Steel — Preview
Copyright © 2018 by J. L. Lora. All rights reserved
I never needed a drink to sleep before. Not the day I shot my first guy right through the eyes. Not during the years Sebastian tried to turn me into his little bitch. Not after I got shot, and it’d hurt like a motherfucker. I hadn’t needed a drink to sleep then.
Until Amelia Solis stormed into my life. It was bye-bye Leandro Masseur.
One fucking day, an elevator door opened and her laughter pealed out. God witnesses daily how much I wish I had never turned around to see her step out of that elevator. Every fucking thing in my life went to shit, dragged and smeared around at her will. One look at her and I’d fallen through a hole full of obsessions, eating all my player promises.
Never-love-them-Leo would never fall in love with a woman, let a woman call the shots, or spend hours thinking about a woman.
So how the hell do I, of all the fools in the world, find myself here? Waking up feeling like shit and worshiping at the altar of a woman determined not to be with me. The answer is simple and complicated.
Yes, it was the painted-on-her-skin, black dress that spotlighted her curves. And yes, it was the way she walked to a sexy beat like a Maxwell song. And yes, it was her Coke-can-red lips, weapons more dangerous than the knife she carried in her leather boot strap or purse or in a sheath under her skirts.
Last night, again, she’d driven me to the understanding, comforting arms of whiskey. Noah married Gia, but Amelia tells me we cannot be. We cannot be, but she eye-fucks me as our friends take their vows. I don’t blame her. I feasted on her, like a homeless man looking through the glass of a bakery. The things I did to her with my eyes and mind…me, her, the priest, the tent, the flowers, the chairs, all should have been on fire.
But no, the wedding’s over and she hightails it back to New York with some bullshit excuse about checking on her friend Byanca.
My phone beeps again. I snatch it and almost fall off the bed when I see her name. My heart jabs at my chest and I turn into a boy again. That’s what she does to me.
I’m sorry, her text says. I want to slam my phone against the wall, over and over until it shreds into plastic and wiry ribbons. I flip the cell on the bed away from me like it offends me. I lay back down, contemplating texting her back, telling her not to worry about me. I won’t be bothering her with my attention anymore. Leandro Masseur will go back to not begging her. She can have all the space she wants. As a matter of fact, I’ll give her more. I’ll be so distant that it’ll make all the states between New York and California seem like a stroll down the block.
A scream bounces off the walls and my heart punches through my chest. My hand palms the Glock under my pillow, my head already calculating where it came from, how to get there, if the hallway’s clear.
Everyone in the house scrolls through my mind at once. Alec, the twins, but my mind settles on Carissa. I don’t know when I left the bed. My next breath, I’m at the door, securing the hallway and making my way to the home office. Carissa wails, prickling every pore in my body and I know it’s bad. Bad enough to make my stomach clench because I don’t know what it is, or who.
Who, because someone’s dead.
“Calm down, we don’t know that it’s her,” Alec says in a tone that tells me he doesn’t believe his own words.
I burst through the door because now dread grips my lungs, digging frigid tentacles into them. Alec’s hugging his wife, who’s trying to fight her way out of his arms.
“What the fuck is happening?” I ask.
Carissa pushes away from him and turns to me, shocked to see me, even though I as good as live with them. Then, her face crumples like a wad of paper in a closed fist. “It’s Mel.”
The blood flows out of my head and her image blurs. Mel, the nickname I never call her because she’s Amelia. To me and only me. I feel hands around me. Carissa hugs me tight and I can’t do anything but stand there. It’s Mel. Two three-letter words and I’m useless.
“We don’t know that it’s her. The guards never saw her go inside the building.” Alec’s gaze shifts to me, slow, reluctant. He doesn’t want to look at me. His hands pressed at the back of his head, the telling twitch at his lip. “They found a dead woman in Mel’s bed…”
I hear nothing else. Carissa’s trembling is rattling both of us. I hold on to her because I feel like I’m falling. I’m not moving but the world has dropped out from under my feet. My head is about to explode from the pressure stretching it like a tension rod.
I see Amelia slaying me with a look the night we first met. I can still hear her muffled moans against my neck, the day I fucked her with her nails digging at my back. Most of all, I see her tortured face last night when I told her we deserved a chance. She said no again, we cannot be.
And now she’s…no, I won’t believe that.
Alec is screaming something and shaking my shoulder, but I still can’t hear him. Not when my every memory of her is playing before my eyes. Then he dangles his phone in front of my face. My eyes focus and I see the deep-black curls, the look of shock in the lifeless eyes—almost the same color as Amelia’s, almost the same skin, almost the same nose. It’s the almosts that bring me back to life, pump blood back into my veins, and send oxygen back into my lungs.
It’s not her. God, it’s not her. I was as dead as the body in the image for minutes, but now I live again because it’s not her.
Alec takes Carissa from my arms and I sag against a chair. I’m gasping air in…out. It’s not Amelia but it’s her bed and it’s her friend Byanca. Byanca’s dead. My stomach tightens but my thoughts go back to her. “Where’s Amelia? We have to find her.”
Carissa’s phone rings and Alec picks it up.
It would take me longer to blink than the color that flashed over his face. His arms tightened around his wife and his shoulders dip.
“Thank you.” It’s almost a whisper and I swear there are tears in his eyes. He looks at me and smiles like he did when he first showed me his kids. “She’s fine. She’s at the old apartment she shared with her sister, Gia, and Carissa.”
Carissa lifts her head from his chest. I cover my face with my hands and breathe.
My teeth clamp over my lower lip until I taste blood. Amelia is alive. The only woman in the world that can make me go from dead to alive and curse her to hell and beyond, lives.
Now I need to go find her and keep her safe. I push to my feet. “I’m going to her.”
Alec nods and gets on the phone. He’s already calling for the jet. Carissa turns around—tear streaked face—and leaps on me again. She’s my sister and the people we love bound us together. She’s still trembling and hugging me tight, like her twins do when I pick them up. “Hug her, kiss her and bring her back with you.”
I nod, because I will. I will hug Amelia and kiss her and fight with her. She wasn’t going to make it easy for me.
She never does.
It won’t matter because someone was after Amelia. But they’re not going to get her.
The pounding on the door wakes me and I look around the room, wondering how the hell I got here. I’m in our old apartment, sleeping in the room I once shared with my sister, Nelly, before we all got rich and got our own places. Back then, all we had to worry about was Calum’s tired ass trying to get us.
I’m still wearing the pink bridesmaid’s dress, a color that only Gia could force on me. Nelly’s pillow’s in my hand and, as I do every morning, I dwell on the thought that she’s gone. But my chest is not as tight and the tears don’t come today.
Since my sister died, I have two states of waking up: pissed off and agitated. If I dream of her, I wake up shaken, scared, sad. She’s still dead, because I overprotected and under-protected her in equal amounts. The guilt is a reminder, firming up my resolve because when I wake pissed off…I’ve dreamt of things I shouldn’t.
Better said, someone I shouldn’t. Doing things I really shouldn’t. Not that I haven’t done him, which is why I’m really messed up in the head these days.
Someone pounds on the door again and I jump off the bed. “Hold on. I’m coming.”
I fling the door open, ready to skin my bodyguards. Instead, I find my friend Jamie. The strain on his surfer-cop face makes him look like he’s got a sweaty tummy ache. He throws his arms around me, his hug so tight he squeezes the breath out of my lungs. It hurts and I pound on his bicep. “Let up.”
He pulls back. His lips are ashen, and his eyes dart over my face like marbles, as if he’s going down a mental checklist of all my features. What the hell is going on?
“Jesus, Mel. I’m so happy to see you. You fucking scared me. Carissa is bugging the hell out.” He drags himself to the rack where we keep the alcohol and grabs a bottle of rum so old I can’t remember when we bought it. Jamie removes the cap and tilts the one eighth of a bottle into his mouth and drains it.
My hands are trembling, my knees sending me a firm warning. They’re about to fold. I can’t wait anymore. “What are you talking about? Why is Carissa flipping out? I fell asleep here, waiting for Byanca. She made me get on a plane last night, saying she needed my help, then stood me up for some dude.”
Jamie slams the bottle on the rack and moves closer to me. His lips do the cop pucker-and-purse. “Who was she meeting? At what time was that? Why didn’t you call her?”
I feel a slight pull on the back of my neck, like someone’s yanking my hair at the root. “I don’t know. I took the red eye after the wedding and when I got here, she wasn’t around. She sent me a text saying she’d met some hot piece and would be here right after she took care of business…why?”
His shoulders sag, fall along with his gaze. He doesn’t need to say it, I know. I know, because I’ve gotten bad news before. A lot. I’ve seen the footsteps of death in other people’s eyes.
Cold slips into my bones, spreading through my body, and I shiver. Byanca, brash and foulmouthed, pure of soul and dead.
Jamie reaches for my hand. “She was strangled, rigor’s already setting in.”
Air rushes into my mouth, invades my throat in a full but quick gasp.
Bitch, I need you. Come back. Her text said.
The word “bitch” was her endearment, friendship declaration, or damning tool, depending on how she said it and to whom. With me, it was camaraderie, laughter, and loyalty, from the moment we first met. That’s why the tears come so fast nothing can stop them.
Jamie hugs me again. I take comfort in the sandalwood scent that clings to his clothes. It’s familiar and he’s here and I need to feel that right now.
“Mel, you have to come with me to the station.”
I pull back and everything he doesn’t say is screaming at me in his troubled eyes, his stiff posture, flattened lips. My stomach ices over. “Why? Do I need a lawyer?”
He shakes his head with almost violent intent. “You’re not in trouble…but you’re in danger.”
“What are you talking about?”
He takes a breath and blasts me with his words. “They found Byanca in your apartment. She was dead, in your bed, wearing your clothes with a tie wrapped around…”
My pulse explodes, tries to break through my chest, my neck, my veins. I shove off of him.
Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Byanca’s dead. I think of my friend, her beautiful face, her out-of-this-world flamboyance, all gone. And I know it’s because of me, it has to be. Fear nips at my insides but one thing is certain, the bastard will pay. Whoever did this will die.
Steel is out March 6, 2018