Release date: June 30, 2016. Read the Prologue HERE. I hope you enjoy the first chapter. I will be releasing a chapter each day until release, so check back for the next installment. And of course, feel free to pre-order the book on amazon!
(Content warning: contains graphic language and situations, may be triggering for some.)
Three years later…
Dez swallowed two pills, washing them back with ice cold water from the fountain outside the break room, then headed back to the floor. Polished concrete and orange signs assaulted the eyes, but the smell of wood was worth it. Just a couple more hours and she’d be off work.
Turning into her aisle, she saw a pair of low-slung jeans and a nicely stretched t-shirt under a swath of ginger hair. The man scratched at his jaw absentmindedly, his eyes locked on the spools of cable before him. For a moment, she thought about pretending he didn’t exist, but she needed the job too bad.
“Can I help you find something?”
He turned casually as if he expected her to do his bidding. “I’m setting up a network. Need to hook up twenty-four computers.”
Dez grunted, shoving out her lower lip while she thought. Damn, she felt all blurry around the edges. “What kinda data you running? I mean, if it’s typical office work, that’s one thing, but if you’re running tech support or, god forbid, coding, you’ll be cussing at me in a week.”
His silver eyes finally saw her, looking past the lean frame and hints of tattoos at her collar. He looked at her, seeing more than the shell she wore on the outside, then his eyes dropped, leaving an oily film in her mind. He paused at the name tag on her orange apron.
“Candice?” he asked. “Well, can you tell me where I can find someone capable of setting this up on a budget?” Why did he look familiar?
“Sure.” She plastered on a synthetic smile and gestured for him to follow, not waiting for him to get close. “We have a list of contractors at the front desk.”
He jogged a few steps to fall in at her side. Only then did she realize just how tall he was. At least six foot three. Dez took a slow breath and moved over just a bit, feeling her heart rate increase at the proximity. Thankfully, the Vicodin was starting to kick in. She’d be fine in a minute. Just act normal and he wouldn’t notice.
“Any of these guys good?” he asked.
A wry chuckle slipped out. It was just one, and almost under her breath, but he heard. “They do exactly what you pay them to. It’s called a budget.”
The fire god slowed, reaching out for her arm, and Dez jerked back in a panic. “Sorry,” he said gently, giving her space. “Look, I need this to be stable. I’m rebuilding an old warehouse into our development center. We’ve got six months, and I need everyone in one place so we can get the program working.”
He looked serious. He also looked a little worried. What he didn’t realize was that he’d just spoken her language. She smiled but kept herself well out of his reach. “Yeah, I know a guy. Sounds like you’re trying to break into the game or social media markets.” She started walking again, not waiting to see if he’d follow.
“Something like that,” he mumbled, trailing after her obediently.
She hated having people behind her, but it was better than when they touched her. She couldn’t do touching. Not like the rest of the world really cared. Shaking hands, hugs, a friendly pat on the back – people did it all the time and never thought about it. But for the last three years, Dez couldn’t take it. The only way she made it through the day was if she got high enough to forget. Unfortunately, that also meant high enough that she could barely keep a job.
By the time she reached the front desk, she was feeling it: that warm embrace just under her skin and the cotton wallowing in the back of her head. She could do this. Just a few more hours, then she could bail on this shit job and get home to get high.
“LeAnne? You got a card for Ian Black?” she asked the woman behind the computer.
The lady lifted her head, barely able to conceal her disgust. “He’s not on the list, Dez.”
Dez shrugged. “Customer needs technical wiring, not home renovations. Unless you know someone else?”
“We’re not supposed to give out cards for contractors that aren’t certified with the company.”
The man had moved beside her, his elbows leaning against the counter as he followed the exchange, but his eyes were on Dez’s neck. She shifted away from him and he lifted his head, moving a step in the opposite direction, the corner of his mouth twisting higher.
“Nice tattoo,” he said.
She ignored it. Fucking idiot probably couldn’t read it anyway. “Look. I can just give out his number, but figured I’d try to play by the rules.” Leaning over the counter, she grabbed a pen and a slip of paper meant for writing down product codes.
The reach exposed another set of ink across her lower back. She knew the bastard beside her was looking, and she wanted to jam the pen into his eyes. Instead, she just took a deep breath and reached back to pull down her shirt. Scribbling quickly, she wrote down the number of the best network guy she knew. He handled everything from office installation and design to software. Hopefully, the asshole checking out her ass would appreciate it. She knew Ian would.
“This guy can set you up. Tell him I sent you.”
The customer tapped the desk, indicating he had no intention of taking the paper from her hand. “Chance, by the way.”
Ice washed over her body. It wasn’t possible. “Chance Hunter?” she asked.
His eyes closed in a slow blink and his shoulders dropped ever so slightly. It was definitely him. What the hell was he doing here? Shouldn’t he be in Texas or California?
“Yeah, Ian can help ya. Tell him Dez sent you.”
“Yeah, he knows me. Good luck with Silk. You’re gonna fucking need it.”
“Hey!” LeAnne snapped. “Language!”
“Yeah, sorry.” She tossed the pen across the desk and headed back into the store, writing off the rich geek and his project with each step. There was no way he’d recognize her.
Hour and a half, that’s all she needed. Pulling the bottle from her pocket, she scooped out two more pills, palming them as she hid the bottle again. Her eyes scanned the people wandering aimlessly through the hardware store, waiting for the chance to suck them back where she wouldn’t get caught. Turning into the plumbing aisle, she got it so tossed them into her mouth, chewing once before she swallowed them dry. That would make the time go faster.
The shrinks said she was fine. They thought she was trying to play the system. They told her that if she wanted to get back into society, she had to make an effort. What they couldn’t understand was that she didn’t want back in society. She wanted to stay far away from it. She didn’t want to be around any more people!
Until the drugs kicked in, Dez busied herself with straightening the shelves and restocking the bins. That was easy enough. She kept asking to be transferred to nights, where she could spend her time working with boxes, but they didn’t believe she could lift the merchandise. Five foot, four inches, and maybe a hundred and ten pounds, what they couldn’t wrap their mind around was that she could do anything it took to stay far away from another living soul.
Somehow, she managed to survive another day at work. Martin eventually showed up, waving at her from a distance to let her know she could clock out. Dez peeled off the orange apron and headed up the stairs to the break room as fast as she could without drawing attention. Tossing the piece of crap in her locker, she tapped her code into the time management system and saw the confirmation slide across in blue LED, then turned to leave just as LeAnne sauntered up the stairs.
The middle-aged woman looked her over and shook her head. “Are you high?”
“Nope. I’m also off the clock. Have a nice evening.”
Ducking around the woman, Dez tried to make for the stairs, but the bitch grabbed her. Fleshy fingers dug into the lean muscle of her arm, trapping her, pinning her, choking the breath from her lungs. The panic took hold and Dez jerked away, gasping through her clenched jaw, doing her best not to scream.
“John! The freak’s high again!”
A metal door on the far side of the room opened, and the store manager stuck his head out. “Dez. In here. Now.”
She groaned but obeyed. John stood in the opening, nearly blocking her access. She convinced herself to slide past him, leaning away so they didn’t touch, then took the chair before the desk. He said nothing until he was on the other side.
“Look at me.”
She did, knowing her eyes were probably glazed and her pupils completely dilated. “It’s called a panic attack, John. I explained when you hired me that I don’t do touching.”
He steepled his fingers, his elbows propped on the desk, and nodded slowly. “Right. This is the fifth complaint I’ve had from your co-workers. They say you appear to be stoned more often than not. Are you willing to take a drug test, Dez?”
“Yeah. You know I’m on a prescription, right?”
He folded his arms and leaned closer. “You have proof of that?”
No, but she could make it pretty damned easy. “Yeah. I also told you about that when I was hired. Vicodin for anxiety and pain.”
“Mhm. And can you tell me what caused this reoccurring problem?”
Dez leaned back in her chair. She knew where this was going. “No. I’m not required by law to do that, sir.”
“And yet it seems to be hindering your performance. You’re not rated as disabled – either mentally or physically – so why should I make all these special arrangements for you?”
“Cuz you’re cool?” She shrugged, hoping he’d prove her right.
John just shook his head. “You’re giving out contractor referrals for people who have not met the company standards. You’re high more often than not. You can’t get along with any of your co-workers, and you’ve only been working here two months. Why should I keep paying you?”
“Because I know twice as much as anyone else you have.”
“You’re so full of shit.” He yanked open the top drawer of his desk, rifling through papers. When he looked at her again, she could see it in his eyes. He grabbed a packet and dropped it before him, reaching for a pen.
Dez sighed. “Yeah, just tell me where to sign and you can fill it out later. I get it. You’re fired, thank you for your service, and such.”
He flipped to the last page and made an X, then slid the whole thing toward her. “You’re not nearly as hot shit as you think, Destiny.”
She scrawled her name and pushed it back, then stormed out of the office. She hadn’t liked the place anyway. That’s what she told herself as she jogged down the stairs, pretending that everything was normal. She certainly didn’t want anyone to offer her sympathy.
She couldn’t take sympathy. Their big eyes and sad stares were always hollow. They wanted to make themselves feel better, not her. People were only happy when they were judging others. The only way they could feel good was to convince themselves that everyone else was an even bigger piece of shit.
She shoved through the sliding glass doors and turned right. She’d made rent, at least. She also had enough to buy more Vicodin. Maybe she’d even splurge and get a bottle of whiskey. Hit that hard enough, and she might pass out and never wake up. Now that would be the perfect ending to the day. She’d probably have to take the whole bottle – of both – but damn. That sounded like a plan.
Her feet carried her down the side of California Drive, skirting the precarious edge between traffic and the parking lots. When she passed the mechanic shop – which only barely qualified on this side of town, being closer to a chop shop – the guys whistled and called obscenities to her in either Spanish or Italian. Dez rolled her eyes and raised her middle finger but kept going.
She needed a damned job. The problem was that in order to get one, she needed to get clean, and if she was sober, she couldn’t function at all. It was a catch twenty-two. For a moment, she wondered where that phrase came from, then turned her mind back to the whiskey. A big handful of pills and a bottle should do it. She could find a nice field somewhere, lie out in the middle, and watch the birds. By the time she started puking, there’d be no one around to make sure she didn’t choke. Not the prettiest, but it would do.
She was so engrossed in her fantasy that she didn’t immediately notice the dark SUV pull into the drive before her and stop. When she got closer, it still didn’t move. Whoever was behind the wheel was looking right at her, almost like he was waiting for her. Dez paused, checking behind her. When she looked back, the window slowly rolled down.
“Need a ride?” It was the redheaded guy from earlier. Was he following her? What would he want with her?
She pointed to a neighborhood just behind the business district. “Nope, almost home.”
He leaned across the passenger seat. “Are you high?”
“As a fucking kite,” she agreed, “and still not dumb enough to climb into your truck. Go fuck yourself or something.”
He was supposed to flip her off and leave, but this guy was not playing by the rules. He put the truck in park and climbed out, moving around it to lean against the passenger side, crossing his arms and legs. The way he looked at her was like he knew her. There was no fucking way. First off, he wouldn’t remember someone like her, and secondly, her own mother didn’t recognize her. So what the fuck did he want?
“I called your guy.”
“Yeah? Ian’s the best.” Dez leaned against the chain link security fence beside her, shoving her short hair out of her face. She couldn’t do a stand-off. She was too fucking high. “He’ll make sure you can get a network that will get Silk off the ground.”
“He said to hire you.”
God, how many pills had she taken? Two before work. Two when she got in. Two more on her break, then another pair when this asshole tried to touch her. Fuck, no wonder she couldn’t think straight. This was making no sense. Ian told him to hire her for a network? Ian knew she didn’t do networks anymore. She didn’t do games. She was done.
“Yeah, you don’t want to hire me.” She laughed and slid down the fence until she was sitting. “Now get your fancy ass back in your truck and go back to work. You’ve got six months to get that shit on the shelves. Your market demands it.”
“Get in the fucking truck or I’m going to come over there and grab you.”
Dez just raised her middle finger.
Chance took a deep breath and moved toward her. She braced for his touch, but once again he shocked her. He dropped to the ground beside her and leaned back against the fence, his hands clasped before him. Down the inside of his right arm was a long scar. Even in her hazed state she could see it clearly.
“Ian said he can get the supplies in my price range, but he’s booked. He also mentioned that the best person for the job was working at Home Depot. I’d know her by the tattoo that said, ‘Byte Me.’ If I could read it, you might even take the job.”
He chuckled, but it sounded worried. “I just bought this fucked up building. It’s half warehouse, half hotel. I’ll give you a place to sleep and money for food. You get the damned network running and set the place up for the developers to come work. We can’t keep doing this over the cloud.”
She smiled and leaned back, closing her eyes. “I’m fucking high. You know that, right?”
“Kinda hard to miss, kid. I won’t touch you, I won’t set hours. I’ll give you two weeks to wire it, and two weeks to get the system up and running. If you can do that, I’ll give you a ten thousand dollar bonus.”
She shook her head. “Don’t want the money.” She took a breath, feeling the weight of her problems pressing against her tear ducts. “I just want a job where I don’t have to touch anyone.”
“Why?” His voice was kind.
She smiled. “Tried it, don’t really like it that much.”
“Good enough for me. One favor, though?”
“Get in the fucking truck before some gang banger comes by and shoots us? Come see the site, let me know what you think.”
Dez drug her hands down her face then looked over at him. Chance looked back, waiting for her answer. “I’m fucking high and a basket case, and you still want me to put your network together?”
“Ian gave me your name. I know how to Google. The only thing I want to know is why you fell off the radar?”
She pushed herself to her feet then dusted off her ass. “I got high.” Without looking back, she headed for the passenger side of the truck.
Behind her, Chance chuckled. “Bullshit.”
Dez buckled herself in and grabbed his phone from the cup holder between them, not even bothering to ask. Chance just looked at her and put the truck in gear, making a lap through the parking lot before pulling out. Neither one spoke.
He’d said he Googled her. Well, the problem of being broke was that she didn’t really have a lot of access to the internet anymore. That and her laptop was almost three years old. It was good enough, but just for older generation games. That was about it. What she wanted to know was what information her name still had on the world wide web.
Thankfully, not much. She was still listed as the brains behind the innovative network and community manager for FoxFlight, and she had a minor credit in two other games, but thankfully neither listed why. Unless Chance called the developers, he’d never find out, and by now the team had probably all been reassigned. She smiled and flipped to the next page. Her old blog was still up, even though the last entry wasn’t made by her.
Unfortunately, that link also appeared to have been read. She flicked her eyes at the driver then tapped on it. She’d never seen what her mother had written. It took a moment to load, then the screen was filled with a wall of text. No images, no formatting. It was obvious that this post had been made by a novice.
Thank you to all of Destiny’s fans for their support of her enthusiasm for video games. We’re sorry to announce that the blog will no longer be updated. After multiple harassing and threatening messages, for her safety and welfare, she will no longer be in the public eye.
This has been a hard decision for Destiny, but we all feel it is for the best. She is a brilliant young lady with many opportunities ahead of her. When she first sat down in front of a computer at the age of eight, we never knew that she had found her first love. She learned to type, program, and manage her own hardware before she could drive a car. Before she even graduated high school, Destiny was making a name for herself with her critiques of games and her natural command of the systems required to make them better.
But all good things must end. Some might say it’s Destiny.
“Damn,” she mumbled. “That’s a shitty entry.”
Chance nodded slowly. “So you didn’t write it, huh?”
“Nah. That was Mom, back when she still talked to me. Guess she never got over it.”
He looked over quickly before turning back to the road. They were at the edge of town, heading into the country. “You getting out of the scene?”
“No.” She closed the browser and returned his phone to the cup holder. “That not all demons are made of pixels.”
“Gonna tell me what happened?”
She shifted in the chair so she could face him. “Gonna buy me a bottle of whiskey?”
“What are you on?”
He nodded slowly. “Keep your secrets.”