Bedding the Wrong Brother

By: Virna DePaul


Dalton's Magic Rule #1: Never reveal your secrets.

“Hey, Ladybug.”

Fourteen-year-old Melina Parker's hand jerked at the sound of Rhys Dalton's voice, causing the lizard in her palm to scamper away. Standing, she frowned to hide the sudden flight of butterflies in her stomach. “Darn it, Rhys. It took me almost an hour to get that one to come to me.”

Rhys, who even at sixteen towered over Melina's petite frame, rolled his eyes. He was an identical twin, and it was hard for Melina to believe there were two gorgeous guys with that same shade of honey-colored hair and light green eyes walking the earth.

“Your mom said to tell you to stay clean.” The left side of his mouth quirked up, revealing the slightest hint of a dimple. “Guess it's too late for that.”

Melina glanced down at the dust covering her jeans. Grimacing, she slapped at the dirt and groaned. “She's going to kill me. She's already mad that I wouldn't wear the dress she bought me. You should have seen it, Rhys. It had polka dots. I mean, me in polka dots. Can you imagine?”

“Oh, come on, it makes sense. Plus, I think you'd be cute in a dress.”

At the quiet words, Melina's head jerked up. He couldn't have meant—

No, of course not. He'd been so distant lately. He wasn't even looking at her. Instead, he was staring down at a playing card in his hands, folding it. Nothing strange about that. Like their parents, Rhys and his twin brother, Max, were always fiddling with some kind of magic trick. He was particularly fond of making coins disappear. Sometimes she wished he could make her crush on him disappear just as easily, but first she'd have to admit it to him. That was so never going to happen. She'd seen the types of girls he and Max were attracted to, and plain, chubby tomboys need not apply.

At least he didn’t call her “Four-eyed Porker Parker” the way some of the boys at school did. In fact, when Rhys had heard Scott Thompson called her that, he’d tracked Scott down and given him a warning. Now whenever Melina got close, Scott couldn’t get away from her fast enough.

Nudging her glasses in place, she moved closer, trying to see what Rhys was doing. “Um. So, have you heard from Max?”

His hands paused briefly before continuing. “Just that he doesn't hate football camp nearly as much as he thought he would. Might have something to do with the girls camp next door.”

She snickered. “Bet you're wishing you'd gone to camp when you'd had the chance, huh?”


“Why not?”

His gaze met hers. Unlike Max's, Rhys's pupils had a slight amber ring around them. She'd read somewhere that differing eye color in identical twins was extremely rare. The subtle difference fit Rhys's personality. While Max was almost always carefree and playful, Rhys had a quiet calmness about him—as if part of his mind was someplace else, someplace no one else could go.

He shrugged. “Time at home is rare. You know that.”

Melina nodded. She did. It was the hardest thing about being friends with the Dalton twins: the amount of time she had to spend missing them. Unless Rhys's folks were working up a new act, like now, they spent their time traveling and performing. Still, despite having to be schooled on the road by tutors, Rhys and Max always seemed to enjoy going to new places. She certainly envied their chance to see more than this small, university town she called home.

“Poor baby,” she teased, plucking a blade of grass from the ground and twirling it. “Getting to see the world with your famous parents must be a drag, huh?”

He frowned, then shook his head. “No, you're right. It's great.” He thrust his hand toward her. “Here. To replace the one I scared away.”

Dropping the blade of grass, she reached out and took the card. Looking down at it, she gasped. He'd folded the card into a shape that clearly resembled a lizard, with one spade as its eye. A smile split her face, and she actually squealed. “It's so cute!”

She looked up, happy to see that his frown had disappeared. A hank of hair had fallen over his eyes, and her fingers itched to push it back. She wouldn't have thought twice about it if he'd been Max, but with Rhys? She couldn't risk revealing how she felt about him. Next thing she knew, he'd pat her on the head and stop talking to her altogether, and that would kill her.

He shoved his hands in his pockets and shrugged again. “I got this book from the library—”

A movement behind his shoulder made her eyes widen. “Max?” She looked at Rhys, whose expression stiffened. “It's Max!”

Running past Rhys, she threw herself at Max. He laughed and lifted her, twirling her around before setting her on her feet. Even to an outsider, the differences between him and his brother would be obvious now. He was tanner, and his hair had grown longer, almost touching his shoulders. She reached out and flipped it. “What's with the girly hair?”

He narrowed his eyes and flicked a finger over her nose. “Still playing in the dirt, are you?”

She slapped his hand away. “You're home early. Rhys said you were having fun at camp.”

“I was. But I wanted to see what Mom and Dad were up to with the act. They're really pushing for something unique for the European tour. Your parents are here helping them?”

“Every day for the past week. Some kind of mechanical thingy.”

Max grinned and flung an arm around her shoulder. “Cool. Let's go check it out.”

“Okay. But first look at what Rhys made me.” She lifted up the paper lizard even as she turned to Rhys. “It's so cool. Rhys, let's—”

Rhys walked past her, nodding at his brother and slapping him on the shoulder. “Come on, dude. You're gonna love it. It's huge. I mean—”

As they walked in front of her, the two of them laughing and shoving, Melina frowned. She watched them, the easy way they had with each other, and hesitated. They'd be back on the road in another few weeks, and then it would be just her and her parents in their quiet little house, all of their noses immersed in books. No one to call her Ladybug or practice tricks on.

No one to dream about.

Which was silly, anyway. Her parents said things came to fruition through research and application, not dreaming. And they were right about everything.

Except polka dot dresses, she amended.

With a sigh, she carefully pocketed the paper lizard and scrambled to catch up with them. “Hey, guys! Wait up!”

Chapter One

Dalton's Magic Rule #2: Continually challenge yourself.

“Listen to this,” Lucy Conrad said, waving Melina's magazine like a red flag. “98.9 percent of all women sometimes wish their lovers would just grab them, throw them down and fuck the holy hell out of them.” Tossing the magazine on the sofa, she pointed a finger in Melina's direction, her short and spiky red hair fairly vibrating. “You know what that means, don't you?”

“That women like to feel wanted?” Melina guessed, handing Lucy a pint of Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia ice cream before dropping into the chair across from her. Sitting cross-legged, Melina adjusted her glasses, then scooped out a bite of Chunky Monkey from her own carton. It had been exactly seven days since she'd allowed herself this taste of heaven. When the cold confection touched her tongue, she closed her eyes in appreciation. “Hmm,” she purred. “Gotta love Girls’ Night In.”

“You can say that again.” The soft but impassioned reply came from Grace Sinclair, who sat in a chair next to Melina. Melina held out her spoon and Grace delicately tapped it with her own. Grace, a career counselor in the university's humanities department, was class and calmness personified. While Lucy was Cherry Garcia—cherry ice cream with cherries and fudge flakes—Grace was Ben & Jerry's Crème Brǔlée—sweet custard ice cream with a caramelized sugar swirl. Blond and willowy with cool porcelain skin, Grace spoke with just a hint of a Southern drawl. “All we need is a Viggo Mortensen movie and I'd be halfway to heaven.”

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