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Naughty & Nice
Author: D.J. Jamison


Prologue

 

 

Four Years Ago

 

 

QUINN

 

 

The Christmas tree glowed with reds and blues and greens, light filtering down through its branches. I inhaled the scent of pine with every breath as I lay beneath the boughs, presents pushed to either side of me. This was my own little holiday tradition. It had started when I was a kid. I’d come out to shake my presents, as any reasonable ten-year-old would do, and when my dad caught me, he didn’t scold me for snooping. Instead, he pushed aside the presents and invited me to tree-gaze with him. I thought he was ridiculous. But as we lay there, under the tree, he’d talked to me, really talked to me, about the importance of family, how much we all meant to him, about life’s wonders, and how they weren’t money or fame or even cool Christmas presents, but the generosity and love behind those gifts.

A lot of it had gone in one ear and out the other. I was ten years old.

But later, after he’d died… Well, I remembered. I returned to the tree every year, lying beneath it, and thought about my dad, about his love for his family, and remembered that even though he was gone, his spirit would always be with me.

A kick to my foot interrupted my thoughts. “Hey.”

Jonas. What did he want now? My step-bro constantly gave me grief. He wanted the best bedroom, used my stuff without asking, and filled every room he was in with a larger than life presence that couldn’t be ignored.

He was hot. And my brother now.

And wasn’t that a disturbing truth? My father was gone, so how the fuck was it fair that I was saddled with a brother now? We weren’t family. We were roommates.

“Fuck off,” I muttered.

Jonas didn’t hear me. Or at least, he didn’t act as if he did.

He pushed some presents aside and lowered himself, sliding his head beneath the tree next to mine. “You’re a little big to disguise yourself as a Christmas present.”

“You’re an idiot.”

He bumped my shoulder with his. Already, his scent was invading my space, adding a hint of spice to the heavy pine aroma. “Come on. What’s this all about?”

I hesitated, but the words spilled over my lips. “My dad called it tree-gazing.”

Jonas looked at me, his blue eyes fixed on my face. His warm breath hit my cheek. “Huh. Okay. So, like stargazing but with…pine needles.”

He sounded skeptical, but also as if he were trying to understand, and I burst out laughing. “It’s nuts. I was a kid, and he was just…”

“Being a dad,” Jonas filled in.

“Yeah.” I swallowed. “I miss him.”

I hadn’t meant to say it—though Jonas no doubt already knew—or to allow my voice to betray my heart’s ache, but it was too late to take it back. I turned my eyes back up to the tree boughs because I couldn’t handle looking at Jonas when I felt so raw.

“Tell me about him.”

Where to start?

“He was great, read me bedtime stories, taught me to ride a bike, all the usual Dad stuff. He was always there,” I said. “Until he wasn’t. It’s not his fault, but sometimes the world just doesn’t even feel real without him, you know?” I looked back at Jonas. “Sometimes I think I’m the one who stopped living.”

“Jesus, Quinn.”

I bit my bottom lip. “Sorry.”

He shook his head. “Don’t be sorry. Just live.”

“How do I do that?”

“One moment at a time.”

I nodded once, licking my lips. “I guess I’ll try.” I added teasingly, “Since you asked so nicely.”

“Good,” he murmured, raising a hand to my cheek. “Because my world wouldn’t be the same without you in it.”

My breath caught. “What does that mean?”

“Nothing,” he said, with a wistful smile. “Just…wouldn’t know what to do without a thorn like you in my side.”

Disappointment sank into me, though I wasn’t sure why. “Oh.”

“Just cheer the fuck up, Quinn. Kiss a cute boy, go to prom, graduate high school, and make a life for yourself. Be a great dad to a kid, like yours was to you. That’s the best way to honor him.”

I heard everything he said, recognized the truth in it. I hadn’t been myself since I lost my dad, even though it’d been over two years. I hadn’t been ready for my mom to move on, to marry again, and that had lent a sharp edge to my slowly dulling grief.

But my head buzzed as I realized that Jonas knew I wasn’t straight.

He started to shift away. “I should leave you alone.”

“Wait.” I grasped his wrist. “Kiss a cute boy?”

His eyes met mine. “That’s what I plan to do.”

My breath caught. “It is?”

Jonas hesitated, then muttered under his breath. I didn’t catch much more than the word “fuck” before his lips were against mine.

I melted at the touch of his lips. So soft, so warm. My heart leapt around, going haywire as I experienced my first kiss. It didn’t make sense that I was reacting this way because I really hated Jonas.

I hated that he’d invaded my space with his sarcastic jokes and easy smiles, hated that his presence meant my father would never come back to me.

I hated that he was so attractive I couldn’t ignore him. And I hated that he called himself my brother.

But I loved his lips against mine, and all that hate crumbled like a house of cards. Burned away by a single, sweet kiss, my hate morphed into want. I clung to his shoulders, kissing him back until he ended it.

Then I pushed him away, rattled by my own response. “What the fuck?”

“Merry Christmas?” he said in an irreverent tone.

I flashed hot and cold. I wanted to kiss him again. I wanted to punch him in the face. I wanted to cry and rage that the world had put this smug, irritating, cute guy in my path when I wasn’t ready for him.

Couldn’t have him, even if I were.

Because we were stepbrothers.

Our eyes locked, our breathing heavy, and I felt every one of my conflicting emotions cross my face.

“I’m sorry,” he said thickly. “I shouldn’t have done that.”

I stared at him, wordless.

He edged out from under the tree. “Christmas, you know. It got to me. That’s all.” He gave me a pained smile. “We’re brothers, so…yeah. Gonna go.”

I watched, stunned, as he hurried away. Gazing up into the tree branches, I replayed the kiss over and over. My perfect first kiss, by a guy I’d thought I hated.

It didn’t really matter what I felt. Nothing could ever come of it. We were family, whether I liked it or not.

But I’d keep this kiss close to my heart, and remember the few seconds I’d had him in my grasp, my beautiful, sweet, annoying-as-fuck stepbrother who’d reminded me that life was full of moments worth living.

 

 

1

 

 

JONAS

 

 

Ollie Anderson was in my room at the frat when I got back from my Poly-Sci final. My hackles rose. I’d only just taken a room in the frat house this year, and I was already regretting it. There was little privacy, constant interruptions, and now a lack of security. I might regret hooking up with Ollie too, but he’d been a lot of fun.

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