Excerpt from THE LIBERTOR
By Victoria Scott
When I open my eyes, the sun is trying to murder me. It’s shining on my face and making my head pound. Or maybe it’s my hangover that’s giving me the headache, but nonetheless—me and the sun?—we’re not on friendly terms.
Charlie murmurs beside me. My arms are still wrapped around her waist, and I suddenly realize I must have crashed out in her bed last night. If Grams wakes up and finds me here, she’ll run me a bath…and toss in the toaster.
“Morning, babe,” I whisper.
“Morning, hot stuff,” a distinctly male voice responds.
I whip around, my heart racing, and find Max sitting in a chair across the room. “You look so hot when you first wake up,” he says. He raises a hand to his hair. “Got that whole sexy bed head thing going on.”
Charlie doesn’t even move from her place, but I feel her laughing against me. “Your friend is kind of creepy, Dante,” she manages.
“Max, what the hell are you doing in here?” I ask, pulling the covers farther up even though I’m (regretfully) fully-clothed.
“Real question is, why did I wait so long to join you guys?” Max stands from his chair and cocks his head. A mischievous smile crawls across his face.
“No,” I say, trying to appear serious. “Don’t even think about it, dude.”
Max starts running in place, his smile widening farther until he looks deranged. “Ready or not!” Before I can stop him, Max races toward the bed and dives on top of us. “Oh! Oh it feels even better than I imagined.” He rolls back and forth across our bodies as Charlie laughs and I wonder why I’m friends with such a raging idiot.
With all my strength, I grab Max’s shirt and rotate him toward the edge. He falls off the side, his arms pin-wheeling. There’s a loud thud, and then nothing.
I wait for several seconds before leaning over to search for him. Max is lying face down on the floor, his arms and legs curled like a dead spider. “You’re not really hurt,” I say.
“I think you gave me spinal bifida. You need to call someone.”
“That’s a genetic disorder,” I respond with a sigh, collapsing back onto my pillow. A second later, he raises his head very, very slowly up from the side of the bed. It’s one of the more unsettling things he’s ever done. “Max, is there a purpose to this visit?” I ask. I want so badly to act like he’s annoying me. But he knows, and I know, that we both love this game: the one where I pretend he’s a pain in my ass, and he acts like a damn circus clown.
He stands up, crosses the room, and plops back down in the chair. “Valery sent me.”
I throw an arm across my eyes. “Of course she did.” Beside me, Charlie moves to get up and I immediately reach for her. She squeals and wiggles out of my grasp.
I watch as she walks around the bed and ruffles Max’s hair. The twenty-eight year old pants like a dog. It’s a bit disturbing considering Charlie’s seventeen. She eyes me with a grin. “I’ll make waffles.”
My face lights up.
“Yes,” she continues. “And bacon.”
I glance at Max and nod toward Charlie. “That’s my girl.”
“Damn straight,” he says.
“I’m still making breakfast for your birthday,” I call after Charlie. Then, looking at Max, I add, “My girl’s going to be legal soon.”
Max says, “Boom.”
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