Oh, yeah they had, but she pulled a face and put some doubt in her voice. “I’d agree it was okaaaay,” she said casually.
He dropped his arms to his sides and straightened from the door, his face incredulous. “You were every bit as into it as I was, and I have the ten fingernail marks embedded in my ass to prove it. And a bite mark on my shoulder. And a—”
“I said it was okay,” she said through her teeth. What was he doing? Why wasn’t he getting mad? Why was she now mad?
He looked at her, his eyes suddenly narrowing in suspicion. “Why don’t you tell me what part didn’t work for you.”
“I can take it.”
She smiled tightly because now she was going to incinerate him. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
He spread his hands out at his sides. “Give me your worst.”
Walking toward him, she lifted a finger. “You have stinky feet.”
Not true, but she’d wanted to list a fault. Only problem, Kevin hadn’t exhibited any. Not that he didn’t have them—all men had them—she just didn’t know his yet.
And wouldn’t ever know.
He laughed. “I do not have stinky—”
She put up another finger. “You have snoring issues.”
“What? That’s crazy. I don’t—”
“Yes. Quite frankly…” She shrugged. “You’re not that great in bed.”
Again his gaze narrowed. “Not that great in bed.”
She patted him on the shoulder, trying not to notice his warm skin or the hard sinew beneath. “I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you.”
“Yeah. I can see you’re pretty broken up about it.” He scratched his chest again, looking both bewildered and a little stunned.
And sexy as hell with it.
Definitely time to go. But just as she turned away, her eyes locked on her panties lying beneath his bed. Aha! Moving back into the room, she grabbed them, folding them as she had her bra, and added them to her pocket.
Kevin was watching her, just standing there in silence. She forced a smile. “I’ll just be going now.” More silence.
“Yeah. So…thanks for—”
“For being bad in bed?” he asked silkily.
“It’s nothing personal, you know. Lots of men have no idea how to please a woman.”
“If I was so bad, why did you come three times?”
“I faked them.”
Cost of the bottle of wine they’d shared last night: $35. Cost of the cookies she’d bought the night before: $20. Cost of the expression on his face: priceless.
But he recovered quickly. “That’s interesting, that faking-it business.” He stalked back into the room and came close, that big, warm, strong body of his making hers yearn and burn. “Were you faking it when you begged me to—”
“Oh, no. No, no, no. I didn’t beg.”
“Really,” she said to his smug and—damn it—now smiling face.
“Then what was”—and here he used a falsetto voice, mocking what she assumed was to be her as she’d come—“Oh, please, oh, pretty please, don’t stop…There. God, yes, there—”
She snatched the pillow from his bed. It left her fingers and flung its way toward his smirking mug before she even became aware that she’d thrown it.
Catching it in midair, he smiled innocently. “What’s the matter? Truth hurts?”
“You are impossible.”
“Same goes, sweetheart.”
Blind with annoyance, she whirled for the open door and plowed directly into a guy standing there.
Tall, dark-haired, and caramel-eyed, he looked like a younger version of Kevin, down to his matching mischievous come-get-me expression. Mortified at what he’d most likely just overheard, Mia didn’t stick around for introductions but shoved past him and walked away.
Damn, she felt flustered. Stinky feet? Snoring? Is that the best she could do?
And as for being bad in bed…Ha! He’d been sensual, passionate, earthy…amazing. And as she let herself out his front door into the bright Southern California morning, the hazy red, smog-filled air a backdrop for the LA skyline in the valley below, she had to admit, he’d gotten to her.
Big-time. She stalked toward her house, the Glendale Hills all around her still lush and green from a late spring. Her leather T-strap Prada pumps sank into the wet grass with a little pop each step, the feeling reminding her of a very drenched Tennessee morning. Of being fourteen…
Even at fourteen, Mia had known her life wasn’t a sitcom. People whispered about her older sister, about her momma, about their single-wide in Country Homes Trailer Estates, but mostly they whispered about her.
“Thinks she’s a fancy know-it-all.”
Well, she had news. She did know it all, thank you very much. She eyed the faux Formica kitchen counter, the window lined with duct tape to keep out the mosquitoes, she listened to the drip, drip, drip of the kitchen sink, and she knew she was destined for better no matter what anyone—everyone—said.
While other girls her age listened to music and hung out wherever there were boys, Mia went to the library every day on her way home from school, gobbling up everything she could, much to her momma’s mystified bewilderment.
There was a whole big world out there, and Mia wanted a piece of it.
Sitting at the kitchen table and fingering a crack in the veneer made when Momma’s last boyfriend had thrown the iron at a cockroach, Mia dreamed about how different things would be when she grew up and left here. For one, she’d have mountains of money. She’d have a house with a tub for bathing and not for soaking clothes. She’d have walls thicker than paper-thin fake-wood paneling and a car that not only started every time but also didn’t stall at stoplights. Oh, and leather seats.
She wanted real, soft, buttery leather seats.
“Apple!” This from her momma. Lynnette probably needed to be crammed, shoehorned, and zipped into her jeans for her date, a chore that Mia hated, so she pretended not to hear and instead opened her diary.
Notes for when I’m somebody, she wrote.
Don’t wear do-me red lipstick (like Momma). It smears and makes you look mean even when you’re not.
Don’t tease your hair higher than six inches (also like Momma). It looks like you’re wearing a cat on your head.
Always wear high heels, because height makes a woman smart and powerful.
Above all, Mia wanted to be smart.
“Apple, baby, get your ass in here. I can’t zip!”
“Coming.” With a sigh, she closed the diary and hid it in the fruit drawer of the fridge, where no one but her ever looked.
She could hear her momma and sister chattering in the bedroom, and she headed that way past the tiny spot they called a living room, with worn carpet and yellowing ceilings and secondhand furniture packed into it like sardines, every inch covered with knickknacks.
The bedroom was more of the same, stuff crammed into every square inch, with white lace everywhere because her mother had a love affair with lace. Her momma had never met a garage sale she hadn’t loved.
Sugar was a chip off the old block and, at eighteen, looked it. She and Mia had never gotten along, but mostly that was Sugar’s doing. She didn’t like to share Momma, and whenever she could get away with it, she was as mean as possible to Mia.
“Why don’t you just spray-paint those jeans on?” Sugar asked Momma, who leaned into the lace-lined mirror over her dresser to admire her makeup job, which looked as if it might have been applied with a spatula.
“I would if I could. Finally, Apple,” Momma said and climbed onto the bed, stretching out on her back, her pants unzipped and gaped wide.
Mia reached for the zipper, Sugar tugged the pants as closed as she could get, which still left a good two-inch gap, while Momma sucked her body in. “Zip it up,” she gasped.
When Mia got it, they all sagged back, breathing heavy from the exertion. Sugar eyed Momma’s hair as she popped her gum with the frequency and velocity of an M-80. “You use an entire can of hairspray on that do?”
Momma carefully patted her teased-up-and-out, bottle-processed hair, which added nearly a foot to her height. “You know it.”
They grinned at each other.
Sugar shot her a dirty look. “What’s the matter?”
Mia knew better than to say. That would be like poking the bear. She still had the bruise marks on her arm from the last time she’d disagreed with Sugar. “Nothing.”
Sugar went back to primping. She and Momma were getting ready to go to the monthly rec center barbeque. Tonight was extra special because there was a bunch of truckers in town for some big competition, and both Momma and Sugar had their eyes on a prize.
A prize with a steady job and benefits.
Momma’s smile revealed a smear of lipstick. “Check out this color. Tastes like cherries. Somebody’s going to ask me to marry him tonight.”
Sugar laughed. “Looking like that, he’s not going to ask you to marry him, he’s going to ask you to f—”
Momma’s hand slapped over Sugar’s mouth. “Hey, not in front of Apple.”
Sugar’s mouth tightened at the reminder that there was a baby in the house that wasn’t her.
Momma, oblivious, grinned at Mia. “Be good tonight, you hear? I’m going to get us a rich husband. Then you two can go to college.”
Sugar laughed. “I’m going to get a rich husband of my own, thanks. Apple here, though, you might want to worry about.” Sugar ran her gaze over Mia, a sneer on her painted lips. “I don’t see her ever catching a man, not with that scrawny body and mousy brown hair.”
“Leave her alone, Sugar,” Momma said.
As for Mia, her eye began to twitch. She ignored Sugar. “I’m going to college, Momma. But on my grades. You don’t need a husband.”
Please don’t get another husband.
Momma smiled and chucked Mia beneath the chin. “You’re so sweet. How did you get so sweet? You ain’t your father’s child, that’s for certain.”
“Maybe she’s the mailman’s,” Sugar said.
Momma smacked Sugar upside the head. Sugar rubbed the spot and said, “Jeez, just kidding. You gotta admit, she’s a weirdo.”
Momma stood up to primp in front of the mirror and began to sing “It’s Raining Men.”
Mia sighed. Momma loved men, all men, but mostly the kind that never stuck around—or if they did, you wished they hadn’t.
Mia sank back to the bed, piled with tiaras and cheap makeup and the magazines Momma and Sugar liked to hoard their pennies for. She ran her finger over the cover of the Enquirer, which had a small picture of Celine Dion in one corner. Not classically beautiful. No red lipstick or teased hair. Beautiful, but almost…plain.
She turned her head and looked out the window. The neighbors on the left, Sally-Ann and Danny, were fighting on their front porch again, screaming and hurling insults at each other like fastballs. Their dog, Bob, was howling in tune to the screeching coming from Sally. The sound was somehow both lonely and sad, and Mia put her folded hands on the windowsill and set her chin down on them. She felt like howling, too.
On the right, Bethie and Eric, two kids in her class, were rearranging the letters on the mailboxes, probably spelling dirty words, even though Tony, the trailer park manager, had threatened to knock their heads together if he caught them again.
“Hey,” Sugar complained to Momma. “You’re wearing my red lace bra.”
“You won’t be needing it tonight.” Momma waggled her eyebrows. “But I might.”
Nope, Mia was going. All by herself.
Kevin heard the front door slam as Mia Appleby exited his fantasy life. Sounded about right.
Now back to his regularly scheduled program—reality. Mike still stood in the doorway, hair practically singed from Mia’s fiery exit. He raised a brow and a questioning shoulder at Kevin.
Kevin shook his head and looked around him. His new house was a fixer-upper, a kind term, really, given all that needed to be done to it. But the property had been just his price—cheap. He figured he could rework one room at a time, at his own pace.
There were still boxes scattered around from the move, which he was ignoring because he didn’t have the time for them right now. Passing the tousled bed where he’d just had some off-the-charts, mind-blowing sex, he stripped off his jeans, then stubbed his toe on a box. “Goddamnit.” In the bathroom, he cranked on the water. When he turned around, Mike was right there in his face. “Jesus, wear a bell, would ya?” He adjusted the water to his preferred temperature—scalding.
Mike merely smiled.
“I’m not kidding,” Kevin said. “You ever think about knocking?”
For that, he received another shrug of the shoulder, but seeing not-so-hidden misery in his younger brother’s eyes, Kevin didn’t step into the water. His brother was twenty-seven, a supposed grown-up, but that didn’t compute quite the same as it did with other people because Mike was different. Special.
What’s the matter? Kevin signed with his hands instead of speaking because Mike preferred that.
Nothing, Mike signed back.
Nothing, hell, but experience had taught Kevin that pushing Mike was like pushing a brick wall.