Of Cinder and Bone
by Kyoko M.
You were my dragon and you always will be
Rest in peace.
Text copyright © Kyoko M
All rights reserved
After centuries of being the most dangerous predators on the planet, dragons were hunted to extinction. That is, until Dr. Rhett “Jack” Jackson and Dr. Kamala Anjali cracked the code to bring them back. Through their research at MIT, they resurrected the first dragon anyone has seen alive since the 15th century. There’s just one problem.
Someone stole it.
Caught between two ruthless yakuza clans who want to clone the dragon, Jack and Kamala brave the dangerous streets of Tokyo to steal their dragon back in a race against time before the world is taken over by mutated, bloodthirsty monsters that will raze it to ashes.
Of Cinder and Bone is an all-new sci-fi thriller from the author of the Amazon bestselling Black Parade novels. Don’t miss out on this explosive first-in-series!
Goodreads- https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32997038-of-cinder-and-bone?from_search=true Amazon- https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01NBM4MU8
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Interested in her other series? Check out the four-book Amazon bestselling urban fantasy series.
The Black Parade
The Deadly Seven: Stories from The Black Parade series
She Who Fights Monsters
The Holy Dark
They sent a knight to save you once
And found you curled up with the dragon
Crown askew, skirts singed
They tried marrying you,
Couldn’t hack it, went home,
You liked the acoustics much better
In empty castles.
(the dragon was teaching you to roar.)
Six wars they waged against you—
Disgruntled princes with their
Blood in the fields, in the water,
In the snow, on their crowns,
When you added them
To your collections.
Rarely smiled, laughed only with the dragon,
Looked so often over your shoulder
You almost forgot to watch ahead.
Here’s the secret you took to your grave;
You were holding whole kingdoms
But your palms were made of sand.
-Elisabeth Hewer, “Obituary for the princess who forgot to be a fairytale”
“Yep, this is exactly where I thought I’d be at this point in my life,” Jack sighed, pulling on yet another pair of latex gloves as he stared forlornly at the reeking dumpster. “Ass-deep in garbage.”
“We lead a charming life,” Kamala agreed. “At least the manager was kind enough to let us do this without a fight. Technically, we’re supposed to wait for the police.”
“Not enough time on the clock for that. We’ll work out the details later.” Jack cleared his throat and cast her a sidelong glance, smirking.
Kamala sent him a glare that could curdle milk. His smirk widened into a grin before he tossed both large black lids back and heaved himself up over the side. He landed and wobbled for a moment before shuddering as the stench of rotten food swallowed him whole. He breathed through his mouth in shallow bursts, his eyes tearing, and managed to keep his breakfast down after a moment.
“Yep,” he said weakly, offering Kamala his arm. “Charming, indeed.”
She climbed in next to him and they carefully rooted through the trash, checking for any bits of electronics in case the laptop had been disassembled before being tossed. “What are the odds that we’ll find it in this mess?”
“We probably have a better chance of growing wings and flying around the city,” Jack said, grimacing as he tossed a half-filled macchiato aside. “But the devil’s in the details. There is no perfect crime. If Okegawa was on a deadline, he might have been in a rush. Being in a rush means making mistakes. That’s all we need. Just one mistake to catch him.”
They searched for the better part of half an hour before Kamala heard a suspicious crunching sound beneath her covered boots. She shifted a few things aside and found a long white cord. She tugged sharply on it and the battery charger for a MacBook laptop popped free, swinging in her hand. She met Jack’s gaze and they both tore through the trash surrounding that spot. A moment later, Kamala’s hands closed on Jack’s laptop.
“Hello, beautiful,” Jack said, wiping grime and gunk off of it. “Leave it closed. I’m sure the garbage probably did a number on any evidence on the outside, but there might be fibers or hairs between the keyboard and the screen. Nice work, Dr. Anjali.”
She flashed him a grin, handed it to him, and turned to exit the dumpster. She stopped after only a step. Jack realized why a second later.
“Konnichiwa,” Okegawa said pleasantly, his smile off-setting the silenced Beretta .9mm in his large hand. “Ogenki desu ka?”
“We’ve been better,” Kamala said, slowly raising her hands. Jack did the same, but he inched towards her in an attempt to block Okegawa’s line of sight.
“Relax, Jackson,” Okegawa drawled, his tone almost bored. “I have no intention of hurting ojō-sama.”
“Well, you tossed my apartment and now you have a gun pointed at us,” Jack said. “You understand my concern.”
“Of course. The gun is merely insurance. If I wanted you dead, I could have had it done already. I think you know that, as smart as you are.”
Jack narrowed his eyes. “Then what do you want?”
“A distraction. That’s why I left the laptop for you to find. It gave me time to break into your car and take the other laptop. I’ve been trying to get it for days, but ojō-sama takes it with her everywhere, unlike you.”
Kamala clenched her jaw. “How long have you been following us?”
Okegawa shrugged. “Not long. Had to get everything prepped and tie up loose ends.”
“Is that what we are now? Loose ends? It’s broad daylight, man. You can’t just shoot us and walk away. Hell, you’ve probably only got another thirty seconds before one of the Starbucks employees empties the trash and sees you.”
“Hai. That’s why you’re going to toss me the laptop.”
“Or you’ll shoot me?”
What little light there was in Okegawa’s brown eyes sputtered out. “Hai.”
“You just said you didn’t want me dead.”
Another dispassionate shrug. “I’d prefer not to, but if you push me, I will retaliate.”
“Jack,” Kamala whispered.
He glanced at her. She kept her eyes on Okegawa, but her tone was enough. He exhaled and tossed Okegawa the laptop. It landed at his feet, shattering several pieces over the concrete with a loud crash. Okegawa flinched on instinct, his eyes snapping towards it for a split second.
Kamala took her Taser out of her pocket and shot it at Okegawa.
Okegawa screamed as the electrified prongs hit him. Jack pulled Kamala down into the dumpster as the gun went off twice, tearing two chunks out of the wall where he’d been standing. They both lay panting in the garbage heap as they heard a thud and then nothing. Jack motioned for her to stay put and slowly rose to his knees, peeking over the rim of the dumpster.
Okegawa lay on the ground, twitching occasionally, his eyes shut, teeth clenched, the gun lying several feet away.
Jack scooped Kamala up in his hands with a hysterical laugh, holding her above his head. “You. Are. Freaking. Brilliant.”
“I swear to Vishnu, if this doesn’t work, I’m going to stab you in the throat with a Pipette.”
To the average person, this threat would have been quite worrisome, but not to Rhett “Jack” Jackson, Ph.D. He merely removed his sinhalite-hued eyes from the microscope and arched an eyebrow at his companion. “Um. Please don’t?”
Dr. Kamala Anjali rolled her own smoky-quartz eyes. “No promises. How’s it look?”
Jack sighed and massaged his sinuses. “Not any better than yesterday. Or the day before. Or the month before.”
“Your optimism is what I like best about you,” she said, nudging him aside to have her own look at the incubator. She examined it for a moment or two before echoing his sigh. The sperm and genetically modified egg might as well have been middle school kids at their first dance. Neither of them would even come near each other, let alone combine.
“Alright, I’m calling it. What time is it?”
Jack checked his watch. “Ten ‘til eleven.”
“Damn. Come on, let’s pack it up for the night.” She removed the sample and tucked it carefully into the cooler beside it, flipping off the light. She tapped her laptop and stared into the built-in camera, not bothering to disguise the scowl on her face. “Trial Number sixty-one proved negative results. Will reconvene for Trial Number sixty-two at eight am tomorrow.” She closed the program and then stuck the samples on a shelf in the nearby walk-in freezer.
Jack scooped together their mountain of paperwork and closed her laptop before slipping both into her brown leather briefcase. The two moved smoothly in their nightly ritual of replacing all the lab equipment to be ready for the next students.
He went over to the whiteboard at the far wall and started erasing the equations they’d written on it. There were enough that it looked like a wall of hieroglyphics in ancient Egypt, and for all intents and purposes, it might as well have been. It told stories of seemingly impossible things—things that couldn’t be explained except through faith.
Jack’s brush-strokes with the eraser were hard and quick. Kamala observed them out of her peripheral as she pushed their stools in towards the table. When the board was clean, he tossed it down next to the markers and ran a hand through his dark hair, hesitating before joining her again.
“So…I’m going to a party,” Kamala said brightly, grinning up at him as he helped her out of her lab coat. “You should come.”
Again, his right eyebrow rose. “Uh. You’ve met me, right? Two left feet. Made of clay. Attached to an absurdly uncoordinated frame.”
To emphasize this, he brandished both large hands at himself, drawing her attention to his six-foot-two gangly body. He looked right at home in a laboratory, with his brunette hair sticking up in random directions, crisp white button-down shirt, and charcoal grey slacks over black wing-tip Cole Haans.
Kamala shook her head, her short dark hair framing gracefully round cheekbones and delicate features. The nose-stud helped break up her doll-like qualities, though her five-foot-four height did not. “No one said you had to dance. Drink. Flirt with girls. You know, things college guys do?”
Jack’s cheeks colored a bit. “That’s not really my deal. Besides, we’ve got an early start tomorrow—”
“We always have an early start, Jack,” she said impatiently. “Doesn’t mean we can’t have fun between now and if we ever accomplish our ridiculously ambitious project.”
He scratched the back of his neck and avoided her eyes. “Still, though. Maybe tomorrow will be the big breakthrough. Can’t have a breakthrough if you’re hungover.”
“Fine.” She turned on her heel, marched to the door, and opened it for him, her smile fierce. “We’ll see what Faye has to say about it.”
He groaned as he walked out, his feet dragging across the tiles.
The second Kamala opened the door to her two-bedroom apartment—a single-level smushed in a row a mere three miles from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s main campus—Slayer poured out into the night to assault the ears of anyone nearby. Jack winced as he toed off his shoes and left them next to the welcome mat, shutting the door behind them. He caught the sharp scent of butter in the air as well as some form of greenery—probably sautéed kale, since Kamala was vegetarian—and walked in further to investigate.
A tall, leggy blonde stood in the kitchen, her hips swaying back and forth to the frantic drumbeats of “Angel of Death.” Her shoulder-length hair was tied high and bounced against the nape of her neck. Her blue-grey eyes stayed focused on the pan until the pair walked into her line of sight.
“Kam-Kam!” she grinned. “Back just in time! I’m almost done and then we can bounce to the party.”
She then glanced at Jack and her face sobered significantly. Jack’s wincing deepened. “What’s the Stiff doing here?”
Jack sighed. “I’m here at her request, Faye. Won’t be long, I swear.”
Kamala swept past her roommate and gave her a swat on the backside as she went. Jack tried not to notice, but it was difficult considering Faye only had on a pair of green girls’ boxer shorts and a black tank top. “Stop it, saheli. He just walked in the door. At least let me get him a drink before you verbally assault him.”
She tossed Jack a Coke from the pantry and popped open a can for herself, ignoring Faye’s scowl in her general direction. She then reached over the counter and turned the radio down to a dull roar. “Besides, you’re going to convince him to come to the party with us.”
“Ha!” the blonde exclaimed, switching off the stove and spooning the kale onto a plate. “Him? At a party? Like they’d even let him in.”
“Not the point. You are going to explain the scientific benefits and advantages of partying to our guest and that’s final.” Kamala garnished the command with a glare and then grabbed the plate from her. She plopped down on the stool in front of the breakfast nook and started eating, while staring pointedly at the pair.
Faye drummed her long fingers on the countertop and then let her gaze drag over Jack, who shuffled from foot to foot and idly sipped his soda. “We can’t take him looking like that.”
Kamala waved the comment aside. “We’ll make him change.”
Jack opened his mouth to protest, but Kamala’s glare silenced it. He pinched the bridge of his nose instead. Faye continued to examine him.
“Alright, Stilts…” Faye opened the fridge and withdrew a Granny Smith apple, biting down before continuing. “So who are you?”
He stared at her. “Beggin’ your pardon?”
She brandished a hand at him. “Who. Are. You? I mean, you’ve been Kam’s partner for a whole year, and the only things I know about you are you’re tall, awkward, you like science, and you’ve got an ass that won’t quit.”
He flushed pink. “That’s…I’m not seeing how this has anything to do with the party.”
“It has everything to do with the party. It’s not about the drinks or the girls or the music. It’s supposed to force you to open up and be social. It’s about having fun. I assume you’ve read about fun before, right?”
Jack exhaled through his nose and counted to five before responding. “Yeah, and I’ve also read about peer pressure.”
Faye rolled her eyes. “Work with me here, Stilts. You’re a scientist. You like to learn. You like new experiences. Is one night of partying going to wreck your whole life?”
“…well, no, but—”
“Butts are for Sir-Mix-a-Lot. Consider this part of your research. You are going to study two insanely beautiful women going to a party to decompress and have a good time. And, maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll crawl out of that shell and have a good time too.”
Jack glanced between the two of them, only to be met with matching walls of determination. He thought of several counterarguments, but got the sense that it’d be as effective as throwing a temper tantrum. “Alright, fine.”
He paused for an additional second and pointed a finger at her. “But I get to pick my own clothes, dammit!”
Faye smiled and patted his cheek. “No, you don’t.”
“…I don’t like you very much.”
“I look ridiculous.”
“You are ridiculous.”
“I swear, if you two don’t stop sniping at each other, I’m going to slam this car into a pole and kill us all.”
Kamala groaned and parked the car, tossing glares into the passenger’s side and backseat consecutively. “Behave.”
Faye batted her eyelashes. “I like it when you get mad. Your accent gets all thick and adorable.”
“Get out of the car before I hurt you.”
The trio exited Kamala’s powder-blue Volkswagen Beetle and walked two blocks down to the club. For once, the northeast didn’t have its icy claws set into the Cambridge area. It was a warm summer night, and the town had lit up with life as a result. Teenagers clustered around the local movie theaters to giggle and chat and flirt. Couples sat outside the diners and cafes, sipping their cocktails and discussing their future plans. Older folks held hands and walked along the storefronts to window-shop for their grandkids.
As they got closer, Faye’s hips automatically started swaying, which did interesting things to the fluttery bottom of her blood-orange mini-skirt. The white halter-top shirt lifted up in the back as she raised her arms to pump both fists. In Jack’s opinion, Faye could be the poster child for a head cheerleader or prom queen: full pink lips, flawless skin, natural blonde hair that fell in a perfect fluffy shower to her shoulders, legs that would have made Goldie Hawn jealous, and curves that shamed the English countryside. The even funnier part was that Faye was far more likely to beat up a cheerleader than actually be one.
“Oh, they’re playing my song,” she said with a happy sigh. “I can already tell this is going to be a great night.”
“Yep. Great,” Jack muttered under his breath, staring at his unfamiliar red Chucks as he walked. His mother had bought them for him last Christmas, and was blissfully unaware he’d hidden them in the back of his closet. Kamala and Faye had unearthed them, as well as a leather jacket, some blue jeans, and a scarlet t-shirt with the Flash insignia on the chest. He’d complained that he looked like a sixteen-year-old going to comic con, to which both women said, “Get over it.”
Kamala bumped his arm with her elbow. He glanced over, expecting a glare, but she smiled instead, and the overhead lamp made her lovely brown lips gleam. “Don’t worry.”
She slipped her fingers between his, leaning in as if sharing a secret. “I’ll never let go, Jack.”
He threw his head back and howled in annoyance. “Do you know how many times I’ve heard that before?”
Kamala cackled. “It was worth it for the look on your face.”
But she did squeeze his hand before letting go and he had to admit he didn’t mind. Kamala and Faye were like night and day. Faye loved loud-colored clothing that showed off what a bombshell she was, while Kamala preferred a more subtle style. She had thick, glossy hair cut in a layered bob just below her chin, entrancing lips, long lashes, and a voice that reminded him of warm honey in a cup of hot lemon tea. She’d chosen a burgundy dress with silver jewelry and platform heels so she could see through the crowd easier. The ensemble was just as devastating as Faye’s bright colors.
A couple of burly men in black stood outside the club checking IDs. Jack flipped his wallet open, but the guy waved him through with a smirk, somehow sensing from his discomfort that he was well over twenty-one. Then he followed Faye up the steps into the club and was instantly swallowed in dub-step.
The stairwell led to a loft-style club, currently packed to the rafters with partygoers. Pink, purple, and blue lights slashed through the darkness and shocked Jack’s pupils momentarily. He felt Kamala grip his hand again and tug him towards the bar against the far wall, where Faye had led the way. She sidled up to one corner and gave the bartender a Cheshire cat grin, raising her voice over the pounding music to order three beers: one Samuel Adams and two Coronas.
She scooped the drinks up and beckoned her friends to one of the tables against the wall, overlooking downtown and all the mischief that had kicked up on a Friday night. Jack found himself relieved that the stools were high, meaning he wouldn’t have to hunch over the table to be level with the girls.
Faye uncapped the beers and passed them out. “So what are we drinking to? World peace? Cure for cancer? Zombie apocalypse?”
Kamala raised her bottle. “Here’s to the semester. We’ve got less than a month to turn in some results or we lose the grant.”
Jack grimaced, holding his out as well. “I’ll drink to that.”
Faye shook her head. “No way. We’re not going to start down that road. I have no doubt in my mind that you two eggheads will find a match. It’s going to happen. May God strike me down if I—”
She started coughing violently. Kamala rolled her eyes. Even Jack cracked a smile. “Excuse me. What was I saying?”
Kamala shook her head. “She’s right. Forget about the project. Let’s just enjoy the night for once. Brahma-knows how many more of them we’ll get.”
They clinked the bottles together and drank deeply. Faye’s eyes darted around the room with laser precision and her smile widened. “I’ve spotted my quarry. Kam, are you with me or do you want to entertain the Stiff for a while?”
“I’ll catch up, troublemaker.”
Faye tossed her golden hair, took one last pull that emptied the bottle, and stalked off towards some unsuspecting gentleman for a dance. Jack watched, resting his head on one hand.
“I still can’t believe she’s an electrical engineering expert. A section of my brain implodes every time I think about it.”
Kamala chuckled. “Mysteries of the universe. Speaking of which…”
She leaned in a bit. “Why don’t you like to go out, Jack? Still pretending to be a good little Christian boy?”
“Ha!” he said after another mouthful of beer. “No, I, uh, just don’t seem to mingle well. Not much of a conversation-starter.”
“Nonsense. You get along with me just fine.”
He ran his fingers down the sweating glass bottle. “You’re the exception, trust me. It’s not like I don’t know how. Just don’t see much reason to, not with what I want out of life.”
She studied him for a moment. “You want to make the world a better place. That much I know. But you’re still a part of that world, Jack. You can’t look through a microscope your whole life. You’ll miss what’s really there.”
His mouth suddenly felt alarmingly dry. He swallowed a couple times. “Yeah, I guess so. But maybe—”
“Hey there, gorgeous!” A sandy-haired guy appeared with a broad grin and blue eyes focused intently on Kamala. “Care to dance?”
She glanced him over and a slow smile crawled over her lips. “Sure, but on one condition.”
She pointed at Jack. “Find someone to keep him company and I’m all yours.”
“Oh, no problem at all, babe.”
“No, it’s fine, it’s not necessary—” Jack protested, only to be brought a stunning redhead in a royal purple dress.
“This is Kim,” the sandy-haired stranger said. “Junior. Art-history major.”
She smiled. “Hi.”
Jack promptly forgot how to speak English.
Kamala looped one arm through the stranger’s and stifled a giggle before they left. “Back in a bit. Have fun!”
Jack coughed slightly and offered his hand. “Hi, uh. I’m Jack.”
Kim took it. “Jack what?”
“Your last name, silly.”
She blinked at him. “Your name is Jack Jackson?”
He blushed. “No, uh, my first name’s Rhett, but I hate it, so…”
He gestured to the chair and she sat. Her dress rode up several inches, exposing pleasing long lines of creamy skin. “Well, Jack, what’s your field of study?”
“Biological Engineering, Genetics, and Microbiology. Post-doc. I’m working a research project at the institute.”
“Really? Oh, uh, my apple martini’s getting a little low.”
“I’ve got that, one second.” He scurried to the bar and bought her a fresh one. She sipped and managed to make it look not only seductive but graceful as well.
“What do you want to do after you’re done with the project?” Kim continued.
“Depends on what I find.”
She sent him a simmering smile. “What are you looking for?”
Immediately, Jack’s eyes lit up and his posture straightened. “I started the project with the intention of learning how to increase the reproduction of certain endangered species. I had interest in the idea of cloning, but it proved too difficult based on the research I compiled, so I went into animal genetics and cellular biology. It turns out the animals with the best potential to combine genes were reptiles because their ability to lay eggs was a smoother transition into combining the cells to create a new species, or one with a similar ancestry that could hopefully lead to rebuilding extinct animals via surrogate birth or in-vitro fertilization. We’re on the edge of breaking that code, and if we do, it would mean that we could engineer all kinds of life and reverse what damage we’ve done to the planet’s ecosystem.”
Kim stared. “Right. Would you excuse me for a second?”
She wiggled off back to her pack of friends by the bar. Judging by the sniggering and the disgusted glances he was getting, she wasn’t coming back.
Jack sighed and finished off his beer, massaging his forehead. “Yes, brilliant move. You blinded her with science. Genius, Jack.”
He ordered a second one and finished it before he felt smallish hands on his shoulders and a pair of soft lips on his cheek. He turned to find Kamala had returned, her smile unnaturally bright in the black lights glowing over the room. “So…how did it go with Kim?”
He shot her a flat look. “You notice the chair is empty.”
Kamala groaned. “You talked about the research project, didn’t you?”
“No!” She glared at him.
“You’re so useless, Jack.” She paused and then tousled his hair a bit. “Cheer up. The night’s still young. I’m not giving up on you.”
He smiled in spite of himself. “Yet.”
Her brown eyes flashed. “Never.”
She grabbed his wrists and hauled him from the seat, dragging him into the writhing swarm of bodies on the dance floor. The dub-step had given way to a surging reggae beat that made the very walls of the club vibrate.
Before he could protest about his lack of rhythm, she tugged him in close and told him to loosen up. Her body may have been small, but the energy coursing through it made her seem so singular. She never missed a beat, swaying, jerking her hips left to right, her mouth wide with a smile, her dark hair fluttering over her cheeks, her hands guiding him to mirror her movements. After a moment or two, he stopped hating the idea of dancing. Another minute and he didn’t mind it. A third minute and he sort of liked it a bit. A fourth minute, and he found himself thinking he could get used to it as long as she was always his partner.
The song ended too soon for his liking, melting into a slow dance that the DJ claimed was part of the classic oldies, something about love making a fool of the singer. Kamala gripped his shirt and tugged him down to her height, still grinning and breathing hard.
“See?” she murmured in his ear. “Maybe you’re fun after all.”
She tugged him off the floor just as everyone paired up for the slow dance, and Jack’s stomach sank a little as he followed. She led him to the bar where Faye was doing what she did best: making men fall over themselves to impress her. There was a towering stack of recently emptied shot glasses beside her along with a burly twenty-something frat boy, whose stack was slightly smaller.
“Come on, junior!” Faye laughed as the bartender refilled her glass. “I’ve seen freshmen in undergrad take shots better than you.”
“Aw, give me a break, babe,” the guy gasped out after finishing his shot.
“Why should I? There’s got to be someone here who can out-drink me.”
He leaned in with a leering smirk. “What do I get if I beat you?”
Jack bristled and stepped up next to her. “Uh, Faye, how many of these have you had?”
She waved the comment away. “Just a few, Buzz Killington.”
“Since when is twelve a few? I must have missed that day in math class. Look, maybe you should give it a rest for a bit, huh?”
She shot him a glare. “You sayin’ I can’t handle it?”
He took a breath to cool his temper. “I’m saying you don’t have to.”
Her drinking companion scowled then. “Hey, the lady can make her own decisions, man. Back off.”
Jack’s hands formed fists. Kamala pushed through the small throng that had gathered, her voice sharp over the murmurs. “All three of you need to chill out. Faye, you’ve had enough for tonight. Let’s go sit down for a while.”
“Oh, don’t tell me you’re drinking his Kool-Aid, sweetheart,” the big guy said, laying a hand on her shoulder. “She’s tough. She can take it. I’m betting you can too.”
Kamala brushed his hand off. “Keep it up and you’ll find out just what you can take.”
“Is that an invitation?” The hand returned at the small of her back and she batted his arm away, angry.
“Don’t touch me.”
The stranger rolled his eyes and reached for another shot. “God, why do the hot ones always have bitchy best friends?”
The glass had just touched the guy’s lips when Jack’s fist crashed into his chin. His head bounced off the side of the bar and he hit the floor, dazed. A chorus of “oohs” spread through the room like a virus, and Kamala shoved him backward, her eyes wide, mouth agape. “Jack!”
“Call her that again,” he snarled over her head. “Please call her that again.”
The frat boy rose to his feet, his left cheek swelling, his face red as a stoplight. Jack shoved Kamala aside as the drunken frat boy threw a sloppy haymaker, flinching as it bounced off his shoulder. He then laid him out flat with a right cross.
By now, the bartender had called the bouncers, who both hauled Jack towards the exit, though he put up no fight after he’d downed the guy. Kamala and Faye followed him onto the sidewalk where he’d been sprawled on his ass after a vicious shove from the bouncer.
“What the hell, Jack?” Kamala shrieked, helping him up. “I mean…no, I was right the first time—what the hell.”
He rolled his shoulder, pulling the collar of his shirt aside to see a bruise already forming. “Shouldn’t have called you a bitch.”
“It’s a word. I’m not a child. I can handle some drunken asshole calling me names.”
He frowned. “Well, I can’t. I’m sorry.”
Kamala sighed. “It’s fine. I’m glad you’re alright.”
She instead whirled on Faye, who was clutching a lamp post to stay upright and staring at Jack as if she’d never seen him before. “And you! You’re going straight to bed to sleep off what has to be an entire gallon of tequila by now.”
“Bed, huh?” Faye grinned, her slightly glazed eyes twinkling. “Can I take Tough Guy with me?”
“Don’t start with me,” Jack growled.
“Maybe I want to,” she purred back.
“Faye,” Kamala said, giving her a shove towards the sidewalk where taxi cabs had already begun to choke the streets. “Not now. Walk.”
“Ugh, lighten up, babe,” Faye said, looping a long arm around her friend’s shoulder and kissing her cheek. “We just had our first bar fight. Best night ever!”
“I’m going to kill you in the morning.”
Why was there an elephant sitting on Jack’s head?
He groaned, long and low, into the pillow. The pain. Dear God, the pain. His temples throbbed in rhythm with his heartbeat and he swore someone had delicately balanced an entire African elephant on his skull. His stomach jostled and threatened to revolt, but he took a couple of deep breaths and the nausea abated. All that was left was the bone-crunching agony reverberating through his head, down his neck, and over his whole body. Which was unnaturally warm for some reason, come to think of it.
After the pain died down enough for his senses to work, Jack realized he was in his bed at home. The sheets smelled faintly of fabric softener and Calvin Klein cologne, the telltale signs. The sheets were halfway down his hips for some reason, though.
He reached to pull the covers over his head so he could properly wallow in his misery, but said arm was occupied. He cracked an eyelid open to figure out why.
Kamala’s adorable sleeping face was inches away. Her head rested on the crook of his arm, which served as an impromptu pillow. Jack paled so quickly that he got dizzy.
“Relax,” a female voice murmured. “You’re not awesome enough for a threesome, Jack.”
His head popped up from the pillow only to discover Faye lying behind Kamala, smiling smugly at the utter confusion on his face.
“Wha?” He paused, trying to remember how to talk. “Do I even want to know?”
She chuckled. “Maybe.”
She nodded towards Kamala, and Jack finally realized why he felt so warm. She had folded her small body into his, one arm dangling over his waist beneath the covers, the other tucked beneath her side.
He started to scoot away, but she made a noise of protest and snuggled closer, tucking her head under his neck for warmth. He blushed and kept still this time, glancing at the amused look on her roommate’s face. “Ah. How?”
“Kamala drove us here,” Faye said, propping her head up on one arm. Her hair was up in a ponytail, and curling strands escaped to rest on her temple and nape. The other arm rested protectively on her best friend’s hip—a clear statement, if Jack ever saw one. Conversely, her body language practically radiated calm, like a blonde well-fed tiger. The analogy felt about right, since he sensed that she might tear his throat out by the end of the day.
“We iced down your shoulder and started the Family Guy drinking game with tequila shots. You know, drink every time there’s a pointless cutaway gag or an 80’s reference. Two episodes in and we were pretty much trashed. Kamala dozed off first, then you, and I didn’t feel like taking the bus home, so I crawled in with you.”
“Right,” he said, licking his dry lips. “Anything else I missed?”
“No. But I think I misjudged you.”
He stared. “You’re kidding.”
She shrugged a shoulder. “What? You’re a textbook nerd. I sure as shit wouldn’t have guessed you could fight.”
Her eyes lit up then. “Speaking of which, where’d that come from?”
Jack exhaled. “Aren’t you worried we’re gonna wake her up?”
Faye gave her friend a smack on the butt. Kamala mumbled something in Hindi and didn’t stir. “She sleeps like the dead. We’re safe. Now spill.”
“Grew up on a farm. Never put on any muscle. I’ve always been wiry. Got picked on sometimes. Got into a couple fights. Old man didn’t want his kid being bullied, so he taught me how to throw and take a punch.”
She paused. “How to take a punch?”
Jack shrugged, but his eyes said what his posture didn’t. “Is what it is. I don’t like to broadcast it.”
“No shit. Two hits and the guy was down. Remind me never to piss you off.”
He smirked. “Like that’s ever stopped you before.”
She matched the smirk. “Point taken, farmboy.”
The amusement faded and she gestured towards his shoulder. “Sorry about last night. You were right. I was out of line.”
He shook his head. “Lost my temper anyhow. Forget it.”
“So,” she said, narrowing her eyes slightly. “You gonna tell her how you feel?”
Jack didn’t back down from her frostbite stare. “Are you?”
She stopped breathing for a second. “Excuse me?”
“You heard me,” he murmured.
Faye clenched her jaw. “Where do you get off thinking you know anything about how I feel?”
“Same place you do, apparently.”
Her breathing spiked, and for a moment, he thought she’d swing on him, but she cursed under her breath and held back. She closed her eyes for a while instead. “How long have you known?”
“And you didn’t say anything.”
Again, he shrugged. “None of my business.”
She snorted, glancing over Kamala. “Can’t believe she’s fucked us both up. Figuratively speaking, of course.”
Jack choked on a laugh. “Of course.”
She met his gaze again. “You love her?”
“Dunno,” he whispered. “Never been in love. You?”
“Maybe. Been in enough relationships to know what it isn’t. Too chickenshit to find out for the moment. I guess you could say I’m waiting to see what happens.”
“Well, between you, me, and the wallpaper, I think you’ve got a better shot than I do.”
“Ha. You wouldn’t say that if you knew how she talked about you when you’re not around.”
His brows lifted. “She talks about me?”
Faye rolled her eyes. “God, are all men this thick or is it just you? You’ve spent a year seeing her almost every day. Your work is what got her back on track. She thought about giving up on her career before she found your project, Jack.”
He frowned down at the dark-haired pixie before him. “I…didn’t know that. She’s always so fearless. I figured she knew from the get-go what she wanted.”
“No one ever does. Why should she be any different?” Faye tucked a lock of hair behind Kamala’s ear and listened to her sigh. “I don’t know where this is gonna go. I don’t. And we both have a lot to lose, but…maybe you should say something. She can’t stay in the dark forever. It’s not fair.”
“Easier said than done.”
Faye smiled, a little sadly this time. “That’s love, Stilts.”
Before he could say anything else, she leaned across Kamala and kissed Jack full on the mouth.
“And if it’s any consolation,” she whispered, their lips still touching. “It’s her loss if she says no.”
She then grinned at the stunned look on his face. “I’m gonna go get some coffee.”
With that, Faye slipped from beneath the covers and disappeared out of the room, humming “Silly” by Deniece Williams. Jack stared at the doorway long after she’d gone through it and listened to Kamala’s soft breaths against his sternum.
Kyoko M is an author, a fangirl, and an avid book reader. Her debut novel, The Black Parade, has been on Amazon's Bestseller List at #5 in the Occult Horror category. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English Lit degree from the University of Georgia, which gave her every valid excuse to devour book after book with a concentration in Greek mythology and Christian mythology. When not working feverishly on a manuscript (or two), she can be found buried under her Dashboard on Tumblr, or chatting with fellow nerds on Twitter, or curled up with a good Harry Dresden novel on a warm central Florida night. Like any author, she wants nothing more than to contribute something great to the best profession in the world, no matter how small. http://shewhowritesmonsters.com/
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