Chapter 1

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Sweat dotted my brow. Tendrils of red hair clung to my neck. My legs felt like I’d been sitting in a sauna. I was pretty sure there was a waterfall of sweat coursing between my breasts, and that alone put my mood somewhere between slapping someone and pushing them in front of a trolley.

It was so hot and sticky humid that I was seriously beginning to believe that New Orleans was one of the seven circles of hell and the outdoor seating area of the Palace Café was the gateway. Or the waiting room.

A fat drop of sweat slipped from the tip of my nose and smacked off my Philosophy of Human Person text, leaving a little damp circle in the middle of a paragraph I could barely see through the sheen of sweat blinding me.

I always thought the title of my class was missing an ‘A’ somewhere in there. It should be Philosophy of A Human Person. But oh no, that wasn’t how Loyola rolled.

The small table rattled on its legs as a large iced coffee slammed down directly in front of my book. “For you!”

As I peered over the top of my sunglasses, my mouth watered like I was one of Pavlov’s dogs. Valerie Adrieux plopped into the seat across from me, her hand like a claw on top of my iced coffee. A mix of Spanish and African heritage, Val had an absolutely beautiful skin tone, a rich and flawless shade of brown, and she looked awesome in bright oranges and blues and pinks and every freaking color of the rainbow.

Like today, Val wore a loose, orange halter that defied gravity, a purple necklace, and as I glanced down, I saw a turquoise peasant skirt. She looked as if she had stepped off a catalog featuring urban chic. If I wore any color other than black, tan, or gray, I looked like an asylum escapee.

Sitting up straight, ignoring how the backs of my thighs stuck to the chair, I made grabby fingers at the iced coffee. “Gimmie.”

She arched a brow. In the sunlight, Val’s hair had a burnt auburn sheen to it. Pretty. Mine looked like a fire engine. Scary. No matter the level of humidity, her head full of corkscrew curls always looked great. Again, pretty. Between the months of April and November, the curl in my hair got lazy and turned into a frizzy wave. Again, scary as hell.

Sometimes I wanted to hate her.

“Don’t you have something else to add to that?” she asked.

This was one of those times.

“Gimmie . . . my precious?” I added.

She grinned. “Try again.”

“Thank you?” I wiggled my fingers toward the coffee.

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