Vice(2)

By: L.M. Pruitt


Even as the little knot exploded in to laughter, I pushed the balloons aside and stepped forward. Dana was the first to notice me, her big, blue eyes going wide and her jaw falling open. She elbowed Beth, who in turn elbowed Ben, the not so subtle nudging making its way around the circle until Lynn elbowed Abraham, standing with his back to me.

He turned, the lazy smile dying away, his dark brown eyes still beautiful, even though I knew they were full of lies. He raked a hand through his shaggy brown hair and flicked a tongue over the lips I’d been fantasizing about since freshman year. “Jeannie—.”

“You think you actually had a chance with me?” I took a step closer, my toes bumping against his. Lifting my chin, I said, “Bless your heart, honey.” I rested one hand on his shoulder, rising up until I was able to press my lips to his ear, lowering my voice to a whisper. “You couldn’t afford me.”

I dropped back on my heels and spun neatly, striding across the room, pausing only to throw away the mangled cup and wilted corsage before marching out of the American Legion. I had one more week until graduation. One more week and then I was out of Cotton Creek and I was never coming back.

Anyplace was better than here.





CHAPTER ONE





Fifteen years later

I was dying. At least that’s what it felt like when I turned over, nearly braining myself on the sharp edge of the flimsy excuse for a nightstand. The bottle of water I’d set there the night before tipped over the far end, falling to the floor and rolling away. I would have cursed the loss if my mouth wasn’t as dry as the proverbial desert.

There was no such thing as free tequila.

You always paid, one way or another.

Next to me, the man whose tequila I’d spent the night drinking grunted and tugged the sheets around him. His tequila had been better than his tacos and his tacos were infinitely better than his sheets. The sex, what I remembered of it, had fallen somewhere between the tacos and the sheets, which wasn’t necessarily his fault.

My standards for sex weren’t very high. My standards for tacos, on the other hand, were.

I sat up, slowly, squinting when the motion set off bells and whistles in my head. As far as hangovers went, it wasn’t the worst I’d ever had but neither was it a walk in the park. So far, it seemed to be confined to only my head but there was a good chance that would change once I started moving. There was only one cure for a hangover and I already knew I wouldn’t find it in....

Were the hell was I again?

Careful to not wake the man next to me, I slipped out of bed, tiptoeing my way to the bathroom. Easing the door shut behind me, I turned the sink on full blast, letting it run while I took care of the other necessities. Cupping my hands under the faucet, I let my palms overflow before splashing my face with ice cold water. There wasn’t a spare toothbrush—shocking—but there was no way I could live with the taste of tequila, tobacco, and mediocre sex any longer so I squeezed toothpaste on my finger and used it as a makeshift toothbrush.

Spitting and rinsing one final time, I turned the water off and straightened, brushing my nearly white blonde hair back and examining my reflection in the mirror. My makeup was still mostly in place—another sign of the okay but not wonderful sex—and would do until I could find a rest stop. There might have been a hint of red rimming my pale blue eyes but it was nothing my sunglasses wouldn’t hide. Huffing out a breath, I scraped my hair back in a loose bun, wincing every time I hit a tangle.

I wouldn’t win any beauty contests but at least I wouldn’t make little children cry on the street, either.

When I walked back in to the bedroom, he was still passed out, the sheet wrapped so tight around him he resembled... well, a burrito. I studied him, trying to remember his name, only to give up after a moment. The only reason I needed it was for the restaurant write-up and I knew it was somewhere in the paperwork my near saintly assistant had sent me a few days earlier.

The only thing left to do was find my clothes and my purse and get the hell out of... wherever I was.

He slept through my search for my clothing. I found my bra tossed over the back of a ratty armchair in the corner of the room. My shirt and jeans were in the living room. I couldn’t remember if I’d been wearing underwear when I started drinking so if I had, they were gone. My socks and shoes were next to the door and I considered simply tucking them under one arm and walking out in my bare feet.

Then I opened the door and saw the faux cobblestone path and decided against it.

A quick search of the kitchen turned up my purse and—thank God—a bottle of cold water. I double checked the bag to make sure I wasn’t missing anything, relieved and more than a little surprised to find I’d had the presence of mind to keep my wallet, phone, and keys inside. Normally I lost at least one of them during the course of an... interview.

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