The Bet

By: Rachel Van Dyken

Chapter Eight

Travis couldn’t remember a time when he had been so frustrated. Nothing sounded better than pulling over the truck and giving his little brother a piece of his mind, or his fist.

What the hell had he been thinking? To kiss Kacey? After everything that rat bastard had put her through? What was more sickening was that Kacey seemed fine with the whole ordeal. It was as if she was selling her soul to the devil.

But in her defense she had always looked at Jake through rose-colored glasses; whereas Travis with his stutter was the evil big brother set out to ruin the world, one pony-tail tug at a time.

How was it that one look from the girl could put him back into high school when she chose his brother over him? Not that she knew of his ridiculous crush. And his stutter hadn’t helped matters. If anything, it made it worse. She took his silence as hatred, when instead he was afraid to open his mouth because his stutter worsened when he put pressure on himself to talk smoothly.

It had been much easier to chase the girl and taunt her than give her the pretty words Jake so often did.

But that didn’t mean his heart wasn’t involved.

Stifling a curse, he pulled into downtown. Luckily the office was only a few minutes from his parents’ house.

The tall high-rise sparkled through the dreary rain, the booming name of “Titus Enterprises” blaring above the cityscape. Fighting the urge to scowl at the obvious money the building represented, he shook his head slightly. He hadn’t wanted a part in the family business. Nope, that job had gone to his little brother, and he could keep it.

Travis had used the trust fund in his name to open his own ranch and breed horses. It also doubled as a bed and breakfast. A beautiful twenty acres overlooked the Columbia River. It was living, whereas being in the city was stifling. He pulled at his shirt.

Travis pulled the truck to a stop and Jake hopped out. “I’ll call for a car when I’m done. I shouldn’t be more than an hour. See ya, and Kacey, try not to kill Travis while I’m gone, okay?”

“Can’t make any promises!” Kacey waved him off and turned hate-filled eyes toward Travis. “So, you have any immediate plans to kill me and bury the body?”

“Under a tree, I think.” Travis put the truck into gear and moved into traffic. “Or maybe under the swing set. They’d never look for you there.”

“Ha ha, you’re hilarious.”

“I’d like to think so. Now what’s this I hear about Jake kissing you? I mean, I know it’s none of my business, but shouldn’t you be keeping this strictly professional? After all, he is paying you—”

“—Like one of his prostitutes, I know,” Kacey finished. “But technically he’s not paying me. I mean he is, he’s paying off my school loans. Besides I’m doing this for Grandma. And somehow I’ve found that inside my chest beats a very large heart. I do kind of owe Jake. Or at least he made me feel like I did.”

“I wasn’t going to say that you were a prostitute.” Travis coughed. “So he really does have prostitutes as girlfriends?” Travis shook his head with disapproval. “Maybe we should leave that little tidbit out this weekend. My grandma’s health and all.”

“Agreed.” Kacey snorted. “She’d have a stroke if she knew how egotistical our young little Jake has gotten. But I love him regardless.” Kacey sighed.

“Apparently, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. But then again… things aren’t always what they seem, are they, Kace?” Travis cleared his throat.

“Just drive the truck, Travis. I’m hungry and my stomach is in knots from that stupid plane ride.”

Travis put the truck into gear. “Still afraid of flying?”

“I thought I was over it, but then I accused a clergyman of being a terrorist.”

Travis laughed. “Out loud? Damn woman, maybe you should take the train back.”

Kacey’s eyes lit up. “Brilliant plan, but it takes three hours.”

“They have a bar.”

“Where do you buy tickets?”

Travis chuckled as he pulled into traffic. “I’ll take care of it, alright? Just stop saying terrorist in planes for your own sanity and safety, little girl.”

“I’m not a little girl,” Kacey snapped.

The truck stopped at the red light. Travis turned to look at Kacey, every bit the woman she was. From her pouty lips to her tight little body. “Yeah, I know, Kace. I’d have to be dead not to notice.” His body flared to life the longer he stared at her. Well, that was uncomfortable.

“Wow, a compliment from the little boy who used to pee his pants when he saw clowns. I’m touched, really.” Kacey fluttered her eyelashes and tilted her head.

“It was only o-once!” The light turned green and Travis pumped the accelerator with ferocity. “And the clown knew my name, Kace. Come on, any little boy would be freaked out a bit. Thanks for that by the way.”

“Whatever do you mean, Travis?”

“You told the clown my name. Admit it. Admit it or I’m dropping you off by the ice skating rink.”

“You wouldn’t!”

“I would, and I am. Tell me how many accidental deaths are there a year by ice skating accidents?”

“You’re the devil!”

Travis grinned. “So you’ve said.”

“Fine, I told the clown your name, but only after you tripped me.”

“Ah, victory at last.” Travis sighed, stealing a glance in the rearview mirror to see Kacey scowl and cross her arms. “Kace, can’t we at least try to get along while you’re here? After all, according to my entire family, you’re about to be the new daughter-in-law. I would hate to give them the impression that I’m going to kill you in your sleep.”

Kacey groaned. “You’re right. And don’t you dare gloat! This is for Grandma, right? I’m doing this for Grandma.” She chanted grandma five times before pausing. “Trav?”

It was the first time she had actually said his name instead of an expletive or her favorite nickname of the devil. “Yeah, Kace?”

“Is she going to be okay?”

“Who? Grandma?” He chuckled as he pulled into the large estate also known as Titus Abbey. “Kace, I think Grandma could walk away from a nuclear holocaust and still be fine. Don’t worry too much, alright? Besides, seeing you will make all the difference. She’s getting all sappy in her old age.”

“But…” Kacey sighed.

Travis pulled down the driveway, shut off the car, and turned to see Kacey chewing on her fingernails.

“But what?” he asked.

Fingernails still in her mouth, she answered, “What if she finds out? I mean, I doubt Jake even told Grandma it wasn’t real. So she’s going to think we’re together, and…”

Travis gulped at the knot rising in his throat. Naturally, it had been one of his first concerns as well. If Grandma found out… well, Travis would gladly point at Jake and shake his head, throwing him under the bus. But the point was his grandma loved Kacey. If she knew they were tricking her to get her to feel better and to make her believe that Jake was more responsible than she gave him credit for…

Then, well, he wasn’t sure it would be a pretty sight. After all, Grandma had once had done a stint in the CIA, though he was the only family member who had actually pried the information from the old bat.

“She won’t find out,” Travis confirmed. Because if she does, I’d hate to be my brother.

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