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Authors: K. J. Bell

Tags: #College

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What can I say? Being a member of the Hunter family is a shrink’s wet dream. My siblings and I are poster children for dysfunctional. And I thought my mother’s life was a farce. A woman who kept her role in the death of an innocent girl a secret, and then went about her life as though things were peachy is mild in comparison to the lie I live every day. The one where I pretend to be happy for Brady and Tori, with placating smiles and bogus well wishes. I’m not sure how much more I can tolerate.

I open the door to the walk-in humidor and go inside. The warm aroma of Spanish Cedar mixing with Pure Havana tobacco delights my senses and makes me feel slightly giddy.

There’s a girl scanning the back wall. When I see her twisted lips and pinched brow, I realize she obviously has no idea what she’s looking for. Her white T-shirt hangs off the shoulder on one side, a colorful tattoo peeking out of the top, although I can’t make out what it is. I ignore her and find my favorite cigar.

The scent of cinnamon, pepper, and cedar fills my nostrils as I bring the cigar to my nose and inhale. It’s divine, godlike in its earthiness, a little piece of heaven rolled into divine perfection. Nothing tops a premium cigar, except maybe premium sex, but an exceptional cigar is far easier to find.

“Does it help you decide if you smell them?”

Her raspy voice oozes a sexiness that makes my dick twitch. I turn my head slowly toward the girl as she inches closer to me. I don’t look at her face, but respond, “Only if you know what you’re doing.” It’s rude, but I don’t have time to flirt with this chick. Not to mention, she must be freakishly desperate if she’s hiding out in cigar shops to meet men, although I have to admit it’s original.

“And I definitely don’t.”

She giggles in an attempt at flirting, I think. It’s not as annoying as other women, but designed to try to introduce herself all the same. She must recognize me.

“Clearly,” I respond dryly.

“I don’t smoke them,” she offers. I want to roll my eyes. I didn’t ask her, and I can’t understand why she’s still talking to me. “My grandfather sent me on this little errand. I thought it would be easy, but I had no idea there were so many different types. Can you suggest one?”

I rub my forehead without answering her and squeeze my eyes shut. My head pounds violently, unrelieved by the pile of pills and the protein concoction I downed this morning to relieve my hangover. She asks again, her voice sweeter and sultrier than the first time, as if she’s practiced in the fine art of seducing men.

I’ve reached the top of my irritation threshold, and I want to shout that I don’t give a fuck about her pretend grandpa’s need for a cigar, but our eyes meet before I have the chance. I’m lost in a sea of creamy-brown wonderment and shake my head to clear away the spell this witch obviously cast. She’s not my type, and I’m late to meet Harrison.

“If you’d bothered to find out which brand he smoked, you might have saved yourself the trouble.”

My terse response makes her cower. The sparkle in her large brown eyes disappears and they widen further, as though she’s afraid. She opens the door to leave.

“I didn’t mean to bother you. I’ll go find a clerk to help me.”

Oh, man, now I feel like a complete dick.

My eyes scan the length of her body as she walks out. She has a gorgeous ass. Another tattoo runs down her side. I catch a glimpse from below her half-shirt, which disappears into her low-riding and extremely tight jeans. The inspiration is Day of the Dead, but I can’t see all of it. I’m not typically a fan of tattoos on women, but hers feel like they’re worn as a form of expression rather than to be trendy or garner attention.

I go back to making my selections, but the girl takes up space in my head, distracting my thoughts. Moments later, she returns with a clerk. She looks over nervously through her long dark hair, which is highlighted with thick streaks of deep purple hues.

The clerk reaches up into a box. He’s a straggly looking kid with a face full of zits. Either that, or he’s been playing goalie for the dart team. His dyed black hair hangs past his shoulders and is in dire need of shampoo. I read the lettering underneath the large marijuana leaf screen-printed on his T-shirt—
It’s 4. 20 somewhere
. He’s obviously aspiring for greatness.

“I’m pretty sure he bought these the last time he was in, but he may not remember,” the clerk says, handing her a few cigars.

“I asked him.” She shoots me a quick and heated glance, one in which her eyes shout
fuck you
, and looks back at the clerk. “But you’re right — he couldn’t remember.”

The clerk hands her three cigars. “So he’s getting worse, huh?”

Her gaze falls to her shoes, which swipe the carpet, drawing nervous patterns.

“Unfortunately. Some days he doesn’t even recognize me.”

I’m definitely an asshole. Not only was her “grandpa” story real, but he has to be a sick grandpa. I peel the egg from my face and go back to searching the cigar selections.

“Oh, Maria, I’m sorry,” the clerk tells her, trying too hard to be sympathetic. “Is there anything I can do?”

“No, but thank you, Pablo.”

Why is she smiling at this loser? He was clearly born during low tide in the gene pool. I’m in here all the time and half of those times, he’s been asleep. He has nothing to offer her. If his IQ were any higher, he’d be a rock.

From the corner of my eye, I see him touch her cheek affectionately, and she lifts her head. Why is he touching her? He’s a bigger douche than I am. I know his play. He wants to take advantage of her vulnerability for the sole purpose of getting laid.

“You know, it may be getting time to consider a home that specializes in people with Alzheimer’s,” he suggests quietly.

“My grandfather would never go for that, and we can’t afford it anyway,” she responds, her sad voice tortured with a mixture of desperation and regret.

Why the fuck I’m still here is baffling. I don’t know this girl, let alone care about her, her “sick grandpa” or what she’s going through. I have my own insurmountable pile of problems to deal with.

“Well, I need to get back up front. If you need anything, you know where to find me.”

“Thanks, Pablo,” she says. The sparkle returns to her eyes as our gazes meet. It’s the first time I really see her face and she smiles. The dimly lit humidor is suddenly bright, as though the roof split in two and the Heavens shine down on us. Cue the fucking choir music, I’m going to church. Somebody, save me.

She’s smoking hot, and my dick is now fully in charge of finding out more about her. She makes a face and looks away. Clearly our exchange didn’t have the same religious-experience feel for her.

I eye Pablo with aversion as he makes his way to the door. He turns and asks, “Do you need any help, sir?

“I’m good,” I reply flatly. When he’s gone, I turn to the girl. “What did he give you?”

She forces an awkward laugh. “Oh, I see. Now you care.”

The hairs on my neck rise. “Excuse me?”

She takes a step closer to me. The look she gives me nearly turns me to stone. “You couldn’t be bothered to offer a suggestion earlier.”

“I …” Actually, I’m speechless. This girl just called me out on my shit.

“What?” Her eyebrows shoot up, and she shrugs. “You couldn’t be nice for the sake of being nice, but now that your conscience has awakened, you want to make amends—help the poor girl with the sick grandpa? Don’t bother.”

“That’s not it,” I lie. That is completely it, although add dirty dancing under the sheets after the helping part. “I thought …”

She rolls her big brown eyes. “You thought I was hitting on you. Don’t flatter yourself! You’re not my type!”

“Is that so?” I say as a challenge, hoping she’ll elaborate.

“It is!” She nods and her lips purse. With her arms folded in front of her chest, her eyes move up and down my body. “Let me guess, with your designer clothing and conceited arrogance, I’m going to say investment banker.”

I scoff. “I’m not a banker.”

“Ha!” she gloats. “But you work in investing. You’re completely transparent, pretty boy, and as shallow as they come.”

Ouch! That hurt, but I’m amused and wiggle my eyebrows at her. “Perfect. You’re not my type, either. My turn.” I deliberately take my time looking her over, stopping at her full breasts for a while before making eye contact with her. “I’d say barista, but with your personality, I bet it’s more like you ask, ‘do you want fries with that?’ eight hours a day.”

She curls her lip and says, “Wrong, and that might hurt if I actually gave a shit what you think about me!”

While she’s pint-sized, maybe five-one, five-two, her attitude is easily seven feet tall, which I find oddly appealing.

“You don’t have to give a shit, but you still want me to feel your kitty. Come on, admit it!”

“You’re an asshole!” she responds instantly.

That’s twice in one morning I’ve been called the glorious A-word. It’s the typical default come-back for women after I’ve shocked them and they’re so pissed they can’t think. I’d like to say twice is my record, but there were those three brunettes I woke up with a couple of weeks ago.

“I’m flattered,” I say and grin sardonically.

She grumbles a string of profanities under her breath in Spanish and I laugh.

“Go to hell!” With one last dirty look, she turns and storms out of the room. I’m left stunned and slightly turned on. No woman has ever spoken to me so confidently, or rejected me so adamantly. Well, except for one. That’s the only thing this girl has in common with Tori.

leave the cigar shop and try not to think about the pretentious jerk inside. The gorgeous pretentious jerk, tall and lean with smoky bedroom eyes and a delicious smile. Maybe I was too harsh, but I’m having a crappy day, and he set me off. I’m also angry with myself for being a sucker for a guy who clearly wants to add me to a growing list of women he smooth-talks into sex. He probably has a drawer full of trinkets from his conquests or a list he keeps in a frame above his bed.

After I pick up my grandfather’s prescription, I walk to my car and feel him behind me. I refuse to turn around, but I know it’s him by his cologne.

“Hey, wait up!” he calls after me, but I keep walking.

When he catches up to me, I spin around and snap, “What?”

He runs a hand through his messily-styled, thick brown hair and smiles. He’s cute, but too cute, and he knows it. He holds my gaze for an uncomfortable amount of time, but in a way that clearly announces his intentions are to get me naked, and ‘feel my kitty’ as soon as feasibly possible.

“I wanted to apologize for earlier.”

His eyes smolder, but all I see is trouble and a cocky superiority in his smug grin, like I should strip off my panties and lie down right here on the sidewalk.

“Great, do you feel better now?”

I push past him and continue walking. He’s in front of me in seconds. I keep going, but he walks backward to stay in my path.

“That wasn’t quite the response I was hoping for,” he says casually, his smile lifting upward in the most overly friendly manner possible.

“No, I’m sure it wasn’t.” I stop walking and put my hand up in front of me. “Look, it’s all good. I don’t know you, and you don’t know me. Now, carry on.”

“Wait. You don’t know who I am?”

I shake my head. “No, but I know your type. You think with your chubby, and all you want from me is to get belly to belly. I’m not interested.”

“Actually I prefer pelvis to ass,” he says with a straight face. He tilts his head as his eyebrows knit together, waiting for me to reply, but I’m speechless, which I’m positive was his goal. His eyes are impossibly gorgeous, and I glance away. “But you don’t know my name?”

What is with the third degree? He’s treading on obnoxious territory here. He didn’t deny his intentions, which means—I’m right.

“Are you a celebrity or something? I hate to bruise your precious ego, but I don’t watch all that much television.”

He looks offended, but his mouth lifts again in a bright smile. It’s genuine, and he suddenly looks boyish and sweet, like an enormous mountain of trouble.

“It’s a cliché, but we got off on the wrong foot. Let’s start again.” He extends his hand. “I’m Ryan.”

“Maria,” I say, and shake his hand, noticing the set in his sharp jaw, which gives away his attempt to play things cool. The only question now is how long it will be before he realizes I’m not his typical desperate admirer and gives up.

“Would you allow me to buy you a drink to properly apologize for acting like an idiot?”

I laugh. I could think of a handful of other adjectives to describe his behavior, but he’s making an effort, and I’m trying to be nice. It would be so easy to say yes, but drinks with him are headed in one direction. He devours women and makes no apologies for it. Foolishly, I’m drawn to him, as I always am to men I know will eventually shred my heart into a million pieces. This time, I refuse to cave. “
Además, este playboy loco piensa que soy fácil,”
I say under my breath.

He grins. “This playboy does not think you’re easy. He simply wants to apologize.”

My skin flames red. Of all the American businessmen I see in TJ, I manage to find the one who speaks the language. I send him a wide-eyed look and quickly lower my head.

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