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  • Writer's pictureTabatha Vargo

Dirty Saint Chapters 1 & 2


Victoria (Tori) Walsh


Working kept me sane and drove me crazy. It was the cure and the disease all wrapped into one shitty package. I told myself I was getting ahead as long as I hustled, but the truth was, I was never moving forward, no matter how many hours I clocked in. Something always kept me from reaching the goals I set for myself. I was in a rut and unsure of how to climb out.

I couldn’t think about that, though. If I did, I would drive myself insane. So I daydreamed a lot. In my mind, I wasn’t always stuck on the fryers. When I closed my eyes, I was a kid again. I was lying in my plush bed in our old house, warm and safe. I didn’t want for anything. I wasn’t hungry. I wasn’t wearing clothes with holes in them or shoes holding on for dear life.


I was the girl I used to be—living an easy life without worry. I had my baby sister by my side and my father holding my hand, reminding me he would always take care of us.

Grease popped up, blistering my exposed wrist and dragging me from my daydream. I blinked, the vision of my safe space replaced with the paper orders hanging from the spindle before me and the pungent smell of fried onions and old grease.

I flipped the bacon and pressed it down with my spatula to squeeze more oil from the fatty meat. Again, the grease popped, stinging my wrist.

“Shit,” I cursed, rubbing at the raw spot.

My gloves saved my hands from the oil some days, but I couldn’t do anything about my wrists and arms. The Huddle uniform had short sleeves; even if they didn’t, I would rather deal with the grease than the heat.

“Order up!” I shouted, sliding the bacon onto the plate and pushing it aside for Sadie to pick up for her table.

Sadie took the plate from the counter and balanced it on her forearm. She was my opposite, chubby and confident, with a radiant smile. She kept her curly blond hair in a bun on top of her head, but cute tendrils would escape and frame her round face by the end of her shift. Her eyes were blue, rimmed in naturally thick lashes, and even though we sweated our asses off, her makeup was flawless. Honestly, I was jealous of her in some ways. She didn’t have to worry about a little sister. She had time and money for fashionable clothes and makeup. 

Meanwhile, I looked like a homeless person. I was pale, and my face was coated in grease. My dark hair was knotted on my head, but it wasn’t as flattering as Sadie’s cute bun. My work clothes were the nicest I owned, but I was positive my underwear had holes.

I was going on my tenth hour working. I was exhausted—my back throbbed, and my feet were numb—but when they offered overtime, I took it, no questions asked. Thankfully, one of our new cooks was lazy and rarely came to work. I was willing to take the hours if she didn't need them.

When the three o’clock crowd dispersed, the place slowed until the morning crowd arrived. Until then, I could sit and even nibble on a few things. The crew chatted and joked with each other, but I kept to myself most nights. I was too tired to make friends. Instead, I parked my ass on a cracked leather stool behind the counter and devoured a piece of two-hour-old bacon.

My eyes scanned the space, an older diner with timeworn tables and chairs and dated decor. The place was family-owned, and there were black-and-white photos of the original owners and their children on the wall by the entrance. The ceiling was tobacco-stained even though smoking was no longer allowed inside, much to the old patrons’ dismay, and the walls begged for a fresh coat of paint. The walls in the booth area even had worn squares where old photo frames used to hang. The Huddle was a shit show with even worse pay, but a job meant a paycheck—no matter how embarrassing the amount was.

Once my double was over, I left smelling like burnt grease with fresh ketchup stains on my uniform. My calf muscles ached, and I could hardly keep my eyes open while walking to the bus stop. I sighed, relieved to see the bench empty when I reached it. I sat and held my feet out. My shoes were embarrassing. The bottoms were coming loose; sometimes, they slapped together when I walked. I needed a new pair, but the money wasn’t there. I barely made ends meet. I considered getting a second job, but there was no time.

I looked up at the morning sky and sucked in a deep breath of fresh air. Birds flew over me, welcoming the sun as it rose above the clouds. Everyone was waking, and all I could think about was getting to my apartment and getting at least an hour of sleep before Gracie was off to school.

Caring for my younger sister wasn’t easy, but I knew it was what my parents would have wanted. Not that I minded doing it. I loved her, and I wanted her to have a better life. She begged me to let her work since she was old enough, but I refused to allow it. She was a junior in high school and had a bright future. I wanted her to focus on the books and nothing else. I would deal with the rest, no matter how exhausted I was.

Thinking of Gracie had gotten me through many things in my life. First was the loss of our father, which left a gaping hole in my heart. Second was being separated from my little sister and tossed in foster homes. It had never occurred to me that Gracie and I didn’t have extended family until I was forced to live in the homes of strangers.

Vile things happened to me in those places, and I was left with half of myself when it was all said and done. I spent my nights praying that Gracie had ended up in better circumstances—that she had been placed with a lovely family with good values. I prayed those families had enough food to feed her and kept their hands to themselves. After going to bed hungry some nights and sleeping with one eye open to guard myself, I knew what kind of creeps fostered children.

I made it through with one goal: age out and get Gracie out of the system. When I wanted to give up, I knew I couldn’t. I was all she had; I would work until my fingers bled to have her returned to me. And that was what I did. I hustled from the day I was released onto the streets with only a backpack stuffed with hand-me-down clothes until the very moment that I sat on a bench waiting for the bus—exhausted and mentally drained.

The bus ran late, the sun high, and the morning crisp with dew dancing on the tips of the grass. Even though I was in a dangerous area where people were known to walk up to you and pluck things out of your hands, I began to doze on the bench. I didn’t sleep for long before the bus’s air brakes woke me. The smell of gasoline and exhaust reached my nose, and I coughed as I stood on tired legs and walked to the bus door once it came to a complete stop. I slept through the ride, thankful that the bus driver called out to me when we reached the stop closest to my apartment.

When I finally entered my apartment, Gracie sat at the kitchen table eating a bowl of off-brand Cinnamon Toast Crunch while looking through her calculus book. I grinned, slid my shoes from my aching feet, and tossed my bag onto the couch. I was relieved to be home, even if I would only be there long enough to sleep before it was time to return to work.

“If you’d let me work, we could afford cells, and I wouldn’t have spent the past hour of my life worried you were dead on the side of the road somewhere,” she said without looking up from her book.

A dribble of milk clung to her chin as she licked her finger and turned the page. So grown, yet still a little girl in so many ways.

“As you can see, I’m fine.” I spread my arms at my sides so she could see all of me. “Plus, think of all the cell phones you’ll be able to buy once you’re done with college and making bank.”

I fell onto our dated plaid couch, courtesy of the Goodwill close to work, and sighed. Gracie shook her head, making her dark curls bounce. I was envious of the beautiful rings that framed her face. I wasn’t that lucky. My long dark hair hung limp and dull down my back. Also, I was tall and slim, having lost so much weight over the years.

Meanwhile, she was short and curvy with boobs women paid good money for. I was okay with it, though. I wanted Gracie to have it all.

“You’re obsessed with money,” she accused. 

It wasn’t that I was obsessed with money. I wanted my life back. I was older when we lost everything, our father included, which meant I remembered the better times—the comfort of having money and never wanting anything. Plush beds and clean spaces. I needed that lifestyle back. I wanted my sister to feel at ease with her life. She deserved it. 

Gracie didn’t remember much of anything from our past. She was only seven when everything fell under, and our father was shipped to prison for a murder he didn’t commit. I was thirteen. The memories were there, and they weren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Our life was a shithole, and only one person was to blame.

His name twirled through my brain, and I shut it out, slamming the doors to my mind closed before his young face could flicker through my memory like a dreaded scary movie. He had taken everything away from me. He wasn’t worthy of my thoughts.

The school bus picked Gracie up twenty minutes after I got home, and I barely made it to the shower to wash away my double shift before my eyes began to close. I crashed on the bed, adjusting myself so the mattress springs didn’t poke me, and slept without dreams until the sounds of Gracie returning from school and raiding the kitchen cabinets for a snack woke me.

My head spun when I sat up and threw my sore legs over the side of the bed. Scratching at the back of my neck, I yawned loudly before I stood, stretched, and exited my bedroom.

“Whoa, you look like death,” Gracie observed when I entered the kitchen.

She tossed a chip into her mouth and crunched it. She had pulled her curls into a cute messy bun throughout the school day. Her cheeks were flushed from her walk from the bus stop, and her healthy skin glowed with fresh, unbroken youth. She was beautiful.

“Thanks. I love you, too.” My voice was rough with sleep, and I had fallen asleep with wet hair, which was now matted and knotted in twisted strands.

My thrifted pajama bottoms hung from my thin hips, and the tank I wore, also thrifted, had an old coffee stain on my right boob. Gracie was right. I wasn’t winning any beauty contests anytime soon.

The coffee maker beeped when I turned it on, and soon, the smell of a fresh brew filled our tiny kitchen. My arm muscles burned when I reached up and pulled my favorite coffee mug from the cabinet. It was white with the words, I don’t do mornings, down the center in black font. The handle was chipped, and I had to hold it a certain way, but something about its weight and shape made it my favorite.

I filled it, leaving my coffee black before I blew across the top and took a rejuvenating sip.

“Let me guess … you’re working tonight?” Gracie guessed with a sarcastic eye roll.


“What are your hours?” She crunched on a second potato chip.

They were salt and vinegar, and the smell was revolting. How my sister ate those things and enjoyed them was beyond me.

“Same as last night.”

Every night was the same. Every day. Every hour. Work. Work. Work. I was exhausted even thinking about it, but I knew it would be worth it when she walked across the stage and received her diploma. She had terrific grades. Her college would be paid for. Gracie would have a better life.

“You need a night off.” She moved to the couch with her bag of chips and sat down, folding her shapely legs beneath her. 

A night off. 

I wouldn’t even know what to do with a night off.

“No,” I disagreed. “What I need is to pay the rent. Mr. Rush is already breathing down my neck.”

So was the electric company and everything else that was due or late.

She groaned, the same argument she always had building. I didn’t have the brainpower to put up a good fight.

“If you would let me work, then maybe I could—”

I held my hand up, stopping her before she could even start. “We aren’t discussing this anymore, Gracie. Do you have a lot of homework?” I asked, changing the subject.

She shook her head, annoyed with me, making the loose curls that had escaped her messy bun bounce. “No. I did it on the bus on the way home.”

“Good. Do you think maybe you could catch up on laundry while I’m at work tonight? I only have one more clean uniform.”

If she wanted to work, she could do the small things to help me be ready to bring in a paycheck. I didn’t have time for laundry, and we had dishes in the sink most days. We tried to keep a tidy space, but things got out of hand sometimes.

“I’ll get it done,” she snapped, shoving another chip in her mouth before she stood, slid past me, and disappeared into her room.

She slammed her bedroom door, and I pinched the bridge of my nose, feeling a stress headache coming.


I hadn’t gotten the luxury of being an actual teenager since I had spent the years after my father was convicted being tossed from one foster home to another. Instead of going out and living any form of life, I sat up all night, worrying about my sister and guarding my body. You would think they would keep siblings together in those situations, but that wasn’t the case.

Once I was old enough, I worked my ass off, got my shitty apartment, and saved my sister from foster care. Keeping a roof over her head and clothes on her back wasn’t cheap, but it was worth it. So no, there was never any time for teenage angst and hormonal tantrums, and being twenty-three meant that time had long passed for me.

I sat down with my cup of coffee, hoping to wake myself for the night shift ahead of me, but Gracie came crashing back into the living room.

“I’ve made a decision,” she stated, her hand on her hip.

I sighed. I thought we were finished, but apparently not. “And what decision is that?”

“You’re only twenty-three, Tori, but you act like an old lady.”

I chuckled around the rim of my cup, sipping the potent brew and praying for the energy I needed to get through this. “Thanks.”

“I’m serious. If you don’t start living your life and going out to enjoy yourself on occasion, I’m going to work. There’s nothing you can do to stop me from working.”

Setting my coffee mug down, I ran my palms down my face and breathed deep through my nose. 

“Gracie, we’ve already had this discussion. Can we please not right now?” I massaged my temples, my headache growing stronger.

“No, Tori. I’m done watching you work yourself to death. You never do anything for yourself. You eat, sleep, and work. It’s no way to live.”

I agreed, but I wasn’t going to tell her that. I never wanted her to feel bad about our lives. I wanted her focused and happy, but I knew Gracie. She wasn’t going to let this go. My sister was a lot like me—hardheaded as hell. I had to give a little if I wanted her to drop it.

“Fine,” I agreed. I exhaled, tapping my finger against the throbbing in my temple. “Maybe I’ll go to a movie with Sadie some weekend.”

She crossed her arms with narrowed eyes. Her thick lips pinched, and her nostrils flared with her annoyed exhale. “A movie? Seriously?”

“What? There’s nothing wrong with going to a movie.”

Wasn’t that what people did? Movies. Dinner. Hanging out. That was the extent of having a life as far as I was concerned. It would be enough for me.

If I wanted Gracie to keep her head in the game and focus on her books, I would need to go out occasionally. I didn’t want to do it, but I would if it meant my sister would quit worrying about me. Maybe I would change clothes and tell her I was out while working. Although, I wasn’t sure that would work since I usually came in smelling like the fryers.

Either way, Gracie needed to think about college and her future, and no way would I drag her down or hold her back. So be it if I had to fib a little to make that happen.

“Fine,” I agreed. I waved my hand in her direction. “You win.”

Her eyes grew wide, and she grinned. “I do?”

I nodded. “Yeah. If it means you’ll stop worrying about my social life and keep your head in those books, I’ll do it.”

She chuckled and shook her head. “I’m serious, Tori. Go out. Have a life. You deserve it.”

Maybe I did.

Maybe I didn’t.

Either way, I would do it for Gracie or lie about it.

I finished my coffee and got dressed for work. I left a couple of hours later, knowing Gracie must go to the apartment laundromat alone. It was a small brick building on the side of the two large apartment buildings. The place was falling apart. Out of the eight sets of washers and dryers, only two worked. There were cockroaches and the occasional squatter, but thankfully, nothing dangerous had ever happened there. More than likely, she would read while she did a quick load, but still, any time she had to leave our apartment alone, it worried me. 

The bus was running late again, and I stepped into The Huddle just as my shift began, so I didn’t have time to collect myself before I was on the fryers. The place was packed with the Friday afternoon crowd, a precursor to the rowdy Friday night drunks who slurred their orders and fell asleep with their heads on the table. 

I wasn’t looking forward to working, but drunkards meant better tips at the bar area behind the grill. The bar would be packed on busy nights, and I spent half of my night on the grill and half of my night tossing orders onto the bar, which meant I got tipped like a server. The drunk diners didn’t even bother to count their cash when they pulled it out of their pockets in crumpled wads. A good Friday night could cover half of a bill sometimes. 

“Order up,” I called out and tapped the bell, signaling to Sadie that her order for table twelve was ready. 

She leaned against the counter between the fryers and the space where the cash register sat and smiled at me over the plate of fries I had just sat down for her. 

“What’s up?” I asked. 

Sadie and I got along well but weren't close because I didn’t hang out like the rest of The Huddle workers. Then again, I wasn’t close to anyone but my sister.

“Do you have any plans tonight after your shift?” She lifted a brow, knowing I usually did all I could to pick up a second shift instead of only working one.

I shrugged, tossing another frozen burger patty onto the grill. “Who knows? I hope Lazy Ass will call out again, and I can snag her shift.”

“Oh, I forgot to tell you, Milly let Lazy Ass go this morning after your shift ended.”


I would never get another double if she hired someone who wanted to work. 

“Damn. That sucks,” I said, pretending I cared. 

Sadie waved her hand in the air and chuckled. “Oh please, like you give a shit. You’re probably mad you’re losing those doubles.”

My shoulders stiffened at how well she had figured me out over the last year we worked together. 

“So who’s the new worker bee?” I asked, changing the subject. 

She grabbed the plate of food before snatching a stack of napkins for her table. “I don’t know. Some young chick. I say she’ll last a week.”

Then she walked away, leaving me feeling relieved. 

A week without doubles would hurt, but hopefully, the new girl wouldn’t last if Sadie was right. 


THE HOURS PASSED, and the sun went down, bringing forth the Friday night drunks. They filled the bar area, some sitting alone and eating their greasy late-night meal, and my pockets filled with tips. I resisted the urge to pull out the money and count it. By the time the end of my shift was approaching, I was tired and ready for a shower. 

“Hey,” Sadie appeared behind me and pulled at a lock of my hair. “What are you getting into after your shift?” she asked again.

“Nothing. I’m exhausted, and it’s after midnight. I’m going home to shower and sleep.”

“Lame,” she sang as she reached into a lower cabinet to replenish the napkins on the counter. 

I laughed. “It’s not lame to catch up on sleep.”

“It is when you’re young. Sixty-year-olds catch up on sleep. You’re no sixty-year-old.”

“Tell my body that.”

“Whatever. You have a hot bod.”

She turned and continued to work, but I stiffened.

Most people would love compliments on their bodies. Not me. I had spent too much of my life shielding my body against boys and men who didn’t know how to keep their hands to themselves.

The opposite sex wasn’t on my radar. I stayed away from anything with a penis because, as far as I was concerned, men were all the same. They were walking skin sacks full of testosterone with brains programmed to find sexual relief no matter who it hurt.

I was so broken by men that even a female commenting on my body sent me into a spiral of panic.

“Seriously, Tori,” she continued without noticing my discomfort. “Go out with us tonight.”

I laughed, and the sound shook with nerves. “I appreciate you asking, but I’m not feeling it tonight.”

She continued to push, and I wondered if Gracie had somehow reached out to her. “I’m serious. You never hang with us. It’ll do you some good.”

My mind returned to Gracie’s earlier words as I untied my apron and tossed it over my shoulder. She wanted me to go out somewhere other than a movie. She made me promise to get out and enjoy life. I wouldn’t enjoy myself. I didn’t want to go anywhere but home, but at least I could give her what she wanted. I was tired but not nearly as tired as after a double. If I was going to do this without lying about it, at least let it be at a time when work wasn’t possible. 

Before I could change my mind, I agreed. 

“Yeah, okay. Count me in.”

Sadie paused and turned toward me. Her eyes grew wide, and her mouth fell open. “Seriously?”

I nodded. “Seriously.”

I was already regretting it. And as Sadie drove me to my place, I racked my brain, trying to find an excuse to back out. When we pulled up to my apartment building, I hadn’t come up with anything yet.

“I’ll be back in an hour to pick you up. Be ready. We’re going to have so much fun!”

Sadie beamed at me from across the front seat of her car, and I grinned, trying to seem excited as I opened the car door and got out. I stood on the sidewalk and watched her drive away, wishing I hadn’t agreed. My calves burned from days on my feet, my hair was gross, and I didn’t have anything decent to wear.

An hour.

That would be enough time to shower and make myself presentable.

“You’re home early,” Gracie commented without looking away from the TV.

She was sitting on the couch and folding clothes.

“Milly hired a new girl who wants the work, which means no doubles for a bit.” I kicked off my shoes and went into the kitchen for water.

“Good.” I turned to see her set a folded towel on top of the stack of towels on the floor by her feet.

I didn’t remind her that doubles meant a fatter paycheck. Instead, I guzzled my water and set the glass in the sink when I was done.

Leaning against the kitchen counter, I braced for impact. “I’m going out tonight.”

The TV turned off, and the room went silent.

“For real?” Gracie asked.

“Yeah. Sadie invited me out for a girl’s night.”

I cringed at Gracie’s high-pitched squeal of joy, and seconds later, I was engulfed in a firm hug.

“I’m so thrilled for you. I’ll do your makeup. Your eyes are begging for winged liner.”

I held my hands up, stopping her before she could go too far. “No makeup, but if you have a shirt I could borrow, that would be great.”

The night was about appeasing my sister. I wasn’t about trying to call attention to myself. The last thing I wanted was attention from a guy. It wouldn’t end in flirting and hot sex. No. It would end with me walking home full of panic-driven energy.

True to her word, Sadie’s horn filled my apartment almost precisely an hour later. I looked out the living room window and into the parking lot to see her compact green car idling.

“Okay, so what do you do if something happens?” I asked, quizzing Gracie as if she were a child. 

She hated that, but I rarely left her alone at the apartment unless it was for work.

“I go over to Mrs. Eva’s apartment and ask to use her phone to call the cops.”

“And if someone breaks in?”

She sighed in annoyance. “I don’t know, Tori. I pick up something heavy and knock the fucker out?”

“Language, Gracie!”

At that, she chuckled and pushed me toward the door. “I hate to point this out again, but if you let me get a job, I could have a cell.”

“Forget about it. I’m doing this so you’ll keep your head in those books,” I said, motioning with my chin toward the stack of books on the kitchen table.

“Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Get out.” She laughed. 

Once on the other side of the door, I paused to take in my little sister. She was smiling happily. I had pleased her, fueling my night and keeping me going.


I would do anything for her. 

“Good night, brat. Don’t wait up.”

She rolled her eyes. “Yeah. Like I have to worry about you staying out until morning.”

She giggled before she closed the door in my face. I listened as she turned the three deadbolts I added to the door. Knowing she was safely locked behind our apartment door on the complex's second floor, I turned and left.





A night with Sadie and the girls meant standing along a deserted gravel road called The Strip and watching lunatics race motorcycles. It was an abandoned strip of highway in the center of Atlanta, tucked away while still in the city's busiest and most dangerous part. The news consistently reported about the area's crimes when I managed to watch a broadcast.

The asphalt was cracked, with spray-painted murals lining it and overgrown grass and dirt along the sides. What looked to be a decrepit gas station sat at one end of The Strip, most of its bricks lying on the ground around the foundation, while the other side merged into a broken parking lot littered with trash. But the fresh, bright white line that marked the finish line was the most noticeable thing about the place.

When we pulled up in Sadie’s green four-door Hyundai, the view of bikes, cars, and multicolored neons was like a scene from Fast & Furious. The air was fueled with the smell of drugs and gasoline, and you couldn’t hear yourself think over the bass-thumping speakers, the cheering crowds, and the roar of motorcycle engines. The place buzzed with electricity and energy, and while most people would enjoy that feeling, it left me with a weight of anxiety crushing my chest.

I followed Sadie, unsure of what to do with myself, and when she handed me a beer, I reluctantly took it and sipped it while I stood in the back and disappeared into the crowd. No one other than Sadie noticed me or spoke to me, which was fine with me and better for my severe social anxiety. It was embarrassing, but I was clueless about talking to others. I worked with people, but it was limited activity working on the grills.

We had only been at The Strip for a few minutes, and already I was uncomfortable in my skin and feeling out of place. The Atlanta night was sticky, and the humidity clung to my skin, dampening my clothes. I ran my fingers through my locks, feeling the frizz forming on the ends. It wouldn’t be long before the mop of hair on my head became poofy and gross. The quicker I could get through the night and back to my place, the better. 

Sadie bumped her shoulder against mine and smiled at me. 

“Having fun?”

I grinned, knowing it wasn’t going to reach my eyes. “Tons.”

She laughed, her mouth open wide enough that I could see her perfectly lined teeth. “Loosen up, Tori. Have a few drinks and enjoy yourself. You’d be surprised how much fun this place can be.” She lifted her bottle and took a long pull from her drink. “Besides, Saint’s up next. He’s my favorite racer.” 

The night seemed to pause around me at her words.


My body locked up, my muscles going stiff. I had once known a guy with the last name Saint, and just hearing the name sent a blazing arrow straight to my chest. An explosion of raw hatred filled my lungs, drowning me with its liquid heat. My cheeks flushed with fury at hearing the name, but I extinguished the flames, knowing she wasn’t referring to the same guy. That was impossible.

The Saint I knew was an evil son of a bitch. He was a vile human who ruined lives and lied with his fingers brushing the Holy Bible. I had watched him lie with his hand on the Bible. I hadn’t seen him in ten years, but I hoped wherever he was, he was feeling God’s wrath for his deception and part in ruining my life. I prayed he rotted somewhere, living a much worse life than mine.

“Saint,” I repeated the name, leaving a mighty trail of disgust across my tongue.

Sadie turned my way as if I had asked her a question.

“Yeah, girl. He’s all muscles and hot tattoos,” she continued, shaking her head and sucking her teeth as if she had already tasted him. “He’s a Hawaiian sex machine who makes the girls crazy.”

My heart slammed to a halt, and I sucked in a humid breath.



This wasn’t happening to me.

It couldn’t be him. 

There was no way I was that unlucky.

But I knew when my eyes settled on the tall guy waiting at the start line that it was him. It was the way he moved and the set of his shoulders. It had been years since I had last seen him, and even though he had grown, I could still see the thirteen-year-old boy I had once befriended. 

I closed my eyes, and time seemed to stop. I was no longer with Sadie at the place she called The Strip. I was lost in the hell he had sentenced me to.

Think of Gracie. 

Those were the words that ran through my mind as I went away from my current situation. I could get through anything if I thought of my little sister.

My dad had only been in prison for four months, and already I was in foster home number three. It wasn’t me. It was the families they stuck me with. The first had been shut down and jailed for drug use—the second for filthy conditions. I had never lived so terribly in all my life.

The third place was better. I was happy to see the new home was clean when I arrived. I was relieved that it was on the nice side of town, and my new foster parents seemed friendly and drug-free. I was glad to see other kids my age already living there. 

I imagined a better life for myself—where I could be under the same roof with my sister again and achieve some normalcy. Those imaginations were stolen from me the second my foster brother, Donald, covered my mouth with his palm and held me down. The moment he entered my young body—sending a piercing pain through my insides and stealing my young soul. 

I tried to scream, but only muffled cries pressed against his smoke-stained palm. He was only two years older than me. When I arrived, he was a welcoming kid—smiling and showing me around the place. Yet he was someone else entirely as he glared down at me and lodged my small frame into the plush mattress. 

I fought until my muscles ached, and then I left myself. I closed my eyes and thought of Gracie, finding relief in her angelic features until another face entered my mind. The person I blamed for my entire predicament. The person who ruined my life even though I had been kind to him. The liar. The son of the devil himself. 

Koah Saint.

The irony of his last name was a slap in the face.

A gunshot echoed through the night, pulling me from my hideous memory and returning me to the moment I had hoped would never come. The pair of bikes roared to life and screamed over the start line. I held my breath as his yellow bike flew down The Strip. Pink neons glowed from beneath him, lighting the asphalt and the finish line as he crossed it way ahead of the motorcycle he raced. 

The crowd went wild, cheering and screaming, boosting the energy surrounding him. I could hardly believe we had somehow managed to be in the same place simultaneously, but it was him. He showed off like the arrogant piece of shit I imagined he would grow up to be and making me shiver with hate and annoyance.

He pumped a glove-covered fist into the air when he crossed the finish line before turning and doing a wheelie back down The Strip. He balanced on his back tire like it was easy, and when he reached the end, he laid his front wheel down on the asphalt, raised his bike's rear, and spun. It was impressive, and the crowd cheered for him, making my stomach ripe with rage.

He ripped his helmet from his head before pulling his black and white cross-covered handkerchief down, exposing a straight nose, perfect white teeth, and thick lips. He smiled at everyone around him and bumped fists with a few guys approaching him.

Koah Saint.

He was the bane of my existence and the person who ruined my life. I despised him beyond the word's definition, and the fire simmering in my stomach at just the sight of him proved that.

As the group I was with moved to gather around him, I stood in place. I couldn’t go near him. It was as if we were two magnets turned backward, and a force kept me from approaching him. Instead, I stayed put, glared at him, and allowed the memories to rush over me like a debris-filled wave.

As if feeling my burning stare against his bronze skin, he turned my way, and his eyes connected with mine. His olive complexion paled before his cheeks filled with red heat, and he narrowed his eyes. He scowled back at me, and I felt his rage like I had walked from an air-conditioned room and out into the southern heat of the summer.

He loathed me, too.


I wanted the feeling to be mutual. 

I needed the feeling to be mutual.

He had grown a lot in the past ten years. He was still handsome, even though I would never admit that to another human being, but he was taller and darker. I had always known Koah was a menace, but he looked dangerous these days. It was strangely appealing, which made my stomach turn. It was evident by the women's reactions surrounding him that they felt the same way, but I knew what slithered beneath his good looks and electric charm.

A snake. A venomous predator capable of murder and destruction.

He looked away from me when a pretty blonde flung herself into his heavily tattooed arms. His life was nothing like mine. He was admired and respected—put up on some motorcycle king pedestal and hailed as a god, which sent a spiral of fury down my spine that paralyzed me.

Bikes. Women. Good looks. He seemed to have it all.

Meanwhile, I barely made ends meet and worked myself to death. I was skinny from lack of food and overworking myself and hadn’t had a decent haircut in years. I had no automobile. I had no boyfriend, though I never considered having one, and I looked like death.

It wasn’t fair. 

How could someone as despicable as Koah Saint have such good vibes in his life? He had lied about my father. He was why my dad had rotted in prison before dying a slow, painful, cancer-ridden death. He was the reason my sister barely remembered the man who had loved us so completely he would have given us the world. 

Fate was a heartless whore who had ways of spinning things in the wrong direction. I should have been the one happy with friends and a life. I should have been smiling across The Strip at him while his back pounded in pain and his shoes fell apart.

Everything about the moment was backward. I wanted to run and never see Koah’s face again, but I had nowhere to go. I had decided to join Sadie for a night out, and no matter how badly I wanted to flee, I couldn’t force her to leave, and it was too far of a walk to my apartment. 

I backed away, fading into the crowd around me until the backs of strangers blocked my view of Koah. The moment froze as the bikes buzzed around me, and people continued living their lives as if an epic quake hadn’t rocked mine. 


AN HOUR PASSED, I remained in my spot, silently praying Sadie would be ready to go soon. We had gotten there late since we had worked an entire shift, and I was grateful the night seemed to be coming to an end. Cars had started to depart in different directions, along with the bikes that had raced that night. The guys still there exchanged money and drugs with women pressed against their sides, gazing up at them as if they were royalty.

It was sickening.

I started to walk through the crowd to Sadie’s car, ready to sit inside and wait for her, when someone said my name, stopping me.

“Victoria Walsh.” The deep voice resonated, sending a spike of hate zipping up my spine. 

I paused as a wash of nausea spun through my gut, that day’s food sloshing around in bile and stomach juice and making me gag. My brain buzzed with ways to accept the challenge of facing him again, but nothing came to mind. Maybe if I kept moving, he would go away. But even as the thought entered my mind, I knew running like a coward would never sit well with me.

I turned to find Koah standing before me, his large tattooed arms crossed over his naked chest and a smug grin on his face. A braided hemp necklace with a dangling charm circled his thick neck, and I considered strangling him with it.

He was tall with tanned skin and Polynesian-style tats that seemed alive when he flexed or moved. His deep, soulful eyes were the murky green color of the Atlantic Ocean. His jeans hung low on his hips, and a trail of light hair stretched from his navel and disappeared into his jeans. Realizing my eyes were dipping into dangerous territory, I looked up quickly to find him grinning knowingly back at me with perfectly white teeth and juicy lips. I wasn’t checking him out. I was noticing the changes in him.

He was doing well for himself with diamond earrings, expensive shoes, a flashy motorcycle, and adoring women. It was bullshit. Koah Saint was living the life, and I was barely alive.

 “What are you doing slumming around these parts?” he asked, his voice deep and melodic.

I clenched my jaws so tightly that my teeth felt like they would crack. “I’m not slumming.”

He chuckled, unfazed by seeing me. “Right. Be careful, Little Princess. This isn’t your kind of crowd.”

How would he know anything about my life or the people I chose to be around?

I imploded.

“Fuck you.”

I didn’t curse often, but the moment required a hard f-bomb. Little Princess had been a pet name my father had given me. Hearing it come from his lips made the name burn in my stomach. 

He covered his cheek with his palm and pulled back as if I had offended him. I knew I hadn’t. He didn’t have a heart, much less the ability to be offended. “Wow. Little Miss Walsh bites back now. Good for you, Princess. You’ll need that here.”

“Yeah. My bite’s worse than my bark these days. Thanks to you.”

His stiff smile was unfriendly. “In that case, you’re welcome?”

How dare he?

“Don’t,” I snapped.

“Don’t what?” He lifted a brow as if he were genuinely interested.

“Don’t pretend you did me a favor when we both know you didn’t.”

He nodded, understanding my meaning. “The world’s a cruel place, Tori. Giving you thicker skin is a favor. You’ll need it if you plan on hanging around these parts.”

What the hell was he even talking about?

“These parts?”

“Yeah. The tougher side of town.” He spread his arms wide as if to say we were in his territory. “It’s nothing like where you’re from. You’ll never be able to hack it.”

He had jokes. That was cute.

“For your information, this is my side of town, and I’ve been hacking it just fine.”


His eyes widened briefly as if I had shocked him, but the expression cleared as quickly as it appeared. “Liar.”


His single word was like a dagger to the side of my head. My thoughts exploded, unclear and angry. He dared to call me a liar. Hearing the pot calling the kettle black would have been funny if I hadn’t been so enraged.


“No, Koah, the only liar here is you. You know it, and I know it, too.”


He rushed me, getting so close that his hard chest brushed the tip of my nose. The scent of his flesh disgusted me. He smelled like the night air with a hint of something sweet and spicy, and my stomach rebelled against the aroma. But while I was infuriated, a tiny touch of anxiety slipped in. I rarely got close to men. While I had grown stronger over the years, a frightened fourteen-year-old girl hid inside me. Still, I stood my ground. I wasn’t about to let him intimidate me.


Never again.


“My name is Saint,” he seethed. “Koah died ten years ago, Victoria.” He gritted out each syllable of my full government name as if it were the most disgusting word to touch his tongue.


I shook my head, my anger blazing on my cheeks. “Funny.” I snorted. “Victoria died ten years ago, too. You killed her.”


He stabbed himself in the chest with his thumb, drawing my attention to the glaze of sweat on his tattoo-covered skin. “I did nothing wrong!” he bellowed.


I pressed my palms into his chest, and my fingers shook. Touching him wasn’t something I had planned, but I needed him away from me. The memories started to rush me, and while the older and wiser me was mad and ready to fight, the scared fourteen-year-old me wanted to flee.


I pushed until he moved back, and I could breathe freely. “You did. You lied. You ruined my life. Thanks to you, I’m not the sweet girl I used to be. Now, I’m a bitter bitch with fury in my heart.”


His large palm covered my hand, holding it to his hard chest and sending another wave of fear crashing over me. His nostrils flared as he breathed down at me. The heat from his body made my trembling fingertips tingle. I was cold all over even though it was warm outside.


“You know what they say about bitter bitches?” His smooth voice was sprinkled with hints of sarcasm and anger.


I pulled back, wishing I was strong enough to free my hand from his grasp. My knees began to knock, and I worried I would explode if I didn’t get away. The mix of emotions was a volatile cocktail—unstable and capable.




He licked his thick lips before a sarcastic smile formed, making his dimples appear.


“They taste sour. Next time you finger yourself, taste and see.”


I gasped, ripping my hand from his and lifting it to slap him. He was faster than me and instead caught my hand in the air. 


“Be careful who you raise your hand to, Tori. Little girls like you are bound to get knocked on their asses.”


“I’d like to see you try,” I spat, dying for a fight with him. 


Whatever anxiety I felt seconds earlier had been burned away by the raw fury he pulled forward with his words. I had spent most of the past ten years of my life imagining how good it would feel to knock Koah on his ass. I would gladly give him what he wanted if he wanted a piece of me. 


He chuckled, letting go of my hand and daring me with his eyes to try to hit him again. 


“I don’t hit girls,” he said. 


“That’s funny. You have no problem destroying a girl’s life, but you won’t hit them? Typical cowardly bullshit.”


He stepped away from me, and the crisp night air flooded my cheeks, cooling them. Once again, the side of his mouth lifted in a sardonic grin. 


“I’ll see you around, Tori.” He crossed his arms, dismissing me.


I wanted to stand my ground, but the longer I stood there glaring back at him, the more I desired to run away. So I folded first, turning and going toward Sadie. I needed away from The Strip and didn’t care what I had to do to get her to leave. I would never let Sadie talk me into a night out again, especially if it meant seeing the devil and remembering how he had burned me.

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