“Will you get off my case, Kurt?” I demanded, whirling to face my annoying stepbrother. “For the last time, I know what I’m doing. I’ve been modeling for the past five years now, in case you haven’t noticed, and I think I’m qualified to pick my own assignments without you butting in.” I turned back to the mirror and continued brushing my long auburn hair in quick, jerky strokes, but I could still see him in the glass, standing over me and glowering. His inky black hair and deep blue eyes were almost as startling a contrast as my own deep red hair and pale green eyes, but his skin was a deep, natural tan and mine was fair in the extreme — what they used to call a rose leaf complexion.
Anyone who saw us together would know by our very different coloring that we weren’t really related. But that didn’t keep Kurt from acting like the annoying big brother he’d been to me for the five years since my mom and his dad had gotten married.
He wanted to screen my dates and make sure I got home safe if I went out late, which was bad enough. But when he started to say where I could go and what modeling jobs I could take, well, that was crossing the line. And the thing was, I couldn’t tell if he was being overprotective because he really thought of us as related, or because of the unspoken tension that still plagued us despite both our attempts to ignore it.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think my stepbrother was a good-looking guy. He was working his way through USF with a company called “College Hunks Hauling Junk,” and the heavy lifting he did getting rid of people’s old appliances and other useless items had left him with muscles on top of muscles. His features were sharp and his eyes were such a brilliant, deep blue that they made people look twice at him. Some of my girlfriends had even asked me if he wore colored contacts, but there was nothing fake about Kurt, which, I guess, was one of the most attractive things about him.
I knew he thought I was pretty too, even though he’d never said anything. It was the way I caught him looking at me sometimes when he thought I wouldn’t notice and the awkward way we acted around each other if we had to be in close proximity for any reason. We never sat too close on the couch, for instance, because the electrical current that seemed to exist between us flared into life and made sitting still impossible for both of us. I could literally feel the tiny hairs along my arms rising, and my pussy always got uncomfortably hot and wet whenever I was close enough to him to feel the heat of his big body and smell his warm scent of leather and musk. I was pretty sure I affected him the same way, so we tried to keep some distance between us at all times. Sometimes, though, being close was unavoidable.
Several times on family vacations we’d had to share a hotel room, which was bad enough, but we usually made the most of it. I took one bed and Kurt took the other, and we both changed separately in the bathroom, careful that no skin was exposed. I even slept in a full set of pajamas despite the heat. But on the last vacation, things had gone horribly awry when I walked in on him while he was taking a shower.
I had just been swimming and had water in my ears, so I didn’t hear him humming or the spray of the water hitting the shower curtain. All I could think of was getting out of my wet bikini and into a nice warm bath because the lake I had been swimming in was freezing.
Kurt wasn’t in the bedroom, so I had already taken off my green bikini top, baring my full breasts and tight nipples. I walked into the bathroom, toweling my hair and pulled back the shower curtain only to find my stepbrother naked in the shower with the steaming water streaming down his sculpted abs.
It was agonizingly embarrassing, of course, especially considering the way I hadn’t been able to stop staring. I still blush when I remember the way I was rooted to the spot, my mouth half open — and drooling no doubt — as I looked him over, unable to tear my eyes away. His naked body was big and hard and glistening wet, and for the first time I could see his cock. It was long and thick, nestled against one of his muscular thighs like a sleeping snake.
Kurt simply looked back at me, matching me stare for stare, not saying anything. His eyes had traveled over my face and then down, and suddenly, I remembered my topless state. I took a step back, clutching my blue and yellow beach towel to my chest and wishing I could hide in the clouds of steam escaping from the shower.
“I-I’m so sorry,” I stuttered. “I just wanted a bath. I didn’t know…know you were in here.”
Kurt still didn’t say anything. He didn’t ask me to leave, but he didn’t ask me to join him either — as if I could. We shared the same last name, for God’s sake, and we weren’t living in hillbilly holler where such a relationship might be, if not condoned, then at least tolerated. Just because there was no real blood tie between us didn’t mean that getting hot and bothered about my stepbrother was in any way acceptable.
Eventually, I regained enough control of my motor functions to stumble out of the steamy bathroom, feeling weak in the knees and wondering if it was possible to die of embarrassment. I spent the rest of the vacation avoiding my stepbrother assiduously and wishing he weren’t so good-looking and that I weren’t so weak. It was wrong to feel the way I did and I knew it, but there didn’t seem to be anything I could do about it.
Even though Kurt and I had never mentioned the incident, it wasn’t long after that vacation that he moved out of the house and into an apartment of his own. I stayed at home, both grateful to have the house more to myself and sorry because I missed the big lug. When we could get around the sexual tension and the way he irritated me when he tried to run my life, Kurt and I actually had some pretty interesting conversations. He could be sweet and funny and tell dirty jokes that made me laugh until milk came out of my nose. It was only when he got too close or we accidentally touched that things got uncomfortable.
It turned out that I didn’t have to worry about missing him too much, though. I was always running into him on the USF campus where he was a senior and I was a sophomore, and he came back home to visit almost every weekend. Supposedly, he came to see his dad, but it seemed like he always wound up spending time with me instead — at a safe distance, that was.
Of course, our parents had no idea what was going on under the surface of our happy family. I was pretty sure it would kill my mom, and Kurt’s dad wouldn’t have been too happy about it either. So we kept things under wraps by not talking about the elephant in the room and pretending to fight and disagree like normal siblings. Actually, I didn’t have to pretend when Kurt started getting all overprotective on me, like he was right now.
“I’m telling you, Sis,” he said sarcastically. “That part of town isn’t safe. How do you know it’s a legitimate modeling shoot and not one of those skanky porn things like on the Internet? You know, where they lure in innocent college girls and get them drunk before they start taking pictures?”
“Your concern is touching, Kurt. Almost as touching as your faith in my intelligence,” I snarled as the brush snagged a knot in my hair. “But I’ll have you know this isn’t for any kind of Internet thing. It’s an open call for an exercise book — they need pictures of models to illustrate the different exercises. How…bad…can…it…be?” With each word, I yanked the brush a little harder. Damn it, it was really stuck.
“Here, stop that — you’re going to pull out all your hair, and then nobody will want you in their book.” Kurt took the handle from my hand, careful not to touch me as he did, and gently began working to free the brush. “I know you’re not stupid, Melanie,” he said, his deep voice becoming a little softer. “I just…worry about you. You’re so…well, your beauty could make you a target,” he ended lamely.
“You think I’m beautiful?” I asked, looking up at him. My heart began to pound against my ribs.
Kurt looked uncomfortable. “Well, I mean, you are a model.”
“I’m just doing it to get through school,” I reminded him. “And that doesn’t answer my question.”
“You don’t know what people in this city are capable of,” he said, ducking the question again. He had the brush free of my hair now, and he was passing it back and forth between his big hands with nervous energy. “I do.”
His refusal to answer my question stung. “What, just because you’re prelaw and you’ve been clerking at the DA’s office, you think you’re the only one with the lowdown on Tampa’s crime rate?” I asked, snatching the brush from him. “I have news for you, Mr. Big-shot Soon-to-be Attorney: I carry mace with me everywhere, and I always check out an assignment before I take it.”
His face darkened. “Your mace wouldn’t do much good if they slipped you something. You wind up in the wrong place at the wrong time and some of these lowlifes would have you out of your clothes in a minute.”
There he went, being a possessive asshole again. Suddenly, I wanted to make him as mad as he made me. “Listen, Kurt,” I told him. “I’m very careful about the kind of shoots I take. But let me tell you something; if I wanted to pose nude, I would. And there wouldn’t be a damn thing you could do to stop me.”
“You wouldn’t,” he growled.
“Would and could.” I smacked the brush down on my dresser and surveyed myself once more in the mirror, ignoring the black look he was giving me. My blouse was a vivid emerald green that brought out my eyes, and my thin black pencil skirt showed off my long, pale legs to perfection. I looked good and I knew it. I didn’t need a jerk like my stepbrother to tell me I was pretty. And I certainly didn’t need him telling me what to do. “I’m leaving,” I informed him. “I have to go now or I’m going to be late — and it’s not like I’m the only model trying for this.”
“Fine, then. I’m going with you.” To my intense irritation, he followed me as I left my bedroom and headed for the front door.
I turned and glared at him as I stepped out the door. “You’re not welcome and you’re not coming, Kurt. Now go back in the house and leave me alone.”
“I’m coming and that’s the end of it,” he growled. “The least I can do is to drive you there and back — to be sure you get home in one piece.”
“You mean to be sure nobody slips stupid little me a roofie and takes advantage of me,” I flared.
The corner of Kurt’s full mouth twisted down. “I never said you were stupid, Mel. I said I was worried about you. Be fair. The part of Channelside you’re going to is full of empty warehouses and dark alleys. It’s not safe for a woman alone — any woman.”
“Fine.” I sighed, giving in at last only because I knew I would never hear the end of it if I refused to let him take me. “But don’t think you can dictate to me the kind of assignments I take. If it looks like a good shoot and they want me, I’m taking it.”
“We’ll see about that.” He slid into one side of his red Accord and I slid in the other. I fastened my seatbelt, hoping our argument hadn’t made me too late to get this assignment. Suddenly, I wished it was more than an exercise book — wished that it did involve some nude work. Wouldn’t that teach Kurt a lesson? Of course, I had never done anything like that before, and despite my threat to my annoying older stepbrother, I didn’t know if I would be willing to take my clothes off for the camera. Still, it would serve him right if I did, wouldn’t it? But the most they would probably ask was for me to put on a tight-fitting leotard so they could see what muscle groups were being worked in the exercise they were trying to illustrate. Although, knowing Kurt, he would probably even make a fuss about that. What was wrong with him; why did he always have to be such a domineering jerk?
Fuming, I crossed my arms over my chest and watched the city roll by outside my window, wishing I could find a way to teach Kurt he couldn’t run my life.