Pretty Boy (Perfect Boys #1) by K.M. Neuhold

Chapter‌ ‌1‌ ‌



Sterling

Once upon a time, in a little Texas town in the middle of damn nowhere, there lived an ugly boy. He was so ugly, it’s said his own daddy took one look at him in the hospital and hightailed it out of Texas as fast as his legs would carry him. It wasn’t the boy’s fault he was born with a big ol’ splotchy birthmark covering half his face. Some folks said it was a sign of the devil, but the boy didn’t know anything about that. All he knew was that he had to work twice as hard, be twice as polite, and even then, nobody wanted nothing to do with him.

I look up at the jangling sound of the bell over the door, shaking off my odd bit of day dreaming and tossing the rag I was using to wipe the bar into the sink. I put on my best smile, even though I know it won’t do any good.

“Evenin’ Mr. Garrett,” I greet in a quiet but polite voice, flickering my eyes to him for only a second before dropping my gaze to the dusty floor. I learned a lot of tricks over the years to keep from getting picked on too much, and one thing I know is the longer I look somebody in the face, the longer they’ll look in mine. Even if they don’t mean it, I’ll see the disgust in their eyes, the discomfort at having to look at me.

“Beer,” he grunts, sliding onto his regular barstool at the end of the bar.

I nod and busy myself grabbing a clean glass and filling it from the tap. We ain’t got nothing too fancy here, but that’s just the way most folks seem to like it. One type of beer at the only bar in town. That’s kinda how this place is—one grocery store, one restaurant, one main road, one stoplight, and one freak everyone loves to poke fun at.

I set the glass down in front of him and get back to wiping down the bar, even though it’s already pretty clean. Keeping busy is good. A little hard work never hurt nobody; that’s what my grams always said anyway. She said as long as I worked hard and prayed hard, my face wouldn’t matter so much to people. I been prayin’ and scrubbin’ for a good twenty-five years now, and it ain’t helped much. I guess it ain’t hurt much either, so at least there’s that.

A few more regulars trickle in and out over the next few hours. Some leave me decent tips, but most just take their drinks, try not to look at me too much, and leave just enough money to cover their tab when they’re finished. I pocket the tips I do get and try to mentally calculate the groceries it’ll buy for us. Best to get the groceries right away when I can before Mama gets ahold of the money and spends it on booze. Not that I’m complaining. At least she stayed. She coulda left like my daddy did, but she stuck around.

That jangling sound draws my attention again while I’m checking the bottles of liquor. I turn my head, expecting to see more of the same—guys I grew up with stopping in for a drink after a day in the oil fields, men who’ve been sitting their butts in these barstools long before I was born, or maybe one of the few women who make it a habit to come down here after dinner.

My breath catches in surprise at the sight of the man who walks in instead—tall and broad like he almost can’t fit through the door, his hair dark and shaggy, a thick beard on his face just the same, and a hard look in his eyes like he’s not the kind of man to mess with. I ain’t never seen a man like him.

A flash of heat burns through my whole body in an instant, like everything inside me is waking up all at once. The man’s eyes land on me, and my stomach swoops and dances, trying it’s damndest to make an escape it seems. I lick my dry lips and tell myself to look away. Any second now his eyes are going to adjust to the dim lighting of the bar, and he’s going to notice my birthmark.

His stride as he makes his way over to the bar is full of the same unflappable confidence that’s in his eyes, each step echoing like thunder, his body seeming to own every inch of space he occupies. My heart lodges itself into my throat as I take a shaky step in his direction, glad to have the bar to hold onto when my trembling knees barely do the job of keeping me upright.

He claims one of the stools, and now that he’s close enough to get a proper look at me, his eyes dance over my face and then skitter away in a hurry like he’s afraid of being caught looking too long, but unable to help himself. My shoulders curl, and I tuck my chin down so he can’t get another good look.

“What can I get ya, sir?” I ask, barely forcing my voice above a whisper.

“Whatever’s on tap, pretty boy,” he answers, his voice deep and smooth, without a hint of the Texas twang I’m used to hearing.