And if that made him a bully all over again, so be it.
Stephanie took one look into his hard face and knew there was no arguing with him. Much as she wanted to. But she wanted to see Dan more than anything else right now. He had to come first.
So she ignored Jack and marched into the building. There she ignored the elevator and sprinted up the stairs to the sixth floor.
Tara was waiting nervously on the landing.
‘I am so sorry,’ she said, rushing up to her.
‘Don’t.’ Stephanie shook her head and waved her back. ‘We’ll talk later. I just need to make sure he’s okay.’
Her hands shook as she unlocked the door.
‘Dan?’ she called out as it finally swung open. ‘Dan? Where are you?’
There was no answer. She ran down the small narrow hall, glancing through the doorway on the left. He wasn’t in his bedroom.
The curtains were closed in the lounge, stopping the sun from streaming in and brightening the room. She had the feeling they hadn’t been opened at all in the couple of days she’d been gone.
Her brother lay on the sofa in an ancient pair of trackies and a stained tee shirt. Cartoons were playing on the television. He finally dragged his gaze from the garish colours flickering on the screen and looked up at her.
‘Did you get more of those corn chips?’
For a moment Stephanie just gaped. Then she drew breath. ‘Tara has been banging on the door for ages. And calling. I’ve been calling. Why are you ignoring the phone?’ The handset was there on the sofa—next to him.
She took in the sulky line of her younger brother’s mouth and knew. He’d chosen not to answer. He’d deliberately set out to worry her.
And she was so very angry with him.
‘You went all drama queen because you were out of corn chips?’
‘I like corn chips,’ he answered.
‘I was away, having a nice time for the first time in…’ She couldn’t finish that sentence. ‘You resent me for that?’
‘You just disappeared,’ he grumbled.
‘Tara called to check on you.’
‘And you’re a spoilt little—’
‘Tara, don’t.’ Stephanie turned to interrupt her friend before she made things worse. ‘You go. We’ll talk later.’
Tara looked reluctant, and she glared at Dan as she walked out. ‘Call me when you need me,’ she said to Stephanie.
But Stephanie didn’t want to need anyone. Ever.
And then Jack stepped away from where he’d been leaning against the back wall.
Stephanie gaped. For those couple of minutes she’d forgotten he’d followed her up here. And now she looked around her apartment and saw what he must be seeing. The chipped mismatched crockery on the mess-covered coffee table in front of Dan. The ancient stained lounge suite he was sprawling on. The total lack of anything beautiful or pristine.
Nothing like the life he was used to, with his swanky hotels and fancy restaurants and unlimited funds.
And no doubt he’d glanced through her bedroom doorway on his way in and seen that one pretty corner and the rest a bare mess of not very much.
‘Steffi Leigh’ was nothing. Had nothing.
‘Stephanie,’ he said. ‘Can I—?’
‘No,’ she snapped, suddenly angrier and more humiliated than she’d ever been in her life. He looked so damn incongruous there, in his perfect freaking suit. Made of money, wasn’t he? Hell, one of his shoes alone had probably cost more than their lounge suite. ‘Do you mind giving us some privacy?’
His expression froze. His eyes were so dark they were like cold coal. Only they burned right through to her bones.
‘As you can see, everything is fine.’ She gritted the words out. ‘I’m sorry you were dragged up here.’
She was sorry he’d seen it all. Every last bit of her not so Steffi Leigh life.
She stalked back down the hallway, assuming he’d follow her. And he did.
‘No,’ she said again, opening her front door. She recognised that tone of his—implacable, determined. But she wasn’t going to give in to it this time. She wasn’t going to take anything more from him. ‘If I don’t need help from my best friend, I certainly don’t need help from you.’
He looked angry. ‘So afraid of letting someone help, aren’t you? Which is kind of ironic when apparently you’re sacrificing your life to look after your brother. But maybe that’s just an excuse to avoid really living. Maybe you use him as your excuse to hide away inside, where you can maintain your Steffi Leigh online fantasy of fun and perfection. Because you’re too afraid to let someone in.’