St. Louis, Missouri.

I'd been there once before on a shopping spree with my mother. Last year, she split up with her husband of fourteen years. Not my father, of course. My father is some man, probably unaware of my existence, that owns a Harley. I am not entitled to know any more about him.

Just one year ago though, Gregory Trent, the man who raised me, left my mother. So you see, we were definitely entitled to a shopping spree in the super shopping center, Union Station.

Of course if you're from St. Louis, you are probably scoffing at my awe of Union Station. Let me tell you, as a girl who hails from the small town of Springfield, Illinois, any shopping mall deserves my awe. Springfield does have a mall, but I find it terribly boring.

Right, so back to my story. I stood there in St. Louis, Missouri with my two oversized suitcases, willing myself to move. My mother was on her cell phone scouring the crowd for a certain person. I wanted to move, to turn back and jump onto the nearest train and never return. My mother had betrayed me.

It's a terrible thing she had done. Two weeks earlier, my mom traveled to Las Vegas to auction off an ancient painting she had restored. There was a man who offered a large sum of money for this artwork. So what does my mother do? She elopes with him.

I'm sure there were some romantic details involved, but I didn't want to hear them. I only heard one thing. We were moving to St. Louis, Missouri.

My mom hung up the phone and beckoned for me to come over. However, my feet felt like stones. They were firmly planted where they stood, and not even the vicious winds of a hurricane could force me to move.

"Come on," my mom said coming up to me. She grabbed me by the arm and pulled me forward. Her death-iron grip held tight around my arm. "Now I know Dan's around here somewhere," she said, standing on her tiptoes to look over the crowd. Her 5'4 frame could hardly manage to see above the top hat of a bystander.

"I want to go home," I said in a daze, weaving in and out of the crowd with her. She stopped and turned her big brown eyes on me, giving me the most emotional look I had ever seen.

"I know this is all very sudden," she said, "But I want you to promise that you will treat Dan and Brian with respect."

Dan and Brian Harding, the two men that had just stolen my mother. Dan, the prestigious and very single lawyer, was the worst thief of them all. During the last year, after my mother's divorce to Gregory, we had become really close. My mom was like my best friend. And now this man, this Daniel Harding, was trying to ruin it all. Worse yet, his son was trying to claim her as his mother. They had even given her their last name. She was now Karen Deanne Harding by law.

My mother still stood with an expectant look on her face. "I know, treat them with the utmost courtesy," I said. When she had turned back around I felt inclined to mutter, "Courtesy my ass."

I have no idea what Karen was thinking when she decided to elope. I still have no idea what she was thinking when she decided that it would be best to meet my new family the first day we moved into their house. She set it up for disaster.

My mom finally spotted the person she had been looking for. With a wave and a smile, she rushed forward into the arms of a stranger. I stood in the center of that crowded train station, unable to take my eyes off him. He was tall, with a full head of gray hair. His build was lithe and lean, with an overall toned appearance. He was clad in a nice pair of khaki slacks with a button-up shirt and a ball cap. Strange, I know. But you have to remember that we were in Missouri.

Standing next to the man was one of the most gorgeous human beings I have ever laid eyes on. He stood 6'2, matching his companion's height. He had obviously inherited his father's lean body, but had miraculously built on it. His hands were shoved in the pockets of his Levi's as he glared viciously at my mother.

Once my mother and her new husband had pulled apart, the man stepped back at ruffled his son's hair. It was such gorgeous, chestnut hair, too. The ends were a little long, forming short little curls. His tresses perfectly accented his cheekbones – strong and defined cheekbones.

It was only when the boy looked up and caught my gaze that I realized I had been staring. I narrowed my eyes and gave him the dirtiest look I could muster. The look said it all. You horrible crook. You've stolen my mother.

I was taken aback to see the same look in his eyes. I could only break away from his intense gaze when my mother called my name.

"Shannon!" she screeched above the noise of the trains. I picked up my suitcases and headed over to meet my new family, making each step slower and more drawn out. "Shannon!" my mother exclaimed upon my arrival. "I'd like you to meet Dan and Brian," she said, pointing to the father and son respectively.

I smiled, as my mother told me to, and said, "It's nice to meet you."

Dan beamed at me for a moment before stepping forward with open arms. "Welcome," he said warmly. Before I could react, he had embraced me and shoved his shoulder into my face. I grimaced at my lack of air. Standing behind Dan, I could see Brian with a snigger on his face.

I hadn't even held a conversation with him yet, and I could already tell this relationship was not going to work out.


During the twenty minute drive to Dan's neighborhood, my new stepfather bombarded me with questions about my hobbies. Every once in a while, he would throw in a word for his silent son.

"So Shannon," Dan said, "Do you play any sports?"

I shook my head. "I used to play basketball though." My responses were curt and most likely rude. I didn't like being treated like an outsider.

"Brian plays basketball and baseball," his father informed me. "Why don't you tell her about it?" he suggested to his son.

Brian, who had propped his elbow up on the window and was now leaning his head against his hand, spoke as I did. "I'm a forward and a third baseman," he replied drolly.

His father glared at him through the rearview mirror, but Brian paid no attention. When we finally arrived at the house, I was more than impressed. The white, two story house was settled in a prestigious neighborhood. It's quite simple to distinguish prestigious neighborhoods; all the homes are exactly the same with slight alterations to each of them. It even had its own sign at the entrance: Welcome to Pinewood Creek.

Good Lord, I was moving into the wilderness.

Dan jumped out of his four-door car to open up my door and then my mother's. Next, he opened the trunk and removed my mother's luggage. "Why don't you get Shannon's bags?" he told Brian. I grabbed the heavy bags from the trunk as Brian approached and gave him a pointed look. I was just as unhappy to be here as he was. However, at least I gave an effort. But I drew the line at trying with my new stepbrother. There was no way I was going to attempt to impress him.

"I can carry my own bags, thanks," I said shrewdly. He shrugged and stuck his hands in his pockets, making his way up the driveway. As I walked up the driveway, I cursed myself for my stubbornness. These bags were heavy.


Dan showed me up to my room, on the second floor. He thought it would be a good idea if I had a room next to Brian's, that way I could ask him any questions I had. I thought it would be a good idea if I had a room back in Springfield, that way I wouldn't have to see the brute (rather gorgeous brute), Brian. However, I chose not to voice my opinion.

The interior of my room, to my utmost pleasure (feel free to note the sarcasm), greatly resembled a hospital room. The walls were white, the sheets were white, and even my closet door was white. Congratulations Dan, way to make me feel at home.

"Your mom thought it would be fun if you could design your own room," Dan told me as he led me in. "She wants to take you shopping this weekend."

Good choice Dan, I silently thought. I quickly dashed those thoughts aside as I remembered my upstanding hatred for the thief. When I didn't respond, Dan lingered in the doorway for a moment as if deciding what to do.

"I'm glad you're with us Shannon," he said, though my back was turned as I began to unpack my suitcases. "I just want you to know I really love your mother and you."

I scoffed after he had left the room. He definitely deserved the award for biggest sap of the year.

A while later, my mom came up to give me another lecture on the importance of courtesy and respect. I assured her I would be a little saint. She smiled and thanked me for my understanding…blah blah blah.

Finally, I had some time alone. I opened the bookbag I had brought along, chalk full of books. The classics I unpacked first. I continued with the comical essays, the cheap romances, and the mysteries. The classics were my treasures though. I noticed with glee that Dan had thought to give me a bookshelf, probably on my mother's orders.

As I put my books on the shelves, according to genre of course, I came across a peculiar metal thing. I picked it up and squeezed it. It appeared be some kind of clamp.

"Did you take my weight clamp?" I heard from the doorway. I looked to the open door to see Brian standing there, leaning against the frame with his hands folded over his chest.

"He speaks," I said, raising my eyebrows in surprise. Brian smirked and gestured toward the weight clamp.

"You see, this used to be my weight room. It's where I worked out and spent my time."

"That's lovely," I said throwing the clamp to him. He caught it easily with his left hand. I'm going to have to assume he is right-handed and of course he wished to show off. I started towards the doorway and came face to face with Brian. "And in fact, I did take it. I crept into your room and stole it. Then I brought it into my room and placed it on the bookshelf. But you can have it back now and you can get out of my room." I took the door knob and swung the door shut, causing Brian to bounce backward. I smiled happily.

After completely unpacking my wardrobe, I had the intense urge for a shower. The train ride, though only 102 miles, was still cramped and dirty. I wanted to cleanse myself of the dirt and the entire day's events. I gathered my clothes just in time to realize…I did not know where the towels were. Or the bathroom for that matter. I contemplated finding my mother and asking, but decided not to in fear of finding her and Dan in a lovers' lock. I shuddered at the thought.

My only choice was the brute. I sulked down the hallway and followed the sound of clanking metal. Brian's door was closed so I knocked (okay banged) on the door. There was no reply, which I accepted as an invitation. I opened the door, tentatively, and peeked in. I could not see him so I completely opened the door. Brian was in the corner, lying on a bench and lifting an enormous amount of weight. He was shirtless. At this realization, I suddenly turned around.

"Please put a shirt on," I commanded. I know, it was a bit childish. And of course, I'd seen guys without shirts on before. The football players back home prided themselves on walking off the field shirtless everyday after practice. But with Brian, it was weird. He ceased lifting his weights.

"What do you want?" he said dryly.

"Where's the towels?" I demanded, still unable to turn around. He paused a moment before answering.

"First floor, first door on the hallway to your left."

"And the bathroom?"

"Right across from my room."

I left promptly after that and walked across the hallway. I checked the bathroom quickly to see a medium-sized, blue themed room with a Hawaiian curtain hanging on the shower. These men sure did have the worst taste I had ever seen.

Next, I headed down the stairs and followed his directions. The first door on the hallway to my left. I found it easily and opened the door.

It was full of cleaning supplies.

"Shannon," I heard Dan's concerned voice from behind me. "Was your room not clean? I thought we got it all."

I turned around with a blank stare directed towards Dan. "No," I shook my head. "Brian lent me some weights and their a little dirty."

Dan beamed. "I'm glad you guys are getting along."

He had no idea. As I headed back up the stairs, I heard a hum from the bathroom. Then it dawned on me. Brian was taking a shower.

And this was war.


You see, I had never expected a brother so close to my own age. When my mom had told me my step-brother was older, I had imagined he would at least be able to provide me with alcohol. But no. Brian was 17 years old and a senior at Washington High School, my future school. I was just 16 (17 in three weeks), a junior.

After I had done a thorough search of the top floor, I found the towels. I also found some sort of game room. There was a humongous television with a gaming device connected. Two bean bags were in the room with a couch and a mini basketball hoop. Interesting enough…unless of course it was Brian's room.

The next day, a Thursday, Brian headed off to school. I had not yet registered, so my mother took me to the school. I found out that I would be taking some classes with seniors. At my old school, Springfield High School, I had been allowed to test out of a few menial freshman classes, like physical science and algebra I. One more opportunity to see Brian did not please me. My mother had yet to learn about our rivalry. I wasn't going to tell her either. It would crush her and put an obvious strain on her and Dan's relationship. I, for one, was not going to ruin her newfound happiness.

In the car on our way to the Home Depot (for my room of course), she began a conversation with me.

"I want you to be truthful with me," she said. "Because if you're unhappy, baby, we can do something about it."

I smiled at her. "Of course not," I said. "Dan seems like a really nice guy." The sincerity in my voice surprised the both of us.

"You think," she said hopefully? "I knew you'd come to see him the way I do. And Brian?"

I looked at her heart-shaped face, full of delight and pride, and felt a need to tell her the truth. "He's…taking a little bit longer to warm up to," I said. She nodded.

"I know he may come off as detached, but he's been through a tough time, too. Dan tells me his wife died of heart disease a couple years ago. It just killed him."

I was taken aback. I had never thought of Brian in any other way than arrogant. But he had experienced a situation somewhat similar to mine. And then I remembered the look he had given me on the day we had met. And that look said it all. He was not going to welcome anyone new into his family.

I did not respond to my mother, and she didn't seem to notice. For the rest of the afternoon, we worked on painting my room a pale blue. For now, I still had my mother. When I had to start school on Monday, I had no idea how much longer I would be able to keep her.