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Authors: Shanna Clayton

Rebounding

BOOK: Rebounding
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Rebounding

 

Shanna Clayton

Copyright © 2015

All rights reserved.

ISBN-13: 978-1514756546

ISBN-10: 1514756544

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

 

Edited by Cheryl Murphy

Cover by Eden Crane

You can visit Shanna at: http://www.shannaclayton.com

 

ONE

 

Char

 

 

Aim.

Point.

Shoot.

No feeling in the world compares. Adrenaline courses through my body, slowing down the moment. Every breath is ragged. Every heartbeat bigger than the last. My mind works to catch up with the chaos, and I’m suddenly very, very sober—pretty remarkable considering how many vodka crans I downed earlier.

I open my eyes, the echoes of the shot fading within the darkness of the empty alley. There’s a millisecond of fuzziness protecting me from reality; one I wish would last forever, to continue blinding me from whatever I’m about to be faced with. Of course, it ends…

Oh my God.

I hit him.

I actually shot a man.

He makes a choked, gasping noise. I freeze into place, the blood in my veins turning to ice. I am the cause of that noise.

There wasn’t much time to think before pulling the trigger. Now there’s too much—too much coming at me all at once. I look around the dark alley. Did anyone else witness this? There are only four of us here. The man I shot, his partner, and the man lying on the ground—the one they were stabbing. Before I fired the gun, all I could see were the blades of their knives. I couldn’t stand there and do nothing. I warned them, but they didn’t see me as a threat. If they just would’ve
listened
.

I look down at the gun in my hand. This thing is supposed to be for protection. Daddy trained me to shoot, forcing me to keep at it until my accuracy was perfect, which it is. Without him or my brothers around, I’d always be able to handle myself. I’d always feel safe, and Daddy said he’d be able to sleep at night.

Never thought I’d be in a situation where I would actually have to use it though. There’s a huge difference between shooting a lifeless target and a human being.

I really hope I didn’t just kill him.

I’m not sure I could live with myself if I did.

“Go!”

I realize my voice is the one shouting. The commanding tone sounds so unlike my own. The guy I didn’t shoot stands there in shock, staring at what I’ve done. He looks like he can’t believe it anymore than I can.

“Take him and go!” I shout again, louder this time. “Or the next bullet is yours.”

There’s a beautiful, adrenaline-fueled authority I’m wearing like a mask. I don’t know where it’s coming from, but I hold onto it, hoping it’s enough to intimidate the two of them. The shock wears off, and they scramble to get away, heading toward a parked car across the street. The guy I shot is limping…struggling to make it there.

Please go straight to a hospital. Please don’t die.

Car tires screech to life, and within moments, they’re gone. I hurry to where they were standing, hoping it’s not too late. Their victim lies on the ground. In a pool of blood. It covers his chest, his hands and face.

“Are you okay?”

I’m not sure why I asked him that. What a stupid question. He is far from being okay.

There’s something deeply unsettling about the sight of blood that’s hard for me to deal with. It’s why I refused to follow in my parents’ footsteps into medical school. It’s why I can barely sit still when getting blood drawn for routine checkups. It’s also why my hands tremble now. Movies and TV don’t prepare people for this. Seeing it in real life—seeing someone hurt and bleeding—nothing could’ve prepared me for this.

I kneel beside him on the street, trying to work through my next steps. “Do you have a phone, sir?”

My cell died hours ago, before I got separated from my friends—the result of one too many selfies and more drunk texts than I’m proud to admit to. This entire night has quickly manifested into one of those spring break horror stories my mom always warned me about. I swear if I ever make it out of this, I’m never drinking again. Ever.

“Left pocket,” he grunts.

Hearing his voice thrills me. It means this wasn’t for nothing. I didn’t possibly kill a man for nothing.

I dig inside his jacket, relieved to feel the weight of his phone. I dial 911.

One ring.

Two rings.

Three rings.

Why is it taking so long? Shouldn’t they pick up on the first ring? It’s 911, for God’s sake. There should be no delay.

I look down at the man beside me, his phone pressed against my ear. He’s young,
I think, and I take in the straight, smooth lines of his face. Probably around my age. Too young to die, that’s for damn sure.

“Don’t give up on me.” I try to sound calmer than I feel. Somehow in the span of a few seconds, I’ve linked myself to this man’s life. If he makes it, everything will be okay in the world. If he makes it, I can live with the fact that I may or may not have killed someone.
Please live.
I beg him with my mind. Please let there be a reason I ended up here.

 

 

 

***

 

MAX

 

 

The girl thinks I’m dying. She’s trying real hard not to show it; I’ll give her that much, but her eyes give her away. They’re big and blue, the kind that bluntly express every emotion she feels. Considering my current circumstances, I’m grateful I can read her. Right now she’s scared.

Maybe she’s never seen anyone die before. She looks like the type who doesn’t see much violence. Matter of fact, she looks like the type of person who doesn’t belong in this neighborhood. When I first saw her standing across the street looking confused, I knew she was lost. Girls like that don’t end up on secluded alleys in the middle of the night unless they’re working the streets, but she doesn’t strike me as a prostitute. Everything about her is too polished. If I had to guess, I’d say she’s on spring break. This time of year, there’s thousands of spring breakers flooding Miami’s beaches and nightlife. How she ended up on this side of town is anyone’s guess.

I probably should’ve helped her out, given her directions, or even called her a cab. That would’ve been the polite thing to do. The
nice
thing to do. But unlike her, I don’t waste my time on strangers.

“Don’t give up on me,” she says, trying to sound calm even though I can tell she’s freaking out. Once I open my eyes, and she’s confident I’m still with her, she goes back to her conversation with emergency services.

Lucky for both of us, I’m not dying. Those assholes managed to cut me up pretty bad, but the wounds are superficial. It almost makes me think they weren’t trying to kill me. Going for blood, sure. Sending a message, possibly. But the way they attacked me makes me think they didn’t care about a quick, tidy death. They wanted to make a statement.

Just thinking about the
I told you so
’s
Trevor and Steph will have waiting for me is enough to make me want to shut down the blog. They already believe we’re moving into dangerous territory as it is, and what happened tonight is enough to terrify everyone. There’s only one obvious reason for it.

Someone’s onto us.

“Hey…
hey
.” She’s talking to me now, my phone still pressed to her ear. “Are you having trouble breathing?”

“No.”

Breathing’s fine. But when I talk, I feel a tightness in my chest—which makes me hope she doesn’t ask more questions.

“He can breathe,” she tells the operator, nodding as she listens to their instructions. Her hands are shaking so bad she has to tuck my phone between her cheek and shoulder.

“I’m not dying, kid,” I finally say, because she looks two seconds away from hysteria. “I don’t need a damn ambulance. Just tell them to send the police.”

She stares at me like
I’m
the one losing my shit. “But you’re bleeding everywhere. You need a doctor.”

“I have their plate numbers…they can still catch those assholes…” My voice drifts off. It hurts too much to talk.

I see white fuzzy dots, and then black.

Black nothingness.

Stay awake.

Someone keeps yelling at me to stay awake.

Sirens blare in the distance. The sound makes me jerk forward. Instinctively I latch onto the girl for support. Her eyes widen into brilliant blue pools of terror. I feel a strange sensation, kind of like I’m fading. Those eyes…they’re beautiful. Mesmerizing. Powerful. Staring into them makes me feel…

Something.

It’s been so long since I felt
anything
. Right now I could lose myself in this girl’s eyes. It’s so crazy that I want to laugh and cry at the same time. Completely ridiculous. Nothing about it makes any damn sense.

Maybe that’s why her eyes are fading too. They’re the last thing I see before everything goes black again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

TWO

 

Max

 

 

“Mr. Archer?”

Blurry.

Everything’s blurry.

I blink a few times as my surroundings sharpen into view. A man in hospital scrubs is in front of me, writing something on a clipboard. I look down, finding myself in a bed surrounded by curtains on both sides. There’s an IV in my arm, a heart monitor beeping next to me, and my body feels like dead weight.

“That’s your name, right? Maximus Archer?” The doctor stares at me, waiting for me to respond. I slowly nod, wondering how he knows who I am. As if reading my mind, he says, “We found your ID in your wallet.”

How the hell…

I think back, piecing it all together. I remember being at the warehouse with Trevor and Steph. We were working on Monday’s article. All of us left at the same time, around midnight. But I didn’t go home right away. I wanted to test out my theory. I wanted to track down Garcia.

There’s that moment between remembering and the fuzziness, the moment when you sense it’s better to stay in the blissful place where ignorance reigns instead of crossing the line into knowing. I know I should just stay on the other side. Choosing amnesia seems like a better choice.

Then I remember. The alley. The two thugs. The girl. God, I really wish it were a bad dream.

“How long have I been here?” My voice is hoarse. I barely recognize it as my own.

The doctor reaches for a foam cup sitting next to the bed, then hands it to me. “Here, drink some water. Ah, about six hours since you came in through the ER. Do you remember what happened?”

I down the water in one gulp. “Sorta.”

My memories are hazy. The cocktail of drugs they’re pumping into me must be the really good shit—can’t complain about that. Different images flash through my mind. The street. The rain puddles. The blades of their knives. The blood. Red. Everywhere, red. I couldn’t look at the blood. It reminded me of…

No.

I can’t think of that right now.

“You came in with multiple stab wounds and lacerations,” the doctor says.

“Two guys jumped me,” I explain. “I didn’t recognize them. Guessing that means they weren’t caught?”

“Not that I’m aware of, but now that you’re awake, the police can take your statement.”

I nod, disappointed. Chances of the police finding them at this point are slim. I didn’t get a good look at either of their faces, and I don’t have many details to offer.

“When will I be discharged?”

“We need time to monitor you,” the doctor replies, giving me a narrow look that says my question is premature. “Not until tomorrow at the very earliest. You should take it easy for now, Mr. Archer. You lost so much blood you needed two transfusions.”

I swallow at that news. “I didn’t realize how bad of shape I was in,” I say, running a hand through my hair.

“Probably from shock. Sometimes trauma victims experience a numbing sensation that prevents them from fully grasping the extent of their injuries.” He presses a button on the monitor next to my bed, then scribbles something down on his clipboard. “It’s safe to say you’re alive thanks to the young woman who called for help.”

Don’t give up on me.

Her voice is still in my head, the last thing I heard before I passed out.

“Did anyone get her name?” Whoever that girl was, at the very least, she deserves a thank you.

“You can ask her yourself. She’s been waiting here all night.” He nods to where the curtain meets the wall.

There’s a blonde girl sitting in a chair by the door. She’s been listening to our conversation all along. After clearing her throat, she says, “It’s Charlotte. My name is Charlotte Hart.”

I don’t say anything. My head is still reeling from seeing her again. If I wasn’t shocked before, I sure as hell am now.

The doctor moves to leave. “The police will be here soon. If you need anything, just press the button on your bed.”

I nod, my attention still glued to Charlotte Hart. He leaves, and then it’s just the two of us, our eyes locked on each other. She’s beautiful. I hadn’t noticed that before, but now it’s hard
not
to notice it. Everything about her is perfect and symmetrical, to an almost unattainable level. Flawless skin, blonde hair, and slender, she’s the type of girl you’d think was Photoshopped if you saw her on a magazine cover. For all her perfection though, the thing I find most attractive is the way her hair keeps spilling from the knot she tied it into. It’s the only thing out of place.

She stands up, and then walks over to my bed, inspecting me just as curiously. The way she looks at me makes me wonder if I look as beat up as I feel.

“How are you?” she asks, breaking the silence.

“Okay, I guess, for someone who’s just been stabbed.”

“Seven times.”

“What?”

“You were stabbed seven times,” she repeats. “I heard one of the doctors say that.”

“Oh.”

Her eyes drift over my face and across my chest, pausing over my left shoulder, where I remember seeing most of the blood. That’s where they cut me the deepest—right beneath my shoulder blade. Even with the morphine drip I can feel it.

“Why did you help me?”

She pinches her brows together like she doesn’t understand the question. “You were in trouble.”

“Most people would’ve run out of that alley as fast as they could.”

“And leave you there to die?” She shakes her head, frowning. “Where I’m from, we don’t just look the other way.”

I don’t believe her. People are generally the same everywhere. When there’s trouble, they get scared. And when people get scared, they run. I’m pretty sure she’s the exception, but I don’t tell her that.

“And where would that be?” I ask, trying to place her accent. Her voice reminds me of an afternoon rainstorm. Light and breezy, hiding touches of a drawl beneath its veil.

“Originally? Savannah, Georgia.”

“But you don’t live there anymore?”

She shakes her head. “I moved to Gainesville last fall for college.”

“You’re down here on spring break, aren’t you?”

She lowers herself into the chair closest to my bed, getting comfortable. Seems to me like she’s not ready to go anywhere anytime soon.

“How’d you guess?”

“Locals know better than to wander around downtown alone in the middle of the night.”

She flinches, and somehow I think I offended her. “I was lost,” she says. “But if that’s true, then what were you doing there?”

Damn. She caught me off guard with that one.

“Looking for someone,” I answer.

“Weird place to be looking for someone.”

“Weird place to be lost,” I shoot back.

“The layout of this city doesn’t make any sense. I made a few wrong turns, then ended up in that alley where I found you…”

We both go quiet at the reminder of the alley. She sits very still as she watches me. It’s almost unsettling, like she’s trying to discover something I’m hiding. Part of me believes she could.

I need to say something. Anything to break the uncomfortable silence. Well, uncomfortable for me. She looks completely relaxed.

“You had a gun on you,” I say, not meaning for it to sound so much like a question. I just want to know how a girl who looks so perfect and delicate learned to shoot like a military vet. She was a good distance away, and she stopped those guys with one shot.

“I keep one in my purse when I go out. My daddy wasn’t satisfied with giving me pepper spray when I left for college. He wanted to make sure I could take care of myself.”

“Sounds like you got one very protective father.”

“More like resourceful, but yes.” She looks down at the floor, thinking. “He used to really get on my nerves, but tonight I feel grateful.”

“I suppose I owe you for tonight.”

“Yeah, I kinda did save your life,” she says, her blue eyes sparkling. “But no biggie.”

“I don’t like owing people debts,” I tell her seriously. “Let me write you a check. I have money.”

“Is that how you usually handle this type of situation?” She sounds amused, not at all excited by the prospect of money.

I shrug, and then grunt when I feel a sharp pain to my shoulder. “I don’t know. I’ve never been in this type of situation.”

She smiles, and if it’s even possible, becomes more beautiful. It makes me catch my already unsteady breath.

“I don’t want your money.”

“Everyone wants money,” I argue, because it’s the truth.

She shakes her head, uncompromising.

I let out a sigh. When I said I didn’t like owing people, I meant it. A debt will haunt me, especially one as big as this. “Then what do you want?”

“Hmm.” She tucks her hair behind her ear. “Maybe a favor? One day I might need your help.”

“You don’t even know me,” I point out. “How do you know I’d be any help to you?”

“You didn’t know me either, and yet, here we are.”

“Point taken.” But still objected.

“Why don’t we just chalk this up to what it is—a good deed. It makes me feel good to think of it that way.”

She flashes me that amazing smile of hers again, and it has the same effect on me as it did before. I try to speak, but nothing comes out. I’ve never been around someone with the ability to leave me speechless. I’m not sure I like it.

“Do you need some more water?” she asks, mistaking my silence for a sore throat. When I don’t answer her right away, she stands up and reaches for the pitcher sitting on the table to pour me another cup. I take it from her, okay with pretending it’ll fix what’s wrong with me.

“It may be a good deed in your eyes,” I say, trying to piece my thoughts together. “But I still see this as something I need to repay.”

She leans against the side of my bed, invading my personal space. She’s so close I can smell her. For being stuck in a hospital all night, I wonder how she can smell so good.

“In that case, I promise one day you will repay me.”

“Just not today, right?”

She shakes her head. “Nope.”

“Are you planning to steal my firstborn child?”

“Yes, now you’re on to the inner workings of my evil mind.”

Evil. Ha.

Whatever she is, she’s the opposite of evil. I don’t understand her, but part of me wishes I could keep her around to remind me of what people are capable of.

“Who are you, Charlotte Hart?” I say, shaking my head. “I thought your brand of human went extinct a long time ago.”

“Nah,” she says, grinning. “There are still a few of us out there.”

BOOK: Rebounding
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