“The storyline instantly lures me in like a snake charmer that sends me straight to the edge of my seat..Amazon Reviewer
“Absolutely loved it!’!!!!!!”Amazon Reviewer
The first book in a gripping, new-adult mob series.
Being on the run is complicated…but so is the mob.
My life could be every episode of Cops. Kicked out of the trailer by my stripper mother with an angry drug dealer hot on my trail. I’m outta gas and outta money and stuck in a crap-hole bar too close to the Mexican border.
Yeah, nothing could go wrong with this picture.
But I’ve gotta plan–hustle money out of the losers at the pool tables or five-finger discount some fat wallets, and then back on the road before anything else in my life implodes.
Meet Jack. Soooo my type, which means totally wrong for me. Silent. Brooding. Involved with the mob. Oh, didn’t I mention that first?
Yep. I’m in so much trouble, and it’s going to be so hard to leave.
When I think of the trailer, I think in scents. The ones of cigarettes, metal, and the faint wisp of gasoline that lingers in the orange shag carpet, a souvenir left over from one of my mom’s long-gone boyfriend. The scent of poverty that’s interwoven into my clothes, seen in the limpness of my hair, in the cut of my jeans. There’s no denying it. It colors my skin white and proceeds my name in the form of poor, and white, and trash.
I dream in smells.
I suppose one trailer looks like every other. This one happens to have school pictures of me hanging in crooked dime-store frames, a white fridge with a broken ice maker, and the yellow stove with a broken everything.
There’s a screen door that never hangs right, and four to five cars in the dirt drive with only two able to run at any one time. And the wild flowers in the yard that in better times we mow down like grass, and in other times let them blow free through the backwoods of Texas.
And the knife.
There are walls, of course. Cardboard thin and papered with the fake wood pattern, not much better than the doors that are just as thin as curtains and only a little more sturdy. And the sounds that bleed through both—the crack and pop of beer cans when opened, and the rustle a trash bag makes when being filled in a steady rhythm.
I’m not sure about other trailers. Maybe they have clocks. Like the ones that hang on the wall and make ticking sounds as the hands chase each other. But time here isn’t measured that way. Time here is measured in Little Mule six-packs, Lucas’s cheap beer of choice, rather than hours.
The first one starts at 4:00 p.m., marking the end of a long work day spent cooking meth and delivering merchandise. The second one, if it stops there, still means there’s a possibility of dinner. The third always precludes the start of any sporting event on TV—football, racing, UFC fighting. Doesn’t matter the day or season. I fall asleep to the lullaby of animated sports announcers: Did you see that punch? What an amazing catch! It’s a race to the finish!
I dream in sounds of cheering fans and men’s shaving commercials.
And of the knife. Tucked safely between my mattress and box spring.
Then sometimes, only sometimes, when the sun is as far from Grove Oaks as redemption, and the only people up are the strippers on their way home and the bartenders cleaning the last of the glasses—there’s a fourth six-pack.
The fourth six-pack always ends in a fight. Not sometimes. Not often. If he’s gotten to four, there’s a fight.
Tonight is a four six-pack night.
“Where the hell have you been?” Yells Lucas, my mother’s latest man in the long string of men.
“Working. Where do you think I’ve been?” My mother has been a “successful” stripper if one can define success that way. But even the most experienced dancers lose their tips as they get older. Hence, the late-night shifts when the customers are hopefully too drunk to notice breasts that have lost their perkiness, and the fishnet stockings that do more to hold things in than to excite.
“Getting some side jobs from one of your customers, is what I think,” he shoots back.
I give up on sleeping. Even in the far bedroom, with earplugs and a pillow over my head, I can hear the beginning shouts and curses that mark a long, drawn-out fight. I try not to be irritated when my mother’s shouts turn to cries, but I hate being this cliché—trailer-poor, stripper mother and her loser boyfriend. My life could be every episode of Cops. Which, of course, I don’t even think of calling. They wouldn’t get here on time. Wouldn’t do much anyway. Lucas would just get bailed out the next day and come back to the trailer more pissed off than ever.
I can’t call a neighbor either. A year ago, Mom decided she needed a change of scenery and wanted to go live out in the country, but I know it’s because an ex-boyfriend became too obsessive and smacked her around some. That’s one thing my mom never tolerated—getting beat up. I wonder at that sometimes, but realize deep inside my mother is a businesswoman with her best asset being her looks. Mess with that, and her ability to make a living goes way down.
But even if we did have neighbors, no help would be given. Lucas is the younger brother of Marcus, the meth dealer, who controls not only the town of Grove Oaks, but two towns in either direction. It’s simple—you mess with Lucas, you mess with Marcus, and with a string of body parts found in the desert, no one wants that kind of trouble.
“You can’t treat me like this. Get the hell out!” My mother screams her trademark battle cry.
If I had a dollar for every time…well, you know the saying. I wouldn’t be living in this trailer, that’s for sure.
I know Lucas’s response even before he speaks. It’s as predictable as an overplayed song on the radio, heard a thousand times, the one that gets stuck in your head so you can’t stop humming it. “I pay the bills. This is my trailer now,” he says.
Which unfortunately is true. We’ve never had to depend on anyone else before. When I was younger, my mom had brought in good money. Not enough to get out of this trailer, but enough to call this tin and plastic box our home. Apparently, no one told my mother that twirling on a pole doesn’t come with a good 401k plan, and now at the age of forty, she should’ve retired years ago.
There is a loud thump, and then a crash as something breaks.
I hold my breath. Please God, not the coffee pot.
“I’m done. You hear me? I’m done,” my mother sobs.
“Really? And what the hell are you gonna do about it?” Lucas’s voice, even four six-packs in, never slurs. His mind and temper seem to sharpen instead of dull. He’s what my mother calls a “mean-drunk.” He’s what I call dangerous.
The front door slams, shaking the entire trailer. My mother’s footsteps crunch on the gravel at a good pace despite the trademark four-inch heels she wears. It isn’t until the sound of a car engine roaring to life and tires peeling out the dirt drive that I sit up in bed, eyes wide, throat tight.
“Stella, get back here! Don’t you leave. Don’t you dare walk away from me.”
She never leaves me alone when Lucas is drunk. That’s our unspoken rule. Her man, her problem.
Apparently, only unspoken to me.
There’s the sound of heavy footsteps chasing after, and a crash from what I assume is a beer can being thrown. My gaze shoots to the bedroom door, checking again that it’s locked.
Even before the screen door bangs shut for the third time, I’ve thrown the covers off and start throwing things into my backpack—car keys, wallet, phone, underwear, hair brush.
I hear Lucas in the kitchen. The fridge opens. Another beer tab cracks. Then footsteps past the TV and down the hall.
In nothing more than underwear and a tank top, I still. Head up, I hold my breath like the bunnies do when caught in the yard as a car pulls up.
Silence. Both of us waiting for him to make a decision. I can almost hear the clogs in Lucas’s brain moving. Weighing the pros and cons. His wants against the effort.
I’m not his daughter, but I am my mother’s. And before life had hardened her soft lines and weighed the corners of her mouth down, she’d been a looker. Even though I’m nowhere near as exotic as my mother—dark, straight hair, slanted turquoise-green eyes, strong cheekbones, and a 50’s playboy body—I hadn’t gotten all my looks from my plain, pasty-white father.
I’ve seen Lucas looking at me. Seen the way his black eyes follow me behind his half-closed lids. Seen him swallow as if his mouth is watering. Seen him shift his belt buckle to create room in his jeans.
Go back. Go back to your recliner. Back to your TV. Laugh at the Geico commercials.
I stare at the thin line of light shining from under my door and hold my breath. Something creaks in the hallway. A footstep for sure, but going forward or back?
Forward or back? Closer or farther? Which way are you going, dickhead?
Then the light under my door is broken by two shadows—leg-width apart.
My heart slams against my chest, and I jerk into action. Jeans are shoved into my bag, shoes under my arm, and I run toward my window. As quickly and quietly as possible, I slide the window open.
“Franki? You awake?”
Not quiet enough.
I throw my shoes out the window. My bag follows.
The door knob wiggles; the new lock I installed holds—for now. “Franki, open up!”
I heave myself up, balancing on the windowsill, using my legs and bare feet to try and push through.
Thump! The door crashes into the wall. Time’s up.
Lucas’s hands—thick, rough, cold—are on me as they pull me back into the room. Into the trailer.
I kick. My foot finds the soft place in his belly, and he doubles over in pain. But it isn’t enough. Not nearly. I’m knocked to the floor, and my breath leaves as well as all thoughts of screaming.
No one to hear me anyway.
He’s on top of me now. One hand pinning both of mine, I suddenly wish I’d done less packing and more dressing. A pair of jeans gives a little more of an obstacle than a pair of white undies. I kick, twist, bite.
He slaps me across the face so hard my brain sloshes around in my skull.
When I can finally refocus, I’m naked from the waist down and he’s released me to unbuckle his belt. The Texas belt buckle, big and gold, is apparently tricky to undo with just one hand.
An iron taste of blood fills my mouth. My vision is static like the poor reception on the TV. The pounding of my heart radiates through my whole body, but I can’t feel my arms, legs, or fingers. They aren’t mine. They’re on someone else’s body. Someone else altogether.
I turn away and see the door. Or what remains of it. A new lock I’d installed myself. The dead bolt had held, the shiny brass still in the doorjamb, but the fake wood had broken up all around it. Funny, who’d put a deadbolt in a cardboard door?
A deadbolt in a trailer with cardboard doors, wood wallpaper, crooked picture frames, ugly carpet, and a knife somewhere between my mattress and bedspring.
Lucas is on top of me now, fumbling between his legs, searching for any resemblance of his manhood.
I look to the right and see my mattress just above me. And a hand, one that looks like mine, reaches up and closes around something smooth and strong.
The handle is warm, the blade a dull gray. Then I blink, and when I open my eyes, I’m surprised to find the knife buried to the handle in his fat belly. From the look on his face, Lucas is also.
I don’t stop there. Can’t. I keep stabbing and stabbing. Even as he falls on top of me. Even as his shirt turns red, and my hands grow slick with blood. Even when my arm aches, and I can’t lift it anymore. Not until his back is full of holes, and my breath so harsh it burns my throat do I stop.
My eyelids flutter close, and I imagine that I’m like the wild flowers that blow out past our yard, out of these backwoods, and out of this small town for good.