The Billionaire Stepbrother (2015)

CHAPTER THREE

 

The sight of our parents’ front iron gate brought me to attention. It was black with a large ‘S’ on one door and an ‘R’ on the other. When the gates opened, they would part and when they closed, they would swing back together like a pair of old lovers. Chris pushed a button that would lower his window, punched a code into a box, and then drove through the gate.

Half a minute later the mansion came into view—a large monument in an ancient red brick. It was an old mansion, with towers and balconies, but I knew that the interior was brand spanking new. Only the latest of everything would do for Julie. She’d buy things that she didn’t even know how to use. Her spending habits were unnerving at times, but who was I to cast stones? We drove up the long curve and stopped before the tall staircase up to the front door.

A footman came out of nowhere and opened my door. He helped me out of the car and Chris came around to grab my hand. I looked over at Chris. He squeezed my hand and I realized that the hand-holding wasn’t for my benefit, but his. He really didn’t want to go in. I squeezed his hand back, letting him know that I would protect him as best as I could. I smiled, happy I could do something for him that probably no one else could—protect him from his family.

We’d barely made it the door when it swung open. Julie was there, her arms out wide, ready to embrace us both. She hugged Chris first, starting a gentle rock that probably resembled something that she’d done to him as a baby. “Chris, I’m so happy you’re here.”

“It’s good to see you, too,” he mumbled.

Julie pulled out of her hold on him, smiled, and then turned that beaming smile over to me. Her eyes were the same almond shaped pale blue of Chris’. They even shared in their medium tan skin tone, but where Chris had black hair, Julie was a true blonde. Her eyes glittered at me. I knew what she was saying without words. Thank you. I’d brought her son home. She hugged me and I hugged her back. I had been fourteen when Julie had married my father and I had tried to hate her, but couldn’t. She wouldn’t let me. She’d always wanted a daughter and had told me so. Even before our parents were married, Julie would dress me up and parade me around to her country clubs. We went to mommy-daughter brunches and had done girly spa trips, just the two of us. I hadn’t known how to be a girl until Julie had come into my life. She’d gotten me into my first bra. She had truly been a mother to me and had refused to let me push her away. I loved Julie. I’d always had the urge to call her ‘mom’, but never got the courage.

Julie pulled back, took one of my hands and one of Chris’. She started towards the back of the house while she told us of the plans for the wedding renewal. Everything seemed like it was coming together.

We reached the back wall, which was nothing but a long glass door. It could fold together and open the entire room, bringing the outdoors in. A table a few yards out on the grassy field was set with guests. I spotted my father, Anna, and then I paused. I looked over at Chris and saw his reaction as well. He looked over his mother’s head and gave me a very hostile stare. Julie was a short woman, so I got the full punch of it. He was more than upset. He was enraged.

Julie’s bubbly voice broke in. “Oh, Chris, did I forget to tell you that Donna’s daughter, Patricia would be joining us? Sweet girl she is. Did you know she’s only twenty-eight? Still able to marry and have children. If she were to marry this summer, she could possibly have two or three. Sweet girl. But I do hate summer weddings. Maybe not summer. A winter wedding. A winter wedding would be just divine...”

She kept talking as Chris continued to just stare at her. He sighed and slowly let his true emotions slip from his face. A smile appeared on his face. “Mother.”

Julie looked up at him; innocently. Her blue eyes wide with false sincerity. I think I got that look from her. Scary thought. “Yes, dear?”

He smiled down at Julie with as much falseness as she was giving him. “It’s been so long since I’ve seen Patricia. I’m happy you’ve invited her.”

Julie brightened. “Truly?”

Chris said no more. He just held out his elbow and allowed Julie to slip her hand into its bend. Chris then looked at me expectantly. He gestured his other elbow to me. A smile that didn’t quite reach his pale blue eyes looked at me. I hesitated before walking over and taking his other side.

I slipped both of my hands around the arm that Chris offered and let my finger grab hold of his large bicep. The evidence that he wanted out was plain. We started down the back steps and began verbally greeting everyone at the table before fully approaching. I hugged my father, kissed Granny Annie’s cheek, and leaned in to give the smiling Patricia two air kisses.

Patricia leaned back and smiled at me. It was a real smile. “I love your dress.”

I smiled back, not able to help myself. “Thank you, yours is nice as well.”

Patricia battered her long lashes at me. People could say a lot of things about a lot of people, but not Patricia. She truly was a very sweet girl. Her dress was a cute baby blue number that had a queen annie cut. The wide V stopped just before her cleavage. The skirt flared around her knees. If Chris were to stand next to her, the color would bring out his eyes. She was twenty-eight, but such a darling, much more innocent than even I. “Thank you, Linda.”

We both took our seats. Patricia swept her long brown hair behind her shoulder. The waves looked glossy and bouncy. I pouted. That’s how my hair would have looked had somebody allowed me the time to finish getting ready.

I sat next to Patricia and my father, who was at the end. Across from me was Chris, who sat next to the stylish Anna. For seventy, the woman knew how to dress. Her white shirt suit fit perfectly on her petite form. Julie, who was wearing her own glittery version of a white skirt suit, had taken the other head of the table, like a good host should, so she was facing my father when she said,  “I didn’t expect you to be back so soon, Chris. How was France?”

Chris hadn’t dropped his smile since he’d put it in place in the house, not even once. He wasn’t going to keep it up. I, for one, wondered just how long he could. “I don’t miss the food.”

Everyone at the table had a good-natured laugh.

My dad spoke, “Well, we’re glad you could join us this morning. Your mother truly missed you.”

Chris hesitated for one moment, before replying. “Well, I’m happy that I managed to make you both happy.” I wanted to believe him, but I didn’t believe him. With the slight pause, it had almost seemed genuine, but I wasn’t sure.

Patricia’s voice swung my head in her direction. “What were you doing in France?”

Chris told her about his latest project on a movie set just as the servers began to make their rounds with the plates. Patricia leaned in, her light brown eyes showing that she was completely captivated by Chris’ words. I had to admit, the story was interesting. Apparently, Chris Ray Inc. was never supposed to get the big Hollywood job. It had been given to another studio who had done an awful job with advertising. Chris’ company had been given the assignment at last minute. The producers of the movie had been so upset with the first company they’d hired that they’d been willing to shell out a lot of money to make sure that Chris didn’t just send anyone from his company. They wanted the man, Chris Ray, himself. So, Chris had stopped everything to fly out to France. He’d given me the key to let some workers and other people in while he was gone. It had all been so sudden. I hadn’t even asked why I’d received the key. Now I wish I had ask a few questions.

 

I watched him as he spoke, taking more of him in than just his words. He was still in his dress shirt, the two top buttons still undone. I easily pictured myself undoing the rest of those small clear buttons, one at a time, while I ran my tongue down his throat, chest, and abs.

Anna spoke, shaking me out of my daze, “I read about that in the TIME magazine article.” She was referring to his job in France.

I looked over at her. “It was in the article?”

“You didn’t read it?” Chris asked.

I swung my head back to him. “No.”

His eyes narrowed. “Why not?”

I shrugged. Was it really that big of a deal?

Anna threw down her napkin. “You two fight like an old married couple.”

That got everyone’s attention. I gasped, but then threw down my own napkin. “Granny Annie, how could you say such a thing?” I tried to lighten the mood at the table, but once Anna was on a roll, no one could stop her.

“It’s true. I don’t know why you two don’t just go ahead and get married. Keep the family money where it is.”

Julie laughed then and shook her head. Everyone else shook their heads as well. So, it was about the money. The air seemed too calm. It was always about the money with Anna. She hadn’t truly meant anything by her comment. Julie turned her eyes to Henry. “If I had simply married for money once again, I would never be as happy as I am right now.”

I looked between the two adults and shook my head. The love flowing between them was almost thick enough to touch. I looked across at Chris. He was looking at them himself, probably seeing something that was completely different than what I saw. But I’d never know. He still wore that false smile on his face. It had lowered just a little from Anna’s comment, but never completely.

Anna caught everyone’s attention by her next words. “Oh, please.” I slumped in my chair, bracing myself for Anna’s full comment. “If it’s love you want, then why did you invite Linda’s twin to breakfast?”

I couldn’t drop my mouth from hitting the floor. Twin? I looked over at Patricia who was looking at me and couldn’t see it. I laughed. “Granny Annie, we look nothing alike.”

Patricia was staring intensely at me. I broke contact with her eyes and scanned the rest of the table. Everyone was looking at us. Julie had her head tilted. Another gesture I’d mistakenly inherited from her. When I turned towards my dad, his face was way too close to mine. “I don’t know, honey. I think you two could pass for sisters.”

I rolled my eyes. “Daddy, that’s ridiculous. Patricia and I do not look alike.” I turned to look at Anna, whose expression let me know I would get no support from her. So I looked to Chris.

The look in his eyes were just as intense as Patricia’s. What was everyone looking at? Patricia stood from the table. My eyes flew to her, just as everyone else’s did. She wet her lips. “Uh, I just remembered I was supposed to be somewhere else.” She started to back away from the table. “If you’ll excuse me.” She made a dash for the house.

Chris stood too, going after her. “I’ll walk her out,” he said over his shoulder at everyone left at the table. I watched him leave and panic set in. Why was he going after her? Why did I care?

Julie huffed at her mother. “Was that necessary?” Her irritation clear.

Anna leaned back in her white picnic chair. “You invited the poor child. If she can’t handle me, then she can’t be part of this family.” Anna threw a wink my way. I had no idea what the wink was suppose to signify, but I didn’t think that I liked it.

My dad rose as well. He didn’t say anything. He just gave Anna a disapproving look before retreating into the house. Ten years ago, he never would’ve done anything to displease Anna, but apparently, time changes things.

Julie turned to her mother. “How could you embarrass the girl that way? I’ll never hear the end of it from Donna.”

Anna scoffed. “The girl is too weak for Chris. She’d never survive in his world.”

I frowned and almost believed Anna had a point, but I couldn’t verbally voice my opinion. It wasn’t my place.