Dirty Headlines(2)

Watch the sunset in Key West.

Eat one perfect macaron in Paris.

Our bucket list was etched in a notebook I’d keenly named Kipling, and it was burning a hole through my bag right now.

I hadn’t meant to throw up on Milton’s doorstep, but it was not a big surprise, considering what I’d just walked into. The bastard had skidded on my breakfast as he chased me down the hall, but I’d pushed the emergency stairway door open and taken the stairs two at a time. Milton had been very much naked, with a condom still dangling from his half-mast dick, and at some point he’d decided bursting into the street in his birthday suit was not a good plan.

I’d run until my lungs burned and my Chucks were wet and muddy.

Bumping into shoulders, and umbrellas, and street vendors in the pounding rain.

I was angry, desperate and shocked—but I wasn’t devastated. My heart was cracked, but not broken.

“The heart is a lonely hunter, Jude.”

I’d needed to forget—forget about Milton, the stacks of bills, and my unfortunate lack of employment the past few months. I’d needed to drown in alcohol and hot skin.

The stranger in the suite had given me exactly that, and now he was about to give me something we had never agreed on.

Judging by this place, though, he won’t have trouble paying for the cab to the airport.

A curved, wrought-iron staircase that cost more than my entire apartment stared back at me, leading to a Jacuzzi the size of my room. Plush, red-tufted velvet couches taunted me. Floor-to-ceiling windows dared me to drink in the view of well-heeled Manhattan with my poor eyes. And the teardrop chandelier looked eerily similar to little sperm.

And to make it through next week, Judith Penelope Humphry, you will stop thinking about jizz and move on with your plan.

I reached for the back pocket of his Tom Ford dress pants, where he’d tucked his wallet shortly after sliding out a chain of condoms, and examined it in my shaking hands. A Bottega Veneta leather creation, black and unwrinkled. My throat bobbed, but I still couldn’t swallow my nerves.

I flipped the wallet open and slipped out the stack of cash. Turned out Stranger Junior wasn’t the only thing thick about this one. I counted hurriedly, my eyes flaring as they took in all the cash.

Hundred…two…three…six…eight…Fifteen hundred. Thank you, Jesus.

I could practically hear Jesus scolding me. “Don’t thank me. Pretty sure thou shalt not steal was way up there on my not-to-do list.”

Yanking my phone out of my shoulder bag, I searched the brand of the wallet in my hand. Turns out it cost a little less than seven hundred bucks. My dysfunctional, albeit heavy heart pounded as I began to toss out plastic cards without giving them a second glance. The wallet was sellable, and as it turned out, so were my morals.

My gut knotted in shame, and I felt my face growing hot. He was going to wake up and hate me, regret the minute he’d approached me at the bar. I wasn’t supposed to care. He was going to leave New York come morning, and I would never see him again.

Once his wallet was empty, and all his cards and IDs neatly arranged on his nightstand, I slipped back into my dress and electric pink—although crusted in mud—Chucks and chanced one last look at him.

He was completely naked, his groin haphazardly covered by the sheet. With every breath he took, his six pack tightened. Even in sleep, he didn’t look vulnerable. Like a Greek god, he rose above susceptibility. Men like him were too conceited to be played. I was glad there was going to be an ocean between us soon.

I opened the door and hugged its frame.

“I’m so sorry,” I whispered, kissing the tips of my fingers and brushing them over the air between us.

I waited until I was out of the hotel before I let the first tear fall.

Five hours earlier.

I stumbled into a bar, hiccupping a whiskey order to the bartender between sniffs and shaking the rain out of my long, dirty-blond hair.

I tugged at the collar of my black dress and groaned into the drink he slid across the bar for me. My Chucks—I’d opted for low-top pinks this morning as I’d still been foolishly optimistic when I left the house—dangled in the air while my 5-foot-2 frame sat on the stool. My earbuds were firmly tucked into my ears, but I didn’t want to taint my playlist of perfect songs with today’s shitty mood. If I listened to a song I liked now, I’d forever associate it with the day I found out Milton liked it doggy-style after all, just not with me.

I tried to give myself an internal pep talk as I gulped whiskey I couldn’t afford like it was water.

My job interview had gone horrifically bad, but my heart had never been set on working for a Christian gluten-free-diet magazine anyway.

Milton had cheated on me. But I’d always had my doubts about him. His smile always dropped too soon after we’d hung out with my dad or met someone on the street. His right eyebrow always arched when someone wasn’t in agreement with him.

As for the growing medical bills—I would find a way to tackle them. Dad and I owned our apartment in Brooklyn. Worse came to worst, we’d sell and rent. Besides, I didn’t need both my kidneys.

I was sniveling into my drink when the scent of cedarwood, sage, and an impending sin skulked into my nostrils. I didn’t bother to raise my head, even when he said, “Semi-drunk and conventionally beautiful: a predator’s wet dream.”

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