Authors: Mia Hoddell
Tags: #Romance, #New Adult & College, #Romantic Suspense, #Sports, #Mystery & Suspense, #Suspense
Chequered Flag, Book 1
Copyright © 2015 by Author.
All rights reserved.
First Print Edition: February 2016
Limitless Publishing, LLC
Kailua, HI 96734
Formatting: Limitless Publishing
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to locales, events, business establishments, or actual persons—living or dead—is entirely coincidental.
You were one of the first reviewers I ever contacted back in 2012, and for some strange reason you’ve stuck with me. I can’t even begin to tell you how much it means to have a friend in you. Whether it is to blog, beta read, promote, and now volunteer as my PA, you’ve always been there. You go beyond what I could ever ask so this book is for you.
You are amazing.
Table of Contents
I was broken.
Physically, mentally, emotionally…broken.
Then again, after what had happened, I had the right to be.
The repetitive beeps that filled the room with their annoying chime should have reassured me I was okay. That I was alive. Yet all they did was remind me of where I was, what I had gone through, and the part of me I could no longer feel. They reminded me of what I knew I’d already lost.
I’d been lying on the uncomfortable bed, which was harder than a concrete slab, for a few hours, but it doesn’t take that long for a person to know they’re changed forever. The second I woke up, I knew I’d never be the person I once was. A hollowness now filled me, and it had never been present before. It was why I had to end things.
“Are you sure this is what you want, Raine? Maybe you should wait until your mind isn’t clouded by whatever drugs they’ve got you on,” my best friend Dustin said.
He stood over my bed trying to be strong for me, yet I could see the divide in his melancholy gaze. I was asking him to knowingly hurt his family, to be an accomplice in something I knew they’d never forgive him for.
It was unfair. I was aware of that. However, I needed my best friend. If I had any hope of recovering I needed him to stand by me, hold my hand, and tell me I was doing the right thing.
I didn’t even care if he lied.
“Dustin’s right, Raine. You’re not thinking clearly right now. There’s no need to make rash decisions you can’t take back.”
Nadine, my other friend, took my hand, her touch searing against my icy fingers. When she ran her thumb over the back, careful not to touch the IV, I tilted my head to look up at her. Her dirty blonde hair was piled on top of her head in a messy bun, the mismatched clothes signalling she’d been lying around the house when Dustin had called her in. She had red rings around her eyes from the tears I never saw and now, like Dustin, her eyes held a plethora of emotions. Sadness, worry, fear, confusion, disapproval—the list went on and I chose to ignore every one of them.
They could blame the drugs all they wanted; I knew my thoughts were clear. I’d had at least two hours to mull everything over and consider my choices.
I only had two: end things, or stay.
Ending things would cause a brief moment of pain, but Teo would get over it…over me. He was in the middle of starting a new life and I didn’t need to hold him back. That’s what the bastard who did this wanted. Teo was on his way to being a champion and he would never reach that status if he remained with me. He’d be constantly looking after me or worrying, and he couldn’t afford that.
I knew he’d never choose option one. He’d say he could manage both his job and me, but I would always come first.
Most girls would kill to be able to say something like that, right?
That was why I had to cut him free. He needed to focus on his career for a while and I required space to figure out who I was now. Coming to terms and dealing with everything was going to be hard enough; I didn’t need to worry about whether or not I was damaging his chances as well.
I was making the only decision I could, hoping the painkillers they had me hooked up to would also dull the pain of me shattering my own heart.
“Give me the phone, Dustin.” I lifted my hand for the device, albeit weakly.
Conflict marred his gaze. I was splitting his loyalty between his brother and his best friend.
“Please, Dustin. You know he needs this. If Teo finds out about any of this he’s never going to get on that plane. It’ll be the end of his career and he’ll probably end up in jail. You know I’m right.”
“That doesn’t mean you have to send him away, Raine. Just tell him you can’t make it to his house tonight.” Nadine raised her other hand to my face, her fingers brushing the tendrils of my long, brunette hair back like a mother would to their child.
“You know that won’t stop him. He’s not going to leave without saying goodbye and he can’t come here without finding out the truth.”
They both hung their heads and let out deep breaths.
“Please, Dustin,” I begged. “He’ll never know you were involved. Hand me the phone and then you can go if you want.”
“I’m not leaving you, Raine. Neither of us are. If you’re seriously going to do this, then you’re going to need us more than when they brought you here in the back of that ambulance.”
“He’s right, Raine,” Nadine chimed in. “We’re not going anywhere.”
I didn’t argue, knowing they were only speaking the truth. To be honest, I was glad they were staying.
I made a grabbing motion, silently asking for the phone again.
I didn’t expect Dustin to hand it over, so when the cool metal back of my mobile touched my waiting palm it surprised me. By Nadine’s slack jaw and the questioning glare she shot Dustin, she didn’t understand the gesture either.
“Can you guys give me a minute? I’ll text you when I’m done.”
Dustin gave me a curt nod, not even bothering to hide the displeasure darkening his gaze. He turned and left the room, the door clicking shut behind him. Nadine, however, was reluctant to pull away.
“Raine, stop and think about this. Would it really be so bad for him to know?”
“If there was a way I could tell him and not have him give everything up, I would. But there isn’t. He’ll drop everything to be here for me and he’s worked too hard to get to this point just to throw it away. I was there every step of the way thanks to my friendship with Dustin.”
“That’s why you should think this through first.”
“I already have, I told you that.”
Nadine didn’t look convinced. She let go of my hand. “I hope you know what you’re doing, Raine.”
So did I.
When Nadine shut the door softly behind her, I raised the phone so I could see the screen. Ignoring all of his increasingly frantic texts asking where I was and if I was okay, I dialled Teo’s number with trembling fingers.
It was for the best.
He didn’t need to blame himself.
One Year Later
This was not how I’d pictured my day ending. When I imagined my evening I thought of sitting around my flat in my pyjamas with a romantic comedy and my favourite mint chocolate swirl fudge. I would have drawn the blinds, been totally alone, and embraced by the warm glow of my table lamp. Surrounded by my belongings, the night wouldn’t have been so intimidating. I’d have been able to block it out and forget.
Instead I was in a police station.
A friggin’ police station!
I would have laughed in anyone’s face had they told me this was where I’d end up. There was nothing further from what I had planned than the sterile, regimented atmosphere of the station that showed the full force of darkness outside. With its grey walls and navy notice boards and signs, the place was made to suck the life and warmth from the building. The hard, cold, and painfully uncomfortable plastic chairs were a far cry from the sofa I desperately wanted to be curled up on.
My sweaty palms rested on my lap and my fingers twisted together. It didn’t matter how many times I wiped them on my jeans—within seconds they were back to being clammy.
My heart thundered in my chest with furious and rapid beats.
The place was still…too empty.
I held my breath, trying to calm the anxiety surging through me while I waited. No matter how many times I told myself I was safe and nothing was going to happen to me, my mind refused to listen. I hated being out after dark. It impaired my vision and transformed everything innocent into dangerous shadows. Things could be concealed easily in those shadows.
My fingers grazed my side, touching a subtle reminder of why I stayed home, and why I blended in wherever I went.
This wasn’t blending in.
I was sitting alone in a fully lit building where anyone walking by could peer in through the glass doors and see me. Even knowing there were cops in the station somewhere did nothing to assuage my apprehension.
The sound of locks turning drew my eyes to the door in front of me. A man in full police uniform—white shirt, black stab vest, and trousers—stood holding open the heavy metal door that separated the cells from the waiting area. With his free arm he gestured for someone to move past him and out walked Dustin.
The relief that hit me was instant. I felt safer in his presence.
Jumping from my seat, I rushed towards him without taking a good look at his face. Only when I was a metre away did I notice the angry shade of purple ringing his right eye as it began to swell shut. His lip was also split and his nose had obviously been bleeding. A few flakes of dried blood still lingered on his skin. In front of him he carried his belongings in a clear plastic bag he clutched so tightly his knuckles were white.
Sucking in a sharp breath, I forced my hands to stop trembling.
This is Dustin…Dustin my best friend. He isn’t a violent guy.
The moment Dustin saw me his good eye filled with guilt and the corners of his mouth dipped. His Adam’s apple bobbed as he stepped towards me with open arms.
It took all of my strength not to back away from him. I forced myself to remain rooted to the spot and fought all of my natural instincts to flee. When Dustin’s arms wound around me, embracing me in his scent of spice and sandalwood, the smell triggered something like a safety net inside my mind.
Dustin wasn’t going to hurt me. He was my protector.
He lowered his head to rest on the top of mine, and I could feel his breath sweeping through my hair.
“I’m so sorry, Raine. I didn’t think. I should have called someone else,” he murmured, his tone laced with guilt.
“It’s okay. I’m fine.” Though the words sounded confident in my head, they came out as barely a whisper. I squeezed Dustin back harder, my arms locking around his waist.
“It’s not. I know you hate being out in the dark and I should have thought about that before making you drive down here for something so stupid.” He groaned. “God, it was so stupid.”
I wriggled from his hold so I could step back. Thankfully, Dustin didn’t drop his hold completely, his warm arms creating a barrier from the outside world. Ignoring every irrational feeling inside me, I swallowed hard.
“What did you do?”
He’d failed to mention why I had to collect him from a police station after midnight on a Monday, although I had my suspicions.
“Can we get out of here first? I’ll tell you on the way back.”
I couldn’t wait to leave the building, be back in my car, and on my way home, so I nodded. Dustin draped an arm across both of my shoulders, pulling me into him as he guided me to the exit.
As soon as we stepped through the automatic doors and out into the cool summer night, my gaze flitted around the car park warily. When Dustin squeezed me further into his body, I assumed I must have moved my head without realising it.
“Hey, you’re safe. Nothing’s going to happen.” He softened his voice, soothing me. Like a blanket, it smothered my thoughts and blocked them from my mind until we were at the driver’s side of the car.
Dustin pulled the door open, ushering me into the seat. He shut it behind me then jogged around to the passenger side. A small thud came from the back and the car shook as he misjudged the distance of the boot because of his lack of depth perception, but soon he was sitting beside me and looking a lot more relaxed. As soon as his door clicked shut and I locked them from the inside, the consuming pressure that had been weighing down on my chest lifted.
I started the engine and reversed from the parking spot. Once I pulled out onto the road I glanced across at Dustin with a sigh. “Go on then, what happened this time?”
Although this was the first time I’d picked him up from the police station, it wasn’t the first time I’d had to rescue his stupid ass.
“Promise you won’t laugh?”
“If you wanted stoic you should have called someone else, Dustin. I’m not promising anything, but if it makes you feel better I’m not really in a laughing mood.”
He grumbled under his breath and shifted in his seat.
“What was that?”
He mumbled again, “A girl saw me playing with my cards in the pub.”
I bit my tongue to prevent the disapproving comment slipping out. It was a bad sign when Dustin drank, considering he was a GP2 driver and fighting for a place in Formula One. However, it was even worse when he had a set of playing cards. He took them everywhere, and there was only one reason he got them out while drinking. The constant shuffling helped distract him from his thoughts, which were no doubt on his recent break-up. I didn’t even want to ask what Elora had done to him this time. They’d split up and made up only to split up again more times than I could count.
“She sat beside me and I ignored her for a while, then she asked if I could do any tricks. Not wanting to seem like a prick, I told her to pick a card. To cut a long story short, I attempted to pull a card from my pocket and my jeans slipped down a little. It was just my luck that her boyfriend chose that second to come over. He took things the wrong way and punched me. No warning, no time to explain, just thumped me in the face, twice.”
If I hadn’t been driving I would have hung my head in my hands. Dustin’s magic always got him in trouble. Despite my foul mood, the thought of him exposing himself in a bar did have my lips quirking into a smile.
“I tried to fight back, but he had me pinned before I could do anything and was too heavy to move.”
I rolled my eyes. “Dustin, you couldn’t win against a fifteen-year-old. Why the hell would you think you could take on anyone? If all of that wasn’t enough, think of your career. You’re not going to get a contract by getting drunk and in bar fights.”
“First of all, I’m not drunk. Secondly, when someone punches you in the face, Raine, it’s instinct to fight back. I only noticed his size
the cops split us up.”
I didn’t want to think about guys throwing punches at each other; it sent a shiver down my spine. Instead I focused on the more comical side of his story. “When you say your trousers slipped, how far are we talking here and how did that happen?”
Dustin stopped poking at his lips in the mirror and shrugged. “I forgot my belt this morning.”
“Idiot. Now answer the other question.”
“Do I have to?”
“Yes. You made me drive all of the way out here
in the dark
so you owe me. Now make me laugh.”
“Fine. Mid-thigh. Does that make you happy?”
I burst out laughing, the rumble reducing my tension even further. “You’re the…worst magician…ever. Seriously, you had better make it as a racer because you’re screwed for a back-up plan.”
“I resent that.”
“Sorry, Dustin, it’s true. If you were a true magician you’d have been able to escape your cell back there without needing anyone.”
“I’m not Houdini. I do street magic and sleight of hand.”
” I murmured dubiously.
When Dustin said he ‘did’ street magic, what he really meant to say was he tried. I had yet to see him perform a trick and get it right, which was saying something considering I’d known him for ten years.
“What’s that supposed to mean, Raine?”
Ignoring him, I slowed the car and pulled up in front of the flat we shared. Cutting the engine, I found my key and unlocked the doors to the car. Once I had it in my hand and poised to use, I jumped from the car and power walked to the keypad by the front door. I input the code, the glass door buzzed, and I ran into it, pushing hard to move the heavy weighted panel. Not even bothering to hold it for Dustin, I sprinted to the stairwell and up to the third floor.
I reached our door and unlocked it in a hurry. I kicked it shut behind me and collapsed over the back of the sofa to allow my heart to calm. Then remembering I hadn’t locked the car I dragged myself back up and over to the window. Aiming the key fob through the glass at the car, I pressed down on the button and saw the orange lights flash in the darkness.
I breathed out a deep sigh of relief when the front door opened behind me, startling me even though I had anticipated it. My mind whirled, trying to formulate an excuse for my erratic behaviour.
Rather than call me on it, Dustin dipped his hand into the plastic bag he held and pulled out his playing cards. Sliding them from the box, he dropped the packet and bag onto the floor. He gave the cards a quick shuffle and then held them out in a fan to me.
“Pick a card.”
Dustin waved the cards at me like he was trying to cool me with a palm leaf as I moved to sit on the sofa. He followed me and dropped down beside me, brandishing the cards again.
I drew a card from the deck, peeked at the seven of diamonds, and then held it to my chest so he couldn’t see. With a sigh I glanced up at him, not expecting this to go to plan. “Now what?”
Dustin pushed the cards back into one pile and cut the deck in two. Pointing to the top of the pile in his left hand he said, “Place the card there.”
When my card was back in the pile, Dustin gave them a quick shuffle and flipped the deck over. He began dropping cards onto the sofa, rapidly discarding them until he paused. Drawing one card from the pack he flipped it around so I could see it.
“Is this your card?”
I bit down on my bottom lip and shook my head.
“Damn.” He turned over the next card. “How about this one?”
I shook my head again, my smile becoming harder to fight back. I’d already seen my card in the discarded pile.
“This one?” He held up the ace of clubs and a giggle slipped out.
I rummaged in the discarded jumble and pulled out my card. I flicked it at him, full on laughing when it hit his nose.
“That’s my card, oh great and powerful wizard.”
“I knew that. I was testing you.”
“Uh huh. It had nothing to do with the fact you’re rubbish at magic and refuse to admit it?”
“Nope, because I succeeded.”
I arched an eyebrow in question. “How? You didn’t guess my card.”
“Who said I was trying to guess your card?”
“You weren’t? What were you trying to do then?”
“Make you relax and take your mind off things.”
I should have known what he was doing as soon as he walked into the room and didn’t call me on my crazy behaviour. Dustin may not have been good at magic, but he knew how to read me.
When I glanced up at him through my eyelashes, he started waving jazz hands and cried, “Tada! And for my next trick I will make you laugh.”
The jazz hands in front of his puffy face were too much. I chuckled, shaking my head at the same time.
“See? I’m amazing.”