Home > Undeserving (Undeniable #5)(5)

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

• • •

She emerged from the forest as the last bit of light was slowly leaching from a violent-looking sky. Even with the late hour the air was still uncomfortably thick, made worse by the heavy flannel she wore. Not that she would take it off. The more skin she showed at a place like this, the higher her chances were of being mistaken for a working girl. Buttoning her shirt all the way to her chin, she rounded the corner of the diner.

More trucks had appeared in her absence, rigs of various sizes and colors. She paused, chewing on her bottom lip, debating whether or not to check out the rigs. Certain truck cabs were surprisingly easier to break into than most cars. A quick flick of her blade inside the rubber gasket surrounding the little window located in the passenger side door and she was in.

Most truckers were careless, leaving their belongings strewn across their seats and dashboards. Sometimes there was money to be found, mostly change, and there was almost always food. An occasional piece of jewelry or pewter belt buckle. It was never worth much at a pawn shop, but five dollars for a watch was better than nothing. When she was feeling bold, she’d steal a CB radio to resell at the next truck stop.

A raindrop splashed against the top of her head. Glancing up, another splattered on her cheek. A web of lightning shimmered above her, followed by a rolling clatter of thunder. Her decision made for her, she headed for the diner.

The bells hanging from the door jingled loudly as she pushed inside the dimly lit building. Two young waitresses shuttled back and forth behind a counter lined with exhausted-looking men, some of whom turned on their stools to glimpse the new arrival. Finding a girl with long, ratty hair and dirty, worn clothing, most instantly dismissed her.

But there was always at least one whose gaze would linger just a bit too long. The owner of the eyes currently fixated on her sat alone at the counter. A scraggly beard mostly masked his features, with the exception of his dark, beady eyes. His calculating and hungry gaze was one she knew all too well. Patting the pocket containing her blade reassuringly, she continued on.

The beady-eyed trucker wasn’t the only one watching her. Two waitresses stood behind the counter, wearing matching tight-lipped expressions as they watched her cross the diner. With an irritated huff, one of the waitresses shoved away from the counter and headed her way.

The woman paused at the end of her table, jutting her hip to one side, peering down her pert nose at her. An unnatural blonde with long red fingernails and a plastic nametag that read “Susan,” she held a pen and pad in her hands, but she made no move to lift them.

“Coffee, please,” she said tightly, feeling the weight of Susan’s scrutiny, “and…” Her gaze scanned over the pie plates lining the countertop. “A slice of pie.”

Susan’s heavily made-up eyes flicked to hers. “This ain’t no soup kitchen, girl,” she said, “This here is a paid establishment.”

Her jaw locked. She may hate the pity she sometimes received, but she hated the outright condemnation even more. Susan knew what she was—homeless and hitchhiking—and assumed she had no money.

Teeth still clenched, she reached into her pocket and pulled out the wad of bills Dave had given her. Susan’s gaze snapped to the money, and her lips pursed. “Apple or pumpkin?”

“Apple, please.”

With Susan’s departure, she let out a breath, relieved that she wouldn’t be asked to leave. A good thing, too, as the rain was fast picking up outside, and she vehemently hated spending the night in the rain. It wasn’t the cold that bothered her, but she almost always got sick afterward.

Susan reappeared with a mug of steaming black coffee and two exceptionally large slices of apple pie. Surprised, she glanced up, but Susan had already turned away. She looked back at her pie, breathing in the warm, spicy scent… and almost smiled.

It wasn’t often, but sometimes people surprised her.

Chapter 3

If he could have, Preacher would have strangled Mother Nature. He would rip that dirty bitch straight from her throne in the sky, shake her until her brains scrambled, and squeeze her until her bones ground together. This rain—if you could call this…this monsoon…rain—hadn’t just forced him and his motorcycle off the road, it was unending.

At first, he’d attempted to wait it out beneath a small cement overpass until hours had passed with no sign of it letting up any time soon. Pissed off and chilled straight through to his bones, he’d recalled passing a truck stop a few miles back. Figuring a short walk in the rain was better than being stuck outside all night, he’d set out on foot.

Only five minutes into his trek he’d lost the tie he’d been using to keep his hair off his face. Now his hair was sopping wet and whipping in every direction, lashing uncomfortably across his face. Every step was a hard-fought battle against the wind and rain, and after riding all day, all he wanted to do was take a hot shower and fall face-first into a mattress.

Readjusting the duffel bag slung over his back, Preacher felt an unwelcome wave of cold wash over his feet. Glancing down and realizing he’d just stepped into a fairly deep puddle, he shouted curses into the night.

He’d thought putting some miles between him and the city would do him some good. Just him, his bike, and the road, and he’d be back to his old self in no time. He snorted. If anything, his bad mood had worsened.

When he’d first been released from prison, he’d figured there’d be a small adjustment period as he settled back into the real world, but as the days had turned to weeks and the weeks to months, he’d found himself drunk more often than not, wanting to do little more than sleep most days.

When awake, he was constantly agitated or outright angry. Nothing seemed to help—not booze, not drugs, not women. And beneath the anger, he felt… empty, for lack of a better word. Like a gaping hole had taken up residence inside his fucking chest, and everything he did to try to fill it, to fix himself, only seemed to make him feel that much worse.

Another blast of whipping wind and cold rain circled around Preacher, causing him to falter, lose his footing, and nearly trip. Growling, he pulled the collar of his leather jacket up over the lower half of his face and pressed on.

By the time the flickering lights of the truck stop came into view, Preacher was drenched from head to toe. His soaked hair clung heavily to the sides of his face. Water sloshed inside his boots, and his jeans felt heavy, the denim sticking uncomfortably to his legs. Beneath his leather, his skin felt cold and clammy.

Three steps into the parking lot and the rain suddenly stopped. Preacher halted. Nostrils flaring, he lifted his middle finger to the sky and waved it around, hoping like hell God had a bird’s eye view of him.

The truck stop was a sad-looking little place. A slash of concrete semi-filled with trucks bordered a small, squat building. Flickering lampposts surrounded the entire space, sending shadows bouncing across the otherwise dark area. A fueling station sat unattended to his left, and to his right stood a set of pay phones.

Reaching into his pocket, he jingled the change inside. He should call home. He’d left without saying goodbye and had been gone a while now without sending word. And his mother was a worrier. His father, however, was half the reason he’d left.

Gerald “The Judge” Fox was a grumpy old asshole on his best day. And a goddamn hurricane on his worst.

Preacher and he had never seen eye to eye. While Preacher had once preferred late-night partying and a different woman every night, The Judge was his polar opposite. He’d never strayed from his wife. He didn’t drink to excess, and he certainly didn’t use drugs. Every night he went to bed late, woke up far too early, had the work ethic of a honeybee and the personality of a pack mule. Stodgy. Determined. Unwavering.

Since Preacher’s release from prison, their tenuous relationship had only grown more strained. Preacher couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed most days, something The Judge couldn’t relate to.

I’ve been to war, he’d lectured Preacher. I’ve seen horrible things happen to good people, I’ve done things I can’t take back, and I’ve never felt like shirking my responsibilities and sleeping my life away.

Preacher recalled telling his father exactly where he could shove his so-called responsibilities. And the black eye he’d gotten because of it.

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