Title: Only The Pretty Ones
Author: Karen M. Bryson
Genre: Romantic Crime Fiction
Release Date: June 9, 2017
Hosted by: Buoni Amici Press, LLC.
She was the pretty one. She was the one who was taken.
Maxie Ford’s sister, Ella, has vanished.
When the police refuse to investigate, Maxie decides to take the law into her own hands.
With the help of a drug dealer, “Mickey Finn” Donovan, Maxie dives into the seedy underworld of the city in search of Ella.
What she discovers is a trafficking ring that abducts college girls for wealthy and high-powered men, and a legal system that is so corrupt no one is willing to stop them.
It’s the first time I’ve been out of my apartment in nearly a month and a drunk frat boy is engaged in a rambling conversation with my breasts.
I’m twenty-six. I’m getting too old for this shit.
I wonder if he’s even noticed that my knockers haven’t responded to any of his questions. The guy reeks of booze and cigarettes. All I want to do is escape, but he has me trapped between the end of the old wooden bar and the wall.
When he finally makes an effort to glance up at my face I feel like he’s focused on my chin. “What did you say your name was?”
He wobbles like a newbie surfer trying to ride his first wave. When he attempts to perch on one of the bar stools, he ends up falling on his ass.
My sister, Ella, talked me into accompanying her tonight. Normally I wouldn’t be caught dead at a sports bar frequented by the overprivileged college crowd. But Ella pleaded, and I didn’t want her to go alone.
I’m a poster child for the bad things that can happen to women when they’re left alone with drunk college guys. That’s why I prefer to limit my face-to-face social interactions to my sister, my best friend, and the mail carrier.
“I know you said you didn’t want to drink, but I brought you one anyway.” She hands me a glass filled with cheap beer.
How do I know it’s cheap? It’s the color of piss and smells worse than a portable potty on a hot summer day.
I place the glass on the edge of the bar. “Thanks anyway.”
“You could at least try to fit in.”
The problem with her request is that I’ve never fit in anywhere.
My sister is a freshman at my alma mater: Big State University. I graduated five years ago. My parents wanted me to attend one of those prestigious private universities that line the northern East Coast. I had the grades to get in, but lacked the social savvy to succeed in the Ivy League. I chose to attend a less prestigious institution where the only criteria for admission is a pulse. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. The school isn’t second rate, but it’s also not the Harvard of the Florida Gulf Coast as some of the administration would like prospective students to believe. I thought I’d blend in better at someplace like Big State University. I was wrong. I was just as much of a misfit there as anywhere else.
The bar is packed with Big State University students. It may be a different decade than when I was a student, but the social stratification is still the same.
And I’m still a misfit.
“Fitting in is overrated.” I glance down at the drunk frat boy who took the tumble. He’s fallen asleep on the filthy, beer-soaked floor in front of me. At least I think he’s asleep. I kick him in the ribs just to be sure he’s still alive. He moans in response. “This is not my idea of fun.”
Ella ignores my disparaging remarks. She glances around the bar. “I don’t see Sean anywhere.”
Sean Harrison is the guy who invited Ella to meet him at the bar tonight. He’s the guy she’s been talking about nonstop for over a week. The way she’s built him up I expect nothing less than a Prince Charming who is going to sweep her off her feet.
Of course romantic gestures like that only happen to girls in fairytales. They don’t happen to girls who hang out in grungy sports bars frequented by Big State students. We’re lucky if the guys we go home with remember our names the next morning.
Ella bites her perfectly-pink bottom lip as her bright blue eyes scan the bar. “He said he’d find us.”
“Find you. He said he’d find you.”
My younger sister has always been the pretty one. Long blonde hair. Sparking sapphire eyes. Perfect features. Being pretty is the reason she’s holding a beer in her hand when she’s only eighteen. When she wants something, men rarely tell her no.
“Why are you always so down on yourself?”
Because when people can’t think of anything else to say about me, their go-to line is at least she’s smart. As if that’s a compliment. That’s what people say to parents when they have a kid who is awkward and unattractive.
“I’m a realist.”
“No, you’re a cynic.”
“Enough about me. I thought we were talking about your Prince Charming.”
“I think I see him.”
She grabs my elbow and pulls me through the crowd as she heads towards Sean.
I place my hand over my mouth to avoid gasping when I lay eyes on him. No one would accuse me of being a great catch, but this guy isn’t even in my league. He’s got a round toddler face on a squishy dad bod making it difficult to tell if he’s old or young. His hairline is receding, which doesn’t help his attractiveness quotient. He might be able to make a case for being a solid four on the attractiveness scale, if his clothes didn’t look like they were from his father’s closet.
“Ella.” He gives my sister a peck on the cheek. “I’m so glad to see you.”
Her pale cheeks redden in response. “I’m glad we found you in this crowd. This is my sister, Maxie.”
“Nice to meet you,” I say as convincingly as possible. As I look the dweeb up and down I wonder what kind of spell he’s put my sister under.
He points to my empty hands. “You don’t have a beer.”
“I don’t like to drink and stride.” My attempt at humor fails miserably. Sean stares at me blankly. “It’s a play on words. Drink and drive. Drink and stride.”
Is there any greater torture than having to explain a joke?
He laughs politely. “I get it now.”
“Sean and I met at a coffee shop near campus,” Ella explains. “He loaned me a pen.”
“I always carry extras, just in case.”
“Sean’s a Sigma Psi.” Ella gives me a sly smile.
The pieces of the puzzle are slowing coming together. My sister has always had a fascination with the rich and powerful. Maybe because our parents always struggled financially.
Only the best of the best is chosen for Sigma Psi. For generations the fraternity has been the college home to the offspring of the wealthy and elite of the country.
Sigma Psi guys generally mate with girls in their own social class. Usually that means Delta Sigma sorority sisters. But the guys have been known to slum around with girls outside of their tax bracket when they want to get laid and don’t want to bother learning the girls’ names.
That doesn’t appear to be Sean’s motive though. He seems to be genuinely enamored with my sister. As if there’s a straight guy on the planet who has ever laid eyes on Ella who hasn’t fallen madly in love with her.
What’s strange is that Ella seems to be just as taken with Sean.
Just when I think things couldn’t get any more awkward a liquored-up blonde staggers up to us. “Don’t listen to a thing that comes out of this guy’s mouth.” She gestures in Sean’s general direction. “He’s a sheep in wolf’s clothing.”
“Don’t you mean a wolf in sheep’s clothing?” I correct.
She tries to put a finger to her nose, but completely misses her beak. “I must be drunk,” she declares then laughs uncontrollably.
“Maybe you’d better lie down, Tiffany.” Sean’s tone is clipped.
She shakes her head. “I don’t want to miss all the fun.”
“You look a little green,” Ella says.
Tiffany smacks her tongue against the roof of her mouth. “I’m not feeling very good.”
She’s not looking too hot either. All the color has drained from her face. When her eyes go wide, I have a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that she might hurl. Instead she lets out a loud burp that smells like stale beer.
“Oops.” She laughs again.
Just as I’m about to let out a small sigh of relief she turns and pukes all over me.
It’s not a little bile barf either. It was an epic, head-spinning Linda Blair Exorcist spew. The entire contents of her stomach cover every inch of my dark clothing. I’ve even got chunks of half-digested hamburger in my auburn hair.
She wipes her mouth with the back of her hand and stares at me blankly. “What happened? Did I get sick?”
“All over me.” I do my best to control the anger burning inside.
Before I have a chance to say anything else she stumbles away.
“The least she could have done was take her puke with her.” Even though I’m trying to make light of the awful situation, Ella and Sean stare at me in horror like I’ve been doused in gasoline and set on fire.
“I’ll be fine,” I assure them.
“Maybe you’d better go to the bathroom and get cleaned up,” Ella suggests.
Even though he seems harmless I don’t want to leave her alone with Sean. My job here is to be the overprotective big sister. “Would you come with me?”
She glances over at Sean then she looks at me. Then she bites her bottom lip. She seems conflicted.
“It’ll only be a minute,” I tell her.
As soon as she takes a step toward me Sean places a hand on her wrist. “Where are you going? You just got here.”
“I was going to help my sister in the bathroom. I’ll be right back.”
“She’s a big girl,” he says. “I’m sure she’ll be okay by herself.”
Her brow furrows. “Will you be okay?”
“Ella’s in good hands,” Sean gives me a crooked smile. “I promise.”
“Stay right here, okay?” The place is packed and I’m not sure I’d be able to find them if they wander someplace else.
“We will,” Ella promises.
I notice that Sean takes her hand in his. The guy may be a dweeb, but he works fast.
As much as I don’t want to leave Ella alone with him the vomit is starting to dry and crust onto my clothing.
I carefully snake through the crowd as I make my way to the back of the bar where the restrooms are located. There’s a line to get into the ladies’ room. When I glance at the entrance to the men’s room it looks deserted by comparison. I opt not to wait. It’s not like I’m planning to use the toilet. The men have sinks just like the women do.
A sharp dressed guy is standing in front of a urinal doing his thing. He gives me a dirty look as I walk by.
“Are you lost, little girl?” There’s a hint of indignation in his voice.
“I’m not a little girl, and I’m not lost.” Admittedly I am short, but I haven’t been a girl in over a decade.
The grimy sinks look like they’re rarely cleaned. At least the water is clear when I turn on the faucet. I grab what’s left of the paper towels out of the dispenser on the wall and go to work on the vomit down the front of my black shirt.
Just as I start to clean the puke from my dark jeans Mr. Obnoxious from the urinal marches right up to me, invading my personal space. He gets so close I catch a whiff of his spicy cologne.
I don’t like anyone getting so close to me, especially guys I don’t know.
He glares down at me with dark angry eyes. I’m only five foot four. The guy looks like he’s nearly a foot taller than me. And he must outweigh me by a hundred pounds.
“What are you doing in the men’s room?”
I glare right back at him. “What does it look like I’m doing?”
The realization that we’re the only two people in the bathroom hits me hard. The guy obviously has some anger management issues. Maybe some girl he was hoping to score with rejected him. I just hope he doesn’t plan on taking his anger out on me.
“I’m looking for some action.” His eyes scan the length of my body. “You look like a fun ride.”
My chest tightens and my heart begins to thump wildly. I was a victim once and I swore I’d never be a victim again.
In one swift motion I remove a .22 Magnum from my handbag and point it right at the guy’s face. “I’m not interested in any action, asshole. Now get the fuck out of the bathroom before I blow your head off.”
His eyes go wide and he stares at me, dumbfounded for several long moments. “You wouldn’t really shoot me, would you?”
“I’d tell the police it was self-defense. That you tried to rape me. Just think how much money I’d save the tax payers. No trial. No he-said-she-said because you’d already be dead.”
He slowly raises his hands in a defensive gesture. “Okay, I get it. You’re one of those angry girls out to emasculate every guy on the planet.”
“Do you really think that’s a smart thing to say to someone who has a gun pointed at you?”
A moment of clarity seems to overtake him. “I’m sorry, okay. Will you just let me go?”
He slowly backs away from me. When he realizes I’m not going to shoot him if he keeps his promise he darts out of the bathroom.
I put my handgun back in my bag. Then I scrub the rest of the caked vomit from the jeans. I do my best to wipe the half-digested chunks of burger out of my hair without throwing up.
For several moments I glance at myself in the hazy mirror. Maybe Mr. Obnoxious was right. Maybe I am an angry girl. And maybe I have been for a really long time.
The smell of sweat and stale beer overpowers me as I step out of the men’s room. Every inch of the place is now packed with drunk college students. It’s so loud I can barely think straight. And it’s sweltering hot. My first instinct is to bolt from the bar into the relatively cooler night air. Well, as cool as you can get in a subtropical climate anyway. I can’t leave without my sister though. I made a promise that I intend to keep.
I’m never going to let what happened to me happen to her.
Karen M. Bryson is known for writing new adult, love in midlife, contemporary romance and romantic crime fiction with a little spice and lots of heart. She is a winner of the prestigious RONE Award for Excellence in the Indie and Small Publishing Industry.
Karen is also an award-winning/optioned screenwriter.
When she’s not at her computer creating spicy stories Karen likes to spend time with her husband and their bloodhounds. Karen has previously written under the pen names REN MONTERREY, SAVANNAH YOUNG, SIERRA AVALON and USA TODAY Bestselling author DAKOTA MADISON.