The funeral seemed to be his breaking point. Gage had walked and paced and stalked every inch of the house in the days since the accident, but he’d seemed to be holding it together. Something about seeing them both laid to rest broke him…or maybe broke the stranglehold he had on his emotions.
Gage liked control.
Control over his emotions.
Control over his future.
Control over me.
What nineteen-year-old thought they had to worry about their parents getting killed in a car accident? I wondered if knowing there was nothing he could have done broke something inside him. Hell, maybe the last piece of sanity, and I just hadn’t noticed how little the thread had gotten.
But how could I?
He’d always been the one watching over me. The strong one. The calm, in-control brother. It never occurred to me that maybe I should’ve been watching him. That just wasn’t how I saw things. My head was always up in the clouds with ideas and plans, but his was…well, his head was always focused on me…even when I didn’t want anyone seeing what I was doing. It’d always been that way.
Now, as I waded through the grief and tried to make sense of it all, the memories came flooding back.
Mom, can I go to the party?
No, Gage told me what kind of people would be there.
Gage had successfully ruined the opportunity to go to my first party, but considering everyone had gotten arrested for underage drinking, I hadn’t been able to bitch. But I’d thought that surely dates would be different. I’d even been careful not to call it a date. Not that my parents would have minded.
The night I’d sat everyone down at the kitchen table and, with shaking hands and a voice that hadn’t quite finished changing, told them that I was gay, I’d thought the world would shatter right then. Gage had shrugged and said he was too and then had looked at them, almost daring them to say something negative. They’d smiled and said they’d love anyone we brought home.
I might have been out at home, but at school I’d stayed in the closet for a long time. Even when a few guys finally started to notice me, Gage always seemed to be right there standing in the way even when he didn’t realize it.
Dad, can I go hang out with Richie?
Gage wanted us to go camping this weekend. Doesn’t that sound fun?
“Why don’t you go sit down? There are a ton of casseroles. I’ll heat something up.” I wasn’t hungry, but maybe if he stopped pacing, the weird stress that was building in the house would dissipate.
“Who brings casseroles to college students who have to go back to the dorms in two days?” He shook his head like he couldn’t see the logic in it and looked back toward the window as the last of the mourners finished getting into their cars.
“I don’t think they looked at it that way.” People just brought food after the funeral.
At least, I thought they did. I had a vague memory of Mom taking some kind of dinner to a family down the street when their grandmother had died. “They just want to make sure we’ve got food.”
He scoffed, his voice rising in anger as he spoke. “We’ve been fending for ourselves for almost two years. What do they think, we won’t be able to cook ramen noodles with our parents dead?”
It was like being punched in the gut.
Air rushed out of my lungs and everything faded for a moment. When the world came back into focus, I was sitting in a chair with my head between my knees. Gage’s hand was running down my back and the only thought that crossed my mind was that it was the first time he’d touched me in years.
Had his hands always been that big?
“Do not make me call an ambulance. Breathe again, damn it.”
It took another second before I realized that the issue was that I needed to take deeper breaths. With that problem solved, I felt better in a matter of seconds. When I finally tried to sit up, Gage kept pushing me down. “You almost hit the floor—just sit there, damn it.”
God, it was like when I’d had the flu all over again.
Right before college started, I’d come down with a bad strain of the flu and had been out for days. Even after I’d started to feel better, he’d stomped around the house and hovered, tattling every time I got out of bed, even to pee.
“I’m fine.” So that had come out sounding a bit like I’d been hit by a truck, but I wasn’t as bad as he made it sound.
When I tried to sit up the second time he let me, albeit begrudgingly, and let his hand fall to the seat beside my leg. “Just sit there. If you try to stand up, I’ll tie you to that goddamned chair.”
That sounded weirder than he meant, but I couldn’t get the image out of my head.
Where was our mediator when I needed one?
Oh yeah, six feet under and never coming back.
For the first time since I’d gotten the call, I felt tears slowly sliding down my face. Nothing would ever be the same. I knew it was selfish, but as the thoughts started flying across my mind, I couldn’t help it. Who would be there to help me figure out if I’d made the right choice in majors? Who would be the one to keep the house going while we were away at school?
Who would be the one to keep Gage and me from completely falling apart?
I couldn’t handle the constant anger and watchfulness on my own. He hadn’t even wanted me to go away to a different college, but Mom had talked him down off that ledge fairly easily. What would I do without her?
Knowing he probably would follow through on his threat, or that he’d at least sit on me, I leaned back and let my head rest against the chair. “I’m fine.”
He just seemed focused on me staying put.
“Just sit there until I know you’re not going to pass out again.” His gruff voice always sounded like he should be older, and even with everything going on I almost smiled. Sometimes when I heard him on the phone, I pictured this big gruff linebacker or badass sniper.
Sure, he was broad and was the complete opposite of me physically, but knowing we were twins always confused people.
It was like they’d never heard of fraternal twins.
I remembered one time as little kids when we were in the grocery store, this lady asked how old we were. When my mom explained we were six and twins, she’d started arguing. The insane woman had been convinced my mom was lying and had followed us through the store losing her marbles. The manager finally had to come and escort her out.
“What’s so funny about almost making me call the paramedics?”
God, he needed to relax.
“I was thinking of that woman from the grocery store when we were little. You remember the screaming woman.”
Gage made a rough sound that was as close to a chuckle as he made most of the time. “She forced us to go to the grocery store on the other side of town for a year all because that one moron thought she was so smart.”
“You’re just mad because the lady at the bakery used to give us cookies and when we finally went back to the good grocery store, she was gone.” Not that he’d eaten most of them. I’d always ended up with more than my fair share, but I couldn’t remember why.
“I missed out on a year of free cookies because one stupid woman didn’t understand twins weren’t always identical.” Gage scoffed like he couldn’t believe how stupid some people were.
“Some people are just—”
Gage broke in. “Stupid-ass motherfuckers.”
“Not what I was going to say.” I lifted my head and looked around the house out of habit.
“She’s not here to complain.” There was something about his voice. I could hear the pain, but it was like there were layers of emotion and thought between the pain and the real world.
“She’d kick your ass.” I had to smile. Of course, her version of kicking ass involved guilt or insane drama where she’d stomp through the house mumbling to herself.
Okay, I was starting to see where Gage had gotten his personality from.
He nodded slowly, like his thoughts were far away. “Yeah, she would.”
“Dad would have laughed and tried not to let her see. Do remember her face when she walked in on me and Pete Conner down the street cursing and trying to be all badass in sixth grade?” God, she’d been mad. “She got more angry about our language than the fact that he’d snuck a beer out of his dad’s fridge.”
Gage’s eyes narrowed and he shook his head. “That little fucker was trying to get you drunk.”
I waved my hand. “You worry too much.”
“Six months later he was caught trying to force himself on a fifth grader. I don’t think I worry too much.” He said it so flatly I almost didn’t take in what he was saying.
“Wait, is that why they moved away?” One day he’d been here and the next they were gone. I’d never figured out why, because after the beer and cursing incident I hadn’t been allowed to play with him again.
Gage snorted. “Yeah. I knew that asshole was trouble.”
“He just didn’t like you.” I’d never figured out why. The rest of Pete’s friends had been rough assholes too, so Gage should have fit right in.
Gage barked out a laugh. “Because he knew what I thought of him. If I hadn’t been out with Mom, he’d have never brought that beer over.”
Things were starting to clear up. “You were the one who talked Mom into refusing to let me hang out with him again.”
I’d been pretty sure that beer had been leading up to my first kiss, but when Mom had come out to the backyard looking for me, that had killed my chances. Gage shrugged. “He was an ass.”
I wasn’t going to argue with him.
I felt tears sliding down my face again. “It still doesn’t feel real.”
For just a moment, his eyes went soft and I knew he understood what I meant. “I don’t think it will for a long time.”
He slowly moved his hand from the cushion to my leg and squeezed down just enough to ground me. The almost painful sensation felt somehow comforting, like with just that one touch he would keep everything else at bay.
Gage’s fingers stroked over my thigh. “I’d have stopped this if I could have.”
“There are some things even you can’t control.” Drunk drivers were one of them.
His face tightened and I knew he hated that fact. “They should have been more careful.”
My stomach tightened, but I knew where his anger was coming from. “It was ten in the morning on a Sunday. They were just out driving around. No one could have known what would happen.”
Who thought about people behind the wheel that were still drunk from the night before—well, who besides Gage?
I could tell he was fighting back another comment, and for just a moment I wanted to lash out at him, but instead, I reached out and ran my hand over his head. He was full of hard edges and something so close to anger I couldn’t decipher it, but his hair was startlingly soft. “No more. Please. I just can’t handle it right now.”
I didn’t even know I was crying again until he reached up and ran his thumb over my cheek, wiping away the tears. He nodded, something settling in him. At least for a moment. “I’ll try.”
Was it the best I could get?
But I was too tired to care.
Everything had changed in the blink of an eye and I couldn’t see the future anymore. It’d been so easy to push everything to the back of my mind when there’d been so many decisions that needed to be made. Phone calls and plans filled our time until there was no time to grieve. No time to think.
The house was too quiet and the walls were closing in on me.
“Stop that.” Gage barked out the order and leaned close, staring me down like I was doing it on purpose. “You’re hyperventilating.”
“I—just—I.” I closed my eyes and tried to stop but tears just kept coming, and it got harder and harder to breathe. “They’re gone—and—and—you don’t even like me.”
God, I couldn’t even break down as good as Gage could.
No stomping and brooding for me. I cried and whined like a teenage girl in a coming-of-age story. It was no wonder he’d always felt like he had to take care of me. He was strong and in control and I was hysterical and weak.
“No.” He barked out the word like it was an order I was supposed to obey, but I wasn’t sure how to respond.
I just couldn’t.
He hadn’t done anything but bark at me and order me around in years, and now he was all I had left.
I’d always known what I wanted was forbidden. He wasn’t mine to keep…mine to own.
Gage has known for a long time that something is wrong with him…something strange…something dark. He’s tried to control it, tried to hide it, but there are some things that can’t be denied. His obsession with his brother is one of them.
Justin has known for a long time that his brother doesn’t like him. How could he? They’re twins but are as opposite as night and day in looks and temperament. All Justin can do is make the best of it. But it isn’t until their parents are killed that he realizes what Gage has been hiding under the anger and disdain—passion.
Twins shouldn’t be this different. Twins shouldn’t be this angry. Twins shouldn’t fall in love…not with each other.
Author’s Note: This is a bit different than my usual books. It’s a little stalkerish, but still hot and loving with a HEA.