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Absinthe
Author: Winter Renshaw

Prologue

Ford

“You wanted to see me, Principal Hawthorne?”

I know that voice. I’d know it anywhere.

Glancing up from my desk, I find a girl in skintight athletic leggings and a low-cut tank top standing in my office doorway, her full lips wrapped around a shiny sucker and a familiar electric jade gaze trained on me.

It’s her.

The woman I spent most of all summer chatting with under the anonymous veil of a dating app—one specifically meant for adults seeking connections but not commitment. I purchased a stock photo for seven dollars, chose a pseudonym, Kerouac, and messaged a woman by the name of Absinthe who quoted Hemingway in her bio when everyone else quoted Nickelback and John Legend.

Fuck.

Me.

“You must be Halston.” My skin is on fire. I stand, smooth my tie, and point to the seat across from me. I never knew her name, but I’d know that voice anywhere. I can’t even count how many times I came to the sound of her breathy rasp describing all the wicked things she’d do to me if we ever met, reading me excerpts from Rebecca and Proust. “Take a seat.”

She takes her time pulling the sucker from her mouth before strutting to my guest chair, lowering herself, cleavage first, and crossing her long legs. The tiniest hint of a smirk claims her mouth, but if she knows it’s me, she’s sure as hell not acting like it.

“You want to tell me what happened with Mrs. Rossi?” I ask, returning to my seat and folding my hands on my desk.

I may be a lot of things; overconfident prick, allergic to commitment, red-blooded American man …

But I’m a professional first.

“Mrs. Rossi and I had an argument,” Halston says. “We were discussing the theme of The Great Gatsby, and she was trying to say that it was about chasing the elusive American dream. I told her she missed the entire fucking point of one of the greatest pieces of literature in existence.” She takes another suck of her candy before continuing, then points it in my direction. “The real theme has to do with manipulation and dishonesty, Principal Hawthorne. Everyone in that book was a fucking liar, most of all Jay, and in the end, he got what he deserved. They all did.”

My cock strains against the fabric of my pants. It’s her voice. It’s her goddamned sex-on-fire voice that’s doing this to me. That and her on point dissection of classic American literature. Sexy, intelligent, outspoken. Three elusive qualities I’ve yet to find in another human being. Until her. And knowing that now, I couldn’t even have her if I wanted her, isn’t doing me any favors. If I don’t compose myself, I’m going to be hard as a fucking rock.

“Language,” I say. The room is growing hotter now, but I keep a stern, undeterred presence.

She rolls her eyes. “I’m an adult, Principal Hawthorne. I can say words like fuck.”

“Not in my office, you can’t.” I exhale. “And not in class either. That’s why Mrs. Rossi sent you here.”

“The jackass behind me was drawing swastikas on his notebook, but I get sent down here for saying ‘fuck.’” Her head shakes.

“I’ll discuss that with Mrs. Rossi privately.” I scribble a note to myself and shove it aside.

“You’re really young for a principal.” Her charged gaze drags the length of me. “Did you just graduate from college or something?”

Six years of school and two years of teaching place me in the budding stages of a career shaping and educating the minds of tomorrow’s leaders, but I refuse to dignify her question with a response.

“My age is irrelevant,” I say.

“Age is everything.” She twirls a strand of pale hair around her finger, her lips curling up in the corners. The cute-and-coy shtick must work on everyone else, but it’s not going to work on me. Not here anyway. And not anymore.

“I said my age is irrelevant.”

“Am I the first student you’ve ever had to discipline?” She sits up, crossing and uncrossing her legs with the provocative charm of a 1940s pin up. “Wait, are you going to discipline me?”

I take mental notes for her file.

Challenges authority

Difficulty conducting herself appropriately

Possible boundary issues

“I’m not going to punish you, Halston. Consider this a verbal warning.” I release a hard breath through my nose as I study her, refusing to allow my eyes to drift to the soft swell of her breasts casually peeking out of her top. Knowing her so intimately over the phone, and being in her presence knowing she’s completely off limits, makes it difficult to maintain my unshaken demeanor. “From now on, I’d like you to refrain from using curse words while on school grounds. It’s disruptive to the other students who are here to actually glean something from their high school education.”

“I don’t know.” Her lips bunch at the corner, and she fights a devilish grin. “I mean, I can try, but ‘fuck’ is one of my favorite words in the English language. What if I can’t stop saying it? Then what?”

“Then we’ll worry about that when the time comes,” I say.

“You could always bend me over your knee and spank me.” She rises, wrapping her lips around the sucker before plucking it out of her mouth with a wet pop. “Or maybe you could fuck my brains out and break my heart.”

“Excuse me?” My skin heats as she feeds me my own lines, but I refuse to let her see that she’s having any kind of effect on me.

“You’re him,” she says, as if it’s some ace she’s been keeping up her sleeve this entire time. “You’re Kerouac.”

I’m at an extraordinary loss for words, trying to wrap my head around all the ways this could go very fucking wrong for me.

Chapter 1

Halston

3 Months Ago

I’m perched in Emily Miller’s pillow-covered window seat, striking my thumb against an almost-empty lighter, a strawberry mint cigarette pinched between my lips.

“Are … are you sure we should be doing this?” Her eyes shift toward her door, like her parents are going to magically come home early from work and bust us.

“Relax.” I hold the flame steady, lighting the tip. “It’s herbal. There’s no nicotine or any of that bad shit.”

Scooting closer to the open window, I inhale and then exhale, aiming rings of smoke at the pin-sized holes in the screen. Honestly, I find the whole idea of smoking to be completely idiotic … all these people enslaved to these little white sticks of chemicals that turn their fingernails yellow and make their clothes reek. But I was walking over here this afternoon and some fourteen-year-old jackass offered to give these to me if I showed him my tits.

I snatched them from his hand, watching the shock register on his face, and said, “Let that be a lesson to you.” He stood there, eyes wide and blinking as I walked away. “I’m worth more than a half-empty pack of cigarettes you stole from your mother’s purse. You’re lucky I don’t kick you in the balls, snotface.”

I almost tossed the pack in some family’s garbage can, but I decided I should smoke one of them out of spite.

Fuck him.

Fuck fourteen-year-old pricks who are destined to grow up and become STD-spreading man whores.

“Here.” I hand over the cig, which now bears my red lipstick, and watch as Emily squeezes it between her thumb and forefinger. I titter. “It’s not a joint.”

“I don’t know how to smoke.” She bites her lower lip, looking like she’s somewhere between laughing and crying.

Good God, Emily. Live a little.

If she weren’t my only fucking friend in this stupid fucking town …

This is painful.

She’s still hesitating, her eyes darting here, there, and everywhere. I’m seconds from taking it back and keeping it all to myself when she takes a puff.

“Exhale …” I remind her when it’s been several seconds too long.

As soon as she opens her mouth, she starts to choke on the smoke tickling her lungs, fanning her hands in front of her face like that’s going to help. Bolting up, she circles her princess pink room before diving into her en suite and filling a cup with water from the faucet.

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