Court Lawson didn't think losing his virginity was supposed to suck this bad.
But as the nineteen-year-old girl, Halley, sat on the edge of the bed, facing away from him while she slipped her shoes back on, a sickened, swirling sensation infected his gut. He scowled at her hair, appalled by the knots in her silky blond tresses, ratted from rolling around in the sheets with him.
She'd only lured him here to horrify her parents so maybe they would let her return to her ex-boyfriend, the loser they'd just made her dump. As long as Nate never found out what extreme measures she was willing to attempt to get him back, the plan sounded fine to her. She'd searched for the perfect guy Mommy and Daddy would consider worse than Nate. And she'd chosen Court.
She thought he was trash.
Hadn't said that aloud to his face, of course, but he'd heard the words in her head as clearly as if she had.
The first moment he realized he could read her mind, he'd just sunk his cock inside her. Nothing in the world had felt better. He stroked out and then back in, amazed by how much better a snug, wet pussy felt around him than his own palm. Ready to come after two pumps and profess his love for the girl under him, he kissed her temple and inhaled her sweet, strawberry-fragranced hair.
Then the voice blared through his brain.
"Oh, my God. I can't believe I'm spreading my legs for Court Lawson. What the fuck am I doing?"
Thinking she'd spoken aloud, Court stopped mid-thrust to blink down at her.
She opened her eyes and looked up, a slight frown puckering her brow. "What's wrong?"
He shook his head, confused. "Did you...did you just say something?"
After glancing around as if looking for someone else in the crappy hotel room with them who might've spoken, she turned her confused gaze back. "No."
"What a freak," her voice shouted in his head. "I can't believe I'm having sex with such a freak. My parents are so going to let me go back to Nate when they learn I let this whack job inside me."
Court's mouth fell open as he studied her. Her lips never moved, but the words tumbled from her loud and clear.
"Why is he staring at me like that?" she thought, turning her face away. "This freak is totally creeping me out. Please make him a fast fuck before I chicken out."
As his erection died inside her, Court's heart shattered. Devastated to learn she was no better than the rest of them, he hovered above her a moment as the agony rippled through him. Why had he thought she was different from everyone else in this godforsaken county? And why would she want to hurt him? He'd never done anything to her except blush when she first flirted with him.
He thought she'd actually liked him.
Before he let the ache of her rejection touch him further, he decided to get mad. Like he usually did. Anger always muffled the pain. Anger made him feel as if he had control of something. Pain just hurt, made him feel alone.
He figured he'd jerk his limp dick out of her nasty hole and kick her from the hotel room he'd spent all his money renting.
How dare she smile at him and act as if she actually cared? How dare she make him think, for once, someone saw the real Court Lawson?
"Just think of Nate, Halley," her mind coaxed as he began to withdraw. "Imagine he's Nate. Except, shit, at least Nate sucks on my tits and licks the peaks. This bumbling moron won't even look at them."
With his manhood now in question, Court's jaw knitted. Pausing with the head of his prick barely inside her, he leaned down and laved her breasts, licking and sucking with a fury, hoping to somehow punish her with lust for finding him repulsive. If she wanted to let a freak between her legs, fine, but he'd make her like it first. He'd make her a freak-fucker.
Teeth latching onto the end of her nipple, Court bit lightly before he lapped the sting away with his tongue.
She arched her back and cried out, "Oh, Court."
"God damn," her mind screeched. "That was awesome. Nate never bites. I'm going to have to get him to bite my nipples from now on."
Smug he'd surpassed her precious Nate, Court managed to cram his semi-flaccid length back into her. When she jerked with surprise and shouted out her pleasure, he commenced to humping her brains out. Listening to her thoughts and following every command she unknowingly fed him, he brought her to pleasure within thirty seconds.
As her beautiful, naked body writhed under him and her thoughts begged for more, his shaft was able to harden, growing rigid and long.
From there, it was easy. Her cunt sopped so wet he stopped listening to her repetitive brain waves and merely followed the sounds of her gasps and groans, wringing two more orgasms out of her before he finally exhausted himself, ejaculating into his condom.
Shoelaces tied, she turned to face him now, her smile a dazed, satisfied grin. The word freak didn't enter her thoughts anymore. Neither did Nate.
Court didn't care. He knew why she'd initially come to him, knew what she thought of him.
She wanted to use him. Great. He'd used her right back. Tit for tat.
Her satisfaction lodged in her eyes as she stretched above him, purring while she rubbed her hand over his chest and down between his legs to fondle his sac. "When can I see you again, lover?"
Halley really did want to see him again, too. Nowhere in her head did she care what he wanted. In fact, if no one else found out she was doing him, that would be even sweeter for her. With Nate as her public boyfriend and Court on the sly, she'd never lack for satisfaction. Selfishly, she craved more orgasms and wanted Court to make her body light up as it just had over and over again.
So not going to happen.
He nudged her hand off him and sat up. "Try never."
Surprise pierced her features. "Excuse me?"
He relished hearing her indignant shock. She wasn't even hurt, but offended someone like him would even think about refusing a catch like her.
"Turnabout's fair play," he sneered, brushing her fingers off him yet again when she turned clingy.
She blinked, her gaze filling with even more confusion. "What're you talking about?"
He arched a brow. "You think I'm trash. You think I'm a freak. Well, look who's the slut who can't get enough of Miners Bend's trashy freak."
Her mouth dropped open. "Slut?! How dare you? And I never once called you a freak."
"Not aloud, no."
"I never thought of you as a freak." Her eyes challenged him to gainsay her as she reached for his package again and grinned. "Except maybe how freakishly large you are."
Yanking away from her, he grasped his pants and tugged them on, hissing, "Liar."
When she scowled and shook her head, denying it, he quoted her, lifting his voice to a falsetto. "Oh my God. I can't believe I'm letting a freak like Court Lawson inside me. Won't Mommy and Daddy let me go back to Nate now. Just think of Nate. Oh, Nate. But wait. Nate doesn't do that. Nate doesn't lick my pussy and play with my asshole."
Halley gasped and backed away from him, covering her mouth with both hands. Snagging her coat off a nearby chair, she yanked it in front of her, physically shielding herself from him. "Oh my God," she whispered, unable to stop ogling. "You really are a freak."
He snickered. "Yeah, but I'm good in bed, right."
Spinning away, she rushed for the exit.
"Hey," Court called after her, "maybe you can sweet talk Nate into biting your nipples for you if you scream when you come for him. Like you did for me. Three times."
"Shut up! Just...stay away from me, you sick fuck. And if you tell anyone, anyone, I let a total piece of trash like you near me, I'll cry rape so loud my daddy will put a bullet between your eyes before the cops can reach you. Hell, I just might anyway. It's what any creepy freak deserves."
After the door slammed, Court merely stood there, staring at the exit, a little shaken by her threat. But he'd been in her head long enough to know she valued her reputation too much to let anyone think he'd gotten close enough to her to even rape her.
"Bitch," he growled, but there was no heat in his tone. Only hopeless pain.
He slumped onto the edge of the bed and buried his face in his palms, a cold, lonely ache blanketing him.
Holy shit. His hands trembled.
He'd read her mind. He could read minds.
Reality crashed hard and heavy into his gut. He'd inherited his mother's fucking curse.
Everyone in Miners Bend called his mama a witch. She knew things about people she wasn't supposed to know. And now, so did he.
Did that make him a witch, too? A freak?
He didn't want this. Why did he have to receive what she had? Why did it have to wait 'til his first time with a girl to arrive?
Unable to control the tremors in his hands, he smoked a cigarette, wishing it was because the sex had been just that wonderful and not because of the anxiety from gaining his new, freaky supernatural abilities.
Sucking the last of the nicotine from his cancer stick before stubbing out the hot ashes, he finished dressing. Without looking back at the rumpled sheets on the bed, he left the hotel room and started home to the creaking old house where he lived with his witch mother.
He wanted to hate Halley, but hell, who could blame her? She really had picked the right guy to fuck in order to shock her parents. If he could choose to be anyone in the world, the last person he'd pick was himself, bastard son to the town's impoverished witch.
To be fair, Court loved his mama. He wanted to kick ass every time he caught wind of someone mocking her. But she'd tanned his backside the first time he came home from school with a bloody lip after standing up for her.
"Just let it go, Court. People are going to think and believe whatever they want. You can't stop them from thinking."
He wouldn't mind trying though.
She leveled him with a look, however, that made him duck his head and mumble, "Yes, ma'am."
From that point on, he made sure his mama didn't find out about his brawls, though sometimes he sensed she already knew. If her curse was anything like this new supernatural ability suddenly haunting him, then she'd been able to read every thought in his head for the past eighteen years.
As he approached his house, huddling deeper into his thin shirt, a cold wind slapped him and pierced his clothes, icing his skin.
He spotted the police car parked at the curb and rolled his eyes with a resentful sniff. It was probably that deputy, Ronnie Green, come to coax help out of Grete again. He wondered what crime the man wanted his mama to solve tonight.
The old wood groaned under his weight as he stepped onto the battered porch in need of a good painting. He could hear Ronnie's voice as soon as he opened the door.
"Are you sure you can't see anything, Grete?"
Court pulled taut as he filled the entrance. Both Ronnie and his mama paused their conversation, lifting their faces to look at him with equal expressions of surprise. Fearing the moment he'd be able to see into both their heads, and fearing even more the moment his mama would know exactly what he'd just been doing with Halley, he braced himself. But thankfully, he heard nothing. His head remained clear, littered with only his own, rambling thoughts.
"Hey there, Court," Ronnie greeted politely enough until he added, "coming in kind of late, aren't you?"
Court scowled, wondering why every man in Miners Bend felt the need to father him just because he'd never had a daddy.
"Court," his mama rasped, clutching some kind of rumpled pink cloth to her chest. She sounded tired. He focused on her face to see lines of strain marring her exhausted features.
"Mama?" He hurried to her. "What's wrong?"
He grasped her elbow and felt zapped with electricity as an onslaught of her feelings flooded him.
She felt scared, frightened because she couldn't read anything from the jacket in her hands. She wanted to help the deputy. She wanted to touch the jacket and read something useful from it. But she could read nothing, feel nothing.
Her gift had abandoned her. Ronnie would never forgive her if she couldn't help him. She grew even more anxious when she realized she couldn't read Court either. She could always read her son's thoughts when he touched her.
Court yanked his hand away when he realized that was it. He had to touch a person to get into their head. And he hadn't simply inherited the curse from his mother. It had left her completely and moved exclusively to him. Except she hadn't thought of the ability to read people and possessions as a curse. She considered it a gift.
"Little Paige Bromin didn't come home tonight," Ronnie informed him. "I was just asking your mama here if she...if she'd seen anything."
Court snorted and rolled his eyes. Of course, everyone would go into an uproar with a Bromin missing. The Bromin/Daggert family ran the whole damn county, owning the biggest factory in the area and employing half of Miners Bend. Hell, Court could only hope he'd be lucky enough to get a job from them one day in some dirty labor position, working ten-hours a night, six-days a week, packing dog food into bags.
"She's only nine years old." His mama's voice trembled, weak with fear.
Court glanced at her, remembering how afraid she'd felt when he touched her. She thought the Bromin girl's entire life relied on her. If she couldn't read the jacket and know where to look, the girl would surely die.
Anger spiraled through him. God damn Ronnie Green for making her feel responsible about something completely unrelated to her. The bastard came to her repeatedly, wanting her to fix his problems. Well, it stopped here.
Tearing the pink jacket from Grete's grasp, Court flung it in the deputy's face. "She hasn't seen the girl."
Ronnie's eyes looked sad, almost apologetic as he met Court's glare. Sending Grete a solemn nod, he murmured, "Well, thank you anyway." Then he pivoted away and trudged toward the exit, softly shutting the door behind him.
Court shifted his gaze to his mother. She loved the deputy. The emotion had oozed out of her as soon as he'd touched her skin. The jerk was only using her to boost his own career--using her as Halley had just tried to use Court--and Grete Lawson loved everything about him.
Sniffing, she pushed aside the tears on her cheeks and started for her bedroom, looking defeated.
Court's heart sank. "Mama?" He reached out to comfort her, but she held up her hand.
"I'm fine. I just...I think I'll take a nap."
Agony snared him as he watched her shuffle into her room and quietly close the door. A moment passed before he glanced down at his hand where his palm still itched from touching that damn Bromin girl's jacket.
She'd taken a different route home.
He wished he hadn't read anything off the cotton material when he'd yanked it out of his mother's arms. But little Paige Bromin's thoughts kept tickling his skin where he'd touched her jacket.
She'd left her friend's house at dusk, still plenty of time to make it home for supper. The bicycle she rode was new. She couldn't stop smiling because she liked the sparkly pink fringe sticking out the ends of the handlebars. She wanted to stretch her trip out longer, ride her new bicycle just a little farther than usual, so she decided to take a different path home, past her family's factory.
From that point on, at the edge of her friend's driveway, her thoughts instantly stopped. She'd probably dropped the jacket there, because that's where Ronnie's thoughts picked up. He'd found the jacket at the curb and brought it straight to Court's mama, assured she would help him.
Court told himself this was none of his concern. The Bromin girl would find her way home eventually; he didn't have to go out in this cold, nasty night to hunt her down. But shit, since the sun had set, it really had turned freezing out there, and she'd dropped her jacket. Poor thing was probably a Popsicle by now.
Plus, she was only nine.
He hissed a curse under his breath and scowled at his mother's closed bedroom door. No one else would know where to look for her. No one else had been able to read her thoughts as she left her friend's. If she was in real trouble and never made it home, it'd haunt him for the rest of his life.
Grinding his teeth, he fisted his hands and stormed out the front door. The blast of cold that greeted him turned his mood even darker.
The Bromins better give him a big ol' fat reward for saving their rich, spoiled kid with her brand new bicycle. A monetary reward, maybe something big enough he could buy himself a new coat that actually fit his growing shoulders.
The girl was probably a brat. He couldn't believe he was freezing his ass off to save a brat's life.
No one in this shitty town had ever done anything for him but put him and his mother down, hitched up their noses whenever he walked by, whispered about him behind their hands. Why did he want to save one of their precious, revered Bromins?
Because she was only nine, damn it. Resentment against all of Miners Bend aside, he couldn't let an innocent little girl suffer.
Jesus, he hated this.
But he forged on, ducking his head against the wind and hugging his bare arms around his ribcage.
Took him almost an hour to find her.
He heard the crying as he shambled along the roadside, sweeping his hands up and down his arms to keep warm. If he hadn't heard the sniffle in the breeze, he probably would've walked right past her. But at the noise, he zipped his head up, spotted the ditch, and dashed forward.
She'd fallen into a deep culvert. The moon was full, so he was able to look down and see her light hair as she lay tangled in her bicycle, weeping.
"Paige?" he called.
She gasped, her head jerking up so he could barely make out her face in the dark. "I'm down here. Please help me." Her young voice shook as it reached deep inside him, touching something he'd never felt before. His sympathies, maybe.
Plopping onto his knees at the edge of the drop-off, Court reached his arm as far down as he could manage. "Give me your hand. I'll pull you out."
She didn't move, remaining close to her bicycle. "I...I can't." She sobbed a whimper of pain. He could make out tears on her cheeks, reflecting off the moonlight. "I'm stuck."
He frowned and squinted into the dark part of the pit but couldn't see where she was stuck. With a sigh, he picked himself up off his knees and dropped into the gutter beside her. "Where?"
She reached down. "My ankle."
Kneeling beside her, Court inspected the damage. "Holy shit," he said as he found her limb snarled in the main frame of the bicycle.
Hesitantly, he reached out and wrapped his fingers around the lower portion of her skinny leg. Her pain and fear shot through him, making him hiss out a breath through his teeth. She'd panic herself into an attack if she didn't cool it, and probably suck him down, too. Her thoughts and feelings were so deafening it was as if he were feeling them right along with her.
"Just...breathe," he commanded. "In...out. In...out..." Following his own order as not to fall victim to her anxiety, he unlaced her shoe with trembling fingers and slid her sock-clad foot free.
Under his touch, he felt her grow calmer, yet more dependent. The fear subsided, replaced by a shocking need for him.
Don't leave me, don't leave me, don't leave me. The words chanted through her.
"I won't," he assured. "I'm not going anywhere without you." Her big, dark eyes glanced at him; he managed a reassuring smile. "I'll make sure you get home okay."
She nodded but didn't speak. Not that she had to, her inner relief made even him breathe easier.
"Can you walk?" he asked after helping her upright. He stepped back, letting go of her as she put her shoeless foot down and immediately cried out. Catching her before she fell, Court swept her up into his arms.
"Guess I'll just carry you then. No big deal."
He grunted as he reached the side of the ditch and had to lift her up above his shoulders where she grasped the ground level to claw and crawl her way out of the concrete pit. It surprised him how much she worried about hurting him as he helped her, constantly afraid she'd step on him or smash his fingers.
"Don't worry about me. Just use whatever you need to get up and out of here. I'll be fine."
After a brief hesitation, she set her good foot on his shoulder, squishing cold wet mud through his shirt to drip down either side of his torso in equal rivulets, before she scrambled from the hole. Her pebble-embedded shoe and the rough sides of the culvert tore the shit out of his bare arms. He merely gnashed his teeth, and nudged her up, clenching back the pain.
They both breathed hard by the time she sat on the edge of the culvert and was able to look down at him.
"Just a sec," he panted, holding up a finger as he bent over with his other hand on his knee, trying to get his wind back. "I'll be up soon."
Without speaking, she stared down at him with big, worried eyes. He didn't need to read her thoughts to know she was concerned. About him. That's what propelled him to climb out before oxygen had fully returned to his lungs. He stumbled twice, making a bloody mess of his palms.
But when he tumbled free and landed on his back beside her with his hand splayed over his diaphragm as he panted, she reached out to touch him, her guilt at putting him through so much eating at her.
"I'm fine," he wheezed. "Just...just need to stop smoking so much."
"Oh." The word came out soft and dulcet, but her thoughts were a lot more vocal, and amusing. She couldn't believe someone so young smoked. Vaguely curious if he was what her parents called a 'bad boy', she suddenly wondered who he was.
"Court," he answered. "My name is Court Lawson."
"Oh," she repeated, drawing out the word and letting him know she recognized his name. "You're Grete Lawson's boy."
"That's right." He expected to hear a scathing thought exit her head, calling his mother a witch and him a freak.
But Paige Bromin obviously didn't think that way. She knew others didn't like his dame, but she thought Grete Lawson was nice. Grete had looked at her palm once and told her a fortune, saying she'd marry her one true love someday and save him from not only himself but all the horrors chasing him.
Court cringed, thinking his mama's fortune for the girl was a bit farfetched and overdramatic, but Paige Bromin had been charmed by the utter romance of it, and she'd liked his mama ever since.
He shook his head, a little charmed himself, and outright shocked a Bromin could harbor such nice thoughts in her head, even if she was only nine.
A sudden lift in the breeze swept over them, making him and his new friend shiver. "Let's get out of here." After pushing to his feet, he bent to lift Paige. She wrapped her arms around his neck and glanced over her shoulder, saying nothing, yet worrying about her new bicycle and deserted shoe.
No way was he going to climb back down there for a fucking bike. "Someone will come back for them later," he assured.
Her head zipped around so she could stare at him with large eyes, but she only nodded with a quiet, "Okay."
He carried her home and listened to more of her un-Bromin-like feelings. She cuddled close to him, soaking in his warmth, worrying about being too heavy, guilty about scaring her parents.
Every once in a while, he'd comfort her. "Don't worry. Your parents are more worried than mad. You're not going to get into trouble for falling and hurting yourself." If she did, he'd raise hell.
When her thoughts settled from those issues, she began to recall more of her fall and how long she'd lain in that deep ditch. She'd been afraid she was going to die, that some animal might come along and eat her. She hated the dark. And now that someone was here and she was touching him, she began to shake with relief.
"Hey," Court murmured, hugging her to him and tucking her face under his chin. "It's okay. You're okay. Nothing's going to get you now."
Paige buried her face against his neck and started to cry. She didn't want him to let go, so he snuggled her in tighter, relieved when his move actually made her feel better. "I won't let go. Not until you're safe and home."
He would've bitten his tongue off before admitting it aloud, but Court kind of liked being her hero. He liked her gratitude and sweet thoughts.
Kid wasn't half bad, for a Bromin.
When she wondered how old he was, he answered, "eighteen," before he could stop himself.
He instantly tightened, braced for her to ask why he'd told her his age since she hadn't spoken the question aloud. But thank God, her accident had left her so rattled, the strange mystery didn't even occur to her. Instead, a little something inside her wilted with disappointment. Being nine years his junior, she realized the two of them could never be boyfriend and girlfriend. Not for a long, long time anyway.
It took all his willpower not to bust a gut laughing. But holy shit, did little girls really grow crushes that fast? Delighted by such a pleasant mind, he kissed her hair. It was a damn shame she and Halley couldn't switch ages. He would've much rather slept with a girl who carried around these sort of thoughts.
She continued to awe over him in her head until they reached the big stone mansion where the Bromins lived. A mob had congregated outside, floodlights and car headlights splayed over all the law enforcement and family members that milled about, looking sick with worry.
Some woman spotted them approaching and gave a glad cry as she pointed. Everyone turned, fixing their attention on him and the girl in his arms, half of them pounding forward. The first man to reach them must've been Mr. Bromin himself because Paige lifted her head from Court's shoulder and rasped, "Daddy?"
"Paige! Oh, my sweet baby." He yanked her from Court and clasped her to his chest, where they both began to bawl in earnest.
Court's arms immediately felt empty; he had to fight off the craving to steal the girl back from her dad. Without her close, the cold closed in on him with a wicked vengeance.
Grasping hands shuffled him aside as more family members arrived, crowding around the little girl for their own joyous reunion. Soon, he couldn't see her at all through the melee.
Most of the hands and elbows nudging at him wanted him out of their way; their rude thoughts bit at his skin until he backed off enough he couldn't touch anyone.
When a palm landed on his arm, five hot fingers clasping around his bicep, everything inside Court froze.
"Way to go, son. Where'd you find her?"
Looking up into the man's face, Court forgot to breathe.
His entire life, he'd always wondered who his father was, wondered why the man had abandoned his mother, forcing her to raise him alone. She refused to tell him his daddy's identity, and now he knew why. He read all his answers clearly in Deputy Ronnie Green's head.
Green was married with a son a year older than Court, another son a year younger, and a daughter four years behind that. Holy shit, Court had brothers and a sister. He had a father, with a name.
Didn't even matter that Deputy Green emitted pure guilt--guilt for cheating on his wife, about making Grete fall in love with him, because he couldn't be a true father to Court, and guilt for constantly lying to his three legitimate children. There was also pride underlying his shame. His progeny had found the Bromin girl.
Court wasn't sure if he wanted to hug the man or spit in his face as he listened to Ronnie's thoughts.
He did neither. "She..." He paused to clear his throat. "She took a different path home, rode past her family's factory and fell into the deep ditch near the factory's drain-off." Pausing, he glanced at the Bromin girl--Paige--but still couldn't see her through the swarming, celebrating throng.
"So, Grete...your mother finally saw something?"
"Yeah," Court lied, squinting as he tried to see Paige one last time. He missed touching her, missed listening to her sweet thoughts. "Someone will need to fetch her bicycle," he murmured, remembering how worried she'd been. "I couldn't carry them both."
His father--dear god, his father--nodded and clasped his shoulder tighter. "We will," he assured. "Why don't I give you a lift home? Your mother's probably worried."
Court turned and stared at him hard, wondering if he should accept anything from Deputy Ronnie Green. The only thing he really wanted from this man, Green would never provide. His father was too ashamed of his own infidelity to ever publicly claim Court.
So Court shook his head. "I'm fine." He backed far enough away until he couldn't read any more of the guilt.
Green's brows dipped. "You sure? It's getting cold out."
"It was always cold." He'd been delusional to hope he could ever find warmth or acceptance from anyone in Miners Bend. Even his own father.
Turning away, he left the entire crowd behind, escaping the continued buzz of excitement over finding Paige Bromin. Keeping his back to all of it, he returned to his cold, broken home and penniless witch mother.