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Author:J.B. Salsbury

He hooks me by the waist and pulls me into a one-arm hug, pressing our hips together. “Aw, don’t leave mad.” He kisses me and the smell of coffee on his breath mixed with his overly sweet cologne turns my stomach. “I wish you didn’t have to go back to that hick town.”

“It’s not a hick t-town. It’s a quaint m-mountain community.”

His eyes narrow. “You’re stuttering. You always stutter when you lie.”

“Whatever.” I press my hand against his chest to get some distance, and a small fire burns in my gut. “Besides, it’s only temporary until I figure out what my next move is.”

Trevor’s the one who got me the job at FBS. Job is a bit of an exaggeration, seeing as I only made enough money to pay for the necessities. Now I’ve got sixty-eight dollars in my account and my rent was past due until Trevor paid the six hundred dollars so I could get out of my lease. I’d feel bad for taking his money, but my only other option was asking my dad. Trevor was the lesser of two pride-squashing evils, and Lord knows I have little dignity left to spare.

He releases me and opens the truck door. “Drive safely and call me when you get there.” There’s a tiny hint of the man I remember meeting in my comm classes back when we had mutual respect for each other and our career goals. “Let me know what you decide.”

“Will do.” I slide into the driver’s seat and strap on my seat belt. “And . . . uh . . . I’ll send you a check as soon as I get some money.”

He shuts the door and leans down to poke his head through the open window. “I’m sorry I couldn’t give you somewhere to stay while you figure all this out. It’s just—”

“Are we really doing this? Don’t act like you give a flying fuck where I end up, Trevor.”

Disapproval twists his mouth. “That mouth’ll keep getting you into trouble if you’re not careful, honey.”

I fight the urge to shove my finger down my throat. “I like my mouth. It’s honest.”

His lips brush across my cheekbone. “Get your shit together, then bring your dirty mouth back to me. I’ll see if there are any job openings in town. Maybe the coffee shop’s hiring.” There’s a hint of humor in his voice.

“You’re an asshole.” How I ever ended up naked with him is a mystery. I mean, if lots and lots of tequila can be considered a mystery. After that it just seemed like an easy way to scratch an itch.

“You love me.”

I stare at him for a few seconds, realizing that I don’t love him. I care about him as much as a person who cares about nothing can, but that’s the extent. We established the ground rules from the beginning—no attachments, our careers come first, don’t get in each other’s way.

“I’ll be in touch.” I avoid his eyes and step on the gas, forcing him to step back from the truck. I don’t even look in the rearview mirror as I pull away.

I hit the road, grateful for the one thing my dad gave me besides my blue eyes that earned me my middle name—my truck. It’s small, only two seats, but it has four-wheel-drive and even though it’s the color of baby shit—the dealership calls it champagne—it’s been the most reliable thing in my life.

The highway stretches out before me, and talk radio blares static through my speakers. I punch off the obnoxious noise and force myself to sit in my own silence.

Stupid, stupid, Shyann.

Five years of college for what? I worked my butt off to get where I was, got handed the opportunity that would catapult my career, and killed my chances in a few seconds of live newsfeed. Now there isn’t a broadcast company in this country that will touch me. And I’m broke.

I know better than to let my personal feelings interfere with my work. As much as I regret what I did to end my short career, I can’t say I’d do anything differently. There’s no way I could exploit that young girl’s suffering.

The girl’s mother had a heart defect and the severe beating put too much stress on her heart and killed her. Not a painless death, I’m sure, but at least it was quick.

Unlike my momma’s.

No, she had to suffer for over two years, her body giving up at an agonizing pace, leaving her mind for last so she’d be completely aware of how she was dying. The memories slice through my mind’s eye, my dad holding her limp body, roaring his anger at God.

It was sitting in that cold church, watching every person in our town filter past me with words they hoped would ease my pain. That was when I decided I’d get out of Payson the second I graduated and never go back. I was angry, starving for a fight. Desperate to have my dad back rather than the empty man with the dead eyes who she left us with. He hated that I was leaving, never understood my need to run, to do all the things I promised my momma I’d do. We fought. Hard. Unforgivable words were exchanged, and we haven’t managed to patch our relationship since.

Now I’m crawling back to beg for mercy, the prodigal child, broke, jobless, and with debt hanging off me like dead weight. If there’s one thing I know for sure, Nash Jennings will never let me live this down.