Authors: Jenn Young
Table of Contents
REASON AND ROMANCE
By Jenn Young
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents portrayed in this book are either products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Text copyright 2014 by Jenn Young.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permissions of the publisher.
Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Cover design by OctagonLab
Text formatting by Lisa Huynh
Published by Jenn Young
To everyone who believed I could do it.
The desert was ugly and desolate and above all, it was
Even the trees—the pitiful ones that grew thin and ragged on mountains—were a constipated brown. From the dirt and dust, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport rose up.
It made Adrian Blake want to scream. The only reason she didn’t was because her sisters were already upset. Nicky’s steady sobs and hiccups had punctuated the flight from Chicago to Phoenix. Flight attendants had offered water, tissues, and even gourmet chocolate they reserved only for first class. While Nicky had cried, Meg had glowered and sulked in her seat. No one had offered her anything.
It was with some considerable resentment Adrian saw that her father was actually happy. No doubt he was daydreaming about his fiancée who’d conned him into uprooting his family to River Valley, Arizona.
Barely two minutes after their plane landed, he stood up and clapped his hands. “Come on, girls. Let’s go meet your new family.”
New family, huh. He had been widowed for ten years, but after a few business trips, he was suddenly in love. As if, Adrian thought bitterly. She gathered her things and followed her father off the plane.
Security regulations prohibited people from meeting the passengers at their gates, but common checkpoints allowed them to converge. Sure enough, that was where Karen Montgomery was waiting with her sons.
“Carter!” she called out.
Adrian crossed her arms. If anything, the pictures her father had shown hadn’t done the woman justice. Karen Montgomery was stylish and toned and even pretty. And unfortunately she was currently kissing Adrian’s father with an alarming enthusiasm.
The sight seared Adrian’s retinas. Wasn’t there a law forbidding your parent getting some? In a public place, no less.
“I’m going to be sick,” Adrian mumbled.
“Aren’t they cute?” Nicky squealed, momentarily forgetting the thick wad of tissues in her hand. “Oh my God, that’s so romantic.”
Karen’s sons tried their best to pretend they were invisible. The first one made a retching sound and the second one coughed. They weren’t twins, but the resemblance between them was so pronounced that it was easy to tell they were brothers.
Meg’s sneer intensified when she saw them. “Are they really going to be our new stepbrothers? They look like emasculated wimps.”
“Be nice,” Adrian whispered. She might not like Karen, but the Montgomery boys had no control over their mother.
The older of Karen’s sons stepped forward. “Hi. I’m Isaac.” He pushed his glasses up with a finger. “Isaac Montgomery. And you must be …”
“I’m Adrian. This is Meg.”
“Hi Meg,” Isaac said.
“Hi Four Eyes,” Meg said.
Isaac’s polite smile vanished and Adrian stepped on the back of Meg’s heel. “And that’s Nicky,” she said, pointing at her other sister.
Nicky wasn’t paying attention. She had tears in her eyes as she gazed at their father and Karen. “The wedding is going to be great.”
Adrian and Meg exchanged glances. If they had their way, the wedding was never going to happen. Not now, not ever.
Isaac’s younger brother thrust his chest out. “My real name is Xiron Darkstar Fury. I’ve escaped from Planet Xilithium,” he said in a hushed tone. “They’re trying to take me prisoner, but I’ll die before I go back.”
Such an announcement made Adrian smile reluctantly. At least the kid had an imagination.
Nicky blinked. “Your mother really named you that?”
“I was right,” Meg said to Adrian. “He’s an emasculated wimp.”
Isaac Montgomery’s eyes narrowed behind his glasses. “He’s not. Owen just likes science fiction and fantasy.”
Meg smirked. “Do you even know what emasculated means?”
“I do!” Isaac snapped. “I’m in honors!”
“Ooh, an emasculated wimp in the honor program. Guess what, Four Eyes? I’m in honors too.”
“Stop calling me that.”
“Or what? You’ll beat me to death with those thick glasses?”
Adrian looked toward her father and Karen in vain. No dice, they were still smooching. God. She pinched the bridge of her nose hard. She was coasting on three hours of sleep because she’d said goodbye to her boyfriend and friends, and now she had to break up an impending fight between Meg and her soon-to-be stepbrothers. Starting her high school senior year in another state wasn’t punishment enough?
The airport was suddenly too garish, too loud. All around Adrian were the happy cries of passengers and their families and friends greeting each other. People were running for their gates. There were beeps from the airport equipment. Security waved people on and barked at some others. Adrian closed her eyes. This was it. This was the official end of her old existence.
“Well, isn’t this nice?”
The deep, masculine voice opened her eyes. From the corner of her eye, she caught a tantalizing glimpse of a straight nose and hollowed-out cheekbones. Curious, she turned her head to see who had spoken.
Then she saw him.
He was … attractive. Devastatingly so. His face alone would have qualified him, but his eyes were a startling green. She’d seen plenty of brown and green eyes, but never pure green. And before she knew it, she was staring.
He was an athlete. That she could tell at once. The plain T-shirt he wore hugged his lean, athletic physique to such a degree that it emphasized every muscle. He wasn’t just fit; he was in phenomenal shape. The guys back at her old school hadn’t looked like this. Not even Jason. She felt disloyal for comparing her boyfriend to this guy, but she had eyes, didn’t she?
Nicky was a goner before he even glanced at her. “Who are you?” she said breathlessly. “Are you Isaac’s older brother?”
Oh yes, their father had said Karen had three sons. At the time Adrian had thought Karen was a temporary girlfriend who lived in another state, so she hadn’t bothered to memorize their names. Huge mistake. Who would have guessed her father would lose his head so completely that he would relocate the family on a moment’s notice?
Isaac’s expression alerted Adrian. He didn’t look too surprised to see Nicky swooning at his older brother’s feet.
“Yes, that’s Alex,” Isaac said. His eyes darted up to his older brother. “Where were you? Mom asked you not to be late.”
Nicky interrupted him. “Oh, so if you’re Alex, that makes a second A in the family because of Adrian! Isn’t that exciting?” Still starry-eyed, she beamed at him. “I’ve always wanted an older brother.”
Alex lifted his eyebrows. “Yeah, I’m Alex. You must be … Nicky?”
That deliberate pause made Adrian bristle. She could guess what he was thinking. Even if Nicky wasn’t a blonde, she could act like a stereotypical dumb blonde sometimes. More than sometimes, actually, but that wasn’t any excuse to make fun of her.
“Yes, that’s me,” Nicky said before Adrian could leap to her defense. “I’m really Nicola, but it’s so much cooler to be Nicky.”
Isaac and Alex exchanged telling glances before Isaac turned back to her. “We kind of thought you were a guy when our mother told us your name,” he said. “Adrian too.”
Adrian nodded distractedly, trying to keep a wary eye on Meg, but for now Meg seemed to be contenting herself with fierce glares at the boys.
Abruptly, her skin tingled.
She turned her head, only to find Alex sizing her up. His gaze traveled from her legs to her breasts, then to her face. Then he gave her another look over. It was such a crass inspection that her simmering ire flared.
She knew what he was seeing. Some called her beautiful, even. Her father had once said she was her mother’s mirror image. A compliment or a curse, she wasn’t sure which. But there was no denying that her mother had passed on the long, dark hair and the oval-shaped face. Nicky had the same features, if less mature. They both had large brown eyes, well-shaped and thickly lashed.
“Are you done?” Adrian said coolly. She resisted the urge to flip her hair over her shoulder. This wasn’t a competition even if it felt like one. “Or should I just strip naked for your viewing satisfaction?”
A corner of his mouth tipped. “Sorry.”
Their parents finally stopped kissing and whispering. They were breathless, their faces red and their clothes askew. And they appeared absolutely happy.
“Whoops!” Karen said with a laugh. “Sorry if we embarrassed you guys.”
“A little too early to celebrate your wedding night,” Alex murmured.
Adrian glanced at him sharply. So he wasn’t happy about this either. She knew Karen was divorced, but she didn’t know if it had been a friendly divorce or if Alex’s father was still in the picture.
Karen frowned at him. “Come on, let’s get our bags.”
They went to the baggage claim. With so many suitcases, carry-ons, backpacks, and laptops, they straggled to the parking lot. As if by unspoken agreement, the Blake girls and the Montgomery boys kept the adults in the middle.
Heat swamped Adrian the moment she stepped out of the airport. It gripped her lungs in a vise, and when she drew in a stunned breath, her mouth felt cottony. She’d dealt with heat and humidity in Chicago, but this was something else. Bumfuck, Arizona had just turned into the gaping mouth of Hell.
She squinted against the brutal sun. Her sunglasses were in her purse, but thanks to her full hands, she couldn’t grope for them. The light was so bright that even when she blinked, she still saw shimmering reflections.
Karen patted her shoulder. “It’s one hundred ten degrees today. Make sure you drink a lot of water. We don’t want you getting sunstroke, do we?”
“Drop dead,” Meg muttered.
She said it softly enough that Karen didn’t react, but the Montgomery boys all shot her swift glances. And in the eyes of the two younger boys, Adrian glimpsed promised retribution. Oh yes, this pseudo-Brady blended family was off to a good start.
God, there were eight of them now. Even though she’d tried to prepare herself for it, Adrian was still flustered when they discussed the driving arrangements. The Blake girls had always piled into their father’s car or in Adrian’s, but the family had effectively doubled overnight.
“Okay, so I think one or two of you should come with us,” Karen said after they’d loaded the luggage in her minivan. She surveyed all of them in the parking lot. “Owen, Isaac … no … Meg, you can come …”
Her voice trailed off in consternation and in that moment Adrian saw that her would-be stepmother hadn’t exactly prepared herself either.
Adrian turned away before she could choke on her resentment. It would have been mature to step in and offer to help Karen figure out the arrangements, but screw it. Her father and Karen wanted to get married? Fine, they could do it on their own.
Alex broke in. “You and Carter go by yourselves, Mom. I’ll take everyone else.”
Carter. Of course. He could use her father’s name, just like she could use his mother’s, but this was one change too many.
Alex led them over to his black car. From the look and smell of it, the vehicle was brand-new. It gleamed even under the roof of the parking lot, and Adrian wondered if he hand-washed the car. Probably.
Against her better judgment, she slid into the front passenger seat. Everyone else was all squished in the backseat. That was a recipe for disaster right there, but she couldn’t muster enough energy to speak up.
She buckled in and stared outside the passenger window. The airport faded in the background as Alex merged onto the highway. River Valley was a large suburb just outside Phoenix, she’d been told, but there didn’t seem to be any visual boundaries or town signs. Everything looked the same because the land on either side of the highway was all brown. That color again. Back home, it was all green. She hadn’t seen any real grass here, and if that didn’t say something …