1 For Sorrow – Excerpt
(The first chapter of the cross-genre mystery that ends up in New Bedlam, as all good insanity does. Meet Jack Dawes, who isn’t what he seems, and Shay McClane, the painted lady.)
Jack immediately regretted opening his eyes. His brain was playing a Jamaican beat inside his head, and the light seared his retinas. Groaning, he rolled over and covered his head with his arm.
He couldn’t remember much of the night before, only the first shot and the last. The pounding in his head and the tongue of cotton in his mouth were pretty good indications that there had been plenty more between first and last. “Karma’s a bitch Jackie-boy,” he mumbled. “A bitch with a first class ticket to hell.”
He finally hauled himself off the bed and stumbled across the floor to the bathroom. The bottle of aspirin sat open beside the tumbler; he didn’t even need to watch as he shook out a couple of the little white pills into his waiting palm. Habit born of many years repetition, Jack dry swallowed the pain killers before brushing his teeth and rinsing with mouthwash. By the time he was finished a shower, the hangover would be gone and he be ready to face the day.
As he checked his eyes in the mirror, the reflection caught movement on the bed behind him. Startled, he spun and pressed himself against the wall, out of sight of whoever was in the bed, but still able to watch the action on the mirror.
When the sheets slipped from the shoulders of a young woman, he swallowed, mind racing. Never had he brought a woman home, never. His life was far too dangerous, too unpredictable to play with such frivolity. The woman stretched, the sheet slipping from her completely, leaving Jack with a perfectly clear view of the tiger tattoo along her left side.
Shay. Jack felt his muscles relax, and he stepped to the door. “What are you doing here, girl? I thought I left you in Chicago.”
The woman turned, smiling before she replied. “I don’t stay anywhere long old man, you know that. Besides, I missed you, Jack. It’s been a long time.”
“Shay, I left you at your aunt’s a week ago. Seven days is not a long time. What is she going to say when she finds out you’ve flown for parts unknown again?”
Her response was a roll of her eyes before turning to pull on her jeans and shrug her sweater over her head. He watched as she fought with the material before ripping it off and tossing it aside. “I don’t care. I’m far past the age where she can dictate my actions. Just because she gives me an allowance, which I don’t use, from my trust fund, the thought of which I can’t stand, doesn’t mean she owns me.”
Jack sighed. Shay wasn’t particularly fond of her family, nor they of her. For reasons unknown to him, her aunt had an unhealthy and absolutely controlling interest in her life, right to the point of hiring Jack on a semi-monthly basis to track her down and drag her home again.
He was happy enough for the paycheck, but hated having to take a reluctant girl to a home she wasn’t happy in.
“What’d we do last night, anyway?”
Shay laughed, the infectious tinkle causing Jack to chuckle himself. “Nothing, man. We did nothing. I was naked in your bed for absolutely no reason. What do you think we did?”
“I don’t think I want to know, after all.” Jack sat on the edge of the bed, running a finger across her inked collarbone. The ivy followed the curve to the shoulder, then around Shay’s arm to her wrist. He couldn’t help but notice that her ribs were a little more pronounced than they had been the last time they’d spent a significant amount of time together. “What’s going on, Shay?”
Jack watched as Shay’s eyes clouded over, her lids dropping to half-mast as she hid anything remotely painful behind her emotional walls. She rolled to her other side, and before she could leap up and take off, he grabbed her wrist and pulled her around to face him.
“Jack, nothing. What’s up, girl? You and I never have a problem talking, so talk.”
“Serena tried to keep me locked in the house. I took offense and broke a window to get out.” Shay wouldn’t meet his gaze, and he knew she was still hiding something. As he forced her to turn her head and at least face him, her lip trembled. “Look, old man, we went over all of this last night. I don’t want to talk about it, and you don’t want to take me back.” One long, shuddering breath later, Shay was her composed self again. “Just keep your word.”
“I don’t even remember running into you again, so how am I supposed to remember giving my word on something?” Jack rose and returned to the bathroom. It took forever for the water to run hot so he spun the tap; it would give him enough time to figure Shay out and maybe remember what the hell went on the night before. He closed his eyes, trying hard to even visualize anything from the past twenty four hours.
She always caught up to him, ever since that first time he dragged her sorry fourteen year-old ass back to the mansion her family lived in. That was the longest time—a year to the day after he’d cashed his reward check, she’d appeared in his car. She’d never taken longer than a year, but had never materialized as fast as this time.
“Talk to me, Shay.”
He watched her in the mirror, her body rolling to its side then up, the sheet falling once more. She was as graceful and stealthy as a cat as she moved across the room to pick up her discarded sweater from the floor.
Rather than beginning to dress, she simply stood there, hands gripping the edge of table until her knuckles were white. Jack could see her muscles clenching with tension as she tried to keep control of her emotions and her thoughts. Just as he was starting to feel guilty for pushing her, she turned.
“Keep your word, Jack. Promise me again that you won’t take me back this time, that my money will be enough for you.”
“I don’t…” Jack suddenly had an image in his mind—a memory forming from the night before, of running into her at the club; the way she stood now, struggling against defeat, saddened and strained, reminded him. The memory dripped past the fog of booze and stale cigarette smoke.
“Promise me, Jack. You won’t let her do this to me.”