Home > Undeserving (Undeniable #5)(13)

Undeserving (Undeniable #5)(13)
Author: Madeline Sheehan

He had just enough sense to grab his duffel bag and stuff it under his pillow before sleep consumed him. If anyone—mainly the overly emotional pickpocket in the bathroom—tried to rob him while he slept, he’d wake right the hell up.

• • •

Debbie stared at her reflection in the bathroom mirror, watching as her throat bobbed with each hard swallow. A heavy mass of self-pity churned in the pit of her stomach, expanding, growing, until her abdomen outright ached. She was feeling all sorts of things she wasn’t prepared to feel in the face of Preacher’s revelations. But she mostly felt foolish. Foolish and deflated. Like a child who’d discovered that Santa Claus wasn’t real before they were emotionally prepared to handle it.

No friends. No family. Little girls who don’t have a clue.

His judgment was like a razor blade to her wrists, slashing her open, revealing all her shortcomings.

It wasn’t as if she weren’t aware of her situation. It had just sounded so pathetic, so pitiful coming from Preacher’s mouth—a perfect stranger. She was used to the judgment and condemnation of strangers, but coming from Preacher it had felt worse than usual, and much more personal.

All this time she’d thought she’d been working toward something, and that goal had made this life just a bit more bearable. She’d thought that someday she’d have something again, something resembling an actual life… only to come face to face with the bewildering blow Preacher had just delivered to her. A blow that had caused all her ugly truths to rise to the surface. One by one, combined and crushing, they smacked her in the face. This was who she was—no one, and with nothing—and it was all she would ever be. There was nothing more for her out there, nothing better waiting around the corner. And everything she’d been so desperately seeking were nothing more than the pipe dreams of a foolish girl.

He hadn’t even wanted to fuck her, not even for ten dollars. She couldn’t even sell herself for ten measly dollars.

She touched a fingertip to her still stinging and now quivering lip, hating, despising everything that was looking back at her, wishing the world away. Wishing the floor would open up beneath her and swallow her whole, taking her far away from here. To the ends of the Earth, to heaven or hell, anywhere really. It didn’t matter as long as it wasn’t here.

To make matters even worse, Preacher had suggested she go home.

Home.

Just the thought of it, the mere suggestion—

Debbie’s hands balled into fists as she tried to breathe through the outpouring of uninvited memories. One after another, they flashed in her mind—a slideshow of horror.

A flash of a face she’d tried so hard to forget. Black hair. A neatly trimmed mustache. Thick fingers. The glint of a gold wedding band. A crisp, clean shirt, always with the top few buttons undone. An expensive leather belt, the silver buckle gleaming as he pulled it from his pants. The smell of expensive liquor and Cuban cigars on his breath.

The hard press of a hand over her mouth.

The heft of a body over hers.

Unwanted touches, unwanted kisses.

The confusion, the pain, the self-doubt, the desperation, the fear. Oh my God, the constant fear.

And yet her treacherous body had allowed him inside of her, time and time again. No matter how vehemently she’d hadn’t wanted it, no matter how hard she’d fought him.

She hated herself for that. But more than anything else, she hated her mother for doing nothing to stop it.

The disappointment. And isolation. And sorrow.

Debbie’s skin was quivering, her muscles straining with the effort to keep from smashing her fists into the mirror. She’d spend a thousand nights in the rain, sleeping in the mud, wet and cold, before she’d ever go back there.

She’d rather starve, wither away to nothing.

She’d rather die before she ever went back.

• • •

Preacher blinked sleepily. A stream of sunlight warmed his left cheek, and for a moment, all he could see were the dust motes floating up the stream, all the way to the gap in the curtains. His neck ached, his pillow hard and lumpy beneath him. Groaning, he rolled over, away from the light.

He’d been having the most incredible dream—dreaming of homemade lasagna, of Polish sausage, and heavily buttered rye bread. Chocolate cake drenched in frosting. It had been so vivid, he swore he could still smell the sausage grease sizzling in the pan. Jesus, what he wouldn’t give for a slice of homemade cake.

His eyelids flickered closed, and he began to drift off again.

His eyes burst open. Cursing under his breath, he pushed at the pillow beneath his head, feeling nothing but hard, unforgiving lumps. He pushed at it again and again, trying to fluff it, until realization suddenly dawned—he was sleeping on his duffel bag.

Sitting up, he surveyed the small motel room through blurry eyes. Where was he? What time was it? And where the hell were his cigarettes?

Recalling Debbie, he glanced to the bathroom, finding the door wide open. The other bed was empty, still made. Had he dreamed her? A quick assessment of his body, revealing the still-tender bruise on his bicep, told him he hadn’t.

He needed a drink of water. No, scratch that. Before anything else, he needed a cigarette. His gaze darted to the bedside table—no cigarettes. Narrowing his eyes, he did another survey of the room. Where the fuck was his jacket?

Rolling out of bed, he searched the floor. His jacket nowhere to be found, he stormed across the room and flipped the bathroom light on. Empty.

Nostrils flaring widely, he spun around and stared at the room, eyes darting to and fro.

“Son of a bitch,” he breathed. She’d taken his jacket, his leather-fucking-jacket, and his cigarettes, and—

Eyes wide, he quickly patted down his body and, as he’d expected, found his back pocket empty. She’d taken his jacket, and because he’d forgotten to take his wallet out of his jacket, she’d also gotten his wallet. As luck would have it, his wallet would have never been inside his jacket if she hadn’t tried to steal it in the first place.

“You little mother-fuckin’-bitch,” he spat, giving himself another once-over. His necklace, a slim gold chain, was still hanging around his neck, and his keys were still clipped to his belt loop.

Fuming, he darted across the room, grabbed his duffel bag, and dumped out the contents. Finding everything accounted for, most importantly the roll of cash he’d stuffed inside a dirty sock, he sank down onto the bed beside his belongings and glared at the wall.

It could have been a lot worse. He still had plenty of money and an extra jacket in his bag. Still, she’d pulled the wool over his eyes. Him, outsmarted by a street rat.

He continued glaring at the wall, his jaw clenched and twitching.

“Females,” he muttered, “give ‘em an inch, and they take your fuckin’ wallet.”

Chapter 9

Debbie pulled a pinkish-peach tank top off its hanger and added it to the growing pile in her arms. Moving along, she looked over the shelves in dismay. The store’s selection was a far cry from anything she actually needed, and none of it would hold up for very long. But since beggars couldn’t afford to be choosers, she grabbed several more items and moved on.

Sweat beaded on her forehead. Grimacing, she swiped her face with the back of her hand, wishing for a cool drink. The hours-long walk in the sun had been arduous. She was overheated and thirsty, and wearing Preacher’s heavy leather jacket inside this poorly ventilated building was only making her feel worse. Yet she couldn’t take it off; not when the pockets and sleeves were brimming with stolen goods.

This was her second time today venturing off the highway. The first attempt had been fruitless; she’d only come across a gas station that had had little to offer. When she’d chanced another exit, she’d found a town, and this Five and Dime.

“Did you just climb out of a mud pit?” Blonde and slim, a teenage girl was eyeing her with obvious distaste. Her two companions, a curvy brunette and a boy wearing a letterman’s jacket, stood nearby, their faces screwed into ugly sneers.

“Poor, dirty little piggy,” the brunette laughed.

Snickering, the boy pushed up his nose and began to snort.

Cheeks burning, Debbie spun away.

   
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