Sinners on Tour (Book 2)
by Olivia Cunning
Jessica’s confident smile faded as the grade on her final paper burned its ugly red image onto her retina.
She gulped air.
An F! Failure. Failurino. Failurocity. Failtacular. Failpendous.Epic… fail.
The note scrawled beneath Jessica’s inconceivable grade read, Perhaps next time you will consider completing your paper as assigned,Ms. Chase.
“Check it out,” the guy seated next to her said. He leaned way into her personal space and tapped his paper with the back of his fingertips. “The Ice Queen gave me an A minus. What did you get,Wonder Brain? The Pulitzer prize for best final paper evah?”
Jessica hurriedly stuffed her failing (failing?) paper into her leather folio. “They don’t give Pulitzers for that.”
“Duh. That was a joke. So, are you tired of rejecting me yet?”
She climbed from her chair, her knees shaky. An F? How? How? There had to be some mistake. She headed toward the podium at the front of the room where Dr. Ellington stood. Ellington always looked perfectly put together. Her sleek blonde hair, cut in an ear-length bob,swayed slightly as she placed papers into her briefcase. Her trim navy blue skirt suit was worth more than Jessica’s car. Ellington might have been considered pretty if she didn’t look so shrewd.And intimidating.
Jessica gripped her portfolio tighter.
Someone grabbed Jessica’s arm. She turned to find the guy with the A minus looking down at her hopefully. Handsome and neat in his blue Polo shirt and Dockers, he raked a hand through his sandy brown hair. “Join me for coffee?”
“No, thank you.”
“A movie? Dinner?”
“No, uhh…” Her eyebrows drew together. “What’s your name again?”
His pretty-boy face fell. “Doug. I’ve sat next to you for four months and you don’t remember my name?”
Well, lots of guys sat next to her. She couldn’t be expected to remember their names when she had zero interest in them.
“Sorry. Doug. I can’t talk right now. I need to speak to Dr. Ellington about something important.”
“I’ll wait for you.”
“Of course not. You’re never interested in anyone. You only date assholes, am I right?”
Her ex-fiancé’s image flittered through her mind’s eye. Sedric Lionheart definitely qualified as an asshole. But they’d split two years ago, so she no longer dated assholes. Or anyone, for that matter.“What kind of question is that?”
“Nice, smart, and beautiful.” He ticked his words off on three fingers. “The recipe for a woman who only dates assholes.”
Jessica’s eyes narrowed. “Then why do I keep turning you down?”
Doug winced and covered his heart with one hand. “Ouch. The beauty has claws.” He chuckled. “I’ll meet you outside.”
“Seriously, Doug, don’t bother.”
She shook his hand off her arm and continued to the podium.When Jessica stopped in front of Dr. Ellington, the woman smiled like a snake in bronze lipstick.
“Do you have a moment, professor? I’d like to talk to you about my grade.”
“Nothing to talk about, Chase.”
“I don’t understand how you could have…” Jessica swallowed and forced the next word out. “…failed me. My paper is good.” She straightened her spine, grasping for self-confidence she didn’t feel. “Excellent.”
Ellington shrugged. “Maybe, but as I clearly indicated, youdidn’t follow directions.”
That wasn’t true. Exactly. “I dissected the assigned case. Reviewed all the court documents. The associated literature. Tackled the defense’sposition and the plaintiff’s. Evaluated the verdict and the effects the case had on future cases.”
“You also determined that the defense took the wrong position and proceeded to rebuild the case in some egotistical attempt to prove you could win.”
Egotistical? Jessica opened her mouth. Closed it again. Took a gasping breath. “But the defense lost because they approached the case from the wrong standpoint. If they’d have followed my strategy—”
“Ms. Chase, you are a second year law student. Do you really think you can win a case that professional lawyers couldn’t?”
“Yes, actually, I do. If you’d take another look—”
Dr. Ellington lifted a hand to silence her. “The grade stands,Chase. You need a serious attitude adjustment.” She smiled coldly. “Have a nice summer.”
Jessica caught her arm. “Wait. I’ll rewrite it. Take out every reference to my alternate strategy.”
“You should have done it right the first time.” Ellington brushed her hand aside. “Your pack of male admirers is waiting for you.” She nodded toward the door. “Maybe they can help you with your little problem.”
Jessica glanced over her shoulder at the six or seven guys watching her from the doorway. What did they have to do with anything?She covered her forehead with one hand, fighting tears.
“Oh, don’t cry, pretty little Jessica.” Ellington gave her a pitying pout. “You wouldn’t want to make my day now, would you?” She scraped her briefcase off the podium and turned. She stopped abruptly so she didn’t careen into the Dean of Students, Dr. Taylor, who had just entered the door behind her.
Taylor kind of looked like Perry Mason, except, well, old. “Can I see you in my office for a few minutes?”
Ellington stiffened, lowered her head, and nodded.
Taylor then turned his attention to Jessica. “You look upset,Jessica. Everything okay?”
No, everything was decidedly not okay. She glanced at Dr. Ellington, somehow feeling it was wrong to complain about the woman’s grading practices to her boss. Maybe Jessica had deserved to fail. She hadn’t followed the assignment’s directions. Instead,she’d tried to impress her professor with her brilliant strategy. She’d obviously failed at that.
“Everything’s fine,” Jessica croaked.
“If you’d like to discuss something with me in private, my door is always open.”
Kind of him to offer, she thought. She glanced up at him to find him staring at her chest.
He licked his lips as his eyes drifted up her throat and then back to her breasts. “Yes, my door is always open for you, Jessica Chase.”
Ellington grabbed his arm. “Let’s go have that meeting now.”
Dr. Taylor grinned. “Oh yes, our meeting.” He touched Jessica’scheek. “Have a nice summer.”
Before Jessica could flinch away from his touch, he turned and strode toward the door with Ellington on his heels.
Jessica shuffled out of the building, the chattering of her following classmates background noise. She’d probably have to retake Ellington’s class next year. As a third-year student. The ultimate humiliation for the head of the class. Or she had been at the top of the class. Now? She was probably at the bottom.As she stepped out of the building, she gazed up at Southern California’s hazy blue sky. The sun shone in complete contrast to the storm clouding her perspective.
“Jess!” Her roommate, Beth, also a law student, grabbed her in an enthusiastic hug. “Last day of classes. Ready to go celebrate?”Jessica’s one female friend. The only person she had ever allowed herself to depend on. If it hadn’t been for Beth’s support, she’d probablystill be crying herself to sleep over Sed every night.
Jessica clung to Beth, fighting tears.
Beth tugged her away and looked down at her, cupping her cheek gently.“Oh no, something’s wrong. We need chocolate ice cream. Stat!”
Later, with a carton of chocolate ice cream between them on Jessica’s bed, Beth responded to the situation with appropriate best friend angst. “I read that paper. That was an A paper. An A plus paper. Ellington has it out for you or something. You should go to Dr. Taylor. Tell him what happened. Maybe he can help.”
Jessica shoveled another spoon of ice cream into her mouth, feeling marginally better with each gulp. “That guy is sleazy. All he does is stare at my breasts.”
“Everyone stares at your breasts, Jess.”
“I’m also the only student he knows by name.”
“You really don’t get it, do you?”
“You’re gorgeous. You have guys falling all over themselves to be with you, yet you turn them all down. And how long has it been since you’ve had sex?”
“You know I haven’t since—”
“You dumped that stupid prick you were engaged to.”
Jessica nodded. She didn’t understand why Sed still plagued her.
“Are you ever going to get over him?”
“I am over him.” She hated his fucking guts. Mostly because she missed him so much.
“Whatever, sweetie. Just who do you think wiped your tears every night for six months?”
“But I don’t cry over him anymore.”
Beth gave her a pitying look. “I know. I’m sorry I brought him up.” She slurped ice cream from her spoon. “Did you find a job yet?”
“No.” Which worried her. All the paying positions she’d tried to line up for the summer had fallen through. She could have her choice of unpaid internships, but she needed money and the job market sucked. “I’ve got to make at least $8,000 extra this summer. One of my scholarships was only renewable for two years. I have to replace that money somehow.”
“Just take out some loans.
”“I refuse to be in debt. You’ve seen my mother’s situation. I’ll never follow her path to financial ruin. Required to have a man to take care of me. No self-respect.” Jessica shoveled several spoonfuls of ice cream into her mouth at the thought of her mother.
“I don’t think it’s quite the same, Jess. You’re paying for an education.What was she paying for?”
Jessica rolled her eyes. “Breast implants. Nose job. Tanning. Body wraps. Lingerie. Things to land herself a rich husband.”
Beth chuckled. “Yet she married four losers.”
“Five, if you count the current loser.”
“See, no comparison. Just take out a loan and spend the summer on the beach.”
Jessica smiled. “You’re a bad influence, Beth.”
“The only way you’ll make that kind of cash in three months is illegally.” Beth got a reflective look on her face. “Or…”
“Why don’t I like the sound of that ‘or’?”
“My cousin, Aggie, works at a strip club called Paradise Found in Las Vegas.”
“A strip club? What does that have to do with me?”
“She makes a fortune, Jessica. With your looks and that body, you’ll have men throwing money at you by the handful.”
“No way in hell, Beth.”
“Why not? You were a natural when we took that pole dancing fitness class. The instructor said you should go pro. And I know you had fun. You liked it.”
Pole dancing was fun and she had liked it. Loved it, actually.
“Don’t you think exotic dancing will hurt my chances for respectable employment as a defense attorney?”
“Nope. Not really. Just use a stage name. No one will know.”
“Uh, duh, Beth, employment history is searchable under your social security number.”
“No one is going to care if you worked in a club while you were in college. Stop making excuses. Admit it. It’s a good idea.”
“It’s not gonna happen. Just drop it.”
“So I guess that means you’re staying with your mother and stepfather this summer.” Beth snorted with amusement. “That should be fun. How’s Ed?”
As a rule, Jessica tried not to think of her stepfather, Ed. The way he always stared at her with his protruding eyes. Accidentally touched her and rubbed up against her. Picked the bathroom door lock to catch her in the shower. Watched her sleep. Used her toothbrush “by mistake.” One time she’d caught him jacking off in her closet with her panties wrapped around his pathetic cock. Jessica shuddered. Ed was a good enough reason to avoid going home, but her mother’s inevitable “blame Jessica for my darling hubby’s weakness” position was too much to bear.
Jessica covered her churning stomach with one hand. There was nothing wrong with exotic dancing, really. Perfectly legal. Great money. Potentially empowering. Maybe it was time for her physical gifts to give her something besides anxiety.
“Paradise Found, huh? Do you have Aggie’s number?”
Available April 1st, 2011.