Home > Stripped (Stripped, #1)(5)

Stripped (Stripped, #1)(5)
Author: H.M. Ward

I apologize, I'm not sure why. "I'm sorry. I have to go. See you around." I take off as fast as I can without actually running, and this time Jonathan Ferro doesn't follow.



That perfect ass is swaying hypnotically as Cassie races away from me. I can't think of the last time I had a girl say no. Okay, I can't think of any time a woman has said no to me.

I didn't even get a kiss.

Damn, that ass. I imagine holding Cassie tight, her nak*d thighs splayed over my h*ps while squeezing those perfect curves as I rock into her. I can picture her face, the way her head tips back when she moans my name. The daydream is short lived. I'm standing in front of Banana Republic with a hard on. I duck inside and try to force it down, but the dick wants what it wants. Plus the image in my mind was so perfectly sinful that I don't want to let it pass just yet.

The mall sucks. Concentrating, I move between the racks, thinking of why I got sent down here in the first place. My mother's death stare is vivid in my mind, along with her shrill voice. It's enough to make my nuts crawl back up into my body. It works better than dumping a bucket of ice down my pants. Damn, the woman is vile.

I flip through shirts and grab a few. I was literally sent down here with only the shirt on my back. Since I'm eighteen and the family heir, I have money, but not now. Mom froze my accounts, for the time being at least. Apparently, my little stunt was over the top. Whatever. It was worth it. I grin thinking about the pay off and Brittany's perfect little br**sts bouncing up and down as she f**ked me right before I left. That seems like months ago.

My mind shifts back to Cassie. A virgin. Fuck, that chick is crazy—and hot. How has she not slept with someone? Looking for Mr. Perfect is stupid. She'll never find him. Even if she does, she won't know if they're good together until she does it with him. Some guys can't satisfy a woman with what they were given. The dick, and what he does with it, makes a difference. Sex isn't just about getting off—it's two-sided, which Cassie has no clue about. What a waste of ass.

I think about her all the way back to Uncle Luke's. By the time I walk into my room and toss my stuff on the bed, I know what I want to do. But it'll have to wait. I'm being beckoned. He probably wants to make sure I didn't use any plastic.

"Jonathan, come down here please." Uncle Luke calls up the stairs.

I toss my stuff on the bed and go back down. He's in the massive kitchen, sitting on the counter top. "Hey, Uncle Luke. I thought you were going out all day."

"So did I, but plans changed." His brow is furrowed like he's trying to find the square root of 3. He runs his hand through his hair and seems distressed. "I have to head to Meridian for a few days to take care of something. It can't wait."

"That's fine." Why is he telling me this? The guy usually just takes off and forgets to feed me. If I was a hamster, I would have died last time I was here. Water? Food? Jon who? The man has the attention span of a kid on Pixie Stix. Seriously.

"And you're coming with me."

I laugh, and then realize that he's not joking. "Uncle Luke—"

"Your mother will kill me if I leave you alone here. You'll do something stupid and she'll blame me. I like my gifts, Jonathan. And I get a huge present if I manage to keep you out of trouble." He doesn't look at me.

Fuck. I don't want to go camp out in some trashy motel with Uncle Luke for a week. "I'm not going to get in trouble." Uncle Luke gives me a look that says otherwise. I do the craziest thing I can imagine and tell him the truth. "Listen, I'm not. Remember, Robyn? She's around and she set me up with her celibate friend. I'm hanging out with a girl that doesn't put out. See? I can't get in trouble. There's no one to knock up, and I'll stay away from the press."

He watches me for a second, his dark eyes looking me over like he's wondering if I'm lying. "Your friend won't have sex with you? Is that what you just said?" It takes me a second to realize that he's laughing at me.

I let out an annoyed sigh and press my fingers to the bridge of my nose. "Yeah, so there's nothing I can do that'll piss off Mom."

He's smiling at me. I can feel his amusement from across the room. Luke thinks it's funny. Then he's serious again, pointing his finger at me. "Fine, but if you do something, so help me God—"

"I won't." I lift my hands in a classic stick 'em up pose, palms facing Luke, surrendering. "Besides, my funds have been locked up, so I can't spend more than a couple hundred bucks a day. That's not enough to do anything fun, or press worthy."

He considers me for a moment, while his long bony fingers rub his chin. Finally, he says, "Fine. I'm headed out in a few minutes. Your stepmom, or whatever the hell she is, was looking for you, too. She said she'll call later."


"No, the other one—Chantel."

I try to hide it, but the sound of her name does something to me. I nod and turn on my heel. Before I get two steps between us, Luke warns, "If your mother ever finds out about them..."

I glance back over my shoulder. The lie slips through my teeth like liquid, perfectly smooth. "There's nothing to find out. They're just checking up on me." I've gotten so good at misleading people, at making them look the other way. Luke putting the pieces together is something, but f**k that. I can make him doubt it, and then I'll have to make sure they don't call me down here. What the hell was she thinking?

His gaze narrows and rests on mine. "Just because you're the heir doesn't mean you can do anything you like. Anyone can say yes, Jonny, but it's a strong man who learns to say no. Your friend with the chastity belt will do you some good. Keep it in your pants. And if your father's leeches show up while I'm around, they'll get an ass full of buckshot. Got it?" There are enough firearms in his basement to form a small militia. I'm pretty sure he shot at the mailman once because he thought he was under attack. Mom nearly killed him for that one. Since then the postal workers around here don't bring packages to his door.

"Yes, sir." There's nothing else to say. I'm screwed. He knows, which means other people have to know, too. I wonder if I should go on lying to him, but what's the point. Besides, I need someone to talk to. My life has turned into such a goddamn mess. There are layers of lies tangled together so tightly that I have no idea how to yank myself free. It's daunting.

Rubbing my hand over the back of my neck, I look up at him. "It didn't start the way you think it did. I didn't go after them. They came to me. I wouldn't steal my Dad's girlfriend."

"Learn to say no. In the end, it doesn't matter what happened or who started what. It's whether or not you acted in a way that makes you proud. Can you honestly tell me that you can look at yourself in the mirror every morning and be okay with what you did?" Uncle Luke watches me, but my gaze doesn't lift from the floor.

There's no excuse for what I've done and I've felt guilty about it since it first happened. I did say no. I did send her away, but she didn't listen. Guilt hollowed me out after that. I'd see her—Monica—my soon-to-be stepmom, standing with my dad. I know it's some messed up shit. I know I'm not supposed to f**k her, but I was barely a teenager. She didn't stop coming to my room, and I couldn't make her leave me alone. Avoiding her was the only thing that worked, but I had to go home eventually. Then, everything changed when Mom did something that no one expected and refused to divorce Dad. When Monica found out, she was livid. The sex changed after that.

I shove the thoughts away, forcing them to the back of my mind along with the guilt. She was the first of his lovers to go after me. Since then there have been more, and I did nothing to stop the rest of them. I learned quickly that they were all there for the money, for the lavish presents. We all got what we wanted, and no one knew what I was doing with my Dad's mistresses or what they did to me.

I want to keep it that way. It sounds horrible, and I know Luke is right. If Mom ever finds out, she'll kill me. Besides, it's not the kind of thing I like to talk about. I didn't want to be that kind of guy. It just happened.

My silence speaks volumes. Luke's hand rests on my shoulder before he walks out. "Start over, kid. Mistakes only pull you down as long as you hold onto them."



"So, how'd your day go?" Robyn asks me later that night. She's still wearing her uniform from work, but she's pulled her silky hair into a ponytail and changed her shoes out for sparkly flip flops. We're standing in my aunt's kitchen making quesadillas.

I throw a tortilla in her face. Direct hit! Wahoo! The soft piece of food smacks the side of her face and then falls to the floor. "You suck, you know that?" She picks up the tortilla and laughs as she joins me at the counter. I'm shredding cheese and don't look up at her. My voice is clipped, irritated. "Do you introduce everyone that way or was it special, just for me?"

"Lighten up, Yankee." She grabs the avocados and starts to work on the guacamole. She tries to push some loose hairs back from her face without her hands, using her elbow. "He's hot and summer flings are fun. How was I supposed to know you're a goddamn nun? I hardly hear from you all year and then you show up on my doorstep. I thought, 'What would I like to do all summer if I were her?' Duh, Jonny Ferro."

"How do you even know him?" The Ferro family is filthy stinking rich, filled with brats that never get in trouble for anything. Everyone and their cat knows that family is bad news. "He's a freaking Ferro and we're in the middle of nowhere in Mississippi." I smack some cheese sauce and chicken onto another tortilla and stack it with the others.

"His family owns that huge-ass white house by the reservoir."

My hands still and I look at her. "Seriously?" It's gorgeous and all, but there's a glaring question. Why here? We're not anywhere near a major city. Jackson is over an hour away. This is the sticks with trees, trailers, and mansions scattered around a manmade lake.

She starts on the onions, dicing them into tiny pieces. "Yeah, they banished some crazy relative here a while back and holed him up in that place. The guy only leaves his house to hang out on his yacht, but Jonathan comes down once in a while. I caught him walking across the spillway one night and nearly ran him over with my car. The idiot was walking... can you even imagine?"

Okay, so walking across the spillway is stupid. Got it. Check. Still don't know why, but it appears that I'm not supposed to, so I don't ask. I'm still annoyed with her for dumping that guy on me. The rich brat is probably used to having girls fall all over him. That look in his eye, right before I left, had to be shock even though I thought it was something else. An uncomfortable twisting fills my stomach whenever I think about him, so I shove the guy out of my mind.

"Speaking of idiots," I say, changing the conversation, "did my brother happen to call?"

She shakes her head and tosses the chopped onion in the bowl with teary eyes. "Not that I know of. Aunt Paula doesn't have an answering machine—she thinks it's rude not to call every solicitor back—so it's hard to tell. Where's your cell phone anyway?"

"Mom took it away before she sent me down here." I bite my lip to stop talking.

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