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Luke Cade knew Sian's step, knew the sound of the exact stair that groaned under her feet as she sneaked into the house he shared with her.
Tonight he found himself holding his breath, holding it almost like the sound of the world falling still. It was a moment when anything seemed possible, when stars could collide, when the sand below the posh beach house where they lived could be engulfed by flood waters that would rise and take back the palm trees, the sprinkler-fed grassâ€¦
When she might walk into his darkened bedroom and lie down beside him on his lonely bed.
Instead, she walked past his door.
Of course she did.
He let out a breath as the world realigned back to the same routine. It hurt, knowing she'd been out dancing with some guy. It always hurt so goddamned much. He squeezed his eyes shut, telling himself he could endure another night, keep his secret.
It would be worse if he didn't have her at all.
Sian Blaine was his stepsister. She could never be his girlfriend. She could never see herself as his lover. She was ten years older than he was and she thought of him as her little brother.
It didn't matter that he was in his mid-twenties now and they'd lived in this house alone together since their parents had passed away. During the day, he worked at San Diego Fire Station 57 and she worked behind the counter of Coffee Dreams near Solana Beach. He often went in for coffee.
They practically spent twenty-four-seven together unless Sian had one of her dates.
So here was another Friday night and he was lying in a bed that might as well be a twin for all the action it saw and she was walking past his bedroom door. Yay!
Suddenly he erupted from that bed, stalking across the darkened room in his boxers, swinging open the door so he could glare down the empty hallway.
Weirdly, she was just standing there, looking over her bare shoulder at him, as if she'd somehow known he would appear.
"Can you help?" Sian asked, solemn grey eyes on his face, her brown hair caught up above her neck. He told himself she was too skinny, the 'bird bones' she'd been called in high school, but her long arms seemed perfect as she tugged at the zipper on the back of her dress. And he knew why she was having trouble. This wasn't some kind of come-on, despite how his body immediately reacted.
Sian's left hand was curled like a withered leaf. She automatically tried to hide it in the folds of her dress, which pissed him off.
She didn't need to goddamn hide from him. Not ever.
"Yeah, all right," he grumbled, as if his heart wasn't racing at the thought of touching her intimately. He'd have to pretend she didn't move him, but her skin would be under his handsâ€¦
He couldn't help but notice she wasn't wearing a bra under the dress. Not that she needed to. She had small, delicate breasts. He knew when they were growing up she'd lamented her slight figure, but he liked everything about her--from the way she smelt to the way she walked.
"I think it's busted," he said, after pulling her zipper up and down, trying to get it to unfasten.
"Probably my slip got caught in it. Can you check?"
He looked up and some of her hair slid free of its clasp. The slinky bit of brown curled between them, caressing his neck. He caught his breath.
Sian stared at him and then jerked her gaze from his.
Just what had she seen in his eyes?
He swallowed around a dry throat. "What colour is this dress anyway?""Why do you ask?" Her voice was husky. She cleared her throat. "Going to splurge on one on Valentine's Day for Maggie?"