The Billionaire Stepbrother (2015)
I hadn’t gotten ready in fifteen minutes. I was doing my makeup in the car. I had one of the quickest showers I’d ever received. Usually, if Chris hadn’t been home, I would have taken advantage of his enormous jacuzzi tub. I laughed to myself. Funny how I’d only been living there for two months and could already claim anything I did in there as usual.
Thinking of that made me look up at Chris. He was driving his car. We’d just made it out of the city on our way North to Chappaqua. It was an hour from the city and we’d only been on the road for thirty minutes. We hadn’t spoke, but I knew we would need to soon. I lived at his house and I was only a little afraid that he’d kick me out. He’d given me a key for emergency reasons and I’d taken advantage of it. But why should a perfectly good brownstone in Manhattan go to waste?
Finished with my lip gloss, I turned to Chris. “How do I look?” Since the shower had been quick, I hadn’t had time to dry and style my hair. I’d piled the long brown strands up into a high bun. I’d chosen to wear a pale green sleeveless sheath dress and beige heels, Easter colors, since it was spring. For makeup, I’d gone subtle. I did just enough to highlight my big hazel eyes and soften my lips.
He barely glanced over before responding, “You look nice.”
I frowned. For a man whose business involved the arts, he should have had more to say. “That’s it? You can do better than that. You’ve revolutionized advertising.” Even I could hear the sarcasm dripping from my words. “Give me the Chris Ray version of ‘you look nice.’”
Chris quickly cut me another look. “What are you doing at my house?”
Diversion. “A woman stopped by while you were gone.”
Sweet silence. “Who?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. I didn’t get a name. When I opened the door, she took one look at me and left.” It was the truth. I didn’t know the woman’s name. She’d been short and blond with a pair of angry eyes. I was sure the anger was directed at me, I hadn’t asked. She hadn’t given me the chance to.
He frowned. “You didn’t tell her that you were my sister?”
I shook my head. “And it probably didn’t help that I was wearing one of your shirts.” I smiled to myself as I looked straight ahead.
Chris sighed. “Can you describe this woman?”
I turned back to him. “Why? Are you going to ask her to marry you?”
He sucked his teeth. “Hell no.”
I frowned. “But you don’t even know who the woman was. What if she was someone you really, really liked?”
Chris shook his head. “She’s not.”
“How do you know?”
“What are you doing at my house?”
“You don’t even know what woman is coming by your place. That’s said, Chris.”
He shook his head. “No.” Chris was no longer falling for the distractions. “What are you doing in my house?”
I let out a frustrated breath. I was tired of that question. Tired enough to want this conversation over with. “Are you kicking me out?”
“No, I’m asking you why you’re there? At first, I thought you’d just slept there or something, but when I walked into the on-suite, I realized you’d truly made yourself at home.” There was sarcasm in his words.
I threw my arms up. “Fine, I’ll leave. Happy?” My heart was beating so fast. I was angry, and hurt. I looked out of my window, not wanting him to see how truly upset he’d made me. A tear I hadn’t known was building, fell. I swiped at it quickly and continued to study the natural arrangement of trees as the car sped past.
“Are you crying?” Chris’ voice sounded angry now.
I closed my eyes tightly, trying to block all of my emotions out. I hated him at that moment. I hated that he could affect me so thoroughly. I honestly didn’t know why I was so hurt or angry. He shouldn’t have been able to get to me this way. But as I thought about it, a sharp pain settled in my heart. Why had I let him drive me? At the moment, I wanted to be anywhere else, but stuck in this car with him.
A hand touched the one that was on my lap. I knew it was Chris’, but I didn’t turn towards him. I didn’t want him to see my face. His thumb began to stroke my hand in a gentle comforting way. The touch was so nice. Too nice. It overwhelmed me and tears that I’d been holding back broke from my tear ducts, rushing over my pale skin, ruining my makeup, and breaking down my shields.
The car jerked to the right as Chris pulled over on the side of the road. He brought the car to a stop. I took my hand from his and held myself tightly. I didn’t want him to touch me. I didn’t want him to say anything. I just wanted him to drive and get us to our parents’ home.
I didn’t respond. I leaned my head back against the leather seat and turned my entire body away from him. Well, as best as I could with the seatbelt on.
“Linda, what’s wrong?” Chris words were soft.
I didn’t know. I truly didn’t know, but I didn’t say that to Chris. “Just drive, Chris.”
The sounds of passing cars filled the interior for a moment. I heard Chris open and shut his car door. I hadn’t turned to see what he was doing, but jumped when his face filled my window. He swung my passenger car door open and leaned in. I backed away, not sure what he was doing, but stilled myself when I realized he was simply undoing my seatbelt. He took it off me as if I were a child and then grabbed my hands and pulled me out of the seat. He shut my door behind me.
I tried to turn away, but Chris cupped my chin and firmly turned it towards him. I tried to not meet his eyes, but after awhile, I gave in. I almost gasped at the look he was giving me. He was angry. “When have I ever done anything to hurt you?”
I swallowed and then looked away again. I thought really hard, looking back over the last ten years of our lives. I went through every moment I could think of that had Chris in it and couldn’t come up with anything. That was because the answer to Chris’ question was ‘never’. He’s never hurt me. Ever. I sighed. “You’ve never hurt me.”
“Then why do you think I’d kick you out?”
I looked at him then, meeting those beautiful pale eyes. “Because, you’ll be mad at me.” And the moment the words left my mouth, I knew why I was crying.
Chris frowned. He was still lost. “Why would I be mad at you?” His hand dropped from my face now that he had my attention.
Once I was out of his grasp, I stepped back and leaned against the car. My heels tried to sink into the soft Earth, but I managed to stay above ground. “Because I failed.”
Chris’ look softened. “What have you failed at?”
I slumped my shoulders and let out a laugh that had nothing to do with humor. “Everything,” I whispered. I was used to these deep conversations with him. At first, I thought it was simply because he was so much older than me, but after awhile I figured that age had little to do with it. I trusted his opinion, and even worse, I valued his opinion of me.
Chris grabbed my arms and began to rub them up and down, warming me. “What happened, Linda?” He was neutral again.
“I’m broke, Chris. I got evicted and had nowhere else to go. I thought you’d be in France for at least another four months, so I moved in.” I knew I was rambling and talking fast, but I wanted it all out as soon as possible. “No one will hire me, Chris. The only men willing to give me a shot want me to do things I’m not willing to do. I have no money. And I know what you’ll say. You’ll tell me that maybe I should do something else, like you’ve told me before, but I don’t want to do anything else. I want to be a model, Chris. It’s all I’ve ever wanted in life. I keep trying, because I refuse to give up on it, so please don’t tell me to, like everyone else has.” Done, I finally looked up at Chris and saw an expression that I hadn’t expected.
A smile climbed on Chris’ face. “You haven’t failed, Linda.”
I lifted a perfectly sculpted brow. “No?”
Chris shook his head. “No. I’m proud of you.”
I flung my head back. “Proud?”
Chris nodded. “You’ve not only held on to your dreams, but you’ve refused to do anything just to achieve them. That’s more than many people can say. Most people can’t say that they’ve done both. Most people give up on dreams, either that, or lose their morals on the way to success.”
I smiled and shrugged. “You make it sound so noble.”
Chris’ smile widened. “It is, Linda and you have no idea how refreshing it is to hear.”
I narrowed my eyes. “What do you mean?”
Chris’ face went serious. “There are a lot of women that would be willing to do anything for fame. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen successful people that were never happy, because the awful things that they’d done to become successful still hung around their necks like chains. I never wanted you to enter into that kind of work, because I was afraid of what you’d be willing to do.”
My eyes went wide at the confession. Chris had tried to warn me away from modeling on many occasions, but I’d never truly understood the reason. Or maybe, I’d never believed it. I’d always assumed that he thought I’d fail and wanted to save me the time. But nothing and no one would turn me away from this. “I want to be a model, Chris.”
Chris stared at me for a moment then nodded. “Then I will help you.”
“What do you mean?”
Chris shook his head as he headed back to his side of the car. “Let’s not miss breakfast, I’m hungry.” He slid in before I could respond.
I looked around for a moment, before climbing into the car myself. “What do you mean that you’ll help?”
He started and car and pulled back into the flow of traffic. “I’m going to help you become successful.”
I shook my head. “I don’t want your charity, Chris.” I could hear everyone I ever knew call me stupid in my head at the moment, but I didn’t care. I didn’t want Chris’ handouts. I wouldn’t be one of those people that bowed to his might. I wouldn’t be one of his little followers. One of his minions or adoring fans. Yes, I was staying at his house, which I knew made me seem hypocritical, but ultimately, I wanted my success to be my own. I didn’t want to be the infamous Chris Ray’s Little Sister. I wanted to be supermodel Linda Shaw.
Chris must have known what I meant, because his next words struck home. “Don’t worry. Any job you get will come from your own doing, I’ll just be there to protect you.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ll be there to make sure no one takes advantage of you.”
I laughed. “Like a bodyguard?”
“More like a manager.”
I sighed. “Or an older brother?”
He glanced over before turning back to the road. “I am your brother, Linda.”
I knew that, but there was something in the way that he’d said it. It was almost like he’d spoken the unknown into existence. Was he telling me or himself? I already knew Chris was my brother. Well, step-brother. Yes, I found him extremely sexy, but I knew that I could never truly cross the line with him. We weren’t blood, but sex with him would be like incest, right?