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If Love Had A Price: Chapter 32


“I’m going to tear his head off,” Nate decided. “That’s the right thing to do.”

Kris rolled her eyes, a mixture of amusement and exasperation stamped on her face. “I don’t think your sister would appreciate you murdering her boyfriend on her graduation day.”

“Sisters never appreciate the things their brothers do for them. It’s a law of siblinghood.”

Nate glowered at Teague, who was chatting with Michael like he had every right to be there.

The fucker was four years older than Skylar and annoying as ever with his blond hair and Ralph Lauren polo. Nate had thought the blond was all right after he helped with the Gloria thing all those years ago, but that was before Teague started dating Skylar.

Nate didn’t care that Skylar was twenty-two years old and, as of today, a Stanford grad with a biology degree. She was his baby sister, and it was his job to protect her from privileged little shits.

He was still suspicious of how Skylar and Teague allegedly ran into each other “by accident” at The Grove when she came home for winter break a couple of months ago.

Judging by how quickly they jumped into a full-blown relationship, he was convinced they’d been talking before then.

“Stop. Breathe. Calm down,” Kris ordered. “Your sister’s coming.”

Sure enough, Skylar appeared in the crush of laughing, crying graduates and proud parents, her golden hair streaming behind her and her rolled-up diploma clutched in one hand. She wore the standard black graduation robes and cap, a red stole with the university seal, and a huge grin.

Some of the tension eased from Nate’s shoulders. It was hard to be upset when she looked so happy.

“You made it!” She tackled Nate first, as bubbly as ever.

He laughed, squeezing her so hard he lifted her off the ground. “Wouldn’t miss this for the world.”

He was so damn proud of her. Keeping up with her classes, internships, and soccer at a school like Stanford was tough as hell, and it wasn’t like he—a college dropout—could coach her through it. But Skylar had handled it all with poise, aside from the occasional lapse in judgment—like that time she’d inhaled two pot brownies at a frat party and called Nate at two in the morning, rambling about Aristotle and Taco Bell.

Kris had helped too, guiding Skylar through the pitfalls of college and early adulthood not because Skylar had been her mentee but because the two had developed a true sisterly bond. Sometimes, it was too sisterly—if Nate had a dime for every time they’d ganged up on him, he wouldn’t need to work another day in his life.

Skylar greeted their father next, followed by Kris.

Nate was gratified to see Teague was last in the receiving line, though the gratification morphed into disgruntlement when the little shit kissed Skylar on the lips.

“Come on.” There was laughter in Kris’s voice when she spotted the scowl on his face. “Let’s take some pictures.”

Nate grunted his agreement. His fist could meet Teague’s face later.

They shuffled around until Skylar had posed with everyone in their group in various groupings.

“Family pic last.” Kris held up her phone and gestured for Nate to join Michael and Skylar beneath an oak tree.

Once the photoshoot was over, they huddled around her and scrolled through the pictures, laughing at the ones where Skylar pulled a funny face or Nate made bunny ears above her head.

“Very mature,” Skylar said, playfully punching his arm. “I thought you outgrew that prank in middle school.”

“Old habits die hard,” he quipped, but he fell silent when the last photo came up.

It was a normal photo—just him, his sister, and his father standing together, beaming at the camera.

But it was its ordinariness that made it special. The Reynoldses looked like your average, functional American family—and, miracle of miracles, the appearance matched reality. Michael was strong and healthy, going on five years sober. He thrived as a construction site manager and lived in their old house in North Hollywood, which Nate had bought outright after the check from his first film cleared. He’d offered to upgrade his old man’s digs, but Michael refused, saying he didn’t need a big old house when he lived by himself. He spent his weekends fishing and watching sports with friends or working on home improvement projects. He said it kept him busy, though Nate heard through the grapevine—aka Skylar—that Michael had started dating again. She claimed she’d seen their father on an online dating site over the holidays, and that she’d overhead his whispered conversations with a woman named Diana.

Clearly, Michael wasn’t comfortable telling his children he was dating again, and Nate wasn’t going to push him. He and Skylar were on the same page when it came to their father’s love life—no details needed, thank you, but Michael deserved to find happiness again. No one could ever replace their mom, but Joanna Reynolds had died almost a decade ago, and she would’ve wanted them to move on.

Skylar, meanwhile, was enjoying life as much as a twenty-two-year could. She’d graduated magna cum laude, and she was leaving for Thailand in a few weeks for a gap year in Southeast Asia before putting her biology degree to good use as an environmental scientist. Teague was joining her for the first half of her trip, which ground Nate’s gears, but he’d long given up on trying to tell Skylar what to do. For all her smiles and bubbliness, she could be stubborn as a mule.

Kris said the stubbornness proved Skylar and Nate were related, given they looked so different. Nate, in retaliation, had pinned Kris beneath him and had his way with her, keeping her on edge for an hour until she’d apologized and begged for release.

That had been a fun night…

“Excuse me.” The shy voice tore Nate from his stroll down X-rated memory lane.

The speaker, a brunette clad in the same graduation paraphernalia as Skylar, stared at him with starry eyes and pink cheeks… “I’m sorry to interrupt, but are you Nate Reynolds?”

Nate shifted gears and flashed the smile he reserved for fans: friendly but professional, charming but not flirtatious. “Yep.”

The girl squealed in excitement, the stars in her eyes multiplying. “Do you mind if I get a picture? I’m sorry—I know this isn’t the best time, but I am your biggest fan! I watched Triple Vendetta in the theater three times!”

“Sure,” Nate said easily, earning himself another squeal.

The girl shoved her phone into what had to be her mother’s hand—they had the same hair color and similar features—and grinned so hard he was surprised her face didn’t crack.

After that, the floodgates opened, and everyone in the vicinity wanted a picture, an autograph, a handshake. Nate indulged most of them, but after the thirteenth or fourteenth meet and greet, he politely excused himself, saying he needed to return to his family.

As his impromptu fan circle dissipated, Nate found Kris, Teague, and his family staring at him with varying degrees of grins and smirks.

“My brother, the big action star,” Skylar said dramatically. “I should sell embarrassing baby photos of you on eBay for extra cash.”

“Do it and I’m impounding your car,” Nate threatened. He’d bought Skylar a BMW as a belated graduation/congrats-on-getting-into-Stanford present with the proceeds from his first movie.

She gasped. “You wouldn’t.”

“Try me.”

“Fine.” She pouted. “No baby pics for sale, but the BMW better still be here when I come back from Asia.”

“Only if you check in at least twice a week and bring back one of those lanterns from Vietnam. They look cool as fuck. Sorry,” Nate added when his father frowned at the f-bomb.

Michael shook his head and sighed.

“How do you put up with him?” Skylar asked Kris.

Kris laughed. “I have my ways.”

The youngest Reynolds wrinkled her nose. “I don’t want to know.”

They hung around on campus for a while longer—Skylar seemed to have separation anxiety and stared at every building, tree, and shrub with sad, nostalgic eyes—before heading out for lunch.

Nate fell into step with Teague while Kris, Skylar, and Michael debated where to eat.

“Break her heart and I’ll break your face—to start,” Nate said without preamble. His smile came off more threatening than friendly. “Got it?”

Teague appeared amused. “Understood. You don’t have to worry—I’d rather die than hurt Sky.”

“Good, because that’s what’s going to happen if she so much as sheds a tear over you.”

The other man chuckled, and Nate debated the merits of punching him in the face even though he technically hadn’t done anything wrong except breathe and exist.

Oh, and date Nate’s sister.

“You and Kris seem to be in a good place,” Teague said. “I haven’t seen her this happy in…well, ever.”

Nate’s “smile” widened until he was all but baring his teeth. “We are, so don’t get any ideas.”

“I’m not.” Teague’s own smile was wry. “I really like Skylar, and Kris and I have always just been friends.”

“Really.” It wasn’t a question.

“Trust me, I don’t feel for her that way, and it’s mutual. I remember telling you the same thing during that summer I took you guys up in my plane.”

“I didn’t believe you then, and I only half believe you now. Anyway, I’m not worried about Kris.” Kris, Nate trusted one hundred percent. Teague? Not so much, whether it was with his sister or the love of his life.

“I know. But the way you feel about Kris? That’s how I feel about Sky,” Teague said. “So with all due respect, you can snap at me all you want, but nothing you say or do is going to drive me away. I understand you want to protect your sister, but she’s a grown woman capable of making her own decisions. I also want you and me to be on good terms—both for Sky’s sake, and because you seem like a decent guy when you’re not snapping at me. If I hurt her for any reason—and I swear, I’d never willingly do so—you can come at me with all you got, but for now, let’s shelve the overprotective-brother routine, yeah?”

Nate could count on one hand the number of times he’d been this surprised. He was torn between two reactions: 1) break Teague’s face, as he’d said he would do earlier, or 2)…

A laugh rumbled out of his chest, quietly at first and then loud enough that the trio walking ahead of them glanced back with curiosity.

A grin split Skylar’s face when she saw what was happening, and Kris’s eyes twinkled before she said something that diverted the other woman’s attention.

“You’re okay,” Nate said, clapping Teague on the back. He still didn’t like the guy, but at least his sister’s boyfriend had balls. That deserved some respect.

Plus, it didn’t escape Nate’s attention that Teague’s words sounded quite familiar. He had given Kris’s father his version of the same speech four years ago.

By the time he and Kris returned to their hotel that night, Nate had forgotten all about Teague. They’d spent the day with Skylar—first lunch, then a spontaneous mini-golf excursion followed by dinner and drinks.

Kris had grimaced at the mini-golf idea but followed through with it like a champ. The sight of her handling a putter had been hot as hell.

“I recommend you take up mini-golf as a hobby,” Nate said, watching Kris undress with hooded eyes. “Preferably in one of those short golf skirts.”

“In your dreams,” Kris teased. Her ring flashed beneath the lights as she unhooked her bra and the scrap of black lace drifted to the ground.

Nate hardened immediately, both at the sight of her breasts and the ring on her finger. It was a five-carat, pear-shaped Harry Winston diamond—Kris’s dream ring, according to both her mother and Courtney.

After years of making up for lost time, Gemma and Kris had developed a true mother-daughter bond, and Courtney was one of Kris’s oldest friends. As a result, Nate trusted their intel implicitly.

Good thing Scott West’s Triple Vendetta, featuring none other than Nate Reynolds, had been such a blockbuster hit. Enough that it’d gotten the franchise green light, and Nate had signed a four-movie contract with enough zeroes to make his eyes water. That, plus the endorsement deals that flooded in after Nate was branded Hollywood’s hottest new star, made purchasing the five-carat diamond a drop in the bucket.

He’d popped the question in Italy, after he and Kris snuck off to the Amalfi Coast when the principal production for the Triple Vendetta sequel in Rome wrapped. After years of exposure therapy, Nate had gotten over his fear of flying. He got nervous whenever there was turbulence, and his stomach hitched with each ascent, but that was nothing compared to his earlier aerophobia.

Nate still remembered every detail of the proposal—the dress Kris wore, her expression when he’d dropped to one knee, the sound of the waves lapping against the shore in the distance when she said yes and tackled him with a kiss.

It’d been the best night of his life.

Kris climbed into bed and snuggled into his arms.

“If you’re really nice to me, maybe I’ll wear a short golf skirt during our honeymoon,” Kris murmured. “As long as we don’t actually play golf.”

Nate chuckled and stroked her soft skin, her scent burrowing into his nose and shooting straight down to his cock. “Trust me, golf is nowhere on my honeymoon itinerary.”

Their wedding wouldn’t happen for at least another two or three years. They’d both agreed to a long engagement for multiple reasons, including Nate’s crazy filming schedule and Kris’s equally busy calendar juggling her roles as Director of Fundraising for MentHer and board president for the Joanna Reynolds Scholarship Foundation for low-income high school students.

Kris and Nate had established the foundation last year. He’d contributed some money, but the bulk of its funding came from Kris’s trust fund, which had paid out when she turned twenty-three—despite his threats, her father had never changed the terms after he found out about Kris’s scheme to frame Gloria for infidelity. While they’d both had a hand in shaping the foundation’s goals, hiring its staff, and building out the logistics, Kris was the one who kept it running like a well-oiled machine. In fact, she’d been the one who’d suggested starting a scholarship fund for high schoolers whose families couldn’t afford college in memory of his mother. That was the night Nate knew, deep within his gut, that this woman was his forever.

He’d known it for a while, but that was the first time it struck him to his core. So much so, he almost shed a tear when he’d gruffly agreed the foundation was a good idea.

Nate had called Gemma and Courtney the next day and bought the engagement ring the day after that.

“How are you feeling about your parents’ wedding?” he asked, sinking deeper into the pillows and tightening his grip around Kris’s shoulder.

That was another reason they were delaying their wedding. Gemma and Roger were getting married first, and Nate wasn’t stupid enough to put Kris through Wedding Mania twice in a short period of time. He liked his balls attached to his body, thank you.

“Good.” Kris hitched a nonchalant shoulder, but he could tell she was getting choked up. “We knew it was coming.”

Indeed. Roger and Gemma had danced around their relationship for a frustrating two years before they bit the bullet and officially started dating. They had progressed at warp speed since then, and their wedding was in two months.

Nate, in an ill-advised slip of the tongue, had joked to Roger that he’d gotten the whole thing backwards. You were supposed to date and get married before having a child, not after.

To be fair, Nate had been jet-lagged and delirious from seventy-two hours of no sleep, but Roger’s menacing scowl reminded him once again why he was an action movie guy and not a comedian.

“It’s nice to see my parents together, though,” Kris murmured. “Two decades is a long time to go without your other half.”

Ain’t that the truth. Nate went crazy at the thought of two days without Kris, much less two decades. His out-of-town shoots were the worst. Luckily, they’d perfected the art of long-distance, and sometimes Kris found the time to sneak away and surprise him on set.

“It’s funny,” Kris said. “My study abroad friends always say our year in Shanghai changed their lives, but not me. I met some great people in China, yeah, but it was the summer after that that was the game-changer. Meeting you. Meeting Mom. It was almost like fate.”

“Not almost.” Nate brought her hand up to his mouth and kissed her knuckles. “It was fate.”


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