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Authors: Brinda Berry

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

Chasing Luck (9 page)

BOOK: Chasing Luck
3.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

She still hasn't said a word so I begin flipping through the magazine and stare at the glossy product ads.

"You have a cat?" Malerie's voice is strained.


"A cat. Do you have a cat?" Malerie points at the page I have open. I've been staring at some apparatus that automatically cleans cat litter.

"I have a cat I'd like to get rid of. Hey. You need a cat, don’t you?"

"Why'd you get a cat if you hate them?" Her voice is steadier now.

At least she's talking. "Don't hate ’em," I answer.

"But you don't like them."

"They're useless. They take up space and you have to make sure you feed them."

"Well, yes. But they keep you company. They care about you no matter what."

"No. They care about the next meal. Here's an example. Who's feeding your two monsters while you're gone?"


"Ah, yes. The cleaning lady. Well, do they like Gertrude? Are they happy to see her?"

"Yes. They're good with her. What's your point?" She shifts in her seat to face me, fully engaged in our conversation. I glance out the window and see we are in the clouds.

"You have a problem with my dogs?" Malerie's eyebrows lift and she's got that haughty attitude I glimpsed at the restaurant when I ran into her. Or she ran into me. Good. I like her better this way.

I tilt my head. "You think they would protect Gertrude if someone were to break into the house while we're away? You think they'd probably take somebody's leg off if they messed with Gertrude?"


Her eyes narrow like she's trying to figure out where I'm going with this.

"What about someone offering them a nice juicy steak? Rare and fresh from the butcher's shop with a raw aroma they can smell three yards away. Would they leave Gertrude for the food?"

"No, they'd still guard Gertrude and my home."

"You're positive."


"I'd argue that you're fooling yourself. It's a nice fantasy … the loyal guard dog. But I'd bet a week's pay that a thief could come along and offer a bloody, juicy snack that'd have them abandon Gerty. He'd be inside the door within minutes. Because…" I draw out the word like a drum roll is coming, "…it's all about the meal ticket. Who has the food."

"Well, you'd lose a week's salary." Malerie's brow puckers. "You don't even have a dog, so I don't know what makes you think you're the expert."

"I'm an expert on survival. Dogs, people, cats—definitely cats—they're all the same. It all boils down to who has what you need the most."

"What about you? What do you need?"

I study her face and the hopeful way she's looking at me. "Money."

She turns her head and faces the seat in front of her, like she's bored with the conversation.

"You don’t like my answer?" She’s so idealistic. I can’t help but smile at her naiveté.

"It's none of my business."

When people say that, it's such a lie. My answer has her bristled with a strange intensity.

I get it. She thinks I'm a superficial prick. "Of course, money means nothing to you. Why would it when you have everything? You probably have two of everything in here." I hold up the airline’s magazine.

"You don't know a thing about me." She refuses to look at me and instead begins unclipping her seatbelt. The pilot’s announcement that we are free to do that comes a second after she's done it. "Excuse me. I’m going to the restroom."

I pull my legs in and she stands, moves into the aisle, and walks away. I run through the reasons why I should be nice to her. She's lost someone. She's naive. She's spoiled and doesn't have a clue about how the real world works.

Malerie's making her way to the restroom at the back of the plane. I open the magazine again and flip through several pages. So much stuff fills the pages.

Noise comes from the front of the plane. The attendant is pushing a drink cart forward. I close my eyes and stretch my legs a couple of inches.

There's a slamming door and raised voices, something I don't expect to hear inside a plane. The kid in front of me, and his mother, are both craning their necks to look behind me.

The plane bumps and the pilot’s voice comes from the speaker, like some transportation god, assuring us everything is perfectly fine and it’s only a little turbulence. I lean my head against the headrest and close my eyes. Sleep teases my brain. I’ve always survived on little sleep and have catnapping skills beyond normal abilities.

The attendant is serving drinks near the third row and maneuvers past the drink cart that takes up most of the aisle space. I track her movement and turn my head to scan the back of the plane.

Something is wrong.

As much as I try, I can’t see. The attendant talks to a man near the back. She moves around him and I think she might be talking toward the restroom door.


She’s got to be sick. Why hadn’t I noticed? I unbuckle my seatbelt and am half out of my seat when I meet the glare of a second airline attendant. She shakes her head and rushes to my seat.

“Sir, please keep your seat.” Her gaze flits from me to the back.

“My friend must be sick. I thought I could help her.”

She notices the empty seat next to me. “I’m sure she’s going to be back in a minute.”

The pilot comes back on the speaker system and assures everyone we’ll be through the turbulence quickly and that he’s putting the seatbelt light back on for now.

I try to relax. The bumpy ride isn’t bothering me like it should because all I can think about is what the inside of a plane toilet must look like when you’re sick. It has to be small like a bus toilet. That thought makes my own stomach pitch.

Minutes pass and the turbulence is over. The seatbelt light is off and the seat beside me empty.

The same airline attendant from earlier returns to my seat and leans down to whisper: “You can help after all. Would you mind asking her to open the door?”

I’m out of my seat in two seconds and down the cleared aisle, my hands resting on a couple of seat backs to steady myself. All the passengers stare as I pass by them.

Malerie didn’t feel well and I razed her about being rich.
I am a prick.
I rap lightly on the plastic door.

“Hey. Malerie. It’s Ace. You okay?”

She doesn’t answer.

“Malerie. Can you hear me? Just answer that you’re okay.” Forget making her come out while these morons watch. There’s another bathroom in the front. They can give her a minute.

For the price of these tickets, she should be able to hang out in there the whole time if she wants.

Maybe she’s vomiting. Or maybe she passed out.

I don’t panic. It’s not my thing. But the thought that she might be out cold on the floor is enough to make me knock hard on the door.

“Open up, Malerie. Or say something.”

To my surprise, there’s a click and the ‘Occupied’ status changes to ‘Vacant’. The door cracks open a bit.

Malerie’s face is covered in a sheen of sweat. She doesn’t make eye contact with me as she pulls the door open and steps forward from the matchbox-sized room.

There’s something off about her, and I can’t tell if she’s even aware it’s me standing before her. “Hey. You all right?”

Her gaze flicks to me for a second and I don’t wait for an answer. I guide her in front of me and place both hands at the sides of her waist. She’s so small and she’s shaking. I don’t know if I can resist the urge to wrap my arms around her and protect her from all the people watching us.

“Let’s go back to our seats.” I move her gently forward and we get to our seats where I tuck her into the window seat like a child to bed. She’s still not looking at me.

“I’m…” Malerie leans her head against the window and closes her eyes. “…sorry. There’s no room to move in there. I guess I panicked. I don’t like places like that. I couldn’t…”

I nod, like what she’s said is normal. “No problem.” I put my hand on her knee and squeeze. “I thought maybe you needed some help. Don’t worry about it. Everything’s cool. You’re safe with me.”

Her gaze meets mine and her mouth trembles for a second before one corner tips up. She places her hand on top of mine. “I trust you.”

A thought smacks me like getting hit in the head with a basketball. My mental hands weren’t up, ready to receive the ball. The guy with the gun … why didn’t Malerie’s dogs realize a stranger was at her house?


under my skin and in my head. All I want is you in my bed.” ~Jelly Bean Queen

he hotel room
in downtown San Francisco gives me an acute case of the heebie-jeebies, and I wonder if this is a model room for the word 'quaint'. Antique furniture, a bed that takes up most of the room, and heavy curtains make me more than a little claustrophobic. At least I'm on the first floor. If you’re in a high-rise, you always choose the ground floor. This isn’t a tip I’ve learned from travel websites but from life.

A collapsing building crashes fast and has a limited number of exits.

My cell phone rings and I lose my calm in the heart-hammering realization that I'm scared of my own shadow in this place. "Hello."

"I'll be in the lobby in five minutes," Ace says.

"And we're going to the District to that shop, right?"

"No. I realize food is nowhere on your list of priorities, but we're doing this on my schedule. I need to eat."

“O-kay. You’re suddenly the boss now.” I press END and toss the phone onto the bed. I blink long and hard in the aftermath of earning my bitch card with that last comment.

I unzip my suitcase, hum a little tune, and unpack. Humming is crucial since just walking down the hallway reminded me of a scene straight out of
The Shining
. I'm still waiting for the dead twin girls to appear.

Grabbing a clean shirt, I enter the bathroom and flip the wall switch. The light fixture is a green art glass sconce above a pedestal sink and casts an eerie, weird glow. This place has too little light, too little space, and too little modernization. Tiny white hexagon tile make me think of another scene from
The Shining
. I resolve not to watch another horror movie for the rest of my life.

After I change, it's a short walk to the lobby. Ace sits in a velvet chair with a newspaper. His hair juts around his head in a messy look that could only work for a guy. Moving closer, I inhale his fresh soap smell. "You showered?" He looks good and smells better.

"Yeah. Ready?" He folds the newspaper and stands. "I'm starved."

"If I'd known you were going to clean up, I would have."

"You don’t need a shower. You walk around gorgeous all day long."

"You use that line often?" I roll my eyes but my belly tingles in pleasure.

"I was sweaty from the trip."

"Well, we should eat quickly and get to the shop."

Ace shakes his head and grabs my elbow. "I'm not eating at a fast-food chain. We have time to sit. The owner will be there when we finish. It's only 1:00 and he'll be open for a while. Calm down and enjoy this."

A twenty-something guy in a brown hotel uniform opens the door and calls us both by name. Ace returns the goodbye and says the bellhop’s name. I'm weirdly impressed. It’s like Ace has already made friends with the doorman.

Ace glances down the street and nods at a guy passing us, like he owns this town. Confidence rolls off him. "There's a lot to choose from within walking distance, or we could go down to the wharf."

His legs are long and at one point he places a hand at my elbow to guide me. His touch sizzles my skin through my shirt.

We pass several restaurants with menus posted in the windows or out on metal stands.

"You pick." I can't believe how crowded the sidewalks are. Too many people walk beside and around and into me. Crowds—strangers bumping into me—throw my head straight back into my seven-year-old self and that awful day.

The day that changed it all.

I take calming breaths and recite my favorite Jelly Bean Queen lyrics in my head.
My body knows the truth of you. My mind recites the love of your touch. Your hands on me are all I need. Everything else fades away.

I grab his arm to stop him from continuing and focus on only his eyes. “What do you like to eat?”

"Anything. I can eat anything." He's smiling and happy to be here. I can see it in the way his eyes wrinkle a little at the corners.

"You choose."

"Terrific. Sushi?"

I wrinkle my nose and shake my head. "No way."

"You said anything. Anything but sushi?"

My stomach does a protesting plummet at the thought of eating anything raw. "I lied. Not sushi. I like my food cooked."

"I'm surprised." He shrugs. "I'd pegged you for a sushi girl."

"Hell no. And why would you think that?"

"Sorry? I know a lot of girls who watch their weight and like the whole sushi thing."

"And you think I watch my weight because…"

He arches one eyebrow. "No weight problem on you. You don't have an ounce of fat on you. You’re perfect. That's why I thought you might eat healthy foods."

A blush creeps in to warm my face. He must talk like this to a lot of girls and I have no idea how to respond to him. “I run. To stay in shape. And to burn off energy.”

He glances down at me, his eyes roaming the length of my body. “Yeah. I can see that.”

My heart sprints from just one look. Does he know how affecting he is? Probably. I study the street opposite us, refusing to let him see my blush.

"Italian?" he asks.

"Not anything that heavy."

He laughs. At the I-thought-so look he gives me, I add, "I'm nervous."

"Tell me what you're hungry for."

We turn the corner and I point to a bistro with an iron-gated patio. "I could have a salad."

"Salad." He frowns and
. "Done. One salad for the girl who says she doesn't care what we eat." He places his hand at the small of my back and opens the door for me. It’s like his touch grounds me so everything is safe. I’d tether myself to him if I could.

A girl grabs two paper menus and leads us to a table in the corner.

“Thanks for being so nice on the plane.” I put the menu on the table and watch him read over his choices.

"It was nothing.” He says it to the menu without looking at me and shakes his head.

“I’m nervous and well … I get weird away from home.”

We're seated near the front windows and tourists are strolling past. I'd give anything if I could be as carefree as they are. But the reality is that my life has been like a suspense thriller movie since that day when I was seven and I lost everything.

"So, tell me why—about getting nervous." Ace moves a saltshaker back and forth across the table. He does this fidgeting thing so often that I'm constantly watching his hands to see what he picks up next. He has beautiful hands with long, strong fingers that mesmerize me. “Is it because you got sick on the plane?”

“No. It’s not that.”

“Then what.”

“It’s not the plane. It’s my life. Bad things happen to people when I’m around.”

He frowns and fine lines crease his forehead. “That’s putting a lot on you. You think you’re that important to the karma of the world?”

“No, of course not. I can’t believe you said that.”

“Come on. You can’t put all that on yourself.”

“It’s true.” I shake my head.

“False. You should know how amazing you are. You are so gutsy. You have a mystery to solve and you didn’t back down and hide in your house. You’re not a coward. You, Malerie Toombs, are fucking amazing.”

He says all this with such power and intensity that I’m tempted to believe it. My mouth curves into a smile at his praise.

“You’re doing a good job with the whole self-confidence building. You should really be a self-help guru.”

He gives me a throaty laugh that draws the attention of a girl at the next table. “Yeah? I could go for that.”

“Yeah?” I agree and have to look away from the sparkle in his eyes.

When I glance back, he gives me a cocky action-hero-smile, one eyebrow lifted and nodding. “Bring it on. We are a team.
are going to figure out what to do about these boxes. You said you trusted me. Prove it. I’m telling you we’ll solve all this…” He leans forward. “And stop whatever’s happening next. It’s that easy. We give a tip to the authorities and they take care of it.”

There’s no way I can answer. Could I have stopped the bombing or the shooter at the restaurant? Maybe he’s right.

"Okay then.” I sit straighter.

“So, next on the agenda after lunch. We visit shop owner Theodore Hamlin. I have the address programmed into my phone. We can walk or take a cab. It might take the same amount of time to get a cab, but we won't be as tired. We’re both tired from the plane trip."

"Good plan." I rub my hands over my thighs.

The waiter arrives with our lunch and we stop talking. I take a few bites and finally give up pretending to be hungry. Ace reaches out and grabs my hand that rests on the table. His fingers curl and he flips my hand to palm up until it's like we're holding hands.

I'm aware of how comforting his hand feels on mine. "I'm too nervous to eat. My head is buzzing with all the stuff that’s happened," I say.

"You're trying too hard. Overachiever much?" he teases.

"Easy for you to say.”

"Fair enough. Let's go through the facts."

"Fact. People around me die."

Ace leans over and pushes the plate back in front of me. "We’ve established that is some falsehood you’ve been living under. I know JT didn’t teach you that. You saved the hostess in the restaurant from having her head blown off."

I lean back, not sure I like the idea that I did save the hostess.
What if I could've saved JT
? I pick at a bite of salad.

He smiles at me. "You eat like a kid."

"Do not. And quit referring to me as a kid."

"You resist eating. And you're hungry. It's good I'm around to take care of you."

"I can take care of myself," I say around the salad in my mouth. I finish chewing and swallow. "I'm distracted—that's all."

"You've led a very sheltered life."

I ignore the comment. "So the hostess didn't die.”

He frowns at me. "And you didn’t die. Sometimes making sure you look out for yourself is the only thing you can do."

"I don't know. My heart stopped at the hospital, so I think that qualifies as dying.”

Ace pushes his plate away. "Well I’m glad you didn’t stay dead. Otherwise I wouldn’t be sitting here with such a kickass girl.” He scoots his chair forward and points at me. “We’re a team.”

BOOK: Chasing Luck
3.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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