Ever since Bri stayed at my house, something changed between us. I liked it. We were practically inseparable since. Problem was keeping our growing friendship a secret from Kyle. He’d kill me if he knew I dreamed about kissing her every day.
After we ordered our meal, Bri was blabbing about some voidcritter poster Alex had gotten her. I never got into the Voidcritter GO! craze, but Bri loved it.
“It’s an avesu—a wind type. You’ll have to come over to see it.”
I smiled. Any chance of getting alone with Bri, I’d jump at. “Sure. Your brother is really thoughtful. Not like my sister. She could care less what I’m into.”
“Well, Alex is more to me than a brother. He practically raised me since my mom left. Dad got sick and by the time Alex was twelve, he was taking care of things—cooking, making sure I was dressed, fed, stuff like that. Dad was on chemo for seven years. It took a toll on him. I was just a kid when he died, and it didn’t seem like much changed once he was gone. At least not for me. Alex was devastated. Looking back, I can’t imagine doing what he did at twelve.”
“Sounds like a special guy.” I meant it. You’d never know Bri grew up with any struggles. Alex had to have done such a great job as a parent. He didn’t like me, though. He always glared at me if I even so much as smiled at Bri. But I guessed he was being overly protective of her. I got that. I’d be like that, too, if I had a little sister to protect. He understood how guys think.
“Oh, he is. Very special. I only wish I could do more for him. He’s always taking care of me. And he struggles, you know? He was abused by my mother both physically and mentally. He’d never tell me outright, but one night when he came home from a horrible date, he’d had a little too much to drink. He cried and told me what she had done to him. How she’d beat him, screaming at him to act normal. That he was a creature who should never have been born.”
Bri’s eyes started to tear up. I didn’t know what to say. “Really? God, Bri, I’m so sorry. That blows.”
She went on, “I always think that if I ever got a chance to see her again, I’d tell her what a great man Alex is and her abuse did nothing but make him stronger. Sometimes, I look out into the crowds downtown and try to search for her face, thinking that if I searched hard enough, she’d show up. Then I could do something for Alex. Something that mattered. But...I never see her. I’m sure she got away from our part of the country. I’m kind of glad. I don’t know how I’d react if I ever met her. I’d probably put her in a choke hold and make her pass out.”
“What?” she demanded. “You don’t think I can?”
“Maybe...but I just can’t see you doing that. You’re not your brother.”
“Alex has taught me how to defend myself. After we’re finished eating, I’ll show you.”
“Okay. Let’s go to the later show then. You can defend yourself from me when we’re waiting.”
She glared. “Defend myself from what?”
Smirking, I said, “You’ll see.”
When we got to the movies, Bri told me how she was going to take me down. “It’s not hard. It’s just leverage. If you even try anything, I’ll just shove my hip into you and you’ll fold like a lawn chair.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. She was so cute.
“It’s not funny! Try it.”
Arching an eyebrow, I said, “Try what?”
“Try attacking me!”
She gazed into my eyes, making me uneasy. I wanted to attack her but not the way she thought. She said, “Dead serious.”
Standing there for a minute, I searched her face, trying to decide what to do.
Then I thought, screw it, and took hold of her hands, shoving her back into the wall. Putting my face close to hers, I said, “Now what are you going to do?”
But she didn’t defend herself. Instead, she kissed me.
Alex had chosen the first home Kyle and I had grown up in. My dad had made sure we had lots of rooms so we could have friends over. I felt uneasy. There were too many memories here. I was sure he’d picked it because it had an enormous gym. Hopefully, I could convince him to move in with me soon. I didn’t like being here.
When he opened the door, I pulled him to me. “Hey, beautiful. I missed you.”
He kissed my neck and said, “Me, too. But I got a lot done. You want to have a look around?”
Glancing about the room, I said, “It hasn’t changed much. This is my old house, you know. I lived here as a kid.”
He chuckled. “Really? That’s weird. The reason I chose it was it has this cool gym. But yeah, it’s too big for me and Bri. All of the houses were ridiculously big. I didn’t have a choice.”
“I figured. Hey, we need to talk.”
His face grew pensive. “Why don’t I like the sound of that?”
“I-I’ve just been thinking a lot about stuff. Let’s sit down.”
Once we settled on the couch, I said, “I went by my father’s place and talked to him about your job.”
He smiled. “Really? What’s the first case I’ll be doing?”
“Listen, Alex, I just don’t want you involved in my father’s business. I told him you wouldn’t do it.”
He stared, incredulously. “What do you mean? I’ve already given him my word. Why didn’t you talk to me about it first?”
“Because, you didn’t want to do it before. You only agreed because you lost your job. I’m going to find something for you in my corporation. I want you with me.”
“What the hell, Knight? Who told you to do that for me? Don’t you think I’ve already thought things through? What’s changed?”
“Nothing! I’m serious about it, Alex. I want us to have a normal life. You won’t be happy doing this.”
He put his face in his hands. “Tell the truth, Knight. What changed?” he whispered.
“Will you stop asking me that? Nothing has changed! I’ve never wanted you to be my father’s secret weapon!”
He jumped up, fists tightening. “Is it because you found out my gender? Is it because you don’t think I can take care of myself now?”
I faced him. “No. Stop asking things like that.”
“What am I supposed to think, Knight? Before I told you, you said I could do it. There was no protest. No pleading with me to change my mind.”
“It’s not that...it’s just...you’re so important to me. I don’t ever want something to happen to you.”
“I’m not some damsel in distress that needs saving. So lay off. I can take care of myself. I’m not an MMA champion for nothing.”
“But that’s in a league for...”
“Girls?” he snarled.
“That’s not what...I mean...oh, to hell with it. Yes, Alex! You’re not a man! You don’t have the hormones men do and that makes you weaker.”
Rage shot from his eyes. “Punch me, Knight. I’ll show you I can handle myself. You’ve always wanted to see what I can do. Go ahead! Do it!”
“I’m not punching you, Alex. That’s insane.”
“Do it, or so help me, I’ll kick your ass right here.”
Fuming, I couldn’t believe he was asking me to do this. To fight him. Really? “No, Alex. I don’t punch...”
Immediately, he charged at me, barreling into my stomach, knocking the wind out of me.
My lungs pinched as I groped for air.
Falling hard on my back, I tried to fight him off, but he was too strong. Within a few seconds he had my arm locked down in an arm bar, wrenching it painfully. Knives shot up my arm, tearing at my shoulder. “Ahh!” I moaned, trying to move my face away from his legs that were bearing down on me, choking my neck.
“Tap out, Knight, or I’m going to rip your arm out of the socket.”
“Okay, you win, Alex,” I managed to gasp. “Stop!”
I thought Knight was different from all the other jerks in the world. I was wrong. He was just as prejudiced as any man, thinking I’m weak because I didn’t have a dick between my legs.
Slowly, he rose up, rubbing the shoulder I’d just wrenched.
I loomed over him, breathing hard with rage. A huge wall built up between us. I saw it grow, but didn’t have the strength to tear it down, I was so pissed. “If that’s how you feel, Knight, then we have nothing. It’s stupid to go on like this.”
He wiped the sweat off his brow. “You don’t get it, Alex. I care about you. I don’t want anything to happen to you. I guess you don’t give a shit how I feel.”
Bending down, I said, “You don’t trust me or what I can do now because of some preconceived crap that’s been drilled into your head. For your information, I’ve been tested. I have more testosterone than most females. That’s why I can bulk up and probably why I’m good at what I do. But besides that, you should believe in me anyway. I know what I’m doing. But you don’t.”
He rose up and faced me, shaking his head. “I’m not going to stand by and see you get hurt.”
I could't believe what I was hearing. “I just took you down in a matter of seconds. Why do you think I’ll get hurt?”
“Because these aren’t normal guys. They’ll want to hurt you. I didn’t.” He pulled at his hair. “I’m done fighting with you.” He pushed past me and headed for the door.
“Where are you going?”
“Out. I don’t want to talk to you right now.”
Crossing my arms, I saw him fling the door open. A part of me wanted to shout at him but most of me wanted to chase after him and say I was sorry.
But I couldn’t force myself to move. I watched him storm down the stairs into the night.