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

The line shuffles forward, and when it’s my turn, I unload my basket, keeping my head down and trying to ignore the feeling of Miss Amanda’s eyes on me. She don’t mean no harm by staring; I know most folks can’t help it. Neither of us say a word as I hand over my payment, she gives me back my change, and then I grab my bags and hustle out of the store, feeling a dozen eyes on me as I go.

The sun is beating down something fierce as I step back outside, missing the air conditioning of the store as soon as the doors swing closed behind me. I hitch my grocery bags up and get to walking home so I can fix myself a sandwich before I have to be at the bar for my shift.

Gravel crunches under my feet as I walk down the familiar road. I’ve been making this walk from our house to the grocery store probably once a week since I was seven or so. I would walk up and down the busier road that leads in and out of town, and gather up as many cans and bottles as I could, then I’d turn them in and use the money at the store. Mama did her best, but there wasn’t always food at home, so I learned to do for myself.

I look over my shoulder at the sound of tires on the road. I cringe when I see Bryson Farrow’s truck slowing to keep pace with me. I walk a little bit faster as he rolls his window down. My heart sinks at the sight of Tommy Lawrence in the passenger seat. Bryson is bad enough on his own, but the two of them together always seem to wanna try to one up each other at my expense.

“Uglyfuckersayswhat,” Bryson says, and they both cackle wildly.

I set my jaw, pulling my shoulders up and clenching my hands tighter around my grocery bags.

“Hey,” Tommy barks when I don’t respond, and something hits me in the side of the head, bouncing off and leaving me wet and sticky. I look down to see an open can of Coke at my feet, spilling out and soaking the dirt. “We’re fucking talking to you, you ugly bastard.”

My throat tightens, and my eyes burn with tears that threaten to spill over. I’m weak. Their words shouldn’t hurt me after all this time, but they still do.

“Why don’t ya tell your mama if she’s lonely, she should give me a call. I bet I fuck better than your daddy did, and I’ll be sure to wrap it so she don’t end up with another ugly fuckin’ kid.” Bryson’s words make my blood boil. Gran always said anger never solved nothing, but I can’t help the feeling that rises up inside me.

Before I can give it a second thought, I swing my heavy bag of soup at the truck. Even before it connects, horror replaces my rage. My eyes go wide, and it feels like I’m watching in slow motion as the flimsy plastic bag tears open and cans of soup fly at Bryson’s truck. One crashes into the headlight, causing glass to rain down onto the road, another ricochets off the windshield with a sickening crack, a few more simply bounce off the hood, leaving dents and nicks in the paint.

I’m not usually one for any kind of foul language, but the fuck that falls from my lips feels one hundred percent justified.

All the humor drains from both their faces as Bryson slams on the brakes, and the truck lurches to a halt. In the blink of an eye, they’re out of the truck, their eyes filled with rage. My heart beats so fast I’m surprised it doesn’t burst right outta my chest. My feet remain rooted on the spot, even though my brain is telling me to turn tail and run.

“I’m sorry; I didn’t mean it,” I babble as Tommy stalks toward me, Bryson glaring at the damage done to his precious truck.

“Look what you fuckin’ did, you fuckin’ idiot. Ain’t you got any idea how much this truck cost?”

“I’ll pay for it,” I promise, even though there’s no way I’ll be able to come up with whatever the cost is to repair the damage. But right is right. I made a mistake, and I’ll pay for it, even if it means giving him every paycheck I earn for the rest of my life.

“God damn right you’ll pay for it.” Bryson rounds the truck and grabs me by the front of the shirt. I squirm and clench my eyes closed, bracing for the blow I know is about to come. I don’t have many talents, but taking a beating is certainly one. I took enough of ‘em growing up.

I hear another set of tires, but I don’t hold out any hope that witnesses will stop Bryson from hitting me. No one in this town will so much as slow down. His fist connects with my cheek, sending a jolt of pain through me as my head snaps back.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” A rough voice shouts, and shock makes me open my eyes. Bryson is still right in front of me, his fingers holding tight to the front of my shirt, but just behind him, striding forward with a strength and purpose that’s too attractive considering my current circumstances, is the man from the bar the other night. For a second, I forget to be mad or embarrassed that he tried to give me so much money, and relief rushes through me.