A big fat old waste of time.
Mike was smart as hell, his IQ off the charts. But as with certain kinds of genius, it was almost too much. Like his brain couldn’t handle all the extras it’d been dealt. He pretended to be normal, and for long periods pulled it off, but then those odd little self-destructive tendencies would pop out, making it impossible to keep a job, a woman, friends.
But Kevin knew the bittersweet truth: he himself had made it too easy for his brother. He’d cleaned up too many messes, made too many excuses, and now Mike was what he was. A spoiled kid in a man’s body.
The babe, Mike signed. She was a pistol.
A spoiled kid in a man’s body, with a man’s appetite. No, she was a tornado, Kevin signed back. Blew in and blew out.
Mike grinned. I like the blow part.
Get your mind out of the gutter, you perv.
Mike waggled an eyebrow. You had a good time.
Yeah, but she’s not my type.
Mike laughed, a low, dull-toned sound that could have been mistaken for a cough. Could have fooled me.
But Mia wasn’t Kevin’s usual type. He liked soft women who laughed easily and loved hard. He liked women with causes to champion, who gave their heart one-hundred-percent, every single time.
Mia Appleby didn’t fit the profile. Sharp, edgy, tough as nails, cool as cream—definitely. But soft and fast to laugh? Probably not. And he doubted she’d ever let her heart go with ease, and yet in bed…yeah, she’d done it for him there. But then she’d woken up, panicked that she’d stayed all night, and taken it out on him.
Bad in bed.
Bullshit. She was running scared.
Mike was still watching him. She’s pretty.
Yeah, like a rose-with-hidden-thorns pretty. Like a sleeping-tiger-with-sharp-claws pretty. You think they’re all pretty.
Mike agreed with a nod. So your big dry spell’s over. You finally got yourself laid again…and then what? Dumped? All within the same twenty-four hours. That’s a record, even for you, huh?
Kevin gave him a very universal sign that involved only his middle finger, then got into the shower. Over the roar of the water he heard Mike’s toneless but unmistakable laugh.
Fine. Let him laugh. It was the truth. Between getting Mike off the streets and trying to keep the local teen center open and available for the kids who needed it, and teaching, moving, buying this damn house, Kevin’s sex life had suffered. Actually, it’d died a slow, painful death.
Mike cracked the shower door. Can I borrow fifty? He smiled hopefully. You could just tack it onto what I already owe you.
You already owe me a bazillion dollars.
Mike gave him sad puppy-dog eyes and Kevin sighed. Here was the problem. He’d established himself as the Go To. When Kevin’s father had died and then his mom remarried, Mike came along pretty quickly. But when Mike’s father turned out to be not just an as**ole but an abusive asshole, Kevin turned into the Go To not only for his mom, but his new kid brother, too.
That he’d not been fast enough, that at age two Mike had lost his hearing due to a blow to the head by said as**ole while a five-year-old Kevin watched, made it much harder to turn Mike down when he needed something. Like now. I’ve got forty bucks in my wallet. Take it.
I’m going to get that job next week, Mike signed. You’ll see.
Kevin wouldn’t be holding his breath. For the past three years, Kevin had taught high school science and coached basketball in Santa Barbara, and Mike had happily fit right into the heavy party college scene there and found trouble nightly. When he’d slept with the much older wife of a cop and then been arrested for a bar brawl with said cop, Kevin knew it was time to leave town. Now they were back where they’d grown up, in Glendale Hills, with the first day of summer school starting in an hour. In the fall, he’d add chemistry and more coaching to the itinerary. He just hoped the familiarity would give Mike a sense of balance, of security. Mostly he hoped Mike would grow up.
Kevin took his time getting ready. The one blessing of summer school: a later start than during the regular school year. He didn’t have to be in the classroom until nine forty-five.
By the time he was dressed and walked through the house, Mike was gone. More, he suspected, from the need to put distance between them so that Kevin couldn’t press for details on what was wrong, rather than Mike wanting to give Kevin any privacy.
Mike had no sense of privacy. For him, everything was out there, on his sleeve, to be accepted or not, no big deal either way.
People loved that about Mike, people being women. Yeah, unbelievably, given the difficulties in communicating, Mike, the jobless, directionless, happy-go-lucky bum, was a chick magnet.
Apparently some things translated well.
It was the big joke in the house that Kevin, the brother with the job and all the responsibilities, the guy with the drive to succeed, with the need to teach and make people realize their potential, had never had half the social life of his brother.
Until last night.
Kevin shook his head at himself as he ate breakfast. He was still shaking his head as he started the one vice he allowed himself: his motorcycle. As always, riding calmed him, whether it was the balmy LA weather, the wind in his face, the speed, the sheer power of the machine beneath him…
On the freeway, his thoughts shifted to last night, an event he felt sure would headline his fantasies for months to come.
Bad in bed…Ha!
No way had those low, whimpery pants of hers been for show. She couldn’t have faked her eyes going opaque, glazing over as he’d sent her skittering off the edge with his fingers, then his tongue.
Damn, he should have stuck to his usual evening plans. A pizza, a beer, no harm, no foul. Instead, Mia Appleby had stayed him with one glance. Maybe she wasn’t classically beautiful, but she had a way of walking, of holding herself, of looking at a man that made her extremely worth a second look. And a third. There was just something about her—maybe her confidence, her no-nonsense ways, maybe her sharp mind, or maybe just the stubborn set of her chin…
She was a woman who knew what she wanted and went for it. She’d gone for him, and it had been quite a ride.
Until she got spooked.
She could insult him all she wanted. She could walk away—even run—but he knew better.
Last night had been more than she’d bargained for. Far more.
The roads were surprisingly clear of traffic, and he enjoyed the view of the low-riding hills on either side, still green from a late spring. The air was cool enough now but held a hint of the muggy heat yet to come once the sun got on its way. He pulled into the high school with half an hour to spare, thinking he could use the time to further prepare his new classroom.
Parking turned out to be limited due to the construction of a desperately needed new gym and cafeteria. The parking spot he’d been told to use had a Dumpster sitting on it. He eyed the next spot over, which had a sign that read RESERVED FOR PRINCIPAL.
Joe Fraser and Kevin went way back, but they hadn’t exactly been friends.
In high school, Joe had been a football star and all things popular while Kevin had been backpedaling as fast as he could, surviving a broken home, dealing with Mike, etc. In fact, due to Joe’s bullying and obnoxious ways, they’d hated each other.
Not much had changed there; that had been obvious during the hiring process. But Kevin got the job, with or without Joe’s approval, so it was with great pleasure that he pulled into the “reserved” spot and turned off his bike.
Payback was a bitch.
The school was mostly empty. Heaven forbid anyone got here early. The halls were hot, too hot, and smelled vaguely like feet. Kevin wondered if the janitor was still Vince Wells and if he’d gotten drunk in his office again, turning on the heater instead of the AC.
Perfect. The students would all be napping at their desks by ten thirty.
Kevin passed by the front office, where Mrs. Stacy was already filing. She’d been there since the dawn of time. Not exactly the warm, fuzzy, grandma type, she stood tall and was painfully thin, with a perpetual frown on her grim face, her glasses hanging off her nose. “Yesterday when you came to set up your classroom, you left your lights on,” she snapped. “Lights are expensive, Mr. McKnight. I turned them off for you.”
Kevin shook his head. “I didn’t—”
“Talk to the hand,” she said and lifted it palm outward, an inch from his nose.
Since somewhere in the previous century she’d undoubtedly mastered the art of arguing, he only sighed and kept walking. On the walls in the hallway were posters advertising upcoming games, events, clubs. Kids were still scarce, because after all this was summer school, land of the I-don’t-want-to-be-here, and they had twenty minutes until the bell.
But it turned out his classroom door was unlocked. Knowing damn well he’d locked it on his way out yesterday afternoon and that the anal Mrs. Stacy would have locked it as well, he stepped inside and staggered at the overpowering cloud of marijuana smoke. When he blinked, coughed, and waved the smoke clear, he realized the window was open, the screen still flapping.
He raced across the classroom, past the science burners lining the back, one of which was lit, and headed directly for the window.
“See?” Mrs. Stacy stood quivering righteously in his doorway, her blue hair waggling like a Dr. Seuss character. “How many times do I have to say this to you young teachers? You can’t be the kids’ friend. They’ll walk all over you.”
He didn’t plan on being their friend, but he did want to make a difference. It was why he taught, he had this need to fix people.
Well aware that a shrink would have a field day with that, given that he’d never actually succeeded at fixing anyone, he stopped listening to Mrs. Stacy and stuck his head out the window.
“You have to be smarter than them,” she said.
But, damn, he was too late, his early-bird stoners had escaped, apparently the promise of an empty classroom too alluring to resist. Pretty ballsy to smoke right in the classroom, though. Maybe the first lesson would be going over exactly how many brain cells were lost to weed, and the long term effects.
“Mr. McKnight,” she said, tapping her geriatric loafers. “I’m talking to you.”
“No, you’re lecturing.”
“Well.” She said this with a sniff. “I never.”
Which was probably her problem. “Did you see who came into the school this morning?”
“If I did, I’d have told you.”
Yeah, that was undoubtedly true. Head still out the window, he eyed the ground. In the dirt lay a knit cap in Lakers colors, and he smiled grimly. He’d put it on his desk. Chances were, someone would want it back, and he’d be waiting.
Mia walked through her quiet, peaceful, gorgeous house, with no particular destination in mind. She just loved all the big, wide-open space, the living room with views of the hills from a wall of windows, and her state-of-the-art kitchen, all meticulously and spartanly decorated by the best of the best and kept spotless by her weekly cleaning service.
No bumping elbows in the hall, no cheap paneled walls, no lingering grease smells, no cigarette-stained carpets.
But especially, no white, frothy lace.
As she moved into her sprawling earth-toned bedroom with the fabulous Century bed and dresser that had been her first splurge, she pulled the panties and bra out of her pocket and set them on her comforter. She slipped out of her skirt and top, fighting the flashback of Kevin doing the same but in a much more sensual, arousing manner.
How dare he throw her orgasms back in her face.
But man, oh man, the incredulous look on his face when she’d said she’d faked them, as if the thought was so beyond comprehension…
She laughed, even as she had to admit, with his skills in bed, it probably was beyond his comprehension.
She glanced at herself in the mirror over her dresser. Unlike her mother and Sugar, she was not blonde and luscious but brunette and average: average height, average weight, average shape, average coloring—and she’d always told herself she had no problem with that at all. When she got a new account at work or went out with a man, she knew it was because of her brains and wit, not her looks.
Still, she did have a nice rosy glow to her skin this morning. People underestimated how good sex was for their bodies. She also had stubble burn on a breast, a hip, an inner thigh…Warrior wounds, she thought and smiled in spite of herself.
Yeah, for last night at least, Kevin McKnight had found her beautiful. There was no doubt of that.
The knowledge was better than a spa day. She showered and then dressed to kill in a Michael Kors silk camisole, jacket, and peasant skirt. It was her own personal armor, a way to put a barrier between herself and any more altercations that might come her way that day, and when she’d slipped into her strappy wedge sandals, she looked cool and efficient. Untouchable.
You were touched plenty last night. And this morning.
That nearly put the first chink in the armor, but she successfully shoved it back. Her new neighbor, his sexy body, and his ability to fling words as fast and effectively as she could weren’t worth another thought.
She left the house and got into the Audi she’d bought herself on her last birthday, the big three-oh. She was a tough cookie, but not quite tough enough to avoid taking a peek down the street, where just two days ago she’d caught her first glimpse of the most incredibly sexy motorcycle she’d ever seen.
Not to mention the man straddling it. Yeah, he’d lifted off his helmet and laid his eyes right on hers, eyes that held trouble and a spark of ready mischief, and when he’d gotten off the bike and stood to his full height, Mia had thought yum: tall, dark, and full of attitude—just how she liked ’em.