Wicked

By: Jennifer L. Armentrout

Chapter One





Sweat dotted my brow. Tendrils of red hair clung to my neck. My legs felt like I'd been sitting in a sauna. I was pretty sure there was a waterfall of sweat coursing between my breasts, and that alone put my mood somewhere between slapping someone and pushing them in front of a trolley.

It was so hot and sticky humid that I was seriously beginning to believe that New Orleans was one of the seven circles of hell and the outdoor seating area of the Palace Café was the gateway. Or the waiting room.

A fat drop of sweat slipped from the tip of my nose and smacked off my Philosophy of Human Person text, leaving a little damp circle in the middle of a paragraph I could barely see through the sheen of sweat blinding me.

I always thought the title of my class was missing an 'A' somewhere in there. It should be Philosophy of A Human Person. But oh no, that wasn't how Loyola rolled.

The small table rattled on its legs as a large iced coffee slammed down directly in front of my book. "For you!"

As I peered over the top of my sunglasses, my mouth watered like I was one of Pavlov's dogs. Valerie Adrieux plopped into the seat across from me, her hand like a claw on top of my iced coffee. A mix of Spanish and African heritage, Val had an absolutely beautiful skin tone, a rich and flawless shade of brown, and she looked awesome in bright oranges and blues and pinks and every freaking color of the rainbow.

Like today, Val wore a loose, orange halter that defied gravity, a purple necklace, and as I glanced down, I saw a turquoise peasant skirt. She looked as if she had stepped off a catalog featuring urban chic. If I wore any color other than black, tan, or gray, I looked like an asylum escapee.

Sitting up straight, ignoring how the backs of my thighs stuck to the chair, I made grabby fingers at the iced coffee. "Gimmie."

She arched a brow. In the sunlight, Val's hair had a burnt auburn sheen to it. Pretty. Mine looked like a fire engine. Scary. No matter the level of humidity, her head full of corkscrew curls always looked great. Again, pretty. Between the months of April and November, the curl in my hair got lazy and turned into a frizzy wave. Again, scary as hell.

Sometimes I wanted to hate her.

"Don't you have something else to add to that?" she asked.

This was one of those times.

"Gimmie . . . my precious?" I added.

She grinned. "Try again."

"Thank you?" I wiggled my fingers toward the coffee.

She shook her head.

I dropped my hands in my lap with a tired sigh. "Can you point me in the right direction of what you want to hear? Play a game of hot and cold or something?"

"While I love that game most of the time, I'm gonna pass." Lifting the iced coffee between us, she smiled broadly at me. "The correct response would be, 'I love you so much for getting me iced coffee that I'd do anything for you.'" She waggled her brows. "Yeah, that sounds about right."

Leaning back in my chair, I laughed as I kicked my legs onto the empty seat to my left, stretching out the muscles. The reason I was probably sweating so much was because I was wearing lace-up boots that ended just below my knees and it was like two-hundred degrees, but I was working tonight, and flip-flops really weren't conducive to getting the job done or hiding the things necessary to get said job done. "You know I can totally just kick your ass and take the coffee, right?"

Val stuck out her lower lip. "That's not nice, Ivy."

I grinned at her. "It's true though. I could ninja-kick your ass all up and down Canal Street."

"Maybe, but you would never do such a thing because I'm your best-est friend-est in the world-est," she said with another wide smile, and she was right. "Okay. What I want isn't a big deal." She moved the straw jutting out of the iced tea close to her mouth, and I groaned. "Not at all."

"What do you want?" My second groan was lost in the hum of foot traffic passing the café, and the sound of sirens most likely heading toward the Quarter.

Val shrugged one shoulder. "I have a date Saturday night—a hot date. Well, hopefully a hot date, but Daniel has me on the schedule to work the Quarter, so . . .?"

"So, let me guess." I reached behind me, draping my arms over the back of the chair. Not the most comfortable position, but it helped me air out. "You want me to take your shift in the Quarter . . . on a Saturday night? In September. Smack dab in tourist hell?"

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