Money isn’t everything, of course, but it’s a lot. If you’ve never been poor, you wouldn’t understand. When you have no means, you have no choices. Even something as simple as choosing the scented Secret deodorant at the grocery store was revolutionary for me when I first started dealing. Being able to grab a snack I want at a gas station, or buy one notebook for each of my school subjects, rather than a five-subject spiral notebook that would have to work for all my classes.
You know how they say ‘it’s the little things’? It so is. Like eating cheese. Not the boring, WIC-approved kind, but the good stuff: asiago, halloumi, havarti. When you have one pair of shoes, and it rains, guess what? They start to stink, because you have to wear them the next day, and the next day, and the next. Call me petty, but I don’t like stinky shoes.
I like crackers. Do you know how expensive a box of Cheese-Its is? Plus or minus four dollars. What about jeans? I like jeans that fit my curves in all the right ways; not the cheap ones. I like painting on canvases that don’t come from the discard pile behind Michael’s. Almost all my art from high school and my freshman year is done on ripped canvas.
I don’t want to be second-rate.
I don’t want to always be reaching.
I don’t want to be a cashier, or a gas station clerk, or a mill worker.
I’m so close to all my goals, I can’t give up now. Even if I have to spend a couple weeks at Kellan Walsh’s illicit river mansion, sticking my ass into the air for him.
It’s not as if I mind that, I remind myself. Sharing my body with him can be done without too much heartache, I think, if I can only manage to remember the limitations of our arrangement.
A strand of hair falls into my eyes, and I swipe it off my face. In doing so, I get a glimpse of Kellan, striding a half foot in front of me. He’s got my backpack slung over one muscled shoulder and my overnight bag hanging from the other. I notice, as I pull ahead to walk beside him, he’s still holding the sack.
“What’s in there?” I ask. My stomach rumbles at the sight of the grease stains on the paper bag.
He looks down at his hand, as if he’s only just remembered he’s carrying it. He gives me a small, lopsided smile—a smile that feels distracted, as if he’s only peeking out at me from wherever he is inside his head. He says, “You’ll see.”
He holds his free hand out, and I stare down at his forearm. The skin on the inside of his arm is smooth and pale, softness stretched over taut, rippling muscle. He’s so beautiful and well-hewn, he reminds me of the male gymnasts I used to watch in the Olympics.
I glance up at his eyes. They’re steely and blue, the color of the ocean. He raises his brows disapprovingly, urging me with just that look to take his hand, and me being me, I fold after only a moment.
“Skittish,” he murmurs.
“You’re skittish. Like a deer.”
With a tug of my hand, he steers me to the right, toward a wall of bookshelves stretching from floor to ceiling.
I open my mouth to tell him I’m not a deer. I’m a sloth. It’s my longstanding nick name, from back in middle school, and it’s evidenced by my favorite little necklace—now tucked safely into my bookbag—but I get the feeling he’d give me grief for it. Instead I say, “I’m not skittish. I’m suspicious.”
“Don’t be,” he says. “I’ll take care of you.”
RELEASE DATE: February 25, 2015
I whirl around, because I need to go now. Need to run.
He grabs my arms, snatching me around to face him, holding me in front of him. Holding me still as he tries to tell me things I never want to hear.
“Stop it! Shut up! Shut up, Kellan! Fuck you!” He pulls me closer, and I slap his face.
The sound echoes through the foyer. His smooth, tanned check stains brilliant crimson.
He doesn’t move a muscle. Doesn’t even blink as I look at him for what I know will be the last time.
I’m sorry. His lips move silently. I don’t care. I can’t. His secrets ruined my life. He ruined my life!
If I live to be hundred, my heart will never be the same.
Note: Sloth is the first in my new Sinful Secrets series. Each intense, erotic story is inspired by a sin, and centered around a life-altering secret. Each “sin” stands on its own, so they don’t have to be read in order. After Sloth, I’m writing Murder. Between these two, I’m releasing a stand alone: a more traditional romance called The Boy Next Door.
Ella James is a USA Today bestselling romance author. Her books have appeared on numerous bestseller lists, including the Movers & Shakers list and the Amazon Top 25 overall; two were listed among Amazon’s Top 100 Bestselling Young Adult Ebooks in 2012. To find out more about Ella’s projects and get dates on upcoming releases, you can stalk her on the following social media sites.