Sweetly Scandalous – Prologue
By Jacqueline Winters
Down the street, a familiar horn honked, announcing Travis’ impatience. Allie Jordan gathered her envelope clutch purse and took a deep breath to still her shaking nerves. From her upstairs bedroom window, she watched the red and white striped pickup pull into her driveway. She wondered how soon into their evening she should tell him it was over.
She tried catching a glimpse of his face. To gauge his demeanor, but it remained hidden by the sun visor’s shadow. She should hurry. Any further stalling would only aggravate what was sure to follow her shattering announcement. She’d have to gamble he wasn’t in a mood to shove her down a flight of stairs.
Dashing through her room, Allie accidentally knocked a paperback from her nightstand and bent to pick it up. For a brief moment, she debated shoving the romance novel into her purse. Another honk; she decided against it. Travis hated her reading those books. Tonight, she didn’t need any help setting him off.
The horn blared again, twice this time. Allie fumbled down the stairs.
Travis Meyers hadn’t always been this way. Before his father left town, Travis was normal. Popular, even. He’d had a hard-working reputation. And at parties, girls crowded Allie to distract her so one of them could try seducing him. But he’d always fight his way through the web of girls back to Allie’s side. Travis was loyal if nothing else.
Before Allie could make her escape out the back door, Pam Jordan called out from the living room, yelling above the noise, “When will you be home?”
Still, he held down that horn.
“When I am!” Allie called back, pushing through the screen door and letting it slam shut. The last thing she needed: Mom badgering her about a curfew. Travis hated it. Thought it was demeaning for an eighteen-year-old. The less to spark things the better.
Allie hopped into the passenger seat, catching a quick glimpse of Travis’ gray eyes. They gleamed with something she couldn’t pinpoint. The wafting of cologne he rarely wore invaded the cramped cab. The faint trace of a smile came at her when he leaned in for a kiss.
“Took long enough.”
Travis wrapped his hand around her neck as his kiss deepened, stubble scraping against her cheek. She tried kissing him back like she meant it. But any sparks that once had flickered had died months ago. When he stopped being so sweet and considerate. The first time he shoved her back a couple of feet with his palm.
She hoped her kiss felt convincing.
Travis pulled back, his face inches from hers. His gray eyes studied her expression. Allie felt her heart pound. Fear that he’d figured her out. Forcing a smile, she asked, “What are we doing tonight?”
“I’ve got something special planned.” Yanking the truck into reverse, Travis pulled back in the opposite direction she’d expected.
“Where are we going?”
His unkempt blond hair was its usual unruly mess. A style that’d only made half the senior girls try to steal him from Allie. She wished one of them had succeeded.
Allie assumed it would be a ride to the old farmhouse. The one his mother acquired after the messy divorce. His father’s childhood home. It’d been empty for decades, but Travis considered it a special place. One he dreamed of fixing up and living in some day with a large family.
“Out to dinner.” Travis reached for her hand and squeezed it at a stop sign. “If you don’t mind a date?”
Swallowing, Allie plastered a smile on her face. “Sounds great.”
Travis turned onto the highway and sped away from the small town of Willow Creek, Nebraska. “You’ll be graduating soon.”
“Just a few weeks.” Allie’s voice fought to keep an even tone. It’d been weeks since they’d engaged in small talk.
She longed for the old Travis. The one the town admired for his unwavering work ethic. The one who’d open doors for her. The one who had ambitions and a noble reputation. Since his dad’s departure, however, Travis had receded into himself. His temper flared at unexpected moments. In the past few weeks, things had escalated. All the more reason to end this tonight.
“You still planning to go to Lincoln?”
When it came to talking about the future, every spoken word was a landmine. “Yes.”
“You really want to run track in college, Allie?”
Pleading eyes met hers. Does he really want me to stay in town? She considered gushing over how much she loved track. How the rush of those short sprint races gave her an almost euphoric high. Instead, she settled with, “I do.”
“It’s going to be a lot of work, you know. And you might not be good enough. Such a big school.” Rough fingers grazed Allie’s bare shoulder. “You might just sit on the sidelines the whole time.”
Allie bit her tongue. Where is this going?
She knew there’d be more competition, sure. As a freshman at UNL, she’d have to work twice as hard just for the chance to compete in their college meets. That didn’t frighten her. She’d broken two high school records that had stood for thirty-two years. And if she performed well at the district meet next week, she’d have a full-ride scholarship too.
But she didn’t mention any of that. “I know.”
“Why don’t you stay closer to home? The community college has sports. And you’d only be half an hour away. Instead of three.”
Allie should’ve stopped herself, but her words escaped before she thought, “Why don’t you apply too? It’s not too late.”
The truck jerked to a halt. Dusk fell over the empty fields on either side of the road, no cars visible for miles. Travis shackled her arm, his fingers digging into her skin. “You know that’s not what I want,” he spat through clenched teeth. “You telling me I should’ve gone to college three years ago instead of staying here to work? You calling me stupid?”
Allie shook, her curled hair bouncing off her cheeks. “No. I’d never do that.”
If she cried, he might hit her. She bit the inside of her cheek, and through the sting told him, “You’re not stupid. I just thought you might like—”
The ringing of his cell silenced her, bringing both of them back to the reality that they’d stopped in the middle of the highway. Fingers prying her arm free, Allie glanced to the side-mirror, spotting a car in the distance, gaining on them. Travis floored the gas, reaching for the phone tucked in the ashtray.
At the next gravel road, he jerked off the highway and stopped. Shoving his door open, he slid from the truck. He never wanted Allie hearing his conversation lately.
But he’d left the truck’s rear sliding window open this time. She caught, “I can’t tonight.”
Allie contemplated running. But with the nearest farmhouse over a mile away and the cornfields barren of tall stalks this early in the season, there was nowhere for her to go where he wouldn’t find her.
She was fast, but Travis would catch her.
Instead, she listened to his conversation drifting through the window with the uncomfortably warm breeze.
She heard, “I’m not fucking doing it, that’s why.” Travis paced, crunching gravel beneath his heavy steps. “I got something important to do. Call someone else.” Travis pounded his palm against the side of his truck, rocking Allie in her seat. “Yes, she’s with me.” A pause. “I want double, then.” Travis’ head disappeared from the side mirror; he’d leaned down.
When he stood, he chucked a large rock into the empty field. “Fine. But I want my cut tonight.”
Allie trembled when Travis climbed back into the truck. He leaned over her, causing her breath to hitch. Instead of touching her, though, he reached for the dusty glove box. Opening it long enough for a glint of fading sunlight to catch the gleaming metal barrel of a gun.