Author: Erin Richards
Genre: YA Paranormal/Mystery
Release Date: July 18, 2013
Publisher: Merit Press
Buy Link: Amazon
A "good boy" will do anything for vengeance when a gang rite kills his twin sister. Will Lucas win, or follow his sister Silver into the darkness?
After a hideous car wreck, Lucas wakes from a coma to find that his world is gutted. Not only is his beloved twin sister, Silver, gone forever, but Lucas is broken in body and spirit. He will never be a college athlete, and is robbed of what he now realizes was the most important bond of his life. Although they weren't identical twins, Lucas and Silver shared a bond so fierce it defied reason, and was nearly supernatural.
After her death, that bond seems to endure when Lucas sees Silver everywhere he turns. Either he's crazy, or Silver is trying to tell him something about the California gang initiation they stumbled into that cost Silver her life. Lucas is bent on revenge, turning on Raymond, Silver's former boyfriend; the one Lucas never wanted her to date. He forms a posse of vigilantes to take out the gangsters responsible for Silver's death, but he risks not only his own life, but the love of the new girl on his block, who knows more about Lucas and Silver than can be accounted for by mere chance.
Silver’s babbling continued at racecar speed. Seriously, I didn’t want to hear about the new target of my sister’s lust. The fallout of her last crush with one of my friends still jacked me up. Memories surged and my gut pinched. Ex-friend now.
A blissful moment of silence descended. I peeked at my twin in the passenger seat. Brow puckered, she sucked on the straw to her daily iced mocha. My gaze slid past the speedometer clocking me at ten over in a fifty-five zone.
“Something feels weird tonight, Lucas.” Her tone turned somber. “Maybe you ought to slow down.”
“Meaning?” I felt her apprehension, a feeling I’d grown used to over the last week since she’d kicked Raymond—our collective ex—to the curb.
She shrugged. “Just a weird vibe I’ve had since we left the mall.”
“Raymond still bothering you?”
Silver looked out the passenger window. She didn’t have to hide the tears I felt from her in our weirdo twin bond. Hoping to lighten the mood, I gunned the car on a clear stretch of the frontage road. Despite her heebie-jeebies, I knew she loved the speed as much as I did.
Night had sneaked up on us as we left Monterey behind. We zoomed past the dimly lit Welcome to Sea Haven, California sign. Population 28,342, give or take ten million in an influx of farm workers from the inland counties, yearly tourists, and summer resort peeps.
The thumping drone of the Red Renegade’s new headers oozed ’68 perfection. Or as sweet as the Camaro SS should’ve sounded back in 1968. “Camaro sounds badass, you think?”
“I guess.” Silver sighed, knocking her cup on her thigh. “Do you think I did the right thing?”
“Dumping Raymond?” Incredulous, I glanced at her. “Hell, yes.”
“He’s still your friend. He keeps calling me.”
“We’re football teammates. Nothing more. I’ll make sure he stays away from you.” I tweaked her hair. “You know he’s gunning for my spot.”
“You’re the best quarterback the school’s ever had. Coach would never,” Silver said thoughtfully, jingling her silver bangle bracelets.
Good enough to get three scholarships to killer schools. “I am perfect, aren’t I?” I teased, wanting to slide her mind off douche bag Raymond. He’d never know how much I hated him for the way he treated my twin. If I didn’t continue to keep the peace, he’d get all vindictive on her, like he did with other girls who quit taking his crap. I’d bite my tongue into pieces before I let on how much I knew about him . . . pressuring her . . . before she was ready. A slow burn spiraled up my chest. Screw him.
Dropping my speed, I felt for the glassy shift of the four-speed transmission. I’d spent junior year restoring the Camaro, using all the money from my weekend gopher job for my mom at the resort. I finished the last engine mods in time for summer break in two weeks. I was raring to open up the Red Renegade on the public track.
“I’m still ticked about my cell,” Silver said, her long blonde hair streaming out the open window, her mind already switching gears as usual. “Karma’s like a boomerang.” She swished her drink. “It always comes back ’round.”
I snorted. “In your case, it always bites you in the butt, and I gotta wipe up the mess.”
“Not always, Lucas.” I deflected her playful backhanded slap. “You owed me a trip to the mall. Besides, I didn’t lose my cell. Someone stole it out of my purse.” She danced her fingers on her silver bangles into a tinkling vibration. “I needed a new phone anyway. Screen was shot.” A giggle slipped out. “Karma’s a bitch.”
As we neared the speed trap on County Coast Road, I eased up on the gas. The small-block engine thumped and growled, the exhaust burbling defiantly. Few cars zipped past, driving south toward Monterey. Cops wouldn’t clock me going more than seven over north of the Sea Haven sign. This stretch of the frontage road had already earned me a speed warning. Lucky for me, I weaseled my way out of a ticket by promising to install a Borla exhaust on the sheriff’s Corvette. Killer small town bribery.
Silver traded my quick grin with her evil squint. Her evil squint was one of her poker “tells.” That particular tell meant the hard drive was spinning in her head. Which led me to believe she knew who nicked her cell. Man, I felt sorry for the poor sucker.
She slurped down the dregs of her mocha and tossed the empty cup in the pristine backseat, missing the trash bag by a mile. “Oops.”
“Silver! My car’s not a trash bin.” I knocked my fist on the gearshift, glowered for half a tick. We approached the STOP sign at the Ocean Avenue intersection. I downshifted and rolled to a full stop. The streetlight across the intersection bathed the red car in amber fire and ghosted the stickweeds along the side of the road. Light glinted off a small spot in the ditch to our right.
“Jeez, go find your happy place, will ya? I’ll get it when we . . .” Silver cranked up her window so fast I thought she’d just discovered that sea air killed genius brain cells. She mashed her elbow on the door lock. “Someone’s hunched over in the ditch.” The seat harness squeaked as she squeezed closer to the center console. “Oh. My. God. A body’s lying down there, too.”
Did someone get hit by a car? I rammed the gearshift in park and reached to unbuckle my racing harness.
She swung her head in my direction, her hand gripping mine before I unlatched the buckle. “Don’t go out there! Let’s just go.”
The streetlight on this side of the intersection was toast, making it hard to fully scope out the situation. “Someone could be hurt.” I pushed her hand away, unhooked the seatbelt.
“Call the sheriff.” She jabbed her new smartphone into my side. “Stay inside. I told you something felt weird about tonight.”
Her unease twitched along my nerves. My twin’s intuition was usually right on, where I acted without a second thought. We balanced each other in freakish ways I’d probably regret the rest of my life. After locking my door, I stretched across her lap to peer out the passenger window. The trench caught a scant glimmer from my headlights, enough light to make out two shadowy shapes.
Shrouded in dark clothing head to foot, a small man or woman crouched over a prone body in the shallow, weedy ditch. Cat eyes gleamed. Not moving. Just staring toward the car.
Staring at Silver.
“Hey,” I yelled. “You need help?”
Silver grabbed my hand so hard I flinched. “Lucas! I’m scared.”
“We can’t leave if someone’s hurt.” I flexed my fingers to loosen her vise grip, gave her a reassuring squeeze. “Just stay in the car, ’kay? Keep the doors locked.”
The slightly illuminated eyes in the ditch flicked from right to left. A low keening, like a death dirge from some creepy ancient ritual, emerged from behind us.
Silver’s voice wobbled. “I’m calling the sheriff.”
The second she tapped in 911, the keening grew to two voices, then more, rising in an undulating wave.
Ah, hell. Gang initiation? Gang activity and crime had tripled in Sea Haven over the last few years since the seaside resort town had boatloads of dough and good job opportunities. Way out of my league. “Screw this.” I jerked back in my seat, slammed my foot on the clutch, thrusting the stick into second.
Before I could punch the gas pedal, a dozen dudes flowed out of the ditch, a black tide encircling us, blocking our getaway. I wanted to plow into them, but the idea of hurting someone stopped me cold. I’d wait for them to make the first move. Maybe they just meant to scare us. They blended into the night, the weak streetlight dying on their dark clothing. Voices became a chant of jumbled words. They surrounded the car, bouncing on their feet, watching us from a yard away, arms folded across their chests. Doing nothing but chanting that ridiculous sound. Until Silver brushed her hair over her face to cover her actions and put the phone to her ear.
They leaped at the car. Masked faces pressed to the windows, grinning, tongues lolling, making smacking kissing sounds. They licked and kissed the window on Silver’s side, some rubbing their crotches, eyes latched onto Silver’s breasts in her low-cut, skintight tank top. The shirt Dad will kill her for wearing without a jacket over it.
Nearly incomprehensible, Silver sobbed to the 911 dispatcher. I tapped the gas, advanced three feet, slamming the brake before I hit the three goons blocking us. The trio stood rooted to the pavement, arms crossed, not moving, expressions blank as cardboard. Silver’s fright pooled in my head, her silent pleas hitting every guilt receptor.
I searched the interior for a weapon of any sort. “Damn it,” I muttered. Car was cleaner than a padded cell, except for the mocha junkie’s empty cup. My tools were in the trunk. “Might be a gang initiation,” I whispered. “Stay calm.”
They all wore black—from their beanies to their shoes. No gang colors, no designation, except for the color of their skin—Hispanic dark from what I could make out around the eye and mouth holes of their masks. Which meant nothing near a valley of farmlands where the Mexican population topped any other ethnic group. The tall dude front and dead center unbuttoned his pants, the zipper followed. He waggled his tongue at Silver. A lump grew in my throat, threatening to cut off my air supply. I pressed on the gas, inched forward. The three didn’t budge, and I had only inches to spare. The Camaro’s engine shook into a rocky idle.
“Is the sheriff coming?” I forced a calmness I didn’t feel into my voice to keep Silver from totally freaking out.
“I think so.” Heaving in ragged breaths, her left hand gripped my arm so hard her nails felt like they’d pierced my hoodie sleeve.
The ten or so other guys surrounding the car began to beat on it with the flats of their hands. All geared to trip us out rather than cause damage. Every thudding, vibrating slap amplified my anger. Anger because they played their dumbass games in our exclusive oceanfront community. Anger because they dared touch my ride. Worst of all, I was furious that they scared the piss out of my twin.
The streetlight sparkled on the earring dangling from the left ear of the tall leader in the center. A stylized cross. Oxymoronic Christian? I white-knuckled the steering wheel and tapped the accelerator again. That time the car chugged forward against the prick on the left. He struck out his arms, palms flat on the hood as if to push us backward. An earring on his left ear winked in the light too, but I didn’t let it distract me.
Laughing, the tall leader started pissing on the front grill, his gaze never leaving my face. Piss splashed onto the radiator and thin threads of steam spiraled into the air. The gang whooped it up, egging him on. Slaps against the fenders continued, and the sound grew deafening.
Yet it was Silver’s crying that unglued me.
Screw it. I plowed into the three losers at the speed of a snail. The burly dude on the left vaulted to the side, rolled into the ditch. The Pisser lost his footing and landed face forward on my hood. His enraged roar broke through the clamor. Asshat on the right followed him, thudding onto his side on the hood. I jammed the shifter into gear and shot forward. Pisser gripped the front edge of the hood and the other dude rolled off the right fender onto the asphalt.
“Go, baby. Go!” Silver slapped the dash, excitement replacing her fear. Her tension melted away with my relief.
I shifted the Camaro into second, ready to haul ass and shake the sucker off the hood. The car sputtered, lurched. It stalled in the middle of the intersection, jerking us into our seats.
I punched the steering wheel, turned the key off and on, gunned the engine. It died the second I tripped first. Interior lights dimmed. Oh, mother, not the alternator. To save power, I flipped off the headlights. Again, I turned the key on. Nothing.
Pisser hauled himself onto his knees. Someone shoved a knife into his hand. The gang surrounded us again, their angry din bouncing against Silver’s whimpering piercing my skull. A baseball bat shattered the rear window. Every dull thud on the safety glass echoed in my chest. The car rocked side to side, jolting with every hit.
“Lucas, do something.” Silver’s cloying floral perfume wafted her renewed fright to me, clogging my sinuses.
The carburetor caught and whined until I flooded the engine.
Through all the noise, familiar sounds arose, like a symphony of Metallica to my ears. The realization that we were stuck in the middle of an illegal street-racing path seemed to rip a ragged claw down my chest. Two hotrods were approaching. Lightning fast. The gang must’ve also heard the distant roar, as they fell silent and the Camaro stopped rocking. Sirens pierced the distance, drowned out by the advancing growl. As if on cue, the gang scattered into the night.
“Out of the car! Run to the ditch,” I screamed at Silver, yanking on her harness buckle. The latch clicked open. “Go!”
Too late. We never made it out of the car.
From out of nowhere, twin sets of headlights flashed on seconds before two hotrods hit the intersection. Tires squealed, screeched. The drag racers slammed the passenger side of the Camaro. Barreled into Silver.
Metal scraped metal, tangled, rolled. The strong odor of gas filled the air. Heat whooshed up, a scorching, blinding plume. My head thundered. Metal tore into my side, scalding a crisscross trail through my middle. An anchoring weight crushed my left leg, and my entire body fell numb.
Silver’s faint voice cut through the static shutting down my brain, “Oh, God . . . Lucas. It hurts.”Erin Richards writes SF&F romance and young adult fiction. Her YA debut novel, VIGILANTE NIGHTS, releases from Merit Press (F+W Media) on July 18, 2013. Erin has also published two adult romance novels: CHASING SHADOWS, a romantic suspense (EPPIE award finalist), now available in print for the first time (July 2012); and WICKED PARADISE, a fantasy romance, was released by Crimson Romance (F+W Media) in August 2012, available in eBook and print format.
Erin Richards lives in Northern California. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, photography, and American muscle cars.