My Stepbrother (MM Romance) - H.G. Ellis - ebook

After his mother remarries, Ian Ryder finds himself spending the summer at a beachside mansion. It's the kind of thing he might have dreamed of, but there is a major complication—his gorgeous new stepbrother.Tortured by a family tragedy, Lucas resents Ian and his mother. He can't accept that his father has moved on and remarried.On top of that, his attraction to Ian is a shock to him. Until he met Ian, Lucas always thought he was straight. But the heat between them is undeniable. He can't stay away from Ian, and Ian can't resist him. No matter how rough or arrogant Lucas is, Ian can't help falling for him.When their secret relationship is revealed, the fallout sends Lucas back to his old life and Ian is devastated. Will Lucas come to his senses in time, or will he let Ian slip away from him forever?

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My Stepbrother (MM Romance)

By H.G. Ellis

Copyright © 2016 H.G. Ellis

All Rights Reserved.

No part of this publication may be used, reproduced or transmitted in any form without written permission from the author or publisher, except in the case of brief quotations used in reviews.

This book is a work of fiction. All characters and events depicted are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

All characters engaging in sexual acts are eighteen years or older.

Any person depicted is a model.

This novel contains material intended for mature readers

My Stepbrother

MM Romance

H.G. Ellis

Chapter 1

Only a few stops from Portview, I look out the bus window, eager for my first glimpse of the ocean. There it is, an endless blue with no clear line between sea and sky. Damn, that's beautiful. The bus has just reached the top of the hill. As a few people get off, I look to see where they're going. There is a hotel and a restaurant here. I also see a viewing area with benches and telescopes.

Craning my neck, I look down and see Portview below. The town is a dazzling crescent hugging the bay. Narrow roads wind their way up the hill toward impressive houses scattered on the hillside along with a handful of small hotels.

The view from there must be something like what I see now. It's an amazing sight. So many small boats dot the blue of the ocean while waves race toward the shore. The beach is a thin strip along the water's edge. Mansions along the beach stretch in both directions away from the town. I know I'll be going to one of those. After the bus drops me off at the bus station, I'll need to walk the rest of the way. With scenery like that to look at, I don't mind at all.

I get off the bus and hoist my backpack higher on my shoulder. Since I won't be staying long, it's all I brought. My swim trunks are all I'll need anyway. During my short time here, I plan to spend every waking moment on the beach.

The bus station is on the far end of the town, on a little rise overlooking the nearby rooftops and blossoming gardens. Down the road I can see a few For Rent signs. As I'm about to step off the curb, a car pulls up right in front of me. Startled, I step back then take a good look at the machine that almost ran me over. It's a classic Mustang convertible, sky blue. Behind the wheel is a dark haired guy with blue eyes and an amazing body. He might just be the most beautiful man I've ever seen. I try not to stare at him and check out his car instead.

I assume it's just a coincidence that he stopped right in front of me, but then the guy speaks to me. "You need a ride or you planning to walk?"

I'm ready to jump at the offer but then I see the look in his eyes. That's not a friendly look, far from it. His eyes are filled with an icy hostility. What the hell?

"I'll walk," I tell him and move on.

"Suit yourself," I hear him say then the car speeds past me in the direction where I'll be heading.

I guess some guys are just for looking at. The expression in his eyes definitely said stay away if you know what's good for you. That kind of guy can only mean trouble. No matter how gorgeous he was, I hope I don't run into him again.

At least I can take a proper look around while I walk. I got my first look at Portview from a bus window so I have a good idea where I'll be heading. I text my mom to let her know I arrived. She wants to come and pick me up, but I say no thanks. After sitting on a bus for the long ride here, stretching my legs sounds good.

When I was planning this trip, Mom offered to have her new husband send a car for me so I wouldn't have to take the bus, but I thought that would be too weird. I've been taking busses all my life and now all of a sudden I'm going to be chauffeured around? I just can't wrap my head around that.

I'm still adjusting to her sudden marriage to this Neil Caldwell. They hadn't been dating that long when they went on a trip out of town and then suddenly eloped. That's how I missed my own mother's wedding. It's not all bad though. I get to take a trip to the beach for a visit and stay a few days. It will be nice to be with my mom and to see how she's doing. She sounds happy and I'm happy for her, but this marriage was lightning fast.

From what Mom told me, Portview is a beautiful place, and so far I agree. It's a favorite vacation spot of the rich. To think that the Calwells get to live here year round. Mom didn't do so bad for herself.

Even on the bus it was a pretty nice drive getting here. From lush farmland, the landscape changed to rolling hills until we reached the coast. During the bus ride, there was always something pretty out the window, but Portview beats it all—beautiful buildings, abundant greenery and flowering plants with a tropical touch, and no shortage of good-looking guys.

Passing through the center of town, I can see that the sidewalks are teeming with tourists going in and out of stores and restaurants. The restaurants look high-end and the stores all look kind of pricey. Good thing I'm not here to shop.

I head toward the beach. Along the way I pass a pretty little park with a fountain and a riot of flowers all around. As I turn to continue walking along the beach, I have to just stop and stare for a minute.

Without a doubt, this is the best thing about the place. The sea sparkles under the perfect blue of the sky. The sun is bright, but there is a refreshing breeze coming off the ocean, cooling me off. I don't want to move from this spot until I've breathed my fill of the sea air and had my fill of the view.

All around me there is something beautiful to see. Portview really is picture perfect. I don't need to fall in love with the place, but it is pretty damn nice to be able to spend a weekend here.

I am now walking along the road on the other side of the big houses that line the beach. Some other big houses are scattered on the hillside above. Every house I see is breathtaking in its own way. Balconies overlook the beach. Pools sparkle only a few feet from the ocean. Palm trees tower high above giving the place a tropical feel.

There is so much to see, I have trouble taking it all in. It's so unreal. Did my mom really marry someone who lives here? The last guy my mom dated was a mechanic. How did this even happen?

The mansions on the beach and the sailboats in the distance make me wonder about people who live like this. With the postcard worthy view of the ocean right out their back door, is their life just one long vacation? They probably take all of this for granted.

As I make my way down the road slowly while gaping at everything in sight, I worry that I might have gotten lost. I'm reaching the edge of this neighborhood. Only a few houses are left before the beach widens. Beyond that I only see a row of pretty little beach shacks. Then I spot a familiar, petite blonde in front of one of these magnificent houses. Waving at me, my mom waits at the bottom of the driveway. I eye the house behind her with trepidation. Just like the others, it's huge and beautiful.

I stop right in front and Mom runs up to hug me. She looks so happy, positively radiant.

"I'm so happy to see you," she says and then flashes a wedding band paired with a diamond ring. "Can you believe this?"

"No," I tell her straight out.

"Me either. And I won't tell you how much these rings cost because it's obscene. Come on in and meet everyone. As I've told you already, Neil is the best guy in the world, a total sweetheart. But his son is here too. Lucas. Eh." My mom makes a face. Obviously she isn't a fan of her new stepson.

Opening the huge front doors, Mom leads me into a light filled, open foyer with a curving staircase. The wide staircase leads my eye upstairs to a balcony that looks down from the second story to the entryway. The railing is intricately carved wood. It's a work of art all by itself. Everything I see is like that, finely made with attention to the smallest detail.

I'm barely inside the house and I'm already beyond impressed. I can tell that it's an older house and that just makes it more beautiful. The floor is done in white and gray stone. The effect is pretty but subtle and elegant. The chandelier is dazzling with gray crystal that catches the sunlight in bursts. Mom told me it was amazing, but before I got to see the place for myself, I had no idea what to expect. Now I'm just gaping all around like a fool. Mom is getting a kick out of my reaction.

"I still can't get over it. Come on. Neil is dying to meet you," Mom tells me.

We go into a huge sitting room. On the far side, it extends into a sunroom with French doors wrapping around it. The wall to the right holds a beautiful fireplace. High-end wicker and tropical prints are everywhere in the room. It seems right considering what I see out the French doors. It's a spectacular view of the ocean, waves cresting and sailboats in the distance. I could just stand there and stare all day at all that blue.

I don't spend too much time looking at the view because a young guy, a little older than me, is standing with his arms crossed at the open glass doors. The view is gorgeous and so is he. I trace his outline against the blue of the sea and sky—broad shoulders and a narrow waist, with muscles pushing against his T-shirt and jeans. His hair is dark brown, wavy but fairly short. He has strong, perfectly chiseled features, and piercing, dark blue eyes. I know those eyes. They are mean as hell and I just saw them not twenty minutes ago when this same guy offered me a ride in his classic convertible.

A tear my eyes away from him because Neil is there too and he comes up to greet me. This is my first look at Mom's brand new husband. The first thing I notice is that he walks with a limp. I remember Mom mentioning that some old injury still gives him trouble. He has dark brown hair and sad, brown eyes. He isn't as tall as that young guy and he doesn't have his arresting good-looks, but I see a resemblance. With a smile on his face, Neil gives me a warm, friendly handshake.

"It's wonderful to meet you, Ian," he says.

"Nice to meet you too, and congratulations. Welcome to the family," I stammer a little. I didn't exactly prepare a speech for the occasion.

"Thank you," Neil says, looking genuinely pleased. "I'm happy to welcome you into our family as well. On that note, this is my son, Lucas." His eyes shine with pride as he looks at the guy lurking in the doorway of one of the glass doors. Neil points to the young guy, but at first his son doesn't show that he heard him. Then he says a vague, "Hi."

"Nice to meet you, Lucas," I say blandly, and I don't go to shake his hand.

Just as well since he stays right where he is and remains partly turned away from us. I'm tempted to call him on how rude he's being, but it's not my place. Mom shrugs and his father only sighs. That must be just the way this guy is. Mom did warn me.

Neil and my mom tell me that they hope I like it here. As they talk up Portview and assure me there are lots of places to have fun, my eyes keep straying to Lucas. He has turned sideways to look somewhere off to his left. I can see him better now, and the man really is stunning.

As he gives me a stern, questioning look, I realize I've been staring at him too long. Damn, that's embarrassing. There is no hope that I'm not turning bright red. I can already feel my face heating up even as Lucas looks away from me in disdain.

He didn't show any sign that he was surprised to see me here. Does that mean that he knew who I was when he offered me a ride? If he did, why the hell didn't he introduce himself? Whatever. I'm only here for a few days. I don't need to waste my time trying to figure out exactly what kind of jerk he is.


I'm leaning by the glass doors, looking out, doing my best to ignore what's going on behind me. This way my dad can't see my expression and read how I really feel about his new wife and her son. If I upset my dad, he might go back to drinking, and I'm not very good at putting on an act.

I don't even need to satisfy my curiosity about my new stepbrother. I've already had a good look at Carla's son when I was driving through town. I recognized him from photos that his mother has displayed around the house. In some of them he is a blond headed boy with big eyes, hugging his mother and smiling. It's the more recent pictures that show him almost as he was when I saw him getting off the bus and refusing my offer of a ride.

He is slim with broad shoulders, wavy blond hair and a full mouth. His bright blue eyes look around avidly, trying to absorb everything they see. I already know he's gay. His mother announced it proudly while she went on about how sweet and wonderful he was and how thrilled she was that he was coming for a visit. I bet his looks go a long way to attract men, but they mean nothing to me.

I already noticed that he was checking me out, but after we are introduced his expression changes. No longer surprised to see me, Ian is giving me an accusing look. Despite that, he doesn't mention seeing me in town. He seems to be wondering why I don't mention it either. I just can't be bothered. He is nothing to me.

Ian doesn't spend two minutes kissing up to my father before Carla whisks him away to show him the house. Now I'm alone with my dad and I have to call on all of my emotional reserves so that my mask won't slip.

"I'm glad you got back in time to meet Ian even if you weren't very friendly," my father tells me once they are gone. "He is a nice young man. I'm surprised you didn't pass him on the road while he was walking here."

"I did. I offered him a ride. He refused. I guess he likes walking," I tell my dad evenly while making sure to hide my distaste.

"Oh. Then I could have skipped the introductions," Dad says. "I didn't realize you two already met."

"No. We never got to the introductions," I say and turn to face the view outside. I don't want my father to see just how much I hate my new stepfamily.

It's been eight years since we lost Melanie and my mom. I can still see the waves rising all around me as I call to them desperately, my voice breaking as my tears mix with saltwater and choke me.

I woke up in the hospital. Their bodies were pulled from the ocean a few days later.

My dad was in such bad shape, but not only from his injuries. After he came home from the hospital, I wasn't sure if he would survive the grief. I tried to pull him through as best I could, went with him to every one of his grueling physical therapy sessions so he could walk again.

It was just the two of us for years. Having lived through that terrible time, I tried to protect my father, mostly from himself. I made sure he stayed sober and sane, that his guilt and grief didn't swallow him up. And the whole time I had to hold back my own grief, stay strong for him.

After everything we've been through, I thought I knew my father. I thought he would never remarry and never take another drink. But he has done both of those things. It happened only last week. He was drinking with that woman. While drunk, he married her.

Now both his new wife and her son have invaded our family home.

My father had no desire to get married until he met her. He hardly even dated. Every time he did go out with someone, he said he didn't see the point, that he would never get over my mom or what happened to her and Melanie.

Then this Carla Ryder comes along. I can't believe she conned him like this. With a sick feeling, I remember the phone call from his trip to the West Coast. His speech slurred from drink, my father was telling me the happy news. I was too shocked to say anything then, and too worried about him after he came home to tell him what I really think.

From what I've seen, he hasn't had a drink since then. But in other ways things only keep getting worse. That woman's son is here now, but thankfully he'll be gone soon. While I seethe, he and his mother are prowling our family home. Carla is showing off the prize she won herself when she married my dad.

And what is my dad doing as they invade our home? He's reminiscing about the happy event that brought them into our lives. Sober only for days, my father tells me about their matrimony under the influence.

He laughs as he tells me how they rushed around until they found someone to officiate the marriage. He talks about buying the rings on the morning after the ceremony, both he and Carla still hung-over but happy.

He tells the story of their quickie marriage with a blissful smile while I cringe at every word. How can he speak of something like that and sound so happy? This drunken mistake is going to ruin his life.

When I look at my father, I see no sign of doubt or regret over what he has done. How is that possible? He must have second thoughts that he's hiding from me.

Or maybe I don't know my father at all. But I can certainly see right through that woman he married. The fact that she got my father drunk so she could get him to put a ring on her finger tells me everything I need to know about what kind of woman she is. It's unthinkable for someone like that to become part of our family.

And her son is probably cut from the same cloth. His pretty blue eyes don't fool me. He isn't innocent in all this. He's no different from his mother. Why else would he come here than to sponge off my father?

When it comes to putting on an act, Carla is a pro, but her son isn't nearly as good at it. He isn't good at hiding what he feels. I can see it in how he reacted to me. It's possible he wasn't trying to hide anything. Maybe he's used to throwing himself at men.

It doesn't matter. Whatever might lie ahead, I won't let Carla and her son get their way. My father might have slipped, but he doesn't deserve to have his life ruined by that woman. As for her son, the sooner he's gone the better. He doesn't belong here even if his eyes are as bright and clear as the sea under a sun-drenched sky.

Chapter 2

As I follow my Mom through the house, I try to put Lucas and his rudeness out of my mind and take in everything there is to see around the place. It's an impressive house. Every single thing is beautifully made and perfectly chosen.

The paintings on the walls catch my eye. They have a tropical theme but the style changes with each one, giving them a fresh perspective. As we walk down a hallway, I feel like I'm in an art gallery. I want to take a closer look at the paintings, especially one of some men on the beach, but my mom really wants to show me the kitchen.

We go in through swinging doors. The first thing that strikes me is that every surface is brightly polished and the appliances look professional. It's like being in the back of a restaurant without the mess or the bustle of activity. I'm looking at miles of stainless steel and marble counters as well as frosted glass on the cabinets. There is no one in the kitchen right now, just me and my mom. I step inside, but Mom is hanging back like she's afraid to go in.

"I have no idea what to do in there or how to use half the stuff," she whispers to me. "I might as well walk into an operating room and pick up a scalpel."

"It's fine as long as you can make a sandwich," I say.

"Barely. There is a cook who comes in from town to make dinner and one of the housekeepers takes care of breakfast and lunch. They are both amazing."

"Wow. So you don't even need to make a sandwich," I say impressed with this setup.

"Not really, but I am going to get so fat."

As we move on, she shows me a few different sitting rooms and a library. Along the way I notice Caldwell family pictures. Mom lets me take a good look at one of them. In it I see a teenaged Lucas, a preteen girl with her dark hair in a ponytail, a blond woman and Neil. All of them are smiling.

"That's not long before the accident," Mom tells me. "I can't even imagine how hard that must have been."

Mom had already told me that Neil lost his wife and his daughter in a boating accident some years ago. Looking at their faces makes it so much more real. Mom puts an arm around my shoulders.

"It makes you appreciate what you have," she tells me, and I put my arm around her too.

We move on like that, our arms around each other. On the way, she points out Neil's office, but we don't go in there, of course. From the door I see a huge bookshelf and lots of leather. Everywhere I turn there are big windows letting in plenty of sunlight and also that magnificent view of the ocean. The view on the other side of the house isn't bad either. It shows the green of the hillside dotted with villas.

Mom gives me a quick tour of the upstairs and then shows me to my room. I see that my bedroom is on one side of the house, Lucas's on the other and the master bedroom right in the middle. My mom tells me that Lucas's bedroom is more of a suite and has a balcony. She calls mine just a regular bedroom.

Sure, just a regular room in a luxury resort or a five star hotel. The headboard over my bed is huge, framed with some kind of exotic wood and upholstered in the middle in a striped fabric. There is an impressive quilt on the bed with a Hawaiian print. When I look closer I see that it's handmade and very intricately done. The bedding underneath is crisp and white and the mattress feels like heaven. I look through a door and see that I have my own bathroom as well as a big closet.

I drop my bag in my very nice bedroom as my mom opens the blinds to show me the view of the ocean. I step up for a better look. Outside my window, I see only blue as the sea and the sky stretch out to meet at the horizon. Am I really going to be staying here? I'm in shock, but I don't have time to absorb any of it. Mom wants to go back downstairs so she can show me the back yard.

Going down, we walk through one of the smaller sitting rooms then step outside through a set of glass doors.

"Here it is. The back yard," Mom announces as we walk out there.

She gestures all around and I have to laugh. The back yard is a sloping garden with a view of the beach and the ocean beyond. It's unbelievable.

Under the shade of trees, we walk down a path with dark purple flowers around the edge. The summer heat isn't too bad here and the air is fragrant. Birds chirp overhead while waves splash on the sand.

Stopping at the stone wall at the bottom of the garden, I gaze at the expanse of blue that can be seen from the Caldwells' back yard. Smaller trees give us shade as I sit on the wall with my feet dangling over the sand on the other side. In front of me, I see an uninterrupted view of the sea.

As I look further out, I spot some boats in the distance and even a few white sails. My eyes follow the waves coming in to splash softly against the shore. The beach stretches out pristine and not too crowded. Only a handful of people are sitting on the beach or walking up and down, but none of them are nearby.

"This is amazing," I say. Even if it wasn't for the mansion behind me, even if it was just a rundown, tin-roofed shack, this would still be an incredible place to live. The water looks so inviting. I feel like a kid who can't stay out of the water another second. If only I had my swim trunks on, I would be running straight for the surf and diving in.

I get up from the wall and Mom leads us on a stroll along the path toward the far end of the Caldwells' back yard. In the shade of the trees, with the sea breeze coming in, we can escape the heat of the day. To my eyes, this place is so unreal. It's more like a postcard than somewhere anyone actually lives.

"See, there's more to this place than a scowling stepson," my mom says after giving me a moment to take it all in.

"He's so rude," I complain to my mom. "He's almost enough to ruin this place." I don't mention how good-looking he is, but his attitude almost ruins that too.

"I know, but he's family now," my mom says with a shrug.

I grumble, but I'm not the one who is going to have to put up with him. I feel bad for my mom. Neil seems really nice, but his son is a jerk.

"Don't worry about Lucas. A great husband and a beautiful house, on the beach no less, what more can anyone ask for?" Mom says then she turns to me. "And you are here too. I couldn't be happier." Her happy expression turns serious in the next instant.

"What?" I ask. I know she has something on her mind. Her eyes are on me, so I know I'll be involved. "Mom, what's on your mind?"

"You. I would really like it if you stayed here for a while," she says.

"Mom, you know I..." I start to protest, but she doesn't let me finish.

"You can stay just for the summer, can't you? What, you'd rather share some grubby apartment with three or four other guys?" she asks.

"Depends on the guys," I joke. Right now I'm staying at a friend's, but it's only temporary.

To try and entice me to stay, Mom takes my arm and turns me to face the ocean. "Come on. It's so beautiful here. It will be like a vacation."

"It's not like any vacation we ever took," I say. I can remember grubby motel rooms and crowded motel pools, plus a few mosquito infested campgrounds, nothing like this.

She puts both arms around me and gives me a squeeze. "That's all the more reason to stay. But this isn't just about finally being able to pamper and spoil you, or give you the kind of vacation we never had. I need you here to keep the peace. I need a buffer or I think I might strangle that awful Lucas."

I sigh in defeat. I know I've lost this fight. Once my mom says she needs me, I can't say no.

"I was planning on finding a job," I tell her.

"That won't be a problem here. There's tons of seasonal work this time of year," Mom says. She's wearing a big smile. Even though I haven't officially agreed, she knows she won. She has me right where she wants me.

"Ok, I'm in," I say grudgingly. It will be nice to stay here as long as I can keep away from my new stepbrother.

Now Mom leads me around the back of the house, past seating areas with lounge chairs under umbrellas and even a walled in barbeque space with a big table that's all setup for outdoor dining. I bet it's something to hang out in your own back yard, eating barbeque with the ocean only a stone's throw away.

I'm staring at the ocean view when we round the corner and I stop short. Finding myself face to face with Lucas, I realize that we're back where we started. In all that time, Lucas hasn't moved. He's still standing by those big glass doors, looking out. Except now I'm out here and his dark blue eyes fall on me with startling intensity.

"So you're Ian," he tells me while giving me a cold smile and taking my hand in his iron grip.

It's like he wants to crush my hand to show me how much stronger he is. Somehow I manage not to flinch. Clasping his hand as hard as I can, I try to stare him down. I'm outmatched on both counts. That guy has perfected the glacial stare, and I have no hope of matching him in physical strength.

Maybe this is his version of that polite greeting that he owes me from before. In the room behind him, his father limps over to us. Unlike Lucas's frozen smile, his father's smile is genuine especially when he looks at my mom. That's nice to see, for me anyway. When Lucas notices how his father looks at my mom, he scowls at her. That boy has issues.

"Do you like it here, Ian?" Neil asks.

"It's really amazing. I can't believe my eyes," I tell him.

"Do you like it enough to stay with us for more than a few days?" Neil asks me hopefully. That means he knows about my mom's plans for me.

"Stay?" Lucas says. "What is this?" He obviously doesn't know anything about it.

"Ian's mother and I were hoping he would stay with us for the summer," Lucas's father tells him.

Unhappy to hear this, Lucas turns away from him and gives me a nasty look. I almost tell him to fuck off, but I bite my tongue. Neil is being way too nice to me, so I can't be cursing at his son.

"And I agreed to stay," I say to Lucas and smile. I think that's way better than cursing at him. It's more civilized and the effect is pretty much the same. Clearly pissed off about this news, Lucas looks like he wants to tear me to pieces. He's sweet.

"That's wonderful," Neil says as his son and I glare at each other. "Lucas, you are going into town, aren't you? Ian can go with you. You can show him around."

Oh, that sounds like a blast. I'm ready to say thank you but no thank you, but Lucas answers first. His answer isn't what I expect.

"Sure. I would love to. Since he's going to be staying here, I'll show him around town." Lucas smiles at me but his voice is threatening as he says, "I'll make him feel real welcome." The look in his eyes makes me shiver and I turn away to stare at the ocean.

"Thanks a lot," I say.

That's just wonderful. Now I'm stuck spending time with a guy who obviously hates my guts. This is going to be a fun time.

Chapter 3

As we're circling around to the front of the house, I still can't believe I agreed to this or that Lucas did. But it's happening whether I like it or not. Standing in the driveway, I look up and down the road. When I hesitate, Lucas keeps going without me. He is already walking down the road toward town. I rush to catch up to him. I actually thought we might be taking that awesome car, but I guess not.

It's weird to walk next to him in silence. Lucas stares straight ahead and acts like I'm not even here. While I look around, I sneak glances at him. I'm hoping that I'll discover that he isn't as good-looking as I first thought. Wrong. He gets better looking each time I look at him and notice something new, like the sharp line of his jaw, the shadow of stubble, his dark, thick eyelashes.

Yes, he is gorgeous, but I won't give him the satisfaction of catching me ogling him. Still, it takes a lot of effort to tear my eyes away from him. The gaps between the mansions give me a view of the ocean and the beach, but my gaze keeps straying to Lucas.

I really need to stop admiring him. He's an asshole and also my stepbrother. Stepbrother? That just sounds all wrong. Stepjerk? It might not be original, but that sounds about right.

And it's not like I can forget for even a minute what kind of guy he is. Silent and intense, Lucas has an intimidating presence. That plus his extremely unfriendly attitude toward me and my mom, and I feel on edge around him. I bet he wants to make me feel uncomfortable. Normally I might start talking to break the tension, but right now I feel a little tongue-tied around him. The silence seems too heavy with something unspoken and the tension too thick to break with mindless chitchat.

I don't need to strain myself to make conversation. We've reached the edge of town, so this ordeal should be over soon. I'll suffer in silence until he ditches me or I ditch him. Then I can explore the town on my own.

It's not like Lucas is giving me a guided tour anyway. Lucas's idea of showing me around is ignoring me as we walk through town. Without a proper tour guide, I use my eyes and learn my way around a little.

Portview is touristy and fun. The middle of town is ritzy with high-end stores and restaurants. I did spot one or two places that might be in my budget. Or they will be if I manage to get a job. On the side streets, lots of small shops are doing brisk business. That gives me hope that I might be able to find a job here without too much trouble.

That thought prompts me to break the silence between Lucas and me. "I want to get a job," I tell him.

"That doesn't win you any points with me," he says.

"You can keep your points. I need to earn some actual money. And since you're leading the way, how about you lead me somewhere where I might be able to find work," I tell him. I throw a little attitude into it and hope it doesn't set him off.

He glares at me then sighs. "I have a friend who might be able to help you," he says.

At the next intersection, we turn a corner into a side street. I look up at a sign that says Shelby Street. Cars are parked against the curb and people are going in and out of small eateries. Further down I notice a pub sign.

"A friend of mine owns a bar here. I'm sure she can find some busywork for you to do," Lucas says dismissively.

"Doing busywork isn't really my thing," I inform him but he doesn't give a damn.

We go down the street for a while passing shops and restaurants that aren't as flashy as the ones in the center of town. About halfway down Shelby Street, Lucas stops in front of a bar named simply Q's. We go in and a very attractive girl behind the bar calls Lucas's name and waves him over.

"This is Lana. She owns the place," Lucas tells me.

Lana's hair is short and blond, her eyes a soft brown and very pretty. She is tall and willowy, and I bet straight guys go crazy for her.

"This is Ian Ryder. He's the new addition to the family. He claims he wants a job," Lucas tells her, but makes it sound like I'm a total scumbag and she shouldn't believe a word I say.

"Ian, it's nice to meet you," Lana says and takes my hand. Her grip is firm but warm, not like that death grip Lucas calls a handshake. "Don't mind Lucas. He never learned how to make friends. He's lucky he has me."

"Nice to meet you too," I say to her and smile. So even a guy like Lucas can have nice friends. Go figure.

"So how do you like this place?" she asks me and gestures around the bar.

I take a quick look around. "I'm not much into bars, but..." I'm about to say it's nice, but she cuts me off.

"You're into this bar because I own it," she tells me.

"Right. In that case, I love it," I say to her.

"You better because I might have a job for you. But first a treat." She reaches under the bar. I wonder if she wants to offer me a drink. I'm about to tell her I'm underage, but a bartender starts talking to her.

When I turn around, Lucas is gone. Of course he didn't say anything before ditching me. At least I might get a job out of this, so who cares.

I take the opportunity to take a good look around. Q's is down to earth compared to the places in the main part of Portview. The decor has a subdued, rustic look, like a bar from a few centuries back but without trying too hard. The wood on the bar and the tables has an aged depth, a glow of being polished countless times.

Other than being below drinking age, I don't feel so out of place here. Q's has a good vibe, and Lana seems about a million times nicer than Lucas. Where Lucas is arrogant, she's confident. Lucas's smile is like a sharp edged weapon. She has the kind of smile that lights up a room.

She turns that smile in my direction and sets a mixed drink in front of me. "This one is on the house. It's my specialty."

I start shaking my head, but Lana doesn't let me speak. "No, you don't, cutie. You will let me buy you this drink."

"Only if you want to lose your liquor license. I'm a year shy of twenty-one," I tell her.

She yanks the drink away from me. "I'll get you a very nice iced tea or something. No real drinks for him," she says to the bartender while pointing at me.

"Q's? That's an interesting name," I tell her as she sets the tall glass of iced tea in front of me.

"It used to be called Susie Q's, but I hated that bitch. When I bought the place from her and her hubby, I shortened it to just Q's," Lana says.

"And you might have a job for me?" I prompt her.

"It's just cleaning tables, sweeping up, washing glasses when we get busy. I want my people pouring and serving drinks. That's where the money is, but I want the place clean too. While you're here, you'll be taking that other stuff off their hands. Does that sound like something you might want to do?" she asks.

"Sounds Ok to me," I tell her and then we talk about my hours and pay. It's pretty much what I expected and I'm quick to accept.

"Don't even think about sneaking drinks. We don't pool tips. You keep what you get," she informs me.

"I doubt anyone is going to tip me," I say.

"Think again." She looks me up and down.

"Um. Ok," I say but I'm pretty sure she's wrong about any tips coming my way for my looks.

Lana doesn't seem too busy so while I'm finishing my iced tea, I ask her, "So how did you and Lucas get to be friends?"

"We grew up together. And technically I am his ex," she tells me with a wicked grin.

"You poor thing," I tell her and she laughs. "Lucas and Lana? Yikes. I think you dodged a bullet in more ways than one."

"We were only together briefly when I was ten, and Lucas was eight. He wasn't so bad back then," she says then looks sad all of a sudden.

"Did he change after his sister and his mother died?" I ask. It's just a guess based on the way she got somber all of a sudden.

"You know about that?" she says with a frown.

"Only that they died in a boating accident," I say. That was all that Mom told me.

Lana nods. "Lucas and I were in high school then. He was gone for a while after it happened. Neil had to have a few surgeries, and Lucas stayed by his side from the hospital to the rehab place. He devoted himself to his dad. When Lucas came back here, he was a different guy. Losing his mom and his sister did a number on him. He was never the same. And his dad..." She just shakes her head showing me how bad he was. "Neil was inconsolable. Lucas pretty much single handedly carried him through. Without him, his dad wouldn't have made it."

I have trouble reconciling what she's saying with the Lucas I met today. "And I guess Lucas is being extra unfriendly because my mom's marriage to his dad must have been a shock to him," I say. It was a shock to me. At first when my mom called me with the news, I thought she was joking.

"It surprised all of us," Lana tells me. "After Lucas's mom and his sister died, his dad hardly saw anyone except for business. His dad has been kind of a recluse. Then boom, he's married."

"Neil and my mom didn't know each other long. But my mom says that he is a really nice guy," I say, fishing for a confirmation. Their wedding was so sudden, I have to wonder if Mom really knows the guy she married.