Home > Beautiful Burn (The Maddox Brothers #4)(5)

Beautiful Burn (The Maddox Brothers #4)(5)
Jamie McGuire

“That’s what I’m counting on,” I said, taking one last drag before pushing the butt through the window. I stepped out, and then ground the cherry of the cigarette with the heel of my boot.

I bent over to pick it up and then tossed it into the nearest trashcan.

“You’re lucky,” a voice behind me said.

I turned around to see Tyler leaning against the brick veneer of an automotive parts store with his arms crossed, a US Forestry truck parked not far away.

“Excuse me?” I asked.

“If you hadn’t picked up that cigarette butt, I might have had to arrest you.”

“Someone should inform you that you’re not a cop.”

“I’m friends with a few.”

“How very cool for you.”

“How’s the house?”

“Bashed the fuck in. Good to see you,” I said, turning on my heels.

I heard his footsteps chasing after me. “I was just … kidding,” he said, finally at my side. He held up a black pack of Marlboros.

“What the hell is that?” I asked.

“A peace offering?”

“You’re offering me cancer?”

He chuckled and stuffed the pack into the side pocket of his standard issue blue coat. “Where are you headed?”

I stopped and turned to him, sighing. “You’re a douchebag.”

He blinked once, and then those beautiful creases in his forehead formed, and a smile spread across his face, revealing most of his perfectly white teeth. “What’s your point?”

“My point is you were supposed to fuck me and leave me alone.”

“Okay?”

He watched me for a while with a disgusted look on his face. His boots were worn but shined, his blue cargo pants pressed but wrinkled from half a day’s wear, his shirt faded. Tyler was a hard worker and took pride in his job. He had probably never missed a day of work, but that was where his ability for commitment ended. Tyler Maddox had no doubt broken as many hearts as I had. He was exactly what I deserved, even though I had no intention of going anywhere near him.

“You’re talking to me. You said you wouldn’t.”

Tyler shoved his hands in his pants pockets and shrugged, smiling at me like he’d never had a one-night stand. That kind of charm couldn’t be learned. “I said I wouldn’t call.”

I crossed my arms and narrowed my eyes, looking up at him. Jesus, he was tall. “I have no interest in you.”

His dimple appeared, making my thighs tighten. “It didn’t seem that way last night.”

“That was last night. I’m sober now.”

He made a face. “Ouch.”

“Run along,” I said.

He squared his shoulders. “Do I seem like the running type to you?”

“Only when it comes to women, which is why I fucked you.”

He frowned. “Are you like … off your meds or something?”

“Yes. Yes, I am. Emotional trauma, past baggage, you name it. Keep talking to me and I might be your next overly attached girlfriend. Does that sound like a good time to you?”

“Okay, Ellie,” he said, holding up his hands. “I get it. I’ll pretend it never happened.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“But it was pretty fucking amazing, and I wouldn’t mind a repeat.”

“Can’t we just be friends-with-benefits without being friends?”

He mulled over my words. “You’re kind of a mean bitch. It’s strangely appealing.”

“Go away.”

“I’m going.”

“Don’t come back.”

“It never happened,” he said, opening the passenger door to his truck. He was the opposite of offended, which offended me. Most people were more sensitive to my abuse than that.

Zeke came out, pausing when he saw me. He waved, and then jogged around the front to the driver side. They traded a short conversation, and then Zeke started up the engine.

“Who’s that?”

I turned to see Sterling standing behind me. He looked like a banking executive, trying his best to emulate his father, the CEO of Aerostraus Corp. He was wearing a dark wool trench coat, a scarf, a three-thousand-dollar watch, and to offset his stuffy look, a blue button-down with no tie—top button undone. He had managed to walk down the snowy sidewalk without getting a single speck of moisture on his Italian boots.

“Kiss me,” I said.

“Ew,” he said, horrified. “No.”

“Kiss me, asshole. Right now. A good one. You owe me.”

Sterling grabbed each side of my face and planted his mouth on mine, slobbering all over me, but making the scene I’d wanted. The truck passed by, and once it sounded far enough away, I pushed Sterling back.

He wiped his mouth, disgusted. “Why did I have to do that?”

“To get rid of a guy.”

“Stalker or mooch?” Sterling asked, smoothing his dark hair to the side.

“Neither. Just making sure.”

“Are we still doing brunch?” he asked. He wiped his mouth again, looking mildly disgusted.

“Yes,” I said, pulling him toward Winona’s Café.

We chose a table by the window, and Sterling immediately checked the menu. He ran his fingers over each line, paying attention to every ingredient. He wasn’t allergic; he was a snob.

I rolled my eyes. “Why? We eat here all the time.”

“I haven’t been here in three months. They might have something new on the menu.”

“You know they never do.”

“Shut up. I’m reading.”

I smiled, checking my phone while he searched the decade-old menu. Sterling’s family had a home down the road from ours, one of many around the country, left empty most of the year. I knew Sterling was my people when I saw him getting drunk, fourteen and alone, next to a tree beside our property line. He was just another trust fund baby—lamenting how hard life was with millions at his disposal but without an attentive family to anchor him to the real world.

Sterling had invested his entire worth in his father’s opinion of his success on any given day, and that made my friend somewhat moody. Sterling’s father, Jameson Wellington, changed his mind about his son’s significance regularly, depending on the stocks, the attitude of the board of directors, and if his wife was pissing him off that day.

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