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Authors: Suzanne Young

A Want So Wicked

BOOK: A Want So Wicked
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A WANT SO WICKED

SUZANNE YOUNG

Dedication

For my husband, Jesse,
who is
wicked
awesome

And in loving memory of
my grandmother Josephine Parzych

Contents

 

 

AFTER

I
hear an echo as sound hums its way into my ears. It's a heavy noise, reverberating as it gets louder. Louder. Louder—I'm afraid my head will burst from the vibration, and finally my eyes flutter open and it stops.

I see sky above me—blue and cloudless. Blinking quickly, I try to get my bearings. Sensation returns to my fingers and I feel the grit of rock and sand beneath them. The air is thin and dry.

I sit up and rest my elbows on my knees, looking around. I'm in a park of some sort: Sandy hills with cacti surround me; a fountain in the center flows. It's quiet and peaceful, but at the same time, my heart starts to thump a little harder.

Where am I?

I try to think back to the last thing I remember, but nothing comes to me. It's like I just . . . appeared, alone in the desert.

I stand, stumbling when I take a step as if adjusting to my height, to my body—both unfamiliar. I'm disoriented as I walk toward the street, crossing the hot sand on my way to an empty block lined with parked cars.

The sun settles in my bones, and I lift my face, letting it warm my cheeks. The heat feels like home. Like love.

Just then a glint of light from a car's side mirror catches my eye. I stop, fear seizing me as I stare at my reflection in the passenger window, ignoring the hot pavement that's burning the soles of my feet.

Because I realize: I have no idea who I am.

CHAPTER 1

I
don't recognize the face staring back at me. The girl in the reflection has blond hair and wears a plaid schoolgirl outfit, nothing like the white tank top and cutoffs I have on now. I hold up a handful of my hair, studying the deep brown waves as the reflection mimics my movement with her blond hair. I meet her eyes once again, trying not to panic. But as I watch, the girl slowly changes—her skin beginning to glisten, shine. Brighten.

I take an unsteady step back.

And suddenly my reflection explodes in golden light. When she's gone, there is only me—long dark hair with pale blue eyes and olive skin. Images fill my head and I can see my entire life being written. The universe creates me: my childhood in a sleepy Colorado town, my father teaching me how to ride a bike. I hear my sister's whispers late at night after our mother died when I was eight.

My name is Elise Landon. And I'm about to wake up.

I notice something in the back pocket of my shorts and reach for it. When I take it out and open my palm, I nearly choke on the heavy feeling that weighs in my chest. It's like a longing for another place. Another time.

In my hand I hold a small guardian angel figurine set in a smooth, clear stone. It's beautiful, a promise of love. Of forever.

For a brief second I remember everything about who and what I used to be. But most of all, I remember Harlin. And I wonder how he'll find me if I'm someone else.

 

The dream sticks to my skin as I turn, my legs tangling in the pink cotton blankets. The memory of it is fading fast, even as I fight to hold on to it.

“Elise,” my sister says again, pushing my shoulder. I groan in response but otherwise ignore her. The edges of the dream fray, and when it's gone completely, I roll over and yawn.

“No,” I say before hearing what Lucy wants. Chances are, if my sister is waking me up in the middle of the night, it's because she needs help escaping.

“Please?”

I finally open my eyes and find her standing in the dim light of my bedside lamp. I laugh, taking in her appearance. She looks like a hipster ninja—black knit cap over her short pixie cut, black tank top, leggings, and heavy lace-up boots. Her eyeliner and lipstick are dark, her nails are blood-red, and her jangling bracelets are noisy enough to make her getup not matter. She'll never sneak up on anyone, but she looks sort of cool, so I almost appreciate it.

“Dad will hold me personally responsible,” I say, gathering my brown hair on top of my head and fastening it there with an elastic band from my dresser. “What exactly will you be doing, and who will you be doing it with?”

Lucy grins wickedly. “It's not like that. He's just a friend.”

“I don't slip out to see my friends at three a.m.”

“You don't have any friends.”

“Mean!” But I laugh and hit her with a pillow. She's not wrong, although it sounds harsher than the reality. We just moved to Thistle, Arizona (aka Middle of Nowhere), a month ago, when our dad took over as the pastor of a small church in town. Seriously, this place makes Tombstone look like a metropolis. Back in Colorado I'd had plenty of friends. I just haven't gotten around to it here yet because people are outnumbered by cacti by about a thousand to one.

“I'm sorry,” Lucy says halfheartedly. “I promise you'll be popular once school starts again. Junior year is when all the fun happens, believe me. But for now, help me cultivate
my
social life and get me out of here before Dad wakes up.”

“I'm borrowing your car to drive to work this afternoon.”

“Fine, whatever.” She waves her hands to hurry me along. “Let's go.”

Victorious, I climb out of bed and open my bedroom door, poking my head into the hallway. Moving boxes still rest on the tiled floor, and I suspect they'll stay there until my father gets around to unpacking them. But with his schedule, that's not likely to happen anytime soon.

I point my sister toward the garage as I go in the opposite direction, tiptoeing past my father's partially open bedroom door. There's no snoring or other obvious signs that he's asleep, so I say a prayer to not get caught. Which I immediately realize is kind of wrong, but it's too late to take it back.

When my older—and much less responsible—eighteen-year-old sister gets into trouble, my father usually groups me in with her punishment. Sure, I'm an accomplice, but I don't think it's entirely fair.
I'm
not the one sneaking out. Besides, Lucy is going to be a senior. She should be able to go out after dark. The restrictions of being a pastor's daughter, I guess.

I get to the keypad at our front door and type in the disarm code, wincing when it beeps. I listen, and when the house stays quiet, I give Lucy the thumbs-up and she slips into the dark garage. I count to ten, about as long as it will take her to get out the side door, and then key in the code again. It beeps, reassuring us that the house is secure—albeit less one member—and then I make the careful walk back to my room.

My sister has been sneaking out since middle school, but it wasn't until last year that my father got hip to her activities—which was hard to avoid when she was brought home by a police cruiser at two in the morning. It's part of why my father wanted to move us here—to give us a fresh start. Since that night, it has been overparenting at its best. Even though I know my father has good intentions.

The street outside is silent. Lucy knows better than to use her beat-up old Honda this late. My father has an extra sense, like a dog, that can tell the sound of her engine coming or going. So I assume her
friend
must have the wheels and is waiting at the end of the block. Lucy will text me to let her back in just before breakfast, sharing with me her secrets—both the exciting and the dangerous ones. I never really know which it'll be.

Truthfully, I'm a little jealous of her extracurriculars. She seems so . . . alive. But I'm hopeful that the new job I'm starting today at Santo's Restaurant will not only get me paid, but will also help me meet some quality people. Or I'll just eat a lot of chimichangas. I'll be all right either way.

As I get to my room, I'm struck with the oddest sensation, a déjà vu of sorts. I stop, reaching for the doorframe to steady myself. In my head I hear a whisper, or rather the memory of a whisper. The familiar voice is soft, and it warms me from the inside out as it murmurs a name:
Charlotte
.

Like a dream I can't quite remember, this déjà vu is more a feeling than something I can describe coherently. It's sweet and painful at the same time—an emotion that doesn't make sense. And when it finally fades, leaving behind little more than a dull ache, I climb into bed. My fingers touch something cool under my pillow. Surprised, I slowly slide it out.

It's an angel, set in a clear stone.

CHAPTER 2

I
n the morning, I decide that Lucy had to be the one who left the angel figurine under my pillow. She always does that—gives me gifts with no expectation of thanks. After losing our mother, she picked up the slack in the “leaving notes in my lunch bag” department. Although now that we're older, she spares me the smiley faces.

It's certainly odd that she picked an angel, since Lucy tries to avoid religion as much as one can in the house of a pastor. But I swear I've seen this before, and half wonder if it's a throwaway from one of her exes.

Well, wherever it's from, the gift is comforting, as if I now have someone watching out for me. So I slip it into the drawer of my bedside table and leave to shower.

 

* * *

 

I stand in the parking lot of Santo's Restaurant, ready for my first day of work—ever. I've never had a job; have never even volunteered before. I'm like fresh meat being thrown to the wolves, but my father thought it would build character. Yeah, we'll see.

A loud rumble cuts through the air, and I turn to see a hot guy ride by on his Harley, passing me on his way down Main Street. He's wearing a brown leather jacket and dark sunglasses. For a second I hope he'll look over at me, but instead he disappears around the corner at the end of the block.

My mouth twitches with a smile, as I consider any hot-guy sighting a sign of good things to come—or at least that's what Lucy would say. With my fate on the upswing, I cross the gravel parking lot.

The hostess is on the other side of the glass door of Santo's, wearing a checkered black-and-white dress with lace trim, wiping down and stacking menus.

I've eaten here a few times with my dad. Their enchiladas are tasty, their tacos not so much. When my father suggested I get a job for the summer, this was the only place I applied. I mean, the town's not very big. It was either here or the hot-dog truck on Mission Boulevard.

I take one last look around the parking lot and see a tumbleweed, an actual
tumbleweed
, roll across the road. I laugh—proof that we live in the middle of nowhere.

A bell jingles when I push the door open. The white Formica counter is crowded with men in tan Carthartt overalls eating burritos and enchiladas. The temperature drops nearly twenty degrees as I step inside, the air-conditioning on full blast. The booths throughout the dining room are mostly empty.

The hostess snatches a menu and walks up hurriedly. “One for dinner?” she asks.

“Um . . . no. I'm Elise. I'm supposed to start today?”

The girl stares at me, her blond hair tied in a messy knot at her neck. “Oh.” She shuffles through the papers on the hostess stand, seeming confused. “I'll have to grab someone.” She points toward a booth. “You can wait there. I'll be right back.”

I thank her, and she zigzags around the tables of the dining room toward the swinging door that leads to the kitchen. My stomach turns with anxiety as I go to sit down, smiling politely at several customers when I do. The place is small but comfortable—as if everyone who comes in has known one another forever. I feel like such an outsider.

Suddenly there's a prickle of cold air across my cheeks, over my arms. A wind that seems to brush my hair aside, although I'm sure it hasn't moved at all. I glance up and see him—a server in a white button-down shirt, black pants, and black apron. He's staring at me, his lips curved into a smile.

He murmurs something to the tattooed man behind the counter and grabs a glass of water, tucking a small pad of paper into his apron pocket. Nervousness creeps inside my chest as he walks my way. His grin is lopsided and confident against his tan skin, his black hair cropped short with the front brushed up. He's stunning.

“Stop my heart,” he says, setting the glass in front of me. “You're the prettiest thing I've seen all summer. I had to give Mario twenty bucks to pick up this table. Hope you tip well.”

“What?” I ask. Did he have me confused with someone else?

“And I swear I'm not just saying that because you're the only customer in here under fifty.” He gestures toward the other tables.

I look around, making sure his words are meant for me. When it's clear that they are, I shake my head. “Oh, I'm not actually a—”

“By the way,” he interrupts, holding out his hand. “I'm Abe. Your future love interest.” I wait for him to laugh it off, but instead he sits down across from me. I lower my eyes, unable to meet his dark gaze.

Unlike my sister, I don't date. Or at least I never have. My father likes to think it's all of his “wait for the right guy” speeches, but really I just haven't found anyone who I click with as more than a friend. And Abe doesn't really seem the friend type, not with an approach like that.

“What's your name?” Abe asks, putting his elbows on the table and leaning forward.

“Elise.”

His smile fades, and he tips his head back to laugh. “Aw, man. You're the new server, aren't you?”

“I think so . . .”

“Damn. I just lost twenty bucks.”

“I'm sorry.”

Abe runs his hand over his face and then grins sheepishly. “For the record,” he says, “the love-interest line usually works.”

“I'm sure.”

Abe takes his notepad from his apron and taps it on the table as if thinking. I watch him, flattered that he approached me at all. I can't remember the last time someone did.

A sunburn crosses the bridge of his nose, both charming and boyish. His dark brown eyes seem to go on forever. “I'm an idiot,” Abe says.

“No. It was a perfect line. Promise.”

“Thanks. And just to make this even more awkward, I'm the one who's supposed to train you.”

“We can start over. Would that help?”

“No, no, I think that would just make it worse, but I appreciate the suggestion.” Abe studies me. “Do you go to Mission High, Elise?” he asks.

“Yep. I'll be a junior.”

“Ah, then we're rivals,” he says. “I just graduated from Yuma.”

“That's probably why your lines usually work so well—fresh audience. I bet you're a legend around here.”

“You have no idea.” He winks and then pulls out his phone, peeking at the time. “Don't want to cut this short, but I have some actual training to do,” he says. “Are you a fast learner?”

“Sort of.”

“Your confidence is encouraging.” Abe takes a menu from behind the hot sauce and hands it to me. “Let's start with our specialties.”

He takes a menu of his own, flipping it open. “There is the
pollo especial
, but don't ever order it. It's gross,” Abe says, running his finger down the page. “Or the
asada
.”

I try to follow along, but he's going so fast I can't keep up. And I'm sure I'll never remember the names of the food—or be able to repeat them.

“The
albondigas
soup is delicious. And the number eight
es muy bueno
,” Abe sings in a perfect accent. “It's my favorite. Now, the
espinaca
is one of . . .”

Listening to Abe, I don't notice when the tingling first starts in my fingers. But as it climbs over my hand I begin to tremble. The vibration spreads up my arm, and I set my menu flat on the table to reach for the glass of water. Maybe if I have something to drink I'll feel better.

The bell above the door jingles as a guy walks in, his overalls clotted with plaster and paint. He nods to the man behind the counter and then absently looks over the restaurant. His eyes widen when he sees me.

I go still as I'm struck with an overwhelming sense of compassion, love. Suddenly the man's life unfolds within my head, my reality filled with his journey. I begin to panic, but then I'm blanketed in a sense of calm. A sense of purpose.

The guy walks slowly, almost trancelike, toward me.
“Mi angel,”
he whispers when he gets to the table. He reaches to take my hand, startling me. But I don't pull away. Instead I sway with the emotions coursing through me. Emotions that aren't mine.

“Hey,” Abe says, glaring at him. “Back off, Diego.”

But Diego Encina doesn't respond. Instead his eyes are glassy with tears. A sudden brightness explodes around us, blotting out the rest of the world, silencing everything beyond.

“I'm so lost,” Diego murmurs to me. “Please,
angel
.”

I can't stop myself from leaning closer, squeezing his hand to comfort him. “I'm still with you,” I whisper softly. But I'm not speaking for myself—I'm repeating the words running through my head. An all-knowing consciousness. Something Diego has seen before and still craves.

Six months ago Diego had been in a terrible accident with his truck, the very accident that killed his brother. Diego's internal injuries were so severe that he went into cardiac arrest three times. They'd just called the time of death when he suddenly started breathing again, his pulse strong.

Before his accident, Diego had been spending his nights drinking, driving around, and being reckless. His brother had been trying to help him when he got into the truck, attempting to wrestle away the keys. In the end he let Diego drive. It cost him his life.

After surviving, Diego vowed to change. And he has. He's working, taking care of his family—of his brother's children, too. He's become everything his older brother wanted him to be. He should be proud.

But he's not. Diego doesn't feel like he deserves this second chance. He closes his eyes and brings my hand to his mouth to kiss it, holding back a cry.

I refuse to leave him so desperate. And even though I don't understand what's happening, I find myself unable to send him away without granting him some sort of peace. I brush his damp hair from his forehead.

“Second chances aren't given lightly, Diego,” I whisper in a voice only he can hear. “The children need you, especially Tomás. Don't abandon him—you have to be strong now.”

Diego blinks heavily as if absorbing my words, and then he slowly regains his focus. The light around us fades away. Diego drops my hand and staggers back a step, as if just realizing where he is.

“I'm sorry,
señorita
,” he says quickly, glancing once at Abe. “I didn't mean to interrupt.”

I'm speechless, staring back at him, unable to process what just happened. Diego excuses himself, walking to the counter without ever looking back.

The warm, calming sensation begins to fade from my skin. Instead, energy surges through my body and I tremble with it. When I turn to my right, the room around me is frozen. No movement. No sound. And then all at once, a new scene slips into focus—a memory.

I'm on the front steps of a church, waiting for someone. My blond hair blows in the wind, light droplets of rain starting above me. I glance impatiently at my phone before turning to go inside. Classes are starting, and I'm late. I knew I shouldn't have expected Sarah to be on time.

I gasp, pulled back into now. The restaurant around me suddenly comes alive again, filling my ears with the echoes of scraping forks and clinking plates. I'm disoriented—as if waking up from a really intense dream. One you think could be real.

“Why did deadbeat Diego just call you his angel?” Abe asks from across the table, sounding bewildered. “Do you know each other?”

I'm not sure how to answer, what to think. Did I know him? For a second I knew his innermost thoughts, his past. But then that memory, it wasn't mine. I've never been to Catholic school. I've never had blond hair. And who's Sarah?

I reach up to rub my forehead, squeezing my eyes shut. Fear begins to rise in my throat. I think I just had an out-of-body experience.

“Elise?” Abe says, lowering his voice. “Are you okay?” I feel his fingers brush across my hand and I jump, looking over at him.

“Yeah,” I lie. I'm not sure how to explain what just happened. I'm completely overwhelmed. “He must have thought I was someone else,” I say quickly. But for a second, I
was
someone else.

“He . . .” Abe stops. “Okay, that was really weird. I'm tripping out right now.”

“I'm sorry,” I say, trying to keep some semblance of normal. “I'm just a little light-headed. I forgot to eat lunch and I—”

I reach for my water again, but my hands are shaking so badly that the glass slips from my fingers and hits the table, splashing me in cold liquid. I yelp, brushing my lap.

Abe stands, pulling a white rag from his apron. He swipes the cubes from the table back into the glass. “God, Elise,” he says with mock disappointment. “I can't take you anywhere.”

I let him finish cleaning the ice off the table before sliding out. I grab a napkin and try to sop up the water on my seat, my body still uncoordinated from adrenaline.

Abe touches my shoulder. “Please don't,” he says. “You're making it worse. Let me grab a dry towel.” He tosses the wet one on the table. “And try not to trash the place while I'm gone, okay,
querida
?”

He strolls toward the back, leaving me standing there scared, alone, and wet.
“Querida?”
I repeat, wondering what he just called me.

“It means beloved,” a middle-aged woman with a smoky voice says from the table next to mine. She's poking her refried beans with a fork, and when she looks up, she smiles. “
Querida
means wanted.”

BOOK: A Want So Wicked
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