As the bell above Stamina’s door jingles in my ears, my glove-covered fist collides into Saint’s nose with a thud. My older brother is usually more on the ball when it comes to deflecting the jabs I hit him with when we go a couple of rounds in the ring. He isn’t quite as tall as me—Landon secured the title of being both the oldest and tallest in our family, and Caidyn, although both wiser and older than me, is a good inch shorter, but Saint knows how to command the ring.
We’ve been sparring together since we were kids. Although he became a little chubby around the midsection when he sailed past fifty, my dad always implemented a strict exercise regime for my brothers and me. At the start, I thought it was about peak physical fitness. I learned otherwise when my baby sister grew into her lanky legs and teenybopper bra.
My parents will never admit it to Justine’s face, but she wasn’t planned. Dad was a week out from having a vasectomy, and with four boys under the age of five, mom had closed up shop a year earlier—around the time I popped out.
Justine, as forever stubborn as she is, had other plans.
My mom was so convinced she was having another boy, she booted me out of the nursery, touched up the paint my older brothers chipped while tackling their newest sibling into submission, then chose the perfect name to go with Landon, Sebastian, Caidyn, and Maddox.
Oh, did I forget to mention Saint’s real name is Sebastian? We call him Saint because he’s nothing close to saintly. Town Stud is the only title his name will ever wear, and he’s more than happy to keep it that way.
Justin was a tough name. It belonged to a person who wasn’t to be messed with. That’s why when ‘Justin’ came screaming into the world weighing an impressive nine pounds without any dangly bits between ‘his’ legs, Mom tacked an ‘E’ onto the end of ‘his’ name and went about her day.
That’s very much how my parents operate. They’re strict and a little unknowledgeable when it comes to electronics, but they love their kids to the core. I don’t think there’s anything we could do that would see us shunted out of their lives for good. Not even Justine getting ‘friendly’ with a boy she just met in the hot tub on her eighteenth birthday saw them giving her the cold shoulder. They said she was an adult, and in turn, they’d treat her like one.
She didn’t get off quite so easily with her older siblings.
We watched her like a hawk—we still do.
Unlike the woman responsible for the brand-new shiner forming under Saint’s right eye, Justine has lived a sheltered life. She has no clue how cruel the world can be, and if I have it my way, she never will. A big brother’s job is to protect his baby sister. Nothing should come before that—although I see things changing when women without our blood are thrown into the mix. We’ve already noticed it with Landon. I don’t see Caidyn being too far behind him.
In a way, I’m lucky. With Justine having four older brothers and me being the youngest of them all, the weight on my shoulders is nowhere near as heavy as Landon’s and Saint’s. That doesn’t mean I can get slack, though. As my father always says, “Slacking off is the quickest way to an average life.”
After drifting my eyes from Demi Petretti, voted most attractive, most likely to succeed, and all-around badass by every male in a five-mile radius of Seacoast Private Academy senior year almost four years ago, I punish Saint’s ribs with a left-right-left combination.
He groans through the pain of a possible cracked rib, but not once does he stray his eyes away from the area Demi is mingling. I can’t say I blame him. That girl doesn’t just have the smarts to be in the top two percent of students at our school, she was also in the top two percent in the state. Add that to the fact she’s as hot as sin, and you’ve got a lethal combination any man would be lucky to stumble on.
Unfortunately for me, by the time I worked up the courage to do something about an almost decade-long crush, Saint announced an interest in Demi. That put her off-limits, and the reminder she’s out of reach has me punishing Saint with my fists so rebelliously, he has no choice but to man up and hit me back.
We go blow for blow for the next several minutes, only stopping when the coach from our high school wrestling team mistakes our fight as literal. “This is why I invoked the sibling code. You two will kill each other one day.”
The redness lining Coach Merritt’s face triples when Saint has the audacity to laugh. High school feels as if it was decades ago when you’re a senior in college, but you can be assured as fuck I haven’t worked up the courage to laugh in a teacher’s face just yet. I’m not a coward by any means, I just know how to pick my battles. Coach Merritt isn’t the wrestling coach of a state championship team for no reason. His size alone exposes he’d face no issues putting Saint on his ass, much less a cabinet full of trophies in our high school gymnasium.
“He isn’t laughing at you, Coach,” I push out breathlessly when the heat on Coach’s face looks close to boiling over. “He’s laughing at the fact he’d rather act like a pussy than eat one.”
Coach chokes on his spit. It’s barely heard over the warning growl rumbling up Saint’s chest. He’s about ready to blow his top, and I’m right there, willing to push him over the edge like all little brothers should be.
With the swagger of a man not being eyeballed as if his head is on the chopping block, I backhand Saint in the chest. “Come on, Saint, admit it. You’ve been drooling over the same girl for years.”
Don’t let his honesty fool you. He isn’t doing it because he’s a stand-up guy. Lying just isn’t a Walsh forte. If you want us to sugarcoat things, you better offer one of us a scholarship in baking because that’s the only way we’ll sweeten things up for you.
Loud and proud isn’t our motto either, but you won’t ever doubt when a Walsh is in your vicinity. That’s why I’m shocked about Saint’s constant sitting on the fence when it comes to Demi. She’s drop-dead gorgeous, smart and witty, has never been seen with a man who isn’t related to her by blood, and she forever glances his way when we’re dancing in the ring like we’re destined to become the next Conor McGregor. Her last name leaves a bad taste in your mouth any time you say it, but come on, doesn’t the abovementioned make up for that?
When Saint remains quiet, I wordlessly demand he return his Town Stud badge with a two-finger clap. When my voiceless command doesn’t have him coughing up the goods, I throw words into the mix. “You can’t keep a title you’re not willing to uphold.”
“Fuck off, Maddox. Don’t try and pin your bullshit on me.” He smacks me up the side of the head before he moves to the ropes to scrub the sweat off his face with a towel hanging off the top rung. “From what Landon told me, you haven’t done much… pussy eating yourself.” A gleam I know all too well sparks through his eyes before he says, “When I was a senior in college…”
The growl that finalizes his statement pisses me off. I’ve been crushing on Demi for years. I’m not talking she’s-real-pretty-and-I’d-like-to-get-to-know-her-some-more crush. I mean, crush crush. She’s ruining all my hookups crush. Stick-me-with-a-fork-I’m-fucking-done crush. And they’re just examples of when I’ve caught the occasional smile she’s tossed my way the past five years.
I’m a fucking mess, and Demi Petretti is solely responsible for the carnage.
Fortunately for me, the Walsh men aren’t just masters at brawling, barbequing, and philandering, we’re also really fucking good at hiding our emotions as well.
While smirking like the smug fuck I am, I add to Saint’s mortification that he said ‘pussy eating’ in public. “As I’ve told you before, Saint, if your big brother is still chaperoning your dates, you’re doing it wrong.”
He hits me with an evil sideways glare, doubling my smile. “How about you be fucking honest for once? We both know why you’re pushing me on this.” I almost reply, ‘cause you’re a pussy, and it’s my job as your little brother to push your buttons, but he continues talking, foiling my endeavor. “Because you’re hoping she’ll reject me, then you can slot into my place.” He tosses the towel back over the ropes, stands tall, then puffs his chest out. “News flash, bozo, that’ll never happen because I’ve never been rejected.”
Spit flies out of my mouth when I brush off his claims with a pfft. I’m one hundred percent praying like fuck Demi shoots down his signature move, then I might finally get the opportunity to prove dreams can come true, but there’s no chance in hell I’ll ever let Saint know that.
It’s a pity for me that there are days where he knows me better than I know myself. “Now who’s the fucking pussy?” With the swagger of a man aware he has the eyes of over a dozen women on him, he saunters back my way. Yes, I said saunters. The fucker is strutting like he’s making his way to the octagon. “We don’t travel all the way to Hopeton to work out for no reason, so come on, out with it. What’s the real reason for the change-up?”
I give lying a shot. It isn’t something I’m proud of, but when you’re backed into a corner, you must come out swinging. “Our gym was remodeled.”
“With better, more up-to-date equipment,” Saint argues, his smirk growing. “Try again.”
My back molars crunch together, hating that he read my lie so easily. I don’t know why I’m shocked. I’m a shit liar. The knowledge won’t stop me from giving it another whirl, though. You don’t just come out swinging. You’ve got to have your guards up as well. “The owner doubled the membership fees.”
Saint’s deep exhale ruffles the reddish-blond hair stuck to my temples. “From ten dollars a week to twenty. Jeez. How dare he!”
Our family isn’t close to being poor. Our mom works as an architect, and our father is a pilot. We’re not wealthy, but my parents made a sound decision when they invested in Ravenshoe long before a multi-millionaire rocked up to glam up the place. The price tag on our family home is now in the millions, and my parents don’t owe a dime on it.
Their decision many moons ago means their children didn’t have to race out and get jobs the instant they left high school. We all did, though. Landon is following in our father’s footsteps, Caidyn is giving architecture a whirl, Saint has a hand in just about everything, and I’m working even while studying, just the basis of my job is kept on the down-low.
As I said earlier, my parents would never judge my decisions. However, there are some things you can’t share until the time is right.
“We’re here, slumming it in Hopeton because the only pussy around here is you,” Saint continues, directing my focus back to him.
I roll my eyes, acting as immature as my twenty-one years on this earth. “How many times do I have to tell you, Saint? Shunting the blame for your lack of balls onto your baby brother won’t cut the mustard. If you get out a measuring stick and the odds don’t fall in your favor, only you are to blame for that.”
Have you ever wondered what a man looks like in the seconds leading to him going into coronary failure? I had once. I’m not curious anymore. Saint alleviated my curiosity within a nanosecond of me reminding him I’m may be the youngest brother, but that’s the only ‘young’ thing about me.
As the determination on Saint’s face grows, so does the volume of his voice. “You know what, fuck it. I’ll do it.”
“Do what, exactly?” Coach Merritt asks on my behalf, worried Saint is about to finish what I started in this ring almost five minutes ago.
I’d like to see him try.
Saint rips off his gloves, tosses them into his gym bag at the side of the ring, then climbs through the ropes. “I’m going to prove how effective my signature move is.” In a manner no man on the planet should ever replicate, he makes a ‘V’ with his index finger and middle finger, slams them against his quirked lips, then wiggles his tongue between them like he’s devouring an invisible buffet of pussy.
“You’re not going to do that here, surely,” Coach Merritt blubbers out, convinced he’s seconds away from witnessing Saint lift Demi onto the slushie counter at the back of the gym, then go to town on her pussy.
When Saint ignores Coach Merritt’s panicked tone, he shifts on his feet to face me. “Ox…”
My eyes snap to his so fast, my head grows woozier than the anger that fused my brain while considering the possibility of Saint going through with his pledge.
I didn’t think this through. That isn’t uncommon for me. I did the same thing when an MC at an underground fight asked me my name. I am the first to admit I’m not overly good at thinking on the spot, so I went for something easy. Until today, no one has ever shortened my name to Ox. Well, not in this world anyway.
Although I want to ask Coach Merritt exactly how much he knows and for how fucking long he’s known it, I don’t have the time nor the patience to wade through that shitstorm right now. My brother is moments away from calling me out as a liar, and it’s taking everything I have not to pummel his face in for outing me so cruelly.
It’s not every day you encourage your big brother to hit on the girl you’ve been crushing on since primary school, and I had to take it one step further by forcing him to bring out his signature move.
He isn’t going to simply ask Demi on a date. He’s about to ignite a spark between them so furious, no amount of liquid will dose the flame, not even the blood gushing from my bleeding heart. He’s about to make Demi Petretti his, and the bro-code states there isn’t a single-fucking- thing I can do about it.
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