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As the house comes into view, my stomach knots even harder. This place doesn’t conjure happy memories at all. My stepmother isn’t the most welcoming woman in the world, and my dad never had my back in the way I wanted him to.

With a carriage driveway and pillars framing the large double doorway, this house is a million miles away from the home I share with Momma. I know most girls my age would love to live in a mini-mansion with a swimming pool, but it’s not the facilities that make a place welcoming. It’s the people.

“Here we are,” Jameson says with a slight singsong note to his voice. His brothers are less enthusiastic, opening doors and jumping from the truck without a word. I guess that their out-of-the-way trip to the airport after practice wasn’t the way they wanted to spend their afternoon. They lumber away as I slowly open the door and step onto the gravel, each step taking me closer to a place I don’t want to be.

Jameson is by the trunk with my suitcases in hand. He makes them look as light as feathers, but I know the reality.

He smiles, but I don’t trust his attempts at being pleasant. I remember the summer day he used his big hands to push my head under the water of the pool until I was squirming and desperate for breath. He laughed when he finally let me rise, spluttering, and gasping to the surface. I’ve seen how cruel he can be.

“You look like a death-row inmate being led to the electric chair.”

I scowl. “Just give me my bags. I can manage from here.”

“Fine,” he says, dropping them at my feet. They tumble over and roll down the slight incline, and I’m left scrambling for their handles.

I hear the beep and click of the truck being locked and the crunch of Jameson’s feet leaving me behind. Good. I don’t need him. This is my dad’s house. I’ve got as much right to be here as he has, if not more.

The cases don’t wheel easily over the stones, and I’m huffing and puffing by the time I get to the front door. Jameson hasn’t left it open for me, so I’m faced with the indignity of having to ring the doorbell.

I swear under my breath, smoothing my hair, so I look a little more presentable for when Janice comes to the door. At least, I’m expecting it to be Janice, but it’s actually Joshua.

“Oh, it’s you,” he says. “Don’t you have a key?”

The question is designed to make me look stupid. I mean, what kind of daughter doesn’t have a key to her father’s house? I guess the kind who’s been pushed out of his life by five stepbrothers and a stepmom with a plan.

I don’t bother answering him, just get my foot in the doorway and lug my suitcases over the threshold. I know where my room used to be, so I start up the stairs toward where I’ll have some privacy, except, when I get there, Jameson is reclining on the bed, and the room is filled with man stuff.

“Oh, did you think you were staying here?” he says, putting his hands behind his head and lying back on the mountain of cushions his Mom probably bought him with my Dad’s money. “We changed things around,” he laughs. “About five years ago. You’re out in the pool house now.”

The pool house. That place was a dump. My cheeks flame with embarrassment and utter fury. I’ve been pushed out of the house into the dumping ground, and my dad’s allowed it. That man has no spine and no loyalty.

I turn on my heel and hurry down the corridor. I allow my suitcases to bump loudly down the stairs, no longer caring about making a good impression. Janice always thought I was a brat, so let her keep that opinion. As I’m halfway down, Joshua and Jessie are waiting at the bottom, their arms folded across their chests and huge grins on their faces. God, they’re huge. Huge and smug looking. Overwhelmingly tale and way too good-looking. I hate that my mind goes there even for a second.

“Did you find your room?” Joshua asks.

“Yeah,” I bark. “There was a big oaf in there that looks a lot like you two.”

Jessie chuckles. “She still has her smart mouth.”

“Just bigger tits,” Joshua says.

I freeze on the step, glaring down at them with shock. Did he just make a comment about my boobs? This is territory that was never ventured into before. Yes, there was lots of taunting and practical jokes, but not comments about my body. This feels like a big step over the line.

There’s a creak on the steps behind me and, when I turn my head, I find Jameson coming down. I’m stuck between these three huge assholes.

“You forgotten how to get to the pool house?” Jameson asks.

I shake my head and start dragging the cases again, not caring that I’m going to hit Joshua and Jessie if they don’t move. At the last minute, they step aside and let me pass.

I barrel down the hallway to the back of the house, knowing I need to head through the kitchen to get out into the backyard. Just as I’m rounding the corner, I turn and find the triplets watching me with matching cruel grins. My heart is pounding so hard from the exertion, humiliation, and anger. I’m just praying that I’m not going to come across any other members of this household, or there is a chance that I won’t be able to hold my shit together.

The kitchen is empty, which doesn’t surprise me. Although my stepmom is a good cook, she does like to order in. This gorgeously specked The backdoor is open, and the yard looks empty. Phew.

I’m on the home straight, hand on the handle, when I hear distant laughter. I look around but can’t see anyone nearby, then I glance up and see all five of my stepbrothers leaning out of the windows upstairs.

Five Fraser douche-bags.

They don’t say anything, but their message is clear. I’m an outsider here, and that’s just how they want it.


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