“I bet you won’t,” Trey teased.
I stared back at him, narrowing my eyes at his challenge. I imagined I looked pretty damn badass with the campfire flickering between us. Never in my life had I ever backed down from a dare, and he knew it. The left side of his mouth lifted in the tiniest smirk and he tried to hide it, but I saw it anyway.
“Want to make a bet?”
I sat back in the forest green wooden lawn chair and lifted an eyebrow, making a show of this. Stacy and Tina giggled beside me. They knew how this was going to end too. I’d known the two of them since elementary school. The three of us were thick as thieves, quite literally some days. They knew what kind of a girl I was.
“It would certainly make for a wild graduation celebration,” Rico murmured.
He took a long draw of his beer, and I watched him closely. To be honest, I’d had my eyes on him for a long time. He had the bad boy look down, from his ripped baggy jeans to the tattoos that covered his arm. He’d gone to Franklin High, a public school on the south side of town that had a glaringly bad reputation. There were plenty of gangs down there, as well as organized crime, which was quite different than the prep school I’d gone to on Mercer Island, but good riddance to that place because I never had to walk through those doors again.
We’d all graduated this morning and now we were free to do what we wanted.
Rico’s gaze met mine and I smiled. With a slight nod, he let his eyes drag up and down my body. I hadn’t been sure he was interested before, but I was reasonably certain he was now. If there was ever a day to take a chance, this was it.
“Imagine what we could do with money like that,” Tina said.
Her eyes were already a bit glassy. Between all of us, she was definitely the lightweight. It only took one beer before she was tipsy as all hell. I hadn’t been paying attention, but I was pretty sure she was on her second. If she got all the way to a third, I was definitely going to be the one holding her hair when she puked tonight.
That was me, the ever-loyal friend.
I rolled my eyes. She was lucky I liked her. Her parents were also ridiculously filthy rich, which was the main reason we had such ritzy digs for tonight’s celebration. The fridge was fully stocked with top shelf shit along with whatever else we had wanted. I tipped back my hard blackberry cider, my own special request from a local brewery somewhere in the northwest. It was delicious.
Tina sat beside me, the smoke of a freshly lit joint swirling up from her hand. I watched it for a moment, mesmerized before she saw me looking and passed it to me. I took a long hit, mostly because I wanted to impress Rico a bit. Trey watched me intently, his disbelief stark on his face as I held the smoke inside for several long moments before I let it all out in one long breath.
Rico smirked, chuckling softly. He approved.
The soft haze fell over me quickly, making me feel all sorts of brave. The buzz from the alcohol was already burning through me. The combination of the two made me feel untouchable, like I could conquer anything in the world. Maybe today was the day I would.
“We could probably get our own private jet and fly down to the islands,” Stacy supposed.
“Yeah. We could lay out on the beach and drink daiquiris all day brought to us by hot cabana boys covered in tanning oil,” Tina giggled.
“You would like that, wouldn’t you?” I teased, and Tina fell into a fit of laughter.
Of the three of us, Tina had always been the most boy crazy. I don’t think she’d ever gone more than a week being single all throughout high school. Her parents hadn’t let her date till she’d turned fifteen, but she’d made the most of it in the past four years. Right now, Trey was the flavor of the month, but that had only been for the last three or four weeks. It was through him that I’d first met Rico. We’d been hanging out most nights of the week.
“Don’t worry, baby. You’ll always be my favorite cabana boy,” Tina assured Trey, and he shook his head, but I could see amusement written all over his face. He was head over heels for her. He tried to act all brave and badass around her, but that boy looked at her like she was his entire world.
What I wouldn’t give to have a man look at me like that…
“You said you guys have an in, right?” I asked Rico, and his answering grin nearly split his face in half. My adrenaline spiked and the buzz beneath my skin spiraled higher with excitement.
“Yeah. They even have eyes on a place for the perfect getaway car. Said the owners haven’t been home in a month and have a black Escalade just sitting in the garage unused, ripe for the taking,” Rico murmured.
His eyes glimmered and I imagined him looking at me like Trey did every time I caught him watching Tina.
The fire crackled, already starting to die down. I looked at the pile of wood already chopped and waiting for us, deciding against it almost immediately. I guzzled the rest of my can of cider before I tossed it in the garbage pail nearby. I leaned forward, placing my elbows on my knees and looking at each one of my friends.
“Well then, what are we waiting for?”
Less than thirty minutes later, I was behind the luxury leather steering wheel of a black, tricked-out Escalade that must have cost the owner a pretty penny, and it felt good. The steering wheel was warm against my fingers, something I very much appreciated in the chill of the late fall weather. I drove through town feeling like a million bucks. Rico was sitting by my side, while Stacy was behind me. I chuckled when I looked in the rearview mirror to see that Tina and Trey were having a full-on make-out session in the backseat.
Gross. I tried not to listen. It sounded like they were using a whole lot of tongue.
Rico navigated, telling me when to turn left and when to turn right. As I drove along, I recognized that we were entering the ritzier areas of downtown. Many of the shops were dark, but I’d been inside many of them during the past few years.
My father called me a troubled girl, but it didn’t much matter. It’s not like he ever paid attention to me since my mom died. He’d been stuck at the bottom of an endless whiskey bottle ever since.
Sometimes I liked to steal things. I never went in planning to, but sometimes I just wanted something, and I didn’t have enough money to pay for it. I had an allowance, but it wasn’t enough for things from Prada or Gucci. I got away with it most of the time, but I’d been caught once or twice in the past. Somehow, my dad always knew the right people to sweep it under the table, so I had a clean record. He said it was important for me to get into college, but who was he fooling? He and I both knew I wasn’t cut out for that. It wasn’t that I wasn’t smart enough for it; it was because I wasn’t the type of girl that would do it just to please my alcoholic, deadbeat dad.
My reputation was known throughout Mercer Prep, and it made me popular. Occasionally, other girls would have me steal things for them and they’d pay me for it. I made a decent amount of money that way on occasion, but recently several stores had circulated my picture around and I wasn’t allowed in most of the designer stores here anymore.
Honestly, it was kind of a bummer.
It was nice to have fancy things that were still in season for the other rich kids at school to admire. It made me feel like I actually fit in with them for a change. I’d always dealt with their judgment because it was easier to stay there. I’d managed to keep a full scholarship all these years, mainly to keep my father off my ass and because most of the classes weren’t that hard.
Thankfully now though, the drama of high school was over with. I was free to live my life just like I wanted, and I was going to make the most of it.
When we’d snuck into the mansion Rico had mentioned, I’d raided the woman’s jewelry box. My fingers were decked out in big fat rings made of gorgeous clusters of diamonds, sapphires, rubies, you name it. This woman was stacked. Her closet had been full of sizes close to mine, so I’d stolen a new outfit that made me feel like a queen. The jeans were Neiman Marcus, all black and decked out with bedazzled jewels all over the back pockets. I thought they made my ass look incredible. The light purple tank was a luxurious name brand I hadn’t recognized, but the black, gray-lined blazer I’d layered on top was Dolce & Gabbana. Rico had said it was the perfect outfit for me and that made it ten times better. It even exposed a little bit of cleavage and I’d caught him looking a few times afterwards.
Feeling sexy always made a woman feel brave.
Combined with him sitting at my side? I was in heaven.
The Escalade drove smoothly over the crumbling pavement of the back-alley street. I continued for a few more minutes until Rico held up his hand and an excited hush fell over the five of us.
“Are we there yet?” Tina giggled.
“Shhh,” Trey murmured, and I watched her nip the finger he’d pressed to her lips in the rearview mirror.
Another flash of movement caught my eye as I looked back, making me tense. There was a group of men coming up on the back end of the car. I looked to Rico, and he winked before hopping out. I couldn’t help feeling like something was off, but I did my best to ignore it.
“Wait here,” Rico whispered, and I smiled.
His warm brown eyes found mine. Maybe he would even ask me out after this was all over. Hopefully I was impressing him with my courage tonight and he’d think I was just as much of a badass as he was.
“Got it,” I answered quickly.
Trey hopped out of the backseat of the car and Tina went along with him, leaving Stacy and me in the car all by ourselves.
“Where are we?” she asked quietly.
Of the three of us girls, she was the shyest. She didn’t get into nearly as much trouble as Tina or I did, but she got into enough to at least fit in with us. She liked to shoplift just as much as I did, but she didn’t usually hit many higher end stores. Gas stations and Sephora were her favorite targets, and their security was pretty subpar compared to the designer storefronts.
“I’m not sure. We’re somewhere near University Street, I think, but it’s hard to tell in these back alleys,” I replied.
For a while, we sat there not saying anything at all. Eventually, the overwhelming silence grated on my nerves enough that I turned on the radio to one of the more edgy stations available through whatever service the owners was paying for. I didn’t tend to listen to much mainstream music, but I could enjoy a Selena Gomez or Beyoncé song on occasion.
I glanced down at the clock radio. The key to stealing was to get in and out as quickly as possible while no one was looking, but the group of them had been inside for nearly fifteen minutes now. I chewed my lip as I glanced at the back door of the shop Rico had chosen. The stores weren’t labeled with anything other than numbers back here, so I wasn’t quite certain what store he’d settled on tonight.
An ominous boom echoed inside, deafeningly loud enough to be heard over the music I had pumping in the car.
Fuck. I swallowed hard. That had sounded a lot like a gunshot. I had to be hearing things, right? It couldn’t be that…
I stared back at the door, and it slammed open hard enough for the frame to bounce against the concrete with a heavy, thunderous crack. Rico rushed out first with Trey and Tina behind them. Her face was frozen in fear. She wasn’t even the slightest bit tipsy anymore; she was petrified of whatever had happened inside that store.
As the door swung closed, I stared inside, and my stomach fell. It was a jewelry store, not some high-end designer store where I’d thought they’d steal a couple things and we’d be on our way. This was far bigger than I thought. I didn’t mess with stuff like this. It was far too dangerous.
Rico jumped into the passenger seat with a massive velvet bag in one hand and a gun in the other. I watched him as he tucked the piece into the back of his jeans, frozen as he lifted his sweatshirt and covered it. That didn’t much help my overwhelming fear.
“What are you waiting for? Drive!” he yelled.
He sounded scared too. The rest of his gang emptied out of the back of the store, all of them scattering in every which direction and I got a really bad feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Afraid, I rushed to take the car out of park and peeled out of that back alley like my life had depended on it. Behind me, Tina and Trey were dead quiet. Stacy was just as wide eyed behind me as I felt, and no one said anything even when a Taylor Swift song came on the radio. It was as if everyone was lost in their own heads.
“Did something happen back there?” I finally tried, but no one answered me. I wondered if they’d even heard me, but then Rico cleared his throat. My heart squeezed tight, nervous.
“Get on the highway. We need to get out of here, stat,” he directed, and I silently did what he said.
I hadn’t known he had a gun.
Would he turn it on me? Had he killed someone in there? What the fuck had happened back there to make them all this scared?
I glanced in the mirror again, looking back at Trey’s and Tina’s stark white faces. They weren’t even kissing. Instead, they looked sullen and scared, both sitting on either side of the car as far apart from one another as they could get. There was more distance between them than I’d ever seen before and that unsettled me more than anything else.
I took a right onto University Street, and slowly made my way through downtown. I turned down the radio, listening as I heard the telltale screech of police sirens not far away. My heart hammered in my chest as I stopped at a red light, only to gun it as soon as it turned green. For a few minutes, I just drove, my pulse rapidly spiraling out of control. As soon as I turned onto the onramp, I breathed a sigh of relief and started to pick up speed.
Not long after that, I could see red and blue lights behind us.
“What happened in there, guys?” I tried again.
No one answered.
The red and blue lights behind me started to multiply. One car quickly became two, and then three, and then it suddenly became half a dozen. My panic rose in spades, and I kept pressing harder and harder on the gas pedal.
I was already going eighty, but I kept picking up speed. Soon, I was hitting near close to one hundred miles per hour, well and truly above the speed limit and dangerously close to reckless driving. I don’t know why that detail from driver’s ed decided to pop into my mind at that particular moment, but I tried not to dwell on it.
Rico looked over his shoulder, finally seeing what I saw in the rearview mirror.
“Oh, shit,” he whispered.
Those words petrified me. I didn’t dare take my eyes off the road while we drove at such a high speed, but I knew there was no going back now. If we got caught, I had a feeling that my father wouldn’t be able to get me out of trouble, let alone the rest of my friends. The five of us could be looking at very real jail time if this all turned out badly.
One hundred ten.
The speedometer kept creeping up. Soon enough, a dozen police cars were on our tail. I kept trying to push it faster and faster, but when I finally turned my eyes from the rearview mirror to the road in front of me, I shrieked. Above us, a helicopter had us pinned with a spotlight. No matter where we went, it would be able to follow us from above. It rained so much here, but tonight was the clearest night we’d had in a long time.
Rotten fucking luck.
The highway ahead of us had been cleared out, pitch black aside from the line of cop cars cutting us off about a mile out. The red and blue lights were blinding, and I looked for an exit. Panicked, I realized I’d just passed one and there wasn’t another for at least a mile past the barricade. This was quickly turning from bad to the absolute worst. The dashboard lit up without me touching anything at all.
“Fuck. Does this car have one of those emergency-off systems?” Rico asked worriedly.
“I don’t know. Isn’t that something you’re supposed to know?” I asked, my voice trembling with panic.
“This is OnStar. This vehicle has been reported stolen and will thus be shut down in the next thirty seconds.”
The speedometer started trailing downward no matter how hard I pressed on the gas pedal. The car gradually slowed down to ninety, then sixty, then thirty until it finally came to a complete stop. Then every light in the car went out. It would have been a complete blackout except for all the police lights that were currently focused on us.
I grabbed the keys, turning them in the ignition in a panic. The SUV wouldn’t respond. It was as if the car had gone completely dead. Within seconds, the car was surrounded by police. Every single one of them had a weapon trained on us.
“Exit the vehicle with your hands up!”
The loudspeaker was so loud that I jumped. With a quiet cry, I turned my head and stared at Rico, looking for anything he might offer in terms of solace. His face was hard, like this wasn’t the first time he’d been in a situation as crazy as this. The warmth that had been there when I’d first taken the dare to drive the stolen car had all but disappeared.
“What about the gun?” I tried tentatively.
He shook his head.
“Hands off the steering wheel!”
Someone roared over the intercom, and I instantly ripped my hands away from the no longer warm steering wheel. A deep chill raced down my spine as a cop ran up to the car and opened the door. Several pairs of hands grabbed at me, and I watched with shock as Rico ripped the gun out of the back of his pants. He whipped his arm over his head and threw the piece as far as he could into the median.
I screamed when another gun fired nearby, slapping my hands to my ears when they started to ring. Several pairs of hands quickly patted me down before forcing me to the concrete. The others were being dragged out and cuffed, same as me, but Rico was lying on the ground. I could see him from beneath the car.
He wasn’t moving.
A puddle of blood shone against the pavement, slowly growing bigger, and I knew that he wouldn’t be getting up again.
It wasn’t until the next day that the full details of the heist were made clear to me. I’d spent hours in interrogation after being forced to take a drug test, with one officer after the next hammering me for details that I didn’t have to give.
They tried to trip me up several times, but I told the truth, or at least as much of the truth as I could. This was big time shit, and the only way I could see forward was trying to be as honest as possible.
The more I learned, the worse it got.
According to the investigative officers, Rico was more of a bad seed than I had initially realized. Since the time he was sixteen, he’d been arrested twice before: once for aggravated assault and the second for manslaughter. In both cases, he’d been tried as an adult, and this would have been his third strike. They wouldn’t tell me for sure, but I was mostly certain Rico was dead. If he’d been taken in last night, he would have been sentenced to life in prison. A part of me thought he’d made himself a target on purpose, but I would never know for sure.
The cops wanted to know what a girl like me was doing with a guy like him. They’d been able to dredge up a little bit of my history, but most of it had been cleaned off my record aside from one small minor shoplifting charge a few years ago. Back then, I’d served some community service and it had never gone to court.
Apparently, Rico and his gang had been planning this heist for a long time and the cops had gotten wind of it about three weeks ago. Extra security had been put in place at the jewelry store, including hidden cameras and silent alarms that would be triggered if any case was opened without the corresponding key.
There had been one clerk in there after hours, and instead of just cleaning out the cases, Rico and Trey had gone in and tried to rob the vault in the back office. The clerk and the two of them had gotten in a scuffle and Rico had fired a shot, hitting the clerk in the chest. He was at the hospital now, but it was still unclear whether or not he would make it.
For hours, I waited in that room until at long last they put me in a cell all by myself. Tina and Stacy were nowhere to be found. I didn’t know where Trey was either, but I stopped caring a little while later when one of the cops told me everything that I was looking at.
My charge list was long, but not as long as the others.
Theft of a motor vehicle, evading arrest, robbery, reckless endangerment, and a list of other minor charges including speeding were rattled off to me as I sat there, more than a little bit dumbfounded.
Since it was the weekend, there wasn’t any posting bail until Monday. I tried ringing my dad with the one phone call they offered me, but he didn’t pick up and I slowly began to lose hope. They took my clothes and had a female officer perform a full strip search on me before I was given the ugliest set of grandma underwear that I’d ever seen along with the orange jumpsuit typical of county jail. I chewed my lip, left alone for much of the time, listening to the shouts of other inmates all around me. I didn’t speak and they left me alone.
When Monday morning came around, a man in a suit came to my cell. He stared at me in silence as he slowly unlocked the door that held me prisoner. I didn’t recognize him.
“Your bail has been posted,” he said vaguely.
Honestly, it was a silly question. I only had my dad and no other surviving relatives. I wasn’t the type of girl that would receive this kind of charity, so it could only be him. I scowled and turned my head.
“Has my dad come to pick me up?” I asked hopefully.
For the first time in my life, I was nervous to see him. There was no doubt in my mind that he was going to be furious about this whole mess, and I hoped he’d listen to my side of the story, that it had all been a dumb mistake because I was just trying to impress a boy.
“No. Your father passed away early Saturday morning.”
I stopped dead in my tracks and the man turned back to face me. I knew instantly that it wasn’t some sick twisted joke on his part from the solemn look on his face. My shock was probably written all over mine.
“There was an emergency 911 call to your father’s house at nine in the morning. Your father was pronounced dead upon arrival. At this point, it is suspected to be the product of a heart attack or a stroke. Cause of death will be confirmed once the autopsy is complete.”
I blinked, dumbfounded. My father and I had always had a somewhat estranged relationship. He lost himself in the bottle every night and I went out and did what I wanted. He was never really any sort of real father to me. I don’t even remember the last time the two of us did anything together. If I had to guess, it was probably when my mother was still alive. Truth be told, I barely even remembered her. Even though he drank himself into a stupor more often than not, I hadn’t wished anything bad on him. I had hoped he’d get his act together someday, but that too had faded over time. He was who he was and so was I.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” the stranger stated, although the tone in his voice was devoid of emotion.
“Who are you?”
“I’m your lawyer.”
“I didn’t hire one,” I answered, my sorrow plain as day.
“Your father called me Friday night. Your face was plastered all over the news,” he answered.
I didn’t say anything more after that. I just followed, trying not to think about that being the last thing my father saw before he died. It took everything in me not to let myself cry.
One week later
Dressed in all black, I stood with my head down. Unbeknownst to me, my father had already made all the arrangements should he pass. There was a will and systems already in place to have his body cremated and buried in a cemetery outside of the city. He’d already commissioned his own headstone and I’d had to do nothing except sign a few papers the other morning.
Today was his funeral.
The autopsy had confirmed that my father had died of a stroke in the middle of the night. While comforted by the fact that it had been painless, I was scared by all the terrible effects his years of drinking seemed to have on his body. His liver was already in the end stages of cirrhosis. His heart and lungs had begun to fail. Had it not been for the stroke, my father likely wouldn’t have survived much longer than a year or two.
Everything in his estate had been left to me, which meant I was the sole owner of our house and his car, both of which were paid off. The lawyer had temporary control of all his finances for the time being and he’d used some of it to bail me out of prison.
I dared a glance around the cemetery, seeing more than a few faces I didn’t recognize. Several were very well dressed in pressed suits and designer dresses. A man with dark hair and pale skin had a blonde woman on his arm. Both looked to be of Irish descent, or at least I thought they did.
I was Irish too, but I didn’t know much about my background before we had come to Seattle. I’d even been born in Ireland, and I’d been begging my father to let me visit Dublin ever since I was little, but he’d refused, always saying there was nothing good for me to find there.
Sighing, I looked over the rest of the strange people, wondering who they were and how they all knew my father. The longer I stood there, the more I came to recognize that maybe my father hadn’t been as open with me as I thought he was. I didn’t think he knew this many people, to be honest. Here in Seattle, he was nothing more than an accountant, but the powerful people standing all around me here at this moment told me otherwise.
One man braved my gaze. His piercing blue eyes leveled with mine and I gasped a bit under my breath, a little taken aback. The way he stared at me told me that he knew who I was. My mind raced as I tried to remember if I recognized him, but I came up blank.
Those eyes were a captivating prison, and I couldn’t force myself to look away. The dark brown hair on his head was cropped short, but messy in such a way that he might have done it that way on purpose. The trimmed beard that covered his chin would normally make a man like him appear approachable, but his jawline was tense, giving him a dangerous aura that made me want to turn around and run away as fast as I could.
I didn’t. Instead, I just kept staring into his intense gaze.
From far away, he looked like Gerard Butler from the movie P.S. I Love You, which was my comfort movie that I’d put on every time I needed a good cry after my father had forbidden me from going to Ireland once again. I glanced down at his expensive black overcoat, catching sight of a fine suit beneath it. I wasn’t as well acquainted with men’s suits as I was women’s clothing and accessories, but I could tell that it was expensive. There was a small section of his wrist that was exposed enough for me to tell that he had a tattoo there, but he pulled it down when he noticed me looking. His hands were broad, but I could tell they were rough. He didn’t appear to be a man that relied much on others when it came to hard work. I would bet that he would do whatever was necessary himself.
The priest was reading my father’s last rites and I tuned him out, watching instead to see who the stranger with the blue eyes had come with. There was a man that looked a lot like him standing next to him, maybe an older brother or close relative. There were a few others, including a set of twins and a woman with red hair standing solemnly together, all with sad eyes directed solely at my father’s gravestone.
All except for him.
Ever since he’d come, I noted that he hadn’t taken his eyes off me. I didn’t know if that was a good or bad thing, but I tried not to let it show how much it bothered me. Maybe he just liked what he saw or something, or maybe I looked like someone else he knew.
I was the one that looked away first. As boldly as I could, I turned my gaze to the priest and listened to everything he was saying because it took my mind off the blue-eyed stranger for a little while.
When the funeral was over, my lawyer Mr. Abernathy came to collect me and bring me home. I hadn’t looked back over my shoulder, but I knew that strange man had watched my every step. When I finally hazarded a glance back through the deeply tinted window, I caught his interested stare for a moment before I had to remind myself that the tint was too dark for him to see through.
It unsettled me anyway.