Title: The Rental, #1
Series: The Rental
Author: Rebecca Berto
Genre: Erotic Romance
Expected Release Date: September 22, 2014
Cover Designer: Berto Designs
At first, Rick Delaney watched Vee Wyland with the hungry eyes of a fox as if she were a rabbit … his rabbit. But one day, he slunk away without notice.
Months away from graduating high school, Vee’s life is on the verge of crumbling. At home, dire finances and long hours test her family. Her boyfriend hardly pays attention to her. And she can’t shake her feelings for his older brother, Rick.
Then, all in one night, tragedy tears her teetering life into shreds.
When Rick and Vee reunite, the sparks fly. However, she unwittingly signs away a future for both of them. In his world, a place called The Rental, she becomes Victoria and Rick becomes Rhett. One part of her watches with fascination, while the other unfurls and embraces her sexual awakening. It began as a game, but the consequences are real.
Following their heart’s desire is forbidden, but walking away could strip their hope for a future.
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Rick Delaney was parked outside my house with my boyfriend. He stepped out of his car and lifted two fingers, saluting me at the front door. He shouldn’t have been.
How could he return to Melbourne after a whole year when I resigned to a life without him—a life, specifically, with the brother he’d arrived? Bottled-up feelings pounded in my chest so hard I was glad no one was home to witness it.
And my boyfriend? He tripped getting out of the passenger seat. That’s what can happen when you looked at your mobile phone instead of your girlfriend’s smiling face. My expression soured as he passed me, not even a peck on the cheek.
“What’s with the ride?” I called.
Their mum, Mrs Delaney, should’ve been dropping Justin off like usual. But he ignored me and trudged farther into my house.
Rick noticed my expression and jogged up the stairs. Elder by three years, he stood tall with the composure of a man compared to his teenage brother. Strong shoulders filled out his dark T-shirt. He was bigger in not only his upper body but everywhere—thick arms and thighs and a solid build. Add that to a smile and he melted the hearts of women everywhere—seventeen-year-old girls included.
“Mum and Dad are in Europe,” Rick said. “They call it a long-awaited honeymoon. Justin and I call it a mid-life crisis.”
My jaw hung open. How could Justin not tell me? I thought this type of thing excited a boyfriend. Weeks of no parental supervision at home—it’d excite me if not for the sudden pit of worry in my belly. “They’re away? They’re not here?”
“That’s what a holiday is.” Rick deadpanned.
“It’s just that Justin never told me anything.”
“It was only a few days ago.”
As if that made it okay. If Justin didn’t spend so much time with his phone in his face, he might have remembered to tell me. I didn’t know why, but it cut me that I didn’t know an important change in his life. I told him every time my dad left to truck interstate for work and that was every few weeks. He was gone more than he was here, and Mum worked odd hours. It was lonely and hard to stay away from the temptations Justin and my best friend, Cara offered me at parties or when we hung out.
“Hey, bro,” Justin called behind us. He came up and slammed his hand on the side of the front door. “Come fix the washing machine.”
“Washing machine?” I asked. Why are you acting like you live here? I was close to adding.
“Yeah,” he held out the front of his top, “got a Coke from your fridge and it squirted everywhere.”
“We don’t have any Coke left in the fridge.”
“You do in the spare one.”
I bit my lip and flexed my fingers by my side. Facing him, I cracked a thin smile. Most of the time, Justin wasn’t like this. Correction, before recently, my boyfriend wasn’t like this. He kissed me like no one else, and made me laugh, but damn it, he either had the memory of a goldfish or was too ignorant to care.
“That was for tomorrow night!” I stared into his eyes with hope of making him feel guilty, but he was clueless. “Dad’s back from Sydney tomorrow, and Mum’s got a dinner for us three. You know he loves Coke. You know he’s been away for weeks. You know Mum’s too busy working to buy more groceries before then.”
Justin shook his head. “So uptight.” He squeezed my ass, smiling as he planted his lips fully to mine. “I love that about you, but seriously, I forgot. And, your mum works at a supermarket, for fuck’s sake.”
True, but Justin drank Coke, and ate all the ice cream, and ate all the chips, and I got sick of explaining to Mum why I was so selfish as to keep putting her out when she only requested little favours like these on special occasions. Such as tomorrow.
“I’m not uptight.” I paused. “It’s fine about the top—I’ll hand wash and Rick—”
But as I turned to tell him not to worry about fixing the washing machine, my hands met a rock solid chest. I froze. My palms lingered on the contours of his defined pecs with my fingertips at his collarbone. Not able to look at his eyes, I dropped my hands, as if that would undo our moment.
I’d spend sleepless nights dreaming about his body, as I did when he was far away and stopped talking to me. Pictures and memories of him were all I had.
Justin was hot with his dark eyes and brown hair, but compared to Rick, he was scrawny. Mostly bones everywhere, and when we made out, his hips rubbed into mine. I’d forgotten his shortfalls when it was just him and me. I liked him plenty and that grew to love. But now my past was back, and I had no idea what to feel when seconds ago my hands were on his brother.
That brother with a firm build, one that wouldn’t rub against me if we were to … I shut down that thought pattern. I shouldn’t imagine Rick on top of me. We were three years apart, and at my age, sex with him was illegal.
I pulled my thoughts in and mumbled, “Oh, um,” then took a breath and tried again. “Dad’s back tomorrow, so don’t worry about it. He’ll fix it then. I feel terrible putting you out.”
“It’s fine, Vee, really. Kill some time.”
“Thanks, fag,” Justin said, pulling at my arm to drag me away.
“God, Justin, you’re such an ass sometimes.” I shook out of his grip. He looked offended, so I added, “Gotta go clean up the Coke, remember?”
“Seriously,” Rick said, “you two just chill. I’ll let myself through. This way?” He pointed down the hall.
I nodded. “I’ll come with you.”
“Fine.” Justin walked the other way. “You two have fun. I’m hanging in Vee’s bed.”
“Such a tool,” Rick said, walking to the washing machine.
“I know,” I mumbled.
I took out the mop and bucket, and then went to the cupboard to grab the concentrate liquid.
“I was born with a link to him, but indulge me,” Rick crouched by the washing machine on his haunches, legs spread and hands dangling between, “why is someone as smart and gorgeous as you with him?”
“I ask myself why—”
He said I was smart and gorgeous.
“Oh,” I managed between strangled breaths, “thanks.”
He half-smiled then got to work. His T-shirt rode up on one side as he leant over. Just above his pant line, the angular ‘V’ at his lower back peeked out. Hard as I tried not to gawk, it was impossible when I was alone with him in this small space.
“The um,” I started and almost forgot what I was going to say. Luckily, I recovered. “The machine won’t start. Not sure what it is. Mum and I have been hand washing for now.”
Rick turned, focusing his attention on the washer. I wiped the laundry bench and cupboard and mopped the floor, trying to concentrate on the mop end and not Rick’s ass or his body bent over the machine.
After I was done, I went to my room to hang with Justin, but he wasn’t there. I did a lap of the house, called his name, and checked the other rooms too, but he had literally disappeared. I paused a moment in the kitchen, steadying myself on the corner of the bench while I let the realisation absorb. He left without a goodbye, without much of a hello for that matter.
“Rick!” I called.
He emerged wiping his top down his face. I looked away as fast as I could, but the image of his lean eight-pack projected in my imagination anyway.
Justin might’ve been outside or somewhere I hadn’t checked. He had to be. I pushed aside the topic. It would be stupid to suggest he left.
“Thank you so much,” I said, meeting Rick’s eyes, “for in there.” I pointed behind him.
“But you don’t know if I fixed it.”
He smiled with his lip jutted out and nodded, as if I impressed him. “Well,” he said, “you can be a woman of modern technology from now on. All fixed. It was a loose belt. Slipped off.”
“Oh, lucky me.”
The silence became louder, and judging by the tightness between Rick’s eyebrows, he had just noticed Justin’s absence.
“Justin?” I queried, and he nodded cautiously. “Yeah, I looked everywhere for him. This might sound stupid, but I think he left. I couldn’t find him. He’s just not here.”
Rick tensed his jaw, scoping the open living area. “Bull,” he said, but by the dismissive tone, he sounded like he was saying it to himself or about something else.
He stalked off toward my backyard without another word, so I scampered after him, my little legs no match for his long strides. I flipped the light on outside and Rick walked down the steps, following the shallow lighting spilling over the clumpy, yellowed grass and shrubs lining the property fence.
“Unbelievable,” Rick muttered, I thought, but I couldn’t be sure with his back facing me or by the growl to his tone.
He eased me back with a polite hand and walked around to my front door and beyond. He surveyed the porch and front yard in the same swift and efficient manner as the back, and then turned to me. We were facing each other separated by my whole house. The front light slammed behind him and it made him glow. I supposed I looked the same, and wondered if I seemed as mysterious and alluring as he did. Not possible.
We shut the doors and walked towards each other, meeting near my kitchen bench.
“Did he tell you he was leaving?”
“Not at all,” I said, scratching my head. “I just came from the laundry and he was gone. Maybe …” but I trailed off, feeling stupid for thinking it.
“What?” Rick said, eyes narrowed.
“Maybe he texted me letting me know why.”
Rick shrugged. “You could check.”
I did, returning with my mobile phone. I had one new message.
“Unbelievable,” I muttered, embodying the same rage as Rick.
“What? He didn’t—” Rick looked at my mobile which I handed over, and he cut himself off to read. “He did. Where did he even go? What a bastard.”
Rick’s cheeks were inflamed now, and a telltale vein popped from his forehead. He scrubbed his temples with the heels of his hands.
I remained there not doing a thing. I hadn’t seen Rick for so long. I hadn’t a clue how to calm him down or what would be appropriate.
“It’s not a big deal,” I said. “He’s my boyfriend, not yours.”
“He’s my brother. I’m here to look out for him and the kid slips from my fingers.”
“Look out?” I asked.
Rick’s face blanched. He stood there with these big helpless arms dangling on either side of his body. He coughed and said, “Parents are away. Someone’s gotta keep him out of trouble.”
“Oh.” I sighed. “It’s nice of you to come back to keep an eye on him. I’m sure he doesn’t think so. Now he can’t run amuck with freedom.” I had so many questions to ask Rick, like whether London was an extended holiday or was he there for work or did he miss me? I couldn’t ask any of them though when we had more important things on our minds.
“I don’t think so either,” Rick said in a solemn tone. The severity of it hit me square in the chest like a physical force, and my body stood immobile while I adjusted to the weirdness of everything. Justin leaving, but also the aloof Rick Delaney that had changed since I last knew him.
“I better go search.” He patted his pockets, looked over the bench, and then ducked into the laundry room. When he emerged, he walked to the front door.
I followed, and we both turned to each other at the same time, emitting a startled chuckle from me. I placed my hand over my chest. “Thanks for everything. It’s good to see you back, Rick.” I leaned up to kiss him, and he stooped to my cheek, pecking it so lightly, only the bristle of his stubble grazed my skin.
He jogged down the front steps, unlocked his car, and was about to jump into it when he looked up at me, this big, lost expression on his handsome face. “See ya,” he called. And then he hopped in and drove.
At least he said goodbye, but the whole night had left me shaken.
• • •
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About the AuthorRebecca Berto writes stories about love and relationships. She gets a thrill when her readers are emotional reading her books, and gets even more of a kick when they tell her so. She's strangely imaginative, spends too much time on her computer, and is certifiably crazy when she works on her fiction.
Rebecca Berto lives in Melbourne, Australia with her boyfriend and their pets.