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Brance tilts my head up. “Tess, I refuse to let you do this on your birthday. I have worked too hard to hear this shit. We are fifteen! You don’t want kids? Use birth control!” Taking a piece of my hair, he starts pulling the iron through it. My head jerks. He’s not being gentle, frustration oozing out of him. For a skinny, delicate guy, his hands are awfully strong. My lips twitch at his passion. He is like my fierce dragon, ready to breathe fire on anyone who dares to hurt me.

“Brance?”

He raises his dark eyebrows. “What?”

“I’m so happy that guy beat you up.” His grumpy frown starts to twitch.

“Damn right, baby.” He breaks into a smile. The last yellowish blackness around his eye is almost gone. Since that is how we found each other, we’re now thankful for that guy.

“Wait until you see your birthday gown! And wait until you see my tux.” With a hand on his hip, he gives me a sassy pose.

“You’re crazy.”

Leaning over, he kisses me on the lips. “Tilly? Turn up the music! And don’t even think about getting smashed until all makeup has been applied. That includes me. I want you to highlight my eyes tonight.”REED

Past – fourteen years oldGlancing over at Jax, I start to laugh. He gives me the evil eye. “Don’t fucking start.” He grabs at his tie as if it’s strangling him.

“Screw this.” He yanks it loose, unbuttoning the first two buttons on his starched white shirt.

“You read the invitation, man. Black tie!” I say.

“Nah, I love Tess, but she’s yours. That means you have to look good. All I have to do is show up.”

Scowling at him, I’m pissed because he’s right. Also, I made a deal and I plan on cashing in on it. Jax looks good enough. We’re in Tom Ford black suits for fuck’s sake.

As I glance out the window, I am at one with New York City and its animal energy; it’s alive and breathing as the sun starts to descend. I had wanted to be at Tess’s earlier, but Jax wouldn’t get off the phone with “that girl.” Apparently he’s still hooking up with the redhead from Zack’s crappy party.

I should have said screw it and hailed a cab, but for reasons I can’t even verbalize, I need my twin tonight.

Jay is driving us. We decided to take the Maybach. Sometimes it’s easier to get around in it. I know that sounds arrogant and pretentious, but people always give you room when you’ve got a driver. Rubbing my neck, I interrupt Jax and his texting.

“What’d you get Tess?” I have way too much nervous energy. Jax doesn’t even look up from his phone, though his mouth twitches, which aggravates me.

“Another thing, Tess wants you to be super nice to her mother and Brance.” I slip this in casually. His eyes slowly go from his phone to me. Raising an eyebrow, he stretches his long legs out, crowding mine. If I didn’t need him to help me tonight, I would kick his legs to the side. Instead, I lean forward, nervously cracking my knuckles.

Jax’s eyes laser in on my hands “Really? Why would she worry about me? I’m ten times nicer to Claire than you are.” He pockets his phone.

“Just be on your best behavior is all,” I grumble. His knowing smirk makes me want to punch him in the gut. Suddenly, Jay slams on his breaks. Sliding his window down he curses out a cab driver who cut us off. I bump my head on the back of the driver’s seat, but Jax barely registers the car’s movement.

“Why? Tess promise you a blow job?”

“None of your business, man, but act right, okay?”

He snorts. “Whatever you need, brother.”

Our midnight blue Maybach glides up to the parking area of Tess’s building. My heart starts pumping faster. The anticipation of seeing my girl makes me smile. Jay is cursing away at the tight fit of her garage.

“Dude, let us off here, and you can take your time parking,” I tell him.

Waiting for the elevator, Jax leans over, putting his annoying face in front of mine. “I got her a giant crystal ball.”

“What?” With a blank stare, I shove him backward. “Get your face out of mine!”

He laughs, then acts like he’s doing sign language. “I… got… her… a… crystal… ball! For her birthday present.” Dropping his hands, he puts them in his pockets and shrugs. “It’s a rare crystal, and it’s huge. Cost me a fortune. They told me if you hold it, it’s supposed to calm and heal you. I think Tess will love it.” Knowing he kicked ass on her present, he smiles broadly.

“Yeah, that’s right up her alley,” I say, taking a quick glance at my reflection in the mirrored elevator.

I look good tonight. The black suit is tailored to a tee. I also allowed my barber to cut my hair, though I did leave some curls. Tess likes them. I catch Jax staring at me, one eyebrow raised.

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