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Twisted Love: Chapter 3

Ava

“I hopeyou appreciate what a good friend I am.” Jules yawned as we tromped across our front yard toward Josh’s house. “For waking up at the butt crack of dawn to help your brother clean and pack when I don’t even like the dude.”

I laughed and looped my arm through hers. “I’ll buy you a caramel mocha from The Morning Roast after. Promise.”

“Yeah, yeah.” She paused. “Large, with extra crunch toppings?”

“You know it.”

“Fine.” Jules yawned again. “That makes it somewhat worth it.”

Jules and Josh were not fans of each other. I’d always found that strange, considering they were so similar. They were both outgoing, charming, smart as hell, and total heartbreakers.

Jules was a human version of Jessica Rabbit, all shiny red hair, creamy skin, and curves that made me look at my body with a sigh. Overall, I was happy with how I looked, but as a member of the Itty Bitty Titty Committee, I did wish for an extra cup size or two without having to resort to plastic surgery. Ironically, Jules sometimes complained about her double-Ds, saying they were hard on her back. There should be a Venmo for breasts that allows women to send and receive cup sizes with the press of a button.

Like I said, I was happy with how I looked most of the time, but no one—not even supermodels or movie stars—was immune from insecurities.

Besides her grievances with her breasts, Jules was the most confident person I’d ever met—aside from my brother, whose ego was so large it could house the entire East Coast of the United States with room left over for Texas. I suppose he had reason to be, considering he’d always been the golden boy, and though it pained me to admit it because he was my brother, he wasn’t bad-looking either. Six-foot-two with thick black hair and razor-sharp bone structure, which he never let anyone forget. I was convinced Josh would commission a sculpture of himself and display it on his front lawn if he could.

Jules and Josh never divulged why they disliked each other so much, but I suspected it might be because they saw too much of themselves in each other.

The front door was already open, so we didn’t bother knocking.

To my surprise, the house was pretty clean. Josh had put most of his furniture into storage last week, and the only things left to pack were the couch (which someone would pick up later), a few stray kitchen items, and the weird abstract painting in the living room.

“Josh?” My voice echoed in the large, empty space while Jules sat on the ground and pulled her knees to her chest with a grumpy expression. If you couldn’t tell, she wasn’t a morning person. “Where are you?”

“Bedroom!” I heard a loud thump upstairs, followed by a muffled curse. A minute later, Josh came down holding a large cardboard box. “Shit I’m donating,” he explained, setting it on the kitchen counter.

I wrinkled my nose. “Put a shirt on. Please.”

“And deprive JR of her morning eye candy?” Josh smirked. “I’m not that cruel.”

I wasn’t the only one who thought Jules looked like Jessica Rabbit; Josh always called her by the cartoon character’s initials, which pissed her off to no end. Then again, everything Josh did pissed her off.

Jules lifted her head and scowled. “Please. I’ve seen better abs at the campus gym. Listen to Ava and put a shirt on before I lose last night’s dinner.”

“Methinks the lady doth protest too much,” Josh drawled, slapping a hand against his six-pack. “The only thing you’ll be losing is—”

“Okay.” I slashed my arms through the air, cutting off the conversation before it went down a path that’d scar me for life. “Enough chitchat. Let’s get you packed up before you miss your flight.”

Fortunately, Josh and Jules behaved for the next hour and a half while we packed up the remaining items and loaded them into the SUV he’d rented for the move.

Soon, the only thing left to pack was the painting.

“Tell me you’re donating this too.” I eyed the massive canvas. “I don’t even know how it’ll fit in the car.”

“Nah, leave it there. He likes it.”

“Who?” As far as I knew, no one had taken over Josh’s lease yet. But it was still July, and I expected the place to go fast closer to the start of the semester.

“You’ll see.”

I didn’t like the smile on his face. At all.

The low purr of a powerful engine filled the air.

Josh’s smile broadened. “As a matter of fact, you’ll see right now.”

Jules and I exchanged glances before we ran to the front door and pushed it open.

A familiar Aston Martin idled in the driveway. The door opened, and Alex stepped out, looking more gorgeous than any human had the right to look in jeans, aviators, and a black button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up.

He took off his sunglasses and assessed us with cool eyes, unfazed by the mini welcoming party on the front steps.

Only I didn’t feel particularly welcoming.

“But…but that’s Alex,” I stammered.

“Looking miiiighty fine, might I add.” Jules nudged me in the ribs, and I scowled in response. Who cared if he was hot? He was a jerk.

“Hey, dude.” Josh slapped hands with Alex. “Where’s your stuff?”

“Moving company’s bringing it later.” Alex side-eyed Jules, who assessed him the way one would a shiny new toy. Besides Josh, Alex was the only guy who’d never fallen for her charms, which intrigued her more. She was a sucker for a good challenge, probably because most guys fell at her feet before she even opened her mouth.

“Wait.” I put my hand up, my heart slamming a panicked rhythm against my ribcage. “Moving comp—you’re not moving here.”

“Actually, he is.” Josh slung an arm over my shoulder, his eyes twinkling with mischief. “Meet your new neighbor, little sis.”

My eyes ping-ponged between him and Alex, who couldn’t look more bored by the conversation.

“No.” There was only one reason Alex Volkov would leave his cushy D.C. penthouse and move back to Hazelburg, and I’d bet my new camera it had nothing to do with nostalgia for his college days. “No, no, no, no, no.”

“Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.”

I glared at my brother. “I don’t need a babysitter. I’m twenty-two years old.”

“Who said anything about babysitting?” Josh shrugged. “He’s looking after the house for me. I’m moving back in when I return next year, so it makes sense.”

“Bullshit. You want him to keep an eye on me.”

“That’s a bonus.” Josh’s face softened. “It doesn’t hurt to have someone you can rely on when I’m not here, especially given this whole thing with Liam.”

I winced at the mention of my ex. Liam had been blowing up my phone since I caught him cheating on me a month and a half ago. He’d even shown up at the gallery where I worked a few times, begging for another chance. I wasn’t devastated by our breakup. We’d dated for a few months, and I hadn’t been in love with him or anything, but the situation had brought all my insecurities to the surface. Josh worried about Liam getting out of hand, but let’s be honest, Liam was a Brooks-Brother-wearing, polo-playing trust fund baby. I doubted he’d do anything that would mess up his perfectly gelled hair.

I was more embarrassed I’d dated him than concerned about my physical safety.

“I can handle myself.” I pulled Josh’s arm off my shoulder. “Call the moving company and cancel,” I told Alex, who’d been ignoring us and scrolling through his phone this whole time. “You do not need to move here. Don’t you have…stuff to do in D.C.?”

“D.C. is a twenty-minute drive,” he said without looking up.

“For the record, I am totally in favor of you moving in next door,” Jules piped up. Traitor. “Do you mow the lawn shirtless? If not, I highly recommend it.”

Alex and Josh frowned at the same time.

“You.” Josh pointed at her. “Do not pull any of your shenanigans while I’m gone.”

“It’s cute how you think you have a say in my life.”

“I don’t give a shit what you do with your life. It’s when you drag Ava into your harebrained schemes I’m concerned.”

“Newsflash: you don’t have a say in Ava’s life either. She’s her own person.”

“She’s my sister—”

“She’s my best friend—”

“Remember when you almost got her arrested—”

“You have to let that go. That was three years ago—”

“People!” I pressed my fingers to my temple. Dealing with Josh and Jules was like dealing with children. “Stop arguing. Josh, stop trying to control my life. Jules, stop provoking him.”

Josh crossed his arms over his chest. “As your big brother, it’s my job to protect you and to appoint someone to fill in for me when I’m not here.”

I grew up with him; I recognized that look on his face. He wasn’t budging.

“I assume Alex is the fill-in?” I asked in a resigned tone.

“I’m not a ‘fill-in’ anything,” Alex said icily. “Don’t do anything stupid, and we’ll be fine.”

I groaned and covered my face with my hands.

This was going to be a long year.


Comment

  1. Ghina says:

    I LOVE THIS😭😭😭

    2
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