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Goddess Games

Goddess Games

Chapter One

Excuse me, miss? You working here for the summer?"

The voice coming from behind Claire Watts had a shriek factor measurable on the Richter scale. She spun around to see a forty-something woman lumbering across the asphalt. Even from six parking spots away, Claire immediately spotted a mole with the mass and topography of Mount Evans protruding from the shrieker's cheek.

"Yes, I am." With graciousness she'd perfected working retail for her dad, Claire added, "How did you know?"

Wouldn't a normal person see a plastic surgeon about getting a mole like that removed? Not because it was aesthetically revolting—not really—but because every Allure article she'd ever read warned that irregular moles like that were just cancer waiting to sprout.

"You can't park here. Guests only." The woman stopped an arm's length from Claire, huffed out a cinnamon-laced breath and pointed away from the parking lot, toward a small drive that wound around the rear of the King's Crown Resort and Spa. "Employee lot is 'round that way. You may unload your belongings there after you pick up the key to your assigned cabin at the employee registration desk. Doesn't open for another hour, though."

The woman had pain in the ass—correction, pain in the neck—written all over her, but Claire kept her smile in place and gestured toward the empty backseat of her six year-old black Lexus, a hand-me down after her mother purchased a hybrid luxury sedan in an attempt to be earth-friendly.

"I'm not actually unloading anything today. I'm local, so I'm waiting until tomorrow morning to check in. But I was driving by and thought I could stop in to make sure I'm not missing any paperwork or anything."

Run-ins with know-it-alls like this woman were just God's way of testing her. Claire was determined to meet the challenge instead of firing off the kind of sarcastic reply she would have used a few short months ago. Besides, wasn't that what this summer was supposed to be about? Getting her head together and getting things right with God? Practicing being a good Christian, so when school started again in the fall, the behavior would be habit instead of such a struggle?

Maybe then the kids at Teen Jam would take her seriously. Not that it really mattered if they ever did—her rediscovery of Christianity was between her and God—but it'd sure make life easier. And she really wanted to go on the trip to Mexico they were planning over Thanksgiving, to help rebuild a school that had been wiped out in a hurricane. She hadn't worked up the guts to volunteer yet—it'd mean convincing her parents and volunteering a lot of time on fundraising projects to help pay for the trip—but how great would it be to help kids like that?

"You'll still need to go around to the back. No employee vehicles are permitted in the guest lot."

"No problem. Sorry." Claire tried to look deferential and professional at the same time, though it was hard to achieve in flip flops, cropped khaki pants, and a basic white Calvin Klein T. No matter how casual her clothing, it bugged Claire that the woman was treating her this way. How many times had the Watts family come here for Sunday brunch and plunked their money into this place? Recommended it to out-of-towners looking for a luxe place to stay?

But whatever.

Claire pulled her keys back out of her purse, then shot a pointed look at the older woman's silver name tag, neatly pinned opposite the embroidered King's Crown logo on her hunter green polo shirt. "You're Marla, I take it? It's nice to meet you." She stepped forward and extended a hand. "I'm Claire Watts. I understand I'm to be assigned to the information desk. I'm sure we'll be seeing—"

"Orientation starts promptly at nine tomorrow morning, so you'll need to get here early and park in the back." Hands on her size twenty-four (if Claire had to guess) hips, she added, "And no dilly-dallying at a coffee shop or any of that other stuff you teenagers like to do in the mornings. We have a lot of ground to cover and we'll be starting right on time."

Claire pulled her hand back as Marla eyed the small dent in the side of Claire's vehicle—parked at the end of a long row of pristine BMW's, Jaguars, and Mercedes all spaced just-so in the hope that no one would suffer door dings—and made a face.

Whatta bitch!

Claire instantly gave herself a mental smackdown. Even if she didn't say the b-word, wasn't thinking it just as bad in God's eyes? Training herself not to think bad words was more difficult than she'd expected, but with work, she'd get there.

And then she could work on the rest of her thoughts.

She shouldn't think less of Marla for her weight. For her mole. For anything. It was just wrong.

"All right. Thank you so much, Marla."

She slid into the front seat of her Lexus, then backed up carefully—despite the temptation to hit the gas loudly enough to make Marla worry about her toes getting crushed—and turned toward the narrow road leading to the employee cabins.

© Niki Burnham