If I'd Known_The Cursed Series Part 1, page 11
“Nothing to worry about,” I tell myself. Is that true?
Allie’s alive. That’s a good thing. And she’s the only other person who knows what really happened.
“But he told me he loved me.” My mother’s words come out muffled with her face buried in the pillow.
I stand by the door, peeking in. I’m supposed to be in bed, but my mom’s crying woke me up.
“And why would you believe him?” my grandmother asks, scowling down at her daughter with her arms crossed. “How many times do I have to tell you, those words are the most poisonous lies ever spewed from a man’s mouth?”
“Want to sit on the green with me while we wait for them?” Joey asks, taking my hand and kissing my palm.
I smile gently. “Sure.” I watch him get out of the Jeep. Maybe this day doesn’t have to be a total nightmare.
Joey meets me at the back of the Jeep. His sweatshirt hangs low on me, creating the illusion that it’s the only thing I’m wearing. He fights to hide a grin when he sees me. If he says something stupid like, I like you in my clothes, I’m going to throw it at him and get back in the Jeep. Wearing a guy’s clothes has this weird effect on them, like it’s some twisted sign of ownership. And I’m not a possession. Joey offers me his hand instead. I accept it, relieved he keeps whatever comment I saw flash across his face to himself.
We pass between a line of small evergreen trees that separate the delivery area from the golf course and carefully tread down a steep embankment until we’re on the finely groomed golf course. Joey leads us to a circular area where the grass is even shorter before letting go of my hand to sit with his legs stretched out in front of him.
I untie my wedges and sink my feet into the lush, cool grass. Sitting down next to him, I pull my knees up to my chest and stretch the sweatshirt over them.
“Are you cold?” Joey asks, wrapping an arm around me and tucking me against his side.
“No, I’m good.” I lean into him, resting my head on his chest.
It’s so quiet here, it’s almost unsettling.
“What colleges are you considering?”
The question seems so out of nowhere. I lean back to look up at him. “What?”
“When we were in the car, Nina said you were going to college. Where are you looking?”
“She was holding a gun to Vic’s head, and you remember that?” I ask, laughing.
Joey shrugs with a lopsided grin. I laugh again.
“I have no idea why she said that,” I tell him. “My guidance counselor keeps sending me home with brochures. But I haven’t really thought about it.”
“Why should I? Having a college degree doesn’t mean I won’t end up working at a coffee shop when I graduate, except I’ll have a shitload of student loans to pay off on top of it.”
“Don’t you have dreams of becoming something … more?” He studies me intently, waiting. I don’t know what makes me more uncomfortable, the question or that he’s honestly interested in my answer.
“More than what? College won’t change who I am,” I say, shifting my focus away from his scrutinizing gaze and leaning back against his side. “I’m not sure what the point is … wanting more from life than I’ve already been given. Money doesn’t make you happy. I can’t see how working eighty hours a week will either.”
“Then what will … make you happy?”
“What’s with these questions?” I counter evasively, sitting up straight so that his arm falls away.
“Hey,” he soothes, scooting closer and setting his hand on my waist, “I’m just trying to get to know more about you.”
“Uh … because I like you,” he offers carefully. “We don’t have to talk about you, if you don’t want to.”
I know I’m being a bitch and should feel bad, but honestly, I don’t trust anyone who wants to know more than my name. And I’m not sure how to explain that to him without making it awkward.
“Would you rather ask me questions? Or … we can just sit here. They should be here soon.”
And now … it is awkward. Crap. Why do I suck at this so much?
I search for something, anything, to say so it’s not so tense. I’ve never dated a guy or even been out on a date. We go to parties and bars where small talk is just that. Stupid, mindless conversation that leads to making out or getting felt up in a dark corner. Even the guy I regularly hook up with keeps the pillow talk to a minimum. It’s just about the sex, and that’s completely fine with me. I don’t want anyone to get to know me.
“Tell me something embarrassing,” I blurt.
Joey lets out a short laugh. “We can’t talk about you, but I have to reveal something embarrassing? That’s fair.”
“Maybe if you share something vulnerable, I’ll feel more comfortable.”
I bat my eyes at him dramatically. He chuckles.
“Umm … ” He searches the sky in contemplation.
“Don’t think too much about it. The first thing that comes to mind.”
“The first time I had an erection, I was in church.”
“Wha—” I can’t even get the word out before I burst out laughing. “Details.”
I know that if I could see him clearly his face would be bright red.
He continues, “This really pretty girl was sitting in front of me—I think she went to school with Parker actually—and during the greet-your-neighbor part of the sermon, she turned around, and when she bent over to hug me, I got a face full of boobs. Let’s just say, I held on tight until my grandmother swatted me with her purse.”
“What’d the girl do?” I ask, still chuckling.
“She laughed, especially when she saw the tent in my khakis. My grandmother was mortified, and my mother yelled, ‘William!’ so loud that half the church turned around and stared at me cupping my crotch. I had no idea what was happening or how to make it go away. It was undeniably the most embarrassing moment of my life.”
My stomach’s hurting I’m laughing so hard “That’s amazing!” I finally catch my breath. “Why’d she call you William?”
“My full name is three first names, and everyone calls me something different. It even confuses me sometimes.”
“Joseph William Harrison?”
He nods slowly. “That’s it.”
I raise my eyebrows. “Add some Roman numerals to the end and you could be royalty.”
Joey laughs. “I’m the furthest thing from honorable.”
“Really?” I question, leaning in until we’re a breath apart. “I don’t know if I believe that,” I say, tempting him with a salacious grin.
I watch his mouth part. His eyes don’t leave mine. He wraps a hand around the back of my neck and pulls me to him.
I close my eyes, anticipating the touch of his lips. And when they finally find me, my whole world stills. A lightness overtakes me, swirling in my head. His mouth caresses mine, stealing my breath. A small moan escapes at the caress of his tongue. I can’t breathe, but I don’t want to. I grip the front of his shirt, needing to get closer. Needing him. His arm tightens around my waist. I am lost in him, in this kiss.
Joey slowly pulls away, our breaths mingling in quick pants. His hand still cups my neck as he gently presses his forehead to mine. “I can’t tell you how long I’ve wanted to do that.”
Before we can connect again, his phone chimes.
With an apologetic groan, he leans away and pulls it out of his pocket. He reads the screen, then looks across the golf course to the far side of the clubhouse. “They’re here. Told us to meet them at the pool.”
Four silhouettes approach the waist-high fence surrounding the pool and climb over. I only have a second to process what they’re planning before I see someone, who I assume to be Nina, pull her dress over her head.
I turn back to Joey. “Not yet. Okay?”
He grins and nods before texting a reply and set
Without hesitating, he pulls me onto his lap and I straddle him, our lips crashing together. We are not gentle—groping, groaning and grinding. Our breathing is as frantic as our heartbeats. My fingers tangle in his hair. His hands slide under the sweatshirt and grip my bare back. I don’t pull away to breathe. I could seriously die kissing him.
Joey pulls the sweatshirt roughly over my head and flips me so I’m lying on top of it, his body pressed to me. His mouth tastes down the lines of my neck and into the revealing slope of the halter. I wrap my legs around him and tilt my head back, consumed by his touch. I tug at the edges of his shirt, desperate to run my hands along his skin. He separates long enough to yank it over his head and toss it on the grass.
His body crushes me in the best possible way and I gasp.
“You feel so good,” he murmurs against my neck, sucking the skin below my ear.
I grip him tighter, moving beneath him.
He groans with a heavy breath. “Oh god, Lana, I love you.”
Joey begins to lift my shirt, and I grab his hands, stopping him.
“Get off me.”
He looks down at me, confusion surfacing beneath the lust. “What?”
I shove hard at his chest. “Get off me!”
Joey rolls to the side, not resisting. Realization and shock flash across his face. His mouth drops open, but nothing comes out. I stand, adjusting my shirt and snatching my shoes.
“Lana!” Joey calls to me, his tone laden with panic. “Don’t go.”
But I’m already storming away, rage pulsing through my veins. I can feel the muscles along my neck protruding.
I focus on the pool, blocking him out. He’d better stay the fuck away from me. If he follows me or tries to touch me, I swear I will castrate him.
My footsteps stumble. The voice is deeper, not Joey’s. I turn and am blinded by a bright spotlight.
“Stay right there.”
I don’t have to see to know he’s a police officer. So … I run.
The pool seems so fricken far away right now. And when I’m halfway there, I watch Parker, Lincoln, Tori and Nina scramble up and out of the pool. They grab their clothes as they run for the fence. The spotlight veers away from me for just a moment to illuminate them. It gives me the second I need to push into the hedges along the side of the clubhouse.
I hear the police car pull out of the delivery area. I consider running for it, but by this time, the four of them are already disappearing into the trees. I can’t see what’s on the other side, but I have to assume it’s where Parker left his car.
As much as I don’t want to, I look back to where I left Joey, but I don’t see him. A second later, I hear the Jeep start up and pull away. Where’s he going?
I’m about to step out of the hedges, not sure where to go, when the police car comes into view again at the pool side of the clubhouse, its spotlight shining on the blue water. I shove back into the hedges, scraping my arms against the prickly branches, just as the light swings up, sweeping along the golf course toward where Joey and I were on the green.
I hug my knees to my chest, trying to make myself as small as possible when the light passes in front of the hedges. I close my eyes, afraid to even breathe. When I open them again, the light is gone and I exhale. I wait for what feels like an eternity before poking my head out. The police car is pulling away, its spotlight still searching the area as it turns onto a road on the other side of the trees. It doesn’t stop. Parker must have driven off, which means … they left me.
I stay in the hedges another couple minutes in case the cops decide to circle back. This is pathetic. They really have nothing better to do than to chase after skinny-dippers on a Friday night? Considering we’re in Oaklawn, that’s probably a major offense.
When I finally emerge from the confines of the hedges, my legs and arms are streaked with fine red scratches, and I’m covered in green needles. Pulling the elastic free, I shake out my hair, tiny green slivers raining down. When I secure it back on top of my head, I realize my headband’s missing.
“Shit,” I grumble.
That’s one of the few nice things I own—an heirloom from my mother that my grandmother gave to her. I try to retrace my steps, searching for it, but it’s too dark to see anything in the grass. Giving up, I decide to walk back toward the pool, just in case Joey is parked somewhere near the delivery area or comes back there to get me. I’d rather walk back to Sherling than get in the car with him.
“I love you?” I growl, the words inciting a rush of riotous fury. “What the fuck?”
I can’t believe he said that. Those words. The worst of all lies.
I clench my fists with my shoes dangling between my fingers. “I love you?!” My stomach rolls and bile rises in the back of my throat.
I can’t believe I let him touch me. That I thought for a second that he was actually a decent guy. So stupid!
When I reach the road on the other side of the trees, it’s deserted. The street is lined with huge houses with lanterns lit on either side of their doors and at the end of their driveways. The front lawns and hedges are perfectly trimmed, just like the golf course, but no one’s on the street. I walk in the direction of the road leading to the main street. The entire time, I’m hexing Joey and every other guy who has ever used those words to seduce or manipulate a girl.
I’m halfway down the road that divides the golf course when headlights flood the dark. I am completely exposed with nowhere to hide. But right now, I don’t care if I’m picked up by the police. My feet hurt. I’m cold. And the anger has drained all the life out of me. This night honestly can’t get any worse.
The car slows as it nears. It’s a gold or tan-colored Land Rover. I keep my head down and continue walking past it when it stops across from me and the driver’s window rolls down.
I pause and lift my head.
I stare at Parker for a second before crossing the street toward him, my shoulders slumped in defeat. I open the back door, expecting to find the car full, but it’s empty.
“Sit in the front,” he instructs.
I close the back door and climb into the passenger seat. “Where is everyone?”
“With Joey. I met him on the side of the road. He said you were still here.” Parker comes to a stop at the intersection with the main road and looks at me. “He said it’d be better if I came to get you. The girls were starving, so they went with him. They said to meet them at Stella’s.”
“If he’s going to be there, then just take me home,” I tell Parker.
Parker pulls onto the main street, his car still the only one on the road. “What happened?”
I stare at the same encroaching dark forest as before, unable to look at him. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“He didn’t hurt you, right?” Parker says this like even the idea of it is impossible.
“No,” I huff. “He’s a liar. Just like everyone else.”
Parker doesn’t respond. Neither of us speaks as he drives through Oaklawn, eventually crossing into Sherling.
“You don’t lie.”
I turn my head, his words cutting through the prolonged silence. “How do you know?”
“I remember you telling me once that you don’t lie—ever. And … I believe you. You’ve never lied to me, even when I wished you had.” He releases a low chuckle. “You really don’t, do you?”
“No, I don’t,” I reply simply.
“Then can I ask you one question that you promise to answer?”
I shift in my seat so I’m angled toward him, intrigued by the request. This could be dangerous. But Parker doesn’t exactly seem like the kind of guy who wants to explore the depths of my soul. If Joey had asked this, my answer would have been an automatic no. I narrow my eyes, considering Parker’s
He grins when I hesitate. “It’s just one question, Lana. How bad could the truth be?”
I lean back against the seat. “If I agree, what do I get in return?”
Parker laughs. “What do you want?”
“Stop hooking up with Nina,” I tell him without thinking. And I’m not sure why this is my demand. I don’t want him, and I’m not jealous of them. But it’s something that’s always bothered me. Perhaps because I know how toxic they are together, and I want better for Nina. And maybe for Parker too.
“Done,” he answers immediately. “I’d actually already decided that earlier tonight, so your wish was kind of a waste. So that means I get to ask you anything, and you have to tell me the truth.”
I exhale in resignation. “What do you want to know?”
Parker flashes me a wily grin. “I didn’t say I was going to ask you now. I think I’ll save it.”
I roll my eyes. “You’re so dramatic.”
Parker laughs. “Always.”
The streetlights of Sherling fill the darkness. Cars and buses pass on either side of us. Exhausted, I half-focus on the closed storefronts hidden by graffiti-tagged gates and the people loitering outside of the few bars that are still open.
Parker pulls into Stella’s pocked dirt parking lot. I scan the cars in search of Joey’s Jeep.
“He’s not here,” Parker assures me. “I texted him to go.”
“Thanks,” I say softly, unclicking the seat belt. “Well, I’d say it was fun, but it wasn’t.”
Parker gives me a sympathetic smile. “I was serious earlier when I said I got you, Lana. I do. Anytime you need me, I’m here.” He opens up his console and pulls out my phone. “You have my number now. Use it anytime.”
“You hacked into my phone?” I narrow my eyes. He smiles wickedly. “You’re trouble.”
Parker smiles wider, not denying it. I realize a second too late that I’m staring at him, lost in his seductive smile. His hand brushes against my cheek, tucking loose strands of hair behind my ear. I pull away when his thumb caresses my lower lip.
He grins. “We will happen, you know.”
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