Authors: Rachel Firasek
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are fictitious or have been used fictitiously, and are not to be construed as real in any way. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales, or organizations is entirely coincidental.
THE WIND BLOWING
through my hair calms me, soothing the angst tracing each scar across my body. Then there are days like today when the breeze tears at me like a pack of piranhas, and all I can think of is swimming away before they pull me under.
“Alice, it’s your turn.” Someone calls to me over the blare of the radio and the blast of Blackcats being thrown over the cliffs, but I’m enjoying the tongue thrusting in my mouth too much to care.
Bo, the hot guy we picked up on the way, has been entertaining my lips and hands for the last hour. He’d been hitching to the lake, and even though my friends moaned and groaned when I forced them to stop for him—I wouldn’t let someone else intent on experiencing the peace of the water spend miles of waiting and walking to get here.
His mouth fits across mine, stroking my lips with a steady lashing. It’s nice to forget everything but the worry of what he’ll do next. He teases the edge of my T-shirt up, but I shove his fingers away, and he doesn’t push it. His need twitches along my hip as I sit across his lap. One calloused hand slides up the inside of my thigh. I clench my legs to stop him, aggressively attacking his lips with mine to keep him interested but distracted. I’d kiss him all day, and that was as far as I’d take it. I’m a horrible person. A control freak at heart. This is just one of the many games I’m good at.
Molly slides up beside me and digs her pointy elbow into my ribs. “Are you sure you want to do this?” She leans over and shivers. My sister, by father only, has never understood my need for the rush. Her mother kept her from anything that led to a deep passionate response, and mine had nurtured going with my gut. Two souls who shared blood had never been more different. The only thing that made us compatible was a love transcending reason. Sisters are forever. “It’s a really long way down.”
“That’s the best part. Don’t worry, Mole, the adrenaline takes away the pain of impact. I promise.” I step away from the edge. To make it out far enough to miss the jagged rocks against the cliff’s base, I need a solid leap. “Wish me luck.”
The hitcher silently presses up behind me, fits his body to mine, and whispers into my ear, “Good luck.” He licks my lobe, and my stomach does a little flip—not in a pleasurable way.
I suck in a deep breath, disentangle my limbs from his greedy hands, and run. Six pounding steps and I’m here. Right on the brink of pain. Right on the edge of escape. Right where I want to be.
The ground turns from grass to rough stone. I kick off and there’s nothing. Only air. Lovely, free air. It beats against my skin, killing the piranhas and the memories. For one brief second in time, I’m not drowning anymore.
dicing until tears roll down my face. I don’t hide them. No one deserves the damning evidence and the misery more than me. A stray, black curl slips from the loose knot on top of my head and floats through my blurry vision. I blow at the exasperating lock tickling my nose. The first few taps of metal on wood beat out the sound of my knife against the cutting block.
Molly’s new walking stick catches on the bedroom door frame. I want to rush to her side and help her, but she has to do this on her own.
She’s blind, not incapable,
are words to live by at this point. I drop the knife on the counter and wrap my fingers under the marble edge, holding on. I can’t go to her. I will
go to her.
She smacks the door frame with an open palm, searching for the way through. I wince at her exhale.
I pick up the knife and whack a deep gouge into my already mangled onion. “Take that.” The jagged, soggy ball of mutilation didn’t deserve the torture, but it would give Molly the noise she needs to find her way. A hint. I could do that without adding to my overflowing guilty conscience.
She perks up and shifts toward the right. Her stick meets air, and she stumbles through the walkway, one hand reaching, and the other death gripping her cane.
“Morning.” She taps on the floor. The rhythmic beat counts out each mapped step for her. “Wow, you’d think after doing this for a week, I’d have it right.” She stops in time to let her cane nudge the chair of our small, dining room table. The apartment’s open spaced design works well for Molly’s transition from the rehab center.
I refrain from pulling out the chair. Progress has been slow for both of us.
Her blank gaze falls on the general area of the high leather back. “Wanna bet how many times it takes me to get this right?”
She’s taken to her disability so well.
I am lost.
“No. And if your mother hears you talking like me, she’s liable to cut out my tongue and make you eat it. You know she hates that
guttural street slang
On the second try, Molly manages to sit without flipping over. It’s a step up from yesterday. Watching her try to scoot into the chair only to have it tip precariously on the back legs before falling over had been one of the hardest things I’d ever done, but she’d refused my help.
“Lighten up. It’s going much better than I’d hoped.” She grins in my direction, and everything eases. She has that way about her. When we were young, and I’d had a particularly rough night, or if Rowena—my stepmother—hooked me with her claws, Molly’s smiles would make it easier to swallow. “And what Mother doesn’t hear won’t hurt her.” She fiddles with the linen napkin, spreading it across her lap. “What are we doing today?”
I flip the omelet I’ve been working on for way longer than it needed to cook. “I thought we might have some breakfast, go find some bikers, and hit the road for a bit.” We both knew this wasn’t going to happen. One, I swore off that way of life three months ago. Two, Molly would never be bold—ever again.
“Just find some? I can see us now. Me with my cane waving from the back, and you getting your hair stuck in your piercings.” She flicks her strawberry-blonde mane back and over a slim shoulder. I’d always envied her perfectly straight strands. “I smell food. I’d like to do that today. Eat.”
She chuckles in that way of hers, and I grin. For a moment, it feels like old times. Her smile falters in the silence, and she tilts her chin up, waiting. Damn, she can’t see me. I hurry to her side and raise her palm to my mouth. I keep forgetting facial expressions no longer work for her. “Shhh. It’s okay. You’re a funny shit, that won’t ever change.”
She frowns up at me. “And neither will your language.”
“Nope.” I drop her hand and hurry to get her food. “Now, be quiet before I burn your gourmet breakfast.”
“Hah, I’ll be surprised if it’s edible.”
I roll my eyes. We could do this all day. The plate drops onto the table with a startling clatter, and I smack her fork against the surface—probably with more force than needed, but I want her to hear where I’d set it. It’s part of her practice. At least, that’s what her therapist told us.
“Hey, I’m going to go get the mail. You okay for a bit?” My stomach drops, I hate this part. She shouldn’t get into trouble in the short span of time needed to rush down to the lock boxes, but the part of me that imagines every possible disaster refuses to let my legs follow my command to move.
She smiles and waves me away before shoveling a bite of egg in without a mess. She
Molly swallows and smirks. “You’re watching me.”
The half raised fork lowers, and she folds her hands in her lap. “Stop.”
“I’m going. Eat.”
Its only thirty paces to the front door, but it might as well be five miles—the distance feels the same. “I’ll be right back.”
“Alice?” Her gentle voice carries across the room.
My feet slip across the floor as I slide to a stop. “Yeah?”
She shifts in her chair until she faces my general direction, but her blue-eyed gaze falls somewhere past my shoulder. “This
My mouth drops, she never curses. She abhors it when I do. I shut the door and the faint sound of her laughter whispers under the edge. The little closet freak. I thought that was my sole honor in the Harrison household.
We’d never lived together, and up until several months ago, didn't spend much time with each other. We weren't allowed at each other’s houses—well, unless Daddy dearest put his foot down.
After my mom died from cancer six months ago, I dropped out of art school. My classes didn’t exactly mesh with my two jobs, and someone had to pay the rent. When quitting school didn’t solve my financial problems, Molly invited me into her home without any questions. It was her biggest mistake and my biggest regret. If it weren’t for me, she wouldn’t be blind.
I race to the elevator, stab the button, and the steel doors ping open. We live in an eight level condo with every amenity known to man. My father dabbles in oil, and Molly and her mother reap the benefits. Although, if Row had her way about it, Molly would be in a home, and I’d be on the streets.
The floor drops beneath my feet and my stomach hiccups with the fall. I love it. It’s the feeling I get when I jump. Cliff diving, sky-diving—when I can afford it—even the time I jumped on the train and rode it through town gave me an identical hiccup, only bigger. Much bigger and way more satisfying.
I’m still riding the sensation when the elevator doors glide open. Without waiting for a clear view, I rush out and smack into a wall of solid muscles beneath a dark cotton pullover and fall back into the closing doors. One strong forearm wraps around my waist while another zips past my face to keep the heavy steel from shutting on my head. A firm thigh, still in a lunge move, cradles my hip. We pant in a diagonal position. I glance at his wide chest, up to his neck where veins bulge, and on to his chiseled, dark stubble covered chin. His perfect bottom lip twitches but doesn’t lift.
Holy damn, he’s fucking beautiful.
I’m jumping again. Jumping or falling. This time, both are scarier than hell.
He glances down, over the bridge of my nose, pauses on my lips, and then flicks back up. I freeze under his intense blue eyes. They aren’t glacier, cobalt, or any other pretty color. Just intensely blue. His gaze lands on my pierced eyebrow, and he frowns.
If he hates that, I wonder what he’ll think when he sees my tragus piercing. That little stud bled like a bitch, but I love it.
I squirm, twisting against the heat of his abdomen, trying to right myself and leave the awkward comfort of his grip. “Uh, thanks.”
He reels me in closer and helps me stand. The air whooshes out of my chest at the way his muscles bunch around me. I’m more than overwhelmed by his alarming good looks and obvious disdain for my face bling. However, he hasn’t voiced his thoughts, and I don’t usually attack first.
If he wasn’t so freaking gorgeous, I might be able to find my tongue and peel my body from his grasp. As it is, we’re both still clinging, and if his deepening frown is proof, neither of us are happy about it. “If you’ll let go, I’ll get out of your way, and we’ll forget this embarrassing situation ever happened.”
One dark brow arches, and I want to lick it. I step back and create a tiny bit of room for my shudder of air. Those were the kind of thoughts that got girls like me in trouble. Even with my dark heritage, there’s enough of my father in me that I’m sure this stud will notice I’m flushed from the press of his body against mine.
He smirks in that, “I know I’m hot,” way.
I brush past him. I don’t have time for him and his creepy no-talking attitude. So what if he saved me. I wouldn’t have been falling if he’d moved back for exiting traffic. Everyone knows that rule.
The foyer is stretching with each step I take. The heavy weight of his gaze heats my back. Don’t turn around. Don’t turn around. I want to so bad.
Shiny silver lock boxes gleam for me and have never been more welcoming. The gold key slips neatly into the lock, and I tug out three small letters from our slot.
Bill. Bill. Something from my father addressed to me.
He never speaks to me anymore—as soon as I’d found the will to stand my ground, he didn’t like me near as much as he used to proclaim. I palm the short stack and head back to the elevator where
He’s reclining against the buttons. One foot kicked back resting against the wall like he doesn’t have a care in the world, and he’s watching me. A frown tips down the edges of his bottom lip. I stop and tilt my head, matching his scowl. He crosses his arms over his chest, further defining the muscles in his forearms, bare beneath his short-sleeved shirt.
I slam my hand on my hip. “What?” I think I’m more pissed with myself for letting him get to me.
A light sparks in his eyes, and my control is sucked out from under me. He gives me that non-committal man shrug, and his lips soften.
He couldn’t be serious. “You’re not going to say anything?”
He shakes his head and averts his eyes. I think I’ve hit a chord with him. Let’s see if I can push for at least one word.
“So, are you waiting for an introduction, or do you stalk all the girls you run over in elevators? Cause, I have to say, as cute as you are, it’s still kind of creepy.”
He laughs, and the light billows up from somewhere deep and sad. I know that light. I’ve seen it in my paintings, but never in the mirror.
“Okay, well, if you’ll just move, I’ll be on my way.” I tap my toe, growing more restless under his stare—and growing hotter with each spark blazing in his gaze. “Are you going to move?”
He shakes his head. His eyes still twinkle from his laugh. He’s enjoying this power play. Well, news flash buddy, I don’t do those. Unless I’m on top.
“Fine.” I pivot, rush to the emergency stairwell, and slap my palms against the door, pushing it open.
Running up the eight flights of stairs is not my favorite way to start the morning, but I have to hurry. Molly has probably finished breakfast. Knowing her, she’ll be scrubbing the pans and cleaning up my onion mess.
At the top floor, I scurry up the hall toward our apartment and pass the elevator. The ping of the chime stops me on my dash down the corridor. The gorgeous-asshole from downstairs steps through and glances left, and then swivels his sexy head right. The expression upon his face shifts to another deep frown.
He stomps down the hall, black boots bending the plush carpet and leaving an imprint behind him, marking this hallway the same way his body imprinted on mine. I count the path. I know exactly how many steps it takes to make it from the elevator to our door, and he’s already cleared half of them. My feet finally catch up with my brain, and I shuffle backward, widening the distance between us.
His stride lengthens, and in seconds, he’s closed the gap. “What are you doing up here?” His voice is gravelly, like he’s not used to using it. I want to hear it again.
“So he can speak.” I reach for the handle on our apartment door. “I live here. What are you doing up here?”
He points at the door directly across from ours. Oh no. Please no.
I gasp. “No way.” His clothes don’t scream designer enough for someone his age to be able to afford a place like this. “That apartment’s been vacant for a year.”
He does that shrug thing again, and I really want to smack him. He lowers his chin and squints his eyes. “Not now.”
All of his little quirks are adding up to one big ball of temptation for me. And that was something I was supposed to be running from. The tease would fill a hollow part of me for only a short time.
I lean a hip against the wall next to our door and grin. “So…where are you from? No, don’t tell me. I bet you’re the new condo manager. Right? That would explain a lot of things.”
One corner of his mouth twitches, but he doesn’t confirm my suspicion.
“That would explain why you’re dressed like that.” He passes a hand over his face. The fact that I was getting to him just as much as he’d already bothered me, makes my heart skip a beat. I narrow my eyes. “Just so you know, I don’t loan out sugar, and we won’t watch pets for you. Two-legged or four-legged critters of any kind.”
Finally, the twitch at the edge of his lip tips up. My world dips into focus in a way it never has before. The way Molly has with her smile is the exact opposite of what this man does with his. Instead of making everything calm down, he’s stirred me up, but it still feels right.
After staring at me until I want to fidget beneath him, he fights the beginning of his smile. “I like salt.” With that little barb, he stabs his key in his apartment and disappears inside.
I gape at the closed door. Well, fuck. He doesn’t seem the kind to make life easy. The new neighbor is a beautiful distraction I definitely don’t need.
I ease back into our apartment with one last glance at his closed door. He pisses me off and intrigues me more than I’d like. Both could be lethal to my sanity. And with Molly, I don’t have time to find out why my heart still beats like a hummingbird danced the Cupid Shuffle on it.
“Hey. Sorry it took so long.” I drop the bills and my letter on the table beside the door. “We have a new neighbor.”
“That’s Seth James. His father owns the building.”
Fuck. “How do you know this?”
“I’m a journalist. I ask questions. And…Ms. Ellis from the fourth floor is a huge gossip.”
Molly never fails to amaze me. I clear the plate and silverware to the kitchen sink and ignore how little she’s eaten. The occupational therapist said she’d eventually settle. I have to just have patience.
Molly reaches across the table and finds her cane. “I’m thinking of working on that article for the paper, but I’ll need you to proof my typos. Do you think you’d feel like it later?”
“Sure.” I hover behind her as she makes her way to the office—her bedroom with a desk. The computer screen lights the otherwise dark room. “Which file do I need to pull up?” That’s the part that usually frustrates us both. Most women navigate computers by the age of four. Me, well, I’d always been more interested in other things, and my mom didn’t think I needed access to the world via technology. I think she might’ve been afraid of who I’d contact and what I’d tell.