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Claimed Freed Book #1

Claimed Freed Book #1

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Vincent Jamison isn’t the boy I left behind. He’s a man—strong, powerful, rich. His life couldn’t be more different from the one I remember living in Indiana. He sweeps me off of my feet into a fairytale like the ones I always dreamed of, and I think maybe my prince has finally come.

But Vincent doesn’t just want to save me. He wants to claim me. 
Own me. And before I know what’s happening, he’s got me right where he wants me.

Main Tropes

  • Billionaire Romance
  • Age Gap
  • Protective Hero


Once upon a time, there was a girl.

She was in distress. And he saved her. Zachary Rostov—older than me, tall, blond, handsome even at thirteen. He became my best friend. And later, he became my first love.

My first everything.But he left.And then I’m saved again. This time by someone very different.Vincent Jamison isn’t the boy I left behind. He’s a man—strong, powerful, rich. His life couldn’t be more different from the one I remember living in Indiana. He sweeps me off of my feet into a fairytale like the ones I always dreamed of, and I think maybe my prince has finally come.

But Vincent doesn’t just want to save me. He wants to claim me. Own me. And before I know what’s happening, he’s got me right where he wants me.This time, the princess is going to have to save herself.

But how can I, when he holds everything I love in the palm of his hand?

Chapter 1

Chapter 1


13 years old

Five years earlier


We’ve had to move.

I overheard my
parents talking about it—we needed cheaper rent and that the schools where
we’re moving are better—but I’m old enough to piece together the underlying
reasons from the arguments I’ve heard. My mom is hoping that my dad might find
a job somewhere else since he’s burned all his bridges back home. She thinks a
move might even help him to stop drinking.

I don’t.

I’m not too young or
idealistic to not know that that’s all a load of crap.

This school isn’t
better than my last, and everyone seems to be varying degrees of poor and lower
middle class like my family is. The thing is the girls here aren’t dressed like
me. Their jeans are more fitted, their tops colorful, and I’m immediately out
of place in my too-big, old Vans that my mom found at a thrift store, my
threadbare jeans, and my t-shirt with the logo of a band that’s not cool
anymore. Back at my old school, most of us girls dressed similarly to the guys,
but that was elementary. This is my first year of middle school, and I can see
that there is a clear distinction. I can hear whispers and see the sneers in my

I quickly make my
way through the line for lunch, head down, not looking at anyone. The hot lunch
today is some kind of lasagna casserole that looks like vomit, a wilted green
salad, and rolls. It doesn’t smell great either, but I put it on my tray and
find a seat at one of the empty tables. I glance around the cafeteria and spot
a table near the back with enough space for me to sit alone. I’ll be glad when
enough time passes that I’m not the new kid anymore.

Sitting alone at the
table with my sad lunch, I lift my head towards the clock to see the time, and
I see him. It’s obvious with one look that he’s like the rest of us—poor.
Except he makes it look cool. The ripped jeans and beat-up sneakers and frayed
denim jacket just makes him look like a badass, like he rides a motorcycle and
smokes cigarettes and listens to rock bands no one’s ever heard of. His hair is
blond, just a tad darker than mine, and it’s messy but beautifully so. He’s not
looking at me, but when he turns his head, I can see that he’s got bright blue
eyes, and it goes through me like a shock.

I’ve never liked a
boy before. Even when all my friends had crushes last year in sixth grade, I
thought they were crazy. Boys are gross. They pull your hair and make fun of
your clothes, and they fart and spit and make disgusting jokes. And some of
them stink.

But this boy,
whoever he is, isn’t like any boy I’ve ever seen. I catch myself almost wishing
that he’d look over at my table, that he’d see past the ugly clothes and my mom
cut hair and dollar store lip gloss.

But no one who looks
like him would ever talk to me. He’s older, I think, surrounded by a group of
boys who are older than him, but he matches their height with a little less
facial hair.

I eat the rest of my
lunch in dejected silence, tearing my eyes away from the boy across the
cafeteria to read my book and try to forget about how much this sucks. I might
not have had many friends at my old school, but at least I had some. Here I
have no one. I might as well be invisible.

The bell rings, and
the clattering sound of hundreds of students getting up and gathering their
things fills the room. I stand up to put away my tray—and that’s when it

I feel something
wet, warm, and unpleasant. A wave of nausea passes over me, followed by a
sickening cramp in my stomach.

Hesitantly, hoping
no one sees, I touch the inner thigh of my jeans. Please don’t be what I think
it is, please, please, please…but when I pull my fingers away, my worst fear is
confirmed—they’re sticky and red.

I’ve started my

Out of nowhere. In
the middle of a cafeteria at a school where I don’t know anybody.

I’m frozen, staring
at my bloody fingers in horror, when I feel someone at my side, touching my
shoulder gently. I turn and hope it’s a teacher, someone who will take
sympathy, but it’s not. It’s the boy—the one I was staring at with the thick
blond hair and bright blue eyes. He shrugs off his jacket quickly and ties it
around my waist. “Come on,” he says urgently. “I’ll take you to the nurse.
Before anyone sees.” He says it so quietly, he’s practically near my face so
that only I can hear him. I nod and ignore the goosebumps climbing up my body
and the tingling I feel everywhere, and I fight to breathe, wondering why he’s
even here, why he’s talking to me, why he cares.

Without another
word, he takes my wrist and leads me towards the door. I stumble after him,
following him numbly. I’m normally quiet around boys, but this is different.
I’m speechless and—not to mention—embarrassed. I can’t wrap my head around him
coming to my rescue—mine. For one thing, I’m nobody. He doesn’t even know me.
And for another—guys are grossed out by periods. All of them, from the ones who
barely know what they are all the way up to the old ones like my dad, who won’t
even buy my mom’s tampons when she puts them on the list.

But this particular
boy doesn’t seem to care that the blood on my jeans might get on his jacket. He
just ushers me out of the cafeteria and down the hall, guiding me to safety.

“Y-You…go to the
nurse a lot?” I ask, stuttering in my nervousness. What a stupid question. But
he gives me an easy, cool smile. “I’ve had a few fights. I’m usually not the
one who has to go to the nurse, though.” He winks at me, and my knees feel
shivery. “Nurse Rogers patches everybody up.”

The school clinic is
air-conditioned, cool, and smells like a mixture of floor cleaner, hand
sanitizer, and lavender potpourri. A bored-looking receptionist takes my name
and glances at me, then at the boy. “What are you here for?” she asks.

“My…my period,” I
say quickly, quietly, and flushing red with embarrassment. “I just started.”

She raises an
eyebrow. “Need some Midol?”

“Um…I haven’t had it
before, so I don’t know…”

The receptionist
eyes the boy next to me.

“What are you doing
here, Rostov?” she asks, her tone bored but a smile in her eyes. Rostov…I
wonder if that’s German or Russian maybe?

“She’s a friend,” he
says easily.

A friend. The words
warm me all the way through. My first friend, here. It means something, and I
look up at Rostov gratefully.

“Have a seat over
there, hun,” the receptionist says a tad warmer, clearly unaware of the rush of
feelings going through me. I glance at Rostov.

I wonder if he’ll
leave, now that I’ve been safely delivered, but he just takes a seat next to me
on one of the brightly colored plastic chairs. “So,” he says, looking at me
with that same easy smile, “you’re Rain?”

I nod, biting my
lip, wondering at first how he knows my name. Is there a news bulletin about
the new kids that start school? I know he isn’t in any of my classes; there’s
no way I wouldn’t have noticed him. He gestures to my name on my notebook and I

“That’s me.”

He holds out a hand.
“I’m Zach,” he says, and I offer the hand that isn’t sticky and gross.

“I thought your name
was Rostov?” I ask, and he gives me a smile that almost makes all of this worth

“The teachers here
usually call me by my last name. My family has a little bit of a reputation,”
he says with a half shrug and a lopsided grin. I arch a brow at him, and his
smile grows bigger. “Almost most if it’s lies,” he promises me with an innocent
smile and a nudge, and I laugh.

“You have a lot of
brothers?” I ask. He shakes his head.

“No. A few cousins
graduated before me, left a legacy on the Rostov name,” he says with an accent
while saying his name, and it sounds beautiful.

“I like Rostov. Is
it German?” I ask awkwardly, tucking a loose piece of hair behind my ear.

“More like Russian,”
he says with an amused grin that makes me turn away from him. He’s even cuter
up close.

“Uhm, why? Why did
you come help me? You don’t know me and…most boys are weirded out about…” I
trail off, and he rolls his eyes.

“My mom says it’s
natural,” he tells me with a shrug and genuine smile that makes me turn red
again. I wonder if he knows how cute he is.

“Rain’s a cool
name,” he says with an amused grin. I shrug, embarrassed. I used to get teased
a lot for it when I was younger. No one has ever told me it was cool,
especially anyone that looks like him.

“My mom had me
during this big storm. She almost didn’t make it to the hospital. So, she named
me Rain,” I say. He nods, his smile growing.

“I like that, sounds
like a superhero or something.” He gives me a smile that’s so beautiful, I have
to remind myself to breathe.

The nurse comes out,
and Zach stands up, dusting his hands off on his ratty jeans. “Come on, let’s
get you taken care of,” the nurse says, seeming much nicer than the clerk who
checked me in. I glance at Zach hesitantly and he gestures for me to go ahead.
I’m almost sad knowing most likely when I return, he might be gone.

Once I’m in with the
nurse, there’s not much to it, really. She checks my temperature then hands me
a pad and asks if I want to call my mom for a change of clothes, but my mom is
working, and I know she’ll lose money if she has to take off work, so I tell
her no. She asks if I’d like a pair of gym joggers to change into, but it’d be
obvious why I have them on, and I tell her I’ll just keep my jeans on. She lets
me go in the bathroom, where I scrub my jeans as quickly as I can, preferring
wet to bloody. I tie Zach’s jacket around my waist again and re-emerge,
gratefully taking the Midol the nurse offers. My stomach feels like it’s being
squeezed in a vise.

“You know how all
this works, right?” the nurse asks. “Comes around the same time every month,
all of that?”

I nod, embarrassed
all over again. “I’m not stupid,” I mutter. “It’s just the first time. I wasn’t

The embarrassment
persists when I walk out to the lobby and find Zach still there waiting. I
wanted him to be here when I came out but it’s still slightly humiliating that
our first encounter has revolved around my period. I know I’m red-faced, but he
doesn’t say anything or make me feel bad. Instead, he motions for me to follow
him. “Come on,” he says, “I’ll walk you home.”

“But…class isn’t

“You really want to
go back to class?”

I shake my head.

Of course, I don’t.

Even if no one saw,
I don’t want to sit through three more classes like this. “But you’ll miss

He snorts. “It’s
fine. I don’t care. Where do you live?”

I give him my
address hesitantly, part of me knowing it’s sort of stupid leaving school with
a boy I just met even if he seems nice. He’s older and bigger and my parents
would freak out, but my mom is at work and my dad is probably passed out, so
they won’t know. “Okay,” I tell him with a shrug. We head down a hall of the
school that no one is in and after making sure the coast is clear, we hastily
make our exit. Zach breaks off into a slow run and I follow his lead until
we’re a block away from the school. Then he stops.

“You okay?” he asks,
and I nod.

“So, you’re new
here?” he asks as we start down the sidewalk, the hot sun beating down on us.

“Yeah.” I don’t look
up at him, trudging along. “We just moved a couple weeks ago. Before the school
year started. My mom is a teacher.”

“At our school?” he
asks through a laugh. I roll my eyes.

“No, thank God. At
the high school. Twelfth-grade English.”

Zach glances down at
me. “I like books. Well, the kind that gets turned into movies,” he says with a
shy smile.

I do look up at him
then, surprised, and a smile starts to make its way across my face. “Me too,” I
tell him quietly.

“What kind of books
do you like?” he asks.

I shrug. “It’s hard
to pick a favorite. I like fantasy. Something that takes me away to a different

“I like
science-fiction. Robots and aliens and shit. Big surprise, right?”

Now I do grin up at

“Anything to get
away from living in Shitville.” He lets out a half laugh and kicks a stray can.

Up close, Zach’s
even more handsome than he seemed in the cafeteria. His shaggy blond hair is
cut in a way that always seems to fall over his face, and his blue eyes are
even brighter outside. I feel warm and tingly all over, looking at him, but
this time it has nothing to do with embarrassment. I just want to stare at him.
But I tear my eyes away, not wanting to be a weirdo.

I know what this
is—I’ve got a crush. My first ever. But it’s not as if anything can come of it.
For one thing, he’s older. I’m not sure how much, exactly, and I finally gather
up the courage to ask.

“Fifteen. I turn
sixteen in two weeks,” he tells me, looking down at me curiously as I force the
question out.

“I had to do two
grades over when my parents moved here from Russia.”

My eyes go wide.
Wow, that’s cool. Even though his name is Russian, I didn’t think he was really
from there. He doesn’t have an accent at all, except when he said his last

“Why do you want to

I shrug. “You’re
really tall,” I say, and he laughs.

“What about you?”

I want to lie. Oh,
God, how badly I want to lie. He’s just going to think of me as a little
sister, once I tell him. But I can’t start off our friendship with a lie.
“Thirteen,” I say, looking away and blushing again.

“Cool,” he says with
a shrug like it doesn’t matter to him, which I guess it shouldn’t since I’m
just a kid he’s walking home.

Now we’re right in
front of my house. My mom isn’t home yet, and my dad is most likely passed out
drunk and dead to the world. Or, at the earliest opening bar in the area. I
waffle between the obvious rudeness of telling Zach he can’t come in and the
risk of what we might find inside.

I look up at him, at
this cute boy who seems like he wants to be my friend, and decide to roll the

“You can come in,” I
say hesitantly, swinging open the screen door on the front of our house. “It’s
hot out. You can have pop or something. We just have to be quiet if my dad’s

It’s hot inside,
too. Our air-conditioner in the house we’re renting doesn’t work well, and the
landlord hasn’t come out and looked at it in the two weeks we’ve been here. The
fans are running, but they’re not doing much more than circulating the same hot
air. Zach doesn’t complain though, just walks into the linoleum-tiled kitchen
and sits at our old dining table with the vinyl tablecloth. “You don’t have to
get me anything,” he says, but I’m already getting mismatched glasses out of
the cupboards.

We don’t have
anything cold in the fridge except a pitcher of water, so I grab some
Kool-Aid—the powdered kind in a packet—and mix it into the water, but it’s
better than the off-brand soda we usually have.

“Thanks,” Zach says
as I hand him the glass. I can see him looking around, and I wonder with a
racing heart what he thinks of all this. Does he want to leave? Will he be
embarrassed to be my friend now? I notice things I never have before—the spots
where the paint on the walls is peeling a little, the curled-up edges of the
linoleum countertops, the puckered spots on the particle-board cupboard that
the microwave is on. Other things too—the shabbiness of the valance above the
kitchen sink, the way all of our dishes are mismatched. I flush red, and Zach
notices it.

“Hey,” he says,
picking up on what’s bothering me immediately. “Your house looks like mine.” He
lifts his glass, smiling at me. “This stuff is great.”

I open my mouth to
admit the worst part, the truth about my father, the thing we definitely don’t
have in common, no matter how poor Zach is. But I don’t have to, because a
second later he comes stumbling in, his eyes bleary.

where’s…where’s Erin?” he says, stumbling over his words a little. “And your
mom? You’re not skipping school already, are you?”

if he should say anything if I was, I think
angrily. My face flushes even hotter, and I shake my head rapidly. “No, I…I was
sick. I came home early. Mom and Erin will be home soon.”

“And who is this?
You’re too young for boyfriends, Rain. You know what I’ve told you—”

“Dad! He’s just a

Zach stands up in
one quick motion and offers his hand. “Zach Rostov, sir. I’m just a friend of
your daughter’s. She was sick, like she said, and I walked her home. Nothing
else, I promise.”

My father eyes him,
wobbling a little as he shrugs and goes to the sink for a glass of water.
“Zach…hmm…well, better not be any funny business,” he mumbles as he walks past
us again, back towards the bedroom.

By tomorrow, I know
he will have forgotten all about this, but I will have to live with the memory
of this embarrassment for the rest of my life.

Zach stares at me, a
little aghast. “That’s your dad?” His voice is carefully even, no judgement in
it, but I feel humiliated anyway.

“Yeah,” I say,
crossing my arms over my chest and looking away.

“He’s just been down
since he lost his job, that’s all.” I don’t mention that he lost it because he
was drinking too much, or that it’s been three years since he lost said job,
and the gigs he gets to try and contribute are few and far between. But I don’t
think I have to. I think Zach has picked up on all of it already.

“Look, you should
go,” I tell him. “My sister will be home soon, and her questions will be a lot
harder than my dad’s.”

“Got it,” Zach says,
setting down his glass with an easy smile. “Thanks for the lemonade, Rain. I’ll
see you at school tomorrow.” He gives me a grin that makes my heart stutter
before heading out the door.

I sink down at the
kitchen table, my own glass still clutched in my hand. It seems too good to be
true that after everything today, he still wants to be my friend.

But it’s impossible
to keep from hoping that it’s true.



Present day


What the hell is that sound?

I peel my eyes open.
There’s a booming sound screaming in my ear and echoing through our tiny apartment.
It’s too early for this shit.

Mallory’s dark mop
of curls pops up in my doorway. “Who is that?” she says through a yawn.

I groan before I
force my feet to the floor. The banging hasn’t stopped; the knocks are just
becoming louder and angrier. I hurry and step into my slippers that are waiting
for me by my bedroom door and head down our small hallway and to the front
door, with Mallory following closely behind me.

We live in Chicago,
and I’m not about to open the door before I’m positive about who is behind it.
I motion for Mallory to pick up the bat that we keep next to the door. She does
and stands at attention slightly behind me.

I stand on my
tiptoes and look through the peephole. It doesn’t give me a clear view, but it
looks like our landlord. Why is he knocking like he’s the police here to take
one of us to jail?

I slowly pull open
the door, making sure to keep the chain latched, and peek out the slight gap in
the doorway to see that it’s Jack, wearing a scowl on his round face. He’s
always a little crass, but right now he looks completely furious.

“One sec Jack,” I
say as I remove the chain from the door, and less than a second later, he’s
stormed past me into our living room, almost knocking me against the wall.

“What is going on!”
Mallory asks, as confused as I am by his rudeness.

“Give me my rent
money. Now.”

I raise my eyebrows
him. “Uhm. What are you talking about?”

He narrows his eyes
at us then lets out a gruff humorless laugh. “My rent! This month’s, last
month’s and the one before. Now.”

I glance over my
shoulder at Mallory, who looks just as confused as I am. Our other roommate,
Dena, was the one who was in charge of paying rent. We give her the money, and
she gives it to him. My temples are starting to throb.

“Dena hasn’t paid
you?” I ask, feeling my heart about to spasm.

“Of course, she has,
I’m just here for fun. No one has given me anything, and I’m not waiting
anymore.” His arms are crossed tightly against his chest, his foot tapping
along to some furious melody in his head.

“Are you kidding me?
We’ve paid Dena rent every single month. Are you saying that she’s been
stealing our money?”

Jack just gives us
an irritable shrug. “I don’t know what she’s doing with your money, and I
really don’t care. All I know is that if I don’t have my money by the end of
the day, all three of you are getting evicted.”

“Jack, please. We
didn’t know she wasn’t paying you!” Mallory cries, and I fight the headache
that’s gripping my thoughts.

“I don’t care. I
don’t want to hear any excuses!” he shouts back.

“Okay, we get it.
You’re out of three months’ rent. We’re so sorry, but we really had no idea. I
know you want to get paid, and we’ll do that, but we can’t today,” I say,
trying to reason with him, but his expression just becomes harder.

“Do I look like I’m
running a charity here? I was skeptical about renting to you girls, but you all
gave me your word you’d pay—and pay on time,” he
reminds us.

“And we will, we
just need more than a day, Jack,” I plead with him. He looks between me and

Mallory, who seems
to be on the verge of a panic attack.

“You have five days.
That’s it, or all of your pretty asses will be out on the street,” he says, and

just like that, he’s
gone, leaving me and Mallory in dumbfounded silence. I look over at Mallory,
who looks as confused as I am. Without saying a word, I storm straight down the
hall to Dena’s room and, not unsurprisingly, when I open the door, not only is
she nowhere in sight, but it looks like most of her things are gone.


I walk back into the
living room where Mallory is still standing in shock, her phone in hand.

“I just tried to
call her. I think she’s blocked me,” Mallory mutters quietly. I rush to my room
and grab my phone already knowing that if Mallory’s blocked, I’m most likely
blocked too, but I try hoping against hope she answers.

She doesn’t.

“That bitch!”
Mallory screeches, her eyes watering. “We’re going to be homeless,” she says,
her voice starting to quiver.

I shake my head. “We
aren’t going to be homeless, we just have to figure this out and come up with a

She looks at me with
an expression full of skepticism. I can all but see her about to run back home
to her parents.

“You don’t think you
could ask…”

“I can’t ask my
parents! I’ve asked them for way too much. They told me they aren’t giving me
anything else before Christmas, and they already wanted me to stay on campus.
If they find out this happened, I’ll never hear the end of it.”

I fight my instinct
to argue. I don’t know what it’s like to have parents with enough money to bail
you out after making a stupid financial decision. My family struggles to pay
their own bills, let alone help with mine.

“Let’s just keep
trying to call Dena. Maybe this is a misunderstanding,” Mallory tries to
reason. I roll my eyes this time, but at this point, I don’t have a better
idea. So, we call and call and call. Fifty phone calls and countless messages
later, we both know that she was wrong, not that she expected to be right. This
wasn’t a misunderstanding. Dena’s taken our money and is probably gone for
good. Which means we’re left with this shitshow.

I bite back my
tears. Mallory’s shed enough for both of us. My life wasn’t supposed to be like
this, it was supposed to be better. Last year my ex-best friend Marcus got a
full ride to Columbia College in Chicago for graphic design. It was our dream
to escape dreary Indiana and make it big in the city. It didn’t matter if we
had to work four jobs and only eat ramen the whole year, we’d escape. We both
did as best we could in school. It’s never been my thing, but I hoped my high B
average and extracurriculars would be enough to at least get a partial
scholarship. Unfortunately, it wasn’t, and I was put on the waitlist. I had
decided then to put my dreams on the back burner. I would just stay at home and
make as much money as possible while I waited until my name was called.

Being on the waiting
list sucked, but it at least gave me hope that they thought my ideas were
special. I knew in my heart that, given a chance, I could make it. That I would
make enough money to take care of my family so they would never have to
struggle for money again. Now it just will take a little longer than I thought.

When I told Marcus
my new plan, he had immediately said that he wouldn’t let me get stuck behind.

“No, Rain,” he had
said, furiously shaking his head. “I’m not going to leave you here. You’re
going to come to Chicago with me.”

“But how, Marcus? I
can’t afford to live in Chicago on my own,” I told him, still trying to be
hopeful despite my disappointment.

He shrugged. “We can
get an apartment together.”

I raised my eyebrows
at him. “What about your free dorm room?”

“I just won’t use
it. I don’t mind paying rent if that means that you’ll be able to come to
Chicago with me. I’m not leaving you here,” he insisted.

I had thought about
not listening to him. I loved Marcus, and he was my closest friend—well, aside
from the boy I’ve tried to erase from my thoughts and pluck from my past—but
that’s another story. Since he promised to get an apartment with me, all summer
we both worked and saved up money. I thought it could work. He had been my
biggest cheerleader about a career in writing since my first writers'
group…yeah, at first I thought it was because he had a crush on me, but after I
told him we didn’t have feelings for each other our sophomore year, we’d been
strictly friends, and he had no reason to lie. I thought we were really in it
together, but a week before we were going to move, I got a phone call from

“Hey, I feel like we
haven’t talked in forever. We’ve both been working our butts off,” I answered
through a laugh.

“Yeah. Rain, I’ve
been thinking, and after talking to my parents, I hate to do this but…I really
am going to need to focus on school my first year there, and I don’t think it’s
a good idea I get an apartment,” he said easily, as if he didn’t just turn my
world upside down.

I could immediately
feel my heart drop. “What?” It was quiet and weak, but all I could muster.

“I just feel like
school is going to be hard and I may not be able to handle it if I’m working.
You understand, right?”

Unfortunately, I did
understand. I understood that at the end of the day, it was always about
Marcus. I was an idiot for ever believing the promises.

“Of course, you’re
right. You have to do what’s best for you.” He was still talking, trying to
give me some humdrum excuse as I hung up the phone.

I cried for the rest
of the day. I felt as if I was watching my dreams go down the drain. I
shouldn’t have ever gotten my hopes up in the first place. My mom warned me
about pinning my hopes on Marcus and told me to stay home and save up until I
could afford to go, but based on what I would have made waitressing or working
at a clothing store in Indiana, it would have been years before I could afford
to move here and go to school. My dad always said a man doesn’t have much, but
as long as he has his pride, he’s still a man. It’s the one thing he drilled
into me and my sister, even though we weren’t the boys he thought we would one
day be. It’s the one thing that stuck with me that he taught me even though his
pride didn’t stop him from drinking all of our future away.

That’s how I had
ended up living with Dena and Mallory. I moved to Chicago on the day that I had
planned—my eighteenth birthday, to be exact. I had used most of my money to
rent a motel room for a week. I went out during my first day in the city
looking for jobs. The best opportunity I found was a waitressing job at
Funbags. I got hired on my looks and body alone, which I hated, but I was

By the end of the
week, I was desperately looking for somewhere to live. I couldn’t afford to
keep paying the hotel rate, and it was a crappy area for me to live in by
myself. I had stumbled across Mallory, ranting to Dena about their other
roommate who had disappeared. I hadn’t talked to either one of them at that
point, but I didn’t care. I saw my opportunity and I didn’t hesitate to take

I walked up to them
and pulled every ounce of courage I had to ask them if they needed a roommate.

They both turned to
look at me at the same time, wearing completely different expressions on their
faces. Dena looked irritated and bitchy like always. Mallory had looked
hopeful. She automatically nodded. “She can’t be worse than Ally.”

And now Dena’s taken
our money and left us in the worst possible situation we could be in.

“We’ll just work as
much as we can,” I say, trying to sound hopeful. Mallory looks at me

“We’d have to work
triple shifts, if we can even get them,” Mallory whines.

“We’ll bribe, beg,
do whatever we have to do to get them, and we’ll take every dollar we make and
give it to Jack,” I say, trying to sound optimistic. Mallory’s still frowning.
We both know most of the customers at Funbags are cheap jerkoffs who basically
want you to sit in their lap to get a decent tip.

“It’s just until we
make the money, Mal. Otherwise, we’ll be sleeping at the bus stop across the
street,” I tell her as gently as I can.

“Okay,” she says,
and I give her hand a reassuring squeeze, even though I have no clue how we’re
going to make all of this money in such a short amount of time.

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