♦ ♦ ♦
Hawken Trent. So polite. So sweet. Such an upstanding young man.
A virgin, too, I hear. He never gets naughty with a girl. Probably because Jesus told him not to.
And now here he is, trying to be the hero by protecting another girl from me.
He calls me a bully. 𝘐𝘳𝘳𝘢𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯𝘢𝘭. 𝘜𝘯𝘳𝘦𝘢𝘴𝘰𝘯𝘢𝘣𝘭𝘦. 𝘈 𝘤𝘳𝘪𝘮𝘪𝘯𝘢𝘭. He can call me anything he wants, I’ve heard worse.
And he can try to stand between me and my money, but he’s never had to fight for food. That rich, clean, school boy doesn’t have what it takes.
I surprised her. You should’ve seen her face.
𝘑𝘶𝘴𝘵 𝘣𝘦𝘤𝘢𝘶𝘴𝘦 𝘐 𝘥𝘰𝘯’𝘵 𝘩𝘢𝘷𝘦 𝘢 𝘳𝘦𝘤𝘰𝘳𝘥, 𝘩𝘰𝘯𝘦𝘺, 𝘥𝘰𝘦𝘴𝘯’𝘵 𝘮𝘦𝘢𝘯 𝘐’𝘮 𝘤𝘭𝘦𝘢𝘯. 𝘐𝘵 𝘫𝘶𝘴𝘵 𝘮𝘦𝘢𝘯𝘴 𝘐’𝘮 𝘣𝘦𝘵𝘵𝘦𝘳 𝘢𝘵 𝘯𝘰𝘵 𝘨𝘦𝘵𝘵𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘤𝘢𝘶𝘨𝘩𝘵.
That is until I realize I 𝘮𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵’𝘷𝘦 actually gone too far this time.
She’s there. I’m there. The scene of the crime.
It’s dark. The police show up.
We have no choice. We run. Down High Street, into Quinn’s bake shop, and I pull her through the entrance to the old speakeasy that everyone forgot was here decades ago.
The door locks, the cops circle the building, never knowing we’re right here, and I’m hidden in plain sight, indefinitely, with someone who’s awful.
𝘔𝘦𝘢𝘯. 𝘙𝘰𝘶𝘨𝘩. 𝘋𝘪𝘳𝘵𝘺.
A thief. A delinquent.
Until one night, lost in all of these rooms together, I don’t see any of those things anymore.
She’s smart. Daring. Soft.
Everything’s changing. It’s this place. It does something to people.
We have a silly urban legend in Shelburne Falls about mirrors. They’re a gateway. Don’t lean back into them.
But we came through front first.
I don’t care what the county records say. This was never a speakeasy.
It’s Carnival Tower.
*𝐹𝐴𝐿𝐿𝑆 𝐵𝑂𝑌𝑆 𝑖𝑠 𝑎 𝑠𝑡𝑎𝑛𝑑𝑎𝑙𝑜𝑛𝑒, 𝑛𝑒𝑤 𝑎𝑑𝑢𝑙𝑡 𝑟𝑜𝑚𝑎𝑛𝑐𝑒 𝑠𝑢𝑖𝑡𝑎𝑏𝑙𝑒 𝑓𝑜𝑟 𝑟𝑒𝑎𝑑𝑒𝑟𝑠 18+. 𝐼𝑡 𝑐𝑜𝑛𝑡𝑎𝑖𝑛𝑠 ℎ𝑎𝑟𝑠ℎ 𝑙𝑎𝑛𝑔𝑢𝑎𝑔𝑒, 𝑣𝑖𝑜𝑙𝑒𝑛𝑐𝑒, 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑠𝑒𝑥𝑢𝑎𝑙 𝑠𝑖𝑡𝑢𝑎𝑡𝑖𝑜𝑛𝑠. 𝑅𝑒𝑎𝑑𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝐹𝑎𝑙𝑙 𝐴𝑤𝑎𝑦 𝑠𝑒𝑟𝑖𝑒𝑠 𝑝𝑟𝑖𝑜𝑟 𝑡𝑜 𝑡ℎ𝑖𝑠 𝑖𝑠 ℎ𝑒𝑙𝑝𝑓𝑢𝑙, 𝑏𝑢𝑡 𝑛𝑜𝑡 𝑛𝑒𝑐𝑒𝑠𝑠𝑎𝑟𝑦.
♦ ♦ ♦
♦ ♦ ♦
We sit in silence, me forcing my eyes closed when I really just want to watch the door of the garage. He taps away on his phone before turning on the music.
But after a few, he’s antsy. “This doesn’t feel right,” he murmurs.
“It’s only been three minutes.”
“We shouldn’t have sent her in there,” he tells me. “Another fucking mistake. All I’m doing is making mistakes.”
I open my eyes, staring ahead at the garage down the street. “I’m going to remind you one last time before I beat it into you,” I grit out and then look at him. “No one needs you. Reaction is still action, and you broke the law too. Don’t put this all on me. I’ll use you like you’re using me, but make no mistake, I’d get it done without you.”
“You’d be in jail already or dead if I didn’t show up last night,” he says, looking down at me.
I just snicker. “This isn’t my first adventure, Pirate. I got along before you, and I’d still be kicking the shit out of your friends right now if you hadn’t come along and stuck your goddamn nose into everyone else’s business, like I’m quite sure you have a habit of doing because you’re a control freak who needs to insert himself to feel superior.”
He just laughs, shaking his head. “This conversation is tedious.”
I tip my head back, staring up through the sunroof as I mock back. “This conversation is tedious.”
“Stop acting like a child,” he growls. “And I’m not a control freak.”
I turn my head, gazing over at him. “You watch everyone in town. Like God.”
He can’t argue that, can he?
“Do you get hard when you do it?” I ask.
He goes still.
“Knowing where everyone is at any moment?” I go on. “Who’s skipping classes? Which spouses are cheating? Who stopped off at a liquor store, three sheets to the wind, before climbing behind the wheel of a car? Having the power to ruin a life whenever you want?”
He’s clearly smart if he knows how to gain access to that surveillance, but it’s still not clear what he’s doing with it. Or with that place. I searched the rooms. There’s only one bedroom with clothes, personal items, and a bed that looks like it’s been slept in. He’s not sharing the hideout. He stays there alone.
“I wouldn’t blame you,” I admit. “It would feel good to have some power like that. But don’t worry. I know it doesn’t turn you on.” I lay my head back again and close my eyes. “That’s not why you do it.”
It takes him a few moments, but eventually he speaks. “Why do I do it?” His voice is soft, like it was last night when he patched me up.
I smile, not sure I’m ready to play that card yet. Or that he’s ready to hear it.
When I don’t answer, he exhales hard and then I hear him open his door. “She hasn’t texted,” he says. “She’s supposed to text every five minutes.”
I open my eyes, immediately spotting something ahead.
“I’m going in there.” He starts to climb out of the car.
I grab his arm. “Wait.”
He looks back at me, but I’m looking out the front windshield. “There she is,” I tell him, sitting up.
She taps away on her phone, looking at ease like I told her to, and then she passes Hawke and climbs into the backseat.
“What’s the matter?” I ask her.
“Are you okay?” Hawke slams the door and turns in his seat, looking back at her.
She just nods, pulling on her seatbelt. “Yeah. It’s done.”
He and I exchange a look.
“Already?” I blurt out. “I told you to take your time. To relax. To blend in.”
“Are you sure no one saw you?” he questions.
She just laughs under her breath. “Most people don’t.”
We both stare at her, but I glance behind me to make sure no one’s following her. Hawke turns and loads the camera onto his laptop.
“Don’t worry,” she tells me, relaxed. “We’re good.”
But I’m still on the fence, looking behind me once again for any sign that she was followed. Just walking in and out like that is suspicious.
But then Hawke just laughs. “Well, shit.”
I follow his gaze, seeing the workroom appear on his screen, the camera positioned just like we told her. Two guys play pool, but the flood of activity that usually happens at night has quieted. It’s a pretty clear picture. I look up at Hawke. Where else does he have his own hidden cameras posted? I would post them everywhere. This is kind of fun.
Tommy clears her throat. “You’re welcome,” she sing-songs.
I smile, and Hawke flashes her a warm look in the rearview mirror. “Thanks, Dietrich.”
If that was this easy, we might use her again. One camera might not be enough.
“So, what do I get?” she chirps, doing an excited little bounce in her seat.
Hawke meets her eyes again, like he hadn’t expected her to demand anything other than the pleasure of hanging out with him today.
She looks at me. “I mean, I should get paid, right?”
“Yep.” I cast a look at Hawke.
Like the Joker said, if you’re good at something, never do it for free.
She grins, gazing at Hawke again. “I want to go to the Loop.”
♦ ♦ ♦
Penelope Douglas is a New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal bestselling author. Her books have been translated into fifteen languages and include The Fall Away Series, The Devil’s Night Series, and the stand-alones, Misconduct, Punk 57, Birthday Girl, and Credence. Please look for Tryst Six Venom and Motel, as well as the Hellbent series, coming next!
She lives in Las Vegas with her husband and their daughter.
♦ ♦ ♦