Home > Undeserving (Undeniable #5)(12)

Undeserving (Undeniable #5)(12)
Author: Madeline Sheehan

Her stomach twisted at the memory of her beautiful mother, feeling both the sharp sting of betrayal and the dull throb of longing, all rolled into one horrible ache.

She blew out a shaky breath. Ugly things often came in beautiful packages, and her mother had been the single loveliest monster she’d ever met.

Chapter 8

Debbie Reynolds. This chick was a liar, liar, pants on fire. And a horrible one, at that. Preacher could detect a liar a mile away, could easily spot the extra blinks, extra swallows, and the avoidance of direct eye contact. Although with this girl, none of that had been needed. She was by far the worst liar he’d ever encountered. The worst hooker, too.

She had never spread her legs for money before, that much had been painfully obvious. And would have been comical if she hadn’t looked so damn scared.

Amusement aside, he hadn’t realized exactly how much her baggy clothing had hidden. She had a nice figure, good-sized tits, a decent curve to her hips, too—even if the rest of her was a little on the thin side. Most eye-catching, though, were the sleek lines of her muscles. Her arms and legs had been toned nicely from what was undoubtedly a hell of a lot of walking.

“Debbie Reynolds,” he muttered, snickering.

The girl’s—Debbie’s—nostrils flared wide. The patches of red that had taken up residence on her cheeks began to spread. Preacher continued to smirk. Debbie fucking Reynolds. Hell, if she wanted to lie about something as useless as her name, that was fine with him. In fact, why not play along?

“Our moms have something in common. The Singing Nun is her favorite.”

Debbie cleared her throat, another sign she was lying. “I prefer The Rat Race,” she mumbled, refusing to meet his gaze.

“Yeah? Your mom have a thing for Tony Curtis, too?” Preacher might be entertaining Debbie’s lies, but he wasn’t lying. His mother really did have a thing for Tony Curtis. Recalling how her face would flush at the mere mention of the actor, and his father’s irrational jealousy, Preacher laughed outright.

Debbie still wouldn’t look at him. Chewing anxiously on her bottom lip, her shuttered gaze was glued to the floor.

Studying her, he fell quiet. He wasn’t an idiot—whatever was going on inside her head more than likely wasn’t anything good. Having grown up the way he did, knowing a large variety of people, he knew that most of them—the drifters, the grifters, the pavement pounders, the scammers and con-artists, and what was left of those goddamn piece-of-shit hippies—almost always had one thing in common.

They were all running from something. Always with some sad story trailing a million miles behind them.

His own mother was a perfect example. Her mother had died young, and her father had been a drunk who’d spent more time at the local tavern than he had at work. They’d had very little money and almost no food, but it wasn’t until he’d started beating on his daughters that Preacher’s mother had decided enough was enough. She’d packed a bag for herself and her sister and they’d hit the road together, eventually taking up with the circus.

Even decades later, his mother found it hard to talk about her childhood.

“Where you headed? Anywhere in particular or just driftin’?”

Debbie’s eyes lifted; her bottom lip popped out from beneath her teeth. “New York City.”

Preacher’s brow shot up. “Yeah? You got friends there? Family?”

She shook her head, and he sighed noisily. New York City. The glittering city on the coast, the island that never slept, a city that gave birth to unattainable dreams in the minds of young people all across the nation—and then systematically crushed each and every single one of them.

Preacher would be the first to admit that his home-sweet-home was more cesspool than not. The streets were filthy. Crime was on the rise. Drug use was rampant, as were prostitution and homelessness. Hilariously ironic was that his club was one of those facilitating the flow of drugs into the city, and therefore was partly responsible for the crime that inevitably followed.

“I live there,” he said. His revelation caused those unnervingly big eyes of hers to grow even wider.

“Born and raised… and I’ve seen people comin’ and goin’ all my life. I know what you’re thinkin’. That a city like New York, with all those people everywhere, all those dark corners to hide in, all those wallets to grab and purses to snatch, that you’re going to be raking it in.” He paused to shake his head. “You ain’t the first street rat to think it, and you ain’t gonna be the last. Believe me when I tell you that you’re gonna have some serious competition out there. With no family, no friends…”

He trailed off, choosing his next words carefully.

“And you’re young… and female… and good lookin’...” Preacher trailed off again, hoping his implication would be clear without having to spell out all the gory details.

“You don’t know me,” she said quietly, too quietly. There was anger simmering beneath her softly spoken words.

Preacher felt like laughing. He did know her. He knew her type: lost little girls and boys who packed up their bags, said a prayer and hopped on a bus or a train, big city-bound. But once they arrived in the Big Apple, they usually lost everything—including their dignity and sometimes their lives. There was just too much competition in New York, too many crazies, too many whores, too many junkies, all wanting the same damn thing and usually fighting each other for it. Bodies were found every day, John and Jane Does—robbed, raped, beaten to death, stabbed or shot—the possibilities were endless. Too many of those bodies were never claimed, either because no one knew who they were, or no one cared to find out.

Looking at Debbie, lost little thing that she was, he could see exactly how wrong it was going to go. She was going to trust the wrong person, or find herself in a bind nearly identical to the one he’d just helped her out of, and that would be it.

“It’s not the paradise everyone seems to think it is. And trust me, I’ve been everywhere. You’re better off out here.”

An assortment of emotions passed over Debbie’s face—disappointment, embarrassment, anger. Preacher almost felt bad. Almost, because he didn’t want to crush her dream; but not quite, because he wanted to help spare her from those who would try to take advantage of her.

Debbie slowly stood, her white-knuckled fist clutching tightly to the front of his flannel shirt. Unblinking, she glared at him. “You don’t know me,” she repeated coldly.

“I do know you,” he said evenly, holding her stare. “I’ve seen a million just like you. Little girls who don’t have a clue. What are you? Sixteen, seventeen? Baby, you are prime real estate for some of these scumbags. I give you a week in the city before one of ‘em sinks their hooks into you, has you workin’ the corner, droppin’ your towel for every Tom, Dick, and Harry.”

Unmoving and barely breathing, Debbie’s eyes were flashing fire.

“Your best bet,” he continued, “is to keep doin’ what you’re doin’. Sticking to small towns. Less people, less police, less problems. Maybe find yourself a job under the table. Hell, I don’t know your story, but maybe goin’ home would be—”

Debbie suddenly spun away and hurried across the room. The bathroom door slammed behind her, the force reverberating throughout the walls.

Preacher stared after her, one eyebrow cocked, wondering why women were all so damn irrational. Sighing, he sprawled backward on the bed.

What he’d told Debbie had been for her own benefit, and in response, she’d decided to throw a temper tantrum? And therein lay the problem with the fairer sex—they were always falling victim to their emotions. Acting like the sky was falling when someone was only giving them some damn good advice.

The sitcom on the television let out a peal of laughter. Preacher turned and blinked, barely registering what he was seeing on the screen. Wave after wave of exhaustion swept through him, until his limbs felt heavy and his thoughts grew muddled.

Goddamn, he was tired.

He glanced at the bathroom and frowned. Did he just leave Debbie in there, or… what? Hell, he didn’t know, and at the moment, he didn’t really care. He hadn’t slept in over twenty-four hours and was suddenly struggling to keep his eyes open.

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