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“Well, it was a way of getting away from them,” she answered. She set her battered cowboy hat on her lap before it could blow away.

“Yeah, I know,” Pete said.

And he did know. She had run to him and told him she had caught her cousin and her Dad doing married folk stuff in the barn. It was Pete who told her not to tell anyone least her Momma in the hospital find out. And Amaliya could not hurt her mother with the truth as she lay dying. So she had kept silent.

“What about you? How are you doing since I left?”

“Got that job down at the refinery. Manager. My experience and those classes I took down at the community college paid off. That's why I'm building my house. ”

“That's good! Real good!” Amaliya grinned at him with a flash of white teeth. To her surprise, he seemed a little dazzled by her and despite the dark, she could see him blush.

“I like the black hair,” he said after a moment of silence. “It looks good. I remember you had it like that when you got back from Austin. ”

“Yeah, Dad threw a shitfit so I dyed it back to blond. But I figured I'm twenty-four and I can do what

I like since I don't live under his roof. ”

“Liking school?”

Turning her head away from him, she slightly nodded. “Yeah. I liked school, but it’s been rough lately. ”

“Classes are a bitch. But I was never as smart as you. You were always making B's and I was barely getting D's. ” He laughed his rich, wonderful laugh. “You always were smart. ”

“Not smart enough at times,” she answered softly.

The Dixie Motel sign flickered into view up ahead. Its bright pink and blue lights stood out against the black relief of the trees towering over the road. The faux, German-style hotel was lit up with pale blue lights that blinked on and off as bugs buzzed around them. A large sign announced the $39. 95 per night rate and Amaliya inwardly grimaced as she thought of her small cache of money.

“Pete, thanks for doing this,” she said. “For picking me up. You could have stayed back there drinking. ”

“I'd rather stay here with you,” he answered with a shy smile. The car rumbled to a stop. He flipped off the headlights and turned off the car. “I think you're a good person. And you got a raw deal. Besides, I kinda like your fiery Mexican streak that only comes out when you're pissed. ”

She laughed and shook her head, her black hair falling around her face. “Sad that the only Spanish I know are swear words. ”

When he touched her shoulder, she turned to look at him. His kindness touched her, as did his warm smile. She smiled back at him, and once more, he seemed stunned by her expression. He did grin back though.

“I'll go get us a room,” he said, and leaped out of the car.


The door slammed shut just as she spoke. He jogged off toward the front office.

Blinking, she sat back in the bucket seat and furrowed her brow. “Oh, shit. ” Reflecting back on their conversation, she realized he had misunderstood her. She had inadvertently picked up Pete. Covering her face with her hands, she let out a little laugh. “Oh, God. ” Giggling, she ran a hand through her hair and looked out toward the office. Pete's jolly little walk and wave made her laugh once more.

Considering how gawdawful this night had started and kept going, she was surprised to feel any levity at all. He made her feel real again. The nightmare at the college seemed like a dim memory. The showdown with her father was a fading bad taste in her mouth.

Propping her feet up on the dashboard, she leaned back in the chair and forced herself to relax. Okay, she was a vampire. A strong one at that. She could do things she never dreamed. But she was still Amaliya Vezorak, from the city of Spooner deep in the wilds of East Texas. Despite it all, she was still wearing her shitkickers, her beat-up jeans, and she was still wanting her Daddy to love her and her Momma to be alive. Whatever had changed inside of her had not taken that away.

Closing her eyes, she silently considered whether or not to sleep with Pete. She would have to toss him out before the sun came up. She wasn't sure how that was all going to work yet. But she felt good and alive in this moment despite everything and she didn't want it to fade. A little sex might do her good. Make her feel alive and wanted.

Realizing she wasn't breathing again, she put her hand against her chest to feel a very slow thud. Frowning a little, she waited for the next beat and her brow furrowed even more as it seemed to take far too long to come.

“Okay, I got the room, but its Mr. Rusk in the office. So, I'll drive up as close as I can to the room and you sneak in super fast. ”

Amaliya laughed. “You're still afraid of our Sunday School teacher?”

“Yeah,” Pete answered and grinned. “Aren't you?”

“Actually, yeah. He was a scary old coot! But won't he think its weird you're staying here?”

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