Read an Excerpt
Mine to Claim
By A.C. Arthur
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2014 A.C. Arthur
All rights reserved.
So this was college, or at least that's what Scarlett said every time I complained about something new. Today's "something new" was about money and my lack thereof. To be perfectly clear, there's a debit card in my wallet and an emergency credit card still in its envelope waiting to be activated in case of what ... an emergency, of course. But in my mind they were strings keeping me forever connected to my parents, like the proverbial umbilical cord, which made my decision to leave Seattle, come all the way across the country to go to school and to get away from everything I once knew, kind of pointless. So I didn't use the debit card or the credit card and I tried like hell to forget that if I just dialed my parents' number on my cell they'd ask no questions but immediately send a plane ticket to bring me back to Seattle, back to where they thought I rightfully belonged. They'd also thought all the complaints I'd made to the school about what Rory and his crew had put me through was just me overreacting to a few harmless pranks. Those pranks could be described by one word, "bullying," and the facts behind the bullying might actually be illegal. But I'd gotten away from all that, I'd walked away — more like ran — but there was really no point in nitpicking. Not when I obviously had more pressing issues to worry about.
I could complain to my roommate, Scarlett, for oh, I'd say about the billionth time, but Scarlett only half-listened, giving the impression that I was free to bitch all I wanted, but her participation in said bitch-fest would be limited.
I was fine with that. Really. I mean, Scarlett had been great these past few months, listening to me blab about my previous life and how much I hated it. I told her just about everything in the hopes that purging would give me some type of fresh start. So far that hadn't really worked because memories still plagued me and the fear of retribution that sat in the center of my chest like a lump of coal hadn't really subsided.
Then again, I'm claiming just a little bit of progress since I've been home for over three hours after my last class, and I've already showered and am now contemplating the outfit that Scarlett picked out for me. Along with my decision to go with her tonight had come an impromptu trip to the mall in Alexandria in search of the perfect clothes — because it was obvious that my cardigans and faded jeans were so not the answer. I'd originally been stoked about the outfit but now, looking down at it as it lay on my bed against the floral printed comforter it seemed like nothing more than a tank top. That might not be really fair, so I'll say it looks like a stretched out tank top — a blue one, well, cobalt as Scarlett would most likely proclaim because it's an "it" color this fall. Whatever "it" is, Scarlett Hamilton definitely has it. Me, on the other hand, I'm still trying to find it and not feeling very optimistic at the moment.
"Procrastinating, Gracie?" Scarlett asked when she returned to our room from taking her shower. She'd already ditched her robe and was moving toward her dresser as she talked.
I hurriedly looked away because even though she'd done this every day since the first day I'd stumbled into this room dropping bags all over the place, I still wasn't used to her lack of modesty.
Clearing my throat, my reply still came out in a croak of words. "No. Um, not really. Just thinking that maybe ... maybe this isn't the best idea. I mean, finals are coming up in a few weeks and history is really kickin' my ass right now. I should probably study so Professor Morgan can stop giving me the stink eye."
"You should probably stop thinking and talking about Professor Yuck Mouth Morgan and just get dressed," was Scarlett's rapid response.
My protests continued even though I was at least now using the floral scented cream Scarlett had tossed onto my bed, rubbing it up and down my legs after I sat. "I'm not good at parties."
"This is not a party," she stated matter-of-factly. "It's a bar, with drinks and pool and guys that look great drinking and playing pool."
Scarlett moved as she talked, lacing her long graceful arms through the straps of a bra that was doing absolutely nothing to hold her heavy size Cs in check. Frankly, I was surprised she'd even bothered with the garment at all; she'd gone without underwear on more than one occasion when going out to these bars. If my mother were here she'd hyperventilate at the mere notion.
"I don't drink and I don't play pool."
"And you don't get any; that's why you're so uptight all the time." Scarlett finally sighed as if exasperated by my lack of experience. I guess it was reasonable considering I was kind of sick of it myself.
"Look," she said, plopping down on the bed beside me, the soft creamy skin of her thigh rubbing against mine.
There was a contrast here, beyond the obvious in body sculpture and personality. Scarlett had an alluring milky complexion highlighted by her silken ebony hair and startling ice-blue eyes. I, on the other hand, possessed an olive complexion, boring brown eyes, and sandy-brown hair that had an aversion to humidity, rain, snow, and even foggy days.
"You're going to have fun tonight," she said, wrapping an arm around my shoulders. "Say it. You're going to have fun tonight."
I frowned as I looked over at her. "You're going to have fun tonight."
She smiled patiently even though I was almost positive she'd like to slap me hard enough to reprogram my pessimistic mind. "Say it again, correctly this time."
I inhaled then let out the whoosh of breath, grateful that dinner had consisted only of a cream cheese bagel and a bottled water and that I'd brushed my teeth after my shower.
"I'm going to have a good time tonight."
"That's right, claim it!" she exclaimed, jumping off the bed to continue with her dressing ritual.
As for me, I went through the motions, copying some of the things I saw Scarlett do, like spraying perfume between my boobs even though I was fairly certain nobody would get the chance to smell it there.
We finished dressing, my toes rubbing with growing agitation against the tight fit of the stilt-like heels I was wearing. All that time I'd spent trying on my mother's shoes paid off, I walked in heels like a pro even though this was technically the first time I'd worn anything over three inches outside of the house I'd grown up in.
"I'm going to have fun tonight," I whispered, closing the door to our room behind me and following Scarlett down the hall. Despite what that asshole Rory had said or how all the others in our little clique had laughed and unwaveringly agreed.
With another sigh as I stepped gingerly on each stair heading down, I mumbled with a little more emotion, "I'm going to have fun tonight." After a second or so I felt slightly foolish saying the words aloud and simply replayed them over and over in my mind, hoping to convince someone, anyone, that fun was actually a possibility for me.
* * *
This was such a bad idea.
Music blared, a hip-hop remix that seemed to play on and on until I swear we'd heard the same song for the last hour. Still the dance floor was full of gyrating bodies. Dancing definitely had a sexuality to it that I absolutely lacked. Scarlett, on the other hand, had long since abandoned me for a great-looking guy wearing a ton of cologne, jeans that fit every ridge of his butt and calves, and a shirt that may have actually been painted onto his bulging chest. Right at this very moment he had his beefy hands around Scarlett's tiny waist, guiding her as she rubbed seductively against him in the middle of the dance floor while others — like me who could definitely make gaping like an idiot a career — watched in a sick, partially aroused amazement.
Adjusting myself on the bar stool, hoping not to fall off and trying desperately to ease the weird ache between my legs, I reached for the drink the bartender had served me about forty-five minutes ago. The ice had long since melted which actually made it taste better in my first-drink-ever mind. I'd gaped at him too when he served me the drink without even asking for an ID. Mine clearly stated that I was only nineteen and seven months which meant it was illegal for him to serve me a vodka and cranberry juice — but he did and I was trying to drink it, really I was. I don't like the taste of liquor but I'm trying to be a little more adventurous to "have fun tonight" no matter what.
"Hey, cutie, wanna have some fun?"
His question was right on time, but his breath was hot as it fanned over my neck. I couldn't turn around if I wanted to, it felt like he was leaning all his body weight on me. Finally he shifted and then his face was only a couple of inches from mine as he moved onto stage two of his oh-so-classy come-on.
"I know this great game we can play," he continued, trying to sit on the stool across from me but missing the seat entirely because, one — he didn't have eyes in the back of his head and two — he was too drunk to possess any type of balance. His free hand caught the side of the bar just as his knees buckled.
Now I was looking down at him instead of across, still at a complete loss for words.
Brown liquid sloshed over the rim of his glass and down his arm. "Whoa," he half-moaned, half-laughed, then to my horror, licked the rivulets from his hairy forearm.
I closed my eyes, counting backward from ten and praying that when I opened them again he'd be gone.
No such luck.
"It's called dare," he whispered, hot liquor breath fanning over my face because that's where he was now. Standing right next to me, leaning down so his face was in mine, his eyes aligned with mine, his lips too damned close to mine.
"I dare you to take your clothes off. And then I take my clothes off."
"And then I vomit all over both of us," I quipped, finding my words before actually vomiting on this dirtbag.
His hair was greasy and lay in a haphazard yucky mess while his half-closed eyes continued to glare at me. He looked like he was actually thinking about that as an option. I flattened my palms against his chest and the sweaty T-shirt with the totally outdated and faded band logo on front and pushed him away.
"Not interested," I said in the clearest and loudest English I could manage.
"That's because I haven't showed you my piece yet," he told me just before lifting his arm and pushing it down between where my arms were still extended toward him. Fearing he was going for his "piece," I yanked my arms back, about two seconds after realizing the jackass had been using the arm with the hand that held the half-empty glass of liquor, which now spilled down the front of his pants.
"Bitch!" he yelled as his "piece" was now outlined by a growing wet stain.
Automatically I reached for some of the bar napkins and was about to wipe him off then thought better of it. "Ah, sorry, this'll help clean it up," I mumbled, thrusting the napkins in his direction.
Dumbass planted his fists on his hips and thrust the infamous "piece" and the obvious wet spot at me. "You can wipe it off," he slurred.
I looked back up to his face, which on another day — a sober day — no, make that a sober night — might be passably cute. But the row of gold teeth and the puckered lips tattooed on his neck were complete turnoffs, not to mention his pickup lines were lame and he smelled like a dirty basement.
"Ah, no thank you," I said then finally figured it was time to get the hell out of here.
Fun was not in my vocabulary. I should have known better than to try, I should have listened to Rory when he'd called me stuck-up and high-strung. I probably should have believed when he also called me a dick-tease because the moment I turned and slipped off the stool, dumbass's hand wrapped around my arm, pulling me back to him.
"You're not going anywhere, cutie," he whispered in my ear about two seconds before releasing the grossest burp I've ever heard or smelled.
I jerked to no avail, then looked up to see another guy standing right in front of me.
"Having a little trouble, Chris?" the new guy asked.
"Nah, I got this," Dumbass a.k.a. Chris replied.
"No, you do not," I added, pulling my arm until it felt like it would rip right out of its socket.
The guy in front of me actually laughed at my effort, grabbing me by the shoulders and pushing me back into Chris.
"She's a feisty one," he commented, his smile drooping slightly so that I figured he was in the same drunken stupor as Dumbass Chris.
My fingers clenched on the purse that was cute but dysfunctional because it was too damned small to hold my can of Mace. The tube of lipstick and condom it did hold weren't going to be very helpful in this situation — at least not for me.
"Hot and feisty. Just how I like 'em," Dumbass was saying in my ear, his hands going around my waist, lifting the not-as-long-as-it-looked tank top dress up so high I was beginning to feel a draft.
"Get off!" I yelled about two seconds before the hands abruptly left my waist and I stumbled back.
I was just about to make my hasty exit when the new guy blocked my path. "Not so fast, hotness. Chris wants you and I'm starting to get into the sharing mood," he said, running a finger down the line of my jaw.
Then there was a sound like bones cracking and New Guy's eyes rolled back in his head before a very feminine screech escaped his lips.
Someone had broken his finger, someone who had probably also pulled Dumbass off of me and the very same someone whose pitch-black eyes were locked on mine and whose deep, husky voice asked, "Are you all right?"CHAPTER 2
Rum and Coke created a seamless brown color in the glass full of ice. And tasted like pure heaven as it settled in the pit of my stomach. Nothing works better to soothe the jagged edges of three hours of algorithms and computational complexities along with Professor Gunn and his thick-lens glasses, Hawaiian print shirt, and cargo shorts. He was unexpected. I had all computer geeks pegged at wearing khaki pants, tight button-down, front pocket shirts, and yeah, thick-lens glasses. It seemed natural to laugh at my own joke since registering for that class and two more along the same topics could classify me as a computer geek and I didn't look anything like the profile I'd always imagined. Then again I'd seen things that none of the people in this bar would ever imagine, or that I wanted to see again.
When this glass is empty I'm ordering another, immediately. And possibly a third since the desired relaxation effect would last throughout the night, without the negative connotation of impaired vision and speech, loss of inhibitions, and general asshole behavior that plagued the tall oversized jock at the other end of the bar. He smelled like a distillery when he'd bumped into me a few minutes ago, spilling some of his drink. Watching now as he missed the bar stool and spilled more of that drink on the counter made me wonder how he could be so drunk when it seemed more and more of his drink ended up on the floor.
I wasn't really amazed by the scene, it happened almost every night here. What was beginning to amaze me was that I continued to come here every night. That's what being a loner meant, you spent all your time alone. And that's what I'd wanted for longer than I could remember. So I took another sip of my drink and continued to watch dude down the bar, counting down the seconds until he struck out with the girl.
The girl that looked out of place and just a little bit afraid of the drunken guy now staring in her face. At first, I wanted to keep watching as a source of amusement on an otherwise dismal Friday night bar visit. Then, after seeing her, I wanted to keep watching just because. The last sip of my drink went down slowly, creating a cool path down to my stomach amidst a heat that spread with a little more speed. Relaxation was ebbed by something else, something different as I continued to stare down to the other end of the bar.
He touched her and I stood up. It was an involuntary move, one I would try valiantly to explain later. Her body was pressed against his and her fear grew. Another male approached and she wanted to run. I wanted to kill.
My hands were on him before I could think of another way to handle the situation. The bigger drunk hit the floor like a dead weight when all I did was grab his arm and twist it behind his back. You'd think someone his size would have put up a better fight, then again he'd been drinking steadily for the last hour so someone his size who'd absorbed the amount of liquor he probably had was more likely to sink like a rock.
The other one moved fast, also putting his hands on her, making a mistake he probably had no idea of. Reaching out I grabbed his finger and squeezed until he yelped and fell to his knees similar to the way his counterpart had done only seconds ago. I released him, not bothering to watch as he writhed on the floor in pain.
I looked at her again and felt the air being sucked from my lungs like a vacuum. She was clutching her purse so tightly her knuckles had gone white, her eyes wide as she stared up at me. Then the sphere that seemed to hold only us was breached as the music stopped and all who were on the dance floor seemed to converge on us. A girl with long, straight, dark hair came up behind the one close to me, clasping her shoulders and shaking while asking if she was okay. I wanted to hear the answer as well but I heard the glass shatter and felt the movement behind me about a millisecond before another wrestler-type could hit me. Grabbing his wrist I squeezed until the jagged glass slipped from his fingers. He decided fists might be better once I released him, and took a swing. He missed, but I didn't, knocking him flat on his ass only to have the rest of his entourage circle around me.
Excerpted from Mine to Claim by A.C. Arthur. Copyright © 2014 A.C. Arthur. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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