Adrian Blake had once read that forty-year old women had a better chance of dying in a plane crash than remarrying. Fortunately, her father was one of those rare men who didn't mind marrying a middle-aged divorcee with three sons. And he was a widower with three daughters. A modern Brady Bunch as it were.
"Where are the keys?" her father bellowed from downstairs. "The plane gets here in an hour! I don't want them to think we aren't coming!"
She pursed her lips, but she didn't answer him. She'd already pointed out that the O'Hare airport was only twenty minutes away, and he'd practically taken her head off. He was personally convinced that if they didn't arrive early, Karen and her kids would turn around and get on a plane back to Arizona.
Her grandmother's soothing voice floated upstairs. "There, there. We'll find the keys."
Still lying on her bed, Adrian propped herself up on an elbow. Her shirt stuck to her back, and she had to peel it away. It was only early June, but thanks to the house's faulty air conditioning, her room felt like a sauna.
Her sister rapped on her bedroom door. "Adrian? How do I look?"
Adrian blinked. The skirt touched Nicky's knees. She had a matching buttoned-down shirt and a jacket. She wore plain black glasses. It made her seem studious, but since when had Nicky ever studied for anything?
"Are you applying for a job?" Adrian said.
"No, silly! I want to look nice for our stepmother."
"She has eyes only for Dad. I don't think she'll notice what you're wearing."
"Dad ordered us to dress up, remember?"
Their sister Meg marched into the room. Someone had forced her to wear a frilly yellow sundress, but it didn't cover up the fading bruises on her arms. Adrian had pulled her out of a fight only two days ago. The bully had outweighed Meg by at least fifty pounds, but she'd made his nose bleed.
Nicky combed through her hair with her fingers. "Come on, Adrian. If we're dolled up, you'd better join us."
Adrian got to her feet and searched through her closet. Or rather, through the piles that sat on her floor. Most of her clothes were either in the laundry basket or in a pile somewhere. She settled on a classic black skirt and a halter top. It was the best she could do, considering that she'd probably die of heat exhaustion the moment she stepped out of the house.
"Girls, I've finally found the keys!" Mr. Blake shouted from the kitchen. She heard him stomping on the floor, as if to emphasize his victory. "Let's go!"
The sisters exchanged glances. "God, I wish he'd get married already," Adrian said. "Just four more days..."
They trooped downstairs. He was already out in the garage, but their grandmother was still in the kitchen. She handed Adrian her car keys.
"Why don't you girls go together? I'll drive with Lincoln and keep him calm." The twinkle in her eyes said she knew exactly how insufferable he'd been.
"You're the best," Adrian said.
Georgia laughed. "And don't you forget it."
Sometimes Adrian didn't know what they'd do without her. She'd moved in with them after Adrian's mother had died. Georgia was more an ally than a grandmother.
Adrian drove to O'Hare. Her father was such a meticulous driver that he stuck to the speed limit, but she zoomed ahead of him and cruised at a comfortable eighty mph.
The airport was huge, but Adrian had been there many times. She pulled into the appropriate parking lot and picked up a ticket. The garage was stuffy, so they waited inside the cool airport for the others.
Mr. Blake parked and then ran to the elevator. "Hurry! The plane gets here in twenty minutes!"
Sighing, Adrian followed him. She had to remind herself it was true love that made him act like this. He'd met Karen on a business trip, but she lived in another state, so it'd posed a challenge. Factor in a year and half of many, many out-of-state trips and phone calls and now they had a wedding.
They plunked down on seats near the exits for the United airline. Mr. Blake immediately got up and stared at the monitor that showed all the flight arrivals. It was no use telling him that even if Karen's plane got here on time, it'd still take her a while to file out.
Adrian shifted uncomfortably in her chair. The airport had too many people and too many lousy seats, but she found a discarded newspaper. It had a crossword puzzle, so she borrowed a pen from her father.
Her grandmother had brought a fashion magazine, so now she had it open. "How many sexual partners have I had?" Georgia muttered almost to herself, as she worked on a quiz. "Thirty-four? No. There was that Frenchman. Hmm, forty-seven?"
Living with her had considerably improved the Blake girls' sex education. All of the other kids learned about storks while they'd learned about phalluses and orgasms. It had made for some interesting parent-teacher conferences.
"Fifty?" Nicky offered at last.
"Oh, it's a lot more than that," Georgia bragged.
"Mother, please!" Mr. Blake said, the tips of his ears burning. "Not in front of my daughters!"
She threw him an indulgent glance. "Relax."
"The plane's here!"
All of a sudden, he looked like a boy with his first crush instead of the slightly world-weary man he was.
Adrian went back to her crossword puzzle. The passengers wouldn't get off the plane for at least ten minutes.
"Let's go, let's go."
Meg tugged on her hand. Resigned, she got up. Adrian tore the page out of the newspaper, so she could finish it later. They waited outside the checkpoints where all the passengers for the United airline would file through.
Mr. Blake stood on his toes and scanned the crowd. Despite herself, Adrian was doing the same. Karen was a petite woman, so she couldn't pinpoint her. She was lost somewhere, but then Adrian picked out her dark head.
The crowd magically parted and created a path for Karen. A light shone down on Adrian's father, casting a halo above his head. Dramatic music swelled and tears welled up in everyone's eyes. He gazed soulfully at Karen, his only love and sweetheart. He had his arms full of long-stemmed red roses still misty with water drops.
What really happened was this:
"Sugar pie!" Karen screeched.
"Pumpkin!" he cried.
Karen dropped her carry-on bag. She leapt into his arms and wrapped her legs around him. With an urgency that was found only in teenagers in a car's backseat, they swapped saliva. Adrian didn't know which was more disgusting: her father licking Karen's throat or Karen's pelvis rubbing against him.
"Aren't they cute?" Nicky squealed.
"I'm gonna be sick," Adrian mumbled.
Karen's sons stood behind the adults. The first one made a retching sound, and the second one coughed. They made no move to approach, but Adrian didn't blame them. Their parents were still groping each other.
Adrian's grandmother was watching the happy couple. Her beaming smile made it clear that she had no intention of stopping them.
Karen's hands slipped under his shirt. The sight seared Adrian's retinas, and she half-turned. Wasn't there a law against watching your parent getting some? In a public place, no less?
"Can we run away?" Meg whispered to Adrian. She was cautiously sliding to the left where the parking lot was. "They're gross."
Adrian kept a firm grip on her shoulders. "Yeah, they are, but we've got to be polite."
"Come on. Let's go."
She steered Meg over to Karen's sons. "Hi. I'm Adrian Blake," she said to the boys. "This is my sister Meg. And you guys must be our soon-to-be stepbrothers."
The older one blushed. "I'm Isaac." His glasses slipped down his nose, and he pushed it up. "Isaac Montgomery."
Adrian reviewed her mental files. From what Karen had said, this had to be her middle son. Junior high school, probably. Not that much older than Meg.
"And that's Nicky," Adrian said, pointing to her.
Nicky sighed mistily. She had tears in her eyes, as she gazed at Mr. Blake and Karen, but somehow Adrian didn't think her tears sprang from embarrassment. When Meg hissed her name, she came to life.
"Oh! I'm Nicky," she said, even though Adrian had already introduced her. "And you'd be, um, I forgot your names."
The youngest Montgomery thrust his chest out. He had to be only eight or nine, but he flexed his muscles. "My real name is Xiron Darkstar Fury. I've escaped from Planet Xilithium," he informed them in a tone that indicated he was telling a great secret. "They're trying to take me prisoner, but I'll die before I go back."
Such an announcement made Adrian grin. At least the kid had an imagination.
Nicky blinked. "Xiron, is it?"
Isaac scowled at him. "Don't be stupid," he snapped. He turned back to the sisters. "His real name is Owen."
Georgia finally tore her eyes away from the kissing couple. She beamed at the Montgomery boys. "Please call me Georgia. I'll feel old if you call me Grandma." Her eyes drifted over them, but then she frowned. "Why are there only two of you?"
So that was it! Adrian had known Karen had three sons, but she'd seen only Isaac and Owen-Xiron. Where was the last one?
"Alex had to make a call," Isaac said. "He should be here soon."
Karen had shown off many pictures of her sons, but right now, Adrian couldn't remember what Alex looked like.
"There he is."
The guy was average-looking. A large pimple in the middle of his forehead and a ratty old gray shirt, but he seemed nice. Adrian had her smile prepared, but just in time she noticed another guy heading towards them. Isaac jerked his head at him.
Adrian's eyebrows almost shot up. The pictures Karen had displayed hadn't done Issac's older brother justice. He had a trim, athletic physique that his clothes didn't entirely hide. A soccer player, maybe? His hair was a color somewhere between brown and black and his eyes light green. Definitely no pimples. As Adrian's best friend would have put it, he was a sex slave to be ravished hourly.
Georgia gasped and put a hand to her heart. "Oh, bless me. Who is this prime article of flesh?"
Alex smiled. It wasn't a proper smile because he didn't show teeth. His lips remained closed, his eyes curiously hard.
"I'm Alex. You must be Mrs. Blake."
"Call me Georgia, honey. If only I were only forty years younger..."
Nicky's face lit up. "Oh! Your name starts with an A! That makes a second A in the family because of Adrian. Isn't that exciting?"
Alex's light green eyes rested on her. Adrian bristled because she could guess what he was thinking. Nicky was the epitome of a dumb blonde sometimes. The irony was that she actually wasn't blonde.
"It's called alliteration," Isaac said, his voice kind. Now Adrian had the feeling he agreed with Alex about Nicky, though he was nicer about it. "That's when you have two or more words that start with the same letter."
"Is that what you call it?" Nicky said.
Meg and Owen-Xiron were deep into a discussion. Apparently the kid had smuggled his light saber into one of his bags, and he was telling her about it. At least Meg wasn't punching him.
Adrian listened to them. She turned her head, only to find Alex studying her. His gaze traveled up from her legs to her breasts then to her face. Then he gave her another look-over. It was such a deliberate inspection that it was like an insult. She would have blushed, if she could have, but blushing didn't come easily.
She looked him squarely in the eye, letting him know she'd caught him. A corner of his mouth tipped, but there was no guilt.
He extended his hand. "And you'd be..."
"Adrian Blake," she said, shaking his hand. "Your stepsister."
The recrimination in her tone seemed to amuse him. He held onto her hand just a bit too long before he released it.
"I've always wanted a stepsister," he drawled.
That caught Nicky's attention. "I've always wanted brothers. It gets so tiring to have two sisters sometimes."
Alex's mouth quirked.
Mr. Blake and Karen finally broke apart. They were flushed, their faces red and their clothes askew. And they appeared absolutely happy about it.
"Whoops!" Karen said with a laugh. "Guess we got a little carried away."
"A little more carried away and we'd get a sex show for free," Alex murmured almost under his breath, but just loud enough for Adrian to overhear him.
Karen frowned at him. "That's enough," she said sharply. "Come on, let's get our bags."
They went over to the baggage claim. With so many suitcases, carry-ons, backpacks, and laptops, they straggled to the parking lot.
Owen-Xiron immediately reached into his suitcase, but his mother stopped him with a weary rejoinder. "Don't play with your light saber here."
Adrian stifled a giggle. She wondered if Karen even realized the double entendre she'd just uttered. Then she was sorry because Alex cut her a sideways glance. He'd heard her laugh, and judging by his amused stare, she knew he knew.
Mr. Blake clapped his hands. "All right, guys! Who's hungry?"
They settled on a family-friendly pizza parlor because the Montgomerys hadn't eaten on the flight and because it was dinner time anyway.
Since there were nine of them now, it required some finesse to load all the luggage and figure out the driving arrangements. It suddenly struck Adrian that the future would be like this. Her family of five had swelled to nine.
Mr. Blake had a minivan, though, so they put the luggage there. Adrian wasn't surprised when almost everyone went with her. No one wanted to watch the parents make out again except Georgia.
Since Alex obviously didn't know the area and since Nicky was still a year away from her driver's license, Adrian drove with Alex in the passenger seat. It wouldn't have been right to squash him with the kids.
She itched to put some music on, but she reminded herself to be polite. "So how's your first impression of Chicago?" she asked Alex.
"More humid than Arizona, but it's not without its benefits." His voice was so soft that she almost missed what he'd just said.
Since she was driving, she couldn't take her eyes off the road, but she glanced at him sideways. There was that closed-lipped smile once again.
She'd met some guys like him, so sure that girls would trip over themselves. And the thing was, they were usually right. A lot of her girlfriends bemoaned the lack of nice guys, but they threw themselves at the next available swaggering bad boy or a jock.
The pizza parlor came into sight. She parked and then they all went into the restaurant. They had to wait a few minutes to get a table.
Nicky clutched Adrian's shoulder. "Is that Jason in the corner?"
Adrian wished Nicky hadn't said his name aloud. Despite everything that had happened, her heart leapt.
By now, Meg had seen Jason too. "Can I punch him?"
"No, you may not," Adrian said.
"Someone should castrate him," their grandmother said. "With a dull butter knife."
"Not you. Come on."
The conversation seemed to make Owen-Xiron's eyes brighten. "If everybody hates the guy, can I hate him too? I could kill him with my light saber."
Isaac pushed his glasses up his nose. "Violence is never the right solution. It's just an inefficient method that bullies use to intimidate people, and inevitably it propagates another fresh wave of violence-"
Adrian raised her eyebrows. "How old are you?"
His older brother watched him with an amused eye. "He's the family's Socrates," Alex said, thumping his shoulder. "Our little philosopher."
Isaac jerked away from him. "And Alex is the family's Casanova. Our little philanderer." He moved off to a side, standing near his mother.
Alex just laughed.
"You shouldn't patronize Isaac," Adrian said.
"He's wanted to impress you ever since Mom showed him your picture. He thinks you're hot."
The hostess finally showed them to a table. The kids sat on one end while the adults sat on the other end. Mr. Blake and Karen were still holding hands, somewhere off in a private world. He looked so content that it made Adrian envy him. She knew he'd been lonely after her mother's death, and it was only too right that he find another woman, but she wanted that glowing happiness for herself too.
"You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find that prince," Georgia had said once.
Well, Adrian had done her fair share of kissing. The frogs definitely hadn't transformed into that desired prince. Most of her male friends wanted to sleep with her. They'd all offered at one point or another. And she'd been more than tempted to agree. What was an eighteen year old girl supposed to do?
As she stared at Jason, she came to a conclusion that she'd settled on earlier. Maybe she expected too much from guys. Maybe you had to be really, really lucky to find love. Or maybe it just wasn't for everyone.
Meg kicked her under the table. "Adrian? What kind of drink do you want?" Her tone made it clear she'd already asked.
Everyone else was looking at her. And so was the waitress with a pad in her hand.
Isaac talked about a science book he'd recently read. Nicky was two years older than him, but she listened to him with a wide-eyed innocence. Adrian only half understood what he was talking about. The kid was a budding science teacher.
Alex looked bored. "Isn't there anything to do in this town?" he said to her. "If I'm going to be stuck here the whole summer..."
"We're near Chicago, so there are lots of places to see."
She listed a few attractions, but when his expression didn't change, she was exasperated. "You could have just stayed in Arizona, you know."
"My mom wanted us all together as a family. I go to college this fall, so she's turning sentimental."
"Yeah, I'm going too. What's your school?"
They traded information for a bit. Adrian had lost count of how many times she'd talked about college. She'd graduated from high school only last week, but time moved fast.
Her grandmother had eavesdropped. "Why don't you show Alex around? Make the boy feel welcome. Take him to meet your friends. They'd love him."
"Please do!" Karen said suddenly. "It would be a tremendous favor if you did that. I don't want the boys cooped up in the house."
"Don't worry, pumpkin," Mr. Blake said. "I signed up Owen at Meg's day camp. And I got some flyers about that science thing for Isaac."
"Oh I know. You're so good to me." She stroked his cheek, and then they were off into their world again, gazing at each other.
Alex's soft drawl reached Adrian's ears. "So are you?"
"What?" she said.
"Are you going to be my tour guide?"
Jason and his family got up from their booth. They slowed when they saw her. Conscious of his gaze, she smiled and nodded at them. There was a chorus of hellos and goodbyes between Adrian's and Jason's families.
After they'd left, Georgia lost her smile. Her eyes were hard as flint. "Still should have let me castrate him."
Adrian just shrugged. She'd actually stayed on good terms with Jason. In public anyway. It had confounded her friends, who had expected her to pine after him, but they didn't know about the tears she'd shed in her bedroom or in the shower. That kind of thing was too private.
Alex picked up the conversation, as if he'd never noticed the interruption. "Depends on what?"
"On if you'll behave."
The amused look in his eyes said it all.
Her grandmother was now speaking to Karen. "I wish you'd reconsider staying at our home instead of staying at a hotel until the wedding."
Karen clung to Mr. Blake's hand. "Oh, we'll wait until after."
It almost made Adrian laugh. Who did they think they were fooling? Alex was smiling that obscure smile, his lips tight, and she couldn't help but feel that their parents' false modesty amused him too.
The drinks arrived and then the garlic bread as an appetizer. Adrian looked around the table. The two families seemed to be getting along. Of course, she wasn't that naive to think things would be this easy, but tonight, it was a good sign.
"To our family!" Karen cried, holding her cup aloft.
Everyone echoed her toast. "To our family," Adrian repeated softly. She hoped it would work out. For her father's sake, it had to.
AUTHOR NOTE: This is the stepbrother cliche. In some ways, this story will be an experiment because I'll be trying out one or two new things with the romance aspect, so I hope it succeeds. Let's see how you guys feel :)
For now, the rating is a T, but if I deem it appropriate, I will change the rating to a M. If that happens, I will give advance warning.
Q: How many chapters will there be?
A: Probably somewhere within 20 to 30 chapters range. And yes, the chapters themselves are exactly 10 pages unless I say otherwise.
Q: How old are the characters?
A: Adrian and Alex are both 18, Nicky 15, Isaac 13, Meg 11, Owen 9. Adrian is a few months older than Alex.