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Authors: Nicole Jacquelyn

Change of Heart

BOOK: Change of Heart
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To my sister and brother-in-law, who are the reason this story was written. You prove every day that being a parent has little to do with genetics and everything to do with love.

Thank you to my daughters, who motivate me and cheer me on, even when I'm completely distracted by the characters in my head. I love you guys! To my parents and my sister, who have my back. Every time. Always. I couldn't have done this without you.

To Nikki, who's my right hand and keeps me on track. Thank you a million times for your feedback and, more importantly, your friendship.

To Ashley, who opened a thousand doors for me, Toni for listening to me ramble at one a.m., and to Donna, who I will thank forever for taking a chance on my very first book, thank you.

To my agent Marisa who keeps advocating for these characters like they're her children, and my editor Alex who loves this book almost as much as I do, thank you.

To the readers and the bloggers who have gotten me this far, I owe you big. I'll never forget that.

Sixteen years old

P
eople always hid the good shit in their bedrooms.

It was like they believed that some invisible force field kept others from finding the huge dildo or the small stash of weed in their top dresser drawer. Wrong. The only things that kept me from snooping were padlocks and Dobermans—and even those could be bypassed.

I never looked for the expensive things. Most of the foster homes I'd lived in didn't
have
expensive things, and even if they did, I had no use for them. What was I going to do, try and pawn stolen jewelry? I wasn't that stupid.

I also wasn't planning on living on the streets. I'd tried that once.

A fourteen-year-old girl who was a little over five feet tall and less than a hundred pounds didn't have a chance living out there without getting the shit kicked out of her by other homeless people who were bigger, stronger, and had been doing it a lot longer than she had. I didn't even want to remember the others, the ones who'd been a little too nice to me.

No, I'd stay in foster care. For the most part, the families I'd lived with weren't so bad. Sure, a lot of them were in it for the money the state gave them for my upkeep, and there might have been the occasional drinking problem or porn addiction, but in the seven houses I'd lived in, there was only one that I'd left on purpose. I'd felt no guilt over calling the police when I found the overly handsy foster dad's stash of heroin. Boom—new foster home for me.

One guess where I'd found that little nugget of escape. Yep, the bedroom.

I smirked to myself as I pulled open the drawer in the nightstand that sat to the right of my newest foster parents' king-sized bed. A pair of glasses, a string of condoms, a broken necklace, a few buttons, a romance novel, and lube greeted my eyes. I shuddered but slammed the drawer closed. Gross, but nothing out of the ordinary.

I'd already searched through the dresser and the matching nightstand and hadn't found anything. Where did they hide the juicy stuff? I needed leverage, dammit.

“What the fuck are you doing in here?” a deep voice said from behind me as I took a step toward the closet.

Shit.

“Looking for the bathroom?” I replied in an overly innocent tone.

I spun slowly to meet the eyes of the guy standing in the bedroom doorway. Jesus, it was Bram. It was just my luck that the jackass adopted twin son of my foster parents had to be the one who'd caught me. The other twin, Alex, would have laughed, put me in a headlock that I was far too old for, and dragged me out of the room.

This brother, on the other hand, was going to be a problem. The two were so different it was amazing that they were brothers, not to mention identical twins. Not that anyone would ever mistake one for the other. Where Alex was fun and happy and smiling, Bram was a total asshole. And I meant that in the nicest possible way.

He was angry and scowling all the time. It was as if the entire world had let him down, and he no longer had the time to pretend to enjoy anything.
Yeah, join the club, dude.

I stared at his face for a few seconds, wondering if I'd be able to talk myself out of the mess I'd gotten into, when Bram took one fast step forward and grabbed ahold of my wrist, jerking me back out of the bedroom.

Nope. I wasn't getting out of it.

“What did you take?” he hissed, glaring at me as he shoved me back a couple steps down the hallway.

“Nothing,” I said back, rubbing my wrist.

I considered myself pretty street savvy, and I didn't think Bram was going to hurt me or anything, but the guy was really freaking intimidating. He was almost a foot taller than I was, with broad shoulders and a five-o'clock shadow that highlighted the fact that he was grown. At nineteen, neither of the boys lived in the house with us, but they shared an apartment in the detached garage, which meant I saw them pretty often.

Too often.

“What are you doing here?” I asked, turning away from him to move toward the living room. Nervousness would look like guilt, and since I wasn't fucking guilty of anything but taking a quick look around, I wasn't going to let him know he intimidated me. “Aren't you supposed to be at work or something?”

I knew he was supposed to be at work. I knew everyone's schedule; that's why I'd thought it was safe to get the lay of the land. I'd only been in the Evans house for a little over two weeks, but everything seemed a bit too good to be true. So when my foster mom Liz took her daughter Katie into town for some Christmas shopping and the guys were at the logging office for the day, I'd thought I was in the clear.

I'd barely gotten to the living room entrance before hands were gripping me once again, halting my movement.

“What the hell did you take?” Bram asked again as I tried to pull away.

He gave me a little shake and jerked me around to face him, and all of my earlier bravado vanished in an instant.

“I didn't take anything,” I whispered hoarsely, lifting my chin as I slapped at his hands.

“You think you're the first kid to pull this shit?” he asked harshly through clenched teeth. “My parents took you in, buy you shit, feed you—and you steal from them?”

“I didn't fucking take anything!” I repeated, swallowing hard.

I froze completely as one of Bram's hands dropped from my shoulder and slid down the front of my stomach, sliding around the edge of my hip and across my back. I didn't move away when he dropped to his knees and lifted up each pant leg to check the inside of my ratty dollar store socks, and I barely breathed as he wiggled his fingers into the front pockets of my jeans and then the back pockets.

When his hands moved back up, my eyesight began to grow hazy from lack of oxygen, and just as his palm slid down between my breasts, I took in a large gasp of air that turned into a loud sob.

“Anita?” Bram asked in confusion, dropping his hands as he took a frantic step backward, his hands in the air.

“I told you I didn't take anything,” I murmured, staring at him through tear-blurred eyes. “I told you.”

“I'm sorry. I—you were in my parents' room,” he stuttered, his expression softer than I'd ever seen it before.

I wiped my face with the long sleeves of my T-shirt and moved backward, watching him closely for any indication that he would try and stop me. Then, when I'd finally gotten my breathing under control, I spoke. “If you ever touch me again, I'll kill you.”

I turned and ran toward my room, never slowing even though I couldn't hear him following me.

Later, we pretended that nothing happened. He didn't rat me out, and I didn't tell his parents that he'd felt me up. Our silence wasn't a truce though; it was battle lines clearly drawn.

Chapter 1

Abraham

Fourteen years later

Y
ou have five grandbabies, Mom. Pretend a couple of those are mine,” I said with a kiss to the side of my mom's head.

“It doesn't work that way,” she said in frustration, pinching me lightly on the side as she moved past me into the kitchen.

We'd been having the same conversation for the past five years, and my answer had never changed. I didn't want kids. It's not like I didn't love my nieces and nephews—I did. I just didn't want the responsibility of having one of my own. I was happy being the uncle who bought cool-as-hell Christmas presents and took the kids fishing when I felt like it—then sending them home with their parents.

“Why do you keep asking?” a voice called out from the back door, making my jaw clench. “You know Bram will never love anyone as much as he loves himself.”

“Anita,” Mom scolded with a sour look.

“Interesting, coming from you,” I murmured, bracing myself as I glanced at the slender woman walking into the room.

“What's that supposed to mean?” Anita asked, dropping a bag of groceries hard on the table.

“Don't see any kids pulling on your skirts,” I snapped back.

Anita's eyes grew wide with hurt for only a moment. “I'm not wearing a skirt,” she hissed stupidly, spinning on her heel and almost running out of the kitchen.

I watched her leave, then glanced at my mom in confusion.
What the fuck?

“Christ, Abraham,” my mom said, shaking her head as she pushed past me. “I don't understand why the two of you can't just ignore each other.”

I stood there like an idiot for a minute, then followed them toward the living room, stopping just on the other side of the wall as I heard my mom's voice.

“You okay?” Mom asked.

A watery chuckle answered her.

“You know he was just—”

“I don't expect anything less, Mom. I'm fine,” Anita choked out. I leaned hard against the wall and closed my eyes.
Shit.
I wasn't sure what was wrong, but I knew she'd been crying. Her voice was normally husky—I'd pointed out more than once that she'd make a good phone sex operator—but it was magnified by a thousand as she brushed off my mom.

“If you would—” my mom said, her words cutting off as Ani spoke.

“I'm fine. Promise.”

Before I could move from my spot, Anita was stepping out of the living room, and the front door was opening wide to show my cousin Trevor slipping inside.

“Trev!” Anita yelled, running toward him.

“Hey,” he said on a grunt as Ani jumped at him, wrapping her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist.

My stomach twisted.

“What's wrong? You been crying?” he asked softly as he wrapped his arms around her.

Ani's voice was muffled when she answered him, so I couldn't hear what she was saying, but the second his hand started to run soothingly up and down her back I'd had enough. We were in my parents' entryway for Christ's sake, and it looked like he was about to fuck her against the wall.

I snorted, bringing Trev's eyes to me. I ignored the glare he sent me over her shoulder as I turned and left the room.

*  *  *

“How's that new site coming along?” Mom asked, trying anything to break the silence at the dinner table.

Friday night dinners had become something of a tradition at my parents' house when we were just kids. While all our friends had to be home on Sunday night for dinner, dragging their hungover asses to the table, our parents had decided that making us sit down as a family before the weekend got crazy would be a better way to keep us in line. They weren't wrong. Sitting down at the table with your parents at the beginning of the weekend was a good little reminder to not fuck up during the rest of it.

For a while before we'd all grown up and moved away, there were eleven of us crammed around my parents' dining room table. Mom and Dad, me, my twin brother Alex, my little sister Katie, and from the house next door my aunt Ellie and uncle Mike and their boys Trevor, Henry, and their foster son Shane. Anita didn't move in until after I had already moved out, but before my brother Alex had left for the Army.

I wasn't sure why we always ate at my parents' house, but it had been that way for as long as I could remember. Aunt Ellie usually came over to help my mom, sometimes taking over her entire kitchen while she cooked, but we rarely ate at Uncle Mike and Aunt Ellie's house. Maybe it was because, when we were all home, we didn't even fit at Ellie's dining room table, though getting us all in the same place at the same time rarely happened anymore.

We were all scattered around the country now. My little sister Katie had moved to San Diego years ago and eventually married Shane, who was stationed down there with the Marines. Henry was down there, too, with his own Marine unit. My brother Alex had joined the Army when we were almost twenty and was stationed in Missouri. Trevor, Ani, and I were the only ones left in Oregon with our parents.

We were also the only ones who showed any interest in our family's logging business.

“The new site's going fine,” Dad mumbled as he shoveled more food into his mouth. “Everything's on schedule.”

“Well that's good,” Mom said brightly. “Maybe you guys can take a break when Katie gets here.”

My head snapped up, and I saw Ani's do the same. “When's Kate coming up?”

“She said she was going to find tickets for next month. I guess one of the airlines is having a sale or something,” Mom answered with a smile.

“She's going to need it with all those munchkins,” Trevor said with a chuckle.

“Why do you think we never went anywhere when you were kids?” Dad asked Trevor, leaning forward to grab a serving tray.

“Your dad and I realized early that, if we wanted to take you kids on vacation, we'd have to rent a passenger van and drive you. Too expensive to fly.”

“Remember that time we went to see Mount Rushmore?” I asked Trev, grinning.

“Fun trip,” Trevor replied, nodding. “Would have been better if Henry didn't puke all over me every two hundred miles.”

Anita snorted, and I couldn't help but laugh. We'd had to drive the entire way with all the windows down, it had stunk so badly.

“Poor Henry,” Mom said, smirking. “That boy always got carsick.”

“And I always had to sit next to him!” Trevor bitched.

“Well,
I
wasn't sitting next to the puker. He's
your
brother,” I said seriously, glancing up from my plate to meet Ani's eyes.

She was smiling, but it was small. The kind of smile a person wears when they aren't part of the joke but are trying really hard not to look out of place.

My mouth snapped shut.

“Well at least none of Katie and Shane's kids get motion sickness,” Mom said, leaning back in her chair.

“There's no way Katie's making that drive again,” Ani finally piped in, smiling at my mom. “She said, the last time they drove home, it took them twice as long as it should've because they had to stop a thousand times.”

“Little bladders,” my dad said, making us all chuckle.

I glanced at my watch and pushed my plate back. “Thanks for dinner, Mom.”

“You're leaving already?” she asked, raising one eyebrow.

“I've got plans tonight. Couldn't change them,” I replied, standing from my seat and grabbing my plate and glass. “I'll clear the table before I go.”

My mom grumbled a bit, but sat back and let Trevor and me clear the table around my dad, who was still eating. I always tried to help my mom clean up after dinner, at least when there were so few of us kids there. When Katie or Alex was home, I pretended like I had no idea how to clean up so they'd get stuck with the dishes. They deserved it for getting out of so many family dinners.

“Man, you need to ease up on Ani,” Trevor murmured while we worked around each other at the sink. “She's been off lately.”

“You kidding?” I looked at him in surprise. “She starts that shit.”

“Just take a step back.”

“Barking up the wrong tree, Trev,” I replied, drying my hands off on a towel. “She can dish it but she can't take it? Give me a break.”

“I'm just saying—ease up a bit. It's getting to the point that you're pissing me off lately.”

“You her protector now? Got something going on with Ani?” I asked, turning to look at him. The question was stupid, and I regretted it the moment it popped out of my mouth.

“Would that be a problem?”

“No,” I ground out from between my teeth. “Do whatever you want.”

“You're such an ass sometimes, Abraham.” Trev sighed and shook his head. “I don't have anything going on with Ani, numbnuts. But I'll still kick your ass if you don't fucking lay off.”

I walked out of the kitchen before he could say another word. I was pissed. I never started that shit with Ani—it was always her running her mouth. Christ, the woman couldn't go five minutes without sniping at me, and it had been that way since we were kids. Did I care about her? Of course. Hard not to care when someone's been in your life for the better part of fifteen years, but that didn't mean I was going to lie down and let her walk all over me.

I didn't want to think about why the thought of her with Trevor made my gut churn.

“I'm out of here,” I said quietly to my mom, giving her a quick hug.

“Well that was a fast cleanup,” she replied, patting me on the back.

“Told you I had plans. I'll see you in the next couple of days.”

I nodded at Ani and my aunt and uncle, then patted my dad on the shoulder as I made my way through the house. I was going to have to haul ass if I wanted to be on time.

BOOK: Change of Heart
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