The Devil She Knew

By: Talia Hunter

He held her gaze, though she was so alight with fury the air around her was practically smoking. The implication that she hadn’t been clever enough to see it coming had taken her rage to a whole new level.

Now he knew what button to press to make her react this way, would it be bad to take advantage of it? If only she wasn’t so beautiful when she was angry. The brighter her cheeks got, the more luminous her eyes.

“Change always brings opportunity. Plenty of other people found ways to make money from the shift in people’s behavior.”

She dragged in a breath, her full lips parted in outrage. “Could you be any more arrogant? You think you’re so clever, but all the brains in the world can’t keep you from being a jerk. And you’re not just obnoxious, you’re also a liar.”

She leaned forward, so close that Nate could take a deep, intoxicating breath of her perfume. A single red curl fell over one eye, and Nate burned to tuck it behind her ear.

“Thanks to you, everyone thought I was easy. When people asked Laura about her plans for the future, it was always, ‘What college will you go to?’ And, ‘What’s your major going to be?’ Nobody ever asked me those questions. After the rumor went around about me offering sex to get better grades, all I got was sniggers and rude suggestions. I went through hell because of you.”

Nate had never meant his little untruth to go further than his brother, but he should have guessed Harrison would blab to his friends.

“Technically, I didn’t lie.” That’s what he’d told himself at the time, at least, although the words stuck in his throat now. If he’d ever said them aloud he might have realized how lame they sounded.

“You’re trying to deny it?”

“I don’t deny anything.” He kept his gaze level. She had a right to be angry, but it’d been a defensive move on his part, not an attack. “You came into the store while I was working. Between serving customers, I was doing my term paper. It was on the counter, and you groaned when you saw it. You said you’d do anything to be able to hand in my paper instead of your own.”

She stared at him in horror. “That was me offering you sex? I don’t even remember talking to you.”

Of course she didn’t remember. If only he could say the same. Her hair had been even curlier when it was shorter, and she used to worry one curl between her thumb and forefinger when she was deep in thought. He used to watch her at school. He’d study her face and get totally absorbed in the curve of her cheek, or the tilt of her head, or that dark freckle below her right eye.

And especially the larger-than-usual dip at the center of her upper lip. What was it called? Her cupid’s bow, that was it. Her mouth couldn’t be like everyone else’s. Oh no, it had to have an extra flourish. Her upper lip had two steep peaks like pink mountains, plump and perfectly kissable…

Stop it, Nate!

He grabbed his beer bottle and squeezed it. Kryptonite, that’s what she was.

“All I did was repeat your own words to Harrison,” he said. “That you’d told me you’d do anything if I gave you my paper to hand in.”

“But I didn’t mean it, and you knew it.” With a toss of her head, she flicked a stray curl back from her eyes. “You lied so Harrison wouldn’t go out with me. You thought he was too good for me. And it wasn’t just an asshole move, it was nothing short of evil. I’m surprised there aren’t horns growing out of your forehead.” She stabbed her finger at him and the curl fell right back down again. “I wish he were here, so you could confess what you did.”

Harrison’s face flashed into his mind, the way he’d looked a few weeks ago, last time Nate had paid him a visit. He spoke without thinking. “Harrison wouldn’t have come.”

“Why not? Unlike you, he has nothing to be ashamed of.”

Nate hesitated. He didn’t like talking about his brother. “Harrison’s busy writing a book,” he said after a moment. If only it were true. If Harrison could summon the enthusiasm to actually start the thing, he might finally manage to crawl out from the grief and depression that had crippled him.

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