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Authors: Dawn Ius

Overdrive

BOOK: Overdrive
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For Kitty.

Your appreciation for muscle cars pales next to my appreciation for your unwavering love and support.

Eleanor is mine, but Nick is for you.

1

KEVIN JAMS HIS TONGUE IN
my ear.

Yeah, gross, but I've got a roll of electrician's tape clenched between my teeth and the butt end of a live wire hovering over an exposed battery line. Best I can manage is a stifled grunt.

The scent of cheap beer makes my stomach roil. It's not just my boyfriend's alcohol-infused breath making me queasy, though. Thirty thousand people linger in the Las Vegas Arts District just a couple of blocks away.

Too close.

Kevin slides his hand up under my damp T-shirt. “Come on, Jules.”

I spit out the tape, cringing as it clunks against the brake pedal and rolls farther under the dash. The soft thud is loud enough to hear over the drizzling rain. Steam rises off the asphalt. “You're going to make me blow it.”

He laughs, but his cool hand continues to creep across my skin. When his finger hooks under my bra, I flinch. “Seriously, Kev. Stop it.” I squirm to break contact. “Focus.”

My heartbeat stutters. I'm one exaggerated twitch away from zapping more than this car's engine to life.

His tongue circles around my earlobe. “You got this, baby.” A shiver runs along the back of my neck and I scrunch my shoulders. “That's why they call you the Ghost, right?”

I grit my teeth. “Invisible, not invincible.”

It's a stupid street name, but after forty-two successful boosts, I guess I've earned a label. Thing is, I'm not cocky enough to believe my luck won't run out. The odds are always in favor of the house.

Kevin gets all whiny. “I really need this.”

Jesus. It's not even a hot car.

A 1995 Mazda RX-8, midnight blue, standard stick. But judging by the interior—tricked-out stereo, new covers for the scooped racing-style seats—it's gotta be someone's baby.

Except that it's parked under a streetlight in a dark alley in one of the city's peak theft districts, which makes no sense. Guys who own cars like this know streetlights aren't deterrents for people like us, like
me
. No slinking in the dark, no flashlight, easy access.

It's too simple.

“I've got a bad feeling about this, Kev.”

He gives me a wolfish grin.

Annoyance shakes through me. I get that he's got this whole Bonnie and Clyde fantasy going on, but his slurred encouragement isn't doing much to inspire confidence in
his
skills. This is a mistake.

I touch the starter wire to the battery cable and
zzzzt-zzzzt-zzzzt
, the engine sparks. A couple of revs later and the RX purrs.

Kevin hisses out a “yes!” as I sit upright and pull the driver's-side door closed. He practically climbs over the console for a congratulatory kiss. Of course I give in.

“Knew you could do it,” he says, nibbling on my lower lip. And damn if my adrenaline isn't jacked. I know it's not right, but the truth is, I'm addicted to it—the danger, the rush.

Kevin kneads my right breast. “You're so hot, baby.”

Sweating, actually.

Something still feels wrong and it's more than Kevin's overly obnoxious drunk-guy pawing. I yank his hand off my chest and shimmy up in the seat for a better view. He's supposed to be my lookout, but clearly he's using the wrong head. Figures.

I squint into the rain-soaked shadows, looking for something—some
one
—out of place. Vibrant graffiti slashes across Dumpsters overflowing with trash. A single lightbulb flickers at the back door of a run-down apartment complex. If the owner of the RX is out there waiting for me to fuck up, he's keeping it low-key.

Time to move out.

Kevin folds the passenger seat back, stretching out his long, scrawny torso, legs drawn almost up to his chest. I've pulled my trademark white hair up into a bun, but one police-issue flashlight pass over my alabaster skin and I'll go from the Ghost to living, breathing criminal. My saliva turns to paste.

His fingers skim the inside of my thigh. “Let's blow,” he says. “We can get five large for this, easy.”

Five thousand dollars.

It's not my biggest boost and the cash won't last long—especially when we split it. I gnaw on the inside of my cheek. “And then what?”

Kevin's fingers dance across my knee. “I didn't think you were into dirty talk, but I'm happy to give you a play-by-play.” He yanks the seat upright with a jolt, leans over, and brushes his lips against my neck.

“That's not what I meant,” I say, rubbing off his spit. “Like, after this grab . . .”

“You wanna get a burger or something?”

I punch the side of his arm. “No, you dick. I'm talking about the future. We can't steal cars forever.”

At least
I
can't. Not if I want custody of my little sister someday.

Kevin's face blanks. “Shit, Jules. You're not thinking about dipping, are you? I'm just getting my feet wet here. What about Ems? Isn't this all about her?”

I doubt Kevin and I are on the same page, but I'm
always
thinking about my sister and her slightly crooked front teeth, the jeans that fit a little too tight, her bedroom in our foster parents' run-down trailer, the size of a broom closet.

I've tried legal life, but boosting cars is the fastest way to get Emma away from the Millers, out of the foster care system for good.

My moral equilibrium shifts out of gear.

I swat Kevin's hand away from my crotch, give the whiny engine another rev, and twist the wheel to unlock the steering. He's right, now's not the time for second-guessing.

My pulse thrums.

Hit the gas and I'm doing this. Again.

Jesus. It never gets easier.

I catch movement from behind a garbage bin and my hesitation drains like a deflating Goodyear. Clutch engaged, I step on the gas and the car shoots forward. I quick-shift into second. The back end twists, the tires squeal.
Holy shit!

This thing's got guts.

Kevin lets out a loud
whoop
just as the warning siren in my head becomes ominous and real. Blue-and-reds blaze in my rearview, two cop cars gaining on me, on this now stolen RX.

Sweat pools in my palms and my hands grip the steering wheel so tight they've almost gone translucent. One glance at Kevin and I know he's spooked too.

“Floor it,” he shouts over the thunderous rumble in my chest. “I get pinched and it's no juvey for me. I'm doing time.”

I shift into third, crank the wheel. The car careens around a corner and skips across the asphalt. I'm terrified and I can't shout, can't remind Kevin that this is bad—real bad—for me too. An image of my sister shimmers across the water-streaked windshield and I choke back a lump of terror.

I cannot, cannot,
cannot
get caught.

At the intersection of Hoover and Las Vegas Boulevard, I take a sharp left. Water rolls off the tires and splashes across the glass, blurring my vision. For a second, I think we'll hydroplane, but then the wheels smack against the road and we surge ahead. Kevin's head snaps back.

“Fucking buckle up!” I scream over the wailing sirens.

His face is almost green when he glances over his shoulder. Cop lights reflect off the Mazda's black polished interior. “I gotta jump, Jules.”

I crank the RX up to fourth, then fifth. “Like hell.”

One gear left, but even with it, I know there's no way I'll outrun the cops. I don't want to—I am
not
a cop outrunner. I've never had to before.

Kevin reaches for the door handle.

I swerve to avoid an oncoming BMW and the driver lays on the horn.

The police are up my ass now. I should pull over, stop the car, take the heat—
I'm underage, what can they do?
—but it's like the fuel line to my brain is clogged with motor oil. Everything is muddy and out of focus.

“Don't do it,” I say. My voice cracks, tears brim, and I'm pissed that I sound desperate.

Kevin turns to me, his catlike hazel eyes wide and bulging—scared sober. And suddenly I've forgotten what I ever saw in him. The day-old stubble, the ripped jeans and eighties-style leather coat. He looks homeless, not badass, and I can't believe I ever let myself stoop to this. We were never going to be a team. A boil of emotions roll along the back of my throat.

“If I go to jail, I'm finished,” he says. “
We're
finished.”

But I already know we're done. I thought we hooked up because we both needed something—companionship, connection, more than a partner in crime—but I should have known better. I'm worth so much more than this.

Buildings, bystanders, palm trees pass in a blur. The hot Vegas Strip pulses like a lighthouse beacon ahead. I crank the wheel and spin a one-eighty, my guts practically projecting out of my open mouth. Somewhere in my subconscious I hear myself scream.

The tires hit the curb and we bounce into oncoming traffic.

I take a hard right into an alley. My stomach flips over. It's a fucking dead end.

“Back up!” Kevin yells.

Blood rushes to my head as I work to get the RX in gear. It's stuck. No matter how hard I push in the clutch, I can't hit reverse. The car lurches forward.

“Reverse, Jules! Reverse!”

Panic seizes my vocal chords. “It won't pop into gear,” I screech.

Lights flash-blink-flash in my eyes.

Sirens roar.

I ram the stick shift left, up, left again, and stomp on the gas. The RX sputters and then pitches forward. Fast. Too fast. I slam on the brake, lift my foot off the clutch, and jam the car into neutral. It stutters to a stop.

Kevin's curse pinballs off the dash, and before I can even register what's happening, there's a sharp rap at my window. I'm surrounded by cops and staring into the barrel of a gun.

My stomach begins a downward spiral.

I turn to Kevin for some kind of assurance, for him to tell me he'll stick with me on this. But the passenger door is slung open and somewhere in the distance I catch a glimpse of my ex-boyfriend's retreating ass.

My heart stalls with a twinge of pain. I shouldn't be surprised he bailed—everyone does. Still, nausea coils in my gut.

I swallow a dry heave and slap my hand over my face.

Fuck my life.

2

ELEVEN SCUFF MARKS ON THE
checkerboard floor. I missed a couple on first count—two black streaks under the far side of the table. They're important. Part of the interrogation process.

I picture “bad cop” yanking back the chair, metal legs screeching across the vinyl. He sits, stares, passes me a smoke like they do in the movies. Or maybe that's just for big-time criminals, like murderers and shit.

My stomach pirouettes.

I rub my wrists, red and raw from the handcuffs. Truth is, I didn't make it anywhere near the slammer. “Good cop” threw me in this room instead, leaving me to stew about Kevin, my stupidity, my very bleak future.

I should be at the chop shop collecting my cash and hitting up In-N-Out Burger with my boyfriend. Instead, I'm staring at four beige walls and a fist-size hole I bet one of the
big-time
criminals made after “bad cop” delivered “bad” news. My fingers curl until they form fists.

Ineffective anger management,
my social worker's voice plucks in my subconscious.

BOOK: Overdrive
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