Price of a Kiss(8)

By: Linda Kage

Must. Soothe. The hottie.

But really, why was he scowling? Did I honestly stink that bad? Or did he just not like making sparks with me?

Both options sucked.

Then it struck me. Maybe he hadn’t felt the sparks. Maybe he thought the way I’d yanked my hand away from his magnetic touch was rude. It would certainly appear rude if he had no idea what was going on in my head, which, wow, he really didn’t have a clue, did he?


I opened my mouth to apologize, but he turned on his heel and slid into the nearest chair, avoiding me as well as giving me an open path to the exit—so I could leave him alone.

I blinked, deciding he was even ruder than I was. Would a forgiving pat on the arm or a simple it’s-okay, no-big-whoop have killed him? I really was sorry for bumping into him.

“Jerk,” I muttered to myself as soon as I lit out of the classroom and escaped.

Okay, okay, I suppose I could give him the benefit of the doubt. All hotties deserved a second chance, right? So…he might not be a jerk. I had been the one to plow into him and spill a load of books on his feet, and he’d actually been kind enough to bend down and pick them up for me. And just because a guy wasn’t big on the whole communication and I-forgive-you thing or obviously couldn’t smile did not automatically make him a jerk.

But it stung to consider the possibility that he just didn’t like me. Thinking of him as a jerk settled my ego much more nicely.

So, yeah. He was such a jerk face.

I lifted the collar of my shirt and sniffed. Smelling nothing but clean laundry detergent, a hint of my Sweet Pea lotion, and Fresh Breeze deodorant, I scowled. I did not stink.

He was definitely a jerk.

As luck would have it, the rest of my day was spill-free. I didn’t spot Hotness, the jerk face, again. And no one tried to stab me to death.

I’d call that progress.

The weather had warmed considerably since I’d left my above-the-garage apartment that morning. But, wow, was Florida hot and muggy in August, or what? I was so tempted to pull my hair up into ponytail to catch a little breeze that my fingers actually ached with the urge to start gathering stray strands.

Except the scar on the back of my neck was still pretty fresh—only four months old. Every time I checked a reflection of it in my hand mirror, the wound looked dark and ugly. So ponytails were completely out of the question. If too many people saw it and asked questions, I might get caught in one of my lies, and the truth would come out. That couldn’t happen. Ever. So I continued to hide it every day by wearing my hair down.

It was almost four in the afternoon when I returned to my new home.

Aunt Mads and Uncle Shaw had been amazing to let me stay there. I had been worried, what with Jeremy’s nasty death threat hanging over my head, that everyone would push me away as if I had the plague. I was dangerous to be around. But the Mercers had taken me in when I’d needed them the most. Plus I didn’t have to pay rent, a water bill, electric bill, or heating and air. Life—in that regard—was pretty spectacular.

My book bag weighed down one shoulder as I trooped up the steps outside my aunt and uncle’s four-bay garage. When I reached the top landing, I had to swing the bag’s strap around so I could fish out my apartment key I had tucked away in the front pocket.

Finding it exactly where I’d zipped it this morning, I pulled my key ring free, squinting as the brass surface glinted in the bright daylight, momentarily blinding me until I fit it into the lock and twisted the door open.

As soon as I stepped inside, I jerked to a frozen halt.

The newspaper I’d bought this weekend to search for a couple more part-time jobs was no longer sitting on the breakfast table, folded nice and neat where I’d left it this morning. The pages were opened and strewn across the floor while one sheet draped half off the table.

Someone had been in my apartment.

Fear paralyzed me in surreal waves. I’d trained for this, trained all summer with Eva and Aunt Mads at a self-defense class. And in none of my courses had the instructor said to stand frozen like a stupid nincompoop when the threat of danger arose.

Finally, I shook my head, denying it. He couldn’t have found me. Not yet. He was still halfway across the country with no idea of who or where I was.

Wasn’t he?

I tried to back out of the apartment; I told myself to run. But my sparkly ballet flats wouldn’t budge. I just stood there, too terrified to move, or scream, or even think.

Then the window-unit air conditioner kicked on. The sudden blast of frigid air caused the last bit of newspaper to soar off the table and flutter across the room until it floated down, adding to the already cluttered mess on the floor.

A relieved sob screamed from my lungs as I covered my mouth and wilted against the doorframe.

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