About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
I was as ugly inside as I was outside. It was the only explanation for the fact I hadn’t been able to cry one single tear. I hadn’t even squeezed out one fake tear at Mrs. Williams’s funeral. I knew the church people thought I was evil. I could see it when they looked at me. But they had all gotten to witness it firsthand when they’d watched me not show one small streak of emotion when I’d stood beside Pastor Williams as they’d lowered his wife into the ground. She had been diagnosed with a brain tumor only five months ago. It had been stage five, and there had been nothing they could have done.
The congregation had stopped by to check on her daily, and the parsonage had been flooded with casseroles, pies, and flowers. I had been told to stay out of sight. I’d only upset her. Pastor Williams had been kind when he’d instructed me to keep to my room when I’d come home from school, but it’d still stung. I’d waited until I was sure they were asleep most nights to sneak downstairs and fix me something to eat for dinner. The endless supply of food had made it easy.
When she had finally taken her last breath, the hospice nurse had come and knocked on my door to inform me. I had been asked to call Pastor Williams at the church and have him come home. I hadn’t felt anything. Not one emotion from the news. I’d realized then that she had been right all those years. I was evil. Only someone truly evil could be so indifferent to death. Mrs. Williams had been only fifty-four. But then, that was much older than my mother had been when she’d died—she had been only twenty.
That was all behind me now. That life was over and in my past.
I stood outside the apartment building that overlooked the Alabama gulf coast and let it sink in that this was now my home. I was far away from the life I’d lived in South Carolina. I would have a new life here. One where I could sit and write my stories and attend the community college.
Pastor Williams had wanted to get rid of me. I was thankful for that because I needed a way to get free from that place. He had called a friend of his and had gotten me into a community college ten hours away from the town full of people who hated me. He had bought me an apartment on the beach and even managed to get me a job working as a church secretary. He had a friend who pastored a church in Sea Breeze, Alabama. It was one of the reasons he had sent me here. He had had someone help set me up while he remained in South Carolina.
I had heard Pastor Williams on the phone explaining to the man who would be my boss that I wasn’t good with people and I was sheltered. Which wasn’t exactly true. I had gone to an all-girl Christian academy, and everyone there had pretended that I hadn’t existed. It wasn’t my fault their mommas had told them about the evil inside me. I had never had a chance to actually be around people who wanted anything to do with me.
Before I took my boxes out of the truck, I wanted to check out the apartment. Pastor Williams had given me a truck, too. Grabbing my purse and the keys he had placed in an envelope, along with one thousand dollars in cash, I jumped down out of the old truck and headed for the stairs. None of the apartments were on the street level. They were all on stilts above the ground. I figured this was for times when the water got high . . . or during hurricanes. I wasn’t going to think about hurricanes. Not now.
I slipped the key into the lock and turned before pushing the door open. It swung wide, and I took in the pretty pale yellow walls and white wicker furniture. It was all very coastal. I loved it.
Smiling, I walked inside and spun around in a circle with my arms opened wide. I tilted my head back and closed my eyes and let myself bask in the solitude. No one knew me here. I wasn’t the evil girl who the pastor was stuck taking care of. I was just me. Blythe Denton. And I was a writer. A recluse eccentric writer who didn’t care what she looked like. It didn’t matter. She was free.
Loud male voices laughing and throwing insults in the hallway interrupted my quiet moment of joy. I dropped my arms to turn and lock gazes with . . . with . . . a guy. Blue. Like the sky on a clear sunny day. That was all I could focus on. I had never seen eyes so blue. They were so startling, they were almost breathtaking. His friends’ voices were fading away, but he was still standing there. Then I noticed it. . . . Was he wearing black eyeliner? I dropped my eyes to take in the rest of him.
The pierced eyebrow and colorful tattooed skin I saw covering his arms had me jerking my gaze back up to his face. Seemingly windblown platinum-blond hair finished the wild look.
“You done, love? Or is it my turn?” The teasing lilt to his low husky voice reminded me of warm chocolate. It made me feel almost giddy.
Not sure what he was talking about, I looked back at his amused eyes. “I, uh . . .” I what? I didn’t know what to say. “I don’t know what you mean,” I finally told him honestly. Should I apologize for staring at him? Had I been?
“Are you done checking me out? Because I’d hate to interrupt you.”
Oh. My face heated, and I knew my cheeks were bright red. What was I thinking, leaving my door open for the world to see me? I wasn’t used to this. Keeping my distance from men in general made me extremely inept at talking to one. However, this one didn’t stare at me with that leer that made me nervous. I was used to the look men gave me because they thought I would do bad things with them. The ugly they saw didn’t seem to deter them from wanting to see if I was as evil as they had heard.
“It’s just some tattoos and a couple piercings, love. I promise I’m harmless,” he said this time with a smile on his face.
I managed to nod. I should say something. I just wasn’t sure what to say. He was waiting on me to speak. “I like them,” I blurted out nervously. That sounded stupid. He raised an eyebrow, and a smirk touched his lips. “The tattoos—they’re nice. Colorful. Uh . . . I . . .” I sounded like an idiot. There was no saving myself from this disaster. Closing my eyes so I didn’t have to see those blue eyes watching me, I took a deep breath. “I’m not good at talking to people—guys, people, anyone really.” Had I really just told him that?
If he would just turn and leave, then we could forget this moment forever. I forced my eyes open and caught him studying me with that grin still on his lips. He was going to think I was nuts. Maybe he was visiting someone here and didn’t live in this complex. I really didn’t want to face him again. Ever.
He pressed the pad of his thumb to his bottom lip and bit the tip of it before chuckling and shaking his head. “Not sure I’ve met anyone quite like you,” he said before letting his hand fall back down to his side.
I was positive he hadn’t.
“Krit, dude.” a male voice called down loudly from what sounded like the second floor. “We got, like, thirty minutes until we gotta be there. Go fucking shower and change.”
“Shit,” he muttered, glancing down at his phone as he pulled it out of his pocket. “Gotta go. But I’ll see you around, little dancer,” he said with a wink, then stepped back out of the doorway and walked down the hall.
Little dancer? Oh. I covered my face with both hands. He had seen me spinning around like an idiot. I sure hoped I didn’t see him again. I just wanted to live life without drawing attention to myself. I was leaving that life—the one where people saw me and huddled together while laughing and glancing at me—behind. I didn’t want to give anyone here ammunition to make fun of me. Being invisible couldn’t be that hard.
Unless you try to talk to guys, genius, I thought to myself. Walking over to the door, I closed and locked it. Next time I wanted to do something like spin in circles, I needed to close my door first.
Tonight we had a gig at Live Bay. It was a club in town that drew both tourists and locals. We had become a crowd favorite over the past two years, so the three nights a week we played at the club equaled four hundred and fifty dollars for each of us. Live Bay, along with the bar we played at an hour away in Florida, and another club in Mobile, Alabama, both weekly gigs, allowed each of us to clear over a grand a week just performing.
Green, my best friend and bass guitar in our band, Jackdown, and I shared an apartment. However, we always had people crashing there. We were a family. We had been since we started this thing. Other than my older sister, Trisha, I hadn’t had family, really. Our home life had sucked growing up. Now Trisha had her husband, Rock, and the three kids they’d adopted. She managed to make it most Thursday nights to listen to me play, but that was it now. Used to be that she wouldn’t miss even one of my shows.
I got it though. I was good with it. She finally had the family she’d always wanted, and she was happy. That was enough. She was a damn good mom, and those kids were lucky she was theirs now.
We had a good show even though Trish wasn’t there. But the redhead I’d decided to bring home that night was tugging on my arm, needing attention. I hadn’t had enough to drink, and I was lost in my thoughts instead of focusing on her tits, she so wanted me to notice her. I’d noticed already. It was one of the reasons she was going back to my place.
“You’re ignoring me,” the girl pouted, sticking out her lips, where were painted a deep red. I liked red lips. Another reason she was with me.
“Easy there. He has an easy trigger after a gig,” Green called back to us from the driver’s seat. He knew how annoyed I could get with clingy needy girls. I just wanted them willing and easy.
“I’m just making sure he hasn’t changed his mind,” the girl replied.
“When I change my mind, love, you’ll know it,” I told her, then leaned down to take a taste of her red lips. They had the flavor of the candy she had been sucking on earlier, and beer. It was a good taste. I wanted a little more.
Green chuckled from the front seat as the car came to a stop. “See, he’s all fun and games if you just let him be,” he said.
I broke the kiss and got out of the car. I was ready for a drink and some music. And a lot of people. I needed the crowd. “They all coming?” I asked Green as I held out my hand for the girl to take. She quickly scrambled out of the car and clung to me.
“Probably already here,” he replied. The band liked crashing at our place on nights we played at Live Bay. We kept an open door for any neighbors. Seeing as they were all college students, they never complained. They came and joined the party.
“What’s your name?” I asked the girl on my arm.
I glanced down at her to see the pinched frown on her lips. She’d told me earlier, but I hadn’t cared then. I hadn’t been sure I’d be spending the night with her yet. Now I wanted to know. I didn’t fuck a girl if I didn’t know her name.
“Jasmine,” she replied, then flipped her red hair over her shoulder.
Jasmine seemed to have a bit of a temper with that red hair of hers. Normally, I was amused but not tonight. I was moody.
The music was already going when we started up the stairs. There was no doubt it was coming from our apartment. Matty, our drummer, always grabbed a girl or three quickly and left the club after we finished our gig. But most of the time he got to the apartment first if his females didn’t slow him down.
“Looks like the party has already started. I’m gonna step out early and go find somewhere to study,” Green said as he slowed to walk beside me.
Green was almost done with law school. He would be taking the bar exam in six months. I was proud of him, but I also knew things would be changing soon. He wasn’t going to be able to pursue law and live like we were living. He rarely stayed for the parties. He always escaped to go study. Eventually I would lose him, but I wanted him to succeed.
“We should move the parties to Matty’s from now on,” I said, feeling guilty that Green had to leave his place to be able to study.
Green shook his head. “Hell, no. The dipshit doesn’t ever clean up, and his apartment is tiny as fuck. Besides, let’s not mess with a good thing. I’ve made it this far doing it this way. It works.”
Since we’d been kids, Green had been the smart one. The one who always sacrificed. He made things happen. But somehow I had always been the one in the spotlight. Didn’t really seem fair.
“Just say the word when you want to change that,” I told him, then glanced over at the closed apartment door we were passing.
A smile tugged on the corner of my lips. Damn, that girl had been adorable twirling around her apartment. I had never seen such long thick hair that was so dark, it was almost black. Then those eyes of hers had been fucking amazing. I wasn’t even sure what color they were exactly. They looked like they were hazel, but they reminded me of jewels. They’d been startling at first.
Although she had been wearing baggy-ass sweats and an even larger T-shirt, I could see the curves underneath. Sucked that I was only going to have to imagine what they actually looked like because I wasn’t touching that. The innocence pouring off that girl was thick. She had barely been able to form words to talk to me.
Fucking adorable was what it had been. And I didn’t do adorable. Ever.
Jasmine’s hand slid down over my jeans and cupped my balls. “I like to suck,” she whispered in my ear.
“Good. You can show me how much as soon as we get in the room,” I told her, and reached around to cup her ass.
That had been all the reassurance she needed apparently, because she started unbuttoning my jeans before we reached the door to my apartment. Green turned back to say something to me and saw her hand busy at work with my jeans. He laughed and rolled his eyes then walked into our apartment, which was already full of several of the guys who lived around us, and a few locals who we partied with regularly. Of course, there were plenty of girls. Just in case Jasmine didn’t work out.