A Stepbrother for Christmas:The Hard and Dirty Holidays(4)

By: Celia Aaron



The pretty barista came up and bent over to clean the spill. Her ass was in the air, her magenta thong clearly visible over the top of her jeans. I glanced away from it, but it was too late. Annalise had seen me looking.

“You can’t be serious right now.” Her voice rose, anger in each note. “You want me to come over here and sit while you try to explain how sorry you are for torturing me when we were teenagers and, just to put the cherry on top, you ogle the waitress? You think this is a joke? You think those years of you treating me like an ugly stepsister were funny?”

“Hey, I’m a barista, not a waitress.” Pretty barista really didn’t need to interject herself.

Annalise threw her hands up. “You know what? I’m done.” She grabbed her coffee and practically darted to the door. She looked back once. I don’t know why. But I saw the tears gleaming in her eyes and it tore at my heart. Then she was gone out into the cold.





Chapter Three



Annalise





I stumbled out of the coffee shop, painful memories swirling through my mind. I thought I’d gotten over all of it, all of the horrible things Niles had said and done. I had no idea just seeing him would cause it all to come bubbling back to the surface. It didn’t help that when I first glanced at him, I thought he was a ridiculously handsome stranger. Then I realized it was him.

Having to sit with him and listen to him tell me how he was sorry? It was torture even if it was delivered in a posh accent.

I rushed to the street corner and waited for the light. Cars with red reindeer noses drove by on the slushy street. The chalet was a few blocks away. I couldn’t get there fast enough. It was freezing and I was desperate to lock myself in my room and calm down from the pain Niles inflicted. Just like old times.

I took a swig of coffee, desperately trying not to make a mess as my hands shook. The light finally turned and I crossed the street. I crunched through the gray snow and up onto the opposite curb. Then I struck up a quick stride, fighting against the sting of the wind. But compacted snow must have stuck to the soles of my flats, because one foot skidded out from under me and I was falling. I squeaked as both feet lost purchase.

Strong arms wrapped around me and put me back on my feet. I steadied myself and looked up at my savior. Bright blue eyes, square jaw, red hair – Niles.

“Thought you could use a little help.” His hand was still on my elbow, sending heat through the joint and up my arm. Something was in his eyes I’d never seen before. Warmth.

I shook my head. Three years couldn’t turn Satan to a saint. It was the same old Niles. I yanked my elbow away.

“Thank you. I can handle it from here.” I turned my back and kept walking.

I made it the next corner and waited on the light. He was behind me. I could feel him, as if the air between us was expanding and buffeting against me like a strong wind. I shot him a sharp look over my shoulder.

He shrugged. “We’re going to the same place.”

The sparkle in his eye was irritating. Yes, only irritating, nothing more. I turned back around and crossed with the light. He maintained a steady pace behind me, never coming to walk by my side. Good.

I reached the next corner and paused while other people crossed or waited for the light at the busy intersection. They were buzzing about Christmas shopping, lift passes, and skiing gear. All I could focus on was him. He edged closer as more people gathered at the corner. I scooted up closer to the curb. Traffic had ebbed and I wanted to cross, the light be damned.

Before I could step into the street, he put a hand on my waist and pulled me back. “Wait for the light.”

A car turned right in front of us. It would have hit me if I’d stepped down like I’d intended.

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