Riders (Riders #1)(7) by Veronica Rossi

“Her twin, the Army guy.”

She checked me out, which was the only genuinely good thing that had happened to me in a solid week, and introduced herself as Joy.

“You don’t look very much like her.”

I shrugged. “Yeah, she’s prettier than I am. I try not to get jealous.”

Joy’s smile went wider. “You’re like Luke and Leia, kind of.”

“We get that sometimes. Mind if I use your railing? Anna’s not there yet.”

“Go ahead. Use whatever you need.”

“Thanks.” I tossed my ruck up to the second-floor balcony. Then I jumped, grabbing the bars above me, and swung myself up. Not bad for a guy with a broken arm and leg.

“Gideon?” Joy peered up from below. “We’re having some people over later. You should come by.”

I thanked her again. A party sounded like just what I needed to get my mind off things.

The sliding door to my sister’s place was unlocked and slid right open, which was both good and bad. Anna really should’ve known better. I slipped inside and froze when I heard the snuffling sounds of someone crying.

Dropping my duffel, I rushed to Anna’s room and found her rolled in a ball on her bed, her eyes pressed shut like she was trying to keep in the tears, her phone gripped in her hand.

“Anna?” Sitting on the bed, I put my hand on her shoulder. “What’s going on?”

She shot away with a yelp. “Gideon?” Her eyes moved over me, like she couldn’t believe I was real, then she threw her arms around my neck. “I’ve been so worried. Mom said you’d broken your arm and your leg. She said you almost died.”

“I know,” I said, hugging her back. “I’m fine, Banana. I’m all right.” I was all right—everywhere except in the head.

She drew back and studied me. Like I’ve said, Cordero, we don’t look much alike. Not just our coloring. Anna’s pretty skinny. Not very athletic. She’d kill me if she heard me tell you that. And I’m … Well. You’re looking at me. I look like my dad. Like my dad did. His height and build.

The only thing Anna and I have in common is our dad’s eyes. Light blue. Same shape too, with the downward tilt at the sides. People call them soulful eyes or smiling eyes. Or Paul Newman eyes—old people always say that. But to me they’re the eyes of someone who listens with everything they’ve got when you’re talking, which is exactly my sister and it was my dad, too. So seeing Anna now, it felt good but it also made me miss my dad even more than when I’d been at home, which sucked. I’d shared a womb with my sister and almost every day of my life since. I didn’t love how hard it was just to look at her.

Anna shook her head, her expression pleading for answers I didn’t have. “Was the accident not as bad as they thought?”

“The initial reports might’ve made it sound worse. And I’m still kind of sore,” I said, though I wasn’t.

“Worse by a lot. I didn’t think you’d get hurt training.”

“Me, either. But you can’t pick when accidents happen, right?”

That word, accident, felt like knocking into a bruise that wouldn’t heal. It was the same for Anna, too. Grief passed over her face like a shadow. I had to look away. On her desk I saw a framed picture from Christmas a year and a half ago, all of us wearing Santa hats and grinning like loons. We were still four Blakes then. A four-pack.

“What are you doing here, Gideon? Why aren’t you at home?”

What she meant was why aren’t you bedridden, but I took the questions at face value. “I thought you could look after me here. That way you don’t have to miss any classes.” Then I nodded at her phone, ready to leave the subject of my non-injuries behind. “You want to tell me what’s going on?”

She shrugged, smoothing her hands on her pajama pants. I’d given them to her the same Christmas from the photo. Red flannel with Eiffel Towers stamped all over them because her dream was to study in Paris. My sister was an artist. Growing up, Anna made beautiful collectible drawings and paintings and pottery. I broke shit. Bikes, bats, surfboards. Hearts. Just kidding on that last one.

“Oh. Just stuff with Wyatt,” she said.

“Wyatt?” I knew the guy. He was a spoiled idiot from a private high school near our hometown. He and Anna started dating senior year when they met in a mock-Senate club. I was pissed when I found out he was coming to the same college. High school should’ve been the end of Wyatt Sinclair. “I thought you broke up with that loser.”

“I did break up with him,” Anna said. “It was mutual. I mean, we decided to end it together. He said he wanted a time-out so I gave it to him.”

“Like he’s a freakin’ toddler? That kind of time-out?”

Anna ignored that. “He thought we were getting too serious. He said he wanted to ‘experience college.’” She made air quotes. “I thought we were really done. I know he’s been with other girls since. But we were technically on a break, so it shouldn’t matter, right?”

What technically mattered was that Wyatt was an ass, but Anna clearly didn’t see it that way. I looked around at the pile of clothes thrown over her chair and the coffee mug on her desk. I couldn’t believe I was talking relationships with her when I’d fallen out of a plane a week ago. And had no injuries to show for it.

Anna lifted her phone. “He just called and said he was wrong about leaving me. He said he made a terrible error in judgment and that he wants me back.”

“And you told him to screw himself, right?”

“I love him, G.”

“Anna. My ears.”

She laughed. “Okay, maybe not. But I do like him. He’s smart and he treated me well when we were together. He’s coming over to talk. I feel like I should at least hear him out.”

“He’s really coming over? That’s great! My fist is dying to talk to his face.”

“No, Gideon.” Anna’s smile disappeared. “Stay out of this. It’s my business.”

As I stared into her eyes, I wondered if this was my fault. When our dad died I was always gone, off on my own. Camping. Driving. Just hiding out alone. I couldn’t be around anyone. I didn’t trust myself to be. But my sister had needed someone in those days like I’d needed no one, and Wyatt Sinclair had been there for her. He’d stepped in and been her someone, and if there was one thing I understood, it was that grief was an opponent you didn’t play fair with. You did whatever it took to not let it beat you. You fought dirty against grief, period. So I understood. Anna didn’t love Wyatt. She loved that he’d been there for her during the worst time in her life.

“What is that?” Anna pulled my sleeve up before I could stop her. “Is that a cuff?”

“Yeah, so?” I tugged it back down. “Can’t I wear jewels?”

“It’s called jewelry, for one. And you can’t hate it your whole life and suddenly start liking it.”

“I don’t hate jewelry.” I just didn’t like having anything on me that didn’t have a reason to be there.

“Hogwash. You don’t even wear belts.”

True. Belts and bracelets shared a lot of DNA, in my view. I’d avoided them up until recently. In the Army, belts were a must.

Anna suddenly looked like she’d won the state lottery. “You met someone! You did, didn’t you?”

I’d never had a girlfriend, officially, and for some reason that made my mom and Anna lose their minds. In general we Blake twins were pretty screwed up when it came to relationships. Anna stayed in a bad one. I avoided them completely.

“Easy there, Banana. It’s called an XT3 Band. It stands for Experimental Therapy Band, third generation. Highly classified so that’s all I can tell you.”

I said all this, but I still had no idea what the cuff really was. Maybe I was right?

“Seriously, what’s her name?”

“You know how I feel about this. If I wanted a commitment, I’d get a dog.”

“Wow.” She reached for a black pillow decorated with a big sparkly skull and hugged it. “So romantic.”

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