THE LIVING room already blasted with loud noises from the TV and from Dad and my brother, Brett. They were football fans—the soccer one.
Brett was a die-hard fan of Manchester, while Dad was a Real Madrid, and as for me, I was a neutral. Well, if I was being honest, I knew American football, but soccer, on the other hand, was different. Instead of throwing the ball, the players kicked it toward the opposing team’s goalkeeper to score. And they called it a goal. And the NFL and FIFA balls were different in shape. Why in the hell am I talking about balls right now?
Grimacing to their noise, I ambled toward them sitting on the couches. The entire room was dim, only the light coming from the TV screen that helped me not to bump into something, and I happened to memorize every corner of this place since this was my home once.
“Guys, good evening! Can anyone please lower the volume down?” I yelled, waving my hand. At this moment, nobody even cared about my presence. They were too engrossed with what they were watching. This kind of scene was not new to me—no one could distract them, even a high magnitude level earthquake.
“Yes!” they yelled in unison, fists pumping in the air while I was crossing my arms over my chest in annoyance for ignoring me.
Wait, Lorcan was not the third one. My cousin arrived from LA this afternoon, and Uncle Jett would also be here tonight.
“I told ya, mate!” the man guffawed over my brother. His accent was the first thing that caught my attention. He was tall just like Brett and looked like he took much time in the gym. The sleeve of his dark sweater stretched on his flexed bicep. His long brown hair tied up in a bun. Then the straight nose, the wrinkles at the corner of his eye, down to the dimple on his cheek, and those lips that spread into a full-blown smile.
My breath caught. My hand flew to my chest. My heartbeat galloped. A flush of adrenaline tingled through my body the moment someone finally turned the light on.
The noises suddenly stopped. And I got a chance to see the man beside my brother. Oh my, God! It’s him. The guy I once knew was almost unrecognizable. In a good way. He’d grown up into a... gorgeous as hell kind of man. What was he doing here?
His different colored-eyes bore into mine, making my breath held. My heart stopped for a moment, then pounded harder in my chest. And the world seemed to disappear around us, and the time slowed down as I tried hard reading any recognization in his eyes. My stomach turned hard as a rock that I hadn’t find any.
“Hey. You must be the baby sista.” He walked past Brett and Dad, then stopped in front of me. “Arella, right?” He extended his hand, and I finally found the strength to close my gaping mouth.
Does he happen to have an identical twin or a doppelgänger, maybe?
How the hell didn’t he recognize me? Well, it had been years, Are, and you gained some fats while he became gorgeous.
“Are, don’t be rude. You haven’t got a chance to meet Skip when we came home in college.” Brett pulled me back to reality—a shocking painful reality.
I swallowed uncomfortably and cleared my throat. “Hi, I’m Arella.” My voice was low and shaky. Heat rushed through my cheeks when the picture of what I did back then sprang into my mind.
His grip my hand firmly and short. “Nice to finally meet you, Re— Arella.” His hand was warm and strong, but I was shivering with disappointment to how he didn’t remember me in a slight.
“Nice to meet you too, Skip.” I put a little emphasis on his name and broke my gaze. I still remembered how those beautiful eyes looked at me, but there had no emotions and nothing warmth in there as they stared back at mine right now.
My belly knotted as I berated myself for my actions. I never regretted it though, because that was one of the best nights of my life.
“Are, you’re here. Come over here, honey, and help me out in the kitchen.” Thankfully, Mom saved me from farther humiliations.
I walked away speechless with knees barely made me reach the kitchen.
“Hey, Mom.” I kissed her blemish-free cheek. Her expensive perfume wafted my nostrils. At fifty-five, she managed to stay beautiful, ate healthy food, and meditated a lot.
“You okay, honey?” Mom’s brows furrowed as she faced me. She stopped whatever she was doing with our helper, Morena.
“I’m fine. Thank you for asking. Let’s finish this and have dinner because I’m starving. And I need to go back to my apartment and watch movies on my Netflix .” I quickly picked up the bowl full of pasta, almost dropped it, and too late to realize it was hot.
“Are you sure you’re okay, Are? You seem—”
I hissed and blew the burning sensation on my palms. “I’m good. It’s just that time of the month.”
“So, you finally met Skip Linton,” Mom simply started.
My gaze met hers. “C-come again?”
“Is he related to Axson Linton?” I had to pretend I never met him before, and it was harder than I thought.
“Your crush? One of the members of the Fifth Death, then yes. He’s Axson’s cousin. Remember you went to their concert with Alys? Skip came with them to met your brother. You didn’t get a chance to meet him because he left in the morning before you came home.”
So, he wasn’t lying when he said he was a Linton. I thought it was his first name though.
Uncle Jett and Lorcan arrived, and everyone’s attention solely focused on Skip and my cousin. I barely talked throughout the dinner. I lost my appetite, but I managed to eat a tiny portion of the food I scooped into my plate. I couldn’t help myself to not steal glances at Skip. All these years, he worked for his dad’s company in London that was why I never saw him again after that night.
He was more beautiful, especially when he smiled. His well-defined jawline dusted with dark brown stubble. I had every detail committed to my memory of how handsome he was back then, but there was nothing I could compare to the way he looked right now in front of me. He’s perfect.
My skin pricked with the painful memory of my fingertips touching his skin seven years ago. He was my first, and I could still remember how it felt like when I was pressed against him, and how he worshiped every inch of my body.
You’re so beautiful, Reigh. So beautiful that it’s hard to let you go after this.
And Jesus, those arresting blue-brown and blue-gray eyes—the first thing I noticed from him. They just amazed me.
I forced myself to tune back to the conversation, and just the smile of Skip threatened to totally overwhelm my senses.
“How about tomorrow night, Skip?” Brett suggested. About what?
Skip shook his head and pressed his lips together, causing his dimples to pop-out. “You won two days ago, Bretton. So this time, I pass. How about you and Lorcan?”
“Nah. Thanks, dude. I pass. How about you and Arella?” Lorcan said.
My eyes widened when my name was mentioned. “A pool? No, thank you. I’d rather sit on my couch and watch Marvels.”
“Seriously, sis? Stop moping at the tiny space of your apartment. Get a life, and you’re still young to waste your life over your asshole ex.” A sudden pang hit my chest, but Brett was right, that was why I’d been trying hard to get my life back.
Mom gripped his hand while Uncle Jett shrugged as if telling us Brett was right, then he continued with his dinner.
“Brett,” Dad warned as if to remind him we had a guest.
“Give her a break, Davin,” Uncle Jett said to Dad.
Suddenly, the dining room turned dead silent and small. Everyone’s eyes pinned on me as I lifted my gaze to survey them. Skip’s hard and painful eyes were also on me. His jaw muscles clenched hard, making his jawline more evident.
I composed myself and cleared my throat. “I’ve been out on a few dates. So chill out, mates,” I broke sarcastically.
“Really? Well, that’s good to hear, sis.” Brett was literally grinning. He loved me so much, and what happened to my past affected everyone in my family, especially my brother.
He never liked Dom in the first place, but I was blindly in love, and nobody could stop me from marrying him when he proposed. And I thought he was the one—it turned out he was a jerk. My life crumbled down like post-apocalyptic earth, barely standing.
We were back in the living room. Mom chose not to join us. I sandwiched between Brett and Uncle Jett. Dad was on the loveseat. Skip and Lorcan chose the two recliners.
“But make sure, he respects you, Are. If he doesn’t want to have broken bones,” Brett whispered. Aren’t we done yet?
He was on a business trip at that time, and I couldn’t face my parents in my state, so I flew away. Lorcan went ballistic when I escaped to LA with swollen lips and black-eyed.
“Aren’t we done talking about my personal life here? It’s nothing serious, Brett. It’s just a date.”
“I don’t agree with nothing serious, Are. You have a life ahead of you, but at least find a decent guy,” Dad countered.
“Sorry, Dad, but I agree to disagree. Let Are enjoy her life. She’d been in hell, and I’m glad I have my sister back.” He was dead serious, then he faced me. “And she’s going to beat me over a pool,” Brett enthusiastically announced.
“What? Hell, no, Brett!”
“Why not, Arella? I heard you’re good as well,” Skip rejoined, eyebrow half-arched.
“How the hell am I gonna win over a shark when I haven’t played in years?” Brett and I used to play pool back when I was in high school, while I stopped when he moved out to college.
“Let me teach you,” Skip suggested.
“No, you won’t. Besides, I don’t play anymore.”
“Okay. This is just a game, Are. You and Skip are partners, then me and Lorcan. How about next week?” Brett’s eyes were warning me.
“Fine, but can we be partners instead?”
“No way. Baby shark and an old shark can’t be together as a team. You and Skip have a week to practice.” Lorcan laughed, clearly happy and already expecting to win.
I rolled my eyes. God! “Whatever.”
* * *
“SO, WHEN can we gonna start to practice, Arella?”
I stopped walking toward my car when the deep voice spoke at my back. I turned to face him and I was beyond disappointed to see his unique-colored eyes expressed the same. “We don’t have to. Brett said you almost win.”
“Because he let me and wanted to know why I challenged him.” His hands were on his slim-fit jeans pockets, showing the best of his strong and powerful thighs. His closeness almost ignited me. His spicy, minty, and musky smell refreshing the summer air.
“And what is your reason exactly?”
He chuckled confidently. “You don’t wanna know, love.”