Page 26

Gulp!

“Hey.” I jump out of bed, muting the TV. “Are you feeling better? What can I get you? I ordered room service.” I point to a tray of food. Most of it’s gone because … two bananas.

Taking a deep breath, he shakes his head. “No food.” Collapsing onto the other bed, he rests his arm over his forehead. “I’m empty. Nothing else can come out of this body.”

“You’re going to live, right?”

“I think so.”

Thank god!

“What can I do? You need to hydrate. Coconut water?”

“I’m not thirsty.” His voice is weak like the rest of him. He’s this pile of muscle and tattooed skin, but I’m certain I’m stronger than him right now.

“You have to hydrate. I’m going to get you something. Stay put.” I grab my purse.

“You have no money,” he murmurs.

I don’t. No money. No phone.

“My wallet.”

I nod even though he can’t see me. After taking a twenty from his wallet, I brush my fingers over the top of his bare foot. It twitches beneath my touch. “I’m really sorry.”

Like really sorry.

“It’s not your fault.” His red-streaked eyes peek out from under his arm.

I brought the mean giant to his knees. There should be a victory party. There should be gloating. There should be this grand sense of revenge and accomplishment—but there’s not.

Faking the tiniest of smiles, I slide the money into my purse, whistle for Swarley to follow, and leave before guilt cracks me and my confession pours out of my pathetic conscience.

* * *

After a quick trip to a small store and an even quicker walk to let Swarley work out his own bowel issues and eat his dinner, I carry the bag of electrolyte water and coconut water to the hotel room on the third floor.

“Go lie down,” I whisper to Swarley upon seeing Jake curled onto his side, sleeping.

Setting a water on the nightstand, I sit on the edge of his bed. Jake shifts a fraction without opening his eyes. My hand moves to his face, my palm hovering over his cheek for a few seconds—giving me a chance to admire his soft skin, marred with only a few pearly scars. When I let it rest on his cheek, he opens his eyes.

“Hey.”

I smile past the gnawing guilt of being such an awful person. “Hey,” I whisper.

“I think the charcoal did its job.” He drags in a slow breath and releases it in one quick whoosh through his nose.

“Does that mean you’re feeling better?”

Stretching out, he nods. “What time is it?”

“Ten-fifteen. Since you’re feeling better, I’m going to jump in the shower.” I jab my head toward the coconut water. “Hydrate.”

“Yes, Dr. Montgomery.” Something resembling a grin plays along his lips.

I try to mirror his kind sentiment, but I can’t because I poisoned him.

Gah!

“Don’t wait up for me. I’m not getting out of the shower until I’ve drained all the hot water.” Grabbing my clothes, I give him a don’t-give-me-shit-about-it look.

“Do I want to know what you do in the shower?” He scoots up to a forty-five-degree angle and laces his hands behind his head. It does good things to his abs—really good things.

“Probably.” I wink.

Why? Why did I wink? Why did I say probably in my most seductive voice? I can either want him for sex or want him dead, but I need to pick one before the next orgasm or accidental poisoning.

A hotel shower has never felt so good. Jake’s asleep again by the time I emerge from the steamy bathroom. After re-taping my two fingers, I sit on the edge of my bed, watching Jake as I try to comb through my wet hair. Swarley lumbers onto my bed.

“No.” I try to shoo him off. He ignores me. The second I snuggle into my spot, I smell dog breath and feel it warm and moist against the back of my head.

“Not cool, Swarley.” Throwing off the covers, I sit up. There’s room in Jake’s bed. Maybe he’s out of it enough that I could catch a few hours of good sleep and crawl back in the flea bed before Jake wakes up.

Making the stealth transition from my bed to Jake’s, I manage to get positioned next to him without him stirring. Sleep takes me quickly, and I don’t move an inch until morning.

* * *

Jake

She’s all over me! A leg over both of mine. Her head’s using my chest as a pillow—and she’s drooling on me. But her right hand? It’s on my junk, and … yeah, my junk is pretty damn hard because of it. However, that’s not the most disturbing part. There are chunks of blond hair on my chest and neck, and they are not attached to her head.

“Ave?”

She readjusts, which involves her right hand clenching around me over my briefs like a bike handle. At this point, I’d be fine with her riding me, or even a good hand job. But my fear is she’s going to wake up and somehow blame this on me.

“Avery?”

“Hmm?” Her hum doesn’t convince me that she’s really awake. “Oh my god!” She leaps from the bed, making Swarley jump out of her bed, whining.

Okay. She’s awake now.

Rolling my lips between my teeth, I lift my eyebrows. Avery stares at my erection, rubbing her fingers together. I didn’t come on her hand, but it was headed in that direction. When her gaze slides up my body, the horror that my dick just gave her is dwarfed by the ugly mask of total Armageddon destruction morphing her face.

Yes, Avery … your hair is falling out. Why? I don’t know.

“Oh my god …” Her hands inch toward her head like she’s afraid to touch a single lock.

Something tells me God’s not listening to her. Maybe the line’s busy. I imagine he has more pressing matters like starving children, genocide, and global warming. Avery’s hair is really nothing when looking at the bigger picture. I don’t think she’s seeing the bigger picture at the moment.

Snatching the clumps of hair from my chest, like frantically grasping for scattered money on a sidewalk, Avery hugs it and runs to the bathroom.

“Avery …”

The door slams shut followed by more pleas to God and indecipherable mumbling, possibly even a few sobs. I’m not sure where my faith stands right now. My youth was pretty shitty, so I’m not too close to God anymore. However, I get the impression Avery and God have been on the outs for a while.

“Why?” she cries. “I’m sorry.”

I sit up in bed, smirking. She’s apologizing. Her naughty list must be long. Downing the bottle of water she left by my bed, I choke on the last ounce as she continues to repent.

“I shouldn’t have poisoned him.”

What the actual fuck!?

Tossing the empty bottle aside, I take three long strides to the bathroom and slam my shoulder against the door while simultaneously trying to open it.

“Unlock the door! What did you just say? Poison? Did you POISON ME?”

Avery sobs more.

“Open the fucking door before I break it down!”

“Don’t kill me. Please … I’m sorry … my hair … it’s … my life … it’s … why does God hate me?”

“I’m not going to—” I can’t finish that thought. Truth? The door is going to open one way or another, and when it does, I’m going to kill her. “He hates you because you’re a vain, self-centered bitch … and a goddamn attempted murderer!”

“I didn’t want you to die!” Her grief shifts from total despair to anger. “I just wanted you to stop being so mean to me.”

“Well, killing me would accomplish that, wouldn’t it?”

Avery rips the door open, eyes red and swollen, cheeks drowning in tears, but fire flaring from her nostrils. “If I wanted you dead, you’d be dead!” She shoves my chest.

I grab her wrist and twist her arm around her back, bringing us chest to chest. “What did you give me?”

“Nothing—STOP!”

I fist her hair, possibly pulling out more of it.

“Let go of my hair! Let go of my hair! Please. PLEASE!”

I anticipate a cop knocking at our hotel room door before too long.

“Nothing doesn’t make me vomit and shit until everything inside of me feels raw.”

“Mushroom. Part of one,” she whispers like it’s her last breath while her free hand tugs at mine tangled in her cluster-fuck of hair.

“You picked a random mushroom and put it in my smoothie?”

It’s barely detectable but she nods.

“You have no moral limits.”

She blinks, releasing another tear. I want to tie her up and let her completely fall apart, draining all the evil and vanity from her materialistic soul. Instead, I release her. She melts down the door to the ground, pressing her hands to her head as more sobs fill the air.

“Pull yourself together. We’re leaving.”

I pack my stuff and hers while she sits on the bathroom floor in the same spot at the bottom of the door. She hasn’t moved, but her crying stopped five minutes ago. You’d think someone died and all hope is gone. My loyalty to Deedy starts to wane as I realize I’m going to have to take our stuff out to the truck, along with her dog, then carry her pathetic ass out as well.

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