Authors: Melissa Pearl
The Masks Series
Snake Eyes copyright © 2015 by Melissa Pearl
Cover design copyright © 2014 by Kate Strawbridge
Book design by
Bob Houston eBook Formatting
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This is a work of fiction. Names, places, businesses, characters and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, actual events or locales is purely coincidental.
Snake Eyes, Book III, The Mask Series by Melissa Pearl
Published by Evatopia Press
8447 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 401, Beverly Hills, CA 90211
a division of Evatopia, Inc.
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For Nana and Granddad, Grannie and Poppa
I was lucky enough to have all four of you in my life for such a long time. What a privilege it was. Thank you for everything you poured into my life over the years and thank you for cheering me on no matter what I was up to.
The coffees arrived at our table smelling like everything we needed them to be. I picked mine up and sniffed in the scent with a happy sigh. Taking a tentative sip, I licked the foam off my upper lip and let out a satisfied moan.
Eric glanced over his laptop at me and chuckled.
“Needed a kick, huh?”
“Oh, yeah.” I cradled the mug in my hands and grinned at the waitress as she passed our table.
My laptop sat open in front of me, my class schedule all mapped out. Lectures for my sophomore year started on Monday and I so wasn’t ready.
It had been the perfect summer, flitting between my place in L.A. to Eric’s grandfather’s place in San Diego. We even popped over to Hawaii with the rest of my family to see my sister, Holly, and her fiancé, Max, get married. Eric came, too, which was a total treat. It had been ten days of sun, surf, and luxury. And my parents paid, so that was a bonus.
Since getting back, the prospect of school had been looming, but I put it off for as long as I could. I wasn’t ready. After the disastrous start I had last year, getting caught up in Professor Hoffman’s drug/gambling ring, nearly losing my life and my boyfriend for that matter, I was a little dubious about kicking off another year. Eric assured me everything would be fine. The rest of my freshman year had gone smoothly. It helped that I basically stopped reading people. It was intentional. I just couldn’t handle it anymore and decided I needed some time off, so every time people’s masks began to slip and I saw something even vaguely sinister, I’d shove them back in place and turn the other way.
The homeless man I’d met two years ago never should have trusted me with the power to see what everyone was feeling. I’d nearly gotten myself killed twice and I wasn’t ready to throw myself into the fray again. Instead, I pretended I was just like any other normal human being and tried to ignore the guilt that lived permanently on my shoulders.
I took another sip of coffee, briefly reliving my final encounter with the man who changed my life.
He smiled at me. “This is your path now, you must accept it."
“I don’t—I don’t want to! How am I supposed to help people? Everyone has something to hide! Everyone has problems!"
"Focus on the ones who touch your heart. It may be one, it may be five. Spend time with them, peel back the layers. As you learn to control your vision, you'll know what to do." He pointed at my heart. "Ignoring this will only make you miserable. Trust me, I know.”
The deep shame and failure on his face made me want to cry.
“Help those around you, one person at a time, and you will have a full and happy life. You can do what I never did.”
Well, I’d tried to do what he never did and it was awful. Sure, I’d helped people, possibly even saved lives, but I’d never signed up for this and the break was doing me good.
I frowned into my coffee cup.
“Hey, it’s not going to be that bad. Our course schedules aren’t that different. We’ll still get to see each other.” Eric rubbed my knee with a tender smile, totally misinterpreting my expression. I went with it. We hadn’t talked about my special eyesight in months and we both seemed happy to keep it that way.
I grinned back at him, placing my mug down and leaning back towards my computer.
“So on Monday, you have Human Neuropsychology at nine a.m. and I have Human Memory at the same time. Those classes are really close to each other; maybe you could swing past my dorm on your way in. We could walk there together.”
“Sounds good to me.” He wiggled his eyebrows. “Or you could just spend the night and we could drive there together.”
Since Eric had moved into an apartment about two miles from the UCLA campus, he’d been using any excuse he could to get me to stay. I wasn’t complaining or anything. Eric and Dale finding a 3-bedroom house to rent was everything my roommate, Nicole, and I wanted. Now both our boyfriends lived in an off-campus house. It was freaking awesome.
It had happened just before the summer break. A contact of Dale’s, Matt Houston, had two friends moving out and they snatched the spots up immediately.
Eric moved in as soon as school let out. Dale had moved in, too, but he was still up in Big Bear hanging out with his parents for the rest of the break. According to Nicole, they were driving back down on Sunday morning. I couldn’t wait to see them. We’d spent the first half of this year hanging out together. After surviving the drama of exposing Professor Hoffman’s underground gambling ring and organic drug operation, we became really tight. Nicole had become a close friend and the four of us got along really well now.
I glanced back at Eric. His eyes were still on me. The edge of his mask began to slip and I pulled it away, his smile changing from a look of innocent sweetness to outright hunger. Oh yeah, he wanted me...bad. I bit my lower lip, igniting the expression even more. Man, I loved that he let me read him now. It made our relationship so open and free. Eric was often closed off from the world, protecting himself from anything that might hurt him, but with me, he was exactly himself and I loved it.
Gently closing my laptop, I ran my fingers up his arm and leaned towards him.
“Come on,” I whispered. “Let’s go do something about those hungry eyes of yours.”
His eyebrows rose as he realized I had been reading him and then his lips broke into that killer-watt smile of his, the one that turned my legs to putty.
Snapping his laptop shut, he shoved it into his bag and, coffees forgotten, we headed for his jeep. It didn’t take long to get to his place; the coffee shop was only a couple of blocks away. We pulled into his driveway and grinned at each other. Matt’s car wasn’t in its usual spot, which meant there was a chance we had the place to ourselves.
We jumped out of the vehicle. A giggle bubbled inside me as I skipped up the stairs and stopped outside the wooden door. Eric let us in, slipping his backpack off his shoulder and placing it on the floor in the entryway.
“Matt, you home?”
The answer was a long beat of silence. Eric grinned at me, his eyebrows wiggling as he snatched me into his arms. I lifted my feet off the ground and let him swing me around, clinging to his shoulders as he carried me down the hallway.
When we neared his door, he placed me down, his lips finding mine and sending them into overdrive with his warm, coffee-tasting tongue. I grappled with his shirt, pulling it over his head as we stepped into his room. I ran my fingers down his hard body, savoring the feel of his rigid muscles. He had a surfer’s body to die for. I knew, because I watched him out on the water most days and saw the way the beach bunnies eyed him as he jogged up the sand toward me.
He was the sexiest guy on this planet...and he was mine.
A thrill raced through me as the thought hit me once again. I still didn’t get it. I didn’t know what he saw in me, but I’d take it.
He lifted my shirt off, throwing it over his shoulder before pulling me against him. Our skin smacked together and I let out a luxurious sigh. I was in paradise right now. This would never get old.
We stumbled towards the bed. The back of Eric’s knees hit the edge of the mattress and we tumbled onto it, both laughing. The sound was cut off quickly as our mouths dove towards each other. Eric held my head, brushing the loose strands of hair off my face with his thumb as our tongues danced.
I closed my eyes, getting lost in his touch. In a flash of movement he spun us over, his weight pressing down on me and filling me with that sense of security it always did.
I was so in love with Eric and the longer we were together, the more the feeling grew. I couldn’t imagine ever being with someone else. He’d promised me that I’d be his girl forever and I knew down to my core that it was true. We were meant to be and nothing could break us apart.
I nestled Caity against my chest and kissed her forehead, loving the feel of her naked body lounging beside mine. An afternoon of making love to this beautiful woman made me a happy man. My muscles felt like cooked spaghetti and I couldn’t wipe the stupid grin off my face as I gazed up at the ceiling.
Caity let out that cute sigh of hers, adjusting her head on my shoulder and drawing patterns on my chest with her finger. It tickled a little, but not enough for me to stop her.
Her trailing fingers stilled on my abs, her soft hand splaying over my skin before she went still. I wondered if she was drifting to sleep and I smiled. It was only four-thirty in the afternoon. Yes, this was definitely the life.
“You should hang some stuff in here. It’s really bland.”
Her soft voice startled me. I squeezed her shoulder and gazed at the walls of my room. I’d never really thought about it. Whenever I was in here I was either sleeping, getting dressed or distracted by the very sexy girl in my arms.
“I’m not really into artwork.” I shrugged.
“It doesn’t have to be artwork. It could be pictures of your family or the ocean or something.”
I grunted, not loving the idea, but not opposed to it either.
“Like, you know that gorgeous one hanging in your grandpa’s place? That would look great in here.”
“No way,” I snapped.
Her head swiveled on my shoulder, her eyes narrowing at the edges as she read me.
“What does that picture have to do with your dad?”
I gave her a dry look, wondering how she always knew to bring it back to my absent father. I really didn’t enjoy talking about the guy, ever. Why had I snapped? I should have just kept it casual and she never would have looked up at me. I wished I could control my temper better. It was such a curse sometimes.
Her permeating gaze wouldn’t let up, so I eventually gave in with a sigh. “He shot that picture, okay? The guy was really into photography apparently, and for some reason Gramps likes to keep it up on the wall.”
“The picture was taken by his son; you can’t really blame him.”
“A useless son who disappeared and never contacted him again.”
Caity pressed her lips together before nestling her head onto my shoulder and looking back at the wall.
“Well, he was a good photographer.”
I humphed, resting my cheek against her head and hoping like hell she’d drop it.
“Do you think you’ll ever forgive him?”
I went still, hating the question. How could I? The guy had let me down in so many ways, chipped at the heart of a child until there was nothing except a lumpy piece of rock left...and then he’d just vanished.
I cleared my throat. “Look, it’s done, okay. Yes, I really hate the guy for dropping off the face of the earth, but there’s nothing I can do about it. He could be dead for all I know and I’ve had to move on. Talking about it is not going to solve anything and it definitely won’t make him the father I wanted him to be.”
“I guess we can’t choose family.”
“Nope. At least I got Gramps.”
“Yeah. It makes me realize how lucky I am. As much as I’m the tail-end, after-thought in my family, at least I know they love me and still remember to call and invite me...” Caity’s voice trailed off, her head snapping off my chest. “Shit! What day is it?” She grabbed my wrist to look at my watch and check the date. “We’re late!”
Flinging back the covers, she jumped out of bed, giving me a decent view of her tanned skin. I leaned up on my elbow, admiring her flurry of movements as she scrambled for her clothes.
“Get up!” She threw my board shorts at me. “Get dressed!”
“I’m just admiring the view.”
“You can look at it later; get your ass out of bed! Mom hates it when we’re late. Come on!”
With a groan, I threw off the rest of the rumpled sheet and moved to the edge of the bed. Caity paused while buttoning her little denim shorts, her eyes lighting with a smile as I stood tall. I threw her a droll look, which made her blush and giggle.
Her eyes traveled slowly from my chest to my pelvis as her tongue skimmed the edge of her lips.
“If you keep looking at me like that, these will not be going on.” I shook the shorts in my hand. “And those will be coming off.” I pointed at her shorts.
She whined in her throat before throwing on her shirt and mussing up her golden curls.
I quickly threw on my pants and collected my shirt from the hallway, sliding it on as Caity snatched my keys off the entranceway table and opened the front door.
Although we were running late, I wasn’t willing to risk a ticket, so I kept to the speed limit. Nerves got Caity’s fingers twitching. She really hated letting people down, and her mother was always a stickler for time. Caity and I had been late on more than one occasion over the summer break and it hadn’t gone over too well. It didn’t help that we often walked in looking radiant and scruffy. I’m sure her parents knew exactly why we were late every time. I was grateful they hadn’t said anything.
Leaning forward, Caity flicked on the radio, tapping her fingers on her knees as we caught the beginning of the five o’clock news.
“That’s eight kidnappings in the last three weeks. No one knows what’s become of these missing girls or if the cases are even connected, but there is speculation that a serial killer may be on the loose. Police are struggling to find a solid lead and people are calling for FBI involvement—”
Caity flicked it off, her nose wrinkling. “I hate hearing about that kind of thing. It breaks my heart. I can’t even imagine what those poor parents must be going through.” She shook her head.
“The idea of a serial killer lurking around isn’t much fun either. I don’t understand people sometimes.”
“Me neither and being able to read behind a mask doesn’t always help. Some people are just sick and twisted, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
I nodded, hating that she was right...and glad we were nearly there so this conversation could come to an end. The Davis’s driveway was full of cars, so I parked on the curb, taking a quick peek at my mother's house, which sat right next door. I noticed her car parked outside the garage, along with a black Ford Mustang. It looked old school, like it’d been lovingly restored...a real American muscle car.
I smiled. That was good. It meant Mom was still dating that mechanic guy and I quite liked him. I made a mental note to pop over before we left tonight.
Racing after Caity, I caught up to her just as she burst through the door.
“Hey, everyone! Sorry we’re late!” She threw a wink over my shoulder and headed for the sunken lounge where everyone was gathered around Max and Holly who were over from Hawaii for a surprise visit. That’s why the family were getting together. Even Toby had driven up from San Diego.
“What’s going on?” Caity stood at the top of the stairs and looked down into the lounge.
Brody’s head popped out from the fray. “Aunt Holly’s pregnant and they’re moving back to L.A. because Uncle Max doesn’t have any family and he doesn’t think they can raise a baby all by themselves without Grandma’s help.”
I kept a close eye on Caity’s face as she absorbed the news. A smile bloomed across her lips, but I couldn’t help wondering if she was a touch disappointed. Not in a mean jealousy kind of way, just in a
now I feel even more separated from you
kind of way. Everyone was so much further through their lives than us.
Caity already felt like the alien of the family and now that Holly, the young free spirit, was settling down, she’d feel like she’d have no one she could relate to.
Pillow talk had told me a lot in the last nine months.
I reached for Caity’s hand and gave it a little squeeze.
“Wow. Holly! That’s so great.” Caity put on her best sunshine smile and descended into the living area with her arms outstretched.
Holly laughed as she hugged her kid sister. “I actually was pregnant at the wedding, but I didn’t realize it. We had it confirmed three weeks ago. That’s why we wanted to come over for this trip, so we could tell everyone in person.”
“So how far along are you?”
“Ten weeks.” She squealed, “Isn’t it the best news!”
I walked into the living room and shook Max’s hand, murmuring my congratulations. He gave me a nervous smile then chuckled as Mr. Davis slapped him on the back.
“So when are you guys moving over?” Caity stepped away from her sister, shifting to my side and giving Max a smile.
“Well, I’m going to stay from this point on and Max will go back and pack up our place.” Holly’s loved-up expression was radiant. Caity’s mom looked ready to fly, her eyes brimming with tears, her lips stretched into a broad smile.
“You’re going to live here?” I swung my arm across Caity’s shoulders.
“Uh-huh, until Max finds a job.”
“That’s awesome. Congratulations.”
“It’s going to be so nice to have you home.” Mrs. Davis rubbed her daughter’s arms, a fresh batch of happy-tears brewing in her eyes. Holly turned and gave her mother another hug which Layla, the older sister, dove into as well.
Caity hung back beside me, suddenly jerking in my arms when her brother Toby jumped down the stairs and gave her butt a hard slap.
“Ow! Toby!” She whacked his arm and I curbed the urge to deck him. I really hated how he treated his kid sister sometimes. He was the baby of the family before she came along shortly after his fourteenth birthday. Everyone else had swooned; Toby had made it his life’s mission to tease Caity senseless. He claimed it was a rite of passage having put up with teasing from his three older siblings for so long, but I wished he’d just drop it. The guy was in his early thirties now, yet he still acted like an imbecile.
“Looks like the world’s moving on without ya, little sis. More babies for you to look after.” He chuckled, taking a swig of his beer. “See, I told these guys when Mom got pregnant with you, you’d be good for something...plus, your old room’s gonna come in handy, too. Hello nursery, right?”
“What?” Caity jerked again, but this was out of pure surprise.
“Toby, shut your mouth.” Layla, now free from the hug, shot her brother a glare and rolled her eyes at Caity.
“You’re turning my room into the nursery?” Caity looked at her mother, forcing a smile when the older woman glanced at her.
“Yeah, that’s okay, right?” Holly waved her hand.
“Sorry, honey, I haven’t had a chance to tell you. It’s not like you’ve been around much lately.” Her gaze ran over me before landing back on Caity. I swallowed, trying not to let the look bother me. I knew her parents approved of us together, but maybe they didn’t approve of the pace we were setting.
Holly tucked a lock of dark hair behind her ear. “Mom figured yours is the best location. It’s warm and dry and the perfect size. Max and I will be just next to it in my old room... and when you’re home for the holidays, you can sleep in Toby’s room.”
“Where will Toby sleep when he stays?”
“I’ve graduated to the guest room.” His smug smile was damn irritating. The guest room was the best room in the house, not counting the downstairs suite that belonged to Caity’s parents. It looked out over the ocean, had a huge bay window and a skylight where you could see the stars at night. It was the biggest upstairs room by far and it was lush.
I pressed my lips together, squeezing Caity’s shoulder as I remembered the weekend we spent in there when Caity’s parents were away.
“What’s the big deal, sis?” Toby nudged her with his elbow. “It’s not like you’re entitled to the guest room. You’re the after-thought this family never meant to have. When it comes to the pecking order around here, you, little girl, are at the bottom of the food chain.”
“Toby, shut up. You’re such dick.” Holly punched him in the arm and shot Caity a sympathetic look.
“No big deal. I know he’s only kidding.” Caity’s laugh was hard and plastic.
Seth jumped up behind his younger brother, throwing him into a headlock. I pulled Caity away from the action before our toes got trampled.
She looked up at me with a smile I saw straight through. I kissed her nose and let her read me. She blinked a couple of times and looked away, staying pretty quiet for the rest of the evening.
Thankfully, dinner was served soon after Toby’s brainless comment and conversation rose around different areas of the living space. Caity and I went out on the deck with Layla and the kids. It was funny watching them eat and tell their cute little stories. Jake was nine now and told jokes like a pro, with his little six-year-old brother butting in at frequent intervals. Layla kept rolling her eyes at her sons while encouraging her daughter to finish just a third of her meal.
“Come on, honey, just a few more mouthfuls.”
I was so enrapt by it all it took me a few minutes to realize Caity had returned inside. Jumping up, I collected my plate and walked it into the kitchen, scanning the room for my girl. With a little frown, I rinsed my plate and stacked it in the dishwasher before walking to the main hallway. I spotted the tail end of her slender legs disappearing up the stairs.
No one had seemed to notice her departure, and I was pretty sure no one would notice mine either. Running a hand through my hair, I made my way down the hallway, guessing my girl had returned to a room that would soon become a nursery.