Home > Guilty Pleasure (Redemption #4)

Guilty Pleasure (Redemption #4)
Author: Jessica Prince

Chapter One

 

 

Lark

 

 

“Shit,” I hissed as my body reacted violently to the sign that came into view. “Welcome to Redemption” it read in big bold letters, like that announcement was something to be excited about. “Shit, shit, shit, shit.”

My hands suddenly grew clammy, I could feel sweat pebbling on my brow, and I had a gnawing sensation in the pit of my stomach, warning me I was dangerously close to ralphing. I’d figured that, after seven years, being back in this place wouldn’t have any effect on me. But from the way the gas station burrito I’d had for lunch four hours ago was now sitting in my gut like a rock—all thanks to a stupid sign—it was abundantly clear I’d been wrong.

“What is it? What happened?” My best friend’s voice came through the car’s speakers, jolting me back to the present. “Did you run over a cat or a possum or something?” She sucked in a dramatic gasp and stage-whispered, “Oh hell. Was it a person?”

My nose scrunched up at the morbid turn her mind took. “God, no. What’s wrong with you? Why does your brain jump to the absolute worst-case scenario every single time?”

“First, because it keeps things interesting. And second, it’s not much of a leap in this instance. I know what a shitty driver you are, babe. So thinking you might’ve accidentally plowed into some innocent bystander unlucky enough to be in your path isn’t really a stretch.”

“That was one time!” I cried defensively. “I already told you, I barely bumped him. And, anyway, his bike took the brunt of it.”

Her snort came through the speakers loud and clear. “Wonder how much therapy that kid had to endure?”

“Really funny, asshole,” I grumbled. “And no, I didn’t run over anything or anyone. I just passed the welcome sign.”

“Ah, I see.” Her deep exhale rang through my car. “Well, if there’s any reason to curse your way through the Bible Belt, that would be it.”

For the past several years, I’d done everything possible to keep from making any strong, lasting connections, knowing all too well they only led to heartbreak and pain. But Aurora was different.

Since running away from Redemption years ago, she was the only person who’d managed to penetrate the force field I kept around myself. She’d basically forced her friendship on me whether I liked it or not, and I was so damn grateful for that. She knew me inside and out, better than anyone. Well—almost anyone. She knew all about my past and exactly why I dreaded being back in this town.

“Rora, I made a huge mistake. I don’t think I can do this.”

“Enough of that,” she scolded, adopting the same tone she used whenever she thought I was wimping out, like when I said I couldn’t possibly eat one more slice of pizza or whenever I tried to wave off a shot of tequila. She used that voice when she claimed I was, in her words, bitching out. “You’ve got this. You know you do. What am I always telling you?”

I let out a sigh and parroted the words she was always preaching, only I said them with reluctance while she always said them with power. “I’m a badass bitch who can take care of myself.”

“Damn right you are,” she crowed through the Bluetooth. “Screw the assholes in that town and what they think of you. You aren’t there for them. You’re there for Sissy. She needs you, so suck it up, pull up your big girl panties, and handle your shit like the strong, independent woman you are.”

I felt one corner of my mouth quirk up in a semblance of a grin. “You’re about to break out in a Beyoncé song, aren’t you?”

“I was thinking Taylor Swift, but I know that chick makes your ears bleed, so I held myself back.”

“Much appreciated,” I said on a soft chuckle. “And you’re right. I’m here for Sissy. I’ve got this.”

If there was one person who could get me to return to this place, it was Aunt Sissy. She was the only person in my life who had never given up on me. When I was plunked down on her doorstep as a sullen, angst-ridden eighteen-year-old with a chip the size of Rhode Island on my shoulder, she’d never once made me feel like I didn’t belong. No matter how rude I’d been in an attempt to push her away, she’d never wavered. Her love and kindness and support were unflinching and constant.

She guided me past the moody, emo kid I’d been upon my arrival in Redemption. And she taught me to be strong enough to hold my head up and keep going when life continued to kick me in the gut after I was already down.

She was the closest thing I had to a parent since I lost my mom at six years old, so when I found out she was sick I didn’t even blink at the idea of uprooting my entire life to go back to a town I hated so I could help take care of her. Truthfully, there was nothing I wouldn’t do for my aunt.

“Yeah, you do,” Aurora said proudly. “And remember, I’m just a phone call away. If anyone’s mean to you, I’m on the first flight out there to kick some ass. Got it?”

“Got it,” I answered, feeling a million times lighter than I had only minutes ago. “Love you, sweetie.”

“Love you back, babe. Call me anytime for anything, yeah?”

“Yeah, Rora. Talk soon.”

I hit the button on my steering wheel to end the call just as the little light on my dash blinked to life, letting me know I’d rolled into town on fumes and needed to fill the gas tank.

I’d split the drive from Nebraska to Tennessee between two days, stopping in Missouri the night before to catch a few hours of sleep before starting the second leg. I’d hoped to blow through town and head straight for Sissy’s without stopping, but as bad of a driver as Aurora claimed I was—and that was the God’s honest truth—I was equally as bad at remembering to keep the tank from running bone dry.

Spotting the sign for a gas station, I turned into the lot, pulled up to one of the empty pumps, and killed the engine. I got out and swiped my card through the reader. As I pulled the nozzle out and slid it into my car’s tank, I felt a strange itching sensation on the back of my neck, an uncomfortable prickling that didn’t go away even after I lifted a hand and scratched at it.

My grip on the handle tightened as I glanced across the lot. My gaze immediately collided with a guy who was leaning against a big, jacked-up truck that screamed I have a tiny dick and this makes me feel like a man.

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