Shackled: A Stepbrother Romance Novel

Shackled

Arabella Abbing

Copyright

Shackled

A Stepbrother Romance Novel

Written by Arabella Abbing

© 2016 Arabella Abbing

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the author.

This is a work of fiction. Any names or characters, businesses or places, events or incidents, are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Cover designed by Resplendent Media

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Chapter One

Fiona

T
he house
I grew up in seemed to stare back at me as I watched it from the window of the cab. It was eerie—I swore I could feel eyes staring back at me as I tried to delay what had to happen next. It was starting to feel like I had made a mistake. Maybe I could go back to college and figure it out.

But my mind helpfully reminded me that it was too late for that. The paperwork was already finalized. It was done.

Now, I had to be brave. Just muster up some courage and find a way to go in and tell Mom,
‘Hey, I’m back for Christmas and guess what? I’m staying. I can’t go back to college again, because I dropped out. Sorry for the short notice.’

Shit.
I could already see the disappointment on her face and the guilt began to rise in my stomach. She had pushed me for years to go to college—to take the path she’d never had the chance to take—but I just couldn’t do it any longer.

I was even more terrified of what she was going to do when she found out that it was too late to change my mind. I’d already given away my spot in the dorm, boxed up all my stuff, and loaded up the truck. My belongings were scheduled to be delivered to the house next Friday morning—the morning I was supposedly heading back to college to prepare for my second semester.

Which gave me nine whole days to break the news to her and attempt to smooth it over. I could totally do this.

Sure, she’d be pissed at first, but surely she’d realize that I hadn’t made this decision lightly. I had spent the last five weeks of the semester agonizing over the idea until I’d finally accepted the fact that, no matter how hard I tried, college just wasn’t for me.

The nerves had started when I’d first arrived at college to register for classes. But the first day I
really
considered dropping out happened nearly six weeks ago.

I was sitting in class after spending the entire weekend studying and not following a word that Professor Edwards said during one of his lectures. I frowned down at my notebook, certain that I was in the right class, but that meant that the notes I made the night before were completely wrong.

I turned and whispered to my roommate Sandra, “What is he talking about?”

“Consumer and firm behavior. It says so on the board.” She pointed to it before shooting me a confused glance. “Were you up late or something?”

She damn well knew I was up late. I’d told her that I was studying, but I’d never told her
what
. I even reviewed all my notes before I got to class that morning, but I still didn’t know what the professor was talking about.

“I thought the indifference curve was upwards, not downwards?”

I had sweaty palms. Nothing made sense. I was starting to panic.

“Hey, just listen now and then we can go over it after. Okay?” she reassured me, but my heart continued to race.

I felt as if the room was spinning while I tried to follow along with the professor. None of what he said made sense. Hell, none of what I’d read the night before made sense. When the class finally ended, I ran out like the lecture hall was on fire.

That was the day that I started to honestly acknowledge the fact that, no matter what my mom wanted for my future, college just wasn’t for me. The worst of my classes were required for my major, but I couldn’t fake my way through them and no matter how hard I studied, nothing would click in my head.

So when the first semester began to come to a close and I realized I was going to fail nearly all the required classes I was taking, I bit the bullet and dropped out.

Now I was home to break the news to my mom, just in time for Christmas.

This is going to be rough.

I huffed and opened the door of the cab after the driver snidely commented that the meter was still running. This was the first time since I’d started talking to the dean, my professors, and even a counselor that I actually thought that, maybe,
just maybe
, I shouldn’t have left. Maybe I could have done something differently. Tried harder.

The driver stepped out and hauled my large suitcase out of the trunk for me. A small part of me wanted to ask him to drive me back to college, but I knew my place there was gone.

If it had ever really been there at all.

With a quick thanks, I paid and tipped the man generously. I hoisted my bag onto the sidewalk and watched as the yellow car pulled away from the curb and went in search of another fare. I held my chin up high and made my way up the sidewalk, the bit of snow on the ground crunching under my boots with every step.

Keep your chin up, Fiona. If you can convince her that you know you made the right decision, this will all go a lot more smoothly. Show no doubt.

I reached the front door and sighed heavily, ready to face the beast within and her wrath.

As I raised my hand to ring the doorbell, my fingers paused halfway there when I heard the sound of the locks twisting before the door came flying open.

“Hi, Mom—Mr. Parker?” I cut myself off mid-greeting, shocked to my very core to find the father of my ex-best friend greeting me at the door.

The door to
my
house. The house that my mom lived in. The house I’d be living in again soon enough.

What the hell?

“Fiona, it’s been so long!” Mr. Parker exclaimed before reaching past the threshold to wrap his arms around my shoulders and give me a fatherly hug. “How are you?”

“Fine,” I slowly drawled as I pulled away, trying to force away the dread that was seeping into my entire body. “What are you doing here?”

His pleasant smile faltered slightly and something softened in his eyes. He stepped around me to take my bag before he gestured for me to enter the house.

“I think you should speak to your mom about that. I’ll put your bag in your room.”

How does he know which room is—was—mine?

Unable to voice my question through my confusion, I merely stared at his form as he retreated down the hallway, my bag rolling behind him and leaving some wet spots on the floor from the snow that had been caught in the wheels.

A clatter from the kitchen caught my attention and I made my way towards the sound, smiling at the sight of my mom covered in flour as she rolled out a large glob of cookie dough on the counter.

“Merry almost Christmas, Mom.” I greeted cheerily, shoving away the thought of the news I had to tell her for a few moments at least.

Because I had the nagging feeling that I wasn’t the only one with big news to share. After all, what the hell was Mr. Parker doing opening the front door as if he lived here?

She looked up from the cookies, her eyes widening with surprise before they crinkled at the corners as she smiled. It had been months since I’d seen her. Sure, we video-chatted and spoke on the phone often enough, but seeing her here, face-to-face—well, it felt like
home
. And at least for a brief moment, seeing her smiling at me like I’d never even left washed away all the guilt and made me feel like everything was going to be all right.

“Oh, sweetie! It’s so good to see you!”

Her arms opened wide for a hug, and even though I was going to walk away covered in flour as well, I couldn’t fight the urge to rush over and hug her.

“I missed you so much, Mom,” I murmured against her shoulder.

“I missed you, too, sweetie,” she told me before she pulled away and looked me up and down with a happy smile. “You look so wonderful! College is suiting you nicely, I take it?”

Ugh, already?
I was hoping for at least an hour of seeing my mom happy before crushing her with disappointment.
Better sooner than later, I suppose. Suck it up and tell her the truth.

I took a deep breath. “Actually, I—”

Before I could get to my confession, Mr. Parker interrupted me.

“Look at you two lovely ladies. How is the cooking coming along, darling? Need any help?” Mr. Parker asked as he waltzed into the room and over to my mom’s side.

Darling?

I glanced from left to right as if I was watching a tennis match, my admission about dropping out of college momentarily forgotten. First, I needed to know what was happening
here
, and I needed to know
now
.

“Mom, what the hell is going on?”

“Fiona Anne, watch your mouth,” she scolded me with a scowl, avoiding my question and looking longingly at Mr. Parker. “It’s going fine, dear. But it’d be better if I could stop making such a mess!”

He laughed and wrapped an arm around her back and I felt my entire world shift. They were ignoring me. She had scolded me and artfully dodged my question and now they were acting like a couple of teenagers. She didn’t need to tell me what was going on. It was pretty damn clear.

But the question that remained was: Is he simply over here for the day? Night? Was he going to have a lonely holiday and mom invited him over for the week out of pity?

Or was this… something more permanent?

No, it can’t be. She would have told me during one of our weekly calls… Right?

Then again, who was I to talk? I hadn’t told her my news over the phone. But that hardly mattered now. I had to know what exactly was going on here and it was clear that if I didn’t press, neither one of them were going to spit it out.

“Are… you two aren’t… are you?”

My mom turned to look at me and I could feel the hesitance rolling off her in waves.

The kitchen felt hot. Like
boiling
hot. Mr. Parker had taken my bag to my room. He knew which room was mine, assuming it was still mine. He was in my kitchen. He was hugging my mom. He was—

“I didn’t want to tell you over the phone, sweetie. But Gerald and I—”

“I’m home!”

Those two words made it feel like the room was suddenly closing in on me.

The words by themselves were concerning enough, but even more so because they were shouted by a voice I knew all too well. Not even months apart could make me forget the way his voice sounded.

My childhood best friend. My secret crush throughout high school.

The jackass who’d so easily shrugged off my feelings for him after I’d finally summoned the courage to admit them, rejecting me by doing something so unforgivable that I hadn’t been able to bring myself to speak to him since.

Jonathan.

When he entered the kitchen, we both froze. His eyes locked on me as I stared at him like a deer caught in headlights.

“You’re here,” he said blankly, obviously just as lost for words as I was.

“Yeah. And... you’re here, too.
Why
are you here?”

He looked good. Too good. Better than I remembered.
Fuck.

But being gorgeous didn’t change the fact that he was a total asshole. I drilled that reminder into my brain to keep the lustful thoughts at bay.

“I live here.”

“You
live
here?” I asked waiting for confirmation that I’d misheard him.

My ears had surely deceived me. Right? Maybe the cab driver had taken me to the wrong house, because this whole place was starting to feel like a circus.

But… Mom was here. It was the same white, three-bedroom house with the wooden doors and my pictures were still hanging in the hallway. Nothing had changed except for the extra people who were standing inside, staring me down while claiming to live here.

I broke eye contact with him to turn my wide eyes to my mom. “Mom? What was it that you didn’t want to tell me on the phone?”

She looked from me to Gerald a few times before raising her left hand into the air, the kitchen lights catching the sparkly diamond engagement ring on her finger. I blinked a few times, the obvious answer to my question refusing to take root in my brain.

It can’t be.

“Gerald and I are engaged!”

Fuck my life.

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