Page 25

He shrugs. “What does it matter?”

“Oh … it matters. It matters a whole helluva lot.”

“Why?”

“Because she’s marrying my dad.”

“So?”

“Please … please don’t be this way. Don’t make me spell it out for you.”

“Sorry, Miss Valedictorian, but I must be the idiot who doesn’t understand.”

“Did you have sex with her?” My voice booms, but I’m not sure why. I blame it on Anthony and his uncouth way of handling a breakup that’s his fault.

Jake waits a few seconds. It’s a yes or no answer. There’s no reason to wait, unless he’s formulating a lie.

“I’m trying to figure out how my sexual history is relevant to you or your dad.”

It’s a yes. I cuff a hand around my neck as if I can manually keep the vomit from coming out. “If you did to her what you did to me … and she’s going to be my stepmom, and my dad has probably put his mouth where you put …” I retch.

Jake pulls off the road. “Get out. Don’t you dare vomit in my truck.”

I jump out, bending over into the ditch. Nothing comes out, even after a few more gags that make my eyes water. This is payback, that bitch named Karma, for all the men I’ve slept with who have daughters close to my age—or younger. This is what I get. Life is cruel.

Gentle hands pull back my hair. I reach up to stop him.

“I know, be careful with your hair.”

I nod, standing straight when I’m certain those two bananas are not coming up.

“I didn’t have sex with Deedy,” Jake whispers in my ear, sliding his arm around me just above my chest. He pulls my back against him and kisses my shoulder.

It’s kind.

I didn’t know he could be kind.

It’s intimate.

I didn’t think I wanted to feel intimacy with him or anyone.

“We didn’t have sex, but you …” I can’t say it.

“I haven’t been physical with Deedy. Is that what you want to know?” He kisses my shoulder again as his other hand slides around my waist over my exposed midsection below my crop top, but just above my high-waisted shorts.

I hate myself for wanting his touch. He hasn’t earned the right to touch me like this, but at the same time, I feel like that’s exactly what he’s trying to do right now. If there were other cars passing by, they’d have to wonder what’s going on, but Jake loves the roads less traveled, so I doubt anyone will drive by unless they are lost.

“Ave …” His lips move to my neck. “I’m sorry.”

I’m in who-knows-where Oklahoma, falling apart from the inside out, with a man who plays me emotionally and physically like no man before him. Buried beneath layers of self-loathing, resignation, and the total whiplash from my life hitting a brick wall, I let myself take the affection that’s being offered.

“Jake …” I swallow, weak in the knees and breathless. “Deedy said you’re trustworthy and kind. I need that Jake. Can you show me that Jake for one day?”

“Yes.” He turns me in his arms and kisses me. It’s possessive, but not entitled. I feel wanted, but not guilted. I grab his shirt and hold him close to me.

He lifts me up and sets me back in the passenger’s seat. We break apart, panting, eyes wild with need.

Swarley whines.

Jake opens the back door to let him out. Before I can worry about a leash or poop bags, those lips I hate to love crash against mine again. He kisses me like he’s pissed at me yet desperate to get more. It’s intoxicating and frightening. I know my demons, but his feel scarier than mine. He makes me feel like a war he must win.

“Spread your legs wider, Ave.”

I obey. His hand inches up my inner thigh as his tongue makes slow strokes against mine.

I tug at his shorts, popping open the button.

He freezes, pulling away as his hands halt mine. “Stop.”

I’m bad at sex. That’s why he’s stopping. Or he doesn’t trust me to follow through. I’m a tease. He’s too smart to let me fool him twice, but I’m not fooling him. I’m ready to throw off my clothes alongside the road in broad daylight and let him fuck me blind.

“Jake …”

Sweat beads along his brow, accompanied by shallow breaths.

“Fuck …” He turns and vomits—over and over.

I cover my mouth in horror and then … in recognition. Oh my god, I poisoned him.

Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god!

What if he dies? He can’t die. The one day he’s not awful, I poison him. Me and my stupid need to get revenge.

I don’t know what to say? Do I tell him why he’s vomiting? He’ll hate me. This morning I didn’t care if he hated me, now I kind of don’t want him to hate me—or die.

Easing out of the truck, I pat his back with a gentle hand. “Jake, are you okay?”

He expels one more round of smoothie—and my secret ingredient—before wiping his mouth. “No. I’m not okay.” The pasty white sheen of his skin worries me. It’s like his body has settled into the color it will be in his casket.

“Here.” I grab his water bottle from the truck.

“Thank you.” He takes it.

“No need to thank me.”

Awkward.

Jake rinses and spits, before drinking several long swigs. “Did the spinach feel slimy to you?”

Biting my lips together while cringing, I shake my head.

“It feels like food poisoning. What the hell did I eat that was bad?”

My eyebrows lift. “I-I don’t know.”

I poisoned you. I’m so incredibly sorry.

How do I fail at something as simple as revenge? He blew his disgusting wad onto my expensive T-shirt. He called me a princess, diva, and bitch. The list of reasons why he deserves to come close to dying is so long, I can’t even see the end of it with binoculars, but … when I’m not hating Jake, I kinda like him.

“We have to go. Get Swarley.”

“Go?”

“Just do it!” He walks around the truck, hunchbacked.

I get Swarley in the truck, and Jake fishtails back onto the main road.

“You’re um … going a bit fast.”

Eighty.

Eighty-five.

Ninety.

Holy shit! We’re burning down the road at ninety.

“Jake, I think you should slow down.”

With a permanent grimace, he shakes his head. Within minutes, we pull into a gas station. I’m not sure it’s even open or still in business. Jake nearly falls out as he opens the door then hightails it around the side of the building, buckled over and waddling like he has something stuck up his ass.

Swarley whines.

“Shh! I know. It was wrong.” I bite my chipped thumbnail, nose wrinkled. “Please don’t die,” I whisper.

Fifteen minutes later, Jake emerges from the side of the building, looking like a corpse.

“I’ll drive.” I hop out and hold open the door.

“I’ll drive,” he mumbles with a weak voice.

“No way. You can barely keep your eyes open. Food poisoning can be very serious. We can’t have you vomiting while driving, and we don’t really know that it’s poisoning … uh food poisoning, that is.”

On a shallow sigh, he nods and climbs into the passenger’s side.

“Let’s find the nearest hotel,” he says as I buckle into the driver’s seat.

Who knew all I had to do was poison him to get linens and an actual shower?

Terrible thoughts. Who celebrates poisoning someone?

“Okay.” I restrain my slight enthusiasm.

Jake falls asleep while I pass up the nearest hotel that I’m certain is the kind that only rents by the hour. When I find a chain name that I recognize, I park the truck and tap his arm. “We’re here.”

Peeling his eyes open, he grumbles. “Get a room. Any room.”

“Okay.” I wait, holding my purse. This isn’t how I wanted to confess my predicament, but given my phoneless status and credit-less situation, I have no choice. “I have less than five dollars to my name. Anthony’s brother is a banker and he’s managed to freeze all of my lines of credit, including my checking account and all credit cards.”

Jake doesn’t even respond with a look. Keeping his eyes closed, he tosses me his wallet.

“Oh …” I cringe. “I realize you’re more of a camper, but hotels require a photo I.D. and a credit card. My I.D. won’t match your credit card, and your credit card won’t match my I.D., so …”

He grumbles, pawing for the door handle. I jump out and run around the truck, opening the door for him. Draping his big arm around my shoulders, I help him into the lobby. After securing a room, I take him straight up to it and help him into bed. Before I can get his shoes off, he dashes to the bathroom.

“I’ll just … get Swarley and our bags. Okay?”

A disgusting noise sounds from behind the bathroom door. I’m not sure which end is releasing the toxins, and I don’t want to know.

Jake spends the rest of the day in the bathroom, refusing to let me in except to hand him water, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and a bag that has activated charcoal. He’s such a Boy Scout, always prepared to be poisoned with mushrooms.

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