Strictly Forbidden Intent by Michele Lenard

Sawyer

odd things, like try to freeze time. Ten long years this room has remained untouched, and it'd probably stay that way for years to come if I weren't moving in.

I take a deep breath and cross the threshold. Setting my duffel on the bed I reach for the zipper, freezing when I hear the top stair creak. The steps probably belong to my new housemate Wes, carrying up more of my luggage, and the last thing I want is for him to see me with a handful of bras and underwear. It’s weird enough moving in across the hall from the hottest boy in school now that my mom is dating his dad, I don’t need to make it more awkward by letting him see my underthings.

“I know girls have lots of clothes.” He deposits two suitcases on the floor with a playful smile, his amber eyes teasing under the dark brown hair that’s starting to curl a bit at the ends. “But I had no idea it was this bad. I probably have three more trips.”

I try to look at him without noticing how magnificent he is. The guy is probably going to end up as my stepbrother, and that’s just wrong. My hormones don't agree, which I suppose is to be expected. Wes is a 6’3” tower of lean muscle, with smooth olive skin and eyes that are somehow gentle and intense at the same time. It’s an impossibly gorgeous combination, better than anything I could fantasize. Too bad my mom and his dad seem to be on a collision course to the altar.

“Sorry. Dad’s way of apologizing when he cancels plans is to buy me stuff. He cancels a lot.” My eyes pass over the several boxes already stacked in the room.

Panic crosses Wes’ face as soon as the words leave my lips, and I instantly regret them.

“Don’t worry, you didn’t say anything wrong. It’s just the way Dad is. It doesn’t even bother me at this point.”

“Really?” His brows draw together. “It doesn’t bother you?”

“Not anymore.” I sit on the bed, facing him where he’s framed in the doorway.

Wes fiddles with the handle of the suitcase by his feet. “What?” I prod.

“It kind of bothers me. He’s always been sort of a role model, the way he commits to a season and gives a hundred percent on the field. I hate that he isn’t like that with you.”

Coming from anyone else, I’d assume those words were just meant to be polite, something people think I want to hear because they aren’t sure what to say when they learn my dad is completely unreliable off the football field. Coming from Wes I know he genuinely means it.

We may still be getting to know each other, but one thing that’s been clear from the beginning is that he’s sensitive to the feelings of others, and he wants people around him to be happy. I guess losing your mother does that to you. I want to empathize, because in the same way he grew up without a mom I grew up without a dad. Sort of. Our similar situations forced us both to grow up faster than our peers, but where his experiences made him more sensitive mine made me less so.

Wes’s mom was killed in a car accident, so she wasn’t absent by choice, and I think that sudden loss taught him to appreciate the happy times that much more. My father is still very much alive, and too occupied with his pro football career to be a dad. I’ve taught myself to feel indifferent about that, though I sometimes wonder if it’s made me indifferent to everything.

“I get why you’d admire my dad as a player. Don’t apologize for that.” I add before he can object. “His flaws off the field don’t make him any less of an athlete.”

“Okay, fair enough. I kind of liked it better when he was faceless though.” He fiddles with the suitcase again, I think so he doesn’t have to look at me. “It was easier to resent him before I realized who he is to you.”

Wes knew bits and pieces about our relationship before meeting my dad, and when he found out my absentee father was one of his football idols, that was a bit of a blow. I feel bad bursting Wes’ bubble, but it makes my stomach flutter a little to know he’s questioning his hero worship on my behalf.

“You don’t need to resent him for me.” My voice draws his gaze to my eyes.

“He’s a serial dater who forgets to pick you up, of course I resent him for that. Then he helped us get your mom back together with my pop, which was really nice. Now I don’t know what to think.”

I threw a bit of a fit when Mom fell for Anthony because my dad’s personal life is hot gossip among my classmates, and I didn’t want my mom’s to be next. Plus, I was afraid that if she found someone, I’d have no one. Childish, I know, but it did the job, and Mom broke it off to protect me. Wes helped me see that our parents dating was a good thing, then Dad helped stage the car trouble that got them face-to-face so I could set things right.

“No one said my dad is a bad guy, just unreliable. It’s okay to like him as a person. I do. He’s fun to hang out with. I just don’t get my hopes up. Something else, usually football, gets in the way.”

Wes offers another smile, this one less playful and more intimate, like we’ve come to an unspoken understanding. My stomach flutters. Why does the first guy who looks at me without seeing my dad have to be Anthony’s son?

“Fair enough, although now I finally understand why you don’t like football. I will change your mind about that by the way.” He points a finger at me.

I roll my eyes. “You can try.” I know he’s accepting that challenge by his mischievous smirk.

“So, have you given any thought to what you want to do with the room?” He leans against the wall, looking at the space.

“Ah, not really.”

“You should, otherwise your mom will probably do it for you.”

“True.” I bite my lip awkwardly. “But seriously, you’d be okay with me changing things?”

“My mom isn’t boxed away in here. Nothing about this space makes me think of her. It’s been the room on the other side of the hall for as long as I can remember. Now it’s yours. Do whatever you want with it.”

“Okay. Yeah. It’s just...”

“Sawyer,” he interrupts me gently. “Don’t overthink it.”

“I can’t help it. Isn’t this weird for you? Having me and Mom move in here when they’ve only been together a few months?”

“They’re in love.” He makes it sound like that justifies everything.

“They can be in love and not live together. We could’ve rented an apartment or something after selling our house.” I glance nervously around the room, avoiding his eyes.

“This place is too big for two people. Besides, I like the idea. Now Pop won’t be alone when I go to college next year.”

“So, you don’t find this weird at all?” It’s hard to keep the skepticism out of my voice.

“Why, is it weird for you?” He cocks his head to the side.

“Yes.” I wring my hands in my lap. “I don’t like being a burden and now I will be.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You know they’re going to make you drive me to school. And practice. You’ll have to share a bathroom now. And…” I can’t finish that thought, because I get sidetracked by the idea of sharing a room where we’re both naked. That feels way too personal. Dangerous even, considering the way my heart sort of races when Wes is around. I’m torn between praying he doesn’t walk out in just a towel and hoping he does.

“I’m going to school and practice anyway so driving you is no problem. Or you can now that you finally have a license. I still can’t believe you didn’t do that right when you turned sixteen.”

“I didn’t have anywhere to be.” Climbing the social ladder isn’t high on my list of priorities.

“That’s no excuse. Seriously though, you won’t be a burden.”

“Maybe not for hitching a ride, but all the things you used to have to yourself you have to share now.”

He lifts and lowers his shoulder. “That’ll happen at school next year anyway, might as well learn how to do it now. Does sharing bother you?”

“Never had to do it before,” I say offhand. “And it’s your space we have to share.”

“Let’s stop with the ‘yours’ or ‘mine’ stuff. Now it’s ours.” He gives me a reassuring smile, and this time it’s my heart that flutters. He needs to stop being so nice or these butterflies will turn into a full-on crush.

“Okay, but should we have rules or something? So, we don’t get in each other’s way?”

“Like a bathroom schedule?” He throws his head back and laughs. “You’re overthinking again. Come on, let’s go get the rest of your stuff.”

Wes pulls me up from the bed and slings his arm around my shoulder in what I think is supposed to be a brotherly gesture, but my body tenses involuntarily at the electricity I feel under his touch. Unfortunately, this body belongs to the guy who I’ll probably end up related to one day, which makes the electricity a dangerous reaction.

This is shaping up to be a long year.