Home > Undeserving (Undeniable #5)(10)

Undeserving (Undeniable #5)(10)
Author: Madeline Sheehan

“Nice weather we’re havin’,” he said dryly. The man was staring off into the darkness again, idly flicking his lighter.

She said nothing.

“Name’s Damon,” he continued. “But my friends call me Preacher.”

He paused, and she assumed he was waiting for her to introduce herself.

“So what do I call you?” she asked, “Damon or Preacher?”

“She speaks.” Feigning shock, he chuckled. “Saved your ass back there, didn’t I? I’d say that makes us friends.”

Wondering what exactly his definition of “friends” was, she began to question what he might want in return for saving her. Her hand jerked, reflexively reaching for her blade, only to recall she no longer had one.

“Thank yo—” Her voice cracked as her anxiety spiked. She cleared her throat, took a breath, and tried again. “Thank you… for what you did.”

Preacher shrugged, then hissed. His features pinched with pain, he slowly rotated his shoulder, rubbing the area just above his bicep.

“Are you hurt?” she asked.

He shook his head. “Naw. Banged up is all.”

Flicking his lighter, he held the flame up between them. Scanning her face, his gaze paused on her mouth. “Are you hurt?”

She guessed her lip was swollen. She’d tasted blood, and she could feel her pulse pounding beneath the thin, sensitive skin. But hurt? Ha. If he considered a split lip worth a second thought, he must have a very rosy view of the world.

“I’m fine.” Finishing her cigarette, she flicked the filter into the rain.

A round of thunder rumbled above them; a bright white flash zigzagged across the sky. Another shiver tore through her body and she squeezed her eyes shut.

“Soon as the rain stops I can give you a lift somewhere…” Preacher trailed off, leaving his offer hanging between them.

She glanced at his motorcycle, eyeing it with trepidation. She’d never ridden on one before, but she’d never refuse a ride. Her gaze moved to the duffel bag strapped across the handlebars, and she wondered what was inside—what might be of use to her.

Her first priority was to replenish her supplies. Empty-handed, she’d take whatever she could get: clothing, money, food. Some things, such as her canteen, were going to be harder to replace. Others were irreplaceable.

The photograph. Knowing she would never see it again, her heart seized.

She took a breath. Released it. Took another. Released it. She didn’t need the picture. Her father’s face was forever burned into her memories. She had only to close her eyes to see that wide, handsome smile. And once she had the paper and pencil to do so, she would draw it from memory.

Chapter 6

Preacher pulled his motorcycle off the quiet highway, slowing to a stop. Toeing his kickstand down, he pushed his goggles up over his head and eyed the nearly empty parking lot. Aside from a beet-red Plymouth Avenger, they had the place to themselves.

Glancing up at the dark gray sky, he guessed it was around four or five in the morning. His thoughts wandered back to his apartment, where his watch was sitting on top of his dresser. He hadn’t bothered putting it on before he’d left. Time was for men who had something to do.

Shivering violently behind him, the girl gripped his shoulders and attempted climbing down. She hadn’t ever ridden on a motorcycle before; her death grip on his middle had told him as much. And with her wet and torn clothing and lack of protective eyewear, he couldn’t imagine a less enjoyable first ride.

Slim, wind-reddened hands removed the helmet he’d given her to wear, revealing a matted mass of messy, knotted hair. Wrapping her arms around herself, she turned in a slow circle, surveying the area with a calculating, determined eye.

He’d been right about her—there was no doubt in his mind that she was a street rat. And if he hadn’t already guessed as much at first glance, the fact that she’d sat on the side of the road in the dead of night, in the pouring rain no less, and hadn’t complained once would have told him she was used to shit conditions such as this.

“I’m gonna get a room,” he said. Standing, he swung his duffel over his shoulder. “You want to grab a shower and some shut-eye, you’re welcome to it.”

• • •

The motel offered your standard middle-of-nowhere room, with dark brown wall paneling and a yellowed popcorn ceiling. Two beds were stationed to the right, with a small night table nestled between them. A lime green rotary phone, a small flip clock, and a cheap-looking lamp covered the table.

A square, squat table sat on the left side of the room with one rickety-looking chair. A short ways back stood an antique-looking desk with a small television on top. And near the very back of the room, by the bathroom, was a six-drawer dresser that looked nice enough to have been taken straight from someone’s home.

Keeping the door propped open with his boot, Preacher tossed the key onto the bed closest to him and gestured for the girl to enter.

She turned sideways as she slid inside, being especially careful not to brush up against him.

Jesus, did she think he was a half-crazed lunatic just waiting for the right moment to pounce on her?

“You want the first shower?” he asked. Taking a seat, he kicked off his boots. Next, he peeled off his waterlogged socks and grimaced at the sight of his cold, red feet.

“You go ahead.”

Preacher glanced up and found the girl pressed against a wall, arms wrapped around herself. Catching her gaze, he lifted an eyebrow, and she looked away quickly.

Whatever. Preacher didn’t need to be told twice. Cold, wet, and miserable, he headed for the bathroom.

Shut inside the tiny space, he carefully slid out of his jacket and began cautiously probing around his shoulder and arm. He could move it well enough, bend it just fine, but he had one hell of an ugly bruise starting to form. He continued poking the swollen skin, guessing that he had some minor muscle damage, too. He rolled his eyes. It was a good thing Red swung like a girl or else he’d be nursing a broken bone right now.

As he moved toward the shower, he caught sight of his reflection in the mirror and paused. Bloodshot eyes and a menacing scowl stared back at him. His riding goggles were half hidden in his mess of tangled hair.

His scowl bled slowly into a smile.

He did, in fact, look like a half-crazed lunatic.

Chapter 7

Wrapped in a towel, she took a seat on the edge of the tub and sniffed at her shoulder, inhaling the fresh, sharp scent of her skin. Then her hair, breathing in the citrusy scent. Quick cleanups with bars of soap in public bathrooms could hardly compare to hot showers and actual shampoo.

On the shower rod above her dangled her freshly scrubbed clothing. Most of the buttons on her flannel were missing, and her T-shirt had been torn open several inches down the middle. Two pathetic strips of stained cotton covered in holes were all that remained of her socks.

That was it—this was all she had left.

Moving to the door, she pressed the side of her face against the wooden surface, listening.

Earlier Preacher had strode from the bathroom in dry clothing with his long, wet hair combed, looking clean and refreshed. He’d barely spared her a second glance as he’d flipped on the television set and settled himself on one of the beds. Feeling awkward and uncomfortable, she’d wasted little time hurrying inside the bathroom.

She’d been so anxious to get away from him, anxious to be clean, excited for a hot shower, that she’d given little thought to what she’d wear afterward.

Glancing down at her towel, she blew out a heavy breath. She supposed it didn’t actually matter what she was wearing, as she was already planning on taking it off.

From the moment Preacher had offered her his room, a plan had begun to take shape. She had nothing but the torn, stained clothing hanging over the shower rod. In all her time on the road, she’d never been quite this desperate. So desperate, she was finally willing to do something she’d promised herself she would never do.

Swiping her hand across the fogged-over mirror, she leaned forward to inspect herself. Though there was nothing outwardly off-putting about her, there was nothing remarkable, either. And she certainly didn’t look anything like the puffed-up prostitutes always hanging around truck stops.

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