Dirty Scoundrel

By: Jessica Clare



Goddamn it. That’s twice now I’ve thought of Natalie in the same day. Must be getting moody. “Dunno what I want. Ain’t this, that’s for sure.”

“No one wants this,” Knox says with a shrug of his shoulders. “But it comes for all of us in the end. Question is, you gonna end up in that box with regrets?”

The knot in my gut returns. “Maybe.”

“That’s your problem,” my wise little brother says. He wags a finger at me like he’s scolding a child. “You ain’t ruthless.”

“Huh?” I squint at him like he’s crazy.

“You’re the nice one, Clay.”

“I am?”

Knox nods sagely. “You’re the one everyone goes to when Boone needs softening up. You’re the one everyone looks to for a laugh, or to smooth things over. Everyone’s friend. You don’t know how to be ruthless. You’re so busy making sure everyone else is happy and smiling that you don’t go after what you want.”

Is that who I am? Just a happy-go-lucky piece of shit who’s miserable on the inside? I don’t think that’s me, but then again, this ache in my belly might be telling me otherwise. I look over at Boone and Ivy. She’s got her head on his shoulder, and I know when they leave here, he’s probably gonna rub her feet or rub her belly or, hell, just rub her all over. And she’ll fuss over him and they’ll end up doing it on the sofa in the foyer and someone will catch ’em. Again. And they’ll just laugh like it’s funny and Ivy will blush, and they both won’t be able to stop smiling. They’re so goddamn happy.

I look over at the widow and her boys. She’s herding them out of the building, tears streaking her face. She’s sobbed through the entire ceremony. Loved Eddie to pieces.

And I think of Nat again. Nat, and the way she curled her lip at me the last time I saw her. Nat, and how I wasn’t good enough for her. Nat, who chose her daddy and her family money over me, when I would have given her the moon if I’d have had two nickels to rub together.

Nat, who I still jerk off to because I’m a sick son of a bitch with a massive hang-up.

“Gotta be ruthless,” Knox says. “That’s the only way you’re gonna get what you want.”

Maybe he’s right. Maybe it’s time I nut up and use some of this ridiculous money and be ridiculous with it. I glance over at Boone again. He threw around all kinds of money to push Ivy into dating him. Maybe I need to throw my weight around and act like the big man. Buy my way into the heart of the girl I always wanted but I could never have.

And then, once I’ve bought her heart, I can hold it in my hand and decide if I want to crush it or keep it.

Gotta be ruthless, after all.





Chapter Two



Seven years earlier



Clay

It’s time.

I can’t say I’m not nervous, though. Any guy would be. My palms are sweaty as I shove them into my jeans, but I’m determined. Tonight’s important. High school is over, and that means that it’s time to move on to the next phase in my life. I stand in front of the diner that I’ve agreed to meet Natalie’s father at, and try not to fidget.

I’m dressed up—well, as much as a guy like me can be. There ain’t much money for fancy clothes, but I borrowed one of Dad’s old dress shirts and tucked it into my best, least worn-out jeans. The shirt’s a little big but ain’t much to be done about it now. Nat wouldn’t care, though. She’s never cared that my T-shirts are about to fall apart or that my shoes come from Goodwill. She don’t care that I share a room in my dad’s shitty-ass trailer with my younger brothers. She’s never cared about any of that shit.

That’s why I love her.

That’s why I want to marry her.

A car pulls up to the restaurant I’m currently pacin’ in front of and my heart hammers in my chest. Tonight, me and Nat and her Dad are supposed to be havin’ dinner. I’m gonna meet Mr. Weston and do my best to charm him, and then tomorrow, I’m gonna go over and let him know I wanna propose to his daughter.

That I love Natalie Weston with all my heart, and that I might be poor right now, but I’m determined to give her a good life. That I’ll treat her like fuckin’ gold.

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