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Authors: Brinda Berry

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

Chasing Luck (7 page)

BOOK: Chasing Luck
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12
Malerie


T
ell
me that you love me, even if you have to lie.” ~Jelly Bean Queen

"
Y
ou think
this box represents the bombing?" Ace sits on my bed and leans forward with his elbows on his knees. His posture is comfortable, and I'm jealous of the easy way he adapts to my surroundings.

Does he always hang out in girl's bedrooms? This is a first for me—a guy is in my room sitting on my bed talking to me like we know each other. He fills my safe haven and uses languid movements that suggest he knows I startle easily.

I lift up my chin and try to keep meeting his gaze that searches for all my secrets. "I'm proving something beyond what can be explained. I realize how it sounds, but here’s evidence. Don’t you see it?"

"Yes." He smiles grimly. "It's called coincidence. It's like me saying I hope it rains tomorrow and then it does. There's a chance of it happening. But I didn't make it rain."

"That's the worst analogy I've ever heard." I study the conflicting emotions flitting across his face. He wants to believe me. He stops making eye contact and has a flippant tone I’m sure he’s forcing.

He’s been so nice and this isn’t the way he acts.

"There's more." I pull out the smallest of the four boxes and rotate it to its side. Holding the paper in place with one hand, I scrub the charcoal piece over the paper.

With my head lowered and my attention on filling in all the details of the picture, I listen to the sound of his leg scraping against the side of the bed as it bobs up and down in a slow rhythm. I’m noticing all his physical nervous tics.

"Here." I hand him the charcoal rubbing and he takes it without getting up from the bed.

Sitting, he turns the paper around like a different angle will reveal more. The picture of the dragon is detailed with tiny scales lining its body and spikes decorating the curved neck. Large pointed teeth extend outside the dragon's mouth in a hungry snarl.

"What's this?" Ace says, pointing a finger at the symbols near the dragon's feet. “Moon type again?”

"Yeah.”

"And this is another message for you," he mutters without meeting my eyes.

"I'm positive." I want him to look at me and see how much I believe in this connection.

Then he lifts his head and shakes it slowly. "You're that girl who saves her fortune cookies, doesn't step on cracks, and picks up pennies, aren't you? You think these boxes and the words on the sides are like a bad luck charm."

I continue, despite the fact I want to throw him out of my head, out of my room, out of my house. I didn’t think this would be easy, but I hoped. "So what if I do? That’s exactly why I've noticed this message when someone like you wouldn't."

He shrugs. "And the fortune cookie says…"

"This character is a G, then an R, then I, E, and F," I state matter-of-factly while pointing each one out with my fingertip.

"Grief." Ace nods. He rubs his chin, which has grown flattering stubble. "The Moon type was used on these boxes and a title for each picture was placed on the embossing. Honestly, I’m amazed you’ve figured this out. It’s genius. Really. I’d never see this. But I think you’re reading too much into a drawing.”

I grab the picture from his hands. "If you think I’m a nut, say it. Go ahead." I trace the outline of the box. Then I open the book to a section I've paper clipped. "The UNIX timestamp is on this box as well." My finger caresses the paper.

"And the date is significant?" Ace leans in and he's too close. His fingers splay on top of the page and I stare at his hands instead of his eyes.

"The date is from last week. The night in the restaurant. The night JT was murdered." I glance up into his eyes to gauge his reaction.

His gaze moves from the paper to mine and back to the paper. "All right.” He pauses and stares at the paper. "That’s very odd.”

"I want you to have more than a weird feeling about it. I want you to say you believe me. I want you to open your mind to the possibility that this is more than a coincidence."

He studies me, his finger drumming soundlessly on my desk. "I don't believe in fortune cookies. And you want me to believe you've opened up the largest cookie in the universe. One that tells the story of what has happened in your life. Malerie…" he says. He takes both my hands in his. His strong fingers send a pleasant shiver down my body. "Now if you are about to tell me that this third box, the smaller one," he says as he opens the box I've rubbed, "if it says a word like infatuation, and this is where you finally hit on me, then it's a different story. One I'm totally on board with."

I snatch my hands away. He has this look on his face—like a kid acting and pretending he’s not scared. His eyebrows are raised and he keeps both hands held out to me.

“Come on. I was teasing.” He lowers his voice. “There’s an explanation. And it’s not that some boxes represent these horrible things that have happened to you.”

I'm torn between wanting to scream that he has to be believe me because I can’t do this alone or wanting to pretend he's right about the coincidence. I can’t deny what I know. These boxes map out my past, present, and future.

“Get out. I don’t need your help.” I can’t breathe again and I can feel tears prick my eyes.

“Hey, come on.” He tries to take my hands and I push his away.

I’m frantic now. "The word on this rubbing," I say as I pull another sheet of paper from my desk, "is ‘blaze’. I’d thought the rubbings would help me to study all the pages spread out so I could identify patterns.”

I have to keep my momentum. The papers cover the surface of the desk.

Each paper has a black rubbing from charcoal in the center. Below the rubbing, I've written a UNIX timestamp and then a conversion to a date and time. One printed word at the top of each page serves as a label for the drawing: COLLAPSE, GRIEF, BLAZE, and SLUMBER.

I open my hands, palms up and stare at my fingertips, blackened from touching the drawings. My hands are shaky. "I don't know how you can say you don’t see it. See the date on the third box? It’s less than a week from today. The date on the fourth is the day after that. I need to go wash my hands. Excuse me."

I stand at the bathroom vanity and vigorously scrub my hands. The black color comes off easily and there's no need to scrub, but I need the time to breathe. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. I splash cold water on my face.

I return to the bedroom to find Ace studying the pictures on the bed. He lets me watch him without saying anything. Ace moves back to the desk to pick up the third rubbing. "Blaze," he reads aloud.

"Yeah," I say to his back. His wide shoulders tense and he's no longer studying the pictures. Instead, he's flipping through the marked pages of the Moon type book.

"Why do you think there is a picture of a person rising from these flames?" Ace says without turning.

"I don't have a clue."

"That's encouraging. It was getting a little spooky that you seem to have all the answers."

I rub my forearms like it will force me awake, out of the nightmare. "I think this was all planned for me."

“You know what I think?” Ace looks up at me. “Stay open to this, just like I’m open to your theory. You can do that, right?”

“Okay. I guess.”

"What if someone is messing with your head? Let’s see if we can find out who made the boxes. And we get some information that will make more sense."

"We? You'll help me?"

"Yeah."

"Why? Why would you do that for me?" I inwardly cringe at the paranoia that comes frothing from my mouth.

"I'm on your payroll, aren't I?"

His answer stabs me in the chest, but I can’t let him see this.

I watch him stand and walk over to study an old setlist on my wall. Right beside my most valuable setlist from Jelly Bean Queen is one for The Poetry Guys. They played a long concert that night and some songs aren’t even listed on the setlist. There's an obscene doodle in one corner of the paper and Ace moves closer to it. From his profile, I see his eyes narrow and then widen when he realizes what it is. He moves in slow motion to face me with one lifted eyebrow.

"I’m going to help you because I want you to see that these are only boxes and you’re going to be okay.” His lips press together and he rubs a hand over his head. “And I know you need me. I can see you’re desperate and you’d do anything.”

My face suddenly burns because my mind has gone AWOL into the land of sexual innuendos. “What do you want from me? Besides money?”

His mouth opens and then he backs away from me and shakes his head. "I don't want anything from you personally." His voice frosts across the room. "Do you think I'm that kind of asshole?"

Lowering my gaze to the desk, I squeeze them shut. "Sorry. That was rude. Really rude. No, of course not. I don't have a lot of practice dealing with people.”

“Really?” He grins and it softens his sarcasm.

“I don't get out much. Or at all.” I sigh heavily.

"It's okay. You don't really know me. But this is a job and I take all my jobs seriously."

And just like that, the thickness in the air dissipates.

He moves over to study another setlist poster on my wall. "I know this band.”

He’s letting me off the hook when I’ve just accused him of what … bartering for sex? Yeah. As if he would need to barter with anyone. He could be a wealthy gigolo based on his hair alone.

I’m glad for the shift in topic.

He glances over his shoulder at me. “Great first and second albums. Don't care as much for their last one. I think they've caved to public opinion and they shouldn't have. They should have stayed honest to their music. A guy can only compromise so much before he’s lost himself.”

"I agree."

"Honesty's my motto … most of the time. When it counts. And this is about the money. You’re a nice girl, Malerie, but it's all about a check. Okay?"

Maybe his words stab my ego or my desires or my fear of being alone. My chest aches at his confession. I shrug. "I understand that. I didn't expect anything different."

"If it makes you feel any better, I don't think you're crazy. I believe there is something—I don’t know what—but something, and it doesn’t make sense. So let’s figure it out."

"Thanks." I gulp and hope he can't hear the loud sound or the relief in my voice.

He nods. "Anytime. For now, I say we plan a strategy. Step one in the strategy is to get some rest."

"I'm scared we'll run out of time. We only have two weeks before the last date."

"I'm exhausted. You're beyond exhausted. If I thought we could figure this out in the next hour, we'd go for it." He walks to the door and rests a hand on the doorframe. "Okay? Rest."

I nod. "Sleep well."

"You too." He closes my door and the house is quiet.

When I know he’s had time to get down the stairs, I open my door. My first rule for survival. Always have an escape route in sight.

D
aylight streams
through the window and makes everything the night before seem like a faraway dream. I travel downstairs dressed in pajama pants and a vintage concert T-shirt.

There's noise from the kitchen and I pause on the stairs, listening to sounds so similar to months ago, when JT moved around in the early hours drinking espresso and reading news on his laptop, frowning at me if I attempted to talk while he read.

"You bringing me coffee?" Ace's deep voice rumbles from the door to the kitchen. He's not wearing a shirt and he's barefoot.

He only has half his clothes off. But I’m fully embarrassed. A heart monitor would overheat at the way my pulse has spiked.

"Where are your shoes?" I squeak. No ‘good morning’ or ‘did you sleep okay’ or ‘did you hear any bad people trying to break into the house last night’.

Because where is his shirt?

"I don't sleep in them. If that's mandatory for this job, this isn't going to work." He rubs his hand across his bare chest.

I gulp. And stare. And then look at a spot beyond the top of his head.

"Coffee?" he mutters.

"I don't drink coffee." I'm frozen at the bottom of the stairs. "I don't like the taste. It's sort of like licking an ashtray."

"Okay." Ace moves away from the doorway and in my direction. "I don't want to know about your ashtray licking experience. I only want to know if you have some coffee. I didn’t want to bother you, but now that you’re up, I need some caffeine.”

"Sure. Yeah. We have coffee." The awkward idiot award is now within my reach and I go for the win. "Don’t you have a shirt?"

His eyebrows draw together as he rakes a hand through his hair. His actions only succeed in making me feel more uncomfortable. Because bedhead should make
someone
unattractive.

He heads for the living room, returning a moment later with his T-shirt on. "Princess is cranky in the mornings. So much for a good night's sleep."

I give a slow blink and hear my mother's voice.
Princess, I'll make a quick call, grab some things from my desk, and we'll be out of there. A couple of minutes.
My skin is suddenly clammy and I’m dizzy.

"Don't call me princess." I walk down the rest of the steps.

"Sure. Never again. Point me to the kitchen and I'll make us a pot."

"I'm serious. Don't call me that. Ever. Again." I have trouble working my throat to swallow.

"No problem. I heard you the first time."

"Follow me." I lead him to the kitchen and wave at the machine. "Help yourself. I don't know how it works."

"Hello, you thing of beauty,” he purrs to the machine. He glances at me with such a gleeful look that I’m startled for a moment. His smile is heart stopping and unexpected.

Small shivers of pleasure run through my body at his happy expression. He’s too gorgeous for words. I back away quickly and there’s a thump when my head hits a cabinet.

“Easy there,” he says. “You’re still asleep. I'll make a pot of coffee and I think I'll start some breakfast. What'll you have?"

"I'm not hungry." I need to get out of the kitchen before I embarrass myself any more.

BOOK: Chasing Luck
4.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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