Wrecked: A Stepbrother Romance Novel

Wrecked
Arabella Abbing
Copyright

Written by Arabella Abbing © 2016 Arabella Abbing

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the author.

This is a work of fiction. Any names or characters, businesses or places, events or incidents, are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Cover designed by Resplendent Media

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Dedication

Wrecked has been a passion project from the start. It was written for a friend who admitted to me that she was taking a break from the romance genre because she couldn't read another alpha male story without questioning her sanity. All of her favorite tropes seemed to be entirely taken over by the alpha men; stepbrothers, billionaires, second chances.

The list went on and on before she finally asked, "Where are all the nice guys?"

And so Wrecked was born.

It took me a long time to write, but when all is said and done, I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. It wasn't something that came easily to me, but I hope my readers can feel how much I enjoyed working on this project and love it as much as I ended up loving it.

This one’s for you, doll. ;) And for anyone else who needs a break from the typical alpha male.

~ AA

Chapter 1

May 2004


Y
ou’re such an asshole
!” I screeched as I ran my hands over my now soaking wet blouse.

Brandon grinned and stuck his tongue out at me before he pulled his other hand from around his back to reveal a second water balloon. My eyes widened and I shook my head, which only seemed to make his eyes sparkle even more with mischief.

“Don’t you
dare
,” I hissed.

My warning turned into a shriek as he chucked the balloon in my direction, hitting me again with his ridiculously good aim. I dropped both my car keys and purse to run after him, trying not to allow my anger to be softened by the happy peals of laughter that came out of his throat.

“I’m going to kill you!” I yelled as I charged at him.

He abruptly stopped and spun around, but I continued towards him. For that brief moment, I wasn’t sure whether he was actually going to let me collide with him or if this was just a game of chicken.

When my body plowed into his, it became clear what his intention was. We toppled over instantly—his arms wrapping protectively around my back as we fell to the ground, luckily managing to land with me sprawled across his chest. My breath exhaled harshly from the impact and I heard his do the same. We laid perfectly still while we refilled our lungs with air.

As soon as my breathing was back to normal, I began to wriggle in his arms, trying to free myself of the tight grasp he had on me. For such a scrawny guy, Brandon’s arms were strong and cage-like and soon enough, I stopped fighting and settled for shooting him a heated glare.

“You’re such a shit.”

“I know.”

“Let me go.”

“I don’t think so.”

The smile turned into a smirk and he actually tightened his grip, bringing my body closer to his. I nearly lost my breath again just from the intimacy of the moment.

At least until a dog barked from next door and I was reminded that we were lying on the lawn in our front yard. I frowned and renewed my attempt to get away.

“Seriously, Brandon. Let me
go
. We’re outside.”

He traded the smirk for a hurt look. “And?”

“And anyone can see us out here!” I hissed. “Not to mention the fact that your dad is due home any minute.”

Finally, his arms released me and I struggled to bring myself to my knees. I realized too late that I was straddling his hips now, only recognizing that fact when I felt the telltale hardness grinding against my inner thigh.

I jumped off of him like I had been burned, a bright red blush rising to my cheeks. I noticed his were also tinged pink and I was grateful that I wasn’t the only one embarrassed by the awkward moment that just passed.

The two of us stood in silence and I frowned down at my wet shirt, still irritated by his childlike actions. But I couldn’t be mad at him—not with the way he had smiled and laughed like he didn’t have a care in the world. It was a rare sight to see him be anything other than abnormally serious and I treasured every time I saw that carefree smile appear.

Brandon cleared his throat and faced me after he not-so-subtly adjusted the front of his jeans.

“Do you have any plans tonight? I was wondering if you wanted to watch a movie or something.”

I had to turn away from his hopeful look, hiding my discomfort under the guise of going to retrieve my purse and keys from where I dropped them near my car. I didn’t need to turn around to know that he was following right behind me, waiting for an answer.

“I’m sorry, I’ve got something going on tonight. Maybe tomorrow,” I said dismissively, not looking back for fear of his expression. I had hoped that he would just accept my words at face value and leave it alone, but I really should have known better.

“Oh, okay. So what kind of trouble are you getting yourself into tonight?”

The faux curiosity in his tone couldn’t mask his suspicion or his hurt feelings. I swallowed hard, steeling my expression as I turned around to face him.

“No trouble. Just a date with Trey.”

There was a flash of hurt that swept across his face before it morphed into anger. “
Trey?
You mean that douchebag from the football team?”

I nodded, barely able to keep the mask of indifference in place as I watched him process the information. I knew he’d be pissed, but I didn’t expect the jealousy that was written plain as day on his face.

But his feelings didn’t matter.
My
feelings didn’t even matter. We couldn’t be together and that was the end of it. We both knew it.

The only difference between Brandon and I was that I accepted it and tried to move on with my life, not willing to sit around and pine for someone that I couldn’t have.

Brandon didn’t think the same way I did. Even though he was a scrawny computer nerd—he was still handsome as hell. He was also notorious for turning down every girl who ever hit on him, which meant nearly every girl in school considered him a challenge.

While there was the occasional rumor floating around that he was gay, the thing that pissed me off the most was when I heard girls in the locker room making bets on which one of them would be the one to snag his V-card.

I didn’t even have it in me to tell Brandon about that one. We had shared a laugh over the gay rumors, but I was seething with jealousy every time I heard one of the cheerleader’s plotting the seduction of my stepbrother.

Not that I had any reason to feel that way. It was pretty clear that Brandon only had eyes for me. He told me as much over spring break.

“Vanessa, don’t go out with him,” Brandon pleadingly whispered. “You
know
he only wants one thing from you. You deserve so much better than that.”

I shook my head and willed away the hot prickle of tears that formed in the corners of my eyes from his worried tone. Even though he was still rife with jealousy, his main concern wasn’t that I was going out with someone other than him—it was for my well-being.

I might have deserved better than Trey, but there was no doubt in my mind that Brandon deserved a hell of a lot better than me. I just wished he could see that. It would have made everything so much easier.

“You’re wrong,” I told him plainly, swallowing around the lump that formed in my throat with the blatant lie. “I think he really likes me.”

The desperation in his eyes was obvious. “Not like I do. Vanessa, I—”


Stop
,” I begged, holding my hand up and turning to face the street when I heard a car approaching. I sighed with relief as my stepfather’s car slowed down and turned into the driveway. “I’ll be fine. It’s just a date.”

I looked away from his wounded expression and marched towards the house to grab a shower before my date. Even as I scrubbed my skin with the scalding hot water, I could still feel the ghost of how Brandon’s body felt below me and his arms wrapped tightly around my back.

February 2015

A
nother day
, another dollar.

I stepped into the break room and headed for my locker, twisting in the combination and popping the lock off after it clicked. I shoved my purse and coat inside before closing the door and relocking it, mentally preparing myself for another long day of work.

“Hey, girlie,” Janice greeted me as she walked into the room. “Any chance that you’re free to pull a double?”

I wanted to decline—to tell her that I
desperately
needed a break after pulling four doubles last week—but instead I nodded and said, “Sure. Who called in?”

“Sarah. You know how she is.”

I rolled my eyes and bit back a snarl. How that girl managed to stay employed even though she constantly called in
‘sick’
confounded me. It wouldn’t have bothered me to cover for her if she didn’t call out so frequently, but as it was, I was about ready to just throw my hands up and say screw it.

If I didn’t need the money so badly, I would’ve already been long gone. I knew applying for a different hospital wasn’t likely to make a difference—a number of the ones in the area actually
required
double shifts from their nurses.

And although I loved helping people, I had other dreams and ambitions that I wanted to chase. Dreams that were damn near impossible to do while working seventy-odd hours a week. I had been working this same job for five years and I was just so damn
tired
.

The closer I got to thirty, the more prominent the fact that I had accomplished nothing in my life became. I never wrote the novel I wanted to write, I hadn’t tried my hand at baking professionally, and there were absolutely
zero
candidates on the horizon for a family.

I was as far away from my dreams at twenty-eight as I had been at eighteen. Hell, I actually seemed to be moving further and further away from them the older I got.

“Are you okay, Vanessa?” Janice asked, coming over to rest her hands on my shoulders and stare me down.

“I’m fine,” I lied, not wanting to see the pity in her eyes if she realized I was having something akin to a mid-life crisis. “Just didn’t get enough sleep last night.”

Her head cocked to the side and her eyes narrowed, but she didn’t push even though she clearly could see right through my bullshit. I plastered on my most convincing fake smile as I brushed past her.

“Have a good weekend!” I called out behind me as I headed to the sink to wash up before I began my daily rounds.

T
wo hours
into my shift and I took my first break of the night, plopping down on a rickety plastic chair in the break room and cracking open a bottle of water. I thought about grabbing my phone to amuse me for the few minutes of down time I had, but decided not to bother. I’d be back on my feet soon enough anyways.

Which left me alone with my thoughts.

Thoughts that, like they always did, immediately wandered to my missing stepbrother.

Well, Brandon wasn’t exactly
missing
. I mean, no one knew where he was and no one had seen him in years, but he was definitely still alive. If only that wasn’t the only thing we knew for sure.

His disappearance was still a mystery to me and everyone else nearly five years later. All his employees could tell us was that Brandon had been late to an important business meeting and no one could get in touch with him. He just... vanished.

After three days of trying to get in touch with him via telephone, his father and my mother flew into the city to speak with the police.

Four days after his disappearance, the missing persons report was filed.

Six days after, the media caught wind of the story and everyone in reach of a newspaper knew what Brandon looked like, where he was last seen, and how long he had been missing.

Then came what might have been the most painful part of the whole ordeal.

Nine days after Brandon went missing, the missing persons report was dropped. When our parents demanded an explanation for the case being abruptly closed, they were handed a faxed letter assuring the police that Brandon was alive and well, gone by his own wishes, and requesting that the search be called off.

The signature was unmistakable.

Brandon had written the letter himself.

He would contact his family when—and
if
—he wanted to.

After two years, our parents pretty much gave up the hope of ever seeing him face-to-face again. There were no phone calls, only the rare letter. After receiving three in the first few years following his disappearance, those stopped coming as well.

Not that I was really surprised by that. After all, they couldn’t respond to a letter with no return address. It must have felt like he was talking to himself.

I tried not to let the fact that he never mentioned me in any of the letters sting. But I failed miserably.

Now that it was nearing the date of his disappearance once again, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about him. Not that I ever really stopped thinking about him in the first place.

Every man I had dated since high school hadn’t even come close to sizing up to the memories I held of Brandon, even though I tried my best not to compare them. I just couldn’t bring myself to fully let him go, even though I was all too aware that our fallout was entirely my fault.

There was a chirp from the pager strapped to my waist and I sighed heavily as I stood up and got back to work.

May 2004

I
t was well
after one in the morning when I snuck back into the house after my disaster of a date with Trey. I didn’t turn on any of the lights in the house and tip-toed down the hallway as quietly as I possibly could.

When I reached my bedroom door, I sighed with relief and gently twisted the knob. I was grateful that both my mom and stepfather had loosened up on the curfew since Brandon and I had turned eighteen and that no one was waiting up for me.

I really didn’t want to answer the questions I was sure to be asked of they had been.

Once I was inside my room, I tried to close the door just as quietly as I opened it. Just as the wood of the door became flush with the doorway, something forcefully pushed it back and fingers appeared through the crack.

I bit back a yelp of surprise as Brandon finished pushing the door open and lowly hissed, “
Where have you—

His words cut off when he took a good look at me and I closed my eyes—shame eating its way through my stomach and straight up to my heart.

“Oh. Did... Did you—”

“Yes,” I croaked out through my tears. “We did.
I
did.”

I must have been a masochist, because I forced my eyes open to look at the raw hurt in his as his mind processed the fact that not only did I go on a date with a guy who wasn’t him—I had also slept with that guy.

Low
wasn’t a strong enough word. I felt like pond scum.

“Sorry for bothering you,” Brandon said as he began to back away, his eyes never leaving my guilt-ridden face.

I could tell he was torn—a small part of him wanting to comfort me, but primarily too pissed off to even consider it. I stepped forward and reached out for his hand, but he jerked it away the moment our skin touched.

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