I deliberately force my eyes to stare blankly at him. There’s no way I’m letting him see how much I’m affected. I’ve never met anyone like him before. He oozes raw sex appeal and danger by the bucket load.
It both thrills and terrifies me.
My fingers twitch at my side with an almost compulsive need to touch him. His smirk grows, and my lips curl into a snarl of their own volition. Now, the scumbag is truly starting to irritate me.
Behind me, James is issuing instructions to someone. A-hole leans down, pressing his delectable mouth against my ear. “I don’t know how they do things in Ireland, sweetheart, but you’re in my house—in my domain. And you don’t get to talk shit to me. Keep out of my way, and I’ll keep out of yours. Same goes for my brothers.”
Wow. He’s friendly. Not.
A fiery shiver rips up and down my spine as his warm breath trickles over me like some form of magical mist. He steps back, leering as he spots all the giveaway signs on my face.
Any hint of blossoming desire evaporates.
Smug, good-looking bastard. What an arrogant ass.
Well, good. I’m glad he’s ugly on the inside because I should have no trouble repelling him. I’ve never been attracted to obnoxious boys, no matter how tempting they are on the outside.
“This family is fucked up enough without additional complications. You shouldn’t have come. You’re not wanted,” he adds in a much louder tone, glancing briefly over his shoulder.
“Kyler! That’s enough!” James walks toward us with a fierce look on his face.
“Screw you.” Kyler glowers at his dad and they face off.
I watch father and son as they enter into some form of silent confrontation. After a few minutes, Kyler drops back, laughing. Deliberately eyeing me, he runs the tip of his tongue slowly over his upper lip, and it takes considerable effort not to track the movement. Good God, this guy has all the moves down pat. Is this what I’m up against with every American boy? Rachel and Jill are going to flip out when I tell them about this.
Quick as a flash, Kyler moves in front of me until there’s barely any space separating us.
Time seems to stand still.
I hold my posture erect and stare right back at him. James is shouting at him and tugging on his arm, but he doesn’t budge. There is scarcely an inch between us, and I can sense the powerful thudding of his heart. My heart races at the naked threat in his eyes. He stares deep into my eyes, pushing and searching, scanning me with his scorching gaze. I’m rooted to the spot, unable to move, hardly capable of breathing. As he probes me with his determined eyes, I lose control for a second, and my shield drops. A spark flares in his eyes the moment he sees me. Truly sees me. Scrambling to put my invisible wall back up, I quiver all over, and my limbs turn to jelly. I don’t think I’d feel any more violated if he’d stripped me bare. I might as well have lain down before him openly exposing all my flaws and my fears, inviting him to psychoanalyze me.
Steadfast resolution seizes me. It’s taken years to put my past behind me. It’s a part of me I don’t share with anyone—a part I can’t even bear to acknowledge for fear of what’ll happen. No one has penetrated that wall in years, and I’ll be damned if this arrogant fucker is going to invade that most private, most abhorred part of me.
I guess it takes one to know one, and two can play that game.
Spearing him with a determined look, I reverse the intrusive lens—turning it on him. My eyes explore hidden, dark depths filled with loathing and self-hate. It’s a melting pot of wild, out-of-control emotions. Heartfelt pain has a vice grip on his heart. As I continue looking at him, I see it, churning and snarling and closing him off to the world. His face pales, and our eyes meet in a moment of shared understanding.
We both jerk back at the same time, and whatever bubble we were in bursts, leaving us both vulnerable. My back hits against the handlebars of a bike, and a sharp ache rips across my upper back, but I barely feel the impact.
James is yelling at Kyler, but I can’t make out the words over the blood rushing to my brain and the alarm bells flaring like warning beacons in my ears.
The shouting stops and I look up. James prods his son in the side. Kyler pierces me with another inquisitive look, but this one is loaded with caution. Blood turns to ice in my veins as a deathly cold chill rockets through me.
He knows I’ve seen something in him. Something I recognize, only because it exists in me too. He’s issuing a clear, silent warning.
I’m not a fool. I don’t need to make any enemies at home because I’m sure I’ll have plenty of those once I rock on up to the high school. Yes, he’s in pain, and a part of me empathizes, but my bet is he lashes out at the world in a misguided attempt to feel better.
I’m not about to become his new punching bag.
A smart antagonist always knows when to back down.
I arch my back, standing tall. I’ll make it clear that I understand, but there’s no way I’m letting him think he’s intimidated me. Kyler is not going to walk all over me. I promised myself years ago that I wouldn’t be a pushover any more. It’s a mantra I’ve clung to, and I’m not about to regress. Especially not for a wanker like him.
So, I’ll stand down. For now.
“No touching the bikes. Got it.” My eyes widen automatically as I move aside, palms raised in a token gesture.
His lips pinch tightly as he nods, and the smug, smirking look from earlier is gone.
We have an understanding, of sorts.
I’ll pretend that I didn’t see that hidden dark void inside him, and he’ll keep quiet about the empty shell that exists in place of my heart.
Seems like a fair trade-off.
As Kyler strides out a side door, I twist my neck from side to side, trying to get my head on straight for the next meet-and-greet. James plants a gentle hand on my lower back and urges me forward. “I’m sorry about Kyler. That was rude, but he doesn’t mean it. He’s going through some stuff, so don’t take it personally.”