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A handsome boy was lying in bed behind me, but the condescending leer on his face made me want to run away.
Too bad he was my boyfriend.
“Why are you getting all dressed up? It’s barely eight o’clock.”
I ignored him and hooked the bra behind my back, picking up my clothes from the floor before ducking into the bathroom. I wanted to lock the door, but Macon hated that. I didn’t want him to get mad or break down the door, not tonight. I should have been out the door half an hour ago but I had to clean up after sex with him—he liked it dirty and rough. Nothing a washcloth and some foundation couldn’t fix, but the memory was an oily stain on my mind.
I played with my blond hair, contemplating what quick style would work for going out, then grabbed a hair tie and put it back into a ponytail. As I looked through my makeup, the door slid open and Macon squeezed into the small bathroom behind me. I braced myself against the sink when his hands grabbed my hips, his flaccid groin thrusting against my backside. One hand crept up to my neck, pulling me back against him and squeezing enough to restrict the blood flow. “What’s your rush, Lacey?” he murmured in my ear.
“I promised Ashley I’d drive tonight.”
The hand around my throat squeezed harder, and I started to tremble as my airway was blocked. Macon thought playing rough like this was somehow sexy—that women liked a man who took control—but I had a feeling he just got off on my fear.
I swallowed, or at least tried to, around the tight grip on my windpipe. “Ashley needs a designated driver,” I rasped, putting my hand on his in what I hoped he’d see as an appeasing gesture. “I don’t want her to get hurt.”
My evident altruism finally won a smile from him. “You’re a good girl,” he said, letting go of my neck and patting my cheek. “You promise to think on what we talked about?”
Angry words at his condescending manner rose like bile, but all I felt was relief when he stepped away. I nodded silently, not trusting myself to speak. Coughing would only make him angry, so I held my breath until he closed the bathroom door behind him. Only then did I sit down on the toilet, trying to take slow breaths through my bruised throat.
At times like this, I had to tell myself over and over that being with him was better than being at home, but it no longer felt like the truth. The way he acted sometimes sickened me, made me afraid, but I stayed silent. At least with him I had some measure of respect, and people didn’t bother me.
My makeup was mostly done, but I put an extra layer on my neck in case the skin showed signs of bruising. I’d grown very adept at hiding the bruises and scratches; he’d certainly given me more than enough practice. Macon was lying on the couch as I hunted around for my shoes. Outside, someone honked, and, peeking out the blinds, I saw Ashley’s car.
Shit. She wasn’t going to be happy about having to pick me up.
“Looking for these?”
Macon held up my heels with one hand, and I forced myself not to snatch them from him. Trying to put them on while walking, I opened the door and was barely through the entryway when hands grabbed me and pulled me back inside. Slamming me back against the wall beside the door, Macon lowered his head and kissed me brutally. He was all tongue and teeth, his hands grabbing my breasts and twisting painfully.
“Should I tell her to leave without you?”
I shook my head, trying to keep the sudden panic off my face. “I’m her DD, remember? I’d feel terrible if she got hurt driving home.”
The darkening of his gorgeous blue eyes made me tense in preparation for his answer, but he finally let me go. “I’ll see you later, then,” he said, the words more a dark promise than a farewell.
My legs were shaking as I got into the small car. Ashley had the music blaring, a sure sign that she was pissed, but she gave me a cheerful smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “Looks like the boy toy can’t keep his hands off you.”
“Yeah. Look, Ashley, I’m sorry I didn’t get to your house. Macon wouldn’t let me leave and ripped my other top when he—”
“Meh. Bored now.”
I knew Ashley was a fair-weather friend, the kind you went clubbing with but didn’t talk to much besides that, but her casual brush-off of my problems hurt. I’d been there for her when her last boyfriend beat her enough to draw blood, but she couldn’t be bothered to do the same for me. She started chatting about one of her other friends who’d gotten pregnant without knowing who the daddy was, and I kept my mouth shut, letting her ramble and pretending interest.
“Ready for a night of fun?”
I shrugged, not caring either way. Lately, barhopping and clubbing had ceased being fun and turned into an excuse to get out of whichever house I was staying in at the time. I didn’t answer and Ashley didn’t seem to care, continuing to prattle on as we headed toward the bar.
* * *
I couldn’t remember ever being sober at this bar before, which was probably on account of how lame it was without the haze of alcohol.
Ashley had worked up a buzz right out of the gate, hitting on a few of the older gentlemen and getting shots for both of us. She’d taken four, including the two bought for me, saying I was the designated driver for the night. One of the men, a forty-something with a gold band on his left hand, had tried to pull me down onto his lap. I’d deftly maneuvered my way out of it, laughing and patting his cheek while giving him an easy view down my shirt. That had seemed to be enough for him, and thankfully he’d let me go.
The hotel bar was packed. Summer had hit, and people had returned from college or come to take advantage of the area’s beaches. The romantic prospects were much more abundant, but I couldn’t make myself care. The thought of any more relationships didn’t interest me in the slightest.
“Ooh, who’s that delicious piece of ass over there?”
I looked over at Ashley, who was fiddling with her beer bottle label, and then followed her gaze across the room. I zeroed in on the blond boy at the table. “Is that Trent Maverick?”
I’d forgotten that Ashley had gone to a different high school than me. It was easy to forget our age difference. At twenty-two, the brunette was three years older than me, but with her petite frame she looked fresh out of high school. “I went to high school with him,” I said over the band’s music.
“Did he play any sports?”
He hadn’t been on my radar in school. I shrugged. “Probably.”
“I’d fuck him in a heartbeat.”
The crude way she said it made me wince. Ashley’s brain-to-mouth filter was always MIA, but it grew worse when she was drunk. She’d gotten us into trouble more than once by saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. The girl had been constantly moving since we’d arrived at the bar, and I felt like a babysitter trying to keep her out of trouble.
A predatory smile crossed Ashley’s lips. “Oh yeah, he’s so mine.”
I fought the urge to roll my eyes. I was too tired to argue or play games tonight. I hadn’t had anything to drink, and I just wanted to find somewhere to lie down. I needed sleep; my two jobs had me running ragged lately, but Ashley had insisted I come with her tonight.
Ashley grabbed my arm, tugging me around the dance floor toward the occupied table. I went along willingly enough but wasn’t in the mood to do anything more than sit.
“Quit being such a spoilsport, just take the other one.”
I hadn’t seen the other boy from across the room, but as I drew closer I realized Trent may not have been who Ashley was talking about. Whereas the blond boy I knew was leaning forward, eagerly watching two girls dancing nearby, the dark-haired boy beside him was lounging back in his seat. The tabletop was filled with beer bottles, but it was impossible to tell who had drunk what.
“Hi,” Ashley said loudly, still managing to sound sultry even when nearly yelling. “Is this seat taken?”
Trent looked at her, and he seemed to appreciate what he saw, but Ashley only had eyes for the boy beside him. She did what I called her power pose, arching her back to better display her assets. The dark-haired boy ignored her, however, his gaze instead moving to me. Something sparked in his eyes, and I felt goose bumps break out over my skin.
Butterflies fluttered in my belly. Suddenly nervous, I looked away to the dance floor, hoping he would stop staring. My own reaction bothered me; I didn’t like how the other boy made me feel. Ashley slanted me a dark look but kept her smile in place to keep up appearances. Without waiting for an answer, she took the seat next to her target. She had no qualms moving in for the kill and leaving me to fend for myself. Reining in my annoyance, I pulled up a chair across the table beside the familiar blond boy, who finally seemed to notice me.
“Didn’t I go to high school with you?”
I nodded mutely. Trent was staring at me, a slightly confused look on his face as he tried to place me, then he snapped his fingers. “You’re Lacey, right? What happened to you? I know you didn’t graduate with us.”
“I dropped out before Christmas.”
I kept waiting for him to recall me, my body tense and waiting for his reaction, but he just cocked his head to one side. “You dropped out in the middle of senior year?”
“It wasn’t the greatest decision in the world,” I hedged, uncomfortable at being called out. Even two years later, the decision still haunted me. So close, and I’d just given up.
“Well, it’s cool to see you again.”
I blinked several times as he turned his attention toward Ashley. His words seemed sincere enough, and I looked away, surprised by how that fact shocked me. Our school had been small, but apparently he really didn’t remember much about me except my name. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise.
Across from me, Ashley was trying to entice the other boy into dancing, with no luck. I could feel his eyes on me, but I didn’t look back at him, hoping he would eventually ignore me. I didn’t miss Ashley’s glare, however. She didn’t seem to like the fact that I’d managed to attract the attention of both guys, and as usual it was all my fault.
Abandoning the dark-haired boy, she pasted a big smile on her face and held her hand out to Trent. “Wanna dance?” It was obvious she was trying to steal him away from me, make me jealous maybe, but I didn’t care and Trent didn’t seem to mind. He jumped up, eager to get close to the perky brunette, and followed her out on the dance floor.
Once they left, silence reigned at the table. I felt rude ignoring the other boy, but for some reason he made me jittery. The band continued to loudly butcher Johnny Cash, and conversation throughout the room only added to the raucous din.
“Are the bands always this bad?”
I bit my lip at his question. He had a deep voice that sent shivers through me, and I didn’t like my reaction to him. “Only if we’re lucky.” I glanced at him and then looked away again. He was leaning toward me, obviously interested. I’d tried to ignore him, not wanting to rile Ashley, but he really was handsome. There was a ruggedness about him that was totally unlike Macon’s pretty-boy good looks, and I could feel my attraction building. That only made ignoring him more imperative, but I hated being rude. “At least this time the singer isn’t completely tone deaf. The keyboardist can’t keep the tempo to save his life, though.”
“Do you play?”
I nodded. “Piano.”
“Really.” The news perked his interest. “What kind of music do you play?”
“Classical.” It had been a handful of years since my fingers had touched ivory, but, despite my tension, I smiled at the memory. “I was really good at it, too.”
“Was? You don’t play anymore?”
The smile slipped from my lips, and I gave a jerky shake of my head. Eager to change the subject, I continued hastily, “You’re not from around here, are you?”
He shook his head. “I’m house-sitting down here with Trent for the summer,” he said, and then held out his hand. “I’m Everett Ward.”
His hand was soft but thick and heavy; the touch made the butterflies in my stomach dance faster. “Lacey St. James.” I cleared my throat, trying to act like his proximity wasn’t getting to me. “What house are y’all watching?”
“It’s down by the ocean. Really big, too, there’s a guesthouse and boat storage behind the house.”
“Are y’all staying in the Pass? The Cove?” At his blank look, I added, “You know, Oyster Cove, or Bay St. Louis, or Pass Christian, or…?”
Understanding entered his eyes as I named the area’s coastal towns. “Oyster Cove. Trent is friends with the family. It’s a big white mansion off the coast highway.”
I blinked. “You talking about the Plymouth plantation house?” I asked.
“Didn’t know it was named.”
“Do you know y’all are house-sitting for one of the richest families in the county?”
He shrugged, looking back to the dance floor. “Far as I can tell, they haven’t lived there for a while.”
I might not have originally been from this little corner of southern Mississippi, but I’d learned a thing or two over the last few years. I’d only ever seen the large white antebellum house from the highway, nestled back on the massive property amid regal trees far older than me. I looked back out over the dance floor, a little amazed. “Nice place.” An understatement.
Everett shrugged again, but I saw a smile play at the corners of his mouth. For some reason, that made me warm up inside. I got the feeling he didn’t smile much, and the lopsided tilt of his lips made him even more handsome. A lock of dark hair fell across his forehead, and I had to resist the insane urge to push it back so I could see his face. He had on a black button-up, long-sleeved shirt with expensive-looking jeans. While he didn’t really look out of place in the bar, something still managed to set him apart.
“Unfortunately,” he continued, “they don’t have a piano, or I’d ask you to come play.”
I’m sure you would. Reality crashed in, and I flushed. Boys had been inviting me over for years now with similar lines, and some that weren’t as subtle. A bitter gall worked its way up my throat and I swallowed it back. Regardless of what my heart wanted to believe, experience told me I couldn’t trust him.
My mood soured by my own thoughts, I stood up. “I need to use the bathroom,” I mumbled. Not caring if he heard me, I walked away into the crowd. My view of him was immediately swallowed up and I let out a relieved sigh, ignoring my disappointment. The boy made me nervous, and I couldn’t quite explain why. Maybe it was because part of me wanted to trust him, which was a ridiculous idea. I didn’t know the boy at all, other than that he was a friend of Trent’s.
The bathroom was just inside the corridor leading to the back, but as I reached the end of the hallway an arm snapped into view, blocking my path. “Where’ve you been all my life, beautiful?”
I whirled to see Macon standing beside me. He was wearing slacks and a tight blue shirt that showed off his muscles. His golden hair was slicked back, and the grin he gave me had a decidedly wicked gleam. Suddenly jittery, I tried to hide my anxiety as he stepped close. If he’d seen me sitting with the other boy …
“You look good enough to eat tonight,” he murmured, running my ponytail through his fingers. I fought back a flinch, but he didn’t grab my hair like I thought he would. His hand slid down my shoulder and around my forearm. “Why don’t we go talk outside?”
“Macon, I gotta pee.” Sometimes being blunt disarmed him enough that I could get away, but the tactic didn’t work tonight.
“Come on, I need your help.”
Briefly, I thought about fighting myself free—I was in public, there wasn’t much he could do to me here—but ultimately decided against making a scene. In my experience, it was easier to just get things over with quickly and go back inside. When our path took us past the storage areas toward the back entrance, however, I started getting nervous again. There was no breaking his hold now; as he drew me farther away from the crowds, his grip on my arm tightened painfully.
It’s hard to dig in your heels when you’re wearing three-inch stilettos, but I tried anyway. I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew for sure I wasn’t going to like it.
Whistles and catcalls preceded us as we stepped outside into the Mississippi night. The back of the bar let out into a dark area that housed the bar’s Dumpsters and sat adjacent to the connecting hotel. A single light beside the rear door lit the scene enough for me to recognize three men standing nearby. Two of them were familiar, Macon’s friends, although I didn’t know their names. They were passing around a small glass pipe, but the third boy pocketed it when Macon closed the heavy door behind us.
“Damn man, she’s even hotter in person!”
Macon just laughed, a nasty sound in the darkness. “I only keep the very best.”
“I watched what you did to them other boys.” The shortest of the bunch stepped forward, his smile crooked from the chew wedged beneath his lower lip. I tried to pull away but Macon held me firm. “Been wantin’ to meet you ever since.”
“These are my good friends,” Macon murmured as I began to tremble. “Won’t you at least say hello?”
Panic welled up and I pried at his fingers on my arm, but he only dug in deeper. The pain increased my feeling of helplessness as the short boy reached down and blatantly rubbed himself through his low-slung pants. His clothes seemed less a fashion statement and more a consequence of how thin he was, but his eyes gleamed eagerly in the dim light. “How’s she with givin’ head?” he asked.
“Pretty good, actually.” Macon jerked my arm down and, unbalanced, I stumbled to my knees with a cry. “Now, baby,” he all but crooned, “I’d hate for you to prove me wrong. What do you say we show them how good you really are?”
Sobbing, I tried to get up but was pushed back down by Macon. This time, he did grab my hair, holding me in place while the short guy fumbled with his pants. “She ain’t gonna bite me, is she?”
This isn’t happening, tell me this isn’t happening. I moaned, panic-stricken, and grabbed at Macon’s wrist. He just jerked my head back, throwing me off balance again, as the other boy positioned himself in front of me. “God, I wanna come all over her ti—”
The door beside us burst open, and someone came stumbling out. Startled, everyone froze as the stranger staggered drunkenly to the wall and pulled down his zipper. There was the sizzling sound of urine splashing against the hotel stucco, and only then did he seem to notice us. “Hey,” he slurred, giving us a small wave. “Don’t mind me.”
“Get the fuck out of here,” Macon hollered, releasing my hair and pointing at the door.
I took the only chance I knew I’d get and stumbled across the uneven ground, half-crawling to the door. Barely managing to evade Macon’s grab for me again, I hurried inside the corridor, rushing as fast as I could for the safety of the bar. I heard him call out my name, and then the swell of music surrounded me.
Copyright © 2014 by Sara Fawkes