You guys! I am so excited to be a part of this box set! It is full of amazing stories by amazing authors! Don't forget to pick up your copy for just 99cents HERE!!
Here's a sneak peek at my story, A Fire Awakens.
I don’t remember when I moved to this neighborhood. I was a baby and this is where my adoptive parents had lived their whole married life together. I do remember growing up here, though. It was a quieter time back then. Sure, there was some crime. I mean, which city doesn’t have a few assholes running around stealing stuff that doesn’t belong to them. What there wasn’t, though, were the guns or the drugs. I also don’t remember the gangs back when I was younger. Maybe they were there, but they definitely hid themselves. There was no tagging of buildings or out in the open chop shops. There weren’t any addicts shooting up in broad daylight. I also know there weren’t drug dealers riding their bikes down the street with sawed off shotguns and machetes poking out of their backpacks. There weren’t the murders…
Here’s a fun statistic for you: in our city, Midtown has had the pleasure of hosting the first shooting death of the year five years in a row. Yeah. Yay for us. Our city is number three in the whole fucking country for violent crimes. Because that’s what every neighborhood or city wants to be known for.
Now, don’t get me wrong. In Midtown, there are more good people than bad people. There are lovely homes with well-kept yards and neighbors that watch out for each other. People walk their dogs, say hello, and help push each other out of snowbanks in the winter. Unfortunately, the bad has a way of making itself known louder than the good. And the bad was getting louder and louder.
Then, one day, someone decided enough was enough.
You know the story. You’ve probably seen the movie. Someone’s kid gets kidnapped, somebody’s wife gets murdered… hell, some guy’s dog gets killed and his car gets stolen. They all start the same way. Something mind blowing and/or traumatic happens and the hero turns into a kickass vigilante. Yeah. I love those, too. That’s not this story, though. I mean, not really.
I don’t have any kids and my boyfriend can take care of himself. My truck is the same rust bucket I’ve been driving for the past thirteen years and I don’t think it’s even worth anything for parts. My dog, he’s fine. He’s lying on his bed having dreams of chasing something as I tell you this. Probably the stray cat that likes to sit on the fence and bug him. We call him Orange Bastard. The cat. Not my dog. His name is Buck.
No, this story doesn’t start with any horrific act that affects me specifically. It’s a culmination of never-ending assaults and robberies on a community that just wants to be left in peace. Though, I suppose, if we want to put an exact moment it happens, it starts with morning coffee in my backyard. And the end? Well, I’m not entirely sure how this ends because somewhere along this journey, I found out my entire life was a lie. I found out there were darker things out there than drugs and gangs; things that weren’t supposed to exist.
I should probably start with the morning coffee and walk you through the rest. Maybe I should have had my coffee on the front deck instead of the back yard that day. Though, thinking about it now, I don’t think it would have made much of a difference. By this point, I was sick of it.
This story starts with a flowerpot and an abandoned house. And that flower pot? Yeah. Not even my flower pot; my neighbor’s.
It was a beautiful spring morning. The air was still chilly enough you needed a sweater on, but the coffee was hot and the steam from my cup helped warm my cold nose and fingers.
The sound of my neighbor’s back door slamming had me standing and walking over to our shared fence.
The moment she turned at the sound of her name, I could tell something was wrong. She was pissed.
“It’s gone. They fucking took it.” Her blue eyes were blazing. “I’ve had that flowerpot for two bloody days and it’s already gone.”
She nodded and got to work yanking some very persistent weeds out of her just-tilled garden. I almost felt sorry for the dandelion she was currently attacking. There was a lot of anger and frustration in those yanks. Not that I blamed her. That flowerpot had been awesome. Black with multi-colored lights that looked like running water spilling over like a fountain. It was gorgeous. And big. And heavy!
“How the hell did they get it off your deck?”
She shook her head violently.
“Did you phone it in?”
Again, a head shake. “What’s the use?”
I shrugged. I didn’t disagree with her. Once upon a time, as crime rates rose, a lot of the houses in Midtown had installed cameras to catch thieves and drug dealers in the act. A few years ago, the lowlifes had gone to war on the cameras, blacking out or breaking them at a faster rate than they could be cleaned or replaced. Most law-abiding citizens had given up, Dar and I included.
No cameras, no pictures, no suspects. Just another police report with a never solved ending.
“Did you check on any of the buy and sell pages online?”
She nodded and went on with her murderous weeding spree.
I went back to my lounge chair and leaned back into it with a frustrated sigh. Fucking Midtown. While we were at it, fuck the whole of Palbert City. The entire thing was filled with drugs and booze and all the shit shows that came with it. Of course, what else would you expect from a city that had one swimming pool, one movie theater, one bowling alley and 15 bars, lounges, and just as many cold beer and wine stores. There was nothing to do here BUT drink and party.
So why did I stay here if things were this bad? I blew a breath out of my nose. Because it was home and I’d be damned if the assholes were going to scare me off. I had worked hard to come up with a down payment for my little house and, damn it, I loved my little house.
“Buckbuck.” The little voice at my fence was barely audible, but Buck definitely heard one of his favorite little people.
“Maybe Buckbuck is inside sleeping, honey.”
“Hey, Janine! We’re back here.” I went to the gate and let them in.
“I’m sorry. He insisted on stopping to see Buck when we walked by. Jayjay, can you say hi Aveh?”
The two-year-old grinned at me. “Hi.” His attention went back to the dog who was loving the attention.
“It’s no bother. Buckbuck loves it. Do you want a coffee?”
She shook her head. “No. We’re going to finish up our walk and then it’s nap time. He didn’t have a great night last night.”
“The neighbors again?” I passed one of Buck’s balls to Jayjay so he could throw it.
She sighed, obviously exhausted. “Yeah. I put my name in to get into a little house a couple of blocks from here, but until it opens up, we’re stuck in that apartment building.”
Running a hand through her long black hair, she shrugged. It was what it was.
We watched as Jayjay and Buck played a few rounds of keep-away. The toddler’s laugh was infectious and I grinned.
Janine tugged on the toddler’s hand and managed to set him in the stroller with minimal struggling.
I smiled at Jayjay’s adorable way. “Have a good walk. And you, little man, you be good for your mom.”
She laughed. “I’ll let you know how that goes.”
Closing the gate behind them, I headed back into the house to warm up my coffee.
I’d like to say I was surprised when I spotted Dar’s flowerpot on one of the local buy and sell pages two days later, but I wasn’t. If something got stolen, it usually turned up there. Steal it, sell it, get enough money for their next fix, get messed up, and start the process all over again.
I sent the seller a message.
Is this still available?
I didn’t have to wait long.
Pick up only, cash only.
It works? I didn’t want to seem too eager.
Yeah. Do you want it or not?
The seller was obviously crashing and in need of his next fix. That, or he was truly a shitty salesperson. Or both. I was going to go with both.
I’ve got 30 bucks on me. I can be there right now.
Fine. He sent me an address.
He was definitely crashing. You didn’t try to sell something for a hundred and fifty bucks then accept thirty unless you were desperate.
Jumping into my truck, I headed the fifteen blocks to where Dar’s flowerpot was waiting for me. I pulled up to the boarded-up house that fit the address. Had it not been for the flowerpot sitting by the sidewalk, I would have driven right by. This house was supposed to be abandoned.
The cops had shut it down after a drug raid weeks earlier. Apparently, the rats had taken up residence once again. I stepped out of the truck and handed a skeletal man my thirty dollars. The wind shifted and I had to hold my breath as the stench came off him and assaulted my senses.
Two more men, neither of them in better shape than the first, came out and not so carefully chucked the pot into the back of my truck.
“You live around here?” one of them inquired.
I shook my head. “Nope. Just happened to come to town for some shopping.” Before anything else could be said, I got into my truck and drove away. Pulling into my backyard, I shut the two large gates and breathed a sigh of relief.
With a quick glance at the time, I pulled out my phone and dialed.
“Hey, gorgeous. How’s your day going?”
I grinned at the sound of Ben’s voice. “Did I wake you?” I could picture his dark blond hair sticking up like it did every time he woke up.
I heard him yawn and stretch and wished he was here instead of at his own place.
“Naw. I’ve been hitting snooze for the past half hour.”
“Do you have time for a breakfast/supper date?”
I checked my watch. His shift started at seven and it was five. “I’ll meet you at Danny’s in a half hour?”
Opening the tailgate on the truck, I couldn’t help but smile. Today was definitely turning out to be a good day.
I heard Dar open her back door to let the dog out.
“Hey! Dar! Look at what I found?” I laughed at the complete shock on her face as she peeked over the fence.
“Holy shit! Where?”
I unlocked the man gate so she could come into the yard. “One of the buy and sells. They were asking one fifty for it. Thankfully for us, he was crashing and needed a quick fix.”
“Just give me a sec, I’ve got that in my purse.”
I stopped her from walking away. “No. Absolutely not. Just call us even from when you rescued my moose ornament last Christmas.”
I had to gasp for breath once she finally released me from her hug.
Carefully, we managed to get the pot back into her yard.
“Maybe keep it back here for a bit. They asked if I was from around here. I told them I was from out of town, but you know.”
She nodded. “Absolutely. Hell, it’s staying back here until I can get Paul to rebar it into the ground.” She gave me another quick hug. “Thanks so much, Aveh.”
“Any time.” I checked my watch. “Shit. I’m going to be late. Mind getting my gates after I leave?”
“Sure thing.” She helped me swing them open and I watched in my rear view as she shut them again. One of my main worries when buying my own place had been what kind of neighbors I’d end up with. I’d gotten pretty damn lucky.
Ben was already sitting at a table when I finally got to the restaurant. He waved me over with a smile that melted my heart. Damn that man and his smile. He stood as I got to the table and gave me a quick kiss before sitting again.
The smell of body wash and shaving cream filled my nose. The last of the druggy stench vanished from my memory.
“How was your sleep?” I inquired as the waitress filled my cup with coffee. “Thanks Jean.”
She nodded and gave us a few minutes to look at the menu.
“Good. I’ll be glad when this shift is over so I can go back to sleeping at night like a regular human being.”
I didn’t know how he did it. Not the night shifts; I’d had the odd job that required shift work and night shifts were hard on the system, but doable. But being a cop in this city… There were days he’d come home completely worn out and discouraged. Just as quickly as they could arrest the criminals, the justice system was letting them back on the street with a slap on the wrist. It was no wonder crime was such an out in the open thing. Why be scared to get arrested when you knew you’d be free to do as you pleased in no time at all.
Common excuses? The jails were full. The system was overloaded. Somehow, the criminal’s rights had been violated. But what about the victim’s rights? Apparently, those didn’t matter.
I reached across the table and gave his hand a squeeze and his dark blue eyes met mine. “Come to my place when your shift is done. I’ll make you something good for supper/breakfast.”
Jean returned with her order pad.
“I’ll have the steak sandwich, rare, with fries and gravy.” I watched her scribble down the order then turn her attention to Ben.
“Steak and eggs, steak rare, eggs over easy, rye toast, and hashbrowns.”
I waited until she was out of earshot before giving him the good news about Dar’s flowerpot.
His brow furrowed. “Babe, I told you not to be doing shit like that. What if they’d decided the thirty wasn’t enough? What if they were still cracked out? You should have phoned it in.”
I shook my head. “It wouldn’t have done any good. Dar didn’t file a report. There’s nothing you guys could have done about it. Anyway, you know I can take care of myself.”
He grunted. “Your crazy MMA skills aren’t going to do you much good when they pull a gun.”
“You’re just still angry I got you to tap out the first time you met me at the gym.” I stuck my tongue out at him and he smirked before laughing.
“You’re tiny. I didn’t want to hurt you.”
Our laughter turned some heads in our direction and we quieted down.
“Anyway, you might want to drive by the gang house on tenth you shut down a couple weeks ago. That’s where they were holed up.”
“Fuck sakes. They should just have a demo crew follow us in and tear the fucking places down after we’ve cleared them.” He was always more emotional on his last night shift. He looked exhausted.
Our food arrived and we quickly finished up so he could get to the station on time for shift change.
Outside, I stood on my tiptoes so I could kiss him properly. His arms snaked around my waist and I sighed, perfectly content to just stay pressed against his chest.
“You should phone in sick.”
He scoffed. “You should have told me to do that two hours ago when you woke me up.”
“You wouldn’t have done it either way.”
He grinned and kissed me one last time before opening my truck door for me. “Last one. Then you have me to yourself for four days.”
“Fine.” I sat in the driver’s seat and rolled the window down once he’d shut the door. “Say hey to Trey for me. Be careful and stay safe.”
He grunted. “I should be saying that to you. At least when I hit up the criminals I have a vest and a gun. And back up.” He glanced at his watch. “OK. I have to go. Love you. I’ll see you in the morning.”
My heart warmed at his declaration. It was a new step between us and it still gave me butterflies to hear him say it. “Love you, too.”
My heart and stomach full, I headed home to let Buck out.