Authors: Tori Minard
Cover art by Tori Minard from photo
by © Efe Can Altuncu
Enchanted Lyre Books
This party wasn’t exactly foreign
territory, but I felt a little like an alien anyway. Someone like me, someone
who doesn’t drink, well, we sometimes feel out of place at frat parties,
especially when they’re crowded wall to wall with people we mostly don’t know.
I hesitated in the doorway of the
cramped apartment, although my boyfriend, Trent, was already shouldering his
way into the room. The hosts were buddies of his, frat brothers, and you’d
think I would know most of their guests, but I didn’t. They were a cold sea of
indifferent faces...indifferent to me, at least.
The noise level almost deafened me.
Music blared from someone’s iPod, and everyone in the room seemed to be talking
at once. A thick haze of cigarette smoke hung in the air. I tugged on Trent’s
sleeve, causing him to pause and look down at me.
“It’s too crowded!” I yelled above the
din. “There’s no room for us!”
He grinned down at me. “Sure there is.”
I looked around uneasily, hating that he’d
sprung this thing on me at the last minute. When he’d picked me up at my dorm,
I’d still thought we were going out to dinner. If I’d known we were going to a
party, I would have dressed for it. I would have done something with my
The room was filled with perfectly fashionable,
trendy girls who reminded me of my sorority sisters. All of them were dressed
in the latest styles, except the ones wearing sexy Halloween costumes bought at
the local discount store. Honestly, I sometimes wondered how I’d managed to be
accepted by a sorority in the first place. I wasn’t skinny, I hated wearing
heels and revealing clothes, and my super-curly hair refused, absolutely
refused, to submit to flat-ironing. I was hopeless in the looks department.
“We won’t be here long,” Trent yelled. “I
just have to pick up something from Talbot.”
His friend Greg Talbot was one of the
party hosts. I got up on my tiptoes and craned my neck, looking for him, but
saw no sign of him.
“Maybe the kitchen,” Trent said, leading
me deeper into the apartment.
Girls gave him openly admiring glances
as we passed. He had that all-American look, blond and blue-eyed with a great
body, and girls were always eyeing him. I couldn’t make up my mind whether I
was proud of him for being so hot or jealous over the way other women threw
themselves at him. Right now, I was going with jealous.
Still, I contained my urge to glare at
each girl in the room. We reached the kitchen, which was just as crowded as the
living room. A guy I didn’t know stood by the fridge, passing out canned beer
and red plastic cups of some kind of mixed drink. A girl with wide blond
streaks in her perfectly straight brown hair leaned against the worn laminate
counter. I smiled hesitantly at her, but her gaze drifted across my face and
past me without an instant’s hesitation, as if I were invisible.
All righty, then. Guess we weren’t going
to be BFFs. I looked around for Talbot, hoping we could find him and get out of
“I’m going to try the bedrooms,” Trent
said in my ear.
He hauled me out of the kitchen and into
a tiny side hall that had three doors leading off it. The first door stood
open, revealing the bathroom. Trent entered the second room without knocking.
I flinched. Jeez, you never knew what
people were doing in the bedrooms at parties like this, and he just walks in?
We could be interrupting something really personal.
Smoke hung in the air here, too. Illegal
smoke. Four guys sat on the stained Berber carpet at the foot of a queen-size
bed, passing around a bong. I’d only smelled pot smoke a few times before, but
I’d never forget that unique odor, and I recognized it now.
Two of the guys were people I recognized
but didn’t know well. One was Talbot, his dishwater blond hair perfectly styled
as always. The fourth, a black-haired guy with a vaguely bohemian look, I’d
never seen before.
Trent barged into the room and stopped
cold, staring at the group on the floor. “Max. What the fuck are you doing
The fourth guy, the one I’d never seen
before, looked up with an unsurprised expression on his face. “Smoking weed.
What does it look like?”
“What are you doing at Central
Max smiled lazily. “Same thing all the
other students are doing. Why? You have a problem with me being here?”
Trent’s grasp on my hand tightened so
much it started to hurt. “You don’t belong here. You need to leave.”
“Trent!” I tugged on his hand. He was
being an ass, an incredibly rude ass.
He ignored me. “I don’t know what you’re
up to, but you’d better get the hell out of this town.”
Max’s black brows rose mockingly. “I
didn’t know you owned it.” His gaze slid to me and then down my body in a
leisurely examination. “Who’s the girl?”
“This is my
“Ah. Girlfriend. Guess I’m behind on
the family gossip.”
Family? This guy was part of Trent’s family?
I glanced, baffled, at my boyfriend’s angry profile. Who was Max, anyway, and
how was he related to Trent? I’d never heard a word about him, even though
Trent and I’d been dating nine months already. A year if you counted summer
“There’s a reason for that,” Trent said.
“Aren’t you going to introduce me?” Max
continued to stare at me.
“Trent, don’t be rude.” I stepped
forward, holding out my free hand. “I’m Caroline Winters.”
“Max Kincaid.” His hand clasped mine,
his skin warm and slightly callused.
A strange jolt of energy seemed to
travel from his flesh into mine. I stifled a gasp and pulled my hand back to
rub it surreptitiously on my jeans.
“I’m Trent’s stepbrother,” Max said.
I fixed Trent with a glower. “You have a
stepbrother you never told me about?”
“It’s okay.” Max gave me that lazy
smile. “I’m the dirty family secret.”
Trent turned pointedly away from his
stepbrother. “Talbot, you got that thing for me?”
“Yeah, just a sec.” Talbot set the bong
on the carpet and got up.
Max picked up the bong and took a long
hit, holding his breath and then blowing the smoke out in a slow stream. He
held the bong up in my direction. “Caro, you want a hit?”
No-one ever called me Caro. And I didn’t
do drugs, or even smoke tobacco. “Uh...no, thanks.”
“She doesn’t do drugs, asshole,” Trent
Max shrugged and passed the bong to the
next guy. “Whatever, bro.”
“You knew I was going here. You had to
know. So why are you really here? What do you want?”
Max laughed. “I want to take some
classes. Believe it or not, I don’t make all my decisions with you in mind.”
The other guys in the room were starting
to look uncomfortable at the thick tension. Talbot rummaged around in a dresser
drawer and pulled out a sheet of paper, which he gave to Trent. “It’s due on
“Cool, man. I’ll have it to you Thursday
I sighed. He was doing papers for other
students again, taking money for it no doubt, even though he didn’t need the
cash. I’d asked him to stop, and he’d said he would.
Max was still giving me the eye. He
caught my gaze and smiled, his eyes going sort of half-lidded and sleepy. Damn,
he was beautiful. He had an angular jaw scruffy with dark stubble, straight
nose, high cheekbones and long, wavy black hair that fell in his eyes.
Spectacular eyes, in some dark color I couldn’t make out in the dimly lit
bedroom but large and beautifully shaped, clearly framed by heavy black lashes.
I shouldn’t be staring at him. I was
taken and truly happy with my boyfriend. So why couldn’t I stop looking at Max?
He wore some kind of beaded necklace
with a silver pendant on it that just peeked out of the neckline of his
charcoal button shirt. I couldn’t see the design of the pendant, just that it
was silver. There were a couple of slender leather cords wrapped around his
right wrist. Trent would never wear that kind of jewelry—I mean, beads?—or let
his hair get that long. It was weird, to be honest, and normally I wouldn’t be
attracted to a guy who dressed the way Max did. I forced myself to look at
something else. Anything.
Trent pointed at Max. “You need to get
out of this town.”
“Ain’t gonna happen.”
“Listen here, you—”
I took a deep breath and opened my mouth
to tell Trent to cool it. Unfortunately, that breath was laden with pot smoke
and I started coughing uncontrollably.
“C’mon, let’s get out of here.” Trent
took me by the elbow and hustled me out of the room.
“Bye, Caro,” Max said.
I gave him a half-hearted wave as Trent
dragged me through the doorway and into the micro-hall.
The party was even more crowded now,
something I wouldn’t have thought physically possible. People stood shoulder to
shoulder, many of them not talking to each other, just staring into space as
they sipped from their plastic cups. Was this really supposed to be fun? I didn’t
Talbot’s apartment let directly onto a
covered outdoor hallway. Outside, the air smelled sweet and clean. I took
another deep breath to rid myself of the lingering smoke in my lungs. It was a
cool October evening, but I could feel a greater chill in the air that heralded
the coming winter. It had been a dry fall, but soon the rain would begin. It
rained a lot in Western Oregon winters.
“You said you weren’t going to do papers
anymore,” I said as we walked side by side down the stairs to the ground level
of the apartment complex. We didn’t hold hands or put our arms around each
other’s waists. Trent didn’t like public touching.
“I know,” he said. “But Talbot begged
me. He’s really worried about this one.”
“It’s not even the middle of the term.
Is he going to come running to you every time he has an assignment?”
Trent looked annoyed. “I don’t know.”
He was helping people cheat, and I
couldn’t understand why he’d do that. But I didn’t want to argue with him about
it tonight. We’d been apart for most of three months, with only texting and
occasional phone calls to keep us in touch and we’d only been back together for
a few weeks. Let the drama wait.
“My stepbrother is bad news,” he said. “You
should stay away from him.”
So much for letting the drama wait.
“How is it you never told me about him?”
“I hate his guts,” Trent said
matter-of-factly. “I never talk about him unless I have to.”
“Yeah, but we’ve been dating for a while
now. I told you all about my family.”
“Your family probably doesn’t have
anyone like Max in it.”
We reached the bottom of the stairs and
started across the central courtyard of the complex. The ground was only
beginning to lose its summer-dry texture of cured concrete. A scattered handful
of brown leaves dotted the grass.
“Every family has a Max,” I said,
thinking of my Aunt Jo.
Trent snorted. “No, they don’t.”
“I have an alcoholic aunt who lives on
the street and does drugs.”
He glanced down at me. “Interesting, but
it still doesn’t compare to Max.”
“What did he do that’s so bad?”
Trent shook his head. “I don’t want to
talk about it.”
“No, Caroline. Max is off limits.”
I stopped in the middle of the walkway. “Trent,
I’m your girlfriend. I need to know what kind of family you come from.”
He gave a tremendous sigh. “Look, we don’t
talk about him much. He did some really bad shit and ran away when he was
sixteen. It’s a seriously touchy subject.”
“So touchy you all pretend he doesn’t
“Yeah. That’s about it.”
He glowered at me. “What do you care,
anyway? Do you like him?”
“You seemed to. You couldn’t stop
staring at him.”
Oh, God. Had it been that obvious?
“I was curious. He gave me the creeps,
though. I don’t like him, honest.”
“Good. His own dad hates him, so that
should tell you something.”
I stared up at him, both appalled and
fascinated. What kind of family would exile one of its own children? What had
Max done to justify such treatment? I wanted to know more, but I could see that
Trent wasn’t going to budge and if I pushed him it would probably result in
that fight I was trying to avoid.
“Okay,” I said. “Fine. We won’t talk
“Thank you.” His voice was full of
relief. “Let’s get dinner.”