “Only because my father sunk all his money into that network. I’ve been putting him off for the last year, but he’s my dad, you know?”
“To fucking family, but not you know, fucking family,” Danny says with a laugh, raising his beer.
We clink bottles.
My father. I love him, but he’s an asshole.
The only good investments he ever made were marrying my mother, and taking over this island. So I suppose he has good taste in women, or at least good taste in women that can get him something. Considering both his ex-wives hate his guts, they might not agree.
History is repeating itself, because he used everything he had left after my mother ditched him—
into fixing this place up. If it wasn’t for the fund her family set up for me, we wouldn’t still be here. I let him feel like he still has a say, but as soon as I turned twenty-five, everything switched over to being in my name.