Series: Sinners of Saint #2
Release Date: May 23, 2017
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They say that life is a beautiful lie and death a painful truth. They're right.
No one has ever made me feel more alive than the guy who serves as a constant reminder that my clock is ticking.
He is my forbidden, shiny apple.
The striking fallacy to my blunt, raw, truth.
He is also my sister's ex-boyfriend.
One thing you should know before you judge me;
I saw him first. I craved him first. I loved him first.
Eleven years later, he waltzed into my life, demanding a second chance.
Dean Cole wants to be my bronze horseman. My white knight has finally arrived. Hopefully, he isn’t too late.
They say the brightest stars burn out the fastest. They’re right.
She sets my mind on fire.
All smart mouth, snarky attitude and a huge heart.
In a world where everything is dull, she shines like Sirius.
Eleven years ago, fate tore us apart.
This time, I dare it to try.
Getting to her is a battlefield, but man, that’s why they call me Ruckus.
Rosie LeBlanc is about to find out how hard I can fight.
And conquering her will be the sweetest victory.
I should probably get one thing out of the way before we begin. My story? It doesn’t have a happy ending. It won’t. It can’t. No matter how tall or handsome or rich and captivating my Prince Charming might be.
And my Prince Charming was all those things. Oh, he was all those things and more.
Only problem was he wasn’t really mine. He was my sister’s. But there is something you should know before you judge me.
I saw him first. I craved him first. I loved him first.
All that didn’t matter when Dean ‘Ruckus’ Cole had his lips on my sister’s in front of my eyes the day Vicious broke into her locker.
The thing about these moments is you never quite know whether it’s the beginning or the end. The fluidity of life stops, and you’re forced to examine your reality. Reality sucks. Trust me, I know firsthand just how hard it does.
Life ain’t fair.
Daddy said it right when I hit sixteen and wanted to start dating. His answer was resolute. “Good Lord, no.”
“Why not?” My eyelid ticked with annoyance. “Millie dated when she was sixteen.” It was true. She went on four dates with our mailman’s son, Eric, back in Virginia. Daddy snorted and wagged his index finger at me. Nice try.
“You’re not your sister.”
“What does that mean?”
“You know what it means.”
“No, I don’t.” I did know.
“It means you have something she doesn’t. It’s not fair, but life ain’t fair.”
Another fact I couldn’t argue with. Daddy said I was a magnet for the wrong kind of boys, but that was like sugarcoating a ball of dirt and rusty nails. I understood the underlying complaint he had made, I did, especially as I’d always been his little princess. Rosie-bug. The apple of his eye.
I was racy. It wasn’t intentional. It was even, at times, an inconvenient liability. With thick lashes, cascading caramel hair, long milky legs, and downy lips so full they took over most of my face. Everything else about me was small and ripe—wrapped in a red satin bow with a siren expression that seemed to have been permanently inked on my face, no matter how hard I tried to wipe it off.
I attracted attention. The best kind. The worst kind. Hell, every kind.
There were going to be other boys, I tried to convince myself when Dean and Emilia’s lips touched and my heart shriveled in my chest. But there was always going to be one Millie.
Besides, my sister deserved it. Deserved him. I had Mama and Daddy’s attention, all day, every day. I had plenty of friends at school, and admirers lining up outside our door. All eyes were on me, while no one spared my sister a second glance.
It wasn’t my fault, but that didn’t make me feel any less guilty. My older sister had become the product of both my illness and popularity. A solitary teenager hiding behind a canvas, obscured behind paint. Quiet all the time, sending her message through her weird, eccentric clothes.
When I think about it, it was really for the best. The first day I noticed Dean Cole in the hallway between trig and English period, I knew that he was more than just a high school crush. If I had him, I wouldn’t let go. And that in itself was a dangerous concept I couldn’t afford toying with.
See, my clock was ticking faster. I wasn’t born like the rest.
I had an illness.
Sometimes I conquered it.
Sometimes it conquered me.
Everyone’s favorite Rose was wilting, but no flower wants to die in front of an audience.
Besides, it was better that way, I decided when her lips were on his and his eyes were on mine and reality became a complex, agonizing thing I was desperate to run away from.
And so I watched as my sister and the only guy who made my heart beat faster fall in love from my front-row seat.
My petals falling one by one.
Because even though I knew my story wouldn’t end with a happily ever after, I couldn’t help but wonder…could it have a happy ending, even if just momentarily?
The summer when I turned seventeen was bad, but nothing prepared me for its fucking grand finale.
All arrows pointed to calamity. I couldn’t isolate what path would lead me to it, but knowing my life, I braced myself for a sucker punch that’d send me straight to hell.
In the end, it all boiled down to one, reckless, movie-cliché moment. A few Bud Lights and sloppily rolled blunts weeks before our junior year was over.
We were lying by Vicious’s kidney-shaped pool, drinking his dad’s flat beer, knowing we could get away with it—Christ, with fucking everything—under Baron Spencer Senior’s roof. There were girls. They were high. There weren’t many things to do in Todos Santos, California, on the verge of summer break. Everything was scorching hot. The air heavy, the sun bloated, the grass yellow, and the youth bored with their problemless, meaningless existence. We were too lazy to chase cheap thrills, so we looked for them while we were leisurely sprawled on pool floats the shape of donuts and flamingos and Italian-imported sunbathing chair lounges.
Vicious’s parents weren’t home—were they ever?—and everyone was counting on me to supply. Never one to disappoint, I brought over sweet hash and some Molly, which they greedily inhaled without even thanking me, let alone paying me back. They figured I was a rich, stoner bastard who needed more money like Pamela Anderson needed more tits, which was partially true. And I never sweated the small stuff anyway, so I let it slide.
One of the girls, a blondie named Georgia, flaunted her new Polaroid camera, which her dad gave her on their latest Palm Springs vacation. She took pictures of us boys—Jaime, Vicious, Trent, and myself—flaunting her assets in a little red bikini and clasping the freshly printed pictures between her teeth, handing them to us, mouth-to-mouth. Her tits spilled out of her small bikini top like overflowing toothpaste from a tube. I wanted to rub my dick between them, and knew with certainty that I would, by the end of that day.
“My, my, this one’s going to be gooood.” Georgia used an indefinite amount of O’s for the last word for emphasis. “Looking uber-sexy, Cole,” she purred when she caught me on camera pounding the remainder of the beer with a blunt clasped between my fingers and slamming the can on my hard thigh.
The evidence of my wrongdoing slid out of her camera with a provocative hiss, and she plucked it with her glossy lips, bending down and handing it to me. I bit it and shoved it into my swim trunks. Her eyes followed my hand as I nudged the elastic downwards, revealing a straight line of light hair below my naval that invited her to the rest of the party. She swallowed. Visibly. Our eyes met, silently agreeing on a time and a place. Then someone cannonballed into the pool and splashed her, and she shook her head, chuckling breathlessly before skipping to her next art project, my best friend, Trent Rexroth.
Destroying the picture before I got home was always the plan. I blame the fucking Molly for forgetting. In the end, my mother found it. In the end, my father gave me one of his low-tone lectures that always seemed to eat my insides like arsenic. And in the very, very end? They made me spend my summer vacation with my fucking uncle, the one I really couldn’t stand.
I knew better than to fight them about it. The last thing I needed was to stir shit and jeopardize my Harvard stint a year before I graduated. I’ve worked hard for this future, for this life. It was splayed before me, in all of its rich, entitled, fucked-up, private jets, timeshare, annual Hamptons vacation glory. That’s the thing about life. When something good falls into your hands, you don’t only hang on to the fucker, you clutch it so hard it almost breaks.
Just another lesson that I learned way too late into life.
Anyway, that’s how I ended up flying to Alabama, burning two months on a fucking farm prior to my senior year.
Trent, Jaime, and Vicious spent their summer drinking, smoking, and fucking girls on their home field. Me, I came back with a shiner, generously gifted to me by Mr. Donald Whittaker, AKA Owl, after the night that had changed who I was forever.
“Life is like justice,” Eli Cole, my lawyer-slash-dad, had said to me before I boarded the plane to Birmingham. “It’s not always fair.”
Wasn’t that the fucking truth.
That summer, I was forced to read the Bible cover to cover. Owl told my parents he was a born-again Christian and big on bible studies. He backed it up by making me read it with him during our lunch breaks. Ham on rye and the Old Testament were his version of not being a dickface, because he was pretty much horrible to me the rest of the time.
Whittaker was a farmhand. When he was sober enough to be anything, that was. He made me his barn boy. I agreed, mainly because I got to finger his neighbor’s daughter at the end of every day.
The neighbor’s daughter thought I was some kind of a celebrity just because I didn’t have a Southern accent and owned a car. I wasn’t one to crush her fantasy, especially as she was eager to be my sex ed student.
I humored Owl when he taught me the Bible, because the alternative was brawling with him in the hay until one of us passed out. I think my folks wanted me to remember that life wasn’t all about expensive cars and ski vacations. Owl and his wife were like Low Income Life 101. So, every morning I woke up asking myself what’s two months in comparison to my whole fucking life.
There were a lot of crazy-ass stories in the Bible; incest, foreskin-collection, Jacob wrestling an angel—I swear this book jumped the shark by the second chapter or so—but one story really stuck with me, even before I’d met Rosie LeBlanc.
Genesis 27. Jacob came to live with Laban, his uncle, and fell in love with Rachel, the younger of Laban’s two daughters. Rachel was hot as fuck, fierce, graceful, and pretty much sex on a stick (as indicated in the Bible, though not in so many words.)
Laban and Jacob struck a deal. Jacob was to work for Laban for seven years—then he could marry his daughter.
Jacob did as he was told—busting his ass under the sun, day in and day out. After those seven years, Laban finally came to Jacob and told him he could marry his daughter.
But here was the catch: it’s not Rachel’s hand he had given him. It was her older sister’s, Leah.
Leah was a good woman. Jacob knew that.
She was nice. Sensible. Charitable. Cute ass and soft eyes (again, paraphrasing here. Other than the eyes part. That shit was actually in the Bible.)
She was no Rachel, though.
She was no Rachel, and he wanted Rachel. It was. Always. Fucking. Rachel.
Jacob argued, fought, and tried to talk some sense into his uncle, but in the end, he’d lost. Life was like justice, even back then. It was anything but fair.
“Seven more years of work,” Laban promised. “And I’d let you marry Rachel, too.”
So, Jacob waited.
Which, anyone with half a brain should know, only gratifies your desperation for your subject of obsession.
Years ticked by. Slowly. Painfully. Numbly.
In the meantime, he was with Leah.
He didn’t suffer. Not per se. Leah was good to him. A safe bet. She could bare his children—something Rachel, he would later find out—had difficulty doing.
He knew what he wanted, and it may have looked like her, and may have smelled like her, and fuck—maybe even felt like her—but it was not her.
It took him fourteen years, but in the end, Jacob won Rachel fair and square.
Rachel might not have been blessed by God. Leah was. But here was the thing.
Rachel didn’t need to be blessed.
She was loved.
And unlike justice and life, love is fair.
What’s more? Eventually, love was enough.
Eventually, it was fucking everything.
Seven weeks into my senior year, another looming calamity had decided to blow up in my face in spectacular fashion. Her name was Rosie LeBlanc, and she had eyes like two frosted-over lakes in an Alaskan winter. That kind of blue.
The what-the-fuck moment grabbed me by the balls and twisted hard the second she opened the door to the servants’ house on Vicious’s lot. Because she wasn’t Millie. She looked like Millie—kind of—only smaller, shorter, with fuller lips, higher cheekbones, and the little pointy ears of a mischievous pixie. But she didn’t wear anything overtly weird like Emilia. A pair of sea-starred flip-flops on her feet, black skinny jeans cut wide at the knees, and a tattered black hoodie with a name of a band I didn’t know plastered in white. Designed to blend in, but, as I’d later find out, destined to shine like a motherfucking lighthouse.
Inferno-red hit her cheeks and crawled down the edge of her collar when our eyes tangled, and that told me everything I needed to know. She was new to me, but I was a familiar face. A face she studied, knew and stared at. All the fucking time.
“Are we engaged in a secret staring competition?” Her recovery was immediate. There was something in the rasp of her voice that almost sounded unnatural. Too small. Too hoarse. Too uniquely her. “Because it’s been twenty-three seconds since I opened the door and you haven’t introduced yourself yet. Also, you blinked twice.”
I originally came there to ask Emilia LeBlanc on a date, cornering her like a frightened animal with nowhere else to go. She wouldn’t give me her phone number. A hunter by nature, I was adequately patient to wait until she was close enough for me to pounce on, but it didn’t hurt to check on my prey every once in a while. If we were being honest, though, pursuing Emilia wasn’t really about Emilia. The thrill of the chase always made my balls tingle, and to me, she provided a challenge other chicks hadn’t supplied. She was new meat, and I was an insatiable carnivore. But I wasn’t expecting to find this.
This changed fucking everything.
I stood there like a mute and flashed my come-hither smirk, taunting the shit out of her, because on some level, she taunted the shit out of me. And it occurred to me that at that particular moment, maybe I wasn’t the hunter. Maybe, for a split, flashing second, I was Elmer Fudd with an out-of-bullets gun in the woods who just spotted an angry tigress.
“Can it even talk?” The tigress’s light eyebrows pulled together, and she leaned forward, poking me in the chest with her little claw. She called me it.
Ridiculing me. Undermining me. Fucking with me.
Wearing my best, innocent expression (that shit was hard to begin with. I forgot what innocence was before my umbilical cord was thrown into the trash), I clamped my teeth beneath my lips and shook my head no.
“You can’t talk?” She folded her arms and leaned against her doorframe, arching a skeptical brow.
I nodded yes, biting down a huge smile.
“That’s bullshit. I saw you at school. Dean Cole. They call you Ruckus. Not only can you talk, but most of the time, you can’t seem to shut up.”
Fuck yeah, little pixie. Bottle that rage and save it for when I roll you between my sheets.
To understand my level of surprise, you first have to know that no girl has ever talked to me like this before. Not even Millie, and Millie seemed to be the only female student who was immune to my all-American, hot-jock, tear-your-panties-with-my-teeth charm. Hell, that’s why I noticed her in the first place.
But as I said, plans change. It’s not like we’d dated yet. I sniffed Millie’s tail around school for a few weeks, debating whether she was worth pursuing, but now that I saw what I’d missed—this little firecracker—it was time to find warmth in her crazy flames.
I unleashed another dirty smirk. This particular one landed me the nickname Ruckus in All Saints’s hallways two years ago. Because I was. I was fucking chaos, brewing anarchy everywhere I went. Everyone knew that. Teachers, students, Principal Followhill, and even the local sheriff.
When you needed drugs—you came to me. When you needed a good party—you came to me. When you needed an amazing fuck, you came to me—and on me. And this was what my smirk—the one I’d been practicing since I was fucking five—said to the world.
If it’s corrupted and dirty and fun—I’m all over it.
And this girl? She looked like a whole lotta fun to corrupt.
Her eyes traced my lips. Heavy. Wanting. Drunk. It was easy to read them. High school girls. Though this particular one didn’t smile as wide as the rest. She didn’t offer a silent invitation for flirtation either.
“You speak,” she coughed her words accusingly. I sucked my lower lip and released it. Slow. Calculated. Teasing.
“Maybe I do know a few words after all.” I got in her face on a hiss. “Wanna hear the interesting ones?” My eyes begged for me to slide down her body, but my brain told me to wait it out. I decided to listen to the latter.
I was relaxed.
I was cunning.
But for the first time in years, I had no idea what the fuck I was doing.
She gave me a lopsided grin that rendered me speechless. Shoving so many words into one, single expression. Telling me that my attempt to butter her up left her sorely unimpressed. That she liked me—yes—and noticed me—sure—but that I was going to have to do better than casual, half-assed flirting to get there. Wherever it was, I was ready for the journey.
“Do I really?” She dallied, not even noticing as she did. I dipped my chin down, leaning forward. I was big, commanding, and confident. And I was trouble. She probably heard all about it, but if not, she was about to find that out.
“I think you do,” I said.
Two minutes ago, I was determined to ask her sister out—older sister, I bet, this chick looked younger and besides, I would have known if she was a senior—and lookie here, fate made her open the door and change my plans.
Baby LeBlanc sent me an odd look, challenging me to continue. Just as I opened my mouth, Millie galloped into my vision, sprinting toward the door from the small, stuffy living room like she was fleeing a war zone. She was clutching a textbook to her chest, her eyes puffy and red. She was staring straight at me, and for a second, I thought she was going to smack me across the face with the five-pound textbook.
In retrospect, I wish she had. It would have been far better than what she actually did.
Millie pushed the little pixie aside without even realizing that she was there, threw herself onto my chest—uncharacteristically affectionate—and pressed her lips to mine like a possessed demon.
This was bad.
Not the kiss. The kiss was fine, I guess. I didn’t have time to process it, because my eyes widened, darting to the spear-eared elf who looked horrified, her cornflower-blues staring, processing, and boxing the three of us into something I wasn’t ready to accept.
What the hell was Millie doing? A few hours ago she was still pretending not to notice me in the hallway, buying time, seeking space, faking indifference. Now she was all over me like a rash after a dodgy one-night stand.
Gently, I pulled away from Millie and cupped her cheeks so she wouldn’t feel rejected, still making sure we had enough space to fit the little pixie between us. Emilia’s proximity was unwelcome, and that was a fucking first when it came to a hot chick.
“Hey,” I said. The body of my voice lost its usual playful tilt, even to my own ears. This wasn’t like Millie. Something happened, and I had a general idea who caused this little scene. My blood boiled. I breathed through my nostrils, determined not to lose my shit. “What’s up, Mil?”
The emptiness in her eyes made me nauseous. I could almost hear the sound of her heart cracking inside her fucking chest. I chanced another glance at Baby LeBlanc, wondering how the hell I was supposed to walk out of this one. She took a step back, her eyes lingering on the hot mess express that was still trying to hug me. Millie was distraught. I couldn’t deny her. Not then.
“Vicious,” the older sister said through a loud sniff. “Vicious happened.”
Then she pointed at the calculus textbook like it was evidence.
Reluctantly, my gaze drifted back to Emilia ‘Millie’ LeBlanc.
“What’d the asswipe do?” I snatched it from her hand and thumbed through the pages, looking for nasty comments or offensive drawings.
“He broke into my locker and stole it,” she snuffled again. “Before stuffing said locker with condom wrappers and garbage.” She wiped her nose with the back of her sleeve.
Jesus fucking Christ with this idiot. That was the other reason why I wanted to date Millie. The need to protect the strays burned in me from a young age. A soft spot and all that bullshit. I wasn’t all bad, like Vicious, neither was I all good, like Jaime. I had my own moral code, and bullying was a long, red line, drawn in blood.
See, as far as strays go, Millie was the perfect, shivering-in-the-rain fleabag in need of shelter. Terrorized at school and haunted by one of my best friends. I needed to do the right thing. I needed to, but fuck if I wanted to.
“I’ll take care of him.” I tried not to snap. “Go back inside.”
And leave me with your sister.
“You don’t need to, really. I’m just glad you’re here.”
I stole a glimpse at the girl who was destined to be the Rachel to my Jacob, this time longingly, because I knew I stood no chance with her the minute her sister kissed me to get back at fucking Vicious.
“I thought about it.” Millie blinked fast, too caught up in her own mess to realize I had barely spared her a glance since she appeared at the door. Too busy to notice her sister was right fucking there beside us. “And I decided—why not? I’d love to date you, actually.”
No, she wouldn’t. What she wanted was for me to be her shield.
Millie needed saving.
And I needed to smoke a fucking blunt.
I sighed, pulling the older sister into a hug, cupping the back of her head, the light-brown wisps of hair entwining between my fingers. My eyes still zoomed at Baby LeBlanc. At my little Rachel.
I’m going to make it right, my gaze promised her. It was clearly more optimistic than I was.
“You don’t have to date me. I can make life easier for you, as your friend. Say the word and I’ll kick his ass,” I whispered into Millie’s perfectly curved ear, my pupils honing in on her sister.
She shook her head, burying it deeper into my shoulder. “No, Dean. I want to date you. You’re nice and fun and compassionate.”
And completely in awe of your sister.
“Doubt it, Millie. You’ve been shutting me down for weeks. This is about Vic, and we both know it. Drink a glass of water. Rethink. I’ll talk to him tomorrow morning at practice.”
“Please, Dean.” Her wobbly voice steadied as she balled the fabric of my designer tee in her fists, pulling me closer to her and away from my new, shiny fantasy at the same time. “I’m a big girl. I know what I’m doing. Let’s go right now.”
“Yeah. Go.” I heard Baby LeBlanc rasp, waving her hand in our direction. “I need to study anyway, and you guys are a distraction. I’ll drown Vicious’s ass if I see him in the pool, Millie,” she joked, pretending to flex her skinny arms.
Baby LeBlanc was a shitty student, with C minuses for miles, but I didn’t know it back then. She didn’t want to study. She wanted her sister to be saved.
I took Millie for an ice cream, this time not looking back.
I took Millie when I should have taken Rosie.
I took Millie, and I was going to kill Vicious.
What makes you feel alive?
Condensation. For it reminds me that I still breathe.
I mean, I guess this is classified as talking to myself, but I’d always been this way.
The voice that always asked the elusive question seemed to have been implanted in my brain, and it wasn’t me. It was a man’s voice. No one familiar, I don’t think. He always made me remember that I still breathed, which wasn’t necessarily something I took for granted. This time, my answer floated in my head like a bubble that was about to burst. I pressed my nose to the mirror in the elevator of the glitzy skyscraper that I lived in and blew air from my mouth, creating a thick cloud of white mist. I pulled away, staring at my doings.
The fact that I was still breathing was a huge screw-you to my illness.
Cystic Fibrosis. I always tried to get all the details out of the way when someone asked. All people needed to know was that I was diagnosed with it at the age of three when my sister, Millie, licked my face and said I tasted “really salty.” It was a red flag, so my parents had me checked. The results came back positive. It’s a lung disease. Yes, it is treatable. No, there’s no cure for it. Yes, it affects my life immensely. I’m constantly on pills, have three physiotherapy sessions a week, an indefinite amount of nebulizers, and I will probably die in the next fifteen years. No, I don’t need your pity, so don’t give me that look.
Still clad in my green scrubs, my hair a tangled mess, and my eyes glassy with lack of sleep, I inwardly prayed that the elevator would finally close and carry me to my apartment on the tenth floor. I wanted to undress, dip into a hot bath, and lie in bed, binge-watching Portlandia. And I wanted not to think about my ex-boyfriend, Darren.
Actually, I really wanted not to think about him.
Violent clicks of street-corner high heels echoed in my ears, seemingly out of nowhere, growing louder by the second. I twisted my head to the lobby and stifled a cough. The elevator’s door had already started to slide shut, but a feminine hand with red-hot fingernails slipped through the crack at the very last second, pushing it open with a high-pitched laugh.
Not him again.
But sure enough, it was him. He barged into the elevator, reeking of alcohol that I suspected would intoxicate a mature elephant to the point of death, armed with two women of the Desperate Housewives variety. The first one was the genius who compromised her arm to catch the elevator—a chick with velvet-red Jessica Rabbit hair and cleavage that left nothing to the imagination, even if you were extremely resourceful. The second was a petite brunette with the roundest ass I’ve ever seen on a human being and a dress so short, you could probably perform a gynecological exam on her without having to remove any clothing.
Oh, and then there was Dean ‘Ruckus’ Cole.
Tall—perfect size for a movie star—with moss-green eyes, almost radioactive in their sparkle and bottomless in their depth, disheveled, deep brown sex hair, and a body that would put Brock O’Hurn to shame. Sinfully sexy to the point you really had no choice but to look away and pray your underwear was thick enough to absorb your arousal. Seriously, the man was so outrageously hot, he was probably outlawed in ultra-religious countries. Luckily for me, I just so happened to know Mr. Cole was a world-class jerk, so I was mostly immune to his charm.
Mostly being the operative word here.
He was beautiful, but he was also a mess of epic proportions. You know those women who want the fucked-up, gorgeous, vulnerable guy they could fix and nurture? Dean Cole would be their wet dream. Because there definitely was something up with this guy. The notion that people in his immediate environment didn’t see the flashing neon warnings—his drinking, excessive pot-smoking, and raging addiction to everything sinful and fun—saddened me. Yet, I recognized that Dean Cole wasn’t my business. Besides, I had my own problems to deal with.
The HotHole hiccupped, punched the button to his penthouse five hundred times, and swayed in the small space the four of us shared. His eyes were feverish, and he wore a thin coat of sweat on his skin that smelled like pure brandy. A thick, rust-eaten wire twisted around my heart.
His smile didn’t look happy.
“Baby LeBlanc.” Dean’s lazy tone slipped right into my lower belly, and I stilled. He grabbed me by the shoulder, spinning me in place so that I faced him. His companions eyed me like I was a pile of rotten eggs. I placed my palms on his iron-steel chest, pushing him away.
“Careful. You smell like Jack Daniel’s just came in your mouth,” I deadpanned. He threw his head back and laughed—this time sporting an honest smile—thoroughly enjoying our bizarre exchange.
“This girl.” He wrapped an arm around my shoulder and squeezed me to his chest. He pointed at me with a hand that held onto the neck of a beer bottle, looking at the girls with a dazed grin. “Is fuck-hot and has brains and wit that would eclipse Winston Churchill in his finest hour,” he gushed. They probably thought Winston Churchill was a Cartoon Network character. Dean turned to face me, his brows dropping low all of a sudden. “That puts her in a high risk to be a condescending bitch, but she isn’t. She’s also fucking kind. That’s why she’s a nurse. Hiding that fine ass under scrubs is a crime, LeBlanc.”
“Sorry to disappoint, Officer Pothead, but I’m just volunteering. I’m actually a barista,” I corrected, ironing my scrubs with my hand as I wormed out of his touch, offering a polite smile to the girls. I volunteered at a NICU three times a week, monitoring incubators and cleaning baby poop. I wasn’t as artistically talented as Millie or as lucky as the HotHoles, but I had my passions—people and music—and I didn’t think any less of my aspirations than what they did for a living. Dean had an MBA from Harvard and a New York Times subscription, but was he really better than me? Hell, no. I worked in a small coffee shop called The Black Hole between First Ave and Ave A. The money was bad, but the company good. I figured life was too short to do something I wasn’t passionate about. Especially for me.
Jessica Rabbit rolled her eyes. The petite brunette hitched one bare shoulder and turned her back to us, messing with her phone. They thought I was a salty bitch. They were right. I literally was. But if we were being literal here, they were in for a rude awakening. I knew my neighbor and my sister’s ex-boyfriend’s ritual by heart. In the morning, he’ll call them a taxi and won’t even bother to pretend he saved their numbers.
In the morning, he’ll act like they were nothing but a mess he had to clean. In the morning, he will be sober, hungover, and ungrateful.
Because he was a HotHole.
A privileged, unhinged, egomaniac from Todos Santos who thought he deserved everything and owed nothing.
Come on, elevator. What’s taking you so long?
“LeBlanc,” Dean barked this time, leaning against the silver wall and pulling a joint from behind his ear, fishing for his lighter in his tailored, dark jeans. The bottle was discarded and passed to one of the women. He wore a designer V-neck tee—the kind of lime green that made his eyes pop and skin look even more tan—an open black blazer and high-top sneakers. He made me want stupid things. Things I never wanted from anyone, much less from a man who dated my sister for eight months. So I bottled them up and tried to be mean to him. Dean was like Batman. He was strong enough to take it.
“Tomorrow. You. Me. Sunday Brunch. Say the word, and I’ll be eating more than just food.” He dipped his chin down to exhibit his emerald eyes, a sinister expression on his face. No question marks with this guy. Brat, the bitter thought crossed my mind. He is going to have a threesome in a few minutes, and he’s standing here hitting on his ex-girlfriend’s sister. They can hear everything, too. Why are they still here?
I ignored his less-than-stellar advance on me, warning him about something else entirely. “If you light that thing in the elevator,” I pointed at his blunt, “I swear I will sneak into your apartment tonight and pour hot wax all over your groin.”
Jessica Rabbit gasped. Petite Brunette shrieked. Well, they would be in the fire line if that happened.
“Geez, get some chill.” The brunette waved a hand at me, ready to explode. “Like, creepy much?”
I paid no attention to the woman with the crayon makeup. Instead, I simply stared at the red numbers above the elevator’s door, indicating that I was getting closer and closer to a bath, wine, and Portlandia.
“Answer me.” Dean ignored the girls he was about to pork, returning his glazy eyes to mine. “Brunch?” Hiccup. “Or we can just skip the whole thing and fuck?”
Hopeless romantic, I know, but sadly, it was still a no for me.
In all honesty, I wasn’t just turned off by how he tried to drag me into his bed, but also by his poor timing. It had been three weeks since Darren packed his things and moved out of the apartment we had shared for six months—we had been together for nine months, after a short stint I had with a greasy monkey, metal music enthusiast named Hal. Dean hadn’t wasted any time trying to accommodate the casual rebound position. The fact that Dean was essentially my landlord and that I only paid him a hundred bucks a month for legal reasons didn’t make it easier to reject him. He co-owned my apartment with Vicious, Jaime, and Trent, and while I knew he wouldn’t kick me out—Vicious would never let him—I also knew I had to play nice with him.
But the notion that he could possibly give me every STD listed on WebMD did make it easier to turn him down. A lot easier, actually.
The red numbers crept up on the display.
Come on, come on, come on.
“No,” I said flatly, when I realized he was still staring at me, waiting for my response.
“Why?” Another hiccup.
“Because you’re not my friend, and I don’t like you.”
“And why is that?” he pushed, smirking.
Because you broke my heart and I pieced it back together all wonky and wrong.
“Because you’re a hopeless manwhore.” I gave him reason number two on my ‘Why I Hate Dean’ list. That thing was long with a capital L.
Instead of feeling embarrassed or disheartened, Dean leaned in my direction again and pressed his index finger to my cheek with the hand that held the unlit blunt, his face cool and collected. He produced an eyelash he had picked from my face, his finger so close to my lips I saw the round pattern of its print swirling around my curly eyelash.
“Make a wish.” His voice was satin wrapping around my neck, squeezing softly.
Closing my eyes, I bit my lower lip. Then opened them. Then blew the eyelash, watching it rock back and forth gradually, like a feather.
“Don’t you want to know what I wished for?” My voice came out hoarse. He leaned into my body, his lips pressing against my cheek.
“Doesn’t matter what you wished for,” he slurred. “What matters is what you need. I have it, Rosie. And one day—we both know—I will give it to you. In spades.”
I was coming back from a six-hour stint volunteering at a small children’s hospital downtown, which I ran to right after finishing a full shift at the coffeehouse. I was tired, hungry, and my feet had blisters the size of my nose. I shouldn’t have felt a thousand little fingerlings swimming in my chest, but I did. I did and I hated that I did.
“Brunch,” he murmured into my face, his hot, stinking breath fanning my skin. “You’ve been living in my apartment for almost a year. It’s time to reevaluate your rent. My place. Tomorrow morning. Ready when you are, but you better be there. Capiche?”
I gulped, averting my gaze, and when I looked up again, the elevator door slid open. I leapt forward, practically sprinting out, pouring myself into the hallway, and fishing my keys from my backpack.
Space. I needed it. All of it. Now.
His laughter still carried to my door all the way from the twentieth floor, his penthouse, where he ended his journey for the night with two gorgeous women.
After I bathed, poured myself some wine, and had a healthy, balanced dinner consisting of Cheetos and an orange-colored dip with an unknown origin I’d found in the back of my fridge, I parked my ass on my couch and started flipping channels. Even though I wanted to watch Portlandia, because it made me feel a little more sophisticated than my dinner had suggested, I somehow got sucked into watching What to Expect When You’re Expecting.
Awful, and not just because it scored 22% on Rotten Tomatoes.
But because it made me think of Darren.
And thinking of Darren made me want to call and apologize to him once again.
I stared at the phone for long seconds, debating, mulling the scenario in my helplessly tired brain.
He’d pick up.
Try to tell me I made a terrible mistake.
That he doesn’t care. He still wants me anyway.
Only he does. He cares a lot.
And I’m not good enough.
Not for someone like him.
Another thing I should mention: despite my sarcastic nature and motor mouth, I was all bark and no bite. I wasn’t interested in ruining lives. I’d much rather save them. That was why I’d given up Darren.
Darren deserved a normal life, with a normal wife and an appropriate amount of kids to start a football team. He deserved long vacations and open-air activities outside the hospital walls. When he wasn’t working there, that is. In short—he deserved more than I could ever give him.
I tucked myself into bed, pressing my back against the headboard as I gaped at my bedroom door, willing it to open, pushed by a god of a man who was going to keep me warm for the night.
Jesus, I hated him. Now, more than ever. He wanted to reevaluate my rent. He couldn’t. I was dirt-poor as it was. Especially by Manhattan standards. Besides, he made in a day what I made in two years. Was it really necessary, or did he want to get back at me for not giving in to his advances?
Closing my eyes, I envisioned the world-class douchebag eating out Jessica Rabbit, who was straddling his chiseled, perfect face, while Petite Brunette sucked him off. Appalled, I snaked a hand into my already-damp panties, the crease between my eyebrows deepening, and coughed softly.
Dean Cole was probably the filthy kind. The type to flip Jessica Rabbit over a second after she came and pound her from behind, pulling at her scarlet hair.
I pushed my forefinger inside my sex, then the middle one, looking for that spot.
Disgusted, I imagined Petite Brunette being grabbed by the neck and thrown into position on her back when he was done with JR. Now he was screwing her, too, pinching her nipples. Hard.
I arched my back, revolted.
I moaned, repelled.
Then I came hard on my fingers, repulsed.
I hated everything about Dean Cole.
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