Trouble on Tap(5)By: Avery Flynn
Her back tires mired hopelessly in the mud just off the highway, Olivia looked up the hill toward the dirt driveway leading to Uncle Julian’s house on the outskirts of Salvation, Virginia. Even in the limited light from her Fiat’s headlights, it was evident that the rain had turned the drive into a squishy, slimy mess.
Great. She had a good quarter-mile walk in this mess, uphill, in the dark, in heels, with a snarling, not-quite-tame L.A. alley cat clutched to her chest, and no one was expecting her. Hopefully her sisters would be happier to see her than Mother Nature, who—it turned out—was a royal bitch.
Grabbing her purse and the keys with her free hand, she slammed the door shut and half slid/half skidded her way up. She’d managed three lurching steps before the thick mud swallowed her canary-yellow stiletto whole. Only the top of her ankle bone poked out of the muck.
It was times like these when only a girl’s inner Samuel L. Jackson could fully express her frustration. “Motherfucker.”
The shoes that would have been worth some real money if she could find a buyer online were now impractical decoration. Just what she needed more of in her life.
Handsome twitched and made that weird mrowly-cat-growl noise.
“Watch those claws, fur ball, or I’ll leave you out here.”
The cat hissed.
Olivia balanced her weight on her still-free right foot, flexed her left foot, spreading out her toes inside her Jimmy Choo for a better hold, and tugged her leg upward. The mud released her foot with a wet slurp, but retained custody of her obnoxiously expensive shoe.
As she stood with one leg up like a half-drowned, bedraggled flamingo, another flash of lighting and bang of thunder snapped what was left of Handsome’s tentative grasp on reality. The cat lost his shit—clawing and squirming his way free from the confines of Olivia’s trench coat.
He perched his fat, furry ass on her shoulder for a heartbeat before using her as a launch pad to propel himself into the darkness.
The force of his leap knocked Olivia off kilter. She whirled her arms around, her heart pounding against her ribs as she fought to stay upright in the slick mud. Backward. Forward. Backward again. The earth and the sky repeatedly traded places. She wibbled and wobbled, clawing at the raindrops for balance before toppling forward.
Faster than a lumberjack called timber, she was face first in the sloppy sludge. The cold, dank mud went up her nose and into her open mouth.
She propped herself up on her elbows, spit out a mouthful of mud, and wiped the back of her hand across her lips. Handsome was one dead cat. Of course, she’d have to catch the surprisingly fast three-legged monster first.
Rising to her feet, and now covered from nose to kneecaps in muck, she lifted her face to the sky. At least the rain would be good for cleaning her face. The torrent washed over her, taking with it the tension locking her shoulders tight since she’d left L.A. in her rearview mirror. Sure, she was still broke, homeless, jobless and her shithead of an ex had posted naked pictures of her to a revenge-porn site, but at least she would be with her sisters—as soon as she could get her ass up this hill.
Lightning flashed, showcasing the quarter-mile mud pit between the highway and Uncle Julian’s house.
First, she had to slog her way up the driveway.
Girding herself for what would undoubtedly be an ugly trek, she pulled her purse strap tight and flicked off her useless right shoe. Mud and only God knew what else squished between her toes.
“Meow.” Handsome strutted over to her—as much as he could with his signature loping style on two front legs and one back leg—and sat down on her bare foot.
She wiggled her toes. “So you figure I’m better than the local wildlife, eh city boy?” Olivia hefted the cat up and tucked him back into the opening of her trench coat. “Don’t get too comfy. I’m still mad at you.”
His purr vibrated against her damp skin.
Picking her foot placement carefully, she marched forward, intent on conquering the last quarter mile. She’d spent years as a model stomping in five-inch heels down the catwalks in New York and Paris, once in little more than a diamond-encrusted bra and panties. Surely she could manage to overcome a little mud. Using the house’s front porch as a beacon, she continued onward and upward.
It wasn’t the prettiest sashay she’d ever taken, but eventually she made it to the wraparound porch. She’d no more than squished down one mud-covered bare foot on the wood before Handsome sprung from her hold and scurried away—probably to cleanse himself of his dirty humiliation in private.
If only she could be so lucky. Per usual when it came to being a Sweet in Salvation, she had to take her medicine in public, but she wasn’t the same flaky wild child who’d left this place after high school graduation. She was stronger, smarter, more with it—fingers crossed, people would see past the layers of mud and see past the retired model to the real Olivia underneath.
Stopping in front of the door, she took a deep breath and pressed her wet finger to the dry doorbell.
Hands at ten and two and one foot riding the brake, Mateo Garcia rounded the bend on Highway 28. The rainstorm had gone from a low-level pain in the ass to white-knuckle worthy three curves in the road ago.