1 | uno
That morning, I awoke to chimes, my phone’s way of alerting me that the first of six extortion payments was officially in Sophie Marie Callahan’s bank account.
I smirked at the screen. Now that Linda’s money was coming in hot, I could move the eff out of the hostel and into an Airbnb. Being a grown-ass adult with a master’s degree and severe childhood trauma, I did not want to cook in a shared kitchen or sleep on a bunkbed in a room with seven other backpackers a moment longer than necessary.
The extortion plot was so worth the hassle.
Linda Callahan, formerly known as Mom, ran a pyramid scheme. She founded it, which means she was the top dog. Her underlings sold health supplements that were, in reality, overpriced, colorful laxatives, which is ironic, because Linda and her cronies were full of shit. I had a whole bunch of recordings of her admitting to that fact. That’s where the extortion came in.
In exchange for fifty grand, I wouldn’t release the recordings. It sounds like an excessive sum of money, but my mother was raking in the dough quicker than Boston Health Company’s customers could shit it out. Over the course of a year, she made millions from her supplement scheme. My brother had already reported her to the Department of Justice, but Linda was completely and totally unaware of their investigation, so why not earn some cash and take a well-deserved vacation before she had to hand it over to the feds?
“Checking out?” Hostel Guy asked, clearly bored out of his mind. Based on his lack of shirt, surfboard tattoo, board shorts, and general disheveled demeanor, he quite obviously would have preferred to be at the beach.
“Yep. Sophie Callahan, room B.”
“Going somewhere else in Oz?” he prodded. ‘Oz’ is Australia, not the place Dorothy landed when the tornado bounced her noggin around a few too many times.
“Nope. Staying in Perth. My paycheck just came in, so I’m moving to an Airbnb.”
“Oh. Where’s the Airbnb?”
I had yet to book one. I just wanted the eff out of his hostel. “Uh, by Elizabeth Quay,” I lied. I wasn’t in the mood to explain my situation, and Hostel Guy wasn’t in the mood to hear about it.
He nodded. “Right on.”
I smiled, done with the conversation. I’ve never been the most friendly type. Bitch is a shorter description, but I like to think bitches are bitches because they want to be, whereas unfriendly types are unfriendly because their brains are more fucked-up than Dorothy and Toto’s.
“Alright, enjoy your time in Perth,” Hostel Guy said. Without even taking a breath, he continued, “Checking out?”
“Uh, no. I wanted to see if you were hiring? Like, temporarily?” an American male voice asked.
I thought companies only hired via internet. Interesting. I skipped out of the U.S. the day after graduation, so I figured I should prepare myself for what was to come when my tourist visa expired.
Also, the American job hunter had a sexy voice. Eavesdropping sounded like a good plan.
“No, we aren’t. Sorry, mate,” Hostel Guy replied.
“Fuck,” Unemployed Backpacker Guy grumbled. “I lent my money to my mom, but she went MIA and maxed out my credit card. She got herself into one of those multilevel marketing pyramid schemes and blew all her cash. Are those a thing here? I don’t know what I was thinking lending it to her... But there’s no way to work in exchange for a room? My dad’s transferring more cash into my account, but it’ll take a couple days, so I really just need—”
“Sorry, man. I wish I could help,” Hostel Guy said sympathetically.
The words tumbled from my mouth in a wave of guilt and nosiness. “What pyramid scheme?” I asked.
His lips moved to answer my question, but I didn’t register a sound. By far, the most handsome human being in the entire universe stood before me, begging for under-the-table work at a Western Australia hostel. His dark brown hair and eyes were like chocolate if chocolate could glisten and seduce. His lips were the perfect shade of almost-red with a distinct dip in the top. They were the perfect shape to ravish me or some other lucky lady with.
“Sorry, I missed that,” I called.
“Boston Health Company,” he called back.
I readjusted my traveler’s backpack and waddled back over to Hostel Guy and Victim Number One. “My mother is the CEO of BHC,” I told him.
“You’re kidding,” he muttered.
“I wish,” I muttered back.
“You know that company ruins lives, right?” he snapped. “My mom got in so deep—”
“Yeah, Linda’s a bitch,” I interrupted.
His beautiful eyes flashed. “Yeah, so funny. My mom just ran off with my last ten grand, but yeah, please, let’s laugh at all the—”
“I’m not laughing,” I interrupted. “My mother, Linda, is a bitch.”
He eyed me accusingly. “Are you in on it too?”
Alright. He was starting to get on my nerves. “No. I was going to offer to pay for you to stay a couple more nights until your dad’s money goes through,” I corrected him.
His jaw dropped.
“You checking out?” Hostel Guy asked.
Sexy Grumpy Guy moved out of the way so some Scandinavian beauties could check out. “Are you serious?” he asked me.
I should have just walked away then and there. I was starting to feel irked. I should have let the annoyance overtake me and go straight to the Airbnb I had yet to book, but I didn’t, because this guy was hotter than the Aussie Outback.
“Because my family hurt yours, financially at least, and the sidewalk can’t be that comfortable to sleep on,” I replied.
“I can’t just take your money,” he said, looking all guilty with a sexy tilted head and sexy half-pout.
“Are you a murderer?” I asked.
Just the answer I wanted to hear. “You can sleep on my couch if you want,” I offered.
I wish I could say I immediately regretted my offer, but I didn’t. This guy was so freaking hot, and I kind of liked his sass. Standing up for his mom and all. Must be nice to come from a family of people you can forgive.
“Really. I haven’t booked a place yet, so I’ll just get one with a couch.”
“You’d just invite a stranger to sleep over?”
“I mean, yeah.” That was, quite literally, exactly what I was doing. “I’ll just send a picture of your passport to my brother so he knows who killed me if I go missing. You can do the same with me but to your dad.”
“Are you going to kill me?” he asked.
“Nope,” I promised.
“Sick. In that case, you’re a lifesaver. I’m Evan.”
We shook hands. The moment our palms touched, I was doomed. Doomed like Noah’s hearing before the parole board. Doomed like Evan’s mom when she fell victim to Linda’s trickery. Completely, totally, utterly doomed.