Jeremy Stanley was nervous. He couldn’t stop the beads of sweat forming along his brow and down the bridge of his aquiline nose. Couldn’t help his shallow breathing or the shiftiness of his amber-colored eyes. His fingers constantly found themselves raking through his already-tousled locks and he caught himself stammering over simple words meant to respond to a question addressed to him.

“Cat got your tongue?”

His shifty gaze swung to the shorter of the two men that stood before him, their dark eyes gleaming with evil intent. Recalling a picture of Darah with her brothers, he silently identified this shorter one as Bartimeus Teka. With the same tawny-brown skin boasting russet undertones, this brother resembled Darah although her skin was smoother—

“Let’s make it simple, since you’re finding it hard to compute.”

The deeper voice of the other one sent shivers down Jeremy’s back and he stood straighter, his gaze shifting to Darah’s oldest brother, Abe. He swallowed hard, recalling from Darah’s countless anecdotes that this was the man who had raised her since she was twelve after their parents passed in a tragic accident. In other words, he was practically Darah’s father and from the hooded look on his face, he didn’t like Jeremy.

“Why were you lurking around my house looking for my sister?”

“That’s the same question I asked,” Bart muttered, eyes unwavering.

Jeremy would’ve laughed if not for the steely glares pinned on him. Darah had mentioned Bart was the funniest of her brothers while Abe was stern. He sobered, clearing away the good memories of his relationship with Darah. This wasn’t the time for nostalgia. The fact that they’d herded him from the first house to this one, away from witnesses, meant they didn’t want to entertain. He had to get straight to the point and leave intact.

Staring up at the eldest brother, he stood a little straighter and finally spoke. “She and I have some unfinished business.”

The two brothers blinked and then Bart’s lips curled in a smile that made Jeremy’s stomach tighten.

“Unfinished business?”

Jeremy’s gaze shifted to Abe who had spoken and nodded. “Yes.”

“What kind of unfinished…”

“Of course he’s implying, albeit a wrong move, that it’s none of our business,” Bart cut in. “Anything that concerns our sister is our business.”

Jeremy kept his face straight. “I understand.”

Bart nodded. “So tell me again how you know my sister.”

“We’re… classmates.”

Bart and Abe snorted dismissively. “Okay classmate,” Bart continued, eyes gleaming more dangerously. “What urgent business do you have with my sister that you can’t request over the phone?”

Jeremy hesitated and the two brothers arched a brow. He cleared his throat. “I… lost her number.”

“That sounds like a lie, buddy.” Abe took a step forward and Jeremy had to fight himself from taking one backward. These brother-wolves would tear him apart if they smelled fear on him.

Jeremy shook his head. “It’s my bad. I got a new phone and—”

“Ey ey,” Bart held up a hand. “Save your lame excuses for someone with no sense. Just give us your message and we’ll relay it to her.”

He tamped down a sigh of frustration. “Or you could give me her number and I—”

“Not happening,” Abe said, taking yet another step closer.

Jeremy swallowed an expletive as his foot shifted back. The brothers’ gazes sharpened and they both took a step toward him.

The doorbell rang then. Jeremy held his sigh of relief until Abe rolled his eyes and turned toward the door. Bart remained standing with his guarded stare fixed on him. Jeremy’s gaze drifted over Bart’s shoulder as the door opened, watching a lithe yet broad-shouldered tanned-skinned man stroll in. His brow raised as the man’s stare swept over him once before settling on Abe.

“How is she?” Abe inquired and the newcomer eyed Jeremy before nodding in silence.

Attention perked, Jeremy stepped forward only to be barred by Bart.

“Where you going, buddy?”

Jeremy heaved a frustrated sigh, losing his patience. Ignoring Bart, he met the newcomer’s wary stare. “Do you know where Darah is? I need to speak with her.”

Bart stepped into Jeremy’s line of sight and gave him a crooked smirk. “Not until you speak to us.”

“This is ridiculous!”

“What’s ridiculous is you thinking I’ll allow you to harass my sister.”

The newcomer stepped away from Abe and was at Bart’s side, hand on his shoulder. His thick brows were bent in a V, features tight in disconcertment. “Bart, calm down.”

“How can I calm down when this guy’s acting all arrogant—?”

“Let’s hear him out,” the newcomer said in a steady tone and he squeezed Bart’s shoulder before facing Jeremy. His brow furrowed deeper and his lips tightened. “You must be Jeremy.”

“I am. Where’s Darah?”

Both brothers snorted. The newcomer sighed. “You’ll meet Darah once we come to an understanding.”

Jeremy refrained from stomping his feet in rising agitation. “What understanding? I already told them I’m a classmate and I need to speak with her. It’s really urgent.”

The newcomer arched a brow. “Classmate? Is that all?”

As both brothers glanced at the newcomer, Jeremy felt cold frisson running down his spine. “W-what?”

“You heard me.”

“J.R., what does that mean?” Abe asked, walking up to Bart’s other side.

Cursing himself for not pre-empting this type of confrontation, Jeremy inadvertently took a step back. “What did she say?”

J.R. merely stared at him in silence.

Features twisted in anger, Bart cracked his knuckles. “So this is the fool that got her in this mess?”

Alarmed, Jeremy shuffled backward. “W-wait, what are you talking about? What mess?”

Abe scowled darkly. “You have some nerve coming here—but then again, it’s a good thing you’re here.” He closed the distance and seized Jeremy by the collar.

<<Chapter 15 || Chapter 17>>

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