I stormed up the stairs, mentally cursing my brother. I glanced behind me at an unexpected noise and fought to hold in a sigh. I really didn’t need this right now. But the dog was sitting at the foot of the stairs, ears perked and tail thumping. Refusing to smile, I caved. Retracing my steps, I walked back down the steps and lightly patted him on the head.
“There! Happy now?” He looked up expectantly. “What?” It was obvious Zver wanted something, I just didn’t know what. Shrugging, I turned away and headed back up the stairs, throwing over my shoulder, “Sorry, pooch! Dunno what you want!”
The weight of the next day’s activities started pushing on my shoulders and I approached my bedroom on autopilot. Naturally I didn’t see the pile of bags just outside my door. I managed to avoid a complete wipe-out and stopped, puzzled by their presence outside my room. I’d left them in the front hall. There was no way Mom had brought them up. I was actually surprised she hadn’t yelled at me to take care of them before now. Connor would have hidden them to teach me a ‘lesson’. I snorted. It wasn’t like he ever put his crap up without being nagged within an inch of his life himself. Shrugging, I grabbed them and pushed into my room, kicking my door to close it behind me. The door didn’t close though. It bounced off something scratchy sounding and I turned to see what had blocked it.
“Zver, you’re not coming in this room.” My voice was firm as I addressed the dog that’d already pushed half his body through the doorway. This was my only sanctuary, not even Connor violated it. Well, he’d tried it once but my retaliation had been epic which included shaving cream, permanent markers and a blackmail video and he’d agreed to never enter my room again without permission.
I watched as Zver stopped his forward progress into my room. He stood there with his tail banging on the bedroom door and his tongue lolled out in doggy happiness. He took another step into my room.
“No.” I held up a hand.
The dog stopped, tail no longer wagging. Uh oh. Here we go. Jeez
I kept my voice firm despite the guilt climbing over me. “The guilt trip won’t work this time! No way. You are not coming into my room!” I said, stomping my foot. He lowered his head and heaved a sigh, ears drooping. Wow, I sure called that one. Cue me feeling like a selfish bitch.
“Fine! C’mon in.” I waved my hand dramatically and Zver perked up moving into the room with a happy pep to his gait. “Don’t mess anything up, pooch!”
As if understanding what I said, Zver turned around on my fluffy area rug and lay down. His head settled on his outstretched paws and eyes closed with a deep sigh. I huffed and threw my hands in the air, trying to not laugh. Unbelievable! I guess I should be grateful that the damn dog didn’t take over my bed. Truth be told, I’m kind of surprised he didn’t at least try to. Shaking my head, I walked around Zver and stood at my dresser avoiding my reflection. I scratched my nose, debating my options and could feel the panic begin to build back up.
Pacing back and forth in my room, wringing my hands in agitation didn’t help the situation but I couldn’t help myself. Connor expected me to go to the lake with him and Teagan. This was not my idea of fun. I picked up the phone and dialed the best friend anyone could ever have, Penny.
Penny was in my grade and we had been friends since sixth grade when her family moved here to take care of her grandmother.
Our differing personalities were touted as the main reason everyone was so surprised we were friends. I was pretty mellow generally, smart, honest and loyal. Oh and sassy according to Penny. Penny was sarcastic, hyper, brilliant, determined and loyal almost to a fault. She was constantly in trouble but could smooth talk her way out of anything. I found it flattering that my family and I were the only people she never lied to. In many ways we were a lot alike and therefore we had our share of clashes but best friends get through everything.
I dialed her number and grinned when she picked up on the second ring.
“Whassup, chica?” she chirped.
I paced the room, shaking my head. “It’s bad Pen. Bad!” I cringed at my own drama. “OK, not world ending bad, but bad enough.”
Penny sighed before asking, “So…what’s so horrible that it’s not horrible?”
“Connor is home.”
I could have heard the squeal without the phone it was that loud. To say that Penny had a crush on my brother would be an understatement. I frowned at something coming over from in the background; was that the sound of her jumping in her bed?
Suddenly, out of breath, Penny shrieked at me. “You mean to tell me he was coming home and you said nothing to me?” Guess that answered the jumping question. “I should come and wax your eyebrows off!”
I cringed. “Slow down! I didn’t know he was coming. He showed up here today while we were in school…he brought his roommate with him. For Spring Break.”
“Aislinn, what’s up with the roommate?” I don’t know how she did it but she always knew exactly which part of something was bothering me.
“You know I’ll tell you, but first, I need a favor?” I begged.
Her tone was incredulous, as if I could ever doubt her. “Of course! Anything!” This was just yet another reason why I loved her so much. How many times had she come to my rescue with no questions asked?
I took a deep breath. “His roommate is Teagan. He’s tall, gorgeous and …oh my God, Pen!” I knew I wasn’t making any sense, but she was my heart sister, she could translate my silences.
“Oh-kay.” she drug out. “And…?” She could translate, but she always made me use my words.
“Long story short, Connor wants me to go to the lake with them and meet up with some of his friends.” Some of my panic leaked through at the end and I know I was sounding a little shriek-y.
“I’m not seeing the problem here, Ash.” I could see her in my mind, head tilted, eyes narrowed in confusion. “Your brother invited you out. Big deal?”
I stomped my foot. “Dammit, Penny! Don’t be dense! If I go to the lake they’ll want to go swimming and in order to go swimming I –“
“- have to wear a swimsuit.” she interrupted. Penny let out a deep sigh. “Look, I have never understood this hang up you have going on. You’re beautiful, Ash!”
I snorted, the eye rolling was implied. “Whatever. We both know that’s not true.”
I heard her swear under her breath before speaking up, “What’s the favor, baby?”
“Will you come with me tomorrow? I don’t think I can do this alone.” I pleaded.
“On one condition.” she countered.
I groaned nervously. “What?”
“Whatever suit I bring tomorrow, you have to wear.”
My voice stuck in my throat. “Uh…What?”
“You heard me.” I hated that smug tone she used when she knew she’d won one of our battles. I heard it frequently.
“Fine, be here by 8:30, OK? Love you!” and I hung up. I knew I had to tell Connor that Penny was coming with us. I smirked, knowing what his reaction was going to be. Oh Revenge, how sweet you are! I literally skipped down to Connor’s room and knocked lightly on the door before opening it. I paused when I saw Con lounging on his bed, back propped up on his headboard. Teagan was sitting in the desk chair straddling it backwards so that his arms were resting on the back of it. I wasn’t expecting him to be there.
Where else would he be, you dork? I thought to myself. My inner voice usually sounded like Penny when she was in a very sarcastic mood.
“Nice of you to wait until I said you could come in, Ash.” I detected some serious sarcasm in Con’s statement. I shrugged.
“No problem!” I beamed back at him. “I just wanted to let you know we’ll have one more person with us tomorrow.”
“She’ll be here around 7:00 since I told her 8:30.” I continued on, paying him no mind.
“I said no.”
I stood in the doorway pondering the coming morning. “You know, she’s always hungry at that hour. Maybe we should stop on the way and grab something?”
“It doesn’t matter, I said no.”
“Oh! She wanted me to tell you hi and that she can’t wait to see you again.” I gave an evil grin at the wild eyed look on Connor’s face.
Teagan looked torn between being utterly confused and extremely amused by the exchange. I gave him a grin and my breath stopped at the smile he gave me in return. I put my attention back on Connor and what he was saying.
“So, is this some sort of revenge tactic or something? You’re not getting out of going to the lake.” He narrowed his eyes. “She’s not coming with us Aislinn. End of story.” There was a firmness to his tone that impressed me; too bad for him I wasn’t backing down.
“Either Penny comes or I don’t. Which is it?” I fired back.
“Aislinn Margaret Munroe! You are not going to blackmail me!”
“Connor Dylan Munroe, I’m only telling you my conditions for going.” I couldn’t stop the grin when I saw that Teagan was watching us like a tennis match, utterly fascinated. I looked at Connor and sighed. I might have hit him with puppy eyes, I used them sparingly which kept him from becoming immune.
“Please let her come? I can’t do this without her.” I watched his face soften. “I’ll keep her on a leash, OK? She’s my best friend.”
Connor ran a hand through his hair, agitated. He sighed. “Dammit, Ash!” He locked eyes with me for a long moment, debating. “OK. Fine, she can come.” I was about to smile in victory when something dawned on me.
Penny was gorgeous. And when I say gorgeous I mean she turned heads wherever we’d go. This is normally not a problem, but I didn’t want her turning Teagan’s head. Penny was about 5’6” and model thin. She had beautiful red hair, fair skin and deep blue eyes. She also had the self-confidence to work her looks but she wasn’t a bitch like Tracey. Penny was real and she was wonderful.
On the plus side of it all, she was also madly in love with my asshole brother. I had yet to figure out why. I asked her why once, curious, and she‘d muttered something about me not seeing him the way that she did. Whatever the hell that meant. The side I usually saw was an utter douchebag, but to each their own.
None of this changed the fact that Penny was going to be around Teagan tomorrow. In a swimsuit. It was bad enough that I was self-conscious as hell, but now I had to compete against the unwinnable. I loved her, she would never hurt me, but facts were facts. Oh well, it was too late to change my mind now.
“Aislinn, would you please not do that?” I jerked back into the present when I heard Connor. He hated when I zoned out. He said that one day I was going to go there and not come back. Shaking my head I gave him a sheepish look.
Teagan cleared his throat, breaking the silence. It was then that I noticed he was in shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt and … Oh My God; he had muscles that I wanted to run my hands over! Not only that, but I could see a tattoo that was wrapped around his bicep and up over his shoulder and I wanted to see more.
“Ash? You OK?” Connor was looking at me oddly.
I nodded my head, not able to speak. Some part of my brain that had remained aware of our situation finally kicked into gear. Oh geez, I had been staring again. It was time for me to go. Now. Before I made a bigger ass out of myself.
“OK. Well… I’m gonna go to bed.” I jerked my thumb in the direction of the hallway. “So…night you two!”
Connor just waved me off but Teagan waved and smiled. “Night, Aislinn. See you in the morning.”
I nodded and made my way into the hallway. Where I promptly tripped over a large object and almost face planted onto the floor. The something was large and furry and had been stationed in the middle of the hallway.
I had tripped over Zver.
“Shit! Dammit, Zver!” I had landed hard, catching myself with my hands and I was worried I’d sprained something. My wrist was killing me.
Upon hearing the commotion, which consisted of my falling, my swearing and Zver’s frantic movements as he turned and tried to get out of the way, Teagan and Connor came running out. Connor’s first instinct was to laugh at the sight but Teagan’s was to get the situation under control.
“Zver!” his voice boomed causing me to jump. “Sidet! Myesto!” Zver immediately stopped scrambling around, sat back on his haunches and stared at his owner, waiting for his next order. Teagan quickly walked over and patted the dog on his head while moving to me.
I bit my lip, cradling my wrist; it hurt, a lot. I shook my head no. “I think I did something to my wrist.”
Connor stopped laughing at that and came over to check on me. He watched as Teagan took my hand and started checking my wrist, moving it carefully around and prodding it gently. I’ll be honest, it could have been broken and I wouldn’t have known. I could only focus on the fact that this slice of goodness named Teagan was practically holding my hand!
I noticed he was watching my face closely and I blushed. It was hard not to squirm while under his gaze and I averted my eyes from his. I felt him loosen his grip on my hand and then, as he began to drop it, I felt his thumb gently brush over my fingers. My eyes flew to his in astonishment. Had that happened? I was met with a steady gaze and small smile, like he’d just figured out a secret. I wish he’d let me in on it.
“I think she’s OK. It doesn’t look like she’s done anything to her wrist.” Teagan looked over at the dog still sitting in the spot where he’d left him. “No thanks to Goliath over there!”
Zver hung his head, his ears drooping down and let out a small whine. Great, now I felt about as big as a bug you crush without a thought. Twice within four hours this massive hell hound had managed to make me feel like shit.
“Teagan, don’t be upset with Zver.” I swallowed hard when both of them swung their attention to me. Connor’s mouth dropped open this time and Teagan looked confused.
“I think he was following me. I left him sleeping on the rug in my room, so maybe he was just looking for me?” Teagan looked puzzled and turned, watching the furry pain in the ass closely.
“He was sleeping in your room?” Teagan turned his attention back on me, brow furrowed as if trying to solve a riddle.
I nodded. “Yeah. He followed me up after we were all talking in the kitchen. Why? Is that a problem?” The damn thing probably had a crate or something and was supposed to sleep there. Or maybe Teagan didn’t like the thought of his dog sleeping with anyone else.
Teagan shook his head. “No, it’s just…” he trailed off. He tilted his head to the side in confusion. “Well, Zver hardly ever leaves my side unless he’s checking out a new area. He doesn’t follow other people around, that’s for sure. He ran a hand through his hair, mumbling something about the dog laying in the family room the last time he saw him.
“I’m confused. What exactly are you trying to tell me, Teagan?” I was cranky, sore and not following what he was saying. I was also starting to feel a little offended.
Connor spoke up. “He’s saying, Ash, that Zver doesn’t like anyone except him.” He laughed slapping a hand on Teagan’s shoulder as he went back to bed. “I wonder what that says about her, dude?” laughing, he shut his bedroom door.
Teagan stared at the closed door for a moment before turning to observe Zver. A myriad of emotions ran across his face and to be honest, the guy’s reaction was starting to freak me out a little. I took a step back towards my bedroom. The movement caught his notice and he smiled at the look on my face. That smile could make me forget my name it was so gorgeous.
“Relax, Aislinn. It’s a good thing Zver likes you. It means he’ll protect you without being told.” His eyes searched mine before he looked away and tugged his ear lobe. He cleared his throat. “He never likes anyone enough to follow them around. So that’s why your brother and I are surprised.” He smiled that Teagan exclusive smile and I swear that I felt my knees go weak. “Dogs know the good ones from the bad.”
At that he started towards the room he was staying in. He paused at the door and looked at Zver who was still sitting where he had been told to stay. “Zver! Komne!” Hearing the command, the dog stood up, shook himself and strolled over to his owner. He paused to snuffle my hand and then continued on through the door held open for him. Once he was in all the way, Teagan looked back over at me and gave me a wink.
“Night, Aislinn. Sweet dreams.” He grinned and closed the door. My cheeks were on fire.
Oh god, please tell me I’m not in the little sister zone!