My gaze shifts to the gravel road that goes to our campsite. I inspect my nails. They are a disaster. I am a disaster. This torture needs to stop.
* * *
There are good Samaritans and there are saints.
I am a saint.
The god of patience. The greatest man who ever lived.
A couple weeks ago I would have settled for the simple hard-working, nice-guy label. A couple weeks ago Avery Montgomery, Diva Bitch, wasn’t on my radar. Hell, she wasn’t even in the same state.
“I think I’m getting jungle rot.” She slips off her Barbie shoes and rubs her toes.
“Jungle rot?” I shoot her a quick glance, getting out of the truck and taking a deep inhale of mountain air as Swarley jumps out behind me.
Diva Bitch hasn’t taken a single deep breath over the course of our journey. However, she hasn’t missed one opportunity to whine about the scuff marks on her toe-mangling shoes or the damage to her hair from the hard water at the campgrounds and the wind.
“Haven’t you watched G.I. Jane?” She frowns at my lack of engagement while opening her door.
I chuckle, fighting to keep my sense of humor. If I lose it—she’s a dead diva bitch. I’ve been out of the ring for a few years, but I’m certain I could end the misery—my misery—with one quick move.
“Jake …” She whines again. It’s too much to handle.
“It’s a fucking blister, you materialistic, chronically pessimistic, vain, grouchy, dog-hating, bit—” Okay, I may have already lost my sense of humor. My best guesstimate … it scattered in the wind a few miles back when Avery threw her tantrum over me rolling down the windows, adding even more irreparable damage to her hair.
“Bitch? Were you about to call me a bitch?”
She’s not stupid. I get it. Flaunting her looks instead of her intelligence has probably suited her needs over the years. Until now …
Her mantra of all-men-are-lying-cheating-monkey-spanking dick cheese will not win her points in the male community, even if she is a walking wet dream. I can’t even acknowledge her word choice. Dick cannot be an adjective to cheese. Nope. No fucking way.
“Bitter. I was going to say bitter woman.” Bitch. Total bitch.
“Typical. Men love to break women down, use them for dick warmers, and cry bitch when we decide to stand up for ourselves.”
I hold the flap open for her to get her bitchy ass in the tent. The quicker she goes to sleep, the quicker I can have some peace and quiet.
“Tomorrow we get a hotel.” She huffs.
“The only luxury tomorrow may bestow upon you is me not killing you. My trip. My truck. My choice where we stay. I make this trip every year. And every year I stay at campsites along the way.”
“It’s been a week and we’re not even halfway to L.A.! My sister is probably home and wanting her dog back, but I wouldn’t know because my phone is dead half the time and we don’t have a signal the other half.”
I grit my teeth, fisting my hands to keep them from encircling her neck. “I said I take my time getting to the West Coast. You said ‘I’m in no hurry.’ You said ‘I don’t want to be an inconvenience. Just pretend I’m not here.’”
Avery grimaces while sliding her jungle rot feet back into her high heels. She pushes out her chest and tips her chin up. I bite back my grin as she hobbles like a broken princess to the tent.
“Come, Swarley,” she says.
The elderly Weimaraner lumbers to all fours from his spot in the cool grass. I bet he’d rather sleep right there than share space with Avery. I’m sure he’s tired of hearing her drone on about how he ruined her life.
I lock up the truck and enter the campground gates of Hell.
“Out!” Avery holds her wadded shirt up to her chest. “You’re supposed to ask if it’s okay to come in here.”
I shrug, zipping the tent flaps behind me. “I’m taking your advice … pretending you’re not here.”
“But I AM here.”
I shoot her a barely detectable smile while moving to the center of the tent, the only part where I can stand straight. It’s also where my hitchhiking leach happens to be. Her blue eyes widen as she stiffens a little more.
“Swarley, did you hear something?” I shrug off my shirt.
Avery’s lips part.
I shrug. “Me neither.” As if she’s not gasping just inches from me, I unfasten my cargo shorts and let them fall to my feet. I didn’t think her eyes could get any wider. I was wrong.
“I’ve seen it and … I-I’m not impressed. Also, I don’t like tattoos. Or … or bulky muscles.” She shakes her head, nose wrinkled. “Your hair is too short … and blond. I like men with dark hair. And your eyes are the wrong shade of blue. And your …”
Keeping my head bowed, I toe off my shoes, hiding my amusement behind twisted lips. “My what? My cock is too big?” I glance up as the horror intensifies, reddening her cheeks.
Her jaw unhinges. “Listen, short dick, I want nothing to do with your cock. Or any cock ever again.”
“Thank god … my cock threatened to hold its breath until it turns blue and falls clean off my body if I even think of sticking it in your battery-acid lined cu—” I stop myself, clinging to the tiny bit of control I have left.
Another gasp. Can she really be that shocked?
“Cu? Cunt? Was that the word tripping out of your mouth? You are the most vulgar man I have ever met.”
Really? She’s from L.A. I’m not vulgar. This infuriating woman just brings out the fighter in me. I need to let this go and take the high road.
“Sorry. Lady bits? Vajayjay? Hoo-haw? Quim?”
“Vagina! Vagina, vagina, vagina, vagina.” She balls her fists.
I lift a single brow. “Okay.” I bow. “Good night, Your Royal Vagina.”
“You’re such a dick,” she mumbles as I turn, retrieving my toothbrush and toothpaste from my backpack.
“Penis. Penis, penis, penis, penis. If we’re being anatomically correct, you think I’m such a penis.” I shove my toothbrush into my mouth and wrap my lips around it to ward off my amusement.
“My boyfriend stuck his penis into another woman … but I’m certain I hate you more.”
I pause my brushing motion, jerking my head back. Damn! What a declaration. I’m not sure if I should be offended or honored. Honored. Definitely honored. I continue brushing.
Avery huffs and turns, keeping her back to me as she removes her bra and slips on a satin nightie. Yup … I’ve been camping for the past week with a stranger hell-bent on torturing me in every possible way.
I unzip the tent’s entrance and spit out my suds.
“Wait …” she mumbles over her toothbrush, crawling toward the opening.
Before I can get the flap pushed completely open, she spits … all over the inside of it.
“Nice, Ave … real nice.” I shake my head.
She wrinkles her nose, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand as her wide eyes flit between the mess and me. “Sorry.”
“Yeah, I’m sure you are.” I grab the first thing I can find and wipe off the nylon flap.
“Hey!” Avery grabs my wrist. “That’s my shirt! That’s an eighty-dollar shirt you’re using like some bar rag.”
I nudge her to keep her away, refusing to relinquish the overpriced white T-shirt until the inside of my tent is free from her spit-up mess.
“Stop! Give it!” She attacks my arm, pressing her satin-clad body to my bare back.
“Get off me. You’re upsetting him, you crazy freak.” But I still don’t give her the shirt. I wad it up, throw it outside, and zip the flap.
“Bastard!” Her hand flies through the air toward my face.
I intercept it just before she connects with my cheek. The prissy princess with fake lashes, too much lip gloss, Barbie smooth hair, and miles of attitude drives me to the brink of murder. But … this hot mess with windblown hair—albeit curiously flawed—and a face devoid of anything God didn’t give her … she’s fucking beautiful.
So. Damn. Sexy.
“Get. My. Shirt. NOW!”
I nod to her taped fingers. “I think it would have hurt you more than me.”
“Get my shirt!”
The grin on my face feels incredible. “Let it be.”
Avery dives for the door. I stand on my knees and block her with my body, holding her to my chest with one arm around her waist.
She shoves my shoulders.
Breathless, with anger staining her cheeks crimson, she huffs out a long exhale just inches from my mouth.
“Let it be,” I repeat.
My other hand fists the back of her hair, giving it a firm jerk until her neck begs for my mouth. “Let. It. Be.”
I like older men in suits who don’t feel the need to express themselves by marring their skin. I like hotel suites. Sit-down dining. Air-conditioning. Daily showers with hot water. Luxury beds. Silk pillowcases. Expensive cars with leather seats.
My heart has been broken too many times to count. I’m not sure it’s really a heart anymore—just a fleshy doormat.