Dirty Scoundrel

By: Jessica Clare

This can’t be true. Natalie loves me. Just last night, we kissed for hours and she promised me that she loved me as much as I loved her. It can’t all be lies. “I think you’re wrong, sir—”

“It doesn’t matter what I believe, son. Look in your heart. You think you can offer Natalie the kind of life she deserves?” He gives me a long, up-and-down look again, eyeing my clothes.

And I feel . . . ashamed. He’s not wrong. The job I’ve got lined up is roughnecking—hard, dirty work that pays well enough, but not like what Natalie will be used to. I know her dad lives on an enormous ranch out in the country. I know he’s got all kinds of Hollywood money coming in. Natalie wears name-brand designer clothing. She’s gone on fancy vacations with her dad and her stepmom to places I can’t even find on the map. All I’ll have to offer is my starting salary as a roughneck “worm”—the lowest guy on the totem pole—and hope I can move up.

And love, of course. I can offer her so much damn love. But now I’m starting to think that won’t be enough. Natalie Weston is . . . well, she’s perfect. Shy, soft-spoken, sweet, and caring.

I’m just a crude Price.

Still, I can’t give up on the girl I love. “I might not be the best guy for her, Mr. Weston, but no one will love her more than me. No one.”

“That’s a nice sentiment,” he says, glancing back at his driver. “But I can tell you all about how fleeting love is, and so can my five ex-wives. And it’s hard to have love when you don’t have money.”

My heart squeezes somethin’ fierce and I begin to feel despair. I’m losing. Somehow I’m losing and I’m gonna lose . . . everything. “This isn’t what Natalie wants—”

“You so sure about that? She didn’t tell you about Stanford.” His voice gentles. “My Natalie’s got a soft heart. She wouldn’t want to hurt you more than is necessary, son.”

I can’t believe this is true. I can’t. I think of Natalie, with her big blue eyes and her soft smile. Feels like my fucking heart is being ripped in half. “Why wouldn’t she say anything to me?”

“Why do you think I’m out here?” The smile he gives me is genuinely full of remorse. “She needed some way to break this to you easily. She knew what was coming and she didn’t know how to get out of it.” He gives me a rueful grin. “Dear ol’ Dad to the rescue.”

No way.

She sent her dad to break up with me? I know Natalie hates conflict, but this is fuckin’ ridiculous. “I need to talk to Natalie.” This doesn’t make sense. I thought . . . Just last night . . .

I thought we were going to marry. I even have a ring in my pocket. I’ve carried it every day since I bought it. Granted, it’s only from the pawnshop, but I thought we could joke about how I’d buy her a better one once we got on our feet. I thought Natalie would think it’s cute.

Maybe I don’t know her like I thought.

“I understand,” Mr. Weston says. “Of course you will. She’s a little upset tonight, so maybe hold off until tomorrow morning, hmm?”

“Sure,” I say dully. “Whatever.”


“Dad, have you seen my phone?” I race down the stairs, flustered. We’re already late for my big evening with Clay, and I know he’s going to be frustrated. I can’t call him to tell him that my stepmother’s been locked up with her emotional-support cockatoo for the last hour, weeping and feeding the poor fat bird crackers.

Everything’s always drama with my family. Not surprising, I guess, given that Dad still treats everything like it’s Hollywood. But jeez, it can be exhausting.

I straighten my sundress, pulling my favorite white cardigan over my shoulders. Johanna—my stepmom—isn’t going to be able to make dinner but we can hopefully still meet Clay. I’m excited about tonight and what it might mean for Clay and me. Meeting the family—that’s step one along a more serious commitment, isn’t it? My heart flutters happily in my chest at the thought. I know I’m only seventeen, but I also know I won’t ever love someone as much as I love Clay Price. Just the thought of his boyish smile and the way his brown hair is always shaggy and slightly overgrown makes my heart hurt with all the intense emotion I feel.

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