Home > Undeserving (Undeniable #5)(11)

Undeserving (Undeniable #5)(11)
Author: Madeline Sheehan

She couldn’t even remember the last time her hair had been cut. Dark brown, it hung in a straight line down her back. And she had no makeup to cover the smattering of freckles over her nose and cheeks, nothing to help her appear more polished, more feminine. More desirable.

Realizing she was procrastinating, she dropped her hand and turned to the door. The moment she gripped the doorknob, her heart quickened.

Straightening her spine, she took a deep breath and released it slowly. What did she have to fear? It wasn’t as if she were a virgin. She knew exactly how to spread her legs and let a man do his thing between them—how to lay there with her eyes squeezed shut, pretending she was someone else, somewhere else.

She opened the door.

The noise from the television grew louder as she padded across the rough carpet. Preacher was sprawled across a bed, pillows stacked up behind him, with his hand inside a bag of potato chips. At the foot of the bed, his open duffel bag revealed several more bags of snacks. She stared at the food a moment, her stomach twingeing in response.

“Hungry?” Preacher asked around a mouthful, glancing sideways at her. He pushed the chips across the bed. “Help yourself.”

Hungry and exhausted, she wanted nothing more than to eat and sleep and forget the wretchedness of her current situation for a little while. Except she couldn’t. She had more than just right now to worry about.

She took a small step forward, bringing her flush with the side of the bed. She swallowed hard and took an imperceptible breath.

“It’s thirty dollars for a fuck.” The words toppled from her mouth in a hurried rush.

Pausing mid-chew, Preacher turned to face her, his brow shooting halfway up his forehead. The next several seconds ticked by slowly in agonizing silence. Worried he was going to reject her offer, she steeled her shattered nerves once more and dropped her towel.

Preacher’s gaze dropped with her towel, unabashedly traveling down the length of her and back up again, where he lingered on her chest. Her face grew hot; her entire body flushed. Unable to watch him look her over, she turned her focus on the olive green curtains covering the window.

Oh God, was she really doing this? Offering herself to a stranger in return for money?

“Sorry baby, I don’t pay for it.” Her eyes shot to his. His words were gently spoken, his expression curiously blank, as if he were concerned about offending her.

Too late for that. Hot humiliation flooded her. Mortification churned nauseatingly in her stomach.

“Twenty,” she whispered, desperate. Her hands clenched into fists at her sides. “Or ten if you want me to just… you know…” She swallowed quickly. “Just use my mo—”

“How old are you?”

She stammered to a stop. “What?”

“How old are you?” he repeated. He was no longer looking at her body. Instead, his eyes were fixed on hers, which somehow made her feel twice as naked. Hurriedly she scooped the towel off the floor and quickly wrapped it around herself.

“Nineteen,” she mumbled.

The corner of Preacher’s mouth twitched. “You’d make a terrible poker player,” he said. “Forget that I don’t pay for it. It doesn’t take a genius to know you ain’t a whore. You ain’t nineteen, either.”

Grabbing his duffel bag, he dug around inside, pulling free a ball of red and black flannel. “Take this,” he said, tossing it. Clinging to her towel, she caught it one-handed.

Preacher pointed at the bag of chips. “And eat something.”

Half of her, her emotional half, wanted nothing more than to run back to the bathroom. But the logical half of her, the half that knew clothing and food were far more important than her dignity, dug her heels in.

She slid Preacher’s shirt around her, his scent engulfing her—a combination of cigarettes, soap, and leather.

Listen,” Preacher said. He’d moved to the edge of the bed, his feet on the floor. He ran his fingers idly through his short beard. “You just lost all your shit, and I’m not unsympathetic to that. Why don’t you tell me where you’re headed? Maybe I can give you a ride there?”

“Why are you helping me?” she blurted out. Nobody had ever been this kind to her before. No one had even been half as kind, not without wanting something in return. And yet he didn’t seem to want anything from her.

Preacher’s almond-shaped eyes regarded her, an indecipherable expression steeling his striking features. She couldn’t read him, couldn’t discern what she was seeing inside those dark depths. Men, she’d come to believe, were usually simple creatures, almost always some variation of three distinctly obvious things: angry, tired, or horny. Only this man seemed far more complicated than that.

“I’ve got nowhere I need to be right now.” Simple, direct.

“I grew up on and off the road,” he continued with a shrug. “Not too many places I haven’t been, know a lot of people just like you.

“Fact, my mom was a grifter.” His mouth was twitching again. “She was workin’ at a traveling circus when my old man found her.”

“The circus?”

Snorting softly, Preacher shook his head. “The damn circus. Tattooed ladies, strongmen, a two-headed man. Some real freak show kinda shit.”

Enthralled, she found herself sitting on the bed. “What did your mom do?”

“She was a fortune teller. Had a goddamn crystal ball and everything, swindling people out of their money in return for some lies about findin’ love or makin’ it rich.” He paused to laugh, a rich baritone rumble that made her feel equal parts warm and uncomfortable.

“She’s got a way about her, ya know? The woman could sell a glass of water to a drownin’ man. My old man likes to say that’s how she got her hooks in him; told him he’d never find another woman as beautiful as her. But he says it’s the best fifty cents he ever spent.”

“They sound really great,” she said quietly. He’d painted a very captivating and colorful picture of his parents, especially his mother, in only a few short sentences.

“Yeah, well, that’s a story for another day…” His expression hardening, he trailed off and glanced at the television.

She used the moment to study him. Unbound and nearly dry, his hair was well past his shoulders, thick with loose waves and as dark as his short beard. Dark, oval eyes sat atop a proud nose, just slightly crooked. Smooth, suntanned skin molded tightly over arms bursting with lean muscle. He was so very male and yet… beautiful, too.

“Speakin’ of stories…” Preacher faced her. “What’s yours?”

Her eyes dropped to her bare feet, and she traced a circle into the carpet with her big toe. “No story.”

“Everyone’s got a story. How about you start with your name?”

She waited a moment, the space of one breath and two heartbeats—just enough time to decide who she wanted to be today. She glanced up. “Debbie.”

Preacher folded his arms over his chest. Head tilted slightly to one side, he stared at her, watching her so intently she had to fight not to squirm. “Debbie what?”

Her mouth opened and instantly closed. She blinked several times quickly. No one had asked her for her last name in… she couldn’t even recall the last time someone had asked. Most people she encountered didn’t even ask her first name.

“I—uh. Reynolds.” She said the first name that she could think of.

“Your name is Debbie Reynolds?” Preacher’s expression was a mixture of disbelief and hilarity. “America’s sweetheart, huh? Nice to meet ya, Debbie darlin’, I’m Fred fuckin’ Astaire.”

Her stomach dipped down low and her cheeks flamed hot. Debbie Reynolds? Her eyes closed briefly.

It had been so long since she’d engaged in a real conversation with another person. Not that she’d ever been any good at talking to people. Thinking about it, she couldn’t seem to a recall a time in her life when she hadn’t preferred to blend into the background, going unnoticed by all.

“My mom was a fan—she thought she was being clever,” she muttered, hating the way the truth tasted on her tongue. Her mother loved the silver screen and worshipped the men and women who brought her favorite films to life. So obsessed, she’d named her daughter after one of her beloved actresses… it just hadn’t been Debbie Reynolds.

   
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