The Harder You Fall

By: Gena Showalter

CHAPTER ONE


Sister dearest,

My darling Brook Lynn,

Yo!

So, check it. I’ve totally invaded your old bedroom to watch snow fall in the backyard. (Insert a couple minutes—or an hour!—of whining because your window alcove is better than mine.) BUT. Despite such a heinous injustice, I’m smiling so wide my jaw hurts. I remember the first time we built a snowman. I still think he looked like a puffer fish. Anyway. You cried “He’s dying” when the sun came out, and I collected snowman-blood (water) in a jar to host a proper bathroom funeral. We were pretty cool kids, huh? Now, though, we’re (technically) adults. Boo! You’re my best friend—yay! congrats!—but you’re also Jase’s fiancée. You’re part of his family, beloved by his friends, and that means I have to share you. I’m afraid, so very afraid, of losing you.

But then, I deserve to lose you. For years you took care of me like a mother takes care of her child. You sacrificed for me. You loved me when I was unlovable and helped me when I scorned you. Saying thank you a thousand times wouldn’t be enough. Saying I’m sorry a million times might be a start. You, sister, are a treasure. A gift. And I’m going to prove it. But not by giving you this letter.

No, this letter will self-destruct as soon as I’m done writing it because I don’t want to tell you everything you mean to me—I want to show you. And I will.

Yours forever,

Jessie Kay

ON A FRIGID December morning, the greatest snowpocalypse Strawberry Valley, Oklahoma, had ever experienced claimed its first victim. Jessica Kay Dillon’s pride. With a moan, the former beauty queen picked up her now-aching butt off the icy sidewalk, balanced her basket in her hands and, as bitter gusts of wind nipped at her, scanned nearby shop windows. No prying eyes watched her. Thank God!

If no one witnessed your epic fall, had it ever really happened?

Jessie Kay inched forward—careful, steady—but as she turned the corner her feet slipped and her arms flailed to no avail. Down she tumbled, landing with a hard smack. Dang it! She banged her fist into the ice-glazed concrete. She was going to die out here, and it was totally his fault. Lincoln West. One of the three owners of WOH Industries.

Stupid West and his stupid sandwich order!

She wouldn’t say she hated him, but she would maybe probably definitely unplug his life support to charge her phone. In only six months, he’d become the bane of her existence.

She should have listened to her sister and canceled today’s deliveries. Brook Lynn, the owner of You’ve Got It Coming—Busy life? Let us feed you!—believed safety came before commerce. But nooo, oh, no, Jessie Kay had insisted she could do the job, even though jumping from an airplane without a parachute would have been smarter. And yeah, okay, there was a perk to venturing out: the awe-inspiring winter wonderland. The hodgepodge design of shops—plantation-style buildings, metal warehouses and whitewashed bungalows—looked as if they’d been painted with diamond dust. But honestly? Awe-inspiring sucked buckets of ass right now.

Teeth chattering, she lumbered to her feet and carried on like a good little frozen soldier. At this point, giving up and returning to her car would be a blemish on YGIC’s sterling rep. Great start, deplorable finish. No, thanks. What it wouldn’t do? Melt the ice in Jessie Kay’s veins. The heater had been busted for years, the window scraper a necessary tool for survival. And it wasn’t like going home would do any good, either. The heater there basically operated on fumes and prayers.

In a perfect world, she’d fix both today. But this was a crap world and she needed more than the usual TLC—tears, lamentations and cursing. She needed cold, hard cash. Another reason she’d opted to brave the storm.

Brook Lynn, the sweetheart, paid her a hundred dollars a week to help prepare orders and make deliveries. Money she felt guilty for taking. I owe her, not the other way around. But take it she did. She had to. Pride, the whore, never made even a token offer to pay for anything.

The funds were just enough to cover utilities and the mortgage she acquired soon after Mom died. Tips covered essentials, like three squares a day. And to be quite blunt about the matter, she’d expected people to fork over more than the usual buck or two for today’s troubles. But had they? No! She’d gotten the usual, plus a few propositions from the sleazier men.