If you're here for the Summer Reading Trail, you're in the right place.
Brief warning: This is a work in progress, the language isn't clean, and it's rough.
“You did what to him?”
Corlis leaned back on the bench, elbows out and taking up all the space. Body language--she'd played alpha for so long the moves were second nature. Any second now, Nick would--Corlis stood, way too close, and invaded his personal space. “I bit him. Do you have a problem with that?”
Her partner narrowed his gaze on the tip of her nose. He wasn’t looking at her eyes and that was a bad sign.
“Blood?” Nick asked.
"What do you think?”
He turned away and raked a hand back through his hair--he had gorgeous hair, thick and ice-blond. “I think the next time Fallon leaves, he will not come back.”
How could Fallon do this to her? They’d just had that one time. Sound came from a distance—got closer and turned into pain ripping out of her chest into her eyes.
Nick rumbled out something soothing and squashed her tight. “You are hurt, but you must let go.”
“Get off me."
“When you are calm we will talk again.”
She used the opportunity to jerk away, knee swinging. "I'm always calm."
Nick pulled her up off the floor and checked to make sure he hadn't broken anything. "We have been partners for many years, Corlis. I have a cup."
Tris leaned against the wall, eyes narrowed. Thomas Izumi hugged Amy, up too close and personal for a total stranger.
Five minutes into watching them, Tris knew he should have had her killed. He had things to do ad places to go, and here he was, watching a woman so mercenary she made Merlin look like a saint.
Izumi gestured to a table near the window and politely held Amy's chair. Lightning crackled across the sky and sent shadows into Amy's brightly smiling eyes.
His bodyguard shut the curtains while Izumi seated himself and rubbed his hands. “Have a danish. They're lemon." He pressed his thigh against hers to see how far she'd let him go. "Want some juice?”
Tris strangled down his anger. Amy wasn’t family. Protecting her would draw the very attention he wanted to avoid.
Bastard. Act like one. Just walk away. Her death or destruction would put the advantage back in his hands, but Allah--she was so damned skinny. He could see the sharp bones at the base of her throat. Tris imagined her plump and happy, and felt something move in his chest. Indigestion. He wouldn’t put it past his uncle to poison him.
Amy finished her danish and drank all her juice. Izumi poured more juice. Light caught the thin orange stream and Amy giggled, lolling back in her chair.
“Sorry,” she slurred. “I mus’be tired...” She took another sip of juice and swished it around in her mouth.
Izumi deliberately knocked the cup over on her lap. A stain spread across her thighs, and he followed it with a napkin. “There are clothes in my private office. I’m sure you feel sticky...”
“Sticky?” she slurred.
Izumi laughed, and the bodyguard rolled his eyes.
Tris froze. This asshole couldn’t have just—shit, yeah, he had.
Amy shifted in her chair, mouth parted in a vacant grin, eyes desperate. She brushed at her shirt with big loose gestures.
Thomas helped her to her feet and kept his arm around her. “Come on.”
She’d been drugged.
The bodyguard was moving, Izumi was moving, and there was no way in Hell anyone was getting Amy into that office. Tris crossed the room and jerked her away.
She stumbled into his arms and held on to his shirt.
Izumi pulled at her. “You want to stay, don’t you, Amy?”
Amy shook her head, eyes agonized. “I want Tris.”
Tris pulled his weapon. The Italian-made Spectre carried fifty rounds. If anyone rushed him there was a good chance he’d be able to blast his way through. He backed toward the door, one arm locked around her shoulders. Tension made her rigid. Allah, she was afraid he was going to leave her. His gaze met hers, and he almost lost it. One wrong move and they’d be scraping Izumi off the fucking wall.
Izumi threw his hand out. “Look at her, man. Skirt. Cheap nylons. They come in here looking to fuck money. I bang’em, and cut a check. The drugs reduce bullshit. I’m partial to that Japanese schoolgirl look. Put her in some knee socks and a pleated skirt--maybe I’ll keep her awhile.”
Tris held on to his temper until they were out of the building and halfway down the street. A sour chill swept up from the dirty sidewalks.
Amy cried, shoulders shaking.
He needed time he didn’t have and someplace to go to ground. He couldn’t trust Amy to a hospital. Not with Kimo running loose. Tris slipped her into the back seat of his car and spun the Jag around.
The garage was cool and dark. Hidden away from prying eyes at the end of an anonymous street. Tris checked his security system. A quick scan of the last two weeks showed no intruders. He pulled his gun and went into the house. It was still and silent. Dust stood heavy on the shelves, untouched since his last visit. He padded through the shadows, back to the garage.
Amy was a dark figure in the back seat. Tris slid his gun back into the holster under his coat, and opened the door. Her eyes met his, glittering and feverish.
“Tris? I feel funny...all itchy...down here.” She rubbed her thighs convulsively, throat working.
She was trying not to cry. He’d never met a more stubborn woman. She had pride enough for two Stallings and none of the training. Where the hell was she getting the strength to fight the drug?
Her eyes closed, shutting him out. “Afraid,” she whispered. “I’m such a control freak. I can’t believe I just admitted that to you. What are you doing to me? I want to tell you things. I trust you, and I don’t know why. I’m babbling, aren’t I?” Her eyes snapped open. “Take me home, Tris, please? I want to go home.”
Her hand found his. In the shadows, her fingers were very pale.
“I want you,” she choked out. “It’s all I can think about. You...me. What you look like under there...I saw the tattoos on your wrists. They’re so strange. Not tribal. Birds maybe. I think they’re birds.” She threw her head back, eyes wild. “I can’t stop. It’s like vomit, only it’s coming out through my brain and pouring out through my mouth. Brain vomit. I’m sick—”
Amy looked sick. “That’s truth serum, isn’t it? I can’t believe I was so stupid. It’s like Hades and Persephone. Only in this scenario Hades is a date rapist.”
“He didn’t rape you.”
She looked down at their hands. “No...he didn’t. But not because of anything I did. I walked into it with my eyes wide open.”
“It’s raining,” she muttered.
It was warm in the garage and with access from the house cut off, secure enough. There was no help for her clothes. The cheap fabric had turned into shrink wrap, riding up the slender curves of her body. Tris slipped into the seat beside her, got the jacket down over her arms and pulled his knife.
What the hell did he have to do to make her afraid? Darkness rose up and silenced the part of him that wanted to offer her reassurance. He was so damned unstable. He reached behind Amy, gathered a handful of material and ripped upwards.
She fell forward over his knees, shoulders shaking. Tris pulled the discarded fabric off. Her bra was thick and white. Not a fuck me bra. She’d been willing to screw Thomas for his cash. But her underwear said she’d rather die first.
Tris wished she’d just die.
He slipped a hand under her throat. The line of her back was white and fragile, and he could count her ribs through the thin sheath of flesh. Her pulse pounded against his fingers, too fast.
Even now someone was eyeing security tapes and trying to put a name to his face. Izumi wouldn’t forget him. Their mutual knowledge came close to canceling out the whole thing out, but in their high-stakes world, Amy was a liability.
Water dripped from his sleeve and raced down the delicate bend of her nape. That damned indigestion was back, cramping his gut. Amy rolled over and shimmied out of her skirt and nylons, wiggling and bouncing all over the place. The back seat was big enough for her to lie down, and she spread out, legs up over his thighs.
“I could really use some help,” she said. She took his hand and moved it to the soft flesh between her thighs, her eyes luminous now, like she’d found something she wanted.
Whatever strange cocktail she’d been fed had worked on her inhibitions. The heavy cotton underwear wasn’t as thick as it looked. She was wet and swollen and he had to shove her off to prevent himself from ripping those granny pants off and burying his cock in her.
How much stuff did she have in her? By his estimates, she couldn’t have gotten more than a minimal dosage. Whatever Izumi’s blend, Tris had to admit it was effective. There was no way a woman dosed with this would say she hadn’t been a participant. She was all but crawling to get to him.
“Want you,” she whispered. Her fingers curled around him and explored, sliding up the hard length of him and back down.
Tris jerked away, hand locked around her wrist. “Allah—!”
Amy used the leverage to shove him backwards, crowding up against him until her face was bare inches from his. His hand tightened on the fragile bones of her wrist.
“No, no no,” she babbled, forming the words too fast to stop. “Drug. Not me. Ugly...please, can’t help. No, no no...” Her lips brushed over his, cold like she’d inhaled the storm. Her lips parted over his. “Tris,” she breathed, abruptly lucid.
He was completely unprepared for the ferocity of her kiss. It was demanding and sweet—so incredibly hot. She was perfect, and he fumbled at her. Clumsy like he never was. He wanted her hard and fast, and she was drugged. Honor jerked him up short.
Until the very end, his mother had believed in chivalry. Grandfather Stalling had an Arthurian complex, but old Lorenzo had been named after a de Medici, and in that were truths that went bone deep.
Tris wanted her and hadn’t killed her, which made her his. And anyone who messed with her, messed with him. He cupped her face and rolled her under him.
Light struggled through dark wooden blinds, thin and sour. She’d lost time. The last thing Amy remembered was orange juice and a cloister window set high in the wall. Light? Moonlight?
She was lying on someone, her cheek pressed against smooth, hard flesh. A tangle of dark hair hid his eyes, but she would have recognized that arrogant jaw anywhere. She hadn’t just fucked a total stranger for his money, she’d fucked Tris.
“Get off,” she whispered, shoving at him with both hands. “Get off!” she screamed, louder. Loud enough to hurt her ears, loud enough to stop the totally stupid, frustrated pain from riding up in her chest and killing her. “I can’t sleep with you. I won’t! You’re so damned poor—”
Tris pushed her off and sat looking at her, his expression totally empty. "Whore."
“Mercenary! If you’re going to label me, get it right. I’m a scheming mercenary bitch—damn it! I have a deadline! Mom and Dad are tired, and Jase has distanced himself. Matt is my right hand, but if I ask him for one more thing he may go ballistic. I-I...just wanted to pay the electric bill...” Amy threw the door open and fell heavily, hands splayed on the painted concrete floor.
Tris slid out behind her. “There’s a caftan in the bedroom closet. Use it.”
Amy waited until Tris left before getting to her feet. The entire room would have fit into her cubicle back at Avatar, although instead of makeshift hand me downs, Tris had actual furniture. A desk and bookshelf shared space along one wall.
The closet was tiny, belonging to a time when most people didn’t own a lot of clothes. Two pairs of jeans, a t-shirt and another black coat shared the limited space with a thin cotton clothing bag. She carried it out to the bed. Thick folds of something that looked like satin burst from captivity. She stroked it, eyes half-closed. It was a tactile sensation she’d never experienced before. Fabric frothed up around her wrist like water.
The top was encrusted with heavy embroidery, thick bullion stitching and tiny rhinestones. It felt strange and metallic. It couldn’t gold. Nobody had that much money.
She slipped it over her head. A scent clung to it, faded and somehow sad.
She took a deep breath and pushed out through the French doors to the balcony. There was no view, only a wall of trees and the trickle of water over the rocks far below.
A flicker of movement brought her attention around. Tris lifted a squat brown bottle to his lips, wiped his mouth on the back of his hand and flung the bottle over the rail. “Go back inside.”
Her eyes stung. Damn it. She wouldn’t cry. She didn’t even know him. His opinion didn’t matter one bit. “I could use a drink,” she said finally.
He pulled a bottle from the crate at his feet. It was thin, and gagging sweet, although the shocking syrup taste of it faded after another swallow. She drank it all and flung the bottle over her shoulder.
Tris kicked it out through the rails. It skittered and shattered on the rocks below.
“You own the stream?”
“The part that runs through here.”
“I should hope so. You’re littering.” She took another, it really wasn’t that bad, and sat down with her back to the rail. The thin brown liquid frothed. She took a judicious sip. “This is good.”
His feet were bare. The first time she had ever seen him without boots. He sat down across from her and pushed the crate in between them.
Amy folded her hands around her bottle. “I won’t justify myself.”
He didn’t answer her, his attention focused on the thick brown glass of his own bottle.
She took another drink and let the warm glow fill her up with the courage to look at him. “Can we still be friends?”
He looked back. “Yes. We can still be friends.”
Shit, this wasn’t cool.
Fallon squatted down on the edge of the pier, a handlight shining down through the murky water. He’d seen dead bodies before but they’d always looked vacant. Except for the fishes swimming in and out of his eye sockets, this one looked pissed.
“Fucking patches.” Caravaggio lit up a cigarette and took a long drag.
He flicked ash into the water and put the butt between his teeth. The StallingCo Recovery boat rocked under the impact of his landing.
Fallon dropped down beside him and leaned out over the rail. The body looked just as bad close up. Not that it’d ever been other than a skinny white male, approximately one-seventy with bad teeth and a receding hairline. “Recognize him?”
“Friend.” Caravaggio threw his cigarette overboard.
Fallon straightened. The city skyline glittered around them, a long curve that swung around sharply before disappearing into the distance. Honolulu Harbor sat at the foot of the business district, barely two blocks from Chinatown. It was early. Not yet ten. A commercial fishing boat manuevered out on the still black water. This part of the pier had shut down hours ago, but the rest of the complex was wide open.
A red dot jumped the rail. Fallon kicked Caravaggio’s legs out from under him and dropped to the deck. “Down! Stay down—”
Bullets whined off the infrastructure. Fallon took a deep breath. He was no good if he couldn’t move. Eight months, you think he’d get over it. He rolled over on his belly and met Caravaggio’s eyes.
In this light the other man looked like a damned Stalling, all dark hair and eyes. Then Caravaggio broke the illusion by laughing. “Per Dio, what a rush—”
Fallon swore, “Shit, you’re an adrenaline junkie!”
“I’m also arrogant. We’ve got to get out of here before he gets some height.”
He didn’t need to tell Fallon what would happen if the shooter could fire down into the boat. He followed Caravaggio into the wheel house. The controls curved above him. Shit, it figured. The only boat Fallon could pilot was a rowboat. This was way out of his league. “Can you boat?” he asked abruptly.
Caravaggio rolled up on one shoulder. “What the hell kind of question is that?”
“A serious one, asshole. I can hotwire this thing, but can’t fucking drive it. By the time backup gets us out of here, we’ll be dead and I’m allergic to bullets.” Fallon swung to his knees, careful to keep his body behind the shelter of the heavy steel bulkhead. “Get your ass over here and hold this.”
Caravaggio lit another cigarette and reached for the light.
Fallon followed a wire down into the tangle under the control panel. “Get that cigarette out of my face.”
“ Live dangerously.”
Fallon pulled his gun. “Get your cig out of my face. I won’t tell you again.”
The window blew out. Caravaggio flipped his cigarette through the door. “We can argue later.”
“You can drop me off here.” Amy reached for the handle
The engine died and Tris got out. “No.”
Gale force winds pushed tatters of cloud across the moon and carried the stench of aviation fuel.
Amy fought the door open and joined him. “I don’t need a keeper.”
“I’m not your keeper,” he said. He’d closed himself off again and Amy felt a sudden surge of anger that he would do that to her. Her fist knotted in the soft fabric of his shirt.
“I don’t need a keeper,” she said fiercely. “I need a friend.”
He hooked a piece of hair behind her ear. “I have no…practice…being a friend. I’m not sure I know how.”
Amy smiled up into his eyes. “I’ll help you. As a friend…would you like to come inside?”
She wasn’t used to people like Tris. He stalked beside her like he was on the lookout for enemies. There was something dark about him, yet she’d never been afraid.
Her mother looked up from the paperwork she was doing at the front desk and twitched a frown. “Did your meeting go well?”
God, she’d forgotten about the meeting.
“I…don’t think we’ll be getting a donation from him,” she said carefully.
Rachel shifted an invoice over into the paid file. “Fuel has gone up by another four cents, and we’ll need to start payments on the new auto-pilots. We have enough, but not if we relocate every kid you pull off the streets.” Rachel leaned back in her car and steepled her fingers. “Maybe it’s time to start re-thinking the equation. What we’re doing is important, but there are fifty eight kids, and twenty two adults counting on us, baby. Our planes are old, and the money isn’t coming in. We need to control expenditures.”
“I’ll find the money.”
Rachel looked tired. “I believe you, honey. But when?”
“Are you suggesting we stop the outreach?”
“Amy! I’m not suggesting anything, I’m telling you this is it. The end. There is no more. We don’t have the resources.” She took a deep breath. “That’s a very nice caftan. Is it new?”
“Tris gave it to me.”
“A little premature for gifts of clothing, isn’t it?”
Amy touched the heavy silk. “My suit got wet and fell apart.”
“Right.” Her mother gave her an exasperated look. “And he just followed you home?”
Tris didn’t move, but Amy could feel his attention shift from the entrance to her mother. He was big and capable, and…when had she started thinking of him as hers? She felt anger on his behalf. “He’s got a name.”
“He’s got a home too. Why doesn’t he go there?”
“You weren’t like this with Fallon.”
“Fallon is a nice boy. But this…” Rachel rose to her feet, “isn’t a nice man.”
It was too much. She had dumped on Tris, and now her mom was dumping on Tris, and he took it with much the same expression he met everything, cold and contained, all his feeling tamped down in a little box. She caught his sleeve and felt his arm shaking. He was furious, although not a trace of that rage showed in his dark eyes.
“C’mon,” she said.
Rachel came out from behind the desk. “Where are you going?”
“Out. Somewhere. Maybe down to the Cultural Center. I need to check the flyers.”
“I want you back by midnight.”
Sexy: Emily Ryan-Davis All the Trees in Pearl
Poetry: David Bridger Log Rhythm