“Els, you okay?”
As soon as I heard his voice another sob burst forth.
“Ellie?” I could hear his immediate concern. “Ellie, what’s going on?”
“Bri—” I struggled to draw in a breath through my tears. “Brian,” my cries continued to interrupt me, “Fairmont… he-he’s a fifth year and he-he told everyone he had s-s-sex with me at Allie’s birthday p-party on Saturday night.” I stopped and huddled against a garden fence now that I was far enough away from the somewhat expensive prep school my absentee father paid for me to attend every year. It was only a twenty minute walk from my parent’s home on St. Bernard’s Crescent and I was more than tempted to cut school and hide in the house for the rest of the day.
“That little shit,” Braden hissed, his anger actually radiating down the phone and into my hand.
“They’re all calling me a whore and a slut, and whispering and laughing at me. Now June isn’t speaking to me.”
“Why the hell is June not speaking to you?”
“She fancies Brian. I didn’t even… Braden I spoke, like, four words to him on Saturday night. He asked for a snog and I said, “In another reality maybe.””
“Was there an audience when you said that to him?”
“His friends were there, yeah,” I sniffled.
“So you turned the little perv down and he started a rumor.” Braden cursed again. “Okay, where are you just now?”
“I’m going to go home. I can’t take another three hours of this.”
“Sweetheart, you can’t go home. Braebank Prep doesn’t like its pupils to cut class. Wait at the gates just now. I’ll get this sorted out.” I could tell by his tone that Brian Fairmont was about to learn you did not mess with Braden Carmichael’s little sister.
I hung up and wiped at my face, glad for once that Mum wouldn’t let me wear mascara, or any kind of makeup for that matter, until I turned fifteen. Even then, she said I was allowed to wear mascara and concealer but no foundation, and definitely no lipstick until I was sixteen.
My friends thought she was weird.
Waiting on Braden, I felt a little better knowing he was coming to my rescue. My big brother was really just my half-brother. We shared the same father—Douglas Carmichael.
Dad was a big deal in Edinburgh, he owned an estate agency and restaurants and a lot of property that he rented out to people. He was loaded, and although he gave time to Braden, he seemed to think spending money on me was a good enough apology for neglecting me the entire fourteen years I’d spent on the planet. His neglect hurt. A lot. But I had Braden, who’d practically helped raise me with Mum, and my step-dad Clark. Mum married Clark five years ago, and since the moment he’d come into Mum’s life he’d made it clear he wanted to be my dad. And he was. More than Douglas Carmichael ever would be.
I sometimes wondered how it was possible me and Braden were spawned from him. We were both too nice to be Douglas’s kids. Take Braden for instance. After purposefully avoiding working for our father, a few years’ ago he suddenly decided he wanted to take a role in the Carmichael ‘empire’, which meant he worked his bloody arse off to make our father happy. Not only did he work a lot, he was wrapped up in this girl he was dating.
Analise. She was an Australian student and they’d just started dating. Braden seemed to really like her. Still, he always found time for me. Say, to rescue me from hideous situations like the one I was in.
“Ellie,” a familiar voice, and not the one I was expecting, caught my ear and I turned my head as a car door slammed. My eyes widened as Adam Gerard Sutherland rounded the hood of his six year old Fiat— a car Braden said was a stupid drain on Adam’s finances considering Adam was a student at Edinburgh University and getting parked in the city was a nightmare.
Adam Gerard Sutherland, by the way, was Braden’s best friend.
I’d had a wee bit of a crush on him since I was ten so I was more than a little mortified that Braden had sent him to rescue me from this situation. Not that I should have been surprised. The two of them had traded that job back and forth since I was tiny.
“Adam,” I blanched, wiping at my face to make sure I’d gotten all the tears.
The way his dark eyes studied me and his jaw clenched, it didn’t matter. My eyes felt puffy and red and obviously were. “Braden’s sorry. He’s in a meeting he can’t get out of,” he said as he approached. He wore a clean, wrinkle-free t-shirt and faded jeans. Adam was too clean and neat to become a typical grungy student. Even his old banger of a car was clean and tidy inside. “He phoned me. I have a free afternoon. Come here, sweetheart.” Without asking, he pulled me into him and I immediately nestled my cheek against his chest and held on tight, trying not to cry.
“So where is this little shit?”
I pulled back from him, suddenly wary now that he was here and obviously furious. “What are you going to do?”
“Sixteen.” He curled his lip in anger. “I can’t hit him, but I can scare the absolute fuck out of him.”
Braden and Adam cursed a lot, and they’d always cursed a lot in front of me. Mum would kill them if she ever found out how much they cursed. Luckily for them it had been drilled into me since the age of zero that you didn’t curse in front of Elodie Nichols, and I’d never repeated the words Braden and Adam used around me. To be fair they limited their curse words to the basics—I’d heard way worse at school. Today in fact, and they’d been directed at me.
I felt my eyes start to water again.
Adam saw and his eyes narrowed. “Els, where is this boy?”
I sighed heavily. “Around the back of the building, behind the lunch room.”
“Right.” Adam strode in through the gates and I hurried after him, ignoring the curious gazes of my fellow students, and the excited chatter as they guessed that the clearly older Adam was here on my behalf and something was about to go down.
My cheeks burned with embarrassment, while my heart pounded in anticipation for a little retribution for the worst morning in the history of my entire school career.
When we rounded the corner of the building, Adam stopped and stared into a crowd of seniors. The fourth and fifth years gradually turned their heads towards us, their eyes widening at the sight of me with Adam.
“Which one?” Adam asked flatly.
“Brian is the one with his blazer tied around his waist.”
“The tall, blond kid with the bottle of juice in his hand? The one that looks like a prick?”
“That would be the one.”
“Little…” Adam growled under his breath and marched toward Brian, hands clenched into fists at his side. Brian’s friend nudged him and he turned toward Adam and instantly paled at the sight of him. When Adam reached him, he towered over Brian by at least five inches. He bent his head, his face close to Brian’s, and whatever he said made the seniors around him grow wide-eyed.
“Well?” Adam suddenly asked loudly.
Brian mumbled something.
“Louder, you lying little shit.”
“I didn’t have sex with her,” Brian cried. “I didn’t touch her!” He turned and caught sight of me watching and his eyes seemed to plead with me to call Adam off. “I’m sorry! I lied, alright!”
A murmur from the crowds drew my eyes past Brian to the lunchroom doors and my stomach dropped when I saw Mr. Mitchell standing there watching Adam. Adam must have seen him too because his head came up. He didn’t, however, back away from Brian.
“Who are you?” Mr. Mitchell asked in a belligerent tone, walking toward Adam. “You’re not allowed on school grounds.”
“I was just having a word with Mr. Fairmont here. We’re all good.” Adam shrugged as if he wasn’t a twenty-one year old who’d just gotten through threatening a sixteen year old.
“Brian, are you okay?” Mr. Mitchell asked.
“Uh, fine, Mr. Mitchell,” he gulped and took a step back from Adam toward the safe proximity of the geography teacher.
“Adam,” I called now, wanting Adam gone before he got into trouble.
I drew Mr. Mitchell’s gaze and his face clouded over. “Miss Carmichael, you know quite well you aren’t allowed visitors during school hours.”
“Sorry, Mr. Mitchell.”
“I’m just leaving.” Adam shot Brian one last warning look and then turned and casually strode toward me. Taking his time. Adam didn’t like to be told what to do. When he reached me, he put an arm around my shoulder and had me walk him back to the school gate. No one was whispering or giving me dirty looks now as we passed. They were all looking at me as if I was extremely cool. I mean, I must be right, if I had Adam Sutherland’s arm around me and he’d shown up at school to scare the truth out of Brian.
I grinned and Adam caught it, his soft laughter making me all warm and fuzzy.
“Feel better then?” he asked as we came to a stop.
“Yes. Thank you.”
“What were you doing at a party anyway on a Saturday night?”
I frowned at his proprietary tone. “I’m fourteen, Adam. It was a friend’s birthday.
Anyway, I didn’t know seniors were going to be there.”
He nodded. “Just be careful, eh.”
“Yeah.” I lowered my eyes, feeling bad that he’d been dragged into my teen drama.
“Come here.” Adam pulled me to him again and pressed a soft kiss to my forehead before he hugged me close. Now that I wasn’t bemoaning my morning and crying on his chest, I was suddenly fully aware of being crushed against him. He smelled amazing and his body was hard with lean muscle. It felt good against mine.
A weird, tingling feeling erupted in my lower belly and my skin suddenly grew incredibly flushed. I jerked back and tried to cover my awkwardness with a tremulous smile and a goofy wave.