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Dirty Headlines
Author:L.J. Shen

Dirty Headlines by L.J. Shen





“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,

And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.”

—William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream





To Vanessa Serrano and Vanessa Villegas, and to (virtual) hugs and (real) gratitude





“Promiscuous”—Nelly Furtado and Timbaland.

“How Soon is Now?”—The Smiths

“Le Chemin”—Kyo feat. Sita

“Makes Me Wonder”—Maroon 5

“Anybody Seen My Baby”—The Rolling Stones

“Bloodstream”—Stateless

“Hey Jude”—The Beatles

“Down”—Jason Walker

“Moi Lolita”—Alizée





Célian Laurent.

Manhattan royalty.

Notorious playboy.

Heir to a media empire.

…And my new boss.

I could have impressed him, if not for last month’s unforgettable one-night stand.

I left it with more than orgasms and a pleasant memory—namely, his wallet.

Now he’s staring me down like I’m the dirt under his Italian loafers, and I’m supposed to take it.

But the thing about being Judith “Jude” Humphry is I have nothing to lose.

Brooklyn girl.

Infamously quirky.

Heir to a stack of medical bills and a tattered couch.

When he looks at me from across the room, I see the glint in his eyes, and that makes us rivals.

He knows it.

So do I.

Every day in the newsroom is a battle.

Every night in his bed, war.

But it’s my heart at stake, and I fear I’ll be raising the white flag.





On her deathbed, my mother said the heart is a lonely hunter.

“Organs, Jude, are like people. They need company, a backup to rely on. That’s why we have lungs, tonsils, hands, legs, fingers, toes, eyes, nostrils, teeth, and lips. Only the heart works alone. Like Atlas, it carries the weight of our existence on its shoulders quietly, only rebelling when disturbed by love.”

She said a lonely heart—such as my lonely heart—would never fall in love, and so far, she wasn’t wrong.

Maybe that’s why tonight happened.

Maybe that’s why I’d stopped trying.

Creamy sheets tangled around my legs like roots as I slipped out of the king-sized bed in the swanky hotel room I’d been occupying for the last several hours. I rose from the plush mattress, my back to the stranger I’d met this afternoon.

If I stole a glance at him, my conscience would kick in and I’d never go through with it.

I was choosing his cash over my integrity.

Cash I very much needed.

Cash that was going to pay my electricity bill and fill prescriptions for Dad this month.

I tiptoed across the room to his dress pants on the floor, feeling hollow in all the places he’d filled in the previous hours. This was the first time I’d stolen anything, and the finality of the situation made me want to throw up. I wasn’t a thief. Yet I was about to wrong this perfect stranger. And I wasn’t even going to touch the one-night-stand issue for fear my head would explode all over the lush carpet. I didn’t normally do one-night stands.

But I wasn’t myself tonight.

I’d woken this morning to the sound of my mailbox collapsing from the weight of the letters and bills crammed into it. Then I’d failed a job interview so miserably, they’d cut the meeting short to watch a Yankees game. (When I’d pointed out there was no game—because, yes, I was that desperate—they’d explained it was a rerun.)

Defeated, I’d stumbled my way through the cruel streets of Manhattan, the early-spring rain loud and punishing. I’d figured the best course of action would be to slip into my boyfriend Milton’s condo to dry off. I had the key, and he was probably at work, polishing his piece about immigration healthcare. He worked for The Thinking Man, one of the most prestigious magazines in New York. To say I was proud would be the understatement of the century.

The rest of the afternoon played out like a bad movie piled with clichés and reeking of bad luck. I’d pushed Milton’s door open, shaking the raindrops from my jacket and hair. First, low, guttural moans seeped into my ears. The unmistakable visual followed immediately after:

Milton’s editor, Elise, whom I’d met once before for drinks, bent over one side of the couch we’d picked out together at my favorite flea market, as he relentlessly pounded into her.

Thrust.

Thrust.

Thrust.

Thrust!

“The heart is a lonely, cruel hunter.”

I’d felt mine shooting an arrow of poison straight to Milton’s glistening chest, then heard it crack, threatening to split in two.

We’d been together for five years. Met at Columbia University. He was the son of a retired NBC anchor. I was on full scholarship. The only reason we hadn’t lived together was because Dad was sick and I didn’t want to leave his side. But that didn’t stop Milton and me from crocheting our plans into the same colors and patterns, entwining our lives one dream at a time.

Visit Africa.

Get assigned to the Middle East.

Watch the sunset in Key West.

Eat one perfect macaron in Paris.

Our bucket list was etched in a notebook I’d keenly named Kipling, and it was burning a hole through my bag right now.

I hadn’t meant to throw up on Milton’s doorstep, but it was not a big surprise, considering what I’d just walked into. The bastard had skidded on my breakfast as he chased me down the hall, but I’d pushed the emergency stairway door open and taken the stairs two at a time. Milton had been very much naked, with a condom still dangling from his half-mast dick, and at some point he’d decided bursting into the street in his birthday suit was not a good plan.

I’d run until my lungs burned and my Chucks were wet and muddy.

Bumping into shoulders, and umbrellas, and street vendors in the pounding rain.

I was angry, desperate and shocked—but I wasn’t devastated. My heart was cracked, but not broken.

“The heart is a lonely hunter, Jude.”

I’d needed to forget—forget about Milton, the stacks of bills, and my unfortunate lack of employment the past few months. I’d needed to drown in alcohol and hot skin.

The stranger in the suite had given me exactly that, and now he was about to give me something we had never agreed on.

Judging by this place, though, he won’t have trouble paying for the cab to the airport.

A curved, wrought-iron staircase that cost more than my entire apartment stared back at me, leading to a Jacuzzi the size of my room. Plush, red-tufted velvet couches taunted me. Floor-to-ceiling windows dared me to drink in the view of well-heeled Manhattan with my poor eyes. And the teardrop chandelier looked eerily similar to little sperm.

And to make it through next week, Judith Penelope Humphry, you will stop thinking about jizz and move on with your plan.

I reached for the back pocket of his Tom Ford dress pants, where he’d tucked his wallet shortly after sliding out a chain of condoms, and examined it in my shaking hands. A Bottega Veneta leather creation, black and unwrinkled. My throat bobbed, but I still couldn’t swallow my nerves.

I flipped the wallet open and slipped out the stack of cash. Turned out Stranger Junior wasn’t the only thing thick about this one. I counted hurriedly, my eyes flaring as they took in all the cash.

Hundred…two…three…six…eight…Fifteen hundred. Thank you, Jesus.

I could practically hear Jesus scolding me. “Don’t thank me. Pretty sure thou shalt not steal was way up there on my not-to-do list.”

Yanking my phone out of my shoulder bag, I searched the brand of the wallet in my hand. Turns out it cost a little less than seven hundred bucks. My dysfunctional, albeit heavy heart pounded as I began to toss out plastic cards without giving them a second glance. The wallet was sellable, and as it turned out, so were my morals.