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Authors: Brinda Berry

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #New Adult, #Suspense

Chasing Luck (4 page)

BOOK: Chasing Luck
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6
Ace


L
uck has found
me and she wears a dress.” ~ Jelly Bean Queen

T
wo days
after talking with Malerie, I sit at my kitchen table and think about our conversation. I've thought about her some after the shooting, and as much as I try to resist it, her face in those moments after the shooting haunts me. The media's gone wild with tweets, posts, and even video. Someone actually shot footage from a cell phone.

Local news stations called me five times after finding out I'd been a witness.

The police found me sooner. I was dead tired after leaving the hospital but agreed to meet with a detective for questioning about the shooting. At 2:00 a.m., I went downtown to the police station to answer more questions. They said it would be best to get details while they're fresh. They also reminded me that I left the scene without permission and that I could have avoided the trip in the middle of the night if I had stayed put.

I didn't know anything that would help. They wasted their time on me.

Instead of worrying about her, I have more pressing issues. I need to search for a job to supplement what's not happening with my security business. Contacting commercial contractors takes time and a Tower of Pisa pile of bills wobbles precariously on the table.

The phone rings and I glance at the display. I hesitate and think about answering the unknown number. A feeling tells me I should. The feeling you get right before the rain starts to pour in a storm. An electric buzz of awareness, a quiet premonition of something brewing. The knowledge that the world is alive with change.

"Mr. Sloan." Although I've only spoken with him once, I recognize the voice. Billy clears his throat. "Do you mind if I call you Ace? This is Billy Vandol. I met you at the hospital after the shooting. I didn't introduce myself properly. I am—was—JT's personal assistant."

I stay silent for a moment and he adds, "I found your number on a note on JT's desk. You didn't mention that you knew JT."

His voice is low and gravelly. I adjust the volume on my cell phone to be able to hear.

"I submitted a job bid. I didn't know him." I realize I sound defensive, but his accusing tone is out of line.

I feel a tingle of guilt over leaving when I told Malerie I'd stay. But she doesn't know me from Adam, so she's probably already forgotten she asked. "How is the girl? Is she healing okay?" It's too personal saying her name.

"She's home and doing as well as expected." Billy waits like I'm going to say something. I'm not. He continues. "I hope you don't mind me calling you. It's important."

I dread his next words. He's going to want something.

"No, no, I don't mind at all," I answer, keeping my tone even and casual. It's the thing that polite people say, right? "Is there something I can do for you?"

"Well, two things actually. And both are things I'd like to talk with you about in person, if possible."

"Are you sure you can't ask me over the phone. I’m sorry, but I have a lot going on today."

"I don't like to leave Malerie alone. She has a nurse here, but she might become agitated if she realizes I've left the premises. It's very important and it involves a job for you."

"What kind of job?"

"I apologize, but after all that has happened, I needed to know if I could trust you.”

My cat mewls, commanding I feed her.

"I checked into your professional credentials. I had a background check done as well. I have the power of attorney over Malerie's trust until she turns twenty-one."

He did a background check?

"Sure," I say, although I feel like I've fallen into an episode of 'Lives of the Rich and Famous'.

"I think you may need the work.”

That just pisses me off. "Billy, I have a lot to do tonight. I really don't think I'll be able to help you." I keep my voice low and restrained.

"Give me a chance to make you a generous offer for a security setup, Ace. Malerie's asked about you."

My brain stutters over the fact that she's even thought about me. I move to the window and study the cars moving toward the park down the road. It calms me to look down at the busy people coming and going. An image of Malerie's outstretched hand on the floor and JT with his blood soaked shirt flashes into my mind uninvited.

"Ace? Can we talk in person?" he asks.

Billy wants to give me a job.

"Okay, I'll come there. You're right. She probably doesn't need any stress from you leaving."

"Thank you. You won't regret it." He starts rattling off the address and I stop him.

"I have the address from when I prepared a job quote for JT."

"Oh, yes. And you'll come now?"

"Half-hour. I'll be there." I hang up and rub the back of my neck.

In thirty minutes, I'm looking around at the perfectly manicured lawn, the massive stone fountain centered in the circular drive, and an enormous Doberman pinscher studying me like I'm a Scooby snack through the side panel glass of the front door.

So, this is Malerie’s house.

I knew Toombs had money. The house's blueprint told me that much. But seeing the layout on paper versus staring up at the Tudor style front is like comparing a travel brochure to standing in the actual African bush with elephants crossing the dirt road.

The smell of money drifts around the bricked entry that's missing a welcome mat. The doorbell in the center of an iron lion's head gongs when I press the button. Talk about swank. I hear a voice from somewhere inside, and I look down at the sparkling black eyes of the dog who waits for the door to open.

Through the glass, I see Billy making his way to the door at a snail's pace. The dog never takes his eyes off me.

Billy points to his right and makes a sound that's low and muffled through the door. The dog immediately obeys and trots off in the direction Billy commands. I exhale and begin to breathe again.

"Come in, come in." Billy extends his arm and places one hand on me as if I might make a run for it.

I walk inside and stand, waiting for Billy to close the door. He looks to his left in the direction the dog walked and I see two Dobermans in front of a fireplace in the next room, seated on their haunches but alert. Both dogs wait. One of the animals cocks his head when Billy begins to speak.

"Join me in here for a drink." Billy leads the way into the room with the dogs. He extends an arm in invitation toward the sitting area.

"How is Malerie doing?" I look up the staircase that is partially hidden now that we're seated.

"She'll join us in a little while. Iced tea? Soda? What can I get for you?"

"I'll have the same as you." I sit back and get comfortable on the white sofa that looks unused. The Dobermans haven't moved the entire time I've been inside the house. The dogs are identical and I can't determine which drooled while looking at me through the door. The beasts appear ready to pounce.

Billy leaves for a moment and returns with a glass, the ice tinkling as he moves unsteadily across the room and hands the drink to me.

"Malerie has been through a lot. JT and I have been the only life she has known. The short story is that JT became her guardian after she lost her mother. You know about the bombing in Chicago eleven years ago?"

"Yeah. I think I know the one. I was a kid, but it sounds familiar." It’s more than familiar. I don’t mention that I also lived in Chicago during that time. I remember when it happened. My little brother and I were glued to the television, home alone and listening for the scrape of the key in the door lock. Mom had stayed out all night. It was in the days before the boyfriends stayed at our place.

Which was how we liked it.

"She never even knew her father," Billy says.

I take a sip and lean forward, resting my elbows on my knees. "She doesn't have any grandparents?"

"No. And JT was a very wealthy man."

"Figured that out." I look around the room at the fireplace mantel lined with black and white photos in silver frames. "That chandelier in the foyer probably cost more than I make in a year."

"Exactly."

"Listen. I feel sorry for the girl. I do. But what does this have to do with me?

"Malerie has spent much of her life here and she suffers from anxiety about her life before JT. She is also very naive about the world and will most likely want to go out into it. I'm old and won't be around much longer to protect her." Billy sits in the nearest chair. "I trust you for some reason. You took care of Malerie as a stranger because you're a good man. You also have the exact skills I'm looking for."

"What kind of skills might those be?"

"You've worked in security, right?"

I chuckle at the thought of my last job as a night watchman at a casino. "So, you want me to…?"

"Malerie needs a companion to protect her. Someone to take her places."

"Like a male escort? I'm not a dating service." I can't help but be amused at the thought. My body temperature notches up along with my interest.

"And it's a good thing. The last thing she needs is a date. Malerie doesn’t date. She’s not comfortable in unfamiliar places. We need better security here and you have a security background. Malerie might need a driver. We would pay you well."

"Did you say she doesn’t date?" My eyebrows rise and it's difficult to hold back the disbelief. Not possible. The way she looked at me that night in the restaurant tells a different story. Toombs was probably so strict that lying was the only option. She lied or Toombs kept her locked up 24/7.

Billy waves his hand around to indicate the non-importance of the last question. "Will you take on this job or not? You might be able to buy a chandelier or two." Billy nods his head in the direction of the foyer.

Yeah, not many chandeliers on my want list.

"Again—why me? I gave Mr. Toombs a bid on a security system. And I'm not too fond of playing the lead role in Driving Miss Malerie."

"She never leaves the house. I'm hoping that will change soon. But for now, I doubt you'll be driving her anywhere. She’s finished her homeschooling and now should be leaving for college. We need to help her with this transition. Especially after all that’s happened."

Sneaky bastard said ‘we’ as if I’d already agreed.

“It’s an easy job.” Billy takes a sip of tea and smiles.

Things that sound too good to be true, are. There are no jackpots, no easy breaks.

"Why can't she drive herself?" I ask.

"She doesn't have a license." Billy looks to the entryway like he's heard something and then returns his gaze to me.

I stand and both dogs rise from the floor. A growl rumbles from the chest of one. The sound freezes my feet in mid-motion.

"She says she's alive because of you," he says.

"She's wrong," I say, without taking my eyes off the dogs. I haven't moved and the dogs haven't either. I don't need some girl thinking I'm her hero.

Billy looks away from me and smiles at someone past my shoulder.

"Oh, you're here," Billy says. "I was about to come and help you. We have a guest."

"I don't need your help, Billy." Malerie's voice surprises me. It's raspy and cold. Her appearance surprises me more. Gone is the girl I met in the restaurant.

A sad ghost of a girl stands in her place.

7
Malerie


T
ake
my hand and I’ll lead you through the dark, through the fire, through hell. Trust the hand I’m giving you.” ~Jelly Bean Queen

"
W
hy are you here
?" I stare at Ace and wait for the answer, my heart pounding and the answer more important than he can possibly know. Billy told me Ace was coming, but I'm still not prepared for the way my stomach flutters when I see him.

Did he come to see me?
The thought makes me nervous. I want that to be the answer. I need answers about what happened in the restaurant.

Ace left that night and then came back. Why?

Billy moves over to help me inside the room to a chair near him. I bristle at his constant coddling and sit with one bare foot tucked underneath me.

Ace stands awkwardly in front of the sofa, his hands tucked into his pockets, and I can't tell if he's arriving or leaving.

"Why were you back inside the restaurant when the guy killed JT? You’d left." I study him.

Billy steps in front of Ace and I'm forced to focus on him. "I've offered Ace a position with us," he says.

"What kind of position?" I tilt my head to the side and lean forward, directing my question at Ace now that he's in my line of vision. I try to remember why JT wanted to hire him.

My need to scream has no end. The sound of the scraping chairs is constantly in my head and cuts through the medicinal haze, through my sleep, through minutes standing in the shower, through every single breath I take.

The screams ended quickly before, when my mother died.

Instead of Ace, Billy answers me. "He's going to act as security. He has an extensive background in security. You won't even know he's here. Security. That's what you want, right Malerie? To never leave this house and always feel safe?"

I gasp before I can stop myself. He never would’ve said something so cruel when JT was alive.

Ace's head whips to Billy and there's something odd in his narrowed eyes. He folds his arms and stares at Billy.

"I want to talk about that day." I direct the command at Ace.

"Malerie. I think it's best if we wait until you're recovered. Ace doesn't know anything," Billy says in a tone he used with me when I was a kid.

"If we're not going to talk about the shooting, I don't want him here." I use the arm of the chair to rise.

"Quit acting like a petulant child." Billy's forehead furrows into unhappy lines.

"I'm not a child. And you can leave too if you're tired of it."

"Malerie," Billy scolds me. "We'll talk later. I think it's best if you go and lie down."

I don't answer but rise to my feet in a wobbly stance. "Going upstairs." My chin juts up and I dare Billy to stop me.

"Ace, would you mind helping Malerie up the stairs? She's been using one of the guest rooms and she's angry I won't let her go sleep in her own bed." He talks about me like I'm not standing a foot from him.

"No, nevermind. I told you I don't want—" I'm interrupted by the mesmerizing way Ace moves toward me, panther-like. He doesn’t takes his gaze off me.

"Hey. Let me help you." His voice soothes me, wrapping me in a silky, hypnotic embrace. He's sliding his hand into place at my elbow.

Hairs on the back of my neck prickle. I don’t trust him and I don’t trust Billy. Billy stands at the side of the room shaking his head as if I annoy him.

I want to fight Ace’s help but I'm too weak. "I don't need it."

Ace ignores my scowl and leads me to the stairs. My shoulder throbs with each step I take. A fine sheen of perspiration coats my upper lip at the effort, and I breathe out in a huff, frustrated and near tears.

We stand together looking up the staircase, an incline with over a dozen steps.

"I could carry you," he says.

"No way. My legs are fine. I’m just weak." My cheeks burn at the thought. Afraid he'll do it, I balk. "I don't have to go upstairs. I can stay in the room on this floor—"

"Hey, whatever you want," he says evenly. "But I'd want my own bed. My own place."

His understanding rips my resolve to shreds, and tears sting my eyes. I'm being a baby and a wimp and the realization makes me want to sit on the bottom step and cry.

Silence stretches between us and it startles me when he places a hand on my arm. Stepping behind me, he says, "I'll make you a deal. I'll help you upstairs and you can ask me about that night."

"And you'll tell me everything."

He looks confused by my question.

“I can’t remember it all.”

“All right. Can I put my arm around your waist? I'll brace you as much as you need. You tell me what to do."

"Okay. Yeah. Okay." I glance at him on my left and he moves up to slide an arm to my right hip. I notice an empty earring hole in his earlobe and his long, dark eyelashes.

"We'll go slowly. I'm ready when you are." He looks straight ahead. Half his body presses against my back.

We move as one up the stairs and his steps are careful, the pressure of his hand on my waist firm. He pauses at the top to let me catch my breath. My room is at the end of the long hallway and seems impossibly far.

"I can manage now." I move to disengage myself from his grasp.

He doesn't release me. "Which room?"

"The one at the end." I sigh and he smirks.

"Of course it's the one at the end."

We stand unmoving and he waits for me. "Ready."

The stroll to the end takes a while and I become aware of his bare arm supporting me, the deep smell of his cologne, and how I must look to him. I haven't bathed properly since a nurse helps me clean up daily. There's nothing that reduces your well-being more than having a complete stranger assist you with bathing. A total confidence killer.

I'm not vain, but I know I've had better days. I'm relieved when we finally make it to my room.

"On the right." Unlike most of the other doors along the hall, mine is open. I never shut my door, or the door to any room when I'm inside. That’s why Billy noticed the closed door earlier.

"
This
is your bedroom?" Shock punctuates every word. Ace finally releases my waist and pivots, looking at every wall.

"What?"

Ace turns to me and raises one eyebrow. "You're not a dude." He takes a step back, and then another, finally and stops. "Sorry. I'm rarely surprised. You have concert setlists on your walls."

"And I’m not supposed to have pictures like this as opposed to … I don’t know…? What’s on your walls?"

"Don't have anything on my walls. This doesn't look like…" He waves a hand up and down my body. "A girl like you. Or any girl I know."

I give him a cold look. "I don't know what you mean."

"So, are you a groupie? How did you get these?" He moves to stand in front of one for Radiohead. Then he moves over to look at the one for Jelly Bean Queen’s
Across My Dreams
tour. ”You saw all these bands in concert?"

"No. I've never been to a concert."

"Oh, so you bought them." He nods. "That makes sense. Don't you think that's a bit … oh, I don't know … pretentious?"

"Listen. I didn't bring you up here to talk about my room or if I'm up to the standards of the cool people you know. You said you'd tell me what happened that night."

"Hey, hey. Sorry. I didn't mean to piss you off. You don't seem like the rock-n-roll type." He gives me a smile. Those dimples I noticed the first time I saw him appear and I fight the heart-melting sensation.

I'm struggling to hold my totally-undeniably-pissed expression.

I go to my favorite chair and sink into the cushions. "Why were you in the restaurant when the gunman came in? You should have been gone by that time."

He's not focused on my walls at this point. When he picks up a
Rolling Stone
Magazine
, he raises an eyebrow at me before putting it back on the nightstand. "I went back in for my keys. I left you and your uncle, couldn't find my keys, and went back in. You know the rest."

"Nothing told you to go back in? Intuition?"

He rubs a hand over his jaw. "I told you. I needed my keys."

"Oh."

"I know you're trying to make sense of all this, but it's the world we live in. Crazy people are out there." He walks to over to my window.

"And how do we tell the crazy ones from the sane ones? They all look alike to me."

"You'll never know the difference. We all think we're sane. The world's full of lunatics trying to pretend they’re sane and sane people walking the edge of sanity." He walks to the door of my room and pauses. "See you later."

I don't respond. I just listen to the sound of his footsteps fading away.

I
t's five o' clock
. The nurse is gone for the day and I can finally relax. Billy retires to his quarters early, so I never see him this late in the day. I log in to my laptop and see a message from Collin. Collin and I have been friends for years. The podcast show we created called
Rock Universe
has a growing subscriber fan base.

Collin_RockMeister: Long time no see. You doing okay?

Malerie: Tired of doing the show alone?

Collin_RockMeister: Nah. I'm the star when you're gone. I crank it up and let loose.

Malerie: Ha ha. Have you been drinking?

Collin_RockMeister: Very funny. It's been boring as hell. Can you do next week’s show with me?

Malerie: Yes, but I may still be on painkillers. So, don't let me wander off from topic. Ok?

Collin_RockMeister: Done. Actually, can't promise that. Might be the most fun show ever.

Malerie: And who are we interviewing?

Collin_RockMeister: You are out of it. It’s only your favorite of all time. Jelly Bean Queen is the coup de gras. Can’t believe we got them. Hell yes, we are in the big leagues now baby.

Malerie: I feel so out of sorts lately. Bring me up to speed?

Collin_RockMeister: Sure thing.

Malerie: Still have their drummer?

Collin_RockMeister: No. They fired him.

Malerie: No rehab then.

Collin_RockMeister: But Paulie asked me to avoid that topic.

Malerie: Are you crazy? That's a hot one. It's one we want to talk about.

Collin_RockMeister: No, Mal. Seriously. Don't do it.

Malerie: You can say I didn't know the subject was off the table.

Collin_RockMeister: You are going to get us in trouble with other bands.

Malerie: Don't be a wuss.

Collin_RockMeister: Don't be a bitch.

Malerie: It's my contribution to the show. Keepin' it real. Honest. Intense.

Collin_RockMeister: I wonder if you could be this cutthroat you were in the same room with these guys.

Malerie: As if.

Collin_RockMeister: And what are you going to do when you run into one of these musicians in person?

Malerie: As if.

Collin_RockMeister: It could happen.

Malerie: Not.

Collin_RockMeister: Go with me to the next Jelly Bean Queen concert. They're playing in Chicago. I'll buy a plane ticket. We'll request the setlist. Tell them we want to do an interview on our show. They might say yes.

Malerie: Can't.

Collin_RockMeister: Why? You don't even know when.

Malerie: Sure I do.

Collin_RockMeister: When.

Malerie: Hey Collin … gotta go. I'll chat at you a few minutes before we go live on the next show. Can you get the band members connected?

Collin_RockMeister: Are you mad about me asking?

Malerie: Duh? No, course not. I just have to go for now. Talk to you later.

Collin_RockMeister: Ok.

Malerie: And maybe I'll go easy on them and not bring up the drummer. Bye.

Collin_RockMeister: Bye Mal.

C
ollin has
no idea how psyched I am about having Jelly Bean Queen on our show. Of all the bands we’ve interviewed, JBQ holds a more personal place in my soul. Their music quells my anxiety, soothes my pain, gives me focus. Some days would be unbearable without their lyrics, my personal glimpse into a world of love and passion. A world of living.

BOOK: Chasing Luck
11.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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