Authors: Aurora Rose Reynolds
When I’m done with that, I go to a nearby nail salon and get a manicure and pedicure. Then I come across a small soul food restaurant and have barbecue ribs and homemade macaroni and cheese. For dessert, I have made-from-scratch peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream. Now that I can eat whatever I want without worrying about my appearance, I plan on eating everything I’ve been denied.
When I was growing up and competing in beauty pageants, there wasn’t a week that went by that I didn’t have a competition. My mom was very strict about what I ate. Everything was premeasured and my calorie intake was no more than what was necessary to survive. I didn’t even know what sugar tasted like until I turned sixteen. Then, when I moved to Vegas and my jobs all required me to have a certain image, I stuck with my old habits.
But now? Fuck that! I’m going to eat—and eat
. After eating, I’m not ready to go home, so I go to the movies, buy a ticket, and sit in the dark theater alone, watching as a young woman is attacked by an evil spirit. Well, I think that’s what it is… About halfway through, I fall asleep. I wake up to screaming and have no clue what is going on, so I get up and leave.
When I pull up in front of the house, the first thing I notice is Kenton’s car parked out front. I really don’t want to see him again, but I know I can’t avoid going inside forever. I get out of the car, leaving the bags with my new work clothes in the trunk. He doesn’t need to know what I’ll really be doing. He chose to make assumptions about me, so he can continue to think what he wants.
I’m not going to try to change his mind. Yes, he’s good-looking, but I’m starting to see a pattern. He’s a dick and judgmental. He’s a judgmental dick.
I sigh, walking up the front porch, and as soon as I unlock the door and push it open, the smell of something cooking hits my nose. Even though I ate earlier, my stomach growls. I ignore my stomach and start for the stairs. I have a candy bar in my bag; that can hold me over until tomorrow.
“You’re back,” I hear from behind me as my foot hits the first step.
“Yep.” I look over my shoulder at him.
Why does he have to be so good-looking?
“I made dinner.”
“Good for you,” I say sarcastically, going up two more stairs.
“Look, I shouldn’t have said what I said earlier.” He sighs, and I wonder if he has ever apologized in his life.
“You shouldn’t have,” I agree, taking a few more steps.
“Will you stop for a second?” He lets out a huff, and I turn to face him, raising an eyebrow. “Come eat so we can talk. You’re living here. I think it’s only right that we get to know at least a little about each other.”
It’s on the tip of my tongue to tell him to fuck off, but sadly, my manners are ingrained in me. I turn, walk down the stairs, and follow him into the kitchen.
“Will you get out a couple plates?” he asks, going to the oven. As soon as he has the oven open, the smell of baked chicken hits me, making my stomach growl again. “You really should eat more,” he mumbles.
I turn to look at him and feel my temper spike. “I did eat,” I tell him, pulling down two plates before getting two sets of silverware out of the drawer and setting them on the counter with a little too much force.
“I mean something besides rabbit food. You need to gain some weight.”
I take a breath and blow it out slowly, counting in my head from one to ten. “Okay”—I turn my face to look at him—“I don’t know what’s wrong with the filter that goes from your brain to your mouth, and honestly, I really don’t care.” I turn around to face him completely. “I don’t appreciate you saying things to me about my job, my free time, or my eating habits. I appreciate what you’re doing for me, but it doesn’t give you the right to talk shit to me whenever you feel like it.”
I inhale deeply before letting out a breath, noticing that his eyes seem to have gone softer. Something about that look makes me feel better, but I finish with, “If you think that’s going to be a problem, I can find somewhere else to stay until I can go home.”
“You’re right. I shouldn’t have said that to you.” He shakes his head, running a hand through his hair before our eyes meet again. “Let’s start over.”
“Sure.” I nod, my insides twisting under his gaze. Every time he looks at me, I feel like he sees way too much.
He walks towards me, sticking out his hand. “Kenton Mayson.”
I put out my hand for him to take. “Autumn Freeman,” I tell him, and our eyes lock as his fingers wrap around mine. His touch sends tingles down my spine. I lick my lips, which have suddenly gone dry.
His eyes drop to my mouth before meeting mine again. “Right.” His voice seems deeper than before and his eyes seem to have gone darker. “Get the salad, babe.” He nods towards the fridge, dropping my hand.
My stomach flips at the word ‘babe.’ I ignore it and go to the fridge, pulling the salad out as he pulls some potatoes out of the oven, setting one on each plate before adding a golden piece of chicken as well.
“It’s a nice night. How ’bout we sit out on the deck?”
“Sure,” I agree.
He finishes making our plates, adding butter and sour cream to the potatoes then adding salad to the dishes. “Get the door for me.”
I open the sliding glass door in the kitchen that leads to the deck. He sets the plates down on the table before coming back in, opening the fridge, and grabbing a beer.
“You want one?” he asks, holding up the beer.
I shake my head; I’ve never had beer…or any kind of alcohol for that matter.
“You don’t like beer? I got a bottle of wine if you prefer that.”
“I’ve never had it before.”
“You’ve never had a beer?” His voice sounds shocked, and I shake my head no again.
I have worked around alcohol since I was twenty-one, but I have also seen the way it makes people act and have never trusted anyone enough to be that unguarded around them. I watch as he goes to the counter, puts the beer to the edge, and pops the top off.
“Try a sip,” he orders.
I reluctantly take it. Why? I don’t know. Normally, I would have stood my ground a little more firmly. I put the bottle to my lips and tip it back. The bubbles and cold hit my tongue before the taste. I pull the bottle away, scrunch up my face as the flavor hits me, and hand the bottle back to him.
“Not a beer girl,” he assesses with a chuckle.
“It’s not bad, but it doesn’t taste good either.”
“It’s kind of an acquired taste. Do you like wine?”
“I’ve never had it.” I shrug, crossing my arms over my chest, feeling like I need to hold myself together.
His eyes drop for a second before meeting mine again. “Most women like wine.”
I ignore that comment and watch him go to the fridge to pull out a bottle of wine. He goes to the drawer, pulls out a bottle opener, and starts to screw it into the top of the bottle. His arm muscles flex with every turn, and soon, there’s a pop and a hiss.
“I don’t have any wine glasses,” he says, pulling a coffee cup down. He pours a small amount into the cup, handing it to me.
I take it and put the cup to my face, giving it a sniff before placing it against my lips and tilting it back. This time after the taste hits my mouth, I smile.
“There you go. You like wine,” he declares, sounding proud.
I nod and start to wipe my mouth with the sleeve of my sweater. His hand moves towards me, his fingers curve around my jaw, and his thumb runs over my bottom lip, his eyes watching closely. He leans forward, making my stomach drop.
“Let’s eat before the food gets too cold,” he says.
I nod, taking a step back trying to get myself under control. He fills the coffee cup with wine and waits for me to go outside before following me out onto the deck. I sit down on the iron chair as he sits in a plastic one across from me. I take a second to look around. The whole house is surrounded by trees, and it was built into a kind of valley. There isn’t much of a backyard. It all seems to be forest beyond the small area of grass.
“So how long have you lived here?” I take another sip of wine.
“About five years. I had plans to fix it up, but with my schedule, I’ve only had time to redo my bathroom and bedroom.”
“It’s a really nice house.” I take a bite of the chicken and moan when the taste hits my mouth. His eyes lock on me, making me squirm and lower my head.
“I like it. I really bought it for the view.” He takes a bite from his plate.
I nod. I bought my condo for the same reason. “This
a nice view.”
“Nothing better than coming out here at night with a cold beer and watching the sun set behind the mountain.”
“I’ll have to try that one day—minus the beer.” I lift my coffee cup.
He smiles, and for the first time, I notice a dimple in his right cheek. The sight of that dimple makes my stomach flutter.
“You should smile more,” I blurt like the moron he’s turned me into.
He smiles bigger, shaking his head while muttering, “
,” under his breath.
The rest of dinner is nice. We laugh and joke, and he tells me about his job and the people he works with. He never asks me about my work again, nor does he give me an in to talk about it.
By the time we are done eating, a chill has filled the air. Kenton goes back inside and gets me a sweater and the bottle of wine, and then he comes back out with a cigar. I drink wine while he lights his cigar, which smells sweet and has me leaning closer to him.
When he’s done smoking, I’m completely drunk for the first time in my life, and I’m laughing at everything he says.
“Come on, babe. Time to get you to bed.” He pulls me up from the chair, smiling, and I lift my fingers to trace his upturned lips.
“You’re really beautiful,” I tell him, wrapping my arms around his shoulders.
“You shouldn’t call guys beautiful, baby.”
I smile before frowning. “My son was beautiful.” I am too drunk to notice that his body has gone solid against mine. “Holding him was the only time I’ve ever been happy…until tonight. I was happy tonight.” I sigh, laying my head on his chest. I think I hear him mutter a curse, but my drunken state has me unsure.
“Up you go,” he says softly, putting his arm behind my knees and lifting me up.
I bury my face in the crook of his neck, enjoying his smell. I feel him laying me down, and then my shoes are being pulled off.
“Night, beautiful girl.”
“Don’t call me beautiful,” I mumble, cuddling deeper into my covers.
I feel lips on my forehead and sigh, liking the way his lips feel against my skin.
I wake up
to the sun shining brightly through my window. I squeeze my eyes closed and put my hand to my head, which is throbbing. I can’t remember much about last night—just drinking wine and laughing a lot. Apparently, I’m not a drinker.
I keep my eyes closed as I get out of bed and stumble across the hall to the bathroom. I turn on the water and jump into the shower, letting the cool water run over me. By the time I’m done, my headache has lessened significantly. I get out and wrap a towel around myself, tucking it under my arms. I open the medicine cabinet and take a couple of pain pills before making it across the hall to get dressed.
When I’m finally downstairs, I feel almost one hundred percent. I pour myself a cup of coffee before heading to Kenton’s office. I need to get on the computer and print off the application for the hospital. Even though I got the job already, they still require me to fill it out.
My step falters slightly as I make my way down the hall. I can hear the sound of Kenton’s voice. I don’t mean to spy, but when I hear him talking about me, I can’t help but listen.
“I would never take a stripper home to meet my mom, so your point is moot.”
My throat starts to close as I walk closer. I stop in the doorway, taking Kenton in while his face is turned to look out the window. The phone’s against his ear and his knuckles are turning white from the grip he has on it.
“Fuck off. She’s a stripper,” he growls into the phone.
A whimper I can’t control climbs up my throat before I can stop it. His head turns my way, our eyes lock, and his get wide.
“Babe,” he says then pulls the phone from his ear. “Not you, fucker. I gotta go.” He hangs up and looks at me. I want to run so badly, but my feet feel like they are glued to the floor. “Babe,” he repeats, looking at me with his eyes wide.
“I’m a lot more than a stripper.” I raise my hand before flopping it down at my side when it looks like he’s going to say something. “I’m a person with feelings. I have my own hopes and dreams. I don’t know how you can judge someone so easily without knowing what they’ve been through.”
His eyes go soft again, but this time, I don’t let that stop me. “Honestly, it makes me sad that you’re so close-minded, and I’m glad I now see who you really are.” Tears clog my throat, forcing me to pause. His eyes have changed again, but I don’t know what the look means. “Unlike you, I gave you the benefit of the doubt. The difference is you proved me right more than once,” I say softly, leaving him standing.
I go upstairs and change into a pair of jeans and a T-shirt before grabbing my bag. Then I leave. I get into the car and pound the steering wheel a couple of times when I realize I forgot to find out how much the car had cost him. I do not want to feel like he has something over me. I put the keys in the ignition, promising myself that I will look up the Kelley Blue Book value.
I do a U-turn in front of the house and just drive. I have no idea where I’m going, but there is no way I am going to sit around his house all day. I pull out my phone, thankful that I have my headphones already hooked in so I can make a call. I press Link’s name as soon as I have his number pulled up on my phone.
“Hey, Angel.” My stripper name makes me feel even colder for some reason when he answers.
“Hey. How are things?” I ask him.
“Good. Sid’s worried about you. He wants you to call him, but like I told you before, I don’t think it’s wise to make any phone calls right now.”
I need to call Sid, but I feel awkward phoning him for some reason. “Can I come home?” I pull off the road when I reach a small gas station. I put my car in park, leaning my head back, trying to keep the tears at bay.