Pretty Little Things

By: Teresa Mummert

I was young enough not to understand that my life was different. Colin became the one person I could count on to protect me. He suffered for the both of us by carrying the burden of our secret.

We were the lucky few who got a chance to start over. A fake family, a new home, and a pretty little life built on lies. But while our lives continued to intertwine, we were put on very different paths. Now it was only a matter of time before they’d collide and the beast behind the beauty would be exposed.

I knocked on the office door that sat ajar as I watched Colin at his desk, his suit jacket off and sleeves rolled up, exposing the large cross tattoo on his forearm, as he stared at his laptop screen. His dark hair was disheveled, and a day’s worth of stubble shadowed his jawline. Beside his laptop was a black gun that was always within reach.

“Busy,” he snapped angrily, not bothering to glance in my direction as I glared at him.

“Good. I’ll stay out of your way. Don’t wait up.” I turned to hurry down the flight of stairs toward the second floor, but he called after me before I could make my getaway.

“Wait. Where the hell are you going?”

I rolled my eyes and groaned like a child as I slowly traipsed back to his office and pushed the door open. “Out with some friends.” His eyes ran up and down my body before he shook his head in disapproval, and his gaze dropped back to the computer screen.

“Not dressed like that. Go change.”

“You don’t get to tell me what to wear. I’m seventeen, and you’re not my father.” I folded my arms over my chest as my eyes narrowed, ready for a fight.

With a sigh, he pushed back his chair and slowly stood to his full six feet in height, making me feel impossibly small. He rounded the desk as he pulled up his zipper. That’s when I noticed the mass of blond hair from a girl kneeling behind his desk. Gross. He came to a stop in front of me, forcing me to tilt my head back. It was challenging to glare at someone from this angle and still look menacing.

“Change your outfit, or you’re not leaving.”

“Watch me.” I pivoted on my toes, my long blond curls hitting him in the chest. Two muscular arms banded around my waist, pulling my feet from the ground as he held me against him from behind.

“Annie, I’m a very fucking busy man,” he growled next to my ear. “Do not pull this bullshit tonight. This is not a fucking game. Change your clothes, or I will lock you in your room. Do I make myself clear?”

“Crystal,” I bit out between clenched teeth as he lowered me to the ground. To say Colin was overprotective of me was an understatement, but he was equally annoyed by my presence, which made dealing with him a constant game of Russian roulette.

“Asshole. You messed up my hair,” I muttered as I made my way down to the second floor and into my bedroom. I slammed the door loud enough to rattle the walls, but I knew he probably didn’t even hear it upstairs. That was one of the perks of living in such a large house. I glanced at my reflection in the full-length antique mirror across the room, running my finger under my lower lip to fix my smudged gloss. My hair was pale blond and curled perfectly down my back. I wore a low-cut purple V-neck T-shirt that hugged my curves and made my green eyes pop, paired with cutoff jean shorts that probably cost more than the average person’s week-long vacation. Well hidden and disguised was the credulous little girl that I used to be when we came to live in Connor’s house.

I pulled off my shirt and tossed it on the ground as I stepped inside my walk-in closet. Pulling out a sensible white eyelet dress that covered anything Colin would find offensive, I cursed under my breath. I slid my shorts down over my hips and kicked them off against the wall as a knock came at my door.

“Go away,” I yelled, and I heard the deep rumble of his laugh as he slowly opened the door and stepped inside my room. He had his hands shoved in his pockets as he looked me over in matching black bra and panties trimmed with delicate lace.

“I’m sorry. I have enough on my plate right now. With Connor sick, I have to pick up his work slack. I can’t be worried about you running around town looking like…” He gestured with his hands, and for the first time since I could remember, Colin was at a loss for words as he took me in.

“I’m just hanging out with some friends. You guys want me to blend in; this was me blending in. No one at school dresses like this.” I tossed my hands in the air, hating that at only nineteen he felt he could tell me what to do. He was taking his role as my pretend brother a little too far.

The loud clacking of heels on the wooden floor caught his attention, and he turned around to face bobbing head from under desk girl.

“I’ll just be a minute, and then we can leave. You mind grabbing my keys from the office?”

“Sure.” She smiled sweetly, her lips coated with a fresh layer of red, before disappearing up the stairs to the third floor. Colin turned his attention back to me, his jaw clenched in frustration.

“First of all, you wear uniforms at school. Second, you’re a Blakely now. You need to dress the part. This is a very small town, and people talk. We’ve spent years trying to blend in, and now you want to walk around looking like a whore just to prove you’re what? A grown-up?” His voice rose with every word, as did my temper. I crossed the room in large strides and poked my finger against his hard chest, but he didn’t budge from the doorway, and the shadows from my darkened room made the chiseled contours of his face even more menacing.

“You don’t seem to have a problem with the women you fuck dressing like whores. Why do I have to dress like a librarian?”

His hand was in my hair, fisting and tugging back ever so slightly, my chin titled up toward his face, which was now only an inch from mine. “If you don't dress like a lady, I will stop treating you like one, and that will be more fun for me than it is you, I promise.” He swallowed hard, and my lips parted in shock as I struggled to keep my breathing under control. It wasn’t a threat—it was a warning.

The hammering of my heart in my ears blocked out the sound of heels on hardwood, and it wasn’t until bobbing head from under desk girl gasped, “Colin?” that we noticed her presence.

“Sorry, sweetheart. Just teaching my little sister here a lesson on being a lady.” His body blocked her view of his hold on me as his eyes drifted to my chest. Then he pressed a kiss to my forehead, and his long fingers untangled from my hair. “Now I’ve messed up your hair,” he whispered with a smirk.

“I’ll be back.” He stepped away from me, and I watched in shock as his perfect smile was in place. Wrapping his arm around the girl, they descend the stairs to the first floor. I leaned out of my bedroom doorway just as he glanced over his shoulder at me and winked.

I slammed my bedroom door hard and grabbed the white dress I had chosen, cursing under my breath as I pulled it over my head and ran my fingers through my now knotted hair.

I hurried down the flight of stairs and out the front door, stopping as my eyes caught sight of Colin, his body pressed against the desk girl, pinning her against the side of his car as his mouth moved along her neck.

I hurried down the steps and turned right, away from him. The property spanned miles and was bordered by a six-foot privacy fence, but through the woods there was a place where a few boards were missing. That was where I was headed. Barefoot and angry, I stomped my way through the trees, hurrying before Colin spotted where I was going.

When I reached the fence, I slipped between the missing slats and into Jacob’s waiting arms. He smelled of smoke, weed, and sin. His hands slid around my lower back and began to creep down to my ass as he pressed his lips against mine. His body was thin but muscular like a swimmer. He was the only person in this town who didn’t treat me like I was a fragile ornament whose only purpose was for decoration.

“You taste so good,” he mumbled against my lips. I ran my hand over his dark hair, which was now long enough to always look like he’d just rolled out of bed. He pressed his lips against my forehead and pulled back to look at me. “Why are you dressed like a librarian?” His chocolate eyes were barely open under the weight of the drugs he’d consumed, and his lips twisted into a smile.

“Like you need to bother asking.” I rolled my eyes, instantly infuriated all over again at being treated like a helpless child.

“I wish you’d let me talk to that asshole.”

I took a step back and shook my head. Jacob and I had been seeing each other for three months, but no one else knew of our secret encounters. “I’d rather not subject you to his bullshit.” I rolled my eyes as my fingers gripped the front of his dark-brown vintage T-shirt that read “Ramones” across his chest. But what I really meant, and what we both were thinking, was that no one would understand us. I didn’t even know for sure what we were. Jacob had been a friend, and we’d blurred that line on more than one occasion, but I wasn’t stupid. Our lives were very different. I was a Blakely, and he’d grown up in the wrong tax bracket. There was nothing logical or permanent about us.

He tucked a blond curl behind my ear, and I leaned my cheek against his warm palm.

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