Authors: Noelle Adams
One Week with her (Ex) Stepbrother
This book is a
work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of
the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual
events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2016
by Noelle Adams. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce,
distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means.
was one of those days when Missy Garretson was annoyed with the world.
particularly bad had happened today. She’d woken up at a reasonable hour, drunk
plenty of coffee, and come into work at her family’s garden shop without
incident. Her father was busy in his office with accounts, so he hadn’t had
time to nag at her for working all the time and not meeting any nice guys. And
Zach, her former stepbrother, who had hung around their small town in North
Georgia even after his mother had divorced her father, hadn’t made an
wasn’t any reason why she wanted to glare at every email that popped into her
inbox and snarl at every customer who walked through the gate.
had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that beautiful, talented Cassandra Vance—with
her quiet, untouched air that attracted every man in a two-hundred-mile
radius—was back in town.
had been two grades above Missy all through school, and she’d moved to New York
a few years ago, trying to make a success of her paintings with the art crowd.
She was supposed to be far away, where she wouldn’t be making random guys of
Missy’s acquaintance drool and act like idiots. But Missy had seen her at the
coffee shop that morning, looking just as gorgeous and superior as ever.
was twenty-seven now. It really shouldn’t bother her so much. So what if all
the guys Missy had liked in school had been crazy about Cassandra? So what if Zach
had been head-over-heels for her for years, only to get his heart broken when
Cassandra had married Silas Vance.
was a mature, confident woman now with a life of her own. She hated still
feeling like a teenager whom none of the good guys had ever been into.
she did, though. She wondered if people ever truly grew out of that feeling.
the moment, Missy was at the main desk in the garden shop, which was made up of
one large building and a couple of acres of property outside. She was scowling
at her computer screen because she’d gotten another spammy email from someone
trying to sell them a secret formula for miracle fertilizer.
are you all pissy about?” a voice came from her right side.
jerked in surprise and turned her head to see Zach standing in the opened
double-door entrance that led outside. He had reddish brown hair, hazel eyes,
and a look of unselfconscious sexiness that girls really liked. This morning,
he was arching his eyebrows at her and wearing a stained T-shirt and a pair of
cargo pants that must have been eight years old. “I’m not pissy,” she said
coolly. “When did you get here?”
been here for more than an hour. I was unloading that truckload of grasses
while you’ve been sitting around glaring at anything in your line of sight.”
tried to retain her dignity around Zach, since she knew he was pleased when he
got a reaction out of her, but he’d been driving her crazy since she was
thirteen, when her father had married his mother and she’d been stuck with a
mopey seventeen-year-old stepbrother. She barely managed not to make a face at
him now. She wasn’t in a good mood, and he was making it worse. “I haven’t been
glaring,” she said coolly.
have every time I’ve glanced in this morning.”
must have been really distracted, if she hadn’t noticed he’d arrived. She was
usually weirdly attuned to his presence. Since she couldn’t think of a response
that wouldn’t let him see how annoyed she was by him, she turned back to her
computer without a word.
you don’t want to work here, you don’t have to,” Zach said, coming closer to
her desk, just when she wanted him to go away. He was always contrary that way.
“Your dad and I could get by fine.”
She took a sip of coffee from the travel mug she filled up in Grounded, the
only coffee shop in the area, every morning. “Dad would have a heart attack,
and you’d lay down and cry if I didn’t help out and keep everything straight
could hire someone.” Zach had started working at the garden shop in high
school, and he’d never stopped. His mother was a sweet but rather silly woman,
who’d fallen in love with a rich real estate developer she’d met when she’d
been visiting her sister. She’d divorced Missy’s father and moved to Atlanta,
but Zach had been eighteen by then and hadn’t wanted to leave the one place
he’d felt at home. So he’d gotten a place of his own and stuck around. Now, he
handled all of the landscaping jobs—using contract labor to help with the
larger jobs—and her dad focused on the shop.
one else would last a week, working for Dad. He’d yell at them once and scare
them out of their skin.” She frowned up at Zach. “Why? Are you trying to get
rid of me?”
rolled his eyes and picked up Missy’s mug without asking, taking a huge swallow
of her coffee. “I know you’d rather be a full-time realtor, and I don’t want
you to be pissy at work all the time.”
had her real estate license, and she was trying to build her business. But
there wasn’t a lot of buying and selling in this area, and there was a lot of
competition. She had to supplement her income by working for her father, but
she would have helped out anyway. She certainly didn’t want to leave her dad in
a bad situation, without anyone to handle the day-to-day administration of the
grabbed her coffee back from Zach, who was now sitting on her desk. “I’m not
pissy all the time.” She was a good-natured and agreeable person. Almost
everyone liked her. Zach was the only person she wanted to strangle most of the
you are this morning. What’s going on?” His hazel eyes were mostly gray, but
today they looked almost green. He was studying her face closely, like he
wanted to see beyond her frown.
could see he was genuinely concerned about her. Her heart clenched in an odd
little emotional response—affection, appreciation, familiarity, knowledge.
reached out and gave her cheek a gentle little tweak, and she couldn’t look
away from him. It was clear that he knew her—saw her for who she really was—and
wanted to know even more. “What’s going on, kiddo?” he murmured.
jerked away from his touch, suddenly feeling like an idiot for how she’d been
responding to him. “Would you stop calling me that? You’re only four years
older than me, you know.”
know.” His expression went back to its normal laughing insolence. “But it
wasn’t that long ago when we went to the movies and were asked if you were
under twelve and needed the kid’s discount, so you can hardly blame me.”
sucked in an indignant breath, her cheeks blazing as she remembered that
evening four years ago. She was short with a heart-shaped face that made her
look like a doll. When coupled with her fine blond hair and blue eyes, people
always assumed she was younger than she was. She still got carded every time
she bought a drink. Sometimes she wondered what it would be like not to look so
she snapped back at Zach, it would reveal how much his comment had bothered
her, so she just narrowed her eyes and looked away without speaking.
leaned over to turn her head back toward him. “Hey. I was joking.”
know,” she said, raising her eyebrows and trying to look unaffected.
guy at the movies was a blind idiot. Anyone who gets a look at your body would
know in an instant that you’re not a kid. Don’t get all huffy.”
not all huffy.” Despite her cool words, she felt a shiver of pleasure at his
comment. She was curvy—which was her one saving grace—but she’d never known
that Zach was even aware she had a body.
what’s with you today? You’re not normally this sensitive.”
it seemed like he really wanted to know. But she could hardly tell him that
seeing Cassandra again had brought back some of her old insecurities—and a few
new feelings she hadn’t yet processed.
always secretly suspected that one of the reasons Zach had stuck around town
when his mother had moved and remarried was because he was so crazy in love
is wrong with me. It’s just one of those days you wake up in an irritable mood.
You know you have them too.”
frowned as she tried to read an email on her computer screen. She was acutely
conscious of his intent gaze, however, so she couldn’t focus on the words.
for something—anything—to say that might distract him, she heard herself adding
cheerfully, “Oh, by the way, you’ll never guess who I saw this morning.”
He obviously had no idea.
looked surprised for a moment, and then a completely unexpected expression
transformed his face. He didn’t appear upset or interested or excited. Instead,
the expression was knowledge, enlightenment. “I see. That’s what has you in
such a bad mood.”
shoulders stiffened. “What is that supposed to mean?”
means you’re feeling all jealous and insecure.”
not jealous!” A chill ran down her spine as she wondered if Zach somehow knew
certain feelings she’d never even admitted to herself. “Who would I be jealous
mouth opened slightly. “I just meant you always stupidly felt second-best next
to Cassandra. Who did you think I thought you were jealous about? Silas?” He
started to frown in a way that made his forehead wrinkle, like he was tasting
something he didn’t like.
have absolutely no interest in Silas!” She was off-balance and jittery.
Normally, she would have put an end to this conversation, before she revealed
something that couldn’t be revealed. But she was too emotional to think
didn’t think so, but then why did you get so upset when I said you were
jealous. Who else would you be jealous—”
told you I’m not jealous. You’re the one who spent weeks in your room listening
to mournful, screechy music because you couldn’t have Cassandra.”
effectively distracted Zach, although not the way she’d expected. He laughed
uninhibitedly. “That was years ago. We’re all stupid when we’re kids.”
weren’t a kid. You were twenty.”
He grinned at her in a way that made her breath hitch. “You kept coming over to
my place back then, bringing me food and trying to cheer me up.”
had. Zach’s first place after leaving their home had been a cheap trailer down
by the river, where he’d lived until he could afford to buy a little house in
town. She’d hated how devastated he’d been after Cassandra had gotten engaged
to Silas, and so she’d done everything she could think of to make him feel
better, bringing soup and cookies and her best attempt at encouragement.
she hadn’t responded, she said, “I guess I was stupid back then too.”
mean you wouldn’t come by to comfort me now, if I got my heartbroken?”
not.” It was a lie, and both of them knew it. “You’re old enough to know better
shared gaze had lasted too long, and Missy started feeling trembly,
uncomfortable. Zach turned away, staring at a spot on the floor. He murmured,
“I don’t know if people ever outgrow falling in love with the wrong person.”
didn’t know what he meant by that, but she didn’t like the sound of it. “Well,
don’t get any silly ideas about falling for Cassandra again. Silas would kill
been divorced for more than three years now.”
think that matters to him? She left him. Everyone knows he didn’t want to let
could take him.”
made a choking sound. “Silas is four inches taller than you, and he works on a
forge. All you do is haul manure around. There’s no scenario in which you
could take him.”
had a very nice-looking body. He was lean with good shoulders, and his work
kept him in great shape. But he wasn’t anywhere close to as big as Silas was.
a lot.” Zach didn’t appear pleased by her blunt comments.
it’s true. Silas would pound you into the ground. So stay away from Cassandra.”
just scowled at her.
mean it,” Missy went on, rather upset at the way Zach seemed to be seriously
considering pursuing Cassandra, even after all these years and all the reasons
why he shouldn’t. “Silas is scary.”
not that scary.”
terrifying. I’ve never met anyone as rough and intimidating as he is—and that
was before he became a hermit and hid himself away in that cabin. You need to
stay away from him.”
appeared to be bothered by this conversation too, although Missy wasn’t sure
why. “I don’t even like the guy. You think I’m planning to hang out with him?
But I’m not going to run away and hide from him, if that’s what you think of