…and one more sneak peek…

 

Hey, have another chapter. Why not 😉

If you need to read Chapter 1 first, you can find it right here.

Chapter Two

Gabriel

I open the waist-high beverage fridge and crouch slowly, my head hammering and my stomach sloshing. The guy behind the counter of this liquor store, a skinny kid with a scraggly goatee who looks barely twenty-one, watches me with a mixture of suspicion and concern, like I’m either going to rob him or pass out on the floor.

The second one’s much more likely. I don’t rob stores to begin with, but after last night, passing out on this grimy tile floor sounds like a fucking relief, not that I have time. I’ve got to be in the Senator’s office at ten on the dot or I’ll have blown the very last chance I’ve got.

Then I’d be well and truly fucked.

I reach in, pushing aside a red bottle of Gatorade. The movement wobbles me a little off-balance, and I go down on one knee. Then I go down on the other, because kneeling in front of this fridge is better than crouching in front of it.

I pause, closing my eyes, letting the blessedly cool air wash over me. I’ve taken four Advil already this morning, and even though I somehow kept them down, they haven’t done a goddamn thing. I still feel like someone’s filled my skull with rocks and shaken it.

Probably shouldn’t have gotten stumble-drunk wasted at the Best Western motel bar last night, you dipshit, I think.

And hell, I knew that as I was doing it. I didn’t even have a good time drinking shitty whiskey until I was porch-crawling sloshed, I just knew that it was my last chance to do it before I spent a couple of months babysitting a stuck-up princess of a Senator’s daughter and living on the estate of a man so famously prudish he probably showers in long johns.

Just get through it, Kane, I tell myself. You’ve gotten through shit before.

Slowly, I reach my arm out and start going through the fridge. I move aside bottles of Coke, Diet Coke, and Sprite. I move aside orange and red bottles of Gatorade, then the green Gatorade, getting more and more frantic.

Where the fuck is it? They have to fucking have it.

Don’t tell me they’re sold out or some shit.

I start pulling bottles out and putting them on the floor. Soon there’s a line of them next to me on the dirty off-white tiles, and even though the kid behind the counter is clearly getting agitated, I ignore him.

He can fucking try whatever he wants, because even hungover as shit I can kick his skinny ass from here to Georgia. I just need my fucking blue Gatorade and then I’ll fucking get out of here.

I’m about to give up, the fridge almost empty, when I finally see them. Bright electric blue, a color no fruit has ever been or ever will be, huddled together like the final two survivors in the very back of the bottom shelf.

I grab them both, open one and chug a third of it. I don’t give a damn that I haven’t paid for it, because even thinking about any other color of Gatorade just makes me more nauseous.

Blue Gatorade. It’s the one true hangover cure.

Damned if I know why, but it is. I chug another third of the bottle, still kneeling on the dirty tile floor, then finally put everything else back and stand. Already I feel a tiny bit better, like maybe I’ve got a chance of rescuing this stupid fucking day from being the shitshow it’s looking like right now.

Bottles in one arm, I grab a couple energy bars from the shelf behind me. I think about getting just a little something to take the edge off, hair of the dog and all that, but the thought turns my stomach so I head to the register instead.

There’s a short line: a man paying for something in a paper bag, and a blonde woman with a toddler holding one hand, a pint bottle of vodka in the other, wearing a frumpy jean skirt and a sweater that’s a couple sizes too big.

And yet, I still fucking stare. I’ve got no goddamn idea what it is about her, but for a moment I stop in my tracks, eyes glued to her denim-tented ass, the lumps of her sweater over where her waist ought to be. Call it a sixth sense for smoking-hot women — god knows I’ve seen more than enough of them that by now I can just tell, even if they’re wearing a cardboard box.

Even if I’ve more or less taken a vow of celibacy for the next couple of months.

“Beebee!” the toddler shouts excitedly. “Guess what I am now!”

He didn’t call her Mom, I think, and the woman turns to watch him, his arms held out stiffly as he starts spinning. There’s a display of Fireball whiskey behind him, and it makes me a little nervous, but he’s still a couple of feet away.

I was right about the woman. A space suit can’t hide that kind of hot — curves to make a man curse his own mother, paired with sharp cheekbones, wicked green eyes, and plush lips just begging to be bitten.

“A bat?” she says, nervously tapping the vodka bottle against her leg, and even though she’s crazy hot, a bad feeling starts to gather in the pit of my stomach. A woman with a toddler — hers or not — buying a single bottle of vodka at eight in the morning?

No women for a couple of months, remember? It doesn’t matter whether she’s a hot alcoholic or not.

“Wrong!” the kid says, laughing.

“A bumblebee,” she guesses again.

“NO!” the kid shouts, nearly in hysterics.

“Are you an airplane?”

The kid just squeals, spinning faster.

“Beebee!” he yelps.  “I’m a—”

And he careens into a corner of the whiskey display, clipping a bottle and toppling it from the shelf.

I don’t think, I just drop the energy bar I’m holding, leap forward, and catch the bottle before it falls. My stomach lurches with the sudden movement, but I put the whiskey back on the shelf, gritting my teeth and swallowing hard.

Don’t save a bottle of whiskey just to puke on the floor. Keep it the fuck together, Kane.

When I finally turn, all four people — three adults and the kid —  exhale in unison, all looking at me.

But I’m looking at the woman again, because it’s like she reflects all the light in this shitty liquor store, somehow fucking gorgeous despite her clothes, the setting, the vodka, everything. There may as well not be anyone else here.

And she’s got this almost-ethereal thing going on, like the dinginess of this shitty liquor store isn’t touching her. Despite myself I think: if I could  get that ugly sweater off, underneath she’d be all curves and dimples and fluttering eyelashes.

Meek in the streets and a freak in the sheets. Like she’d rake her nails down my back and leave me with scars I’d be proud of later.

A shiver travels my spine. Like fingernails, only I’m in this shitty store and staring at a girl I don’t know, who might be this kid’s mom. No wedding ring, though.

What’s my fucking problem? I turned down both those girls last night, no big deal, and that was a sure thing if I’d wanted it.

Isaac,” she says.

The kid looks at me, his wide eyes nervous.

“Sorry,” he whispers.

“It’s all right,” I tell him.

“Thank you for catching that bottle,” she says to me.

We make eye contact. Another thrill goes through me, hangover notwithstanding.

“No problem,” I say.

The man at the counter turns back and continues counting out change, and I walk back to the line, standing next to the blonde woman.

“Rough day ahead?” I ask her, giving her my best charming, cocky smile.

I’m not hitting on her, because I’m fucking celibate, but I can’t help turning on the charm around a beautiful woman. It’s second nature.

She tilts her head slightly and gives me a slow, considering look, her green eyes studying my face intently. I suddenly feel like there are lasers going through my skull.

I’m too fucking hungover for this.

“Not rougher than your night was,” she finally says, a smile teasing at the corner of her eyes.

“My night was pretty good,” I tell her, raising one eyebrow. “It’s this morning that’s the rough part, but I’ll get over it.”

The guy at the counter finally takes his paper-bag-wrapped booze and leaves. The blonde puts her vodka on the counter and pulls out her wallet, glancing down at the kid next to her.

“Celebrating?” she finally asks me as she pays.

“Last night of freedom,” I say.

She takes her change and glances at me again, her green eyes cool.

“Well, I hope your wedding isn’t until tonight,” she says, giving me a quick up-and-down. “Looks like you could use some more recovery time.”

I just laugh.

“It’s a new job, not a wedding,” I tell her. “And it’s going to be a full-time months-long fucking nightmare, so I had a last hurrah. But I’m single as hell, sweetheart.”

Her back straightens, and I can tell I got to her, just a little. I don’t know why, but I like it.

She takes her change from the cashier and sticks the vodka in her purse, then glances at me again, eyes flashing for just a split second.

“Good luck with that,” she says, slinging her purse over her shoulder. “And thanks for catching that whiskey. Isaac, come on.”

And with that, she walks out the door and back onto the street, the toddler running, skipping, and jumping after her. For a moment I think about leaving the Gatorade and snacks there, following her, and at least getting her number, but I don’t.

It’s been one damn week, I tell myself. At least give yourself a chance before you fuck everything in this town, too.

Women are why you’re here in the first place, in this shitty town with this shitty job.

Well, more specifically, one woman.

And no, she wasn’t worth it. Not even close.


Slow Burn is coming Wednesday, May 24th – join my mailing list to make sure you get notified! (You also get a free novella.)

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