The Billionaire Stepbrother (2015)

CHAPTER FOUR

 

“What do you think, Linda?” Julie asked. Maybe I could give my two cents after all.

I was unpleasantly surprised that the two women had decided to include me in the conversation. “Oh, I don’t know.”

“Spill it,” Anna told her.

I narrowed my eyes quickly, before regaining my composure. “Patricia is probably the sweetest person I know.”

“You see?” Anna said, as though I’d said more. “I won’t have weakness in my family.”

Julie rolled her eyes. “You didn’t want Henry in your family.” The news was no shocker.

Anna readjusted herself. “Henry has proven himself to be a good man. You’ve heard nothing but praise from me in the last few years.”

Julie stood. “It’s all about money with you.” She was angry now.

Anna looked her dead in the eyes. “Love never fed a soul. In the end, it’s always about money.”

Julie scoffed before retreating. I guess the breakfast was over. Good old, Granny Annie to the rescue. I started to get up when Anna stopped me. “Have a seat, Linda.”

I looked at her, meeting her dark, all-knowing eyes. I slowly lowered back into my chair as my heartbeat picked up. I sighed. Anna and I had only had serious discussions on a handful of occasions. None of them had been good and I had a sinking feeling that this would be one of those times.

“Is there something you want to tell me, Linda?” she asked. She held her cup up and a server appeared. He refilled her tea before stepping back to his post. I just realized that there were other people at the gathering. Three of them. They’d obviously heard the entire conversation, though I knew they wouldn’t breathe a word of it. The family paid them to keep their mouths shut, but it was still unnerving. I should have known they were there. When did I become someone who didn’t notice the presence of ‘the help’?

I looked back at Anna. Her eyes had never left my face. He knew when to stop. She was sipping her tea now. Anna was, at times, a very scary woman. There was something about her that always made me assume that she had no limits. Perhaps it was the fact that she’d had four husbands who all seemed to die mysteriously. Yeah, that was it. I watched her watch me and tried to remember how to breathe. “What could I possibly have to say, Anna?”

She narrowed her eyes. I’d called her Anna. She’d seen the slip for what it was. “Are you fucking Chris?”

I felt my mouth hit the floor that time. I looked around and sure enough, the servers all had an expression of surprise on their faces. It was subtle, but very much there. I’d heard Anna curse before; she only did it when no one outside of the family was around. Never in front of guests. For guests, she was always as proper as anyone could expect from her, but behind closed doors… Anna had never cursed at me before. It was frightening. I looked back at her. “Granny, how could you think that? He’s my brother.”

Anna laughed. “Dear God, how many times a day do you tell yourself that?” She ended her line with a chuckle.

Dread slowly slipped into me. No, I wasn’t sleeping with Chris, but I wanted to. I’d been wanting to for a long time. But I couldn’t. Chris was basically blood. Furthermore, I was sure that Chris only saw me as his little sister. He was eleven years older than me and didn’t date women my age. He’d told me so when one of my friends had hit on him. So no way would Chris truly consider ever dating me. Lastly, there was the gorgeous factor. Chris drew women like ocean waves to the moon. He didn’t really date. He slept around. Chris wasn’t a complete whore, but he was pushing the line. He didn’t do commitment. We’d talked about it before, briefly, during one of those life’s philosophy kind of conversations.

But Anna’s words made me think. How many times a day did I remind myself that I was Chris’ sister? Well, that depended on how often I thought of him. The answer: when I woke up in the morning, a hundred times during the day, and before I went to bed. And then there were the dreams I’d have, like the one I had this morning. I felt my face turn red right before Anna broke out into another laugh. “I knew it.”

I let out a shaky breath. “Chris and I are not… screwing.” Yes, I had a problem saying curse words and not for the obvious reason. I just didn’t think that any of them sounded right coming out of my mouth, if that made any sense. I had tried a few times, worked on it, like exercising a muscle, but it just didn’t fit me. I even skipped them while singing songs. Oh well.

Anna rolled her eyes. “Let’s do both of us a favor and not lie to one another.”

I grabbed two handfuls of the tablecloth. My anger was coming. “I’m not sleeping with Chris, Anna.”

Anna just stared at me for a moment, then turned away. “Not yet, but it’s bound to happened.”

I shook my head. “What makes you say that?”

She turned back towards me. “Because of the way you two stare at one another. Before,  Linda, you did a great job of hiding how you felt, but I’ve known for awhile that you liked Chris.”

I felt the blood drain from my face. I didn’t blink. I couldn’t. My stomach turned and panic set in. Anna knew. Who else knew? Dang it! The need to hide shot through my veins. Perhaps I could sell some jewelry and get a flight to the middle of nowhere or disappear to an island in the middle of nowhere. That was a great idea. No one would find me. Ever. I’d be free. Free with my feelings and secrets. I’d be untouchable.

Anna waved her hand, recapturing my attention. “Linda, calm down. No one, but me, is on to you.” Her voice held a touch of annoyance. It was the only reason I believed her. I settled back into my seat. I hadn’t even known I’d gotten up. Escaping to the middle of nowhere had really sounded like a good idea ten seconds ago, and for a moment, I was really committed to it.

I grabbed the chair’s arms in order to keep myself rooted into the seat. I held Anna’s eyes and let out another breath. “Please, don’t tell anyone.” And as the words left my lips, I felt lighter. Yay, someone else knew. The pressure of the secret finally had an outlet.

Anna shook her head. “I won’t, but you need to do something about your feelings before Ms. Goodie-Two-Shoes takes your man. You’ve been pining after that man for too long for you to let someone else have him.”

I settled into the chair. “If you’ve known I’ve liked Chris for so long, why didn’t you say anything before?”

“Because, while you’ve been giving Chris googoo eyes for the last few years, Chris always seemed to not care, but I think France changed him. He seems different. And this is the first time I’ve ever seen him look at you that way.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Looking at me, how?” My heart skipped.

Anna lifted a white brow. “The way a man looks when he sees something he wants.”

I rolled my eyes. I didn’t believe Anna. She was seventy and going senile.. I stood, deciding the conversation was done. I couldn’t afford to allow Anna to feed me these lies. This had nothing to do with my feelings. She didn’t care about my feelings. This had to be about money. It was the only reason she’d say something like this. She wanted to keep the family money within the family.

“Linda, where are you going?”

I refused to look up at her. “I have to catch Chris before he forgets that he’s my ride.”

“I wouldn’t forget that.”

My head flew up and looked Chris in the eyes. My heart jumped into my throat. I was happy I’d said what I did and not something that would have alluded to the conversation I’d just been having with Anna. “Where’s Patricia?”

“I walked her to her car.” His face was neutral. “Patricia will be my date at the renewal.”

The surprise registered on my face before I could school my features. Chris had never brought a date to a family function. I tried not to let the thought bother me, but it did. I shook my head. “I didn’t think she was your type.”

Chris shrugged. “At least she read the article.”

I stared at Chris for a long time, waiting for him to laugh or even smile. It never happened. My face fell. “You’re not serious, are you?”

Chris turned to Anna, a bright smile for her. “Could I escort you indoors, Grandmother?”

Anna stood and took his arm. “I’d love you to, Chris.”

They both turned to leave and left me standing at the table by myself. Before they disappeared into the house, Anna turned and gave a look that said everything. My time was running out.