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.)
Chance left, not even giving her an idea of when he’d be back. It was just her and a massively large, empty warehouse. Of all the places he left her, it had to be a fucking warehouse! Her skin shivered with the thought. At least this one was different. It was well lit and the debris inside was mostly crumbling building materials, not the signs of other humans.
The first thing she’d do is have a shower. Not like it was hard to find the bedroom. Off the living room was a side door with weights visible through it. The only other option was the short hallway. Dez followed it into a large room made for a man. Decorated in soft blues and browns, it proved that Chance either had good taste or he paid someone to have it. Maybe he even had a washer and dryer she could borrow. The idea of having truly clean clothes was enough to convince her to start snooping.
The apartment wasn’t small. It was long and narrow, the rooms set up a bit awkwardly because of the shape of the space, but it felt like a home. It felt lived in and unprotected in the same way her mom’s house always had. She couldn’t help but notice the art on the walls. Much of it was concept art for games. The few pieces that weren’t easily recognizable had the same feel as what she remembered of Silk.
She found the washer tucked behind a pair of folding doors. With a plan in place, she decided to rummage through his drawers. There, she learned that his tastes were completely unsophisticated. T-shirts and jeans were the obvious favorites. She found gym clothes and claimed a tank and pants with a real drawstring. Those would do while her own clothes washed.
Then she stepped into the bathroom. It was massive: two sinks, a tub that looked like it could hold at least four, and the most amazing shower. Thick frosted glass surrounded a tiled box. The colors were cool and reminded her of an ocean, but tasteful. Dez made sure to lock the door, then stripped before turning on the water, thankful to see that the pressure was fantastic. It had been way too long since she’d had a really good shower. Truck stops and parks just never cared if the water did more than trickle.
This one made getting clean into a luxury. Dez scrubbed her entire body twice and liberally used his shampoo. It smelled like a man, but she didn’t care. He had no conditioner, but her hair wasn’t long enough to need it. She did borrow the razor. When she finished, she felt like a real person. She almost felt like a girl again, but she could ignore that. She wasn’t going for pretty; she was going for clean.
Damp, she pulled on his clothes, picked up her mess so that it would be hard to tell she’d been there, then hung the towel back where she’d found it. He had said to borrow what she needed, and she was going to take him at his word. If he didn’t mean it, he shouldn’t say it. Dez was sick and tired of empty promises. He’d either fire her and kick her ass out, or figure out that what he saw was all he was going to fucking get, and it wasn’t necessarily a fairy tale.
Then she tossed her own clothes into the washer. Even his damned laundry detergent smelled good. Maybe that had something to do with Chance’s sex appeal? He was seriously hot, and his red hair helped instead of hurt. If she had to live with someone, she might as well enjoy the view, right? Hopefully, he’d figure out real fast that no touching meant exactly that. She sure wasn’t about to fuck him.
The sun was setting, but there was still no sign of Chance. As the air outside cooled, the building began to settle, and alone, the sound was creepy. The apartment was cozy, but just outside that door was a taste of hell. She looked through the living room window – the one that looked into the main room below – and saw nothing but a mess. It wasn’t dark, dank, or cloying. It was just a large room that would soon be a development center. It was her own nightmare waiting to become her dream.
She was tired of being scared all the time. It was just a damned building, and it hadn’t hurt her. It was a thing, and things could be changed. It was also a thing that she had complete control over. She took one deep breath, then Dez left the apartment. Her feet echoed on the stairs, the walls sending the sound back, but she could do this.
Tucked in the corner was a large shop vac. Two brooms, one large and the other smaller, leaned against a garbage bin. A roll of plastic bags lay on the floor beside it. He needed an area to work, and she needed to do this. She was going to make this building her bitch.
That’s how it started. She just wanted to stop feeling nervous about the fact that her new home was a warehouse, but it quickly became more. As the debris vanished, the potential for office space appeared. With a little searching, she found more cleaning supplies and claimed them all. The old desks weren’t bad. They were simple. The style was a bit outdated, but developers were men who wouldn’t care. Functionality was all that mattered. Section by section, she cleaned, moved furniture, then cleaned some more.
It had gotten dark hours ago, but she loved the night. It was when the peace came, so long as she wasn’t sleeping. Dez moved to the next section, a dark, secluded corner between the back exit and the apartments that was tucked nicely under Chance’s second-floor apartment. Unlike the main room, this spot was cozy and sheltered. She felt drawn to it like a wolf to a den.
And the massive L-shaped desk pressed against the wall would be perfect. She tugged at it, sliding it out to reach the junk beneath it, and heard a crash from around the corner. Her heart hung, and she froze, waiting for it to beat again. Someone was in the building. A moment later, there was a second bang. It was heavy, whatever made that sound. Was the exit door beside her unlocked? Would there be more people outside? Slowly, she stepped in that direction, praying she wouldn’t draw attention.
A form loomed at the corner, large, bulky, and just there. Her feet moved before her mind could catch up. Dez spun, a shriek the punctuation to her exit, running as hard as she could. Outside, she had to get outside! She had to get away from the men in the warehouse. She couldn’t let them touch her, not again, oh god, they couldn’t touch her again.
The voice registered in her mind, but she had to go. Hitting the emergency exit hard, she just kept going. Across the concrete, over the gravel, into the grass beyond, she ran and ran fast. It was too open. There was no place to hide. But she couldn’t just run blindly. When Dez turned to look behind her, she saw nothing.
With heaving breaths, she slowed and bent over her knees. Her lungs gasped like a fish, seeking oxygen in a world that didn’t want to give it, but she tried. She tried so hard, looking for any signs of pursuit. Then the lights over the loading bays came on. A moment later, a man with flaming red hair stepped into view.
“Dez,” he called. “You staying out there or coming back in?”
“Staying here for a minute, k, thanks.”
She heard his laugh, but it was impressed, not snide. “Mind if I join you?”
“Do I get a choice?”
“Yeah, kid. You do. Didn’t know you were a sprinter, but I swear I don’t need a second performance to believe it.”
Fuck. Chance wasn’t going to just pretend like he hadn’t seen that. “Might as well c’mon.”
She dropped into the grass. If she was sitting, she wouldn’t take off like that again. Damn, why did he have to pay attention to all of her issues? This was why she didn’t have friends. Partly because her pride couldn’t take the repeated blows, and partly because no one wanted to hang out with a fruit loop. First day at work and her new boss now understood just how nutso she really was.
He crossed the distance slowly, something large in his arms. With the light behind him, she couldn’t make it out, but she knew it was Chance. She’d seen his hair, heard his voice, so the silhouette walking at her was fine. He was safe. He wasn’t about to risk Silk just to make an example out of her. She tried to convince herself to believe that, and while her mind did, her heart just wouldn’t cooperate. Alternating between aching pauses and quick sprints, if it didn’t start behaving, she’d end up passing out.
He stopped well out of reach. “Catch this.”
He tossed the object at her. It was light and hung in the air for a moment, then flopped into her lap. Soft, dense fur met her fingers. Beneath that was pliable foam. In the dim glow of moonlight, Dez realized the thing in her hands was the most disgusting-looking stuffed animal she’d ever seen. Sickly grey, its face was smushed and evil, the eyes like dead black coals, with withered wings attached to its back.
“A gargoyle?” she asked, looking up.
“Yeah. To chase away the evil that haunts this place. Can I sit?”
“In the grass?”
He chuckled softly. “I like the grass. Hell, I love how open it is out here. You can see for miles, so you always know what’s coming. I’ll go in if you want, but figured you might like the back-up.” He gestured to the gargoyle.
She felt her shoulders relax and her heart picked a rhythm. It was still too fast, but at least the darkness would hide the blood filling up her face. “Nah, I’ll share the grass.”
He moved beside her but kept a healthy distance, then sat, his legs bent before him. Where she faced the building, he faced the pasture behind them. “You ok? I didn’t mean to walk up on you like that.”
“Oh, peachy. It was just time for my evening run.”
She licked her lips as she pulled in a deep breath through her nose. “I’ll keep the lights on next time. Won’t happen again, boss.”
“You know,” he said softly, “you don’t have to pretend to be ok, Dez. I’m not going to fire you. Fuck, it’s not like I’m really paying you.”
Turning the gargoyle in her lap, she ran her hands through the soft fur, refusing to look at him. “I’ll get the network going. You don’t have to be nice to me.”
Chance groaned softly. “Because you were nice to me? I dunno. Because it’s a new thing I want to try.” He picked at a blade of grass. “Because I’m a guy and we’re kinda wired to be?”
“Why me?” She wanted to look, to see if he was honest, but if she did, she might end up bawling, and she was done with all that.
Slowly, meticulously, he split the blade of grass down the middle. “Because you’re a part of the team and that means you’re one of us. What happened, Dez?”
“I’m not that high.”
“Didn’t ask if you were. I asked what happened. Who found you?”
“People who didn’t like what I was saying. They convinced me that the scene would be better if I kept my nose out of it.” She laughed once, forcing the sound out. “Evidently they didn’t want dental floss armor to become endangered.”
Her eyes stung just thinking about it. Taking a deep breath, she leaned back, but it didn’t help. She took another breath, but her nose was already trying to run. With a sniff, she tried again.
“He’s washable,” Chance said softly. “I’ll watch this side if you need to close your eyes for a second.”
“I don’t fucking cry,” she mumbled, but her own voice was betraying her.
He nodded slowly. “Nah, I gotcha. It’s spring, though, and sometimes those allergies are a killer.”
The first tear leaked out. It was always the first one that caused the problem, because after that, the rest knew which way to go. One after the other they pushed at her eyes, stampeding down her cheeks until she had to gasp to try to stop them. She should have known better. That always made it worse. With only one option left, she took it, burying her face into the grey pelt to hide her own shame.
“I’m not crying.”
He said nothing for a minute. When he spoke, his voice trembled. “Me either, kid. Tough guys like us, we don’t do that shit.”
“I know, right?” She hugged her new toy close. “Why aren’t you crying?”
“It’s stupid. Just forget it.”
“Yeah, I can do that.” Dragging her arm across her nose left it wet, so she wiped it on the leg of her pants. “I don’t fucking need pity. You know that, right?”
“Pretty sure I got that.” He took a deep breath. “Just kinda nice to not be alone.”
“There’s always people here.”
This time, he huffed out the ironic laugh. “Wrong alone.”
“I gotcha.” She did. She knew exactly what he meant. Being near other people didn’t mean she was any less alone, but having Chance give his strange, twisted comfort? It helped. It was like a hug masquerading as a stuffed toy clutched against her chest. “Truce?”
“Yeah. Dez, I got plenty of shit, just like you. I’m not gonna judge.” He turned to look at her, proving that his own eyes were glassy in the darkness. “It’s just kinda nice to have someone around to take care of.”
“I don’t need your help.”
He smiled. “You kinda do. I also need yours. Truce. I won’t fight you if you don’t fight me. Maybe we can even try the whole friends thing? You know, like having someone around to talk to?”
“Because you’re the only person I’ve ever met that’s more fucked up than me. Because we talk the same language.” He flopped back on the grass and looked up at the stars. “Because this shit fucking world keeps trying to rip me apart and make me dissolve into nothing, and I’ve never met anyone else who can understand the way I have to fight that every single fucking day. Except you.”
“I’m not like some sweet little girl that’s gonna end up sucking your dick. Being all poetic doesn’t get me off, Chance. I just wanna fucking get high.”
“Then get high. You can be the tough one. I’ll be the sensitive one. See, I kinda like poetry. I think it exists in everything, even the way you try so damned hard to be a bitch but really aren’t.”
“What does my attitude have to do with poetry?”
He smiled, perfectly straight teeth easily visible. “It’s like some heroine from a game. Tragic past, tough attitude, but a heart of gold. Like an epic ballad where she beats the shit out of her demons, wins the castle, and reigns victorious in the end.”
“That’s how all games end. Do I at least get plate mail?”
“Nah. That’s noob armor. We’ll get you some body-covering leather that is so tight it might as well be skin, except for the low-cut front that exposes your chest all the way to your belly button. You know, so everyone can see the tattoos.”
“Dick.” She didn’t mean it and knew he could tell.
Chance grabbed another blade of grass and twirled it in front of his face. “Figure we’ll make all the companion characters around you men. Super sexy ones, like me. Then we’ll dress them in flimsy strips of leather and have their dick and balls held in a tiny little pouch that proves they have nothing down there.”
“Nice asses, though, hanging out in the open,” she added.
“Oh yeah. And big smooth chests. And thigh high boots – because that always makes sense.”
“Long gloves too. What the fuck is it about the gloves and boots with a bare body?” She leaned back to join him. They were close enough to touch, but just barely.
“It’s sexy. Look at lingerie. Little panties, tiny bra, but thigh-high stockings. Medievalize that, and you get fantasy armor. Guy looks at that shit and starts thinking about how he could slip a finger under one of those straps.”
She shuddered. “No thank you.”
“You should try it sometime. Touching, I mean. It’s a very different sensation from being touched.”
“Touching leads to touching. I mean, I shake someone’s hand, and they close their fingers around mine. And just walk up to someone and put my hands on them? That’s fucking weird. Name me one guy that wouldn’t think I was trying to get laid.”
For a long time, she said nothing. “It doesn’t work out well.”
“Offer’s still there. Thing is, not touching you is kinda good for me.”
He smiled. “What happened, Dez?”
“Then neither am I.” Slowly, he sat up. “You eaten?”
Dez shook her head. “I prefer not to. Doesn’t go well with Vicodin.”
“You worried about the Tylenol?”
“Technically it’s hydrocodone, so no acetaminophen. Easier to tell people I’m on Vicodin, though.”
“Yeah, I gotcha. I’m still starving and have a laptop for you, but I need a fucking shower.” He pulled himself to his feet. “Coming? I think you got enough done in the warehouse, and pretty sure you’re not going to run for a while, so try food.”
She sat up. “Thanks, but not hungry.”
“Not much of you left to starve away. What will you eat?”
“I like candy.”
Chance sighed. “I’ve got some suckers and a little ice cream. You eat something and I’ll give you the wifi password.”
“Sold.” She stood and dusted off her rump with one hand, the other clutching her gargoyle. “Why’d you have this?”
“Well, I picked up some cable from Ian then had a date. Bitch drug my ass to the mall. Bored to tears, I was wandering around behind her like a well-trained dog and saw it. Pissed her off too.” He grinned. “Even more when I told her it’s for this amazing girl I work with. Told her you were my roommate, and she decided that shopping wasn’t going to do her any good. Made it back to her place pretty fast.”
“You bought me a gargoyle?”
“Yep, and got laid because of it.” He tilted his head. “So, I figure that means I owe you.”
“God, you’re a dick.”
Slowly he nodded, heading back to the building. “Yeah. Basically. Thing is, women always think they’re going to change me, but they love it. They want me to treat them like this because it makes them feel protected. Just makes me feel like the guy operating the puppets.”
“Won’t work on me.”
“I know. You break all the rules, Dez. It’s why I respect you so damned much.”