Unfiltered & Unsaved, page 1part #3 of Unfiltered Series
Book Three of
the Unfiltered Series
~ Payge Galvin & Bridgette Luna ~
Unfiltered & Unsaved © 2014 by Payge Galvin and Bridgette Luna
Excerpt from Unfiltered & Unhinged © 2014 by Payge Galvin and Jane Lukas
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
OTHER BOOKS IN THE UNFILTERED SERIES:
Unfiltered & Unlawful
Unfiltered & Unknown
Unfiltered & Unsaved
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To you, dear reader: BELIEVE in the impossible!
From the back cover of Unfiltered & Unsaved:
After a night-shift shooting of a drug dealer in The Coffee Cave, twelve strangers each walk out with more than $100,000 in dirty money, a pact never to meet again, and the chance to start over…
Hope just wants some peace and quiet and spiritual space when she walks into her favorite coffee shop. What she takes away is a dreadful secret that preys on her mind, driving her away from the comfort of her faith and into the arms of Elijah, a handsome drifter with a ready smile and a taste for more than just her cash.
But Elijah has a secret too: he answers to a dangerous boss bent on getting his hands on Hope’s blood money. She may have put her faith in the wrong man… or the only one who can help her do the right thing.
First there was sex, and then came death…
Brittany was at it again.
As Hope neared the dorm room, she could hear the echo of the headboard pounding the wall, counterpointed with the constant moans and cries that her roommate had learned from the stream of porn her temporary crushes brought as instructional videos. Oh God, yes, fuck, give it to me wasn’t exactly what Hope wanted to hear at damn-it’s-late o’clock when she had a headache, a major essay due, and another test looming on the horizon.
Hope stood ten feet from the door, glaring at the neon pink scarf dangling from the doorknob (Brittany’s standard go away signal). She willed lightning to strike, but as usual, if God was planning on doling out punishment, He was willing to take his time about it. I really need to get a new place, she thought for about the thousandth time. Of course, there was just no way to swing the moving expenses, security deposit, first and last months’ rent—even if she could have passed the credit check, which she couldn’t.
When she’d last (politely) asked Brittany if she’d mind not having so many boyfriends over, or at least letting her know ahead of time so she wouldn’t be locked out, the other girl had given her a blank, flat look and said, “If you’d get laid even once we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Get over your purity ring already.”
Which was not fair, because Hope didn’t even have a purity ring. Well, not anymore. She just didn’t want to have sex with every single man who crossed her path.
Or even one, so far.
That didn’t mean she was blind or frigid or something, because she didn’t like to admit it, but she was standing in the hallway, listening to the bed-destroying sex her vapid roommate was having and wondering what it would be like to just let go like that, to surrender to sheer lust and have a man’s hands all over her and his body on hers and in her … and it was all too real, and she felt hot and wired and her imagination painted far too vivid a picture of not just his rock-hard toned body and the sweat that rolled down his chest, but the chiseled hollows of his hips as they flexed and drove and thrust and made her beg for…
“More, oh God, please,” Brittany moaned, and the fact that her roommate overlaid her own mental voice shocked Hope out of that moment, back to reality. Back listening in the hallway like some total perv as the moaning and begging and headboard-hammering rose to a four-star review level, and then there was Brittany’s trademark orgasm scream. Everybody on the floor knew it by now, because it was so theatrical that dogs howled three blocks away.
A door opened across the hall, and Mattie looked out. She saw Hope in the hall and gave her a sympathetic smile as she rolled her eyes. Hope tried not to laugh, but failed miserably.
“You think she’s done?” she asked Mattie. The other girl shook her head and fidgeted with her thick brown braid.
“Oh hell no. She usually goes at least two rounds if they’re in a frat or really cute.”
“What’s this one?”
“Really cute and in a frat,” Mattie said. “You’re in for a siege. Want your go bag?”
“Sure,” Hope sighed. Mattie silently reached down and then held out a small duffel bag with the ASU Rio Verde logo on it that Hope had stuffed with the essentials—a change of underwear, some energy bars, water, toothbrush. Some people planned for disasters. Hope planned for Brittany’s libido.
It mystified Hope how her roommate could get this endless string of young studs to follow her to that well-used bed … some of them were actually kind of nice, which she could always tell because those were the ones who avoided her eyes while hastily grabbing their pants and getting the hell out afterward.
The not-so-nice ones sometimes drunkenly asked if she was going to join in. One or two had groped her while asking.
“Thanks for holding this for me,” Hope said.
“You’d do the same for me. Thank God, you don’t have to, though. Who’d have guessed having a roommate with crippling social anxiety problems would be a bonus?”
Hope sighed. “Better break out the headphones,” she said. “I’ll be at the Cave. Would you text me when he leaves?”
“Will do, if I don’t fall asleep first. You ought to just pay that coffee shop the rent,” Mattie said. “I’ll bet you don’t get kicked out for sexcapades nearly as often, and I’ll bet nobody is fucking on their floor.”
Hope smiled. It still felt weirdly artificial, because she’d grown up never hearing that word spoken aloud. Being homeschooled was sometimes a real bitch (another word she’d rarely heard in person, until high school, and it had been said about her in the first five minutes). High school might have been awful, but it had given her a solid education in cursing.
“Have a good night,” she said. Mattie waved and shut her door, and Hope cast one last, longing look at her dorm room door and thought, maybe this time she’ll be done early …
And then she heard a man’s voice from the room saying, “Oh yeah, like that, that’s how I like it baby, suck it,” and she turned and headed for the elevator.
It was wrong that she was blaming Brittany for the tense, hot ball of sexual frustration that was aching inside her. So very wrong.
The Coffee Cave wasn’t the closest coffee shop to the campus—that honor belonged to about half a dozen Starbucks, Starbucks knock-offs, and a head shop that also made mochas and lattes behind the counter—but she liked it the best because it made decent coffee, had live music that wasn’t too obnoxious, and the atmosphere was usually mellow, except around closing time for the bars down the street. She usually biked the t
She couldn’t deny that the slight vibration humming through the light aluminum frame and up through the padded seat also felt really … good. Not good enough, of course, but good.
It felt as if each lonely block that scrolled past scraped away a layer of discomfort, and she felt light, free and calm by the time she dismounted the bike and rolled it to the rack in front of the coffee shop’s door. The place seemed busier than usual, but she didn’t mind so much. She had headphones, if she needed them, although she saw Dillon on the stage, which meant quality music.
Hope walked through the door of The Coffee Cave wanting simple things: a quiet corner in which to read her Bible, which she tried to do every day, then study with the help of a hefty cup of strong coffee. Dillon, the guitar player, was tuning up on the small stage (and yes, he was hot; Brittany would have been all over him), and there were the requisite couple of drunk girls giggling and tottering on their stilettos. The baristas, Cass and Sugar, were making drinks and (at least in Sugar’s case) looking like they’d rather be anywhere but here.
A normal night.
And then it turned not normal at all.
Two hours later, Hope was peddling her bike aimlessly around campus, crying in painful, empty jerks. Her backpack, crammed full of cash, felt like the weight of a body dragging her down to hell. Things kept flashing in front of her eyes, with nightmarish full color and sound—the fight, the gunshot, the panic. The man’s open, dead eyes.
God worked in mysterious ways, she kept trying to tell herself, but all she could think about was the gunshot, the dead man on the floor, the blood, and the inescapable feeling that she had done something she could never, ever take back.
She didn’t go home, not that first night. When she thought of doing it, she just … couldn’t, and couldn’t analyze why. Maybe it would have seemed too much like she was okay with what had happened, and she really, really wasn’t.
She spent that first, sleepless night at a cheap motel a few blocks from campus, one popular with visiting relatives and cheating businessmen alike; it had been a good place to curl up into a ball and sob herself senseless, at least. She slept the next day in her sex-reeking dorm room, since her roommate had vanished again, and then crashed in Mattie’s room on the floor when Brittany and the inevitable hookup had shown up.
Hope couldn’t stop crying for very long. That terrible feeling was always just a breath away, waiting for a slammed door or the smell of brewing coffee (or just some raised voices) to trigger it in a wave that drove hot tears into her eyes and made her heart stammer in panic. Mattie hadn’t pushed her about it, except to ask if she needed to see a counselor. Hope had been horrifyingly glad that she’d backed off; it would have been too easy to blurt things out just so the tremendous pressure inside her wouldn’t break her apart.
She’d hoped the next morning would look brighter, but instead she felt grubby, body and soul. She was stiff from sleeping on a lumpy pile of pillows, and the dead weight of the backpack leaning on her right leg never let her forget for even a second that her life had changed. Forever.
I have to get rid of it, she thought. It was as if the bag vibrated with its own dark, horrible life.
She’d tried from force of habit to go into the small coffee shop on campus, but the second she caught that distinctive smell of beans and brew, a cold wave of sickness had swept over her, and she’d retreated. Next best thing was this place, the University Center cafeteria. The coffee here came in industrial-sized dispensers, and she could hardly smell it at all at a distance, thank God. She’d usually have grabbed the largest size possible, but today she’d gone with water. Just water. As she stared at the condensation beading up on the sides of the bottle, she felt her eyes welling up again with tears. It wasn’t that she felt any sadder, just that the impulse to cry struck at odd and utterly baffling moments.
“Excuse me, ma’am? Can I grab space at your table?”
Hope gasped and looked up, blinking away the budding crying binge. Standing in front of her table was a smiling young man about her age—no, maybe a year or two older, edging toward graduation. Unlike most of those sitting around sprawled at—or face down on—tables, he was well dressed, with neatly pressed chino pants, a dark red checked shirt, and shoes that hadn’t been designed for a basketball court. His hair had been recently trimmed into a neat, soft style that made her immediately flash on how it would feel against her fingers. He had a nice face, too, lean and angled, with dimples that carved deep to bracket a sweet smile. He had big brown eyes and a clean shave and broad shoulders, and she couldn’t help but hesitantly smile right back at him.
He was carrying a disposable cup with the flag of a tea bag fluttering on the lip of it.
Did he just call me Ma’am?
She took a deep breath and said, “Sure, please sit down.” She shut her Bible—not that she was actually reading it, more just waiting for its contents to reach out and comfort her of their own accord—and zipped it shut. Her fingers automatically smoothed over the embroidery on the cover that her mother had done—precise crewel flowers and her name in dark blue script. The ritual soothed her a little.
“Thanks for the rescue, I think my hand might have actually caught fire. Ow.“ He set the tea down and flexed his fingers. “When they say hot tea, they aren’t kidding around. I think I seared off my fingerprints.”
She held out her still-closed bottle of water, which beaded sweat from the chiller, and he wrapped his hand around it with a sigh of relief.
“Thanks,” he said. “I think you saved the hand.”
“On the upside, you’ll make a great criminal with no fingerprints. Sorry. They do pour it boiling around here.”
“There’s boiling, and then there’s nuclear.” He wiped his now-damp palm on his shirt and held it out to her. “Hey, I’m Elijah Crane. E.J. to my friends. Thanks for the save.”
That smile was freaking amazing. He was also polite, and she wasn’t prepared for good manners any more than she had been for the tea, or the dimples. She also needed some kind of connection, she realized; she’d been sitting here feeling nightmarishly isolated and alone, and having him show up and shine a light into that darkness felt like … a miracle. “I’m Hope.”
“That’s a great name. Nice to meet you, Hope.” He pulled out a chair and sat, nudging his tea around and watching it with the kind of distrust usually reserved for unexploded bombs. He eased a heavy-looking backpack from his shoulder and sat it down next to his chair, unzipped it, and took out a stack of papers that he put on the table next to his hot tea and her water bottle. He looked up at her and smiled again, but it faded a little, and he asked, “Are you okay? You look a little upset.”
“Oh, no, I’m okay,” she lied, and forced a smile. “Just having a bad day.”
“I get that.” He nodded toward her side of the table. “Are you studying theology?”
“What? Oh, my Bible. No, it’s not a major, just a comfort. I’m a biology major, actually,” she said. “I’m hoping to go pre-med. What about you?” To her surprise, she found she wanted to know. There was something about him that seemed so open and easy. Getting to know him would feel more like fun than work, and she desperately craved a little fun just now.
“I’m not enrolled here. Truth is, I’m just checking out the campus right now and taking a look around before I decide to transfer in. So how do you like it here?” He blew on the too-hot surface of the tea as he watched her. She wasn’t used to that kind of close study from guys … not guys like him, anyway. It felt … intimate. It raised a faintly warm blush in her cheeks, and she could only hold h
“It’s fine, I guess,” she said. “ASU Rio Verde isn’t exactly Ivy League, but it’s a good starter school. I’m hoping to go someplace really good for post-grad work.” Two days ago, she’d had a plan … every step laid out in advance. Four years here (three if she could manage the course work and maintain that pristine four-point-oh) and then off to one of the finer educational institutions for her master’s degree. She’d had her eye on Johns Hopkins, maybe Duke or Washington University in St. Louis. She’d even had a plan for how to save the money and get the right mix of grants and loans and support from her folks back home in Georgia.
That clearly marked road map had been crumpled and then set on fire, and what was ahead of her looked more like a bleak, leaden wilderness now with no roads, no map, no plan on how to make her way through it. No light at the end of her personal tunnel, just more tunnel, and the distant rumble of a train heading her way.
Elijah was nodding in agreement. “Yeah, that’s my plan, too—save money on undergrad, spend it on post-grad. The first school counts, but the second one is what they’ll really see on the job application. I’d rather not spend my whole life paying off the student loans. Just half of it, like everybody else.”
“What’s your major? I mean, what would it be if you do come here?” Even as she said it, she felt cheap and stupid; it was the opening gambit in just about every college conversation at a party, and here she was parroting it back. But he just gave her another smile, with those luscious dimples, and the understanding in it made her feel warm and comfortable for the first time in what seemed like … days. He tried the tea. It must have been less than lava-temperature now, because he sipped carefully.
“I’m undecided,” he said, which was definitely a normal answer, especially at ASU-RV. The place was full of undecideds. It was probably the majority of the student body. “Kind of thinking about Liberal Arts with a focus in English Literature. Not nearly as much … math.” He said that with the same dread most people reserved for public speaking.