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.)
Over the next week, Chance and Dez settled into a predictable routine. He went out most nights, leaving her alone in the building to do her thing. When he returned, he was always obvious about it, turning on the warehouse lights before he tried to find her. Most of the time, he just headed up to shower. She could always tell when he’d been out with some girl because he couldn’t do anything until he showered. Not like it was any of her business, but it was one tiny sign that he might not be perfect.
They also worked out a comfortable sleeping schedule until her room was usable. He passed out around four in the morning, and she typically stole his bed as soon as he left. That left her plenty of time alone to get things done at night.
Already, the warehouse had changed so much. It now resembled a computer company. All it needed was a couple coats of paint and a group of developers. Those were supposed to start showing up in the next day or so.
She was covered in dust from the crawl space under the floor when dawn broke. The wires were all in place, and she’d brought up half the computers. All she needed now was to put all the hardware together. In theory it should work, but computers didn’t really like theories. They needed a little love and pampering, and she was ready to give it. Naturally, that’s when Chance decided to head down the stairs. It was way too early for him to be awake, yet the shudder of the apartment door announced him clearly.
She glanced up. In the light of day, he was even more appealing to the eye. He moseyed down the stairs, his jeans hanging low enough to prove that the trail down his belly was made of fire, and he cradled a cup of coffee. He’d managed to forget the need for a shirt, and every muscle in his well-formed chest begged her to look, but what was the point when she couldn’t touch?
“So what am I calling you?” he asked, leaning his forearms across the desk.
“I dunno.” She tightened the screw holding down the hard drive.
“Dezeray? Dezire?” He sipped at the coffee. “I’m getting kinda used to calling you Dez, and it’s not exactly a common way to shorten Destiny.”
“Just Dez, then?” she suggested.
He nodded. “That works. Nice and androgynous, too. Next big question. You do coffee, or does that fuck up your high? I can’t even think of whiskey until after lunch.”
She gestured for him to pass over his cup. When he did, she took one sip, thinking about it before giving it back. “Think it’d go with my downers?”
“Well, I was gonna offer you a cup.” He smiled at her a little too sweetly. “Anything else you want?”
Dez was high. She was always high, but her pills were running at peak performance. That, and she was actually enjoying what she was doing. It was all she needed to gesture at the thin red hair riding just above his jeans. “That really as soft as it looks?”
Casually, he shrugged, lifting his cup to his lips as he leaned back against the desk, exposing the exact line she’d asked about. “I dunno. How soft does it look?”
She laughed. “Oh? And what would you do if I reached over there and checked?”
He carefully set the cup beside his hip and met her eyes. “Not move a damned muscle. If you ever decide you want to touch me, Dez, you’re welcome to.”
For a moment, her heart forgot to beat. When it remembered, it ran in double time, trying to make up for the lost second. “And you won’t touch back?”
“Not unless you want me to.”
Her eyes flicked to the short red hair, and she couldn’t pull them away. Chance slowly moved his palms to the desk, watching her but saying nothing. With a nervous lick of her lips, Dez dared to reach out, the tips of her fingers barely caressing the trail of hair just below his navel. His skin tensed, the movement involuntary, and she took a breath, then pressed just a bit harder. Her hand moved lower, stopping well above the line of his jeans.
“I can’t believe I did that.”
He picked up his cup and lifted it to his mouth, completely at ease with the strange situation. “Pretty big compliment, kid. Thanks.”
“That you have red hair?” She shook her head, dismissing that.
He leaned over, looking in her eyes. “Nah, I meant the trust. Just don’t tell me you hate gingers.”
She huffed a breath at that, not even giving it a full laugh. “Chance, I don’t exactly think like that.”
“Did you use to?”
“I think so.”
She bit at her lips and concentrated on the hardware that still needed to go into this case. “I can’t recall ever having an opinion on men with red hair.” She settled the video card into an open bay. “I do think that you look like some Irish fire god.”
“I’ll take it. So is it soft?”
If anyone else had asked that, she’d be in a panic, but it was Chance. She lifted her eyes then looked back at the task at hand but felt safe enough to answer. “Nope. Short and curly, but nicely manscaped.”
“You should see the rest.” He took a long sip of coffee. The upward angle of his mouth warned her that he was about to give her a hard time. “The hair on my legs? Like rabbit fur. I’m tellin’ ya.”
“You’re so full of shit.”
He grinned. “Maybe you can touch that tomorrow. Anyways, I’m heading out for a bit. Got you a phone last night.” He set it on the desk between them revealing a large screen and black protective case. “Number’s on the splash screen. Have some guys coming by around lunch. You decide which of those rooms you want to turn into your new home?”
“And I was enjoying your bed so much.” Dez kept her face completely serious, but Chance wasn’t fooled at all. “Can I have the one closest to this side? That way I’m right by the smoking section.”
“Sure. You know you can smoke in there if you want?”
She just shook her head. “Nah. It’s not good for the equipment and will cause problems when you try to convert the rooms later.”
“K. Well, there’s food up there. Eat something today? And get a little sleep?”
She nodded. “Can do, boss.” She finished installing the video card and straightened, bending backward to stretch tired muscles. “I’m probably going to pass out soon. If you get a date, text? I’ll make myself scarce.”
He looked at her for a long moment. “You’re ok with that?”
“Sure. So long as your bitches don’t touch me, I don’t care where you stick your dick. Figure you get to see me high, I get to see you, well, whatever.”
“Swear you’ll tell me if I cross the line?”
“Promise. I also don’t really expect you to give a shit.” She tilted her head, showing that she wasn’t really worried, and moved to the next empty case. “I need you to have that stuff delivered.” She pointed to the wall she’d converted into a whiteboard. “I’ll be stuck in a few hours until I get it.”
“Can do. And the contractors that are coming by? They don’t need you around. Feel free to head upstairs and lock the door.”
She nodded then took a deep breath, bracing for the next hurdle. “I’m gonna need a ride into town tonight or tomorrow.”
His brow wrinkled. “Why?”
She fiddled with the piercing in her nose, adjusting it so that the ends of the curved barbell hung level. “Gotta get a prescription filled.”
“Yeah. Where do I need to take you?”
He looked at her for a long moment, his steely eyes measuring her brown. “Pretty sure that script isn’t legal, kid.”
“Pretty sure I won’t get caught, Dad.”
He blinked. “How many you got left?”
“Bout twelve. I can make it until tomorrow.”
Chance sighed. “Let’s get dressed. I’m not letting you drive stoned, but I can swing past there and drop you back off.”
Dez patted the computer case lightly, then moved around him for the stairs. He followed, but it no longer made her want to scream. He kept a polite distance – well, polite from her point of view, which meant he stayed out of reach.
When she headed for her trunk, he stopped her, pointing out the bags beside the bed with a grin. While he pulled on another body sculpted t-shirt, she looked, finding them filled with new clothes that he’d bought for her. She half expected something clean-cut and proper looking, but she should have known better. Chance had found the kind of clothes she’d feel comfortable in: black, black, and more black. Some pieces had a touch of color, but most were dark. He’d thought of everything, from socks to panties, and the bras were even cute.
“Buying me lingerie?” she teased, holding up a little red bra. “Isn’t that like serious?”
“Yep.” Chance shrugged, dropping onto the edge of the bed to pull on a pair of shoes. “Super cute panties that match. Never know, you might even model for me.”
With the distance of the bed separating them, she grew brave. In one motion she pulled the tank over her head, revealing the lack of anything underneath, then dropped the pants, standing in his bedroom completely naked. He tilted his head, not even hiding that his eyes roamed across her.
She ignored him, pulling on the matching set of undies. It wasn’t like she had tits to entice him. Hell, she didn’t even have curves. She’d given those up for Vicodin. Food didn’t settle and alcohol took care of the rest. She figured if the high didn’t kill her, then wasting away just might. It wasn’t like she had any pride left to hide.
When he made no move toward her, Dez began to relax. His face was cool and controlled, no different than it would probably be when he looked at another guy. A tiny piece of her mind wished that he’d look at her, not the freak in his room, but she shoved that away. Chance Hunter probably got his fill of perfect bodies and ample curves.
“Do me a favor?” he asked, lifting his chin.
She tucked the shirt into the loose pants. “Sure?”
“Don’t do that in front of the devs?” He pushed himself off the bed, having waited until she was completely covered. “Can’t stand the idea of them jacking off to it.”
With that, he snatched his keys from the end of the dresser and walked out. Dez took his place, lacing on her boots. It took a bit, and when she made her way back into the living room, he leaned over the kitchen sink, finishing a glass of water. Everything he did was a little too casual, and for the first time in her life, she couldn’t predict what a man was thinking.
“You said you wanted a show,” she grumbled.
He set the glass in the sink and gestured to the door. “I also didn’t say I minded the show. Ready?”
“Then why do you seem pissed?” She beat him to the door, heading down the stairs before he could answer.
Chance followed, waiting until he was safely behind the driver’s seat of his truck. “Here’s the thing, Dez.” He paused to start it and didn’t speak until he moved the truck onto the road, heading into the heart of town. “There’s one thing in this world I want. That’s to get Silk online and bringing in awards. That’s it. I’d sell my damned mother to make it happen. This shit is my baby.” He glanced over to check her reaction, but Dez just waited for the rest. “It’s been a damned long and lonely road. Thing is, for a moment there, I kinda found something else to want to take care of.”
“Oh, you see some tits and think that means something?”
He tapped his thumb on the wheel. “Yeah,” he said wistfully. “I’m betting it’s been a long fucking time since you let anyone see those tattoos, let alone reached out intentionally to touch anyone.” The light before him turned red and the truck slowed to a stop, then Chance looked over. “Hits me right in the feels when you trust me, ok? I also saw the scars in the art. I’m pissed because I’m pretty sure you got them to hide the damage. Can’t stand the idea of someone hurting my friend.”
She pulled her knees up against her chest, her shoes pressing into the expensive leather seats. She knew about Chance Hunter. She knew exactly how ruthless he was. She’d read all the complaints about how he’d built up Deviant Games. She expected him to be a complete dick. What she hadn’t expected was to find a kindred soul.
“Don’t really know how to do friends,” she admitted.
He chuckled once, nodding at her words. “The way I see it, seems pretty easy. You watch my back and I’ll watch yours. We both respect the damned imaginary lines that we draw in the sand.”
“I can do that.” She chewed at her lower lip, unable to look at him.
He smiled at the road. “Yeah, me too.”
They fell into silence, but it was a comfortable one. Dez wasn’t really sure what had just happened, but she thought she liked it. It felt like they’d reached an agreement. She wouldn’t judge him, he wouldn’t judge her, and neither of them had to hide behind the expectations of society. Not only that, but every little comment he made helped her understand the man who’d taken a huge risk on her.
All he wanted was to protect his baby. He’d do it no matter what it took. Lie, cheat, steal – they were all acceptable if it meant his dream got the chance to fly. As they headed into Wal-Mart, she made him a silent promise. She’d trade this quiet feeling of safety for his success. She’d also let him take all the credit. He’d hired her to take care of the LAN and the software to make the whole thing work. Well, the game was nothing but software, so it fell under that title, right?
Crossing the parking lot, she unconsciously moved to his side, her sleeve nearly brushing his. Chance looked down, a soft glint in his eyes, but said nothing. He didn’t need to. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d stood this close to anyone.
Inside, he pulled out a cart, the wheel wobbling like they always did, and pushed it at her. Dez grabbed the handle and aimed for the prescription desk. Without a word, he fell in behind her, letting her lead the way and watching her back. She really did hate these stores. People were everywhere, thinking nothing of brushing their bodies against hers or shoving an arm over her shoulder. At least the prescription counter was empty.
The pharmacist took the script, looking it over carefully. She took a deep breath, sized up Dez, then looked over at Chance. “You know this stuff’s addictive?”
“Yep,” he agreed, sounding less than amused. “They warned me all about it. No alcohol, long-term use is discouraged, and all that, but after the accident, Tylenol just isn’t cutting it.”
The woman nodded. “Ok. It’s going to be about thirty minutes.”
“Can do. C’mon, kid. Let’s get some shopping done. Just hang onto that cart.”
Dez said nothing until they were well away. “Covering for me?”
“Just watching your back, but it comes at a price. Why does a punk like you not have on ten layers of eyeliner?”
He smiled deviously. “Turn right.” She did and found herself in the middle of the cosmetics section. Chance reached over and grabbed a tube of lipstick, pulling off the top to spin the color up. “So, you’d better start picking, or I’m gonna buy a lovely selection of pink, and then make you wear it.”
“Shit’s not cheap.”
He tossed the tube back in the rack. “And I’m not paying you. Take it while I’ve still got it.”
That was all the encouragement she needed. Leaving the cart behind, Dez moved through the two aisles, choosing everything in black. Except the lipstick. That was the only color she tossed in – red, deep purple, and of course a little black. Chance had been paying attention, though. Choosing the same brands she had, he found a selection of colors, from eyeliner to eyeshadow, and added them.
“What?” he asked. “I don’t get to buy this shit normally. Think of it as formalwear for the release.”
“Six months away?”
He shrugged a little too innocently. “Or for the first day the devs come to the office. Or whatever. Who knows, maybe you’ll go out on a date?”
“Fuck that,” she muttered.
“I didn’t say you’d touch him.”
Dez rolled her eyes. “Right. Can it be a date without touching? Chance, the only person that seems ok with my little issue is you.”
He leaned closer. “You get real pissy when you’re coming down.”
“I’m tired. Remember, one of us worked all night.”
He lifted an eyebrow. “I know they’re in your pocket. Take a pair.”
She looked up into his face and realized that he’d positioned himself perfectly to block her from the people around them. Their eyes met in understanding, and he bowed his head, waiting. It was the last excuse she needed. Fumbling in her pocket, she extracted two pills from the bottle without pulling it out and somehow managed to get the top back on. When she slipped them into her mouth, his eyes followed her fingers.
“When we pick up your prescription, just act like you hurt all over. Don’t say anything, and I’ll take care of the rest.”
She licked her lips, refusing to back away. “Why are you doing this?”
“Because whatever happened to you hurt really bad. Just making sure you get the meds to ease the pain.”
“Hey.” She let her eyes drop, unable to hold his gaze. “Thanks.”
He nodded, leaning away from her. “It’s cool, Dez. You’re not the only person in the world that’s flawed.”
“Pretty sure they call your problems ‘successful.’”
He checked his watch. “They do when they’re over eighteen. Fucked up once, but the bimbo thought I was just some dick from tech support.”
“You like them younger?”
He shrugged. “I don’t give a shit. You got a problem with touching. I got one with not. Same shit, just backwards.”
She thought about that for a moment. He was right. His goal was to convince someone to let him touch. Hers was to convince them not to. Slowly she raised her eyes back to his and smiled.
“Flawed. I like it. Makes it sound almost normal.”
“You’re probably the most normal person I’ve ever met,” he said softly, turning the cart. “And when we get Game of the Year, we’ll start work on the next.” He stepped back and let her claim the handle, then leaned toward her shoulder. “We’ll call it Flawed, and if you’re not around to help, I’m putting your name in the credits.”