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Watch Me Fall

By:Cherrie Lynn

Chapter One

“Have you ever thought about how close to death we are at every moment?”

Starla Kimbrell’s fingers froze midtext. A chill lifted the fine hairs at her nape, but she did her best to huff out an exasperated sigh and look unaffected. Max glanced over at her from the driver’s seat of the older-model Mustang currently hurtling down a dark ribbon of Texas farm road. “Well, have you?”

“Don’t start your shit tonight. I’m not in the mood.”

“Seriously, Star. Look. My hands on the steering wheel, for example.”

She side-eyed the subject of his attention, debating whether she should finish her text to Janelle with a quick last will and testament. Not that she had much to leave to anyone.

The ground on either side of the car dropped away as they crossed onto the Perkins Creek Bridge, and Starla squirmed a little in her seat. She hated bridges on a good day. She found she hated them even more when the driver of the car she was in started talking crazy. “Just one tiny yank a couple of inches to the right…” To demonstrate, Max gave the wheel only a tiny yank. The car lurched to the right and quickly back to center. She gasped, her hands shooting out to either side, meeting door and center console as if that would somehow protect her if he decided to do something stupid.

“We’re on a fucking bridge, Max.”

“I know. That’s my point. See this eighteen-wheeler coming toward us? A yank in the opposite direction and we’re worm food. One little twitch of my muscles. It’s all over. It’s fuckin’ weird when you think about how easy it would be.”

She stared at those approaching headlights until they blinded her, heart thudding. But they rocketed safely by, and she finally allowed herself the breath her frozen lungs had been denying her. Not that she really thought Max would do something like that.

Hell, sometimes she didn’t know.

“We didn’t go into the light after all,” he remarked, teeth gleaming as his lips curled in a grin.

“That’s beautiful.” And this was over. Starla drew another shaking breath. That was two. She was on a roll. “Stop the fucking car.”

Max finished his swig from the beer bottle he’d been keeping nestled between his legs before swinging his head around to look at her. “Huh?”

“I said, stop the car. I’m getting out.”

“Yeah, right.” With a scoff, he switched on the blinker to turn down Old Harris Road, a labyrinthine county road barely wide enough for two cars and the unfortunate route they’d have to take to reach the party he’d insisted on going to tonight.

Starla watched the headlights illuminate the trees as he made the turn, suddenly feeling slightly dizzy and more than a little sick. Deftones’ “Digital Bath” droned from the Mustang’s speakers. She listened for a moment, drawing steady breaths through her nose to build her strength before speaking again. “I’m serious, Max.”

“So you want out. What the hell for? Did I scare you? You should be scared. We should all be scared.”

“You are so weird.” She lifted her phone again, focusing on the lighted screen and ignoring how it shook in her hand. “So fucking weird.”

He nudged her with his right elbow. She jerked away from the touch. “That’s why—hey, come on! That’s why you like me.”

She liked weird, yeah. Psychotic? Not so much. And the more time she spent with this dude, the more he leaned toward the latter.

I gotta get the hell out of here, she quickly texted Janelle. And shit’s prolly about to hit the fan.

She really didn’t want to hear her best friend’s reply, though. Jan had tried to warn her. They’d all tried to warn her—Ghost, Brian, everyone who even vaguely knew Max had told her he was not good news. Well, to be fair, “fucking whacked-out freak” had been Ghost’s exact words. And, naturally, that had only intrigued Starla more. Coming from Ghost? Yeah. Curiosity had spiked to the stratosphere.

So she had only herself to blame. If she weren’t such a sucker for black hair and blue eyes, mystery and weirdness, if she weren’t the type to want to touch the fire even when she knew it would burn…

“Dammit!” she erupted, spurred by her own internal frustrations, trying to shut them up. “I said let me out of the fucking car, Max.”

“Where you gonna go, huh? Calm down.” Muttering “crazy bitch” under his breath, he took another drink of his beer.

She was the crazy bitch? “Anywhere that’s away from you.”

He stepped on the brake so hard, she pitched forward. Her right hand scrabbled for the door handle, but ironlike fingers clamped around her left arm, and she swung around to glare into Max’s outraged blue eyes. “You’re not getting out of this fucking car in the middle of fucking nowhere.”

“I don’t care. You’re getting drunk, and you’ll be drunker by the time I’m ready to go home. I shouldn’t have come. So let me out, and I’ll call someone to come get me.”

Her cell phone chimed with an incoming message, most likely Janelle’s reply. The last thing she wanted was for him to see it.

“Who?” he demanded. “Whose dick you plan to suck tonight?”

She jerked the door handle, popping the door open. “Damn sure not yours.”

“Oh yeah? Fuck you, then. Get out.” He shoved her hard in her shoulder. She nearly tumbled out onto the ground, but that would’ve been fine. Anything, anywhere, by any means, as long as she was out of that car she never should’ve gotten into. Catching herself, she vaulted to her feet and had enough time to flip him off before he snatched the passenger door closed.

He made sure to return the gesture, then straightened and sped off, spraying her legs with dust and gravel. A moment later, his taillights disappeared around a curve up the road.

Good. Fucking. Riddance.

Except…shit! Her purse was still somewhere on his floorboard. Luckily, she still had her phone clutched in her hand. Raising it to her face, however, showed that the screen was cracked. She must’ve slammed it onto the ground trying to catch herself in the fall. But it wasn’t so bad she couldn’t read the text. Janelle wanted to know where she was. Unfortunately, the touchscreen was cracked badly enough that she couldn’t reply or maneuver to a point where she could call.

“Perfect,” she muttered, looking around to take stock of her situation for the first time. She was surrounded by banks of tall trees on either side, the road stretching between them to her left and her right. She couldn’t reach anyone, and Janelle was probably going to think she was dead in a ditch somewhere. Her best bet was to head back to the main road, she supposed, and walk the six long, lonely miles back to town. In the dark.

Jesus.

Maybe she’d slightly overreacted? It wouldn’t be the first time she’d let her temper get her into a messed-up situation. Most likely she and Max would’ve made it alive to the party, then she could have slipped away and called someone to pick her up.

Right. Then he could’ve discovered what she was doing, thrown a tantrum, caused a scene, accosted whoever her rescuer turned out to be, gotten several people into a fight, and she would have that weighing on her conscience. Any more weight on that particular part of her psyche, and she might buckle under the burden of it.

Sighing, she shoved her damaged phone in her pocket and trudged up the road, wishing now that she’d put her gym membership to use. Six miles. Or so. Maybe seven. Maybe someone would have mercy on her and give her a lift. Maybe that person wouldn’t be a machete-wielding maniac. But with the way her luck ran lately, nothing would surprise her.

Was this her punishment? She supposed she should shut up and take it. Stop being so damned stupid. Stop looking for salvation in every guy that came along who somehow, even fleetingly, reminded her of…

Stop. You want to stop? Then just fucking stop. Don’t even think his name. Especially not now.

Easier said than done when she saw him on a daily basis, and every new day was an opportunity for new memories.

Fierce, furious tears stung her eyes, but she stared resolutely ahead at the dirt road, refusing to give in to them. It was terribly dark, no moon above to light her way. A security light here and there as she walked was her only illumination, along with the light from her fractured phone display. Security lights meant houses, but none that looked as if they’d be welcoming of a teary-eyed imbecile pounding on their doors in the dead of night.

She’d made her bed. She kept running around with creeps, so she’d suffer the consequences of running around with creeps. She was in love with someone she could never, ever have, someone who belonged to another, so she’d take every hurt, every sharp pebble under her shoe, every shard in her heart, and drive them all deeper if they could possibly eclipse the pain of that.

It wasn’t fair of her, and it wasn’t his fault, of course, but sometimes she could hate him for turning her into such a freaking idiot.

Starla was so lost in her thoughts that she almost missed the sound of a vehicle behind her and the brightening of the road ahead with the approaching headlights. Coming from the direction Max had gone. Oh crap, he was back. Stopping in her tracks, she looked wildly around for somewhere to duck and hide, but the foliage was so thick on either side, she dared not try it. No telling what lurked in that. Snakes, spiders… She shuddered and crossed her arms against the chilly early April night, stalking up the road with purpose now. She wouldn’t look back. She would ignore him. And if he attempted to get out and hassle her, she’d fuck him up. A well-placed nut shot would bring any bastard to his knees if it came to that.

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