I woke up on the bathroom floor. Everything hurt. My mouth felt like garbage and tasted worse. What the hell had happened last night? The last thing I remembered was the countdown to midnight and the thrill of turning twenty-one—legal, at last. I’d been dancing with Lauren and talking to some guy. Then BANG!
A whole line of shot glasses with lemon and salt on the side. Everything I’d heard about Vegas was true. Bad things happened here, terrible things. I just wanted to crawl into a ball and die. Sweet baby Jesus, what had I been thinking to drink so much? I groaned, and even that made my head pound. This pain had not been part of the plan.
“You okay?” a voice inquired, male, deep, and nice. Really nice. A shiver went through me despite my pain. My poor broken body stirred in the strangest of places.
“Are you going to be sick again?” he asked. Oh, no.
I opened my eyes and sat up, pushing my greasy blond hair aside. His blurry face loomed closer. I slapped a hand over my mouth because my breath had to be hideous.
“Hi,” I mumbled.
Slowly, he swam into focus. He was built and beautiful and strangely familiar. Impossible. I’d never met anyone like him.
He looked to be in his mid to late twenties—a man, not a boy. He had long, dark hair falling past his shoulders and sideburns. His eyes were the darkest blue. They couldn’t be real. Frankly, those eyes were overkill. I’d have swooned perfectly fine without them. Even with the tired red tinge, they were a thing of beauty. Tattoos covered the entirety of one arm and half his bare chest. A black bird had been inked into the side of his neck, the tip of its wing reaching up behind his ear. I still had on the pretty, dirty white dress Lauren had talked me into. It had been a daring choice for me on account of the way it barely contained my abundance of boobage. But this beautiful man easily had me beat for skin on show. He wore just a pair of jeans, scuffed black boots, a couple of small silver earrings, and a loose white bandage on his forearm.
Those jeans . . . he wore them well. They sat invitingly low on his hips and fit in all the right ways. Even my monster hangover couldn’t detract from the view.
“Aspirin?” he asked.
And I was ogling him. My gaze darted to his face and he gave me a sly, knowing smile. Wonderful. “Yes. Please.”
He grabbed a battered black leather jacket off the floor, the one I’d apparently been using as a pillow. Thank God I hadn’t puked on it. Clearly, this beautiful half-naked man had seen me in all my glory, hurling multiple times. I could have drowned in the shame.
One by one he emptied the contents of his pockets out onto the cold white tiles. A credit card, guitar picks, a phone, and a string of condoms. The condoms gave me pause, but I was soon distracted by what emerged next. A multitude of paper scraps tumbled out onto the floor. All had names and numbers scrawled across them. This guy was Mr. Popularity. Hey, I could definitely see why. But what on earth was he doing here with me?
Finally, he produced a small bottle of painkillers. Sweet relief.
I loved him, whoever he was and whatever he’d seen.
“You need water,” he said, and got busy filling a glass from the sink behind him.
The bathroom was tiny. We both barely fit. Given Lauren’s and my money situation, the hotel had been the best we could afford. She’d been determined to celebrate my birthday in style. My goal had been a bit different. Despite the presence of my hot new friend, I was pretty sure I’d failed. The pertinent parts of my anatomy felt fine. I’d heard things hurt after the first couple of times. They sure as hell had after the first. But my vagina might have been the only part of my body not giving me grief. Still, I took a quick peek down the front of my dress. The corner of a foil package could still be seen, tucked into the side of my bra. Because if it was sitting there, strapped to me, no way would I be caught unprepared. The condom remained whole and hearty. How disappointing. Or maybe not. Finally plucking up the courage to get back on the horse, so to speak, and then not remembering it would have been horrible.
The man handed me the glass of water and placed two pills into my hand. He then sat back on his haunches to watch me. He had an intensity to him that I was in no condition to deal with.
“Thanks,” I said, then swallowed the aspirin. Noisy rumbles rose from my belly. Nice, very ladylike.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” he asked. His glorious mouth twitched into a smile as if we shared a private joke between us.
The joke being me.
All I could do was stare. Given my current condition, he was just too much. The hair, face, body, ink, all of it. Someone needed to invent a word superlative enough to describe him.
After a long moment it dawned on me that he expected an answer to his question. I nodded, still unwilling to unleash my morning breath, and gave him a grim smile. The best I could do.
“Okay. That’s good,” he said.
He was certainly attentive. I didn’t know what I’d done to deserve such kindness. If I’d picked up the poor guy with promises of sex and then proceeded to spend the night with my head in the toilet, by rights he should be a bit disgruntled. Maybe he hoped I’d make good on the offer this morning. It seemed the only plausible explanation for why he’d linger.
Under normal conditions, he was light-years out of my league and (for the sake of my pride) worlds away from my type. I liked clean-cut. Clean-cut was nice. Bad boys were highly overrated. God knows, I’d watched enough girls throw themselves at my brother over the years. He’d taken what they’d offered if it suited him, and then moved on. Bad boys weren’t the stuff serious relationships were made of. Not that I’d been chasing forever last night, just a positive sexual experience. Something not involving Tommy Byrnes being mad at me for getting a smear of blood on the backseat of his parents’ car. God, what a horrible memory. The next day the douche had dumped me for a girl on the track team half my size. He then added insult to injury by spreading rumors about me. I hadn’t been made bitter or twisted by this event at all.
What had happened last night? My head remained a tangled, throbbing mess, the details hazy, incomplete.
“We should get something into you,” he said. “You want me to order some dry toast or something?”
“No.” The thought of food was not fun. Not even coffee appealed, and coffee always appealed. I was half tempted to check myself for a pulse, just in case. Instead, I pushed my hand through my crappy hair, getting it out of my eyes. “No . . .ow!”
Strands caught on something, tugging hard at my scalp. “Crap.”
“Hang on.” He reached out and carefully disentangled my messy do from whatever was causing the trouble. “There we go.”
“Thanks.” Something winked at me from my left hand, snagging my attention. A ring, but not just any ring. An amazing ring, a stupendous one.
“Holy shit,” I whispered.
It couldn’t be real. It was so big it bordered on obscene. A stone that size would cost a fortune. I stared, bemused, turning my hand to catch the light. The band beneath was thick, solid, and the rock sure shone and sparkled like the real deal.
“Ah, yeah. About that . . .” he said, dark brows drawn down. He looked vaguely embarrassed by the ice rink on my finger. “If you still wanna change it for something smaller, that’s okay with me. It is kinda big. I do get your point about that.”
I couldn’t shake the feeling I knew him from somewhere. Somewhere that wasn’t last night or this morning or anything to do with the ridiculous beautiful ring on my finger.
“You bought me this?” I asked.
He nodded. “Last night at Cartier.”
“Cartier?” My voice dropped to a whisper. “Huh.”
For a long moment he just stared at me. “You don’t remember?”
I really didn’t want to answer that. “What is that, even? Two, three carats?”
“What do you remember?” he asked, voice hardening just a little.
“Well . . . it’s hazy.”
“No.” His frown increased until it owned his handsome face. “You have got to be fucking kidding me. You seriously don’t know?”
What to say? My mouth hung open, useless. There was a lot I didn’t know. To my knowledge, however, Cartier didn’t do costume jewelry. My head swam. Bad feelings unfurled within my stomach and bile burnt the back of my throat. Worse even than before.
I was not puking in front of this guy. Not again.
He took a deep breath, nostrils flaring. “I didn’t realize you’d had that much to drink. I mean, I knew you’d had a bit, but . . . shit. Seriously? You don’t remember us going on the gondolas at the Venetian?”
“We went on gondolas?”
“Fuck. Ah, how about when you bought me a burger? Do you remember that?”
“Wait a minute,” he said, watching me through narrowed eyes. “You’re just messing with me, aren’t you?”
“I’m so sorry.”
He physically recoiled from me. “Let me get this straight, you don’t remember anything?”
“No,” I said, swallowing hard. “What did we do last night?”
“We got fucking married,” he growled.
This time, I didn’t make it to the toilet.
I decided on divorce while I brushed my teeth, practiced what I would say to him as I washed my hair. But you couldn’t rush these things. Unlike last night, when I’d apparently rushed into marriage. Rushing again would be wrong, foolish. That, or I was a coward taking the world’s longest shower. Odds were on the latter.
Holy, holy hell. What a mess. I couldn’t even begin to get my head wrapped around it. Married. Me. My lungs wouldn’t work. Panic waited right around the corner.
No way could my desire for this disaster to go away come as a surprise to him. Puking on the floor had to have been a huge hint. I groaned and covered my face with my hands at the memory. His look of disgust would haunt me all my days.
My parents would kill me if they ever found out. I had plans, priorities. I was studying to be an architect like my father. Marriage to anyone at this stage didn’t fit into those plans. In another ten, fifteen years, maybe. But marriage at twenty-one? Hell no. I hadn’t even been on a second date in years and now I had a ring on my finger. No way did that make sense. I was doomed. This crazy wedding caper wasn’t something I could hide from.
Or could I?
Unless my parents could not find out. Ever. Over the years I had made something of a habit of not involving them in things that might be seen as unsavory, unnecessary, or just plain stupid. This marriage quite possibly fell under all three categories. Actually, maybe no one need know. If I didn’t tell, how would they find out? They wouldn’t. The answer was awe-inspiring in its simplicity.
“Yes!” I hissed and punched the air, clipping the shower head with the side of my fist. Water sprayed everywhere, including straight in my eyes, blinding me. Never mind, I had the answer.
Denial. I’d take the secret to my grave. No one would ever know of my extreme drunken idiocy.
I smiled with relief, my panic attack receding enough so that I could breathe. Oh, thank goodness. Everything would be okay. I had a new plan to get me back on track with the old one. Brilliant. I’d brave up, go and face him, and set things straight. Twenty-one-year-olds with grand life plans didn’t marry complete strangers in Vegas, no matter how beautiful those strangers happened to be. It would be fine. He’d understand. In all likelihood, he sat out there right now, working out the most efficient method to dump and run.
The diamond still glittered on my hand. I couldn’t bring myself to take it off just yet. It was like Christmas on my finger, so big, bright, and shiny. Though, upon reflection, my temporary husband didn’t exactly appear to be rich. His jacket and jeans were both well-worn. The man was a mystery.
Wait. What if he was into something illegal? Maybe I’d married a criminal. Panic rushed back in with a vengeance. My stomach churned and my head throbbed. I knew nothing about the person waiting in the next room. Absolutely not a damn thing. I’d shoved him out the bathroom door without even getting his name.
A knock on the door sent my shoulders sky-high. “Evelyn?” he called out, proving he at least knew my name. “Just a second.”
I turned off the taps and stepped out, wrapping a towel around myself. The width of it was barely sufficient to cover my curves, but my dress had puke on it. Putting it back on was out of the question.
“Hi,” I said, opening the bathroom door a hand’s length. He stood almost half a head taller than me, and I wasn’t short by any means. Dressed in only a towel, I found him rather intimidating. However much he’d had to drink the previous night, he still looked gorgeous, as opposed to me—pale, pasty, and sopping wet. The aspirins hadn’t done nearly as much as they should have.
Of course, I’d thrown them up.
“Hey.” He didn’t meet my eyes. “Look, I’m going to get this taken care of, okay?”
“Taken care of?”
“Yeah,” he said, still avoiding all eye contact. Apparently the hideous green motel carpeting was beyond enticing. “My lawyers will deal with all this.”
“You have lawyers?” Criminals had lawyers. Shit. I had to get myself divorced from this guy now.
“Yeah, I have lawyers. You don’t need to worry about anything. They’ll send you the paperwork or whatever. However this works.” He gave me an irritated glance, lips a tight line, and pulled on his leather jacket over his bare chest. His T-shirt still hung drying over the edge of the tub. Sometime during the night I must have puked on it too. How gruesome. If I were him, I’d divorce me and never look back.
“This was a mistake,” he said, echoing my thoughts.
“What?” His gaze jumped to my face. “You disagree?”
“No,” I said quickly.
“Didn’t think so. Pity it made sense last night, yeah?” He shoved a hand through his hair and made for the door. “Take care.”
“Wait!” The stupid, amazing ring wouldn’t come off my finger. I tugged and turned it, trying to wrestle it into submission. Finally it budged, grazing my knuckle raw in the process. Blood welled to the surface. One more stain in this whole sordid affair.
“For fuck’s sake.” He scowled at the rock sparkling in the palm of my hand as if it had personally offended him. “Keep it.”
“I can’t. It must have cost a fortune.”
“Please.” I held it out, hand jiggling, impatient to be rid of the evidence of my drunken stupidity. “It belongs to you. You have to take it.”
“No. I don’t.”
Without another word, the man stormed out, slamming the door shut behind him. The thin walls vibrated with the force of it.
Whoa. My hand fell back to my side. He sure had a temper. Not that I hadn’t given him provocation, but still. I wish I remembered what had gone on between us. Any inkling would be good.
Meanwhile my left butt cheek felt sore. I winced, carefully rubbing the area. My dignity wasn’t the only casualty, it seemed. I must have scratched my behind at some stage, bumped into some furniture or taken a dive in my fancy new heels. The pricey ones Lauren had insisted went with the dress, the ones whose current whereabouts were a mystery. I hoped I hadn’t lost them. Given my recent nuptials, nothing would surprise me.
I wandered back into the bathroom with a vague memory of a buzzing noise and laughter ringing in my ear, of him whispering to me. It made no sense.
I turned and raised the edge of my towel, going up on tippytoes to inspect my ample ass in the mirror. Black ink and hot pink skin.
All the air left my body in a rush.
There was a word on my left butt cheek, a name:
I spun and dry-heaved into the sink.
Excerpted from Lick by Kylie Scott. Copyright © 2014 by Kylie Scott.
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