Tempted by a Dangerous ManBy: Cleo Peitsche
Forty minutes on the road and I realized that the fuel gauge hovered near empty. At the next exit, I pulled Corbin’s hulking SUV off the highway and found an open gas station.
A shivering attendant came out of his little booth as I rolled up to the pump.
I cracked the window an inch. Cold air rushed inside like it, too, couldn’t bear another moment of winter. “Fill up,” I said, poking the gas card at him. “Check the windshield washer fluid, too. Please.” Being incognito wasn’t a reason to forget my manners.
The attendant’s gaze lingered a moment too long, and I struggled not to duck my head or act suspicious. I wondered what he saw. Not me. That was for sure.
Across a stretch of filthy snow, The Soups and Grains Kitchen seemed to still be open. “Be right back,” I told the attendant when he handed back the card. He surely didn’t care.
The light rain had turned back to sleet, slippery underfoot. I picked my way to the restaurant—better to be soaked and freezing than to break my arm. Inside, the fast food place smelled like stale bread and macadamia nuts. A sleepy-faced teenager leaned against the wall behind the register. She was chewing on something white that, when I came closer, turned out to be a spork. She didn’t seem thrilled to see me.
“You’re still serving?”
“Only until two,” she said, clearly hoping that rather than scarf down my food in the next fifteen minutes, I would go away.
Her bad luck; I was starving. “Then I’ll have the number six in a bread bowl, salad instead of fries, apple juice instead of soda. To go.” I almost pulled off my damp knit cap, but caught myself at the last moment. “Please.”
After paying, I hightailed it to the restroom. My breath hitched when I caught my reflection in the mirror.
One of my twin brother’s friends had told me that going blonde would bump my hotness score up from a 7 to a 7.5. Well, he was both right and wrong. I didn’t like it, felt silly, and it drained my confidence. That more than offset the va-va-voom factor, which I had to admit was considerable.
I carefully pulled off my cap and smoothed my palm over the wig. It felt strange to have gone from dark and curly to blonde and sleek, and whenever I touched my head, I felt like I’d been dropped into someone else’s body. I tucked a lock of synthetic hair behind my ear.
The new style took a few years off my age, too, making me look nineteen instead of my real age, twenty-four. Good thing I didn’t plan to buy alcohol, though heaven knew I could really use a drink.
Where did my story start? Long before the night that I tracked Corbin. Even before the day his wife died. It began when I was a foolish girl, desperately trying to win my aloof father’s affection, constantly taking risks in a doomed attempt to prove myself.
The beginning of the end, though, was much easier to identify: the night that I killed a man.
Maybe killed was too strong. But it had to be admitted… if not for me, he would be alive.
It was a distinction I struggled with.
That was a long night, me sitting in the corner of my former office while Corbin fixed my fuck-up. I was shut down, not functioning. The thoughts that did manage to form in my addled brain were the stuff of nightmares.
“Stay here,” Corbin said, his voice gruff with exhaustion. Like I was capable of going anywhere.
He hefted the nearly six feet of plastic-wrapped burden over his shoulder like it was nothing. “You’ll be fine.” He went out and didn’t return for an hour.
That was the worst time. There, alone, nothing keeping me from the black depths as I imagined Corbin getting pulled over, Corbin having to hurt someone to get away.
It was getting toward dawn by the time he returned to bundle me into his dark-tinted truck. I didn’t ask him what he’d done with the body, and he didn’t volunteer.
Something stirred in me, another fragment of self-preservation. “My car,” I said.
“Moved it. I took care of everything, baby. I’ll be monitoring the phone calls he receives. I’m on top of this like it’s a matter of national security. So don’t worry. Ok?”
I fell mute again, unable to answer even this simple question. Beneath my numbness, I vaguely wondered what Corbin was thinking. Corbin, who had once pronounced me incapable of killing someone, hadn’t asked me how the man had died. But maybe it had been obvious to him. After all, he was rather an expert in death.