My name is Tierra Owens, and I like to kiss. A lot. It numbs the hollow ache in my chest and—for a few minutes—makes me forget how truly alone I am. My mother is an alcoholic. She hates me and insists I’m the reason she’s not married to my father, whom I have never met. My best friend, Kaylee, is the only person who knows the real me. Everyone else sees what I want them to: a happy, confident, popular girl who has the world at her feet.
I am a fraud.
Relationships are forbidden. I avoid them at all costs. Sex? Emotions? Those things make a person vulnerable, and vulnerability always leads to heartbreak. When my childhood crush, Mattie shows up at school my world tumbles off its axis. The shell I surround myself with feels more like a pathetic crutch than a protective barrier, and I find myself wanting things. Daydreaming about what it would be like to have a boyfriend, a relationship—love.
The sad fact is: I’ll never have any of those things. I am unworthy—trash. Which is why my mom abandoned me.
Kissing: You’re either good at it, or you suck. Zachary Harris sucked at kissing. Actually, it wasn’t so much that he sucked. It was more like he slobbered. All over my chin. My neck. My ears. My skin felt like flypaper—sticky and gross.
Then, of course, there was the issue of the very prominent bulge grinding furiously against my hip. With a groan, Dirk Diggler in disguise muttered a low “fuck” and licked a gooey trail across my collarbone. “God, you smell good. I want to lick you all over and make you scream.” Captain Slobber was, indeed, on a fast track to making me scream, but not in the way he intended. I didn’t care how popular he was—if I had to endure another second of his gross, reptilian tongue slithering over my flesh I’d vomit. All over him. It was a damn good thing kissing can be taught. This guy needed a crash course, stat.
Calloused fingers trailed a back-and-forth pattern between the hem of my top and the waistband of my jeans. My skin tingled from the soft caress and I dug my fingers into his hair, desperate to feel close, needing the contact, and ashamed of myself for getting it this way. When his fingers began fiddling with the button on my jeans, I shut him down.
“That right there is a no-parking zone, baby.” I slid my hand from his arm to his shoulder and shoved. “You need to slow down.”
A pair of dark eyebrows slashed over a set of brilliant blue eyes, the skin between them creasing in confusion. “Slow down? But we were just getting started.” He sat back on his hip, his gaze falling to my bed, then to my half-unbuttoned shirt. The right side of his mouth curled up into a wolfish grin. “I thought this was what you wanted. I mean … you did bring me into your bedroom. I thought you were hot for some action.”
Heat prickled across my skin like wildfire. I was hot, all right. Just not for him. The sooner he realized that, the better.
No guy got past second base with me. Ever. The stupid craving I had to feel close to another person was just that: stupid. Sex, emotions … They make you vulnerable. And vulnerable got you hurt.
I ran my fingers over the small pearl that hung from the gold chain around my neck, the tiny bead smooth and cool against my skin. I’d been foolish enough to love someone once, and the devastation I felt when he walked out of my life was more than I could bear. I wasn’t about to share that with Zach.
Kissing, though, I liked. A lot. It curbed the lonely ache I carried in my chest and took away the sting. And if the guy was cute, well … I might be persuaded, on occasion, to allow a bit of groping, here and there. But that’s where the fun ended. I might be the daughter of the town slut, but I was no whore.
I scooted back against my headboard with a sigh and grabbed a nearby throw pillow, hugging it tight. What I really needed was a towel to wipe the Saliva King’s spit from my neck and chest. Mopping up with a decorative pillow was less than efficient, and more than a little gross. In fact, there was a good chance I’d end up throwing the thing away when all was said and done.
“Look,” I said, trying my best to be inconspicuous as I blotted my skin with the fluffy, pink square. “I’m gonna give you the same speech I share with all my guy friends. I—”
Zach held his hands up. “Hold on a sec.” He flashed me an impish grin. “Let me just get … comfortable.” Smooth skin stretched over taut muscle, the deep grooves in his arms bunching as he pulled himself to the far side of the bed, resting his back against the wall.
I bit down on the inside of my lip as I watched him settle in and found myself wishing he didn’t kiss like a St. Bernard. With his sandy blond hair, sapphire eyes, and bone structure that reminded me of Channing Tatum, he was impossibly easy on the eyes and the true definition of what my mother referred to as “man candy.”
Sitting casually with his arm resting on one bent knee, he raised a brow and signaled for me to continue. Amusement flickered behind his eyes.
I found his attitude both ballsy and irritating. Half of me applauded his confidence. The other half wanted to jam my foot against the giant tent decorating the front of his pants.
“I don’t do relationships, and I’m not looking for a boyfriend. Graduation is just around the corner and I don’t plan on sticking around after. So, if you wanna hang out every once in a while and mess around a little, I’m your girl. If you’re looking for something serious, you’re barking up the wrong tree. I won’t chase you around and beg you to spend time with me, and I won’t have sex with you.”
Zach’s eyes flashed wide, and I could see the wheels turning inside his head as he mentally worked through what I told him. “So, no actual sex?”
I shook my head.
“But you’ll let me kiss you and stuff, and you won’t follow me around at school the next day and expect me to pay attention to you?”
I plastered a fake smile across my face and nodded. Clearly, Zach was all brawn and no brain. Somewhere, out in the farthest corner of nowhere, a village was missing its idiot. “Way to go, Einstein. You catch on fast.”
He swiped a thumb across his lips and sucked in a slow breath through his nose. “Is this the same arrangement you had with Tommy Silva?”
My reaction happened so quickly I was fairly positive he didn’t notice, but at the mention of Tommy’s name, I stiffened. Douche Nozzle.
Much like Zach, Tommy was a pretty boy. Captain of the varsity swim team, he was tall, lean, cut like a statue, and manscaped to within an inch of his life. Smooth. The boy was smooth as a baby’s butt, and I harbored an almost sick fascination with his tan, satiny skin. We hung out off and on for a good four months until he decided what I had to offer wasn’t enough. He tried, and might I add, failed, to put his hands down my pants. I, on the other hand, did not fail when I took a swing at him. My righteous fist met his chiseled nose with uncanny accuracy, resulting in a loud crack, loss of blood (on his part), and a string of curse words, half of which I’d never heard before.
I told Tommy to get lost.
Tommy told everyone I chromed his dome.
Lips pursed, I raised a brow. “Tommy wanted more than I was willing to give, so I ended it with him.”
Zach barked out a single laugh and shook his head. “According to Tommy, you were very willing, and you gave a lot.” He lifted his hand from his knee and thrust a finger at me. “He said he dumped you.”
It was clear Zach was trying to get a reaction out of me. He’d failed miserably. I didn’t play into the normal teenage “He said this about you, what are you gonna do about it?” bullshit. Mostly because I just didn’t care. I valued one person’s opinion: my best friend, Kaylee. Everyone else could suck it, as far as I was concerned.
Come June, Kaylee and I were gone. Valencia Hills and everyone in it—including my mother—would be nothing but a distant memory.
“Believe what you want,” I said with a shrug. “If you want to hang with me, you know the rules. If you want to stay, great.” I tossed aside the pillow and started doing up the buttons on my chambray top. “If not, you know the way out.”
Zach shot forward and grabbed hold of my wrist. “I want.” He paused for a brief moment, then grinned up at me like he knew something I didn’t. “I’ll get you to want more too. Just you wait and see.”
My lips curled up into a smile. Boys were so predictable. I’d yet to have one turn down my offer. Captain Saliva and I would hang out until he asked for more than I would give, and then we would be over. Assuming, that is, that I was able to do something about his drool problem. As far as me wanting more from him? Nope. Wasn’t gonna happen.
I leaned forward, fully intent on schooling him in the fine art of tongue kissing when the slow, rumbling whir of the garage door opening caught my attention. “Dammit.” Heart pounding, I shot to my feet, grabbed hold of Zach’s wrist and yanked. “My mom’s home early. You have to leave. Like, now.”
Zach stared at me like I’d sprouted another head and frowned. “What’s the big deal, Tierra? It’s not like we were doing anything. We’re fully fucking clothed.” He rolled his broad shoulders and tugged at the hem of his black T-shirt. “We’re cool.” He waggled his eyebrows. “All parents love me.”
Whether there was any truth to that statement or not, I didn’t care. Being caught alone in my bedroom with Zach wasn’t the problem. My mother didn’t give two craps about what I did, or who I did it with. No. I didn’t want Zach to meet my mother.
Desperate to get him gone, I tugged him over to my window, got behind him, and pushed. “Out!”
Zach’s expression morphed from one of surprise to outright irritation. “You have got to be kidding me. You want me to take a dive out your window?”
I shoved past him, released the lock, and slid the aging glass pane sideways. “Damn straight, Skippy. It’s time to channel your inner Olympian. Tuck and roll.”
My mom’s voice sounded from the other side of the house. “I’m not going to change my mind. We’re through!”
My shoulders fell. Crap. Another break-up. Zach needed to leave. Things were about to get ugly, and there was no way in hell I’d let anyone witness the shameful reality that was my home life. My mother hated me, blamed me for her so-called crappy life, and made it a point to tell me what a burden I was every stinking day.
I could deal with her hatred. No one but me knew about it. But her addiction to booze and sleazy men? That wasn’t so easy to hide. I’d worked hard to shroud the truth about my home life over the past few years, and I wasn’t about to let my saliva challenged friend jack things up by hanging around for my mother’s latest breakdown.
Zach continued to gape at me, forehead creased, eyes narrowed. My earlier assessment of village idiot was apparently spot on.
“Why are you just standing there?” I placed one hand on the middle of his back, grabbed the waistband of his jeans with the other, and shoved him toward the window. “Move!”
“Fucking hell! All right,” he snapped before launching himself through the small space. A loud rustling noise echoed from outside, followed by a labored groan and a few choice curses. “Goddamned bushes!” He shot up, face twisted in a combination of pain and irritation, and pegged me with a hard stare. “You’re lucky you’re beautiful, T.” He jabbed a finger toward the ground. “Cuz this shit hurts!”
The sound of glass breaking echoed from the opposite side of the house.
I placed a shaky hand on the wall near the window and swiped the other across the front of my jeans, thankful my anxiety transferred to my hands and not my forehead. The old saying “Never let them see you sweat” had become somewhat of a mantra for me. On the inside, I was terrified, mostly of what might be happening on the opposite side of my bedroom door. Of people finding out the mask I’d presented to them was a total sham.
But on the outside?
On the outside, I was the smiling picture of cool perfection.
In keeping with my charade, I rolled my eyes at Zach and thrust a hand toward the street. “Leave! Before we’re caught!”
Zach gave a nod and held up his hand. “You’ll meet me at Dallas’s later?”
My pulse skyrocketed as the commotion grew closer to my bedroom door. “Yes! I’ll see you in a little bit. Now go!”
The combination of moonlight and the yellow glow floating between the houses from the street lamp a few yards away cast an eerie glow across Zach’s toothy grin, likening him to the Joker. He pressed two fingers to his lips and took off with a spring in his step that told me I had, at the very least, a couple month’s worth of meaningless make-out sessions with him before he’d screw up.
“Angelo! S-stop … Please!”
Molars grinding together, heart ping-ponging against my ribs, I turned away from the window, crouched down beside my bed, and pulled out my own makeshift version of Professor Plum’s lead pipe.
The dented, secondhand metal bat felt cool against my skin as I stalked toward my bedroom door, frightened, yet resolute in kicking some loser’s ass had the slimeball hurt my mom. The woman might hate my guts, but dammit, she was my mom, and I wouldn’t abandon her in her time of need.
Oh yeah. Tierra Elizabeth Owens was totally going to down her mom’s ex-boyfriend, in the living room, with the lead pipe. Take that, Colonel Mustard.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
ELISA DANE is a self-proclaimed book junkie. A lover of handbags, chocolate, and reality television, she’s a proud mother to three All- Star cheerleaders. Writing is her absolute passion, and it’s her mission to create stories that will not only take you on a romantic journey that will warm your heart, but help you find a new respect and interest in the sport of All-Star cheerleading.
Elisa is no stranger to the publishing world. She writes steamy paranormal romance under her real name, Lisa Sanchez. Her adult works include the Hanford Park series (Eve Of Samhain, Pleasures Untold, and Faythe Reclaimed), Obsessed (an erotic suspense), and a paranormal novella, Cursing Athena. Elisa lives in Northern California with her husband, three daughters, and a feisty Chihuahua who stubbornly believes she’s human.